Amendment 173

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 20th March 2023.

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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage:

Moved by Baroness Taylor of Stevenage

173: Clause 77, page 86, line 23, at end insert “and it has considered the historical, cultural or archaeological significance of a name change”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment requires cultural, historical and archaeological factors to be considered before making a name change.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I come to this amendment with a deal of frustration about the clause being in the Bill at all. I have a great deal of support for the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, to Clause 77 in that I really have no idea what such an issue is doing in a Bill aimed at tackling big, strategic issues of levelling up and regeneration—never mind devolution. We have been told many times in debates on this Bill that the Government’s business is not to intervene with matters when they should be devolved to local authorities. So I can only assume this is there to pacify a noisy bee in someone's bonnet, perhaps on the Back Benches in the other place. The inclusion of this clause is even more peculiar when you consider the major issues that we think have either been left out of the Bill or skipped over, like local government finance, the business rate discussion we just had, proper consideration of environmental issues, delivery of social and affordable housing and even the Government's own levelling up missions, which are considered too transitory to be included in the Bill.

In my opinion, councils are perfectly able to deal with issues relating to street names without government legislation or intervention. If there are legal issues relating to that, perhaps they need to be covered. However, being realistic, I am aware even in my short time in Parliament that bees in Back-Benchers’ bonnets can be exceedingly loud and powerful. So if we are not going to persuade the Government that this clause has no place in a strategic Bill, my thought was that we had better make it add some value to the existing process for street naming.

Because I live in a town that was subject to a fantastic and visionary master plan back in the 1940s and 1950s, it was designed so that street names are zoned. For example, in one part of the town, you have streets named after women pioneers, which I really approve of: Ferrier Road, Nightingale Walk and—my favourite—Pankhurst Crescent. Another area is great architects: Telford Avenue, Wren Close, Nash Close and so on. So with a modicum of knowledge of my town, you can navigate your way around. Our street naming committee maintains a list of further names for that area to allocate as developments occur, upon which extensive community consultation takes place, as you would expect from a co-operative council.

I presume that this clause is aimed at tackling issues which arise when it becomes apparent that an individual after whom a street is named does not have quite the gilded reputation that they may have done previously, or when our view of part of our history as a country alters because of cultural changes. That will happen from time to time; there is nothing wrong with that so far. But surely it is in a council’s gift already to consult with local people, set out the reasons for the change and get on with it.

My first amendment is to ensure that appropriate thought is given to the context, history, potential connotation and local perceptions of the proposed change. In relation to the point about archaeology, I think this does need consideration, as a brief search will determine whether any future development is likely to reveal earlier uses of the land which can help in determining new names. For example, the huge hoard of Roman coins which was found on one of our estate developments resulted in the proposed road names being scrapped in favour of Augustus Gate, Valerian Way and Jupiter Gate, to remind us of their Roman history. That is the kind of thing that can occur with a very brief search before naming occurs.

On Amendment 175 in my name, if we must prescribe the process for changing street names—my preference is obviously that we do not—then it is vital that effective consultation is carried out with all of those who live in the area and those who may have businesses there. For those who are resident, I hope it is obvious that they should be consulted. For business owners, there may be a cost involved—sometimes considerable—in changing their business address and ensuring they are given adequate time to assess and comment on any change is clearly vital. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have given notice that I think Clause 77 should not stand part of the Bill. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for her helpful introduction and explanation of the situation. This is a clause which is out of place in the Bill in the first place, but, more to the point, assuming that we will have to consider it, this is a clause in search of a problem and I cannot find out what the problem is.

If you turn to the impact assessment, the very first questions posed by every impact assessment are: what is the problem under consideration, and why is government action or intervention necessary? The impact assessment for this Bill is 101 pages long; I may not have been a very diligent reader, but I could not find any reference in it to this clause. It would appear that the Government have not answered the question in an impact assessment of what the problem under consideration is and why action is necessary. That has not stopped us getting a clause which is 67 lines long and covers two pages. It has not stopped us getting Schedule 5; I do not suppose too many noble Lords have ploughed through Schedule 5, but what it does is repeal the existing powers that there are for councils to change street names.

So I am none the wiser. Is this clause here to enable residents to change an unpopular street name in the face of a recalcitrant council that will not shift—perhaps they live in Savile Row and the word Savile has dropped out of favour and needs to be changed, but the council will not hear of it? Or is it here to prevent councils introducing an unpopular change that residents oppose? Putting it another way, is the target councils that insist on changing street names or councils that refuse to change street names?

One way or another, I was an elected representative for 37 years on various councils and at the other end of this building and never, in all my time, did I come across a case where either of these things obtained. I did come across cases where people wanted to change names or the council might think it was a good idea to change names. There was a straightforward discussion and consensus reached as to whether it should or should not happen.

The power that exists at the moment goes back a very long way to the 1907 Act. Section 21 states that a local authority requires two-thirds of the number of ratepayers and those liable to pay council tax in any street to have voted in favour of the street name alteration before it can be made. That exists as one route to change, so there is not a problem that there is no power to change street names and there is not a problem that street names might be changed over the heads of residents without them being consulted. The Minister may say, “Ah, but there’s a second way that councils can change names”, and that is true—but if you simply want to give more power to residents, just insist that all councils have to use the 1907 regulations; do not waste time in this Bill introducing what is in front of us today.

My second question to the Minister is: what has proved to be the harm or defect in the current arrangements in Section 21 of the 1907 Act? Everybody agrees that sometimes changes are needed. It might be because language changes and the street name is clearly now just plain offensive. I have a practical personal example. In my area, going back to before 1907, the inhabitants of a place called Bullock Smithy decided that it would be appropriate to get a different name for their area. They petitioned the local council, and it was agreed that the place could change its name from Bullock Smithy to Hazel Grove. Hence, I became the MP for Hazel Grove, not the MP for Bullock Smithy. It is helpful to know that at that time there was no Secretary of State to write regulations. It was perfectly competent and possible for a whole community to change its name, and street names are surely rather smaller beer than that.

The current practice is that, if residents want a change, they normally get some sort of petition together and a bit of publicity and talk to their local councillors or send a letter to the town hall. The town hall would have some sort of consultation and the name would be changed or not changed. Of course, there are considerable barriers to changing a street name, such as inconvenience to business. I mentioned Savile Row. I dare say businesses in Savile Row would not be very pleased about having the name changed because it is part of their brand to be in Savile Row. There is also a cost to residents and the friends of residents who have to change all their address books. If the council wants to recognise a newly found hero or perhaps some Roman coins, as the noble Baroness said, evidently in Stevenage you put them in the next street you develop; you do not change an existing street name. I would have thought that that is what 99% of councils would do if they had an Olympic winner, for example in cycling. Let us mention Stockport in particular, as we have plenty of them. We do not rename streets; we name new streets for our Olympic winners.

That touches on a point that the noble Baroness raised. I think this is something that has come out of a pigeonhole. I think it has probably come out of a pigeonhole at CCHQ, and it has been there since the 1960s when Conservative MPs were screaming their heads off because roads were being named after Nelson Mandela. I have to say that some of those same MPs came to Westminster Hall a few decades later to give a round of applause to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. There are fashions in these things in the Conservative Party as well as fashions in culture.

The delegated regulation book brings me to the next point. What assessment of the number of local authorities where disputes have arisen has the Minister made? Is this an entirely fabricated case or is there actually a real case, or two or three real cases, that the Minister could relay to your Lordships? I note that in the delegated regulations book—which is quite a slender document, just 400-odd pages—there is a page on the amendments here. It refers several times to the public consultation of 22 May on how the regulations under this new provision might be conducted. Now I have done a fair amount of reading on this, but I drew the line at finding out whether that consultation had actually been published. My question to the Minister is straightforward: has that consultation been published and what were the responses to it? Did it get the very big raspberry that it thoroughly deserved?

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

My noble friend suggests that Raspberry Close might be what we have as a future name. This provision illustrates everything that is wrong about the Government’s approach to levelling up and this Bill. First, it removes an existing power of councils to do exactly what the Government say they want to control. It adds bureaucracy and cost, and it puts in a new procedure which is not needed at all but, just to be clear, is a centralised new procedure. The word “regulation” appears eight times in 42 lines.

It is a make-work clause for people in Whitehall. It serves no practical purpose, but it goes down to the smallest detail in the text. For instance, Clause 77(3) states that, the name having been changed, a local authority may put up a sign. That is a pretty good point; I am glad they did not overlook that. What kind of sign? Well, it can be “painted or otherwise marked”. Yes, that is another good point. I am glad they did not overlook that. Where can it be put? It can be put on

“a conspicuous part of any building or other erection”.

Is this not getting down to the absolutely absurd? Of course, at first I was worried that trees were not included in the places where you could fix a sign—but then I realised that the Minister would tell me that trees will be covered in regulations. In fact, the whole clause is covered in regulations. The whole Bill is covered in regulations. The only consolation I get out of this is that we have not yet been given the department’s list of approved street names—but possibly the Minister will tell us that that is going to come on Report.

This is an unnecessary clause: it is poorly drafted and dripping with red tape and the Minister should take it out of this Bill and let us focus on the real task of levelling up, to which it contributes in no way at all.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

Well, my Lords, follow that. After that devastating forensic analysis explaining exactly why Clause 77 should not stand part of the Bill, I rise briefly to add a couple of additional points to the arguments just presented. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that this clause should go altogether, but I also understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, is trying to ameliorate the mess to some degree. But I think it is clear that getting rid of the clause altogether is by far the best option, and I note that the Local Government Association has expressed its concerns about it.

I want to add one case study, one piece of analysis and one warning for the Minister and the Government in general. The case study concerns what has happened not with a street name but with a similar story in Stroud. There is what has been described as “an offensive racist relic” clock that glamorises the slave trade. When this became an issue, the council started an eight-week consultation. Some 1,600 people in a town with a population of 13,500 responded to that consultation; 77% said that the clock should be taken down. This is an interesting case study. One issue is that the clock is on a building owned by a trust. It is possible that the Secretary of State may have to be referred to on whether the trust is allowed to have this clock, which the people of Stroud have expressed their desire to see removed. This is my cautionary warning to the Government and the Minister. Do Ministers really want to get tangled up in these stories and issues?

Maybe they do, which brings us to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, about the purpose of this clause. It would appear that the purpose of the clause is that Ministers can be seen to take a position; that is surely a very bad reason to write law. The other case study warning, which has not been mentioned here but should be, concerns Bristol and the Edward Colston statue. That was a demonstration of what happens when public opinion is not listened to and when there is a strong clinging to tradition. As other noble Lords have said, times have moved on and things put up in the past are now offensive. People will take things into their own hands. It is clear that these are local issues that should be decided at a local level, and the Government really should not be sticking their oar in.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise briefly to continue the absurdity that my noble friend Lord Stunell spoke about. Clause 77(6) says:

“An alteration has the necessary support for the purposes of this section only if … it has sufficient local support”— so one needs to determine what is “sufficient local support”—

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat

It is in the regulations.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

Indeed. It continues

“where it is an alteration of a specified kind, it has any other support specified as a pre-condition for alterations of that kind.”

We then move on to Clause 77(7) and, as my noble friend Lord Stunell just said from a sedentary position, it seems to be in the regulations. It says:

“Regulations may provide that sufficient local support, or support of a kind specified under subsection (6)(b), can only be established in the way, or in one of the alternative ways, specified in the regulations.”

These regulations should make provision for a referendum and, according to Clause 77(8)(a), should specify

“the conduct and timing of a referendum and who is entitled to vote”.

So it may not be the whole street; it may be part of the street, the street next door or a few streets next door. Clause 77(8)(b) goes on to say, interestingly, that the regulation may say that it may not be a 50:50 percentage split, or 51%. It says that the regulation will set

“a specified percentage or number of those entitled to vote in the referendum” and

“a specified majority of those who vote indicate their support for the alteration”.

Clause 77(8)(c) goes on to say that, following the first voting event, at another specific time, through regulation, a second vote could be held, or it could be determined that it could be part of the street or the whole street that then gets voted on in a second referendum.

I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Stunell: this is a most ridiculous clause. It should not stand part of this Bill. It has nothing at all to do with localism. The 1907 Act allows exactly for a street vote to take place if it is required. It seems that the right honourable Oliver Dowden MP in the other place let the cat out of the bag on what the issue is. I do not think it goes back to Nelson Mandela, but to a four-letter word: “woke”. Oliver Dowden said recently that this should stop people getting rid of historical names and putting in “woke” names.

This is a culture war in a Bill; it should not stand part of the Bill. It is not a problem that has been defined. The 1907 Act already determines that this can take place. Doing this through centralised regulations in such a prescriptive way is not what levelling up or devolution are about.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 7:15 pm, 20th March 2023

My Lords, in the interests of some balance, while I have no idea what Clause 77 is doing in the Bill—I agree with the objections that have been raised; it is far too prescriptive—I thought it might be worth noting that, in Haringey where I live, over £100,000 was spent on renaming Black Boy Lane as La Rose Lane. That was due to concerns that the old name had racist connotations. However, it is disingenuous to talk about the idea that this was based on local consultations. The council did launch a consultation after the death of George Floyd but, since then, it has admitted that a significant number of residents of the street objected to the idea. Its inbox was full of messages from people objecting to the name change but it decided to carry on regardless.

The culture war is not so much in the Bill as in society. I do not think it is fair to say that this is all to do with Oliver Dowden playing the woke card, because there are real issues happening on the streets of the UK.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

Will the noble Baroness accept that I said that this clause was based on what Oliver Dowden said? It was a direct quote. Would she also agree that the example she gives could be dealt with if the 1907 Act were deemed to be appropriate for all street name changes and the 1925 Act repealed? Then there would not be a need for this clause at all—the 1907 Act allows for street name changes with votes.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

It is true that I am not familiar with the 1907 Act in detail, if at all. It is also true that I did not introduce the subject of Oliver Dowden or the term “woke”; I was responding to the comment that was made. I would just like to carry on, as this bit of what I am saying is important to the Bill.

Sometimes people speak on behalf of local democracy and actually the problem is that what passes for local democracy at the level of consultations is often faux and sham consultations, and local people feel aggrieved. In Haringey, there has been a big row about whether the name even has racist connotations. Local people have put forward all sorts of ideas that it was to do with chimney sweeps or was based on King Charles II —all sorts of things. Local supermarket owner Ali Demirci has been going round asking people what they thought the original name was. Whereas the council seem convinced it is racist, local people do not necessarily.

The bit where levelling up comes in is as follows. Carol Lee, who has lived on the road for 35 years and has mixed-race children, was quoted in the Guardian as saying:

“I’ll have to change my driver’s licence, and that’s £40 alone. You have to look after your money these days”, as well as saying that she objects and that this has been imposed, and so on. Graffiti has been put up on the changed sign and signs put up in windows with the original name on them.

I was simply making the point that, although I do not think this Bill is the right place to deal with it, I do not think there is nothing to be dealt with. As to the Colston statue question, it would be wrong if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, suggested, we took to pulling down statues that we disagreed with because things did not go our way. I think that would be a destructive conclusion to reach.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, before my noble friend responds to the debate, I want to ask a couple of questions. I do not want to get into the detail of the public health Act, although I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who quoted marking and painting, the text here is simply the same as the public health Act, so I do not think the draftsman can be criticised too much for incorporating some of the original drafting in the process of rewriting this bit of legislation.

I have two questions. First, subsection (10) of this clause says:

“No local Act operates to enable a local authority within subsection (1)(a) or (b) to alter the name of a street, or part of a street, in its area.”

That relates to a district council or to a county council for which there is no district council. Are there any such local Acts? I was not clear what the import of this is, and whether there are local Acts that have given this power and they are being disapplied by this provision. I wondered whether my noble friend knew whether there were any such local Acts.

Secondly, I did not give him notice of this question, but I am asking my noble friend if he will be kind enough to see what the department’s view is on it. If one knows Cambridge at all, one knows that to the west of Cambridge there is a new town called Cambourne. I was the Member of Parliament there when it was first proposed and, in the original naming process for what were then three linked villages, it was intended to use the name Monkfield, since they were actually built on land that was called Monkfield farm.

However, the local authority discovered that it had no power to determine what the name of a new village or town would be. Presumably, the legislation, except in the context of development corporations, never believed that local authorities would be naming new villages or towns that were put on to greenfield sites by private developers. As it turned out, the private developer had the right in law to determine the name Cambourne, which it chose using Cambridge and Bourn, a local village. Everyone is perfectly happy about that now, but at the time it was questioned whether it was appropriate that a local authority could name streets but could not name a town. That is a curious situation for us to have arrived at.

As it happened, the local authority subsequently came up with the excellent name of Northstowe, which I think slightly reflects the point made in the other amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, since it used the name of the hundred within which the town subsists—namely, Northstowe—which historically had never been applied to a specific village or town, so a historic name was able to be given a modern usage. Fortunately, that worked okay without anyone having any problems with it. The question is: should the local authority have such a power and, if not, is this worth thinking about at some point?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I shall focus straightaway on the provisions of Clause 77 in the round, in response to the concerns and questions that have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Scriven, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Bennett.

Clause 77 creates a requirement for the necessary support to be obtained for any changes to street names. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why the Government have included this clause in the Bill. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I must repudiate the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, that this has something to do with the culture wars. The answer is that it addresses the issue that, in some places around the country, there has been considerable concern and disquiet where councils have taken it upon themselves to change the name of a street without any meaningful consultation with local residents.

Under the available legislation, which noble Lords have rightly said dates from the early 20th century, any council has the power to change the name of a given street without consulting the residents in the street. The provisions of the Bill will ensure that, instead, local residents will be properly involved in changes to street names that affect them—changes that, as we have discussed, can alter the character of their area. Street names are often an intrinsic part of an area’s heritage, cherished by the community for their history and representation of the place. Changing names involves both practical costs for residents and businesses and social cost to the community. We are clear that these costs should be borne only with the consent of those affected.

How that should be attained will vary according to the nature of the street and its importance in the community. A one-size-fits-all approach would be insufficient to properly allow the views of the community to be determinative. The clause will unify the approach to how changes to street names are made where currently the rights of the community depend upon where they live and, outside of London, the decision of the local authority as to how involved or not the community should be.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

I totally follow the logic of what the Minister has just said, but would it not be the case that a solution would be, rather than a new provision, to revoke the part of the 1925 Act that a council can adopt, which says there should be no vote, in favour of saying that all councils must adopt the 1907 Act, which says there must be a vote?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

The problem is that there are, I am advised, three Acts of Parliament that date from the early part of the last century, and that has led to a confusing mix of provisions across the country. Many provisions are over a century old, as I say, and there is no transparency over which Acts apply where. We thought it simpler to take the opportunity to be clear in this Bill that there should be more local determination of these issues. The current legislation is antiquated in its drafting, apart from anything else, so this updating is intended to make the process clearer for local authorities. All that should make the process for renaming a street more democratic and ensure that the voices of the local community are genuinely heard.

Amendment 173, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would add additional criteria for local authorities when considering the renaming of a street. We entirely agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of history, archaeology and culture in this process. The last thing we want is anodyne street names divorced from the character and history of the area. However, as I have made clear, the Government are strongly of the belief that the final say on changes affecting street names should lie with local people. We fully expect those local views to reflect the historical or cultural associations of the names concerned and the importance that communities place upon them.

The amendment would create a duty on a local authority to consider the historical, cultural or archaeological significance of a name change. It is not clear that a free-standing additional requirement of that kind is necessary, nor is it clear how that duty would work alongside the provisions of the Bill. It could, for example, make it harder to secure name changes that had local support but where new considerations, such as the need to honour a local person or event, took precedence over an archaeological interest. We saw some Olympians having streets named after them following the 2012 Olympics.

It is for this reason that, with the aim of being helpful to local authorities, the Government would be minded to set out in statutory guidance how factors such as the history and culture of the area should be considered in bringing forward proposals for street name changes under this clause. We have consulted on the prospective secondary legislation and guidance to deliver these changes, and respondents were over-whelmingly positive about our proposals: 91% of respondents agreed that regulations and statutory guidance should set out how local authorities should seek consent when changing a street name. In view of that support, and of the fact that heritage and cultural significance are matters that local communities are best placed to weigh up for themselves, I hope I will have persuaded the noble Baroness that the amendment is not necessary.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 7:30 pm, 20th March 2023

The 1907 Act is very clear. It is not antiquated or in any way there to be debated. The 1907 Act power may be exercised only with the consent of two-thirds of the non-domestic rates payers and council tax payers in a street. That is what the Act says. What is it about the 1907 Act and that provision which seems to be non-democratic and does not give the power to the people on the street to make the change?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Because it is a one-size-fits-all approach and our judgment is that that is not an appropriate prescription for every situation.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

The noble Earl is therefore saying that in one street it could be 51% and, in another street, maybe a couple of streets away, it has to be 75%. Is that what the noble Earl is saying? The provision in the 1907 Act is very clear. It gives a provision of what needs to happen and a percentage of the vote required to change the name. Is he saying that different streets need different percentages of the votes to change the street name?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

We cannot, at this stage, prescribe particular percentages to particular situations. This is to be worked through in regulations and guidance, which was, as I emphasised, the approach that respondents to the consultation felt was right: we should not be unduly prescriptive in primary legislation, but rather allow for some flexibility at local level depending on the situation under consideration.

I turn to Amendment 175 in the name of the noble Baroness. As I outlined, our view is that local people should have the final say on these matters, particularly, as the noble Baroness’s Amendment 173 demonstrates, when it comes to their local heritage. In this context, I agree with the underlying intent behind this amendment. There should be clear processes for making sure that views from all relevant groups that might be affected by a street name change are taken into account. It is, however, important that we do this in the right way so that the processes are robust but can be adjusted if needed.

The approach in these amendments would be prescriptive and would limit our ability to go further than simply consultation by making local views determinative, as the clauses do at present. But I want to reassure the noble Baroness that we will be setting out clear, transparent and robust arrangements in secondary legislation, as we set out in the consultation I already mentioned. In addition, by setting out the detail for how consultation on street naming will work in regulations and guidance, we can maintain flexibility to update processes in line with different local circumstances and changes such as new technology. I hope these remarks are helpful in explaining the Government’s approach to what is a sensitive issue.

My noble friend Lord Lansley asked whether there were any local Acts of Parliament that might affect this issue. I am advised that the Oxfordshire Act 1985 might be relevant here. I think I had better do further research for my noble friend to find out whether there are others—but that was the advice that I have been able to receive.

On his other question of the power to name new villages, I have no direct experience of this. My understanding is that what normally happens is a conversation between a private developer and the local authority and an accommodation is reached. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who clearly has direct experience of this, is shaking her head, so I do bow to her experience. It would seem appropriate that I look into this further and write to my noble friend once again.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I thought this would be quite a short debate, but you never know here, do you? I am also grateful to the noble Earl for, as usual, a very thoughtful and considered response to the debate.

Our contention in tabling the amendments in this group was that the Government’s introduction of this clause to the Bill was kind of bizarre in a way. We have looked at some very key strategic issues in the debates already—we are likely to come to more in the days in Committee to come—around local finance, business rates, environmental issues, affordable housing and so on, and found that there is not as much in the Bill as we would like to see on those. However, what seems to be an issue covered by previous legislation and seems for the most part to be managed perfectly well in local areas—there may be some notable exceptions—gets a whole clause in the Bill.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his careful evisceration of the clause—that is what it was. He used the term “a clause in search of a problem” and asked the clear question: what is the problem here? He also referred to the impact statement having no reference to this clause. I think the idea is that there may be—let us face it, there probably are—some councils around the country which either insist on name changes that have not got public support or resist name changes that have. But the existing powers, as has been consistently referred to through the debate, require a consultation of ratepayers to vote in favour of a name change, so it is difficult to see where the push comes from.

I know that this issue causes a great deal of concern in local areas if there are things that have gone wrong, but surely the pressure on a democratically elected council would be to make sure they had their residents alongside them if they were going to present a change of name, not to push against that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the LGA supporting getting rid of this clause. I noted that from the LGA’s briefing. The idea that people really want to get tangled up in these issues in Parliament is odd, to say the least, as far as I am concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talked about measuring sufficient local support. Leaving this to regulation seems, again, to be a huge sledgehammer to crack a nut. If we are going to have regulations around the conduct and timing of a referendum and what percentage is going to get us over the line in terms of what we call our road, that kind of centralised direction has no place in a Bill that is supposed to be concentrating on devolution. I do not want to get caught up in the issue around roads in Haringey particularly. It may be in that case that the consultation did not take place; I do not know.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I do not think the noble Baroness has understood the issue. This has everything to do with devolution; that is the whole point of the clause.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Well, I think that regulating to the extent of telling where signs can be put and whether they should be painted or printed really is against the spirit of devolution.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made good points on what powers local authorities have to name which things. We should not avoid the fact that private developers will of course choose to name things in a way that they think will help them to sell properties in an area. They will choose either road names or settlement names because they think it is in their interest and will help to sell properties. If we are to have this clause—I assume we will, because I doubt the Government will withdraw it—we need to think about this as well. Areas should be named according to some kind of local connection, whether it is history or individuals connected with the area—my second amendment refers to this—and I do not think that this should be entirely in the hands of developers.

I have not changed my view on this clause. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that it does not have much of a place in the Bill, but if it is going to be in there, when name changes are made we need to think about what the connections are. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on this. We also need to think about proper public consultation on matters such as this. If it has to be in the Bill, so be it, but local authorities have managed this perfectly well so far and there is no need for a clause such as this in a broad-ranging, strategic Bill. That said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 173 withdrawn.

Clause 77 agreed.

Amendments 174 and 175 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.30 pm.