Amendment 257B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 6:15, 20 April 2023

My Lords, I have not participated in this Bill so far. I arrived today thinking seriously about the matter of principle in the powers given to the Government by Clause 101, and with some sympathy for the ideas behind Amendments 257B and 258ZA. I am disappointed by the way in which both noble Baronesses have spoken to them, moving away from the principle of the way in which the Government have powers to a discussion about immigration policy and the use of asylum centres. That is a much narrower issue; it will come out of this, but it gets away from the principle of the Government having undue powers for whatever reason. Moving on to something highly controversial and difficult at this stage muddies the water in a way that is unhelpful for those of us who think that Clause 101 contains undesirable powers.

The noble Baroness referred to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which I chaired during the Napier barracks statements. We have seen the Government push the envelope, in particular during the pandemic. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, will recall some of this as a former member of the committee. Things such as permitted developments were pushed out in response to the needs of the pandemic. I understand that; emergency statements needed to be taken and things needed to be done quickly.

We saw the impact of that in many ways, but most obviously in our having restaurants in the street, which was needed at the time because otherwise they would have had to close due to social distancing. We on the SLSC were content about this because there was a sunset clause built in. However, a year later it was removed by another piece of legislation. By two steps, the Government moved from one position to another with minimal scrutiny from your Lordships’ House and the other place. That is the issue I am interested in exploring in this clause, rather than involving ourselves in discussions about immigration, which will take us back to all sorts of difficult areas that will not help the development of the argument.

The Government said in response to our concerns about making these permitted developments permanent that we were semi-killjoys, trying to stop restaurants in the street and so on, but the reality is that they were controversial for mothers with buggies, pallet truck drivers, people with limited vision and, above all, people who lived above them—all of us talk rather louder and laugh a bit more when leaving a restaurant at 11 pm having had a few glasses of wine, so people found their children being kept awake and so on.

I am not saying that was the right policy or the wrong policy, but it was one that should not have been made by the stroke of a pen in secondary legislation— unamendable—and that could not be properly debated, and on which local thoughts and views could be taken more properly into consideration. If the Government are to push on with Clause 101, I hope they will think about ways whereby some of the powers can be constrained, in light of the way we have seen the envelope of the power being pushed very greatly in the past.