Amendment 257B

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (10th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 6:30, 20 April 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. My concern is to do with not the specific examples referred to, but that we seem to be in a situation where we are asked to confer an unconstrained power in relation to an undefined objective. The undefined objective is “national importance”, and I have not been able to find a definition of what that might be. I suppose you would say that I might ask from these Benches: is the national importance clearly distinguishable from the political aspirations of the Government of the day? Is it something different? I would want to know because I would not want to confer a power without having a very clear sense of purpose.

We turn to the matter of “urgency”—not emergency, I stress, but urgency. We need to understand what that amounts to. It may be irksome to Governments of the day—the more centralist and command economy-type the thinking, the more irksome it becomes—to go through hoops to do with projects that involve Crown land. But it is the price of democracy, and the price of the maintenance of the rule of law and the continuation of what might be regarded as the rules-based system. That demands a degree of consistent approach. Without having some definitions in the Bill, it is difficult to see how there could be any consistent approach here, as opposed to one based on whim.

Some of the examples that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, produced in her excellent introduction made it look like Government gaming the system, and that worries me very greatly because it is not just the Government that may be here today, but one tomorrow or in future years, and perhaps—who knows?—one that is more extreme of right or left; I say not which. I get back to the rules-based system. Are we in that environment or are we getting into the area where anything goes?

I mention the following because I do not want it to be used as the lever by the Minister when he comes to reply. Wrapped up in the middle of page 123 of the Bill, in new Section 293B(11), is the provision for matters of national security and public disclosure that would be

“contrary to the national interest”.

I get that, and I do not have any principled objection to it, subject to adequate definitions and safeguards. I want to know how “national importance” and “national interest” interface for a start.

Going over the page in the Bill, page 124 states, in new Section 293C(3), that:

“A development order may make provision as to the consultation”—

“may”, but does not have to. That cannot be an entirely optional extra at the whim of whichever Secretary of State happens to be in power at the time. Still on page 124, new subsection (8) states:

“The following provisions do not apply for the purposes of determining an application … sections 66(1) and 72(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act”.

Section 66(1) is in relation to the desirability of conserving and protecting listed buildings, and Section 72(1) is effectively the same but for conservation areas. But when the Bill says:

“The following provisions do not apply”,

they clearly do not apply to anybody, not even the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is, in other measures, asking the general citizenry to comply with precisely the same burdens that they decide, on a whim, that they are going to relieve themselves of. I am behind the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, because this is just not good enough.