Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 17th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 9th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally, wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. I should remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments in, or expressed an interest in speaking on, each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Debate on Amendment 50 resumed.
My Lords, it is a pity that the debate on these important amendments has not been taken as a whole. I am responding to the introduction to the debate on this group, which began late last night.
Throughout the debate on the Bill, we have heard how important it is that businesses are given a temporary helping hand to make them viable in the longer term. My noble friend Lady Doocey has provided three detailed changes to legislation that will make a substantial difference to tourism businesses, as well as to those regions of our country whose local economies depend absolutely on holidaymakers. I hope, and anticipate, that the Government will be able to respond constructively and positively to these immensely helpful amendments.
My Lords, the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, raise the matter of caravan sites, campsites and holiday accommodation operating during the winter months, as well as the related issue of combined holiday offers. The tourism industry has been hit more than most during recent months and the Government must explore all options to support it during these turbulent times.
I am pleased to inform the Committee that my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely has this responsibility as part of her ministerial portfolio in the Welsh Government. She is doing all she can to help support the reopening of the tourism industry, which is of course a vital component of the Welsh economy. The impact on the wider industry has enormous ramifications for local economies and wider supply chains. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government will support all involved.
The noble Baroness’s exact proposal for winter openings has merits, but we should also consider the unintended consequences. Perhaps the best means to do so, as with so much of this legislation, is through consultation with local authorities.
While on holiday parks and accommodation, it is important that we briefly recognise the consumer rights issues that have unfortunately arisen during this crisis. For example, the Minister may be aware that there have been disputes with Parkdean Resorts, which initially insisted on pitch fees during the months in which holidaymakers were unable to visit. On that issue, I would welcome an update from the Minister on whether the Government have taken any steps to support dispute resolution efforts between operators and accommodation owners.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, for raising this important issue. Campsites, caravan parks and holiday cottages are places we all value. They are a mainstay of their local economies in many parts of the country, providing employment and supporting local services and businesses. I share her concern about the considerable impact that the coronavirus has had on the sector. In particular, we recognise that many campsite, caravan and holiday park owners now want to extend their season opening times, but planning conditions can limit this. I recognise the important role these businesses play in their local communities and economies.
On Amendments 74 and 75 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I am pleased to announce that my department will lay a Written Ministerial Statement that will encourage local planning authorities to take a sympathetic approach to applications to change the opening times on a temporary basis, allowing campsites and caravan and other holiday parks to open beyond the summer season. The Statement encourages them to use their discretion not to take enforcement action where this could lead to a breach of a planning condition.
I am less convinced that there should be any changes to provide flexibility for the owners of holiday cottages who want to let them out for wider uses on a temporary basis. As tourist accommodation could be lost, it may deprive areas reliant on tourism of visitors over the winter as we recover from the coronavirus. Individual owners can still apply for a variation of condition in the normal way if they wish. I hope that my response provides sufficient encouragement for the noble Baroness and that she will not move her amendments when they are reached.
Amendment 50, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, seeks to amend the package travel regulations with the admirable aim of boosting local tourism. The package travel rules are designed to be light touch where possible and provide protection and clarity for consumers. In her speech at Second Reading, she used the example of a bed and breakfast adding an evening meal at a local pub or restaurant to its customer offer. It is unlikely that this would invoke the package travel rules. For such an addition to come within the parameters of the package travel rules, the extra meal would need to be an essential feature of the trip, accounting for a significant proportion of the value of the package. That is normally taken as a cost in the order of 25% of the total package.
None the less, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the issue. The Government indicated last year that they would undertake a review of the package travel rules in future, but believe this is better conducted when the UK has left the EU and has the full freedoms to act independently. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept this amendment; I hope that she will therefore withdraw it.
I will write separately to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on the points she raised about disputes and the steps taken by government.
My Lords, it is rare that you get to speak on the same amendment almost 24 hours later. I congratulate the Minister on what is probably a first in this House in the 30 years I have been here; I have never known the House to rise before a Minister’s statement, but I quite understand the technical reasons for this.
The Minister’s response answered many of the questions I had, and I very much hope that the ministerial Statement will give a lot of comfort to those holiday businesses that will go forward to local authorities. I know that many local authorities have looked at this in a positive way, but it would be great for the holiday industry to show that the Government see this as a positive movement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, particularly in respect of caravan parks, which sounds good. I would obviously like to see the detail, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. I do not at all accept the points he made about the package not coming to 25%, but I do not honestly think this is the time to talk figures with him; I would much prefer to do it privately afterwards. I think that not taking the opportunity to help small local businesses work together is a mistake that has been allowed because of this anomaly in current legislation—but I hope to persuade him when we speak privately that the figures I put forward are right.
It is also deeply distressing that the holiday cottages will not be included after the vast amount of money they have lost during the coronavirus. The difficulty is that this sector has been hit so badly that it will definitely end up with thousands of people losing their jobs and livelihoods. I know the Government feel as strongly as I do that this should not happen, so I really hope they might be able to reconsider after we speak. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 50 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 51. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
51: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
Local authorities in England may permit organised outdoor entertainment, including theatrical and musical performances, if the entertainment is organised in a manner that complies with—(a) relevant requirements under any enactment and(b) any guidance on social distancing that may be in place at the time of the performance.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would enable socially-distanced outdoor performances by actors and musicians.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 51 dealing with outdoor entertainment, I first draw attention to my interests in the register.
I profoundly appreciate and cherish the creative industries, not only for their ability to educate, entertain, provoke, stimulate and provide balm for the soul but because they are one of the most successful economic forces we possess here in the UK. Our film studios, orchestras, playwrights, theatres and video game designers all help to make us what we are as a nation. They are the envy of the world, and they all create employment and wealth.
Like many others, I warmly welcome the major announcements by the Government last week: the substantial financial support for the creative sector and the news that outdoor performances may now resume, with suitable measures taken to prevent risk of infection. Some of our most enterprising venues and companies are already forging ahead with plans for what remains of the summer: the Minack, Brighton Open Air Theatre, Glyndebourne, the Maltings in St Albans, This is My Theatre. I can confirm with pleasure that this happy list is substantial and growing.
Theatre and musicianship—indeed, all forms of creative endeavour—are crafts that require constant nourishment and nurture. It is vital that they should be financially supported during their enforced hibernation during this pandemic, but it is equally vital—far better, even—that they should come back to life as soon as it is safe for them to do so.
As it stands, this Bill deals with two major wealth-creating sectors that have been grievously hit by the pandemic: hospitality and construction. I strongly believe that the performing arts deserve similar recognition. Legislative underpinning for the avoidance of doubt is sensible for a significant shift in policy and law but, while joyously welcome, at the moment has the status only of phase 3 of a so-called road map.
I am also eager to raise again, as several noble Lords did yesterday at Questions, the plight of freelance actors, musicians, technicians and other creatives who lack the sustenance and reassurance of a financial, contractual tie to any building or institution. They too should be numbered among our crown jewels. I want them to receive every possible reassurance that we, in this place, understand their current plight and want to help them back to work and to honing their remarkable crafts, just as soon as it is safe for them to do so. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has covered the issue in an extremely lyrical way, so I will keep my remarks short. We all know how hard the arts scene and theatres have been hit by this health crisis. Amendment 51 is a thoughtful contribution to easing some of that burden and allowing the arts to make their own socially distanced recovery. Imagine a summer of outdoor performances and displays—hoping the weather is good—reconnecting communities safely. Physical distancing does not mean we have to be socially and emotionally distant. It would be wonderful if the Government could facilitate this amendment; they would be rightly celebrated for doing so. I am sure that the Minister is a keen supporter of the arts and so will look favourably on this amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt for introducing his amendment so skilfully and lyrically, as was just said by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to enable open-air theatres to resume their operations. Mind you, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I would not say this would be in good weather only. Perhaps, like me, she would enjoy the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, which goes on regardless of the interesting weather around it—and the audiences love it the same.
When my right honourable friend Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, announced last Thursday that live performances could go ahead outside—“plays and music”, he said—he referred to the Minack Theatre. That press release refers to guidance, and the Minister will know that I am keen to ensure that guidance is as clear and timely as possible. It was timely, because the Minack Theatre immediately put its new programme up on its website. That is entirely within the guidance that has been published so far, which means advance purchase online and social distancing. Their productions include “Great Expectations”. My right honourable friend Oliver Dowden referred to plays, but “Great Expectations” will be interesting because it is presented by just one performer. That will be testing.
My request to the Minister is to ensure that the Government continue to talk closely to organisations presenting outside events because, by their very nature, they have had to scramble and work hard to make these performances available to the public. They are professional people, who want to do the best they can for their arts and their communities.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. As a result of lockdown, many theatre and music venues are struggling. The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester has announced significant job losses, while the Nuffield Southampton Theatres will close for good. Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of “Les Misérables” and owner of eight West End venues, said that many theatres cannot open until 2021 and that, even under one metre-plus, theatres will need to accept significant reductions in audience numbers.
We all welcome the £1.5 billion of funding for the arts, culture and heritage sectors announced last week, but our producers, directors and artists want to get back to work entertaining the public. Now that the phases for reopening are coupled with a clear timetable, I hope that help with insurance to protect against financial loss from any future lockdowns will be available. There is also uncertainty among theatres not funded by the Arts Council about their ability to benefit from the new funding. We must now include creative sector workers, who have been excluded from government support schemes so far.
The announcement last week by the Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, that performing arts could take place outdoors from last Saturday, with a socially distanced audience present, is extremely welcome. However, now we need to will the means for theatre, opera, dance and music to be widely resumed, if outdoors for the present. Robert Hastie, the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, is quoted as hoping to create open-air Shakespeare pieces,
“taking live performance out of the building and into the city. Shakespeare was written to be performed outside.”
“Until we can get people together in a space confidently—with large enough groups of people to make the numbers add up—we won’t be out of the woods, but imagination and a proper action plan will keep us going.”
This proposed new clause would play entirely into that action plan. It would enable socially distanced outdoor performances by actors and musicians, in a variety of new spaces beyond existing outdoor venues. We have a world-renowned, distinctive British talent in drama, comedy and music. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned outdoor opera at Glyndebourne and plays at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre but, as he says, there is a lack of existing outdoor spaces for live performance across the UK. Our creative artists, actors and writers will seize every opportunity they can to perform. We need to allow them to do so wherever we can; this amendment offers them an important route for that.
I strongly support this amendment. I suspect we will hear from the Minister that, with venues opening up and putting on live performances, this amendment is unnecessary. From looking at the Government guidelines for stage three of the road map, this seems to be the case, although I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that there should be legislative underpinning.
We heard immediately about the intentions of purpose-built venues such as the Minack Theatre, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I have read that Sheffield Theatres is working with the council in mounting outdoor performances, but could council help also apply to pub theatres? The performing arts will be one of the last sectors that can open properly—if not the last—because of social distancing problems. Within safe limits and with local good will, we need to encourage as many opportunities as possible for paid outdoor live performances. Much of the summer is still left and this will all help the hospitality sector, which we discussed at length yesterday.
Venues take in everything from Glyndebourne and Shakespeare’s Globe to live music clubs in cities, with no outdoor facilities, which would benefit from the help of the local council in mounting a late summer season at a suitable outdoor location. One of the big problems for the performing arts in this crisis is that the great majority of performers, actors and musicians—[Inaudible]—bands and dance companies. Performances managed by a local council would extend the number of performers who would start being paid, which is what we need. Helping venues, great though it is, will not necessarily help all the artists who could be helped, but local councils being given carte blanche to work with performers and performing companies would be a step forward.
I suspect that much of this will turn on the feasibility of and the responsibilities for the Covid risk assessment. Some clarification on this from the Minister would be welcome. Perhaps the law against gatherings of more than 30 in private grounds needs to be relaxed to widen the choice of good outdoor venues.
The public have benefited tremendously in the last few months from free performances online and sometimes in the street. It is now time that performers, just like those working in the hospitality sector, which we discussed yesterday, should start to be remunerated properly for their work, even if this will still be only a minority.
My Lords, I support Amendment 51 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling it. I agree with what he and all other noble Lords have said. The noble Lord reminded us that the performing arts are about education and stimulation, and are a balm for our souls—I guess we need that now—as well as for the economy. There is clearly a strong case to help the entertainment industry where that can be done safely. There are good links between this amendment and other matters in the Bill, such as the role of local authorities in giving permissions for new venues, and the fact that many pubs and hotels also support and are venues for live entertainment, especially for freelancers.
Various open spaces are regularly used for entertainment. Like all other noble Lords, it appears, I have strong connections with the Minack, having spent many teenage summers literally just up the road. However, there are many other spaces where it might be necessary to obtain permission from the local authority. I would like to know whether such permissions could be achieved more rapidly. I know that the usual ones are already in my local area, because we regularly have summer outdoor Shakespeare plays, but I imagine that more venues will be needed, not least because you cannot fit quite so many people when audience seating has to be socially distanced.
There must be many other entertainments that are not so threatening in terms of the aerosol effects that cause concern. I am sure that a string ensemble is not quite so threatening, or musical soloists. They could fit into smaller spaces, including pub gardens. We also have some excellent mime performances locally. Nothing compensates for the loss of theatres and concert halls, but surely that is all the more reason to be as permissive and inventive as possible to help the performing arts survive with open-air performance until indoor performances can recommence.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, which would add a new clause after Clause 15 on the specific issue of outdoor entertainment. As we have heard, like the hospitality industry, the entertainment industry is struggling more than most. I agree that our cultural offering is the envy of the world and that it needs our support to come back to life as soon as possible, and in a way that is safe. Theatres and similar venues have been warned that they might be the last to reopen and, as we have heard and seen in the news many times, staff have been laid off.
The noble Lord’s amendment focuses on outdoor entertainment. I will be interested to hear the Government’s response from the noble Baroness, Lady Penn. Every summer for many years, my noble friend Lady Kennedy and I have enjoyed going to the Regent’s Park outdoor theatre, which is a wonderful venue not far from here. We were last there last summer to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It was a wonderful production. However, it has cancelled its entire 2020 programme; it has completely gone. It hopes to be back in 2021 with a production of “Romeo and Juliet”. I have also enjoyed going to the Luna Cinema, which shows films in locations all over the country. That is also a wonderful thing to do.
Of course we all welcomed the announcement from the Culture Secretary last week. That is all good news, but again I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he talked about freelancers, who, by the very nature of their work, do not have a contract of employment with a particular organisation and are particularly struggling. If they cannot work, they are not earning, and they need our support. The risk of course is that these people will be lost to the industry and move on elsewhere.
I have always been a supporter of the Globe Theatre at Bankside, which has transformed the part of north Southwark where I grew up. When I was a fairly young man it was the site of a road sweepers’ depot next door to a disused power station. My first vote as a councillor in Southwark in 1986 was to settle the ridiculous dispute with Sam Wanamaker to enable his vision to be realised. With the support of my friend Ann Ward, who was key to the campaign at the time, we ended up with the Globe Theatre next door to the Tate Modern in Bankside power station. That has been a catalyst for the regeneration of that part of London. It is an area that I know well and I am sure that many noble Lords have supported the work there.
I also support the call from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for performers to be properly remunerated. These people want to work, earn money and ply their craft, and I hope that the House and the Government will be able to support them. With that, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, the Government wholly support the intention behind the amendment to enable socially distanced outdoor performances. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that, although I am not my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, I have a great admiration for our cultural sector and for the performing arts.
I am delighted to refer my noble friend Lord Hunt to the Culture Secretary’s announcement last week that, from Saturday 11 July, theatres, dance and music have been able to restart as long as they are Covid secure, take place outside with a limited and socially distanced audience, and have the appropriate approvals from local authorities. To support our theatres and performance venues to get up and running safety, we have published new government guidance that provides detailed advice on how to keep all those working in the performing arts and audiences safe.
My noble friend Lady Anelay asked about that guidance. We have worked with the sector through the Cultural Renewal Taskforce and the entertainment and events working group to produce it. We will continue to engage with the sector on the basis. My noble friend raised advanced notice. So far we have published a five-stage road map, on which we are at stage 3, so venues and others can plan for future stages in advance of them being introduced. That guidance will evolve. We are working on some of the science behind safely reopening some of these venues. As that progresses, we will update the guidance in line with consultation with the sector.
Since outdoor performances are now allowed, local authorities can already issue licences where appropriate for such events under the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003 and existing authorisations will not have lapsed, the intention behind my noble friend’s amendment has been wholly achieved.
My noble friend made two further points in relation to his amendment. The first was that the inclusion of the amendment would signal the Government’s commitment to this vital sector. I completely agree with my noble friend that our creative arts are an intrinsic part of what makes us a nation. I hope noble Lords will agree that there are many routes by which the Government can demonstrate their support for the sector. The announcement of the £1.57 billion of support—the largest ever one-off funding package for the sector—demonstrates that commitment.
That funding will also be essential to address the points raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Clement-Jones, among others, about support for freelance workers and others in the sector. It will enable organisations to resume cultural activity, albeit in a socially distanced manner, which will increase employment opportunities for freelancers. That is in addition to funding announced by Arts Council England in March of £140 million for artistic organisations and £20 million for individuals, including self-employed practitioners, to continue their craft. More than 10,000 individuals and organisations have been successful in applying for this emergency funding.
My noble friend also sought reassurance on the legislative underpinning for the reopening of outdoor performances, as did the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. This amendment is not needed to allow outdoor performances to take place, even in venues where they do not already take place. Local authorities can license outdoor performances already; this is underpinned by legislation in the Licensing Act 2003. I hope noble Lords will agree that it is not good legislative practice to duplicate this provision through additional legislation. It might also be worth noting that we are not planning to put in place underpinning legislation for the reopening of every sector of our economy, however significant the default is that those sectors should be open and that is what should be in place.
I hope that this addresses most of the points raised by noble Lords. I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for being unable to hear part of his contribution, particularly about the role of local councils, due to technical difficulties. We will of course continue to engage, but on the point of legislative underpinning compared to this Bill, we are not aware of any representations, for the process of applying for temporary events notices for example, which in any case is a shorter timescale than pavement licences, which are dealt with in the Bill. For these reasons, I am unable to accept this amendment, and therefore I hope that my noble friend can withdraw it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. We have spoken with one voice, and I greatly welcome the Minister’s commitment to our intention. As she said, legislative underpinning is the key. We are providing the hospitality and construction sectors with that legislative underpinning. The performing arts deserve similar recognition. I will return to the subject, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 51 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 52. I remind the Committee that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. The Minister wishes to speak before I call the mover of the amendment.
For the convenience of the Committee, and perhaps to save some time, I intervene to notify the Committee that, with regard to Amendment 73, we will bring forward a government amendment on Report that seeks to include mayoral development corporations, Transport for London and parish meetings within the Coronavirus Act 2020.
Clause 16: Modification of conditions relating to construction working hours
52: Clause 16, page 23, line 34, at end insert—
“(2A) This section does not apply where the condition or approved document restrictions were made due to potential impacts identified in the—(a) the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/571) assessment; or(b) regulation 63(1) of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/1012) assessment,on nature conservation interests.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that no applications are allowed for changes to conditions if those conditions are in place to limit, reduce or remove certain environmental impacts.
My Lords, I hope to persuade the Minister to present a government amendment in relation to Amendments 52 and 79. I support the thrust of the Bill and the impact it will have, allowing the hospitality and construction industries to recover from a particularly difficult time.
These two amendments relate to working hours in the construction industry and whether, if the temporary measures in Clause 16 are still in place in the autumn or for next year’s breeding season, the Government will pay more than lip service to the environmental protections of which we are so proud. I share the Government’s support for environmental protections such as the habitats and other directives. These are now part of retained UK law, which we have supported through our membership of the European Union.
I am delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for these amendments. Amendment 52 seeks to have regard to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and what catastrophic environmental impacts there might be reaching a common-sense agreement under those regulations.
Amendment 79 asks that regulations passed under Clause 22(3) be considered by affirmative procedure. Can the Minister confirm that these regulations have undergone or will undergo a proper consultation?
With these few remarks, I hope that I can enlist the support of the Minister and others for these two very important amendments. I am not seeking to delay construction with Amendment 52, but to ensure that we have regard to the habitats directives, which are now part of retained UK law, and that regulations passed under Clause 22 will undergo a proper consultation through affirmative procedure. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 53 in my name seeks a complete ban on any construction activities carried out between 10 pm and 7 am in any location where residents live within 300 metres of those activities applied for.
I thank my noble friend the Deputy Leader for his extremely courteous letter immediately after Second Reading last week, dealing with the points I raised about disturbance to residents. He said:
“The draft guidance highlights in particular that careful consideration will need to be given whether to refuse applications made in relation to developments that are in close proximity to residential areas when the request is likely to have a significant impact on health, taking into account other legal duties of local authorities to protect persons in the locality from the effects of noise.”
While I accept that and believe in local decision-making, I also believe that a national backstop should be imposed by this legislation. If it is right to introduce a national law permitting applicants to apply for up to 24/7 construction working, as this Bill does, equally, it is right to impose a national limit on the times during which that construction may take place.
The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, “We are passing a national law on construction working hours, but we cannot interfere with local decision-making when it comes to setting limits on those hours.” In most cases, I accept that this will all work okay, but we all know of the usual ploy whereby developers submit an application for 20 homes, which is granted, and then they slap in a revised application for 40 homes, which local authorities are afraid to reject in case they lose an expensive judicial review case. Developers and experts manipulate local planning authorities again and again. That is why a national backstop is required.
I strongly support Amendment 56 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall, to which I wanted to add my name but left it a day too late. It is vital that environmental and wildlife concerns are taken into account. Local authorities must not grant any changes to planning applications until they have gone back and examined the environmental concerns expressed in the original application and any special conditions that the local authority then attaches. I am not suggesting that a new assessment must be carried out, or a whole new EIA, but that the original conditions of protecting the environment be maintained unless there is strong evidence that the proposed new construction conditions applied for create no adverse environmental or wildlife effects. This is not just a matter of disruptive work at night. Was there not a recent case of a company having to remove nets from trees and delay construction because it would have been disruptive to birds nesting at that time of year?
I have done inadequate justice to the speech my noble friend Lord Randall will make on his amendment. I look forward to him setting it out in his usual concise, but highly authoritative and expert, manner. I am proud to give him my support.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendments 52, 54 and 79. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has made an excellent case for Amendment 52. I also fully support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. These amendments are all broadly similar. It is important that no applications are permitted for changes to existing conditions if they are there to reduce, remove or limit environmental impacts. Existing conditions are in place as a consequence of detailed planning consideration at an earlier date. Such restrictions, agreed or imposed then, should not be affected by this legislation and I seek the Minister’s confirmation that my fears that they could be are completely unfounded. Amendments 52 and 56 would solve the problem and I hope that the Minister feels able to accept them.
Amendment 54, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Pinnock, is about fees charged by local authorities. It proposes a fee for extended construction hours, up to a maximum of £195, which is a reasonable figure to write into the Bill. The principle is that councils should be able to recover their costs. It does not need to be about profit, but it must ensure that the direct costs of processing, assessing and agreeing an application are achieved. Neither does it need to be about full cost recovery, if that includes councils’ general overheads. The principle of recovery of direct costs for an application is a reasonable conclusion to reach.
Amendment 79, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, would ensure that any further regulations made by the Secretary of State would require scrutiny through the affirmative procedure. That is the right approach and I fully support it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his announcement of the concession that the Government will bring forward an amendment to address the issues which I raised on Amendment 73. We had a very productive meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. We made some points, the Government listened and I am very grateful.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, particularly when he is in grateful mode. I will speak only to Amendment 80, which is a probing amendment and links to the other amendments in this group only to the extent that the Bill contains temporary measures suitable for the medical and economic emergency imposed upon us by Covid-19.
As I said at Second Reading, I want to understand the sunsetting provisions in the Bill on which, in principle, I congratulate the Minister. Will all the provisions in the Bill lapse, and when? If not, why not? Why is there a disturbing provision in Clause 25 to,
“make transitional, transitory or saving provision in connection with the expiry of any provision of this Act”?
This seems extremely open-ended for an emergency Bill. How do we ensure that the various measures in the Bill are not extended when they have been subject to a relatively low degree of scrutiny?
My Lords, I too welcome the eloquence of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in speaking to her amendments. Like my noble friend Lord Kennedy, I welcome the concession that the Minister gave. I will speak briefly to Amendment 61, which intends to ensure that developers do not delay implementing planning consents.
Clause 17 is another example of lack of ambition in the Bill. It proposes extending the time limits for planning permissions where development has not yet started. There is a horrendous shortage of homes for people, the worst since World War II. Yet there are over 400,000 houses waiting to be built in England and Wales where planning consent has been given but not yet implemented. Developers are dragging their feet to manipulate local property markets. They build up land banks—stocks of sites on which planning consent has been given—but go slow when it comes to completing development, expecting land values and property prices to rise in the meantime.
The Government could have explored applying council tax to sites where planning consent has been given but development has not gone ahead. They could even have considered rendering planning consent liable to forfeit if development is not complete within a reasonable time, perhaps five years as this amendment provides. Instead, the Bill sidesteps the scandal of developers with planning consent leaving construction sites idle for years. This amendment seeks to address that and get the millions of affordable houses we desperately need built after this Government’s terrible record of promising great numbers and delivering pathetically low ones. I therefore hope that the Minister will respond positively.
My Lords, I give my full support to Amendment 53, in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra. I will disappoint him when I speak to my Amendment 56, which he has kindly supported, because I do not indulge in long speeches of expertise.
These two amendments seek to give clarity to local authorities about what can be allowed. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will reassure me, as he has already done at Question Time and elsewhere, that the Government will not be relaxing any planning rules regarding environmental protections. What worries me is that, in practice, a lot of developers—and, to some extent, councils—are not sure exactly what this means. For example, I am sure that the newspaper headlines will say, in relation to my noble friend’s amendment, that building work can be done at any time. There may well be local conditions, but many people will be confused. It is exactly the same, except that residents can actually complain and get things sorted out. However, the natural world and the environment have no such voice. I know of many examples, both locally and elsewhere, where developers will ride roughshod over some of the conditions in the hope that nobody understands them.
What I want from these two amendments is what my noble friend described as a national backstop. I want clarity in the Bill, so that people know exactly where they stand.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 55 and 57, originally put down by my noble friend Lady Pinnock and to which I have added my name. The reason I do so is that, at Second Reading, I raised the question of the possible impact on amenity of those who might be affected by the extension of working hours. In response, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, met my argument by saying that it was always a question of balance. Self-evidently, of course, that is correct, but the question is whether the balance is tilted in these proposals against individuals and organisations that might be affected by an extension of hours. It is important to remember that conditions in relation to hours are put down in order to preserve amenity, and if a planning authority has reached a certain judgment in relation to that, such that an extension as proposed is granted, then self-evidently amenity will have been affected. We tend to think of these matters as being about individuals, but of course hostels, schools, care homes and churches might all be liable to be affected.
It is worth reminding ourselves—there has already been a passing reference to it—that the duration of works can extend to a whole day. As I understand it, any extension granted would have effect until 1 April 2021, so this is not a temporary matter, and it is possible to conduct these extended operations seven days a week. That is why Amendment 55 is a reasonable and sensible obligation to place upon an applicant. It requires an assessment of impact on the community and plans for mitigation of any such effect. Here, to some extent, it echoes the position of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on the need for an assessment of the impact on the environment and conservation interests and plans to minimise disturbance. I venture to suggest that an obligation to produce an assessment is as much in the interests of the applicant as it is of the planning authority.
Amendment 57 seeks to extend the period of 14 days by agreement and therefore allows for proper consideration and, if necessary, co-operation between the planning authority and the applicant. It is clearly the case that if these matters could be resolved by co-operation, then that is much more likely to be an acceptable solution for the applicant, the authority and the citizens or institutions that might be affected.
My Lords, it was always my intention to speak only to Amendment 73, to which I have added my name. I thank the Minister for coming forward with what we all hope will be a resolution to what was, I am sure, an oversight in the drafting of the Coronavirus Act. We must make sure that those amendments will permit the development corporations and, I hope, Transport for London, to hold their meetings remotely, including remote access for members of the public. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who wrote to me on this subject, suggesting further discussion and acknowledging the problem. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, who, realising that she would be unable to speak on this occasion, sent me a quick email—knowing that I was going to address the topic—just to say how important it was to her to find a resolution. She was CEO of London First, championing bringing the Olympics to London and helping to find business support. She was particularly keen that it would leave a lasting legacy for that area of London and that the London Legacy Development Corporation would be able to do its job to the full.
Amendment 73 had a weakness in that, although it addressed the problems in the development corporations, it was not clear that it would also cover Transport for London. As a former board member of Transport for London, I was particularly anxious that that should be included. Again, I thank the Minister and look forward to seeing the actual language. I hope that this matter is rapidly coming to a conclusion.
My Lords, I want to mention one particular amendment—Amendment 61, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain—and then make some general comments. The planning pipeline problem has been with us for as long as I have been in politics. When I saw this amendment, I reflected that as long ago as 1975, I was invited by the then Environment Secretary, Mr Tony Crosland, to join a working party he had set up to deal with the planning pipeline. Unless we pass something like Amendment 61, we are never going to get on top of it because getting planning consent is not regarded by many developers as anything to do with getting the buildings up; it is to do with getting yourself a nice comfortable pipeline so that you can choose from a number of planning consents as to the way you can make the most money or the way in which you can manage to get your planning consent redesigned so that, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, 20 houses becomes 40 houses. I do not expect that the Minister will accept Amendment 61, but I hope that he will accept that it is vital to get to grips with the planning pipeline. That will involve a method of revoking consents, which is absolutely essential in getting these houses built that this country needs so badly.
I said that I would also make a general point. Nearly all the amendments in this group are about maintaining standards. It is very important that we do not get carried away with Bills like this to a point where we are getting rid of the standards that we have looked for and developed over so many years. Most of the standards, whether they be on animal protection, noise or the timing of developments, have been hard won and hard fought for. I hope that, in our general philosophical approach to this matter, we do not let standards be weakened out of panic. Of course we want to get the economy going again, but we do not want to do that by sacrificing all the gains we made in the past. Overall, without speaking specifically about any other amendments, I hope that the general thrust, which is the protection of rights already won, will be at the heart of the Government’s response to this set of amendments.
My Lords, having listened to the speeches of other noble Lords, I am beginning to wish that I had signed more amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, for example, on land banking, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, both made excellent points, and I wish I had been involved in that.
I want to speak about construction permits, because the conditions that are placed on them at the moment are subject to a lengthy and intensive consultation and decision-making process. The conditions try to strike a balance between the competing interests of developing land and protecting the community and the wildlife around the development. I am deeply concerned that Clause 16 will throw much of that balance out of the window in favour of long construction days with little regard for the impact on the community—their rest, their sleep and their mental welfare—and on wildlife. Construction hours can already be long and noisy, routinely running from 8 am to 6 pm, especially at a time when large numbers of people are staying at home and, in the summer months, may have windows open or be outside. Therefore, extending construction hours will create an unacceptable noise burden for too many people.
I am also concerned about the impact that extended construction hours will have on the construction workers, many of whom are self-employed. What will the Government do to ensure that extended hours do not create unsafe working conditions or lead to other detriment for those workers? There might be limited situations in which extending construction hours is warranted, but generally Clause 16 is far too broad and will cause far too much disruption for local residents near noisy building sites.
I remind noble Lords of my interests as set out in the register as a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We on these Benches understand and support the Government’s purpose in bringing forward the changes to hours of construction in the Bill. It will enable a phased start at the beginning and end of the day for construction workers to ensure social distancing and provide an opportunity for developments to catch up on the last three months. But rather than be prescriptive about hours of working—although I have sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—Amendment 55 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem would ensure that the extension of hours took into account the impact that these had on residents, the wider community and the environment.
Planning conditions set out as part of planning consent invariably include limits on hours of working. As a rule, these are 7 am to 6 or 7 pm. They are there to minimise any impact on neighbours. Extension of these hours must therefore include mitigations for those affected. That could be, for example, to restrict hours when deliveries can be made, as construction traffic is often one of the main local concerns. Extension into the evening or a much earlier start will mean lighting up the site, with the inevitable impact that brings with it. Amendment 55 would balance out these issues, and that is the purpose of the further Amendment 57, again in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Campbell. Considerations about hours of working inevitably include not just planning officers but highways and environmental officers, hence we propose that, by agreement, developers and the council can extend the time for consultation beyond the 14 days. Some construction companies understand that working with local communities rather than bulldozing their way through to get what they want, regardless, has many benefits.
Amendment 54 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Shipley would ensure that the planning authority was recompensed for the work done to extend hours. The minimum fee is £195 for planning applications and seems appropriate in this case. The Government must ensure recompense for work done. Planning consultants working for the developer will undoubtedly be paid handsomely for making the application to extend hours. It is only right that those making the decision be recompensed as well, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to that proposal.
The cross-party Amendment 73 is clearly about an administrative oversight and I am pleased that the Minister has given notice that the Government will seek to put the matter right. The three-month review proposed in Amendment 58 by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is one that the Government should consider carefully. A change of construction hours appears straightforward on paper but has many ramifications in reality, and time set aside to reflect is always a good idea. With those comments, I trust that the Minister will accept that our amendments are constructive in purpose and are in the interests of achieving a fair balance between construction, communities and the environment, and that the Government will be prepared to accept them.
My Lords, Amendment 58 in my name would explore how the changes to construction hours might impact on those employed in the industry. The changes are welcomed by Unite the Union, which represents construction workers in the UK, but I understand that there are concerns that any extension of hours does not simply lead to workers working extended hours. A better situation would result in staggered shifts, allowing more construction workers to be employed on the site while maintaining social distance. I am sure that it is not the Government’s intention that longer operating hours will adversely impact those on site, but I would be grateful for assurances on how that will be guaranteed.
On the broader planning amendments, as the former leader of Newport City Council and leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, I speak from personal experience on these issues. I am all too familiar with the need to be cautious of the adverse effects on the environment, wildlife and of course of the need to take into account the views of local residents. My noble friend Lord Hain spoke eloquently about the scandal of land banking when over 400,000 homes are waiting to be built across the UK. Indeed, it was and still is a constant source of tension in local authority planning departments as developers await a rise in land and home values and just sit on their given permissions. My noble friend’s idea of a forfeit of planning consent is an excellent one. It would gain much support in local government. Most importantly, it would allow for homes to be built again to try and assuage the great need that we have for homes across the UK.
I hope that the Minister will offer assurances that he will engage with local authorities to stress the importance of these factors. Furthermore, I am glad to support the comments of my noble friend Lord Kennedy in welcoming the changes announced by the Government to Amendment 73 ensuring that the mayoral development corporations, TfL and the London Legacy Development Corporation can hold virtual meetings, as they are also planning authorities.
My Lords, these amendments relate to construction site hours and virtual committees. We welcome the intention behind Amendment 73 on virtual committees, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Valentine. It would amend Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act was drafted at pace and the omission of the bodies listed was an accidental oversight, so I am pleased to tell the Committee that, as announced earlier, we are bringing forward an amendment on Report to deal with the matter. With regard to the length of construction hours— a point raised repeatedly by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem—this is all about the balance between getting Britain building safely again and amenity.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friends Lady McIntosh, Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall for amendments to Clause 16. My noble friend Lord Blencathra’s Amendment 53 deals with works in proximity to residential dwellings. I assure him that the planning authority will still have discretion to refuse applications that it considers would have an unacceptable impact. The draft guidance published alongside the Bill highlights that careful consideration will need to be given to whether to refuse applications made in relation to developments that are in close proximity to residential areas where the request is likely to have a significant impact on health. The guidance also flags up the need for the local planning authority to take into account its other legal duties to protect people in the locality from the effects of noise.
I will take Amendments 54, 55 and 57 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, in order. First, in response to Amendment 54, I say that there should be no fee in the current circumstances. This is a temporary measure that deals with a specific issue and is accompanied by clear guidance. We do not believe that the average planning department is likely to receive a great number of applications through this route such that it would create a significant new burden.
On Amendment 55, the draft guidance encourages developers to work closely with their local community and the local planning authority to undertake any noisy works that may affect residents during normal working hours and to implement mitigation measures. The local authority has the option to enforce against any breach of such approved plans and can enforce against other unacceptable impacts through the statutory nuisance framework.
I turn next to the final amendment raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, about extending the decision period of 14 days if agreed by both parties. We are conscious that this is a short period, but it reflects a careful balance which allows time for fair consideration and required engagement by the local planning authority while ensuring that the developer gains a fast-track decision for this temporary measure, particularly so that they can make use of the additional daylight hours in the summer months. Local authorities also retain their discretion to refuse where there would be an unacceptable impact.
Turning to Amendment 58, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, for raising this important issue. I can assure her that sustaining employment in the construction industry, and enabling the safe return of workers, are the key aims of this Bill measure. However, this clause does not directly impact or alter other health and safety obligations that apply to employers, all of which still apply. Further, we do not expect a change in hours of operation of a construction site to impact on working conditions.
Let me reassure the noble Baroness that the Government are already working closely with the Construction Leadership Council’s coronavirus task force and are monitoring the situation in real time. We consider that the proposal in the amendment to require an assessment to be laid before Parliament is unnecessary. I hope that, with the assurances that I have given, the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.
On Amendment 52, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I reassure noble Lords that the accompanying guidance for the construction hours measure highlights to authorities that in deciding whether to refuse an application they need to consider the original reasons for any existing limits on construction working hours. This includes whether limitations were relied on as either mitigation measures or as the basis of assessment for either an environmental impact assessment, including screening, or a habitats regulation assessment. As the Bill requires authorities to have regard to this guidance in exercising their decision, I do not consider the amendment to be necessary.
Similarly, while I acknowledge the purpose of Amendment 56, tabled by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, I believe it to be unnecessary given that authorities must have regard to the draft guidance. The guidance makes it clear that careful consideration is needed of whether to refuse an application where, for example, the development is subject to an environmental impact assessment, there are habitats issues or there could be an impact on a site of special scientific interest, and authorities are of course able to refuse applications.
To be clear, this Bill sets out a number of measures to address the immediate impact of Covid-19, and we have it made it clear throughout the Bill provisions and related guidance that any easements should not have a detrimental impact on environmental protections. We remain committed through the Environment Bill, currently in the other House, to ensuring that environmental matters are at the heart of the planning system, including through the introduction of biodiversity gain, while also ensuring that development protects and enhances the habitats we all love.
I will now respond to Amendment 61, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Monks. I trust that the noble Lords intend this as a probing amendment, and I assure them that the Government are clear that, where planning permission is granted for a new development, the development must be built out as quickly as possible. However, I recognise concerns about the build-out of some planning permissions being too slow. We have therefore committed to explore ways to ensure that planning permissions are built out in a timely manner. We will publish a policy paper by the end of July setting out our plan for comprehensive planning reforms where this issue will be considered. For the reasons that I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendments to Clause 16 and I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move them.
Turning to Amendment 79, I hope that I have been able to assure my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that any regulations made under Clauses 16, 17, 18 and 19 would already be subject to either the draft-affirmative or the made-affirmative procedure. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment and hope that my noble friend will decide not to move it when it is reached.
Let me respond finally to probing Amendment 80, tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe to understand the sun-setting provisions. This amendment would create a “cliff edge” to the Bill’s provisions which the Government believe would be unhelpful and would undermine its purpose. Ending the provisions at the end of the calendar year would create uncertainty, which would curtail the benefits promised in the Bill. Furthermore, a hard end date would mean that we could not implement the two permanent measures in the Bill; namely, we would first not be able to reform the Planning Inspectorate appeals system, as recommended by the Rosewell review and already implemented in Wales. Secondly, we would not be able to future-proof rules for temporary exemptions from heavy vehicle testing. For these reasons, I am not able to accept the amendment and hope that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe will decide not to move it when it is reached.
As I outlined yesterday, we will accept the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations in relation to the powers to extend measures in this Bill to ensure that the effects of coronavirus are part of that consideration.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra argued for a backstop or clear restrictions to be included in the Bill. We do not feel that this would allow the flexibility that might be desirable to support a pragmatic solution; for instance, where a developer has quiet, internal-only works to complete that would not cause undue disturbance.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to conditions being amended to reduce environmental protection. To be clear, this is a temporary measure and safeguards are in place to ensure that local authorities can consider the environmental impact of reinstating lapsed planning permissions and extending construction hours.
I thank my noble friend for his eloquent summing up and all those who have spoken on this group of amendments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his support for my amendment. Given what my noble friend the Minister said in response to Amendment 52 regarding the accompanying guidance—that regard is had to the environmental impact assessment and the habitats regulations assessment—and given that, in response to Amendment 79, he said that regulations would be subject to either the draft-affirmative or the made-affirmative procedure, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 52.
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendments 53 to 57 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Amendment 58 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 59. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 17: Extension of duration of certain planning permissions
59: Clause 17, page 27, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert—
“(i) beginning with 25 June 2020, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This will provide that where a relevant planning permission has a time limit for commencement of development between 25 June (when this Bill was introduced to Parliament) and 31 December 2020 , the time limit will be extended as provided for in subsection (2).
My Lords, I should draw attention to my interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum, as entered in the register. As other noble Lords have done, I express my thanks to my noble friends for their discussions following my speech at Second Reading and for the very helpful letter from my noble friend Lord Howe.
I confess that all 13 amendments in this group are mine, but they are to achieve two purposes. The first is to substitute June for April, so extending time limits on permissions and listed building consents. Clause 17 relates to planning permissions; Clause 18 relates to outline planning permissions; Clause 19 relates to listed building consents. In all three cases, the Government have given a three-month extension from December to the end of March. My amendments would take that from 1 April to 1 June. Nine of the amendments are to achieve that in relation to these three clauses. The other amendments, which I shall come to later, are to deal with the circumstances in which those planning permissions should be revived or extended where additional environmental approval has been sought and given.
I start with the question of adding two months to the proposed three months' extension. There is a balance to be struck, and I quite understand the thinking of my noble friend and the Government. They want to reflect the fact that there has been a delay—a serious interruption—to the delivery of the project pipeline for development; equally, they do not want to extend so far as to allow for such developments to be delayed when they could and should proceed. I completely understand that. From my point of view, this is not a probing amendment; it is my assessment of what a practical decision is in the light of all the circumstances.
As I mentioned on Second Reading, practical issues may have been lost sight of in substituting the three months lost—essentially, April, May and June—with three months gained: January, February and March. The most obvious, which I mentioned on Second Reading, is that the industry has lost three months of prime building season in the middle of late spring and early summer and is receiving, by way of compensation, time in the middle of winter. We do not know what seasonal effects January, February and March 2021 will have but if they were particularly inimical to development, it would mean quite a significant deficit in the opportunity for development. From my conversations with housebuilders it is not the case that on returning to site, generally in late June, they were able to do so on the basis of achieving full capacity. Many were starting at 50% capacity; those who I talked to only a week ago were generally at 80% capacity. The pipeline will have lost a further few weeks by the end of December. Adding that together, one might say “If not three months, perhaps four—or even five”. It depends on how one looks at it.
My noble friend Lord Howe has very helpfully said that in any case, all one needed to do is to implement a planning permission. He said: “Digging a trench or pegging out a road may suffice”. I have to tell him that I have looked into this and the courts have often taken a view about what commencement might be. Digging a trench might be sufficient; pegging out a road probably is not. The point is that neither takes account of two significant additional factors. First, when one commences development, often one also commences a legal obligation for community infrastructure levy, so significant costs may then arise. One does not commence a development simply by digging a trench, walking away and saying, “I’ve done what the planning permission requires”. That is not sufficient and, in the eyes of many developers, would be quite an unwise thing for them to do. Secondly, one cannot simply commence development until one has received the discharge of pre-commencement planning conditions.
I checked with the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning service and as of the beginning of last week, on 6 July, it began to look at applications received on 15 April for the discharge of pre-commencement planning conditions. That is a 10-week delay. Of course, discharge of conditions under these circumstances would generally take eight weeks, so there is an 18-week potential delay. When one begins to add these things together—they are not necessarily in series but may be concurrent—none the less it is far from obvious, in my view, that these particular three months at the beginning of next year are a sufficient addition to the time which developers need to compensate for the time they are losing in the course of 2020.
My point here is that my practical view was, “Let’s add two months”. In this respect, I shared the exact view—which I reflected in asking my noble friend some weeks ago whether he would add six months to planning permissions beyond the end of December—of the Home Builders Federation. It has welcomed what the Government are doing and is grateful for their bringing forward this legislation, but in fact asked for 1 July, not 1 April. I have not asked for 1 July; I have asked for 1 June. I think there is a practical answer somewhere beyond 1 April, in the light of all the circumstances.
I turn more briefly to the other amendments, Amendments 59, 62, 66 and 68. Each of them has the effect of changing the point prior to which additional environmental approvals will be required before planning permissions can be revived or extended. The Bill states that it is effectively 28 days after the coming into force of the provision, which is 28 days after Royal Assent. That likely takes us to the latter part of August. In my view, this is quite late. We are talking about planning permissions, which would otherwise have expired in August, having to go through additional environmental approval to be revived and extended beyond December. This should be required only in circumstances where there is good reason to believe that the environmental approval associated with the original planning permission is out of date. We cannot say for certain whether that is the case in any of these planning permissions, so we have to make a general judgment. But let us examine the fact that these planning permissions would have been implemented in these few months without any additional environmental approval and ask: is it necessary to go that far?
My personal view is that there was an expectation when the Bill was published that the development industry would receive three months in addition. That was in the Government’s publicity at the time, even if the Bill says something rather different. Giving the industry the expectation of a three-month extension to planning permissions and then saying, “Oh, but you haven’t actually got it, you will have to go through additional environmental approval”, is giving with one hand and slightly taking away with the other. Can these additional environmental approvals be implemented properly? If this consists of a real process it might, for example, require additional surveys to be undertaken. Let us examine an air quality survey associated with a planning development. How, under current circumstances, can you look at traffic and air quality and conduct a survey comparable to the surveys that might have been done a year or two ago? I do not think that is entirely practical.
I suggest that only those planning permissions that have expired before the Bill was introduced should be subject to additional environmental approval. That would take it back to 25 June, which is why I put that in the amendment as a practical suggestion to limit the requirement for additional environmental improvements. I hope I have explained that adequately for the benefit of the Committee, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
I have a very short intervention to make. I looked at this set of amendments in conjunction with the previous set. This is a sensible extension of the time limits, in my view, and I hope that those who will benefit from it—the developers—will have realised that this is adequate quid pro quo for the keeping-up of standards, which was the subject of most of the previous set of amendments. If we are to have a level playing field, this is what is wanted in return for what we want from them.
I have a short comment to make on the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. He makes a strong argument in his request for a time extension to planning permissions and environmental approvals. I look forward to what the Minister has to say in this regard, because it seems to me that the case has been made.
My Lords, the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, highlight questions in the Bill relating to the duration of planning provisions. Amendments 59, 62, 66 and 68 beg the question of what the consequences will be should the Bill be delayed. The other amendments in this group demonstrate the lost time and capacity available for development during 2020.
The United Kingdom is suffering from a lack of affordable housing. We must build to a scale which has not been seen in recent decades. The pausing of developments in recent months would make this even more difficult. We should also be alert to the knock-on effects on housing stock should developers be forced to cease construction altogether. As I noted in the previous debate in relation to the comments of my noble friend Lord Hain regarding land banking, we must allow houses again to be built without delay to provide homes for the people of this country. I hope the Minister can offer assurances regarding these issues.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for speaking to this group of amendments which relate to the extension of planning permissions and listed building consents. These amendments have been supported by my noble friend Lord Balfe. Let me begin by saying that this is a very unusual and challenging time for the development industry, and we recognise that many developers of residential and commercial buildings have had to pause projects.
First, I recognise my noble friend’s comment that the proposed extension for those permissions and consents due to lapse close to 31 December 2020 will represent an extension of only three months, and I take his point about the quality of those three months. However, where a planning permission is due to lapse earlier in the year, for example in September, it would benefit from an automatic extension of closer to seven months. This, we believe, is proportionate.
Secondly, we should be clear that these measures to extend planning permissions and listed building consents are intended to support developers to implement their permissions—that is, to make a start on site—as we know that many of them will have experienced disruptions or delays due to the pandemic. However, it need not take very extensive works to implement a planning permission, and we think it is reasonable to expect starts on site to take place by 1 April 2021. I note my noble friend’s points about the community infrastructure levy, but we have made provisions so that the payment can be deferred and I am sure we will see improvements with regard to the current delays in the discharge of pre-commencement planning conditions.
Finally, my noble friend will be aware that we have included powers to extend, by regulations, both the 31 December 2020 date and the 1 April 2021 date to allow more or longer extensions, should that become appropriate. I am happy once again to commit to my noble friend on the Floor of your Lordships’ House that I would be pleased to engage with him on this matter in the coming months as we better understand how the industry is recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.
My noble friend also spoke to Amendments 59, 62, 66 and 68 to Clauses 17 and 18 in relation to the scope of the additional environmental approval process. These amendments would shift the cut-off date for those permissions which require additional environmental approval in order to be extended to April 2021. This date is currently set at the date these provisions take effect, which is four weeks after Royal Assent. My noble friend’s amendment would shift this to 25 June 2020 to cover just planning permissions that have expired. He will understand that where planning permission has lapsed, an extension effectively reinstates the permission, thereby permitting something that otherwise would not be allowed to go ahead. So it is right in those circumstances, having regard to our environmental commitments and obligations, to check whether the existing environmental assessments are still up to date. However, it is important that these provisions capture not only permissions which have actually lapsed, but those which, while technically still extant as of now, in practice could not be implemented within their original time limit. That is why it is right that there is a short delay between this Bill achieving Royal Assent and the cut-off date when these provisions take effect.
Developers with a permission that has not yet expired, but which is due to do so before these provisions take effect, still have the option to implement their planning permissions now, if they can. This would avoid any need to apply for additional environmental approval. If they cannot, it is right that before an extension is granted, there should be a check on whether the requisite environmental assessments remain up to date. The process for doing so is not burdensome, is focused and would be free of charge for applicants.
I hope that with this assurance my noble friend will feel able to withdraw Amendment 59 and will not press the others in this group.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Wilcox, for their contributions to the debate and for their positive remarks. I am also grateful to the Minister for his response. He demonstrated that he is trying to work this through as a practical issue. There are powers in the Bill to change the dates for the extension later on by way of regulation. I will consider what he said in his reply before we think about this on Report. It seems to me that if we recognise the strength of the case we should perhaps reflect it in the Bill to some extent, but there may be other and better ways of achieving that than in my amendments to date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Amendments 60 to 64 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clause 18: Extensions in connection with outline planning permission
Amendments 65 to 70 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Extension of duration of certain listed building consent
Amendments 71 and 72 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clauses 20 and 21 agreed.
Amendments 73 to 75 not moved.
76: Before Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
“Three-month parliamentary reviews
(1) This Act expires at the end of a review period unless the condition in subsection (2) is met.(2) The condition is that both Houses of Parliament have, following a debate, passed a resolution during the review period in the form in subsection (3).(3) The form of the resolution is—“That the provisions of the Business and Planning Act 2020 should not yet expire.”(4) The first review period begins on the day 90 days after the day on which this Act is passed.(5) Subsequent review periods begin on the day 90 days after the day on which the previous review period ended. (6) A review period ends at the end of the seventh sitting day after the day on which it begins.(7) In this section, a “sitting day” means a day on which both Houses of Parliament are sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would ensure rolling three-month parliamentary reviews of the legislation.
My Lords, in my first contribution I should have declared my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as president of National Pubwatch.
Amendment 76 in my name is a solitary amendment and was first raised in the other place by my good friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier MP. The intention is to allow Parliament to consider the impact of the measures introduced by the Bill and to repeal them should unintended consequences occur. I very much agree with my honourable friend in the other place that it is particularly important for Parliament to take a power to repeal measures since so little time has been given for the Bill to be debated. Are noble Lords satisfied that we have had sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill? I suggest that we have not had enough time, but there is a lot of pressure to get it agreed. It is therefore important to ensure that we have a mechanism to deal with issues.
There is one important difference between my amendment and that which was debated in the House of Commons. In the amendment before the House of Commons it was for the Commons to conduct the review, while my amendment gives a role for the House of Lords. That is in recognition of the expertise in this House. For me, that was an omission in the discussions in the other place.
I expect I will shortly be told that this amendment is unnecessary as the Bill includes a provision for the affirmative procedure for draft regulations, but that affords little scrutiny, especially in the Commons where only a small number of MPs have the chance to raise concerns. This amendment would allow Parliament to review the impact of the provisions in the late autumn. If the Minister is unable to accept it, perhaps he could explain how the Government will allow the House otherwise to repeal aspects of legislation should the concerns around provisions prove founded. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I spoke about this issue at Second Reading and said that there was a need for quarterly reviews of the practical operation of this legislation, with scope for amending it if there were unforeseen or unintended consequences. The Minister said that he did not wish to “compromise the stability” that the Government sought and wanted to avoid “an unpredictable cliff edge” for those implementing the legislation who might find it difficult if the law changed constantly.
I understand that perspective. Of course, the solution is to proof this legislation properly: first, against mistakes, and secondly, by providing a means of putting right any unforeseen consequences of the Bill. I venture to suggest that there will be some unintended consequences; the question is how they will be put right. How will mistakes be corrected during the operation of this Bill, and would not the simplest means be to do what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, suggests?
I too support this amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The issues were raised at Second Reading. There will be unexpected impacts as a consequence of the ramifications of this Bill on both licensing and planning legislation. There must be a means of addressing them in a timely way. So far, we have not heard from the Government how that will be done. The noble Lord has brought forward a reasonable proposal for how any issues that arise from the Bill could be addressed, but as yet the Government do not appear ready to accept it. I look forward to what the Minister has to say in response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendment.
First, I recognise that this legislation is passing through Parliament at considerable speed. Your Lordships rightly stress the importance of scrutiny. However, any review of the kind proposed by the noble Lord should be proportionate to the issue in question. The measures in this Bill respond to the specific conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have already ensured that the vast majority of those measures are explicitly temporary or relate to temporary schemes.
Amendment 76 would create a potential cut-off to the Bill’s provisions every quarter. The Government believe that that would be very unhelpful and undermine the purpose of the Bill. Surely we need to give the economy and businesses stability and reassurance. Bringing these measures back to Parliament every three months for positive reapproval would create the very thing that businesses want to see the back of—uncertainty—and would severely dilute the benefits intended in the Bill. We cannot expect businesses and local authorities to operate not knowing whether these measures will be turned on or off every quarter. Construction work may be delayed or cancelled, vital freight vehicles may lie dormant, and businesses may find it difficult to operate.
Indeed, different sectors will need their provisions for different amounts of time. The different end dates of the temporary provisions in the Bill reflect the different effects of Covid-19 according to sector. For example, the challenges facing restaurants, bars and pubs are not the same as those facing HGV drivers, developers or construction firms.
I am not dismissing the case for scrutiny. Parliament will still be able to monitor and scrutinise the Government’s actions in all the usual ways. Let us bear in mind that, as the noble Lord reminded us, the powers to extend the duration of the temporary measures are subject to the affirmative procedure to provide opportunity for thorough scrutiny of the use of these provisions. As my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh outlined yesterday, we will also accept the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation in relation to the powers to extend measures in this Bill, to ensure that the effects of coronavirus are part of that consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked how we as a Parliament will monitor mistakes and how those mistakes will be corrected. The answer is that built into these provisions are flexibilities that lie largely in the hands of local authorities, which can, taking pavement licences as an example, amend conditions or remove the licence altogether. In so far as we have devolved powers to local authorities, they have the ability to correct mistakes, if one can put it that way.
My final point, which I invite the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to reflect on, is that a rolling review would mean that we could not implement the two permanent measures in the Bill. We would not be able to reform the Planning Inspectorate appeals system, as was recommended by the Rosewell review and has already been implemented in Wales, and we would not be able to future-proof rules for temporary exemptions from heavy vehicle testing. The existing rules allow for exemptions to be issued on a blanket basis during exceptional circumstances. The measures in this Bill will allow the Government to issue exemptions on the basis of road safety risk, while still being constrained through regulations to issue these exemptions in relation to exceptional circumstances. This corrects a deficiency in existing emergency powers.
For these reasons, I cannot accept this amendment and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.
My Lords, I wanted to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I was not able to do so because I was muted from the other side; I therefore seek the leniency of the House in making my points.
In the past few months, we have become accustomed to approving measures retrospectively. Our debates have become mostly redundant because of the need to accommodate the next set of schedules and amendments. It has been important for me to put forward my views on this Bill.
Given the significant role of local authorities in the recovery of our communities, the reporting requirement in this amendment must detail the extra cost of how measures in this Bill will have an impact on local communities, as it is not clear. As a former councillor, I fear that the inevitable result will be a greater workload and higher cost for most authorities, including planning services. Many local authorities have been put on the back foot by some of the proposed measures and, by all accounts, feel sidelined.
As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and other noble Lords passionately detailed, it is local authorities and local police forces who will have to manage the fallout and environmental impact of any breaches or disputes and mop up after anti-social behaviour. I am in complete agreement with the points made yesterday by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Sheikh, about the result and detrimental impact of increasing the availability of alcohol. Therefore, this House requires more than assurances on reducing closing times. The impact can be felt by local residents—as well as the police and health services, of course—long into the night.
I am also concerned about the planning aspects of the Bill coming into this emergency process. The three-monthly review required by this amendment is of the highest imperative in warranting the necessary transparency in, and safeguarding of, local consideration of public interests. The Bill would worryingly enable planned development delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak to go ahead, forgoing the usual standards, such as requirement of local public consent, as eloquently detailed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and others.
I appreciate that responding to housing need is of the utmost urgency. As a former deputy leader of Tower Hamlets Council, I am also fully conscious of the central role of local authorities in the planning process, and their duties and obligations to meet the needs of local residents and communities. This is equally significant when considering the environmental and health effects of long working hours on residents, particularly children. What provision will be made for environmental standards in the proposed local government emergency planning reforms?
It is worth reflecting on the Government’s own recent deluge of impositions, usurping the local planning process, which would have obvious detrimental consequences, incurring significant financial loss to the community benefits available from a number of local planning permissions granted. For decades, this has been a creative partnership route, allowing local authorities to build a fairer and more balanced mix of social and private housing and community facilities. The delay to accessing the community interest levy suggested in the Bill is deeply unsatisfactory. What consideration will be given to working with housing associations to ensure that good-quality family housing will also be built through permitted development rights —not just expensive housing creating segregated communities and further exacerbating social division? If the Minister is not able to answer, I would appreciate it if he would write to me and other interested Members.
No matter the political expediency, I see no value in, or justification for, management or planning decisions falling under emergency measures. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who have cited justified concerns and questions about land banking and other tensions within local authorities that they have to deal with. Local authorities should be at the heart of planning consent, and the Government should not persist in allowing fast-tracking for developers, which will inevitably compromise community housing needs.
The Bill would amend existing requirements concerning appeals to the Planning Inspectorate and would be a permanent change to the appeal procedure; it is a fundamental shift in local democratic accountability. Therefore, will the Minister assure the Committee that the quarterly review will encompass independent and local oversight of all planning applications granted for housing under this emergency legislation? Will he also make public any objections raised by local residents to safeguard due process in all planning consent while this emergency legislation is in place? I am extremely grateful to all Members for their patience.
My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I will reply very briefly to the noble Baroness. I was sorry to hear her questions because it appeared from what she said that she is fundamentally against the purposes—or most of the provisions—of the Bill. I hope that is not the case and will of course consider the questions she has asked. I simply remind her that extensive consultation has taken place with the Local Government Association, voluntary bodies and local associations of various kinds, and we have not encountered hostility to the purposes of the Bill, which are of course to enable the economy—and businesses in the economy —to get going again after the dreadful pandemic that we have all endured.
We have, in fact, been over most of the points raised by the noble Baroness at some length already, whether at Second Reading or in these Committee proceedings. I also remind her that these are, with two exceptions, temporary provisions. The noble Baroness made as if to say that we were setting in stone forever provisions that she had considerable concerns about. This is not the case and I hope that, on reflection, she will feel that this is a Bill that the country wants and needs. I will look at her questions and respond in writing as appropriate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his response to my amendment. Obviously, I never intended to press it to a vote, and the noble Earl made some valid points on my amendment. Equally, I think I raised some valid issues with the amendment. As I said, I support the intention of the Bill and, as I raised here, I entirely accept that these are temporary measures. Equally, however, I think there is an issue if, when we put something in place that is temporary but causes unintended consequences, we have the solution be, “Oh well, hopefully I have the power to do something about it.” This may not be the tidiest way of dealing with things—let us leave it at that.
In a number of places around the country, we leave it to the local authorities to intervene and deal with the issues when we could have a mechanism to deal with them ourselves. Anyway, I hope that this will not be the case and will not be necessary, but I it is a valid consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.
77: Before Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of this Act being passed, lay before Parliament a strategy for employee-employer cooperation in regard to businesses implementing the provisions of this Act.(2) In producing the strategy, the Secretary of State must consult—(a) trade unions and other organisations which represent employees,(b) relevant businesses, and (c) any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
Amendment 77 is also in the names of my noble friends Lord Hendy and Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. It promotes much closer employee-employer co-operation and requires the Secretary of State, within six months of the Act being passed, to lay before Parliament a strategy for employee-employer co-operation with regard to businesses implementing the Act’s provisions. In producing this strategy, the Secretary of State must consult trade unions and other organisations that represent employees, relevant businesses and any other persons the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
Surely the Government cannot possibly object to close partnership between employers, trade unions and —where no unions operate in businesses—employees. Will that not better help keep business running safely, rebuild the economy and support those businesses badly damaged by the Covid-19 crisis? Everyone acknowledges that this crisis is by far the greatest Britain has faced since World War II. Unless the Government extend open arms to trade unions and employees to work in partnership to overcome the crisis, they are disabling themselves and everybody else.
Trade unions have already demonstrated in practical ways their value in helping employers to work through this crisis while ensuring the health and safety of staff and customers. Take, for example, the communications sector, which has been crucial to keeping the nation connected and supporting economic activity through the lockdown. The Communication Workers Union, for which I should declare that I worked for 14 years before being elected a Member of Parliament, has played a critical role in sustaining our postal and telecoms services and helping businesses to open up safely where they were initially forced to close.
They have secured agreements with Royal Mail, British Telecom and a range of other employers on the adequate provision of PPE and social distancing measures, higher levels of protection for riskier front-line roles, the introduction of thorough workplace risk assessments, the safe use of vehicles, home working for office-based staff with suitable equipment, support for the clinically vulnerable and comprehensive safeguards for staff and customers in high street retail outlets before they opened in the middle of June.
The amendment also exemplifies what a missed opportunity the Bill represents. Yes, it provides a range of measures to help businesses develop new ways of working as the country recovers from Covid-19—but what a narrow range, and what tunnel vision. Paragraph 72 of the Explanatory Memorandum reports that representations have been received from the trade union Unite about the difficulties bus and truck drivers face in getting medical reports to keep their driving licences valid. Difficulties are understandable in current conditions, of course; not all today’s tailbacks are on motorways. Some are outside GPs’ surgeries.
However, what neither the Bill nor the Explanatory Notes acknowledge is the call by Unite the Union’s leadership for the Government to involve the country’s 100,000 trade union health and safety representatives in helping with test, track and trace and in finding safer ways of working that deal with the ongoing risks from Covid-19. Independent evidence shows that workplaces where unions are recognised have half the accidents of those where unions are absent. Have the Government even acknowledged Unite’s offer? There is, seemingly, no response to it in the Bill.
Clause 14 is a small step in the direction of helping businesses to adjust to safer ways of working, but what the British economy needs are giant strides towards a bolder objective—more productive ways of working—which is what this amendment is designed to achieve.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recognised long ago that the way that work is organised and how people are managed are key factors in determining workplace performance results. None of that wider awareness is visible in the Bill. The Covid-19 crisis is also a chance to make workplaces more productive by encouraging closer co-operation at work and by challenging both sides of industry to boost productivity by working in partnership. The Bill, again, fails to grab that chance.
The crisis has shown that many established ways of working are past their sell-by date and that working people often have much more to offer than established working practices allow them to contribute. They are trapped in traditions and wrapped in routines that stifle creativity and dull initiative. Instead of work that they find fulfilling and rewarding, with opportunities for advancement, too many employees feel locked into undemanding humdrum jobs and are prisoners of rigid rules, hierarchical structures and narrow horizons.
The problem stems from both sides of the bargaining table. Too many managers cling to a command- and-control approach, fearful of sharing information with employees and too many union representatives, while talking a good game about teamworking and joint endeavour, although not necessary pursuing it. By working together, unions and employers can deliver big improvements in performance, boosting productivity and profitability, lifting living standards and improving job prospects. For instance, a mutual pledge on co-operation and a problem-solving approach to employment relations can free up management time, promote effective teamworking and improve dignity at work.
An agreed undertaking to find more flexible ways of working that suit both employer and employees can cut customer order lead times, boost motivation and morale and improve the work-life balance. A shared resolve to boost training and personal development can make continuous improvement a reality, ease the take-up of new technology and enhance employability and pay. A mutual commitment to accident prevention and risk avoidance can streamline production, boost reliability and make workplaces safer. Surely that is priority No. 1 in the Covid-19 crisis.
Both management and unions need help if we are to be able to grasp this opportunity to create a new framework for co-operation at work. Something like President Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Board could even up the balance of power between bosses and workers and encourage union recognition. It could help poorly paid key workers and the nearly 4 million people in insecure jobs to get a fairer deal.
The Government should build on the success of Ministers’ recent sector-by-sector meetings with trade union and business leaders by backing sectoral bargaining. This could put a floor under pay and conditions of employment, raise standards and stop responsible employers being undercut by irresponsible rivals and workers being exploited unfairly. I have every intention of returning to this issue with my noble friends on Report unless, as I hope, the Minister can accept our amendment or at least embed in the Bill a version of it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hain for moving this amendment and I agree with everything that he said in support of it. I shall add just one point—the essential modesty of the amendment.
Last month, 30 June marked the 70th anniversary of the ratification by the United Kingdom of Convention No. 98 of the International Labour Organization, one of the two most fundamental conventions in international labour law. It has not merely been expressly ratified by no fewer than 167 nations but is also considered to be part of customary international law. Article 4 of the convention calls on ratifying states to take measures
“to encourage and promote the full development and utilisation of machinery for voluntary negotiation between employers or employers’ organisations and workers’ organisations, with a view to the regulation of terms and conditions of employment by means of collective agreements.”
Article 6 of the 1961 European Social Charter—of the Council of Europe, not the EU—was ratified by the UK 48 years ago and makes similar provision.
In addition to compliance with domestic law, the rule of law requires states to comply with such ratified provisions of international law. As the late Lord Bingham put it in his well-known public lecture on the rule of law in 2006, the existing principle of the rule of law
“requires compliance by the state with its obligations”
in international law—the law that, whether deriving from treaty or international custom and practice, governs the conduct of nations. I do not think that that proposition is contentious.
This modest amendment does not ask, as the UK’s binding international legal obligations do, for machinery for collective bargaining to be established in the present context. It merely asks for the Government to provide a strategy for collective co-operation. It is a point of principle shared by me and noble friends that workers should be involved in important decisions of the businesses that employ them, as that is to the mutual benefit of both, as my noble friend has just pointed out. Many such decisions will arise in relation to this Bill. For myself, I am unable to discern any rational objection to the amendment and I look forward to hearing the Minister on the subject.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain. It underscores the principles of the machinery for voluntary negotiation, partnership and co-operation. Surely the Minister will see fit to support it. It would encourage good work between employers and employees to ensure better productivity, better performance and better output levels, bringing benefit not only to the business and the employer but to the employees, because they would be directly involved in the decision-making.
You have only to look at the work that Unite has been doing in the whole coronavirus operation with test, track and trace. I looked at the German model of work councils, which are very much about voluntary negotiation between the employee and the employer, giving due recognition to the work of both but underscoring the principle of better output and better performance. They boost profitability, lift living standards and enhance the job prospects of all the employees directly involved.
I am very content to support this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hain because it would bring about better working relationships and better co-operation, which, particularly at a time of a pandemic, are urgently required.
My Lords, as employers bring back employees, even observing all the government guidelines scrupulously only reduces the risk of Covid—it does not eliminate it. That brings me to the issue of employers’ liability insurance and Covid, which I raised at Second Reading. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his letter to me, in which he addressed the questions that I raised, but it seems that the problem remains. He wrote:
“Every employer carrying out business in Britain must maintain compulsory employers’ liability insurance, which insures them in relation to bodily injury or disease sustained by employees arising out of and in the course of their employment in that business. There are strict limits on the conditions and exclusions which such policies can contain.”
However, both employers and employees were very taken aback to find that business interruption insurance, which they thought covered them in an instance such as the pandemic, in most cases has not been applicable. Many will look at the terms of employers’ liability insurance and feel very uncertain that, in a case where an employee acquires Covid at the work site, they will be protected by that insurance, and of course employers share that same concern. There is a real worry that insurance companies will find some way out of being responsible for paying compensation or that they will ask the employers to add to and expand their insurance, at some extraordinarily exorbitant price.
I was interested in Amendment 77 because I am being realistic in recognising that the Government will not intervene at the moment to try to make sure that this insurance is adequate—and at the moment, insurers are not feeling a lot of pressure. But the coming together of employees and employers, which in a sense is outlined in Amendment 77, seems to provide a venue to create pressure and to place attention on this issue. I fear that, particularly if we have a second spike, it will become a very significant issue, and I do not want the pressure to try to deal with this matter to go away.
My Lords, Amendment 77 on employee and employer considerations, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is a timely reminder that all the elements of the Bill have a consequence on working lives and employer responsibilities, and provide opportunities to develop better working practices and relationships. Liberal Democrats have long proposed employee involvement in businesses as a means for improvements to be gained, both by the employer and those employed. This debate is important, we support the sentiments, and I look forward to the response from the Minister.
My Lords, Amendment 77, in the name of my noble friends Lord Hain, Lord Monks and Lord Hendy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, introduces the issue of employer-employee relations and highlights the role of trade unions and other organisations that represent employees in determining the success of these changes.
The Government will want to engage constructively with the relevant trade unions, and it would help the House if the noble Earl could set out how he has consulted them during the drafting of the Bill and sought their views on the issues contained in it, which have a direct consequence for the people they represent.
The Bill seeks to support economic growth, but if workers, their views and the views of their representatives are not taken account of and their safety is ignored, that is irresponsible—and I am sure the Government would not want to do that. The worst thing of course would be if we did not take their views properly into account and that failure contributed to a second wave of the pandemic, which would be—health-wise and economically—an utter disaster for the United Kingdom.
I agree very much with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, about how we should look to Germany and the work it does there with its works councils. I was over in Berlin a couple of years ago and saw the great work Rolls-Royce was doing at its factory just outside Berlin.
My noble friend Lord Hain mentioned the Communication Workers Union, and I fully endorse his comments. I also pay tribute to USDAW, the shop workers’ union. I was a member of USDAW for many years. Its members, the shop workers, are the people who have kept our shelves filled, and not without abuse and assaults from people. There have been some disgusting stories of offensive behaviour that shop workers have had to endure from people coming into shops. We should pay tribute to them. During the passage of the Bill concerns have been raised with me by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which of course has many members employed in pubs, about their safety as we move forward.
I also endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Hain that managers and trade unions working together can make a huge difference for businesses, local authorities and the rest of the public sector, particularly the NHS. We should not forget that when we clap NHS workers, pay tribute to shop workers, rightly praise local government staff and call firefighters heroes, they are members of unions such as Unison, Unite, the GMB, USDAW and the FBU. They are the same people—there are not two groups of people, one of heroes and great workers and the other of trade union people. There is something that has always frustrated me, and I raised it many times when the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, was Local Government Minister. When we discussed the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, the frankly totally unfair attacks on the FBU by the Prime Minister always irritated me. I repeatedly raised that, because it was totally unfair. Those heroes are members of that trade union. I will leave my comments there, and I look forward to the reply of the noble Earl to the amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, made some powerful and extremely significant points on co-operation between employers and employees, and putting that important principle into the context of the current crisis. I thank him for the way he did so. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, who joined him in putting forward this amendment, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for their contributions.
As has been explained, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to produce a strategy for employer-employee co-operation in regard to businesses implementing the provisions of the Bill, which should be done within six months of the Act coming into force. In producing the strategy, the Secretary of State would be required to consult trade unions, other employee representatives, relevant businesses and other appropriate parties. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will take it from me that we recognise the importance of effective employer-employee relationships, particularly in the current context. We encourage a constructive approach from both sides.
The noble Lord, Lord Hendy, asked me to say why we would object to an amendment of this kind. We do not think that a ministerially led strategy for employee-employer co-operation is necessary in the context of the Bill. The simple reason for that is that decisions on how to implement the provisions of the Bill rest best with individual businesses, their employees and their representatives, who know far more about their specific circumstances than any government Minister. We do not need to involve the Government in those processes.
I agree that workers’ voices should be easily heard, so it is worth my adding that the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 provide another important avenue for the worker’s voice in the workplace. We have recently lowered the request threshold from 10% to 2%, which we believe will encourage employers to be more open with staff about what is happening in their workplace. This has made it easier for employees to secure information and consultation arrangements with their employer on key matters relating to the employer’s strategic direction. That is another reason why we believe that this amendment is not necessary.
The Government recognise that trade unions can play a constructive role in maintaining positive industrial relations. Indeed, to answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, we have worked with unions, employers and other parties throughout this pandemic to ensure that workplaces remain safe; we will continue to do so as the UK looks towards economic recovery. This is an important subject, not least because so many people owe their lives and their well-being to a great many trade union members. However, for the reasons I have given, and much as I am with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in spirit, I am not able to accept this amendment. I hope that the Committee will agree and that, for now at least, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my co-signatories to this amendment, my noble friend Lord Hendy and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. My noble friend Lord Hendy’s expertise and knowledge of employment law is second to none in this House. I am grateful to him for his support, as I am to my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark—particularly for his mention of other unions such as USDAW and the bakers’ union which have been crucial in combating the Covid crisis. We can look right across the board, to UNISON in the health service, the Royal College of Nursing, the GMB and others, which have all played a vital role. This amendment seeks to get proper statutory acknowledgement for that role. I thank also the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Pinnock, for their support.
The Minister is always a model of ministerial courtesy and consensus. I thank him for that, but I find his argument that this amendment is not necessary, frankly, pretty shallow. The amendment is extremely modest, as my noble friend Lord Hendy underlined. All it is asking is for recognition that there should be consultation with trade unions and employees—and with other organisations where no unions are recognised. How can we combat this crisis effectively unless we are all pulling together? As we all know, we are facing an absolutely major crisis. Trade unions are performing a critical role. I find it very disappointing that the Minister is not able to support this amendment. Therefore, I give notice that my noble friends and I will seek to return with another, similar amendment on Report. Meanwhile, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Amendments 78 and 79 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Clauses 23 and 24 agreed.
Clause 25: Transitional etc provision in connection with expiry
Amendment 80 not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Clause 26 agreed.
Bill reported without amendment.