HL Deb 01 November 1999 vol 606 cc658-63

8.49 p.m.

Consideration of amendments after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 291 [Workplace parking levy]:

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Clause 339 [Amendments of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 74 Page 206, line 10. leave out subsection (9).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 74 deals with the planning part of the Bill. Clause 339 amends the Town and Country Planning Act to allow the mayor to direct boroughs to refuse planning applications. It is proposed by the Government that that power should apply only to applications raising matters of strategic importance to London.

It is perfectly proper that the mayor should be consulted on strategic issues. He has the responsibility of dealing with the special development strategy which is directed to those matters. It is right that his views should be taken into account by the boroughs or the Common Council of the City of London when they come to consider particular applications.

It is also within the power of the borough council to refuse an application which can be appealed to the Minister. We propose leaving out subsection (9) because we believe that there is a confusion between the powers of the mayor and the powers of the Minister. If the mayor cannot persuade either the borough council or the Common Council to refuse an application because he would have the power to make representations to them, or subsequently to persuade the Minister to call in the application, he would be operating on pretty thin ground. We believe that that would mean that his case was not justified. We believe there is confusion in the Bill as drafted and the removal of the power to direct refusal would make the system more streamlined and more straightforward. Those seeking to make applications would know better where they were. The boroughs or the Common Council would know where they stood and I believe that the mayor would be in a clearer situation. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not consider that we are being unfair in this regard. I am slightly surprised at the way in which the noble Lord has moved this amendment because he is seeking to take powers from London and give them back to the Secretary of State. That is somewhat contrary to the argument that he has pursued in many parts of the Bill.

We have made it clear throughout that the mayor of London will have strategic responsibilities. Those responsibilities will include an overall look at the planning system in London. We have also made it clear that the vast majority of planning decisions will be undertaken by the London boroughs, with no intervention from the mayor, and that where those decisions are of genuine strategic importance the mayor should be notified and have the ability to intervene. That is why we propose to give the mayor power to be consulted, and as a last resort he can directly refuse a small number of strategically important planning applications.

My colleague Nick Raynsford has just spelt out the thresholds on which most of these will be judged. We expect the total number of applications notified to the mayor to be small—between 150 and 250 a year, out of a total of 70,000 planning decisions. The key word is notified. The mayor will not necessarily intervene in all of those. I expect the mayor will use the power of direct refusal as a last resort.

Within the Bill we also provide some safeguards against misuse. The mayor will only be able to use the power where there are genuine strategic planning reasons, and will have to give a detailed explanation of such. Where the mayor is proved wrong he will be liable to pay the costs of holding an appeal inquiry and the cost of other parties where it is found that he or she has abused those powers unreasonably.

All those factors help to ensure that the decisions of the mayor will be taken reasonably and that the number of decisions on which the mayor will intervene will be relatively small, but it will give the mayor the power to make a strategic intervention where he or she considers it necessary. I do not believe that deleting the mayor and referring such decisions directly to the Secretary of State fits in with the spirit of the structure of the new authority. On reflection, I believe that the noble Lord will believe so too.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. Like me, he is an optimist. Of course, if one happens to be a pessimist at some time in the future the mayor will direct a refusal which will subsequently be appealed to the Minister and granted. At that point some interesting words will be said among the parties to the situation. If that happens that may impose unreasonable delay in a system that is already capable of producing delay in any event. None the less, I have heard what the Minister has said. He relieves me slightly, but not completely. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 365 [The London ambient noise strategy]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 75: Page 220, line 28, leave out subsection (4) and insert— ("(4) Noise falls within this subsection if it is—

  1. (a) noise emitted from works falling within section 60(1) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (construction works etc. which may be controlled by a local authority);
  2. (b) noise caused by the operation of a loud-speaker in a street, whether or not the operation would be a contravention of section 62(1) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (loud-speaker not to be operated in the street during certain hours);
  3. (c) noise at work which, under or by virtue of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, it is the duty of an employer to control; or
  4. (d) noise emitted from premises or emitted from or caused by a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street, except noise caused by aircraft other than model aircraft or noise made by traffic;
but noise does not fall within this subsection if it is noise from a fixed industrial source. (4A) Expressions used in paragraph (d) of subsection (4) above and in section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 have the same meaning in that paragraph as they have in that section.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 75. On Report I promised to bring back this amendment, which when first tabled included a typographical error. As your Lordships will recall, Clause 365 requires the mayor to prepare and publish a London ambient noise strategy.

In Committee we agreed to look at the noise provisions again, and the House amended them on Report with the exception of this amendment, which was not moved. Specifically, the amendment deletes existing subsection (4) of Clause 365 and replaces it with a new form of words detailing the types of noise excluded from the mayor's strategy. These are those matters dealt with by local authorities using powers in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and by local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The amendment removes the reference to statutory nuisance so that if a local authority, on investigation, does not consider noise from premises to be a statutory nuisance, it will not come within the remit of the ambient noise strategy of the mayor. There is provision ensuring that noise caused by aircraft, noise made by traffic and noise from a fixed industrial source are not excluded from the strategy.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, Amendment No. 76 is an amendment to Amendment No. 75.

Baroness Hamwee moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 75, Amendment No. 76: Line 3, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 76 and I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 78 and 79. This is not an attempt at a late stage to undermine what the Government are attempting to provide in Clause 365 in relation to the ambient noise strategy. However, I pin my question on three of the four paragraphs in the subsection. Is it appropriate to exclude from the strategy types of noise, simply because another entity has powers to deal with them?

I have looked again at Clause 365. The strategy would involve co-ordination, creating priorities and working with other partners in dealing with ambient noise. The clause does not give the mayor powers to deal with particular sources of noise; it requires him to prepare a strategy using information about ambient noise levels and the impact on those living and working in London, an assessment of the impact of his or her strategies on noise levels and a summary of action taken or proposed by the mayor in order to promote measures to reduce ambient noise levels.

No statutory powers are given to the mayor to tackle the noise directly, and therefore it would be appropriate for the mayor to work in partnership with the boroughs in considering the types of noise, the subject of these paragraphs, above which the boroughs can take direct action. I am not seeking to add to the authority's powers in the amendment, but at the same time I am not convinced that the mayor's powers to consider such sources of noise should be restricted. I have tabled the amendments to give the Government an opportunity of explaining why the mayor and the authority should be excluded from a public debate about how to tackle something that can be a very real source of concern to Londoners and in which they may play a role in addition to the local authorities. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I have already explained why we have brought forward our own amendment to Clause 365. The key to this issue is that the function and role of the mayor is a strategic role. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has raised the very important issue of the ability to work in partnership. We expect that to occur, but we believe that it is very important to avoid duplication of responsibility in the Bill. That is a point that the noble Baroness has recognised.

If we were to accept further amendments, we would be in a position where the only exclusion from the mayor's strategy would be noise at work by virtue of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Following the principle of subsidiarity and not creating the problem of duplication of direct responsibility, we do not think it is appropriate that the mayor should have power to intervene directly because the action should properly be taken by local authorities. However, I strongly emphasise the point raised by the noble Baroness, that this is part of what we all, I am sure, hope will be an ongoing and developing partnership to enable the mayor to fulfil the strategic purpose.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, with respect to the noble Baroness, I am not entirely convinced by that reply. For example, it would become a matter of concern if people's lives in London are affected by the way construction is dealt with. That is only one example.

I will simply take comfort in the general point that has been made during the debates, that although the mayor may have particular responsibility, the fact that other responsibilities are not spelt out may not preclude the mayor from taking account of them. The noble Baroness has nodded in agreement. To allow the mayor to include consideration of this type of noise within a strategy would not be duplication; it would merely be a sensible way of ensuring that the matter is covered. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No.76, as an amendment to Amendment No. 75, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 77 to 79, as amendments to Amendment No.75, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No.75 agreed to.

9 p.m.

Clause 372 [Financial Assistance by the Mayor for museums, galleries, etc.]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No.80. Page 223, line 15, leave out ("financial").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 81 to 83. This follows a point that I queried at the last stage of the Bill when the Government moved an amendment to allow assistance in kind as well as by way of grant, in the circumstances referred to in these clauses, to museums, galleries, and so on. I asked why a similar amendment had not been made to the provisions allowing conditions to be imposed at the time when assistance is given. The amendments would allow conditions to be attached to any type of assistance given by the authority. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendments. When she raised the issue at Report stage, I promised to write to her.

It is desirable that the provisions for giving assistance to cultural institutions in Amendments Nos.80 and 81 should be the same as those for tourism in Amendments Nos.82 and 83. I agree that her amendments, which would allow conditions to be applied to non-financial assistance as well as to grants, are an improvement. There may be occasions when it would be a good idea for the mayor to impose such conditions, for example if a member of staff were to be seconded to provide assistance in kind.

We are happy to accept the amendments. I hope that the noble Baroness will release me from the obligation to write to her about them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 81: Page 223, line 21. leave out second ("the").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 373 [Duty of the Authority to promote tourism]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendments Nos. 82 and 83: Page 224, line 17, leave out ("financial"). Page 224, line 23, leave out second ("the").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 84: After Clause 374, insert the following new clause—