HL Deb 25 October 1999 vol 606 cc53-75

(" . The Mayor and the Assembly shall, by 2030, reconstitute the pension scheme of the London Fire Brigade moving it from the present unfunded scheme to a fully funded pension scheme.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after the complexities of the police, the fire service would seem to be relatively simple. I apologise for bringing back this particular amendment at this stage, but I have done so in order to press the Minister a little harder on the issue of the fire service pensions.

For anyone who is in the fire service, the security of his or her future pension is a matter of great significance; and, indeed, for anyone who is about to enter the service it is equally a matter of great significance. However, in both those instances, the time-scale of consideration goes considerably beyond the time-scale which politicians are normally invited to consider as being significant. In particular, the pensions conside:7ation of someone at the age of 25, while looking into the possibility of receiving a pension at the age of 60, is dramatically outwith the normal five-year time-scale that politicians are wont to consider, especially in the other place.

The fortunate situation that this country is in vis-àvis its national pension liabilities arises in large part because a great proportion of pension liability is covered by funded schemes. In this instance, we have a particular service—the fire service—which does not have such a scheme. The Minister assured us in Committee that the Government should, and only "should", continue to cover the long-term costs of the fire pension scheme.

The Government have a review in place. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister something about the time-scale which they envisage before this matter is brought to a conclusion. It has been around for a very long time, and I do not deny the difficulty surrounding the problem. I accept that it is somewhat difficult in a Bill vis-à-vis London to deal with a matter which has national implications because, as the Minister said, it would not perhaps be proper to approach the matter exclusively on London's behalf. However, if we were to deal with the matter on London's behalf and resolve it, that would create a catalyst and I believe that the Government would then be obliged to act to deal with the national problem as well. Therefore I do not wholly accept the argument that we should not deal with the issue.

However, the real purpose of bringing the measure back was to press the Minister a little harder on the Government's view of the possibility of a solution to this matter arising. No one who has had direct experience of the present situation, particularly in a local authority context, but even as regards the fire service generally, can possibly be satisfied with the existing situation. I accept that the problem has been around for a considerable time. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets and the more difficult it is to find an acceptable solution. I would be grateful to hear that at least we have some prospect of a conclusion in a reasonable political timescale, in other words, in the next two, three, four or five years. I accept that as a reasonable timescale for dealing with a matter of this significance. However, even that kind of timescale is beyond the normal range of timescales which politicians consider to be significant. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am almost persuaded by my noble friend's argument in broad terms but I am rather surprised that he has chosen the year 2030 which, after all, is 30 years' time, before this reconstituted pension scheme shall come into force. I remember once that a Labour prime minister said that a week was a long time in politics.

Lord Tope

My Lords, if the Government were to resolve this problem next week I am sure that we would be as grateful as we would be surprised. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, apologised for bringing back this amendment. I assure him that no apologies are necessary. I am grateful to him for bringing back the amendment. I hope that he succeeds in what I think is his real objective; namely, to seek greater clarification from the Government on their intentions in dealing with what he rightly describes as a major and growing problem.

The unfunded pension schemes for the London fire service, and I think all fire services, are a considerable problem now. There is no question but that that impinges already on the operational ability of the fire service and as the problem grows, that problem too will grow. The problem is of such magnitude that only government action can deal with it. I do not know whether the amendment proposed here is necessarily the right way to tackle it—I suspect that perhaps it is not—but I wholly support what I think are the real intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in moving it.

I also agree with his view that although this is a nation-wide problem there is no reason that we should not take this opportunity in a London Bill to let London take the lead in this matter. As London has the biggest fire service I imagine that it has the biggest problem in this regard. The Government have already set that precedent in removing the age discrimination for membership of the Police Authority. I accept that that provision has rather fewer financial implications than the matter we are discussing, but nevertheless the principle has been established; namely, the Government have taken the legislative opportunity that is now before us to allow London to lead the way where they intend that the rest of the country should follow. I hope that the Minister in his reply will acknowledge that there is a major problem which requires government action to resolve; that he will tell us how and when that government action is to be taken, and that he will perhaps tell us that the opportunity presented by this Bill will enable us to tackle the problem first in London as regards the London fire service.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, this problem seems to follow me round. I recall that as an official I had to deal with fire service pensions. Therefore it is not altogether unfamiliar territory.

The Opposition amendment seeks to change the firefighters' pension scheme from its present unfunded basis to a fully funded scheme during the course of the next 30 years. As this is the length of service which a firefighter needs for a full pension, presumably the intention would be to start future new entrants in a funded scheme so that there would be a gradual transition to full funding over that period.

The firefighters' pension scheme is a national scheme which is set out in an order made under the Fire Services Act 1947. The Government cannot accept changes which affect one fire brigade but not others. On the question of consistency, the Government are proposing a minor technical amendment to legislation affecting fire service pensions. In order for public service pensions increase legislation to apply pension awards payable by the LFEPA in the same way as it does to the current fire authority, a minor amendment is required to the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971. Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act lists various types of pensions which are "official pensions" for the purposes of that Act. The present fire authority comes within the definition of a local authority for the purposes of the 1971 Act, and the proposed amendment will ensure that the LFEPA is treated in the same way.

Turning to the Opposition amendment, we recognise that there is concern about rising pensions costs. The firefighters' pension scheme in common with a number in the public service does not have a pensions fund. One of the main purposes of pension funds—to protect employees' pension rights—does not arise as the benefits are guaranteed by statute. The Government have recognised the extra pensions costs for fire authorities in recent local government finance settlements and in the Comprehensive Spending Review by including additional amounts for pensions in the fire share of total standard spending. In addition, a pension factor is included in the grant distribution formula. The value of this factor has been adjusted to take account of trends in pensions expenditure. The distribution to individual brigades is based on projections by the Government Actuary's Department of each brigade's relative share of the overall pensions expenditure.

A change to "new entrant" funding would not provide an easy solution to the fire authority's concerns about rising pensions costs. In fact over the next few years it would be likely to make matters worse. The authority would still carry the costs of existing pensions and of the new retirements for those pensioned under the existing scheme. But it would start to lose income from the employee contributions (11 per cent. of pay) from new entrants. These would have to go into the fund.

A review of the provisions of the FPS was published as a consultation document last year. Ministers have been considering the position in the light of the responses. The Government have recently announced (as of 14th October) an independent inquiry into the future arrangements for determining firefighters' conditions of service, but have made it clear that there will be no changes to firefighters' pensions while the inquiry is sitting.

I hope that, having registered their concerns, the noble Lord will now withdraw the amendment. I commend the government amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for supporting me once again as regards this issue. I say to my noble friend Lord Renton that the year 2030 seems to me to provide a reasonable transition time from a wholly unfunded scheme to a wholly funded scheme. That does not mean that it would have to be done that way; it could be done by the Government taking a decision to capitalise the fund on a particular date and making the funds available. Certainly I believe that there would be rejoicing all round if such a solution were to come about.

I am grateful for the Minister's response in which he took some care to assure us that the situation is adequately covered, particularly from the point of view of the pensioners for whom we must all feel concern, but also from the point of view of fire authorities across the country. Although the SSA for fire may have been adequately adjusted as regards future pensions liabilities, most fire authorities take the view that it has not been adequately adjusted. However, they are of course looking at the broad spread of their liabilities and the cost of providing a wide service. Behind that there is the issue of what is included in the standard spending assessment of the fire service. Not everything that the fire services carry out on the public's behalf is properly included in the standard spending assessment.

That said, it has been worth while to bring the matter back. However, in the light of the Minister's reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 23 [The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 538L: Page 328, line 6, leave out ("appointed by the Mayor") and insert ("elected by the Assembly").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 538L I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 538M to 538Q.

Schedule 23 provides that the new London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority shall have 17 members, of whom nine shall be assembly members. Here we return to the issue we dealt with earlier in relation to the Metropolitan Police Authority of who should appoint the assembly members. It is our contention that the assembly members should be appointed by the assembly from which they come; they should not be foisted upon the assembly by the mayor.

I shall not repeat all the arguments we had earlier. I suspect that they are well known to your Lordships as I have mentioned them once or twice. However, there is an additional point. Schedule 21, which relates to the Metropolitan Police Authority, states specifically that, twelve of those members shall be members of the London Assembly". Schedule 23, which relates to the membership of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, describes specifically the nine assembly members as "the assembly representatives". Beyond any doubt they are described here not as the mayor's representatives but as the assembly's representatives. If, as the Bill states quite clearly, they are the assembly's representatives, it must be a fundamental democratic provision that the assembly should have the authority to appoint its own representatives.

I suspect that the Minister will tell me that it is essential that the mayor appoints these representatives in order to maintain his strategic role in relation to the authority. I shall be a little surprised if I do not hear some words to that effect. We have made it clear that that is not our view, but if that is the Government's intention then the schedule should state clearly that they are the mayor's representatives. The mayor has appointed them; they are there to maintain the mayor's strategic role. By any definition they are the mayor's representatives, but the schedule states that they should be the assembly's representatives.

If we had been at an earlier stage of the Bill I would have accepted that this was a relatively minor point; that the Bill was poorly drafted and would be corrected. But we are at the end of an extremely long process. We are dealing with a point that we raised specifically in Committee. The Government have presumably considered the matter further—although perhaps not in great detail—and have decided that the members mentioned in Schedule 23 should continue to be described as the assembly's representatives, unlike the description used in relation to the Metropolitan Police Authority.

I return to the point that if the assembly members are representing the assembly, the assembly should appoint them. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, my Amendment No. 538R is grouped with these amendments. It deals with a small procedural point. Schedule 23 on page 328 deals with the tenure of office. In view of the relatively short period in office that members of the tire and emergency planning authority will have, it is right that they should be eligible for reappointment. That is fine. Paragraph 2(3) states: The Mayor may at any time, by giving notice to a member of the Fire etc Authority, terminate the member's appointment, if he is satisfied that the member is unable or unfit for any reason to discharge his functions as a member". That is fine. One has no problems with any of that. However, the schedule goes on to say that anyone whose appointment has ceased for any reason may be eligible for reappointment.

It would appear from the way the schedule is drafted—it may be that I have a silly mind—that someone may have his appointment terminated because he is not able to discharge his functions properly, or is unfit, or whatever. It seems unreasonable that in those circumstances he should be eligible for reappointment. This raises the question of what is the definition of "unfit"? If unfit means that he has a medical problem, then clearly he is not unsuitable. However, "unfit" could mean "unsuitable".

We feel the definition needs to be tightened up, which is what Amendment No. 538 seeks to do.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats were considered in Committee both here and in another place. They seek to change the mayor's relationship to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. The mayor would no longer have any role in the appointment process for the assembly representatives on the fire authority.

The amendments seek to sever the constitutional links between the mayor and the fire authority. These links are important if the new arrangements are to function effectively. They ensure that the authority is suitably accountable to the mayor for the service that it provides.

The Conservative amendment would mean that the mayor would have the power to reappoint a former member whose appointment had been terminated on the grounds of being unable to perform his or her duties, but not if it was a question of the member being unfit to do so. These words are traditionally used together in a single phrase to cover the range of circumstances in which a person should be removed from office. Separating them causes problems. If a member has suffered serious injury, he or she might be unable, unfit or both.

A mayor who has terminated a member's appointment because he is "unfit" in the sense perhaps intended by the noble Lord, is most unlikely to wish to reappoint that individual. Admittedly, a different mayor might take a different view, but the member concerned would have to have been either nominated by the boroughs or elected to the assembly. For a seriously ill member whose appointment has been terminated, it seems inappropriate to include in the Bill a provision under which the mayor would be prohibited from appointing that person again upon recovery.

In view of my responses, I would ask the noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he tell us why the Government have chosen specifically in this schedule to describe the nine assembly members as "the assembly representatives"? Why are they doing that? Would it not be better more honestly to describe them as "the mayor's representatives"? Why do not they follow the precedent set in Schedule 21 for the police authority and simply state: nine … shall be Assembly members appointed by the Mayor".? Why specifically describe them as assembly representatives when they are not representing the assembly at all?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the term is used as a shorthand way of referring to members of the LFEPA who are members of the assembly. This allows a distinction to be drawn in the schedule between LFEPA members who are assembly members and those who are councillors. It means nothing more.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I do not think the Minister convinced himself. He certainly has not convinced me. I will not embarrass him further by asking him why the Government have not made similar distinctions in Schedule 21—which relates to the Metropolitan Police Authority—between those who are assembly members, those who are independent members, those who are magistrates, and so on. I have made my point very clearly. I have won the argument but I do not think I will win the battle. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 538M to 538R not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 539: Page 329, line 15, at end insert—

("Allowances not to be paid to members who are also Assembly members

.—(1) The allowances specified in sub-paragraph (2) below shall not be paid to members of the Fire etc Authority who are also members of the Assembly.

(2) The allowances are—

  1. (a) allowances under section 175 of the Local Government Act 1972 (allowances for attending conferences and meetings) other than an allowance for travelling and subsistence; and
  2. 60
  3. (b) allowances under section 18 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (schemes for basic, attendance and special responsibility allowances).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 24 [Amendments relating to the Fire etc Authority]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 539XA: Page 332, line 44, at end insert—

("The Pensions (Increase) Act 1971

Meaning of local authority

(" . In Schedule 3 to the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 (meaning of local authority) after paragraph 6(1)(a)(ia) there shall be inserted—

"(ib) the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority:".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 290 [Discharge of functions]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 539YA and 539ZA: Page 163, line 5, leave out ("for"). Page 163, line 7, leave out from ("authority") to end of line 11 and insert ("shall be treated as if it included a reference to a person who is disqualified under section 20 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 from being elected or being the Mayor of London or a member of the London Assembly.-").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments deal with the power of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to co-opt on to its committees and sub-committees individuals who are not members of the authority. The need for the amendments has emerged as a result of discussions and correspondence with representatives of the current fire authority and the Association of London Government. The effect of Clause 290(2) of the Bill as it stands at present is that a person may not be a co-opted member of a committee of the LFEPA unless he or she is a member of a London borough council, the Common Council or the GLA. This is rather more prescriptive than the present arrangements; and so the intention of the proposed amendments is to bring the Bill much more into line with existing law.

We are proposing to amend Clause 290(2) to the effect that a person may not be co-opted on to an LFEPA committee if disqualified from being an assembly member under Clause 20 of the Bill or a member of a local authority under Part V of the Local Government Act 1972. These amendments have been the subject of considerable consultation. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 292 [The spatial development strategy]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 539A: Page 163, line 23, at end insert ("which shall include an appraisal of the sustainability of its policies and proposals").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 539A I shall speak also to Amendment No. 539B. Amendment No. 539A is a significant amendment, while Amendment No. 539B is relatively less important.

Amendment No. 539A seeks to include the issue of sustainability in the mayor's spatial development strategy. There was considerable debate on the matter in Committee. On 27th July the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quoted from the debate in another place where the Minister argued that the Government could not be specific about a sustainability appraisal because as yet, there is no national guidance on what such an appraisal might comprise or on how it should be conducted". The noble Baroness then commented: That seems to me to be remarkably unambitious for London". I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. The Minister in this House then responded to a point I made at the time by saying that this would form, one element within a wider sustainability appraisal which also considered the economic and social impacts of the policies and proposals of the SDS".—[Official Report, 27/7/99; col. 1454.] That is, the strategic development strategy. I am sorry, the spatial development strategy. My daughter's initials used to be SDS and every time I see those initials I seem to go into a state of mental confusion. I hope that the House will forgive me.

We have returned to the business of the Bill being a London Bill for Londoners, and thus all about London. The response of the Minister in another place and the response of the Minister in this place seem to suggest that the only people who have any brains and who are capable of working out a policy for sustainability exist in the Government. I do not accept that proposition. I have immense confidence and faith in those already involved in local government. Let us hope that the Government have some faith in those who work in the Government Office for London. If the Government are not yet themselves certain of what would be involved in a sustainability strategy as part of a spatial development strategy, or at least a sustainability assessment, perhaps it would be wiser to leave the matter to the mayor and the assembly so that they can reach their own conclusions on it.

If, subsequent to that, a form of national guidance were produced as to what should or should not be included, then of course the mayor's spatial development strategy could be amended accordingly. Not the least of our complaints from these Benches in the past has been that the Minister has too much power to direct the mayor on what should or should not be included or amended. I do not believe that that approach is reasonable and propel. If the Greater London Authority was given the responsibility for providing a sustainability assessment of the mayor's spatial development strategy, it would do so. What is more, I am sure that that assessment would be reasonable and would take all matters into account. Such a responsibility might complicate the issue of devising the spatial development strategy and could make the process, marginally longer, though I doubt that it would have much effect. This is a perfectly reasonable provision to include on the face of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give it serious consideration.

I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 539B. This is a small matter. The Bill as drafted states: (1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the Mayor may publish the spatial development strategy". We feel that "may" is an inappropriate term and that "shall" would work better here. I entirely accept that this is entirely an exercise in semantics, and I daresay that the Minister will respond by saying that this is the normal form in legislation and that the word "may" is normally used. That may be so. The Minister may say that it should be so, but I believe that there may be reason here to change what has always happened in the past. I have often argued that everything that is done could be done better. This is one of those occasions. I beg to move.


Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I note that Amendment No. 539A seeks to add words to a subsection of Clause 292 which states that the spatial development strategy "must"—neither "may" nor "shall". The question of an appraisal of sustainability is certainly one that we on these Benches support. Well, we would, wouldn't we, because we moved a similar amendment at the previous stage. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer spoke to it. As the noble Lord said, the Government confirmed at that stage that there should be a full appraisal of the spatial development strategy impact within a wider appraisal, including social and economic impacts, and anticipated that guidance would deal with that.

We became fairly well accustomed to being told that matters which we felt ought to be on the face of the Bill when they were good would find their way into guidance or regulations. During the course of proceedings on the Bill I have become increasingly convinced of the importance of the role of the members of the assembly in their scrutiny function, which needs to be interpreted in a very wide sense. Ensuring the sustainability of the strategy will be one of those functions. If the Minister is not minded to accept the amendment at this stage, will he say that such an appraisal is not proscribed and indeed that the mayor and the assembly through its role may ensure that it happens?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in replying to Amendment No. 539A, I have not a lot to add to what I said in Committee. We agree that it would be sensible for the mayor to carry out the sustainability appraisal, and guidance will provide for that. The problem is, first, that the sustainability appraisal will be somewhat wider than relating to the element of this clause. This is the environmental dimension. As the noble Lord and the noble Baroness said, I have already indicated that it would be a somewhat wider one.

Secondly, the sustainability appraisal as a concept—as a term of art—is in its infancy and may well change over time. We therefore do not wish to be prescriptive on the face of the Bill but prefer to deal with the matter in guidance. Indeed, we have given a commitment that our guidance on the production of this strategy will advise the mayor that an appraisal should be carried out. But that guidance can change over time as appraisal techniques improve over time. Perhaps I may also mention that the findings will be embraced in a forthcoming revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note 11 on regional planning guidance. That underlines the fact that it will be included in the guidance to the mayor. I recognise the desire of the noble Lord to put this provision on the face of the Bill. But I think that it is an evolving concept and one that is broader than this point in the Bill.

As far as concerns Amendment No. 539B, my recollection is that in Committee the noble Lord referred to it as a matter of taste and now regards it as a matter of semantics. It is the normal form of words. In this case the term "may" is used because there is a series of conditions following it in the text that the mayor has to satisfy before he or she can publish the spatial development strategy. It is both conventional and, in this case, conditional and therefore "may" is appropriate. I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, the Minister has, as usual, provided an interesting response to the points that were raised. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support. The noble Lord said that we should not be prescriptive on the face of the Bill. Nothing in the amendment is prescriptive as to what is involved in a sustainability assessment. It simply requires that a sustainability assessment should be a part of the spatial development strategy. From what the Minister implied—he did not say it—regulations setting out what should or should not be included in a sustainability assessment will be vastly more prescriptive than the amendment. So that seems to be a slightly peculiar reason for not accepting an amendment that requires something sensible as an addition to what is already going to happen.

I note what the Minister had to say about a revision of planning guidance. I note also that he accepts that a sustainability assessment is an evolving concept. If it is an evolving concept, presumably at some point we shall have to face evolving planning guidance and evolving regulations in order to keep up. If we to have all of that, I cannot see why we should not have this amendment on the face of the Bill. I am tempted to take the view of the House on the matter but I am in a pacific mood. We may need to return to this matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 293 [Public participation]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 539AA: Page 164, line 28, at end insert ("; and

  1. (e) any other body to which, or person to whom, the Mayor considers it appropriate to send a copy.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 539AA arises from a commitment which we gave at the Committee stage to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we would ensure that, in deciding to whom consultation copies of the spatial development strategy should be sent, the mayor is to consider not only those bodies set out in this part of the Bill but also the relevant bodies under the description specified in Clause 27(3)—the four groups set out there. These amendments achieve that. I thank the noble Baroness for highlighting that issue. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, perhaps I may, in turn, thank the Minister for recognising the point and for acting on it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 539AB: Page 164, line 28, at end insert— ("(3A) In determining the bodies to which or persons to whom it is appropriate to send a copy of the strategy under subsection (3)(e) above (if any), the bodies to which and the persons to whom the Mayor considers sending a copy must include bodies of each of the descriptions specified in section 27(3) above.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 295[Publication]:

[Amendment No. 539B not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 539BA: Page 165, line 24, leave out ("findings reported") and insert ("report made").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 539BA, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 539BB, 539BC, 539BD and 539C. Amendments Nos. 539BA, 539BB, 539BC and 539BD arise from government commitments in Committee to consider the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, concerning the report of the chair or panel of the examination in public into the SDS. I note that he has retabled Amendment No. 539C. Our intention is that the report of an EIP panel should include not just findings of fact but also recommendations. I know that the noble Lord was concerned that the current term "findings" may be too narrow to encompass recommendations.

We indicated in Committee that in planning Acts and secondary legislation, the term "report" is more often used. We believe that that would be more appropriate as it requires the mayor to take account of the entirety of the panel's report including recommendations and—I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome this—any supporting argumentation and evidence. The amendments change relevant references in the Bill from "findings" to "report". I thank the noble Lord for raising the issue and trust that the amendments satisfy his concerns. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am pleased to acknowledge the Government's response to what was in effect my amendment No. 539C. When I tabled it again, I believe that I am right in saying that the Government had not yet got in their amendment. Otherwise, I might have been spared the necessity. This is a fortunate outcome and I am grateful to Ministers for their invention.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 539BB: Page 165. line 36. leave out ("findings") and insert ("report").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 539BC: Page 165, line 37, leave out ("have been reported") and insert ("has been made").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 296 [Examination in public]:

The Deputy Speaker (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo)

My Lords, I have to inform the House that if Amendment No 539BD is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 539C.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 539BD: Page 166, line 36, leave out ("report his or their findings") and insert ("make a report").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 297 [Duty to notify London borough councils of publication]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 540: Leave out Clause 297.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 299 [Reviews of the strategy]:

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 541: Page 167. line 22, at end insert— ("( ) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, the Mayor shall commence a review of the spatial development strategy not more than five years after the date on which it first becomes operative pursuant to the provisions of this Part.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am aware of intervening for the first time at this stage of the Bill and I shall be brief. The Bill acknowledges that there will need to be a review of the spatial development strategy. My amendment seeks to place a time on the commencement of the first review. I have been in correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and he stated—and I agree—that it is in general wise to, avoid including firm timetables in the Bill for the production or review of any of the Mayoral strategies. This was for practical reasons and to avoid fettering the Mayor's discretion unduly".

However, the SPS will make a substantial impact and will break new ground for an authority of this kind. It is highly unlikely, given the amount of detail—not least that added to the Bill at a very late stage—that we have got it right, which merely heightens the importance of taking corrective action. By providing for a review within five years of the SDS becoming operational—which means, when it is first published—the amendment would ensure that the process of evaluation actually happens and is not squeezed out.

The House recognises that the huge, detailed and prescriptive powers heaped on the mayor by the Bill mean that he will have an enormous range of responsibilities. It will be extremely difficult for him to decide priorities when he comes to review the activities for which he is accountable. The amendment is important from the point of view of the City of London, which has the enormously important role of attracting foreign finance houses to contribute to the work of the City. It is important that the House lays down a timetable for the commencement of the review. Then it is up to the mayor to decide on the pace of the review.

The amendment allows commencement to be delayed, if necessary, until the second mayoral term. But that such a review should happen and happen within a reasonable time is paramount. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will feel able to accept that as a reasonable requirement for something as novel and all-pervasive as the spatial development strategy. I beg to move.


Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, before speaking to Amendment No. 541ZA in this group, I shall comment on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. I am a little anxious about artificial time limits. In the world of development plans—I appreciate that the spatial development strategy is not the same but there are some connections—there is a problem with the length of the process which tends to mean that plans are out of date by the time they come into effect. Concentration is needed in keeping up to date both the strategy and the development plans that boroughs will be publishing. It may be that five years is too long but it may be that it is too short a period. Matters may have settled down, so it is not necessary to commence a review within five years. Responsiveness to what is going on is important. If the mayor tends to sideline a review, I hope that assembly members will make sure that the mayor is not allowed to forget it. As I say, I am a little unhappy with the prospect of an artificial time limit.

Amendment No. 541ZA to Clause 300, which deals with alterations to the spatial development strategy or its replacement, proposes to remove one of the Secretary of State's powers of direction. Clause 300(2) allows the Secretary of State to direct the mayor to publish not only a new SDS but—this is the provision we seek to delete—to publish, such alterations of the spatial development strategy as the Secretary of State directs. We find the words as the Secretary of State directs particularly offensive.

In Committee, I moved an amendment to delete the whole of Clause 300(2) but now I am limiting the amendment to Clause 300(2)(a). In Committee, the Minister said that reserve powers for the Secretary of State were needed and that they reflect powers in other parts of the country. We have protested throughout the passage of the Bill at the Secretary of State's powers not just to require the mayor or the authority to reconsider certain matters but to take steps that the Secretary of State directs. Will the Minister confirm specifically that the power to direct particular alterations reflects powers that are in effect elsewhere?

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, pointed out that the Secretary of State might make such a direction if the mayor and central government were in a state of political confrontation. I agreed with the noble Baroness at that time. On further reflection, I still agree. She made an important point. While I can see that a power to ask the mayor to reconsider is one thing, to, "reconsider and do what I say", is entirely another. It is symptomatic of the centralising nature of the Bill to which we have objected throughout.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, my Amendment No. 541A is grouped with the two amendments previously spoken to. Perhaps I may comment on the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It seems to me that if the provision in Clause 300(2)(a) represents anything, it represents over-prescription on the face of the Bill. That is something for which we have been condemned from time to time by Ministers opposite. In regard to that subsection the boot is on the other foot.

Amendment No. 541A refers the Secretary of State's power to make a direction that the mayor should either amend the spatial development strategy, or indeed develop a new strategy back to Clause 295(6). That clause, in reference to delaying publication, states: If at any time it appears to the Secretary of State that it is expedient to do so for the purpose of avoiding … any inconsistency with current national policies or relevant planning guidance, or … any detriment to the interests of an area outside … London". The purpose of the amendment is to limit the power of the Secretary of State to order or direct a new spatial development strategy to situations where only those two conditions are fulfilled.

We believe that that is not unreasonable. We do not think that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to have power to direct a new or amended strategy if the Secretary of State was doing so simply because he disagreed with an aspect of the strategy. More than that is needed for this kind of direction to be used. A conflict with national policies or a detriment to the interests of areas outside London would be appropriate reasons for a new or amended strategy to be developed. That is our reason for tabling this amendment. I commend it to the House.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Amendment No. 541 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would require the mayor to review the spatial development strategy at least every five years. I understand the thinking behind the proposal and why it may be felt that there is a need to build in a review process. It is important that the mayor should keep the strategy up to date and should regularly review it.

However, I do not see that that cuts across the general view that we have deliberately not included a fixed timetable for the production and review of these strategies. The work programme for reviewing strategies is a matter in the first instance for the mayor.

I acknowledge in part the view of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that there is a particular need for the SDS to be reviewed regularly because of its relevance to the boroughs' unitary development plans and planning applications which organisations may be pursuing and which may indeed come to government. That is why Clause 299 of the Bill already contains a specific duty on the mayor to review the SDS from time to time. But that does not necessarily mean that we should have a rigid timetable.

The same clause also includes a reserve power for the Secretary of State to direct a review of the SDS if, for example, the mayor were to allow the strategy to become seriously out of date. As I shall say shortly in relation to the other amendments, I do not anticipate that that power will need to be used often, if at all, but it is there. It safeguards some of the anxieties that lie behind the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.

I have also undertaken, in Committee and in correspondence with the noble Lord and others from the City, that we shall also draw attention to the importance of regular review in any guidance that we issue to the mayor on the production of the SDS. We shall shortly issue the basis of that for consultation. I hope, therefore, that with those assurances the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

Both of the other two amendments would seek to circumscribe the Secretary's State's power to direct the mayor to alter or prepare a new spatial development strategy. They therefore move to some extent in the opposite direction from that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.

We are dealing with what is in effect a reserve power. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in regard both to a new plan and alterations to the plan, the legislation very much reflects the existing provisions for the rest of local government, which appear in most recent form in the 1990 planning Act. That reserve power is needed in the context of London as well. As I said, it is a power that we would hope not to use very frequently.

The strategy has a prime part to play in setting the strategy framework for London, particularly in terms of its relationship with the boroughs and their UDPs. If, for example, the mayor failed to keep the strategy up to date, by means of this power the matter could be rectified in terms of the Secretary of State being able to direct the mayor.

Amendment No. 541ZA deals with alterations as distinct from directing a new strategy. Again, that is a reflection of the existing provisions in all other planning legislation. Were there not to be a reserve power, there could be significant problems. If the Secretary of State thought that the original SDS was seriously defective but only in one particular factor, or, in the case of a change, if the Secretary of State regarded that change as important but the mayor was ignoring it, it would make sense to have the ability to direct alterations to part of the strategy rather than involving the mayor in preparing a completely new strategy. That would save time and money for everyone involved. It would also avoid the uncertainty of having a totally new spatial development plan.

As I have said, this provision is fully precedented in the existing planning system. It performs an essential reserve power function, even if rarely used. I hope, therefore, that on all those counts the amendment proposed by noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and the other two amendments will not be pursued.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I think I can accept the noble Lord's assurances on the question of the necessity, and perhaps even urgency, of having a review. We shall wait to see what is said in the consultative paper. The Minister has clearly indicated to the House that he accepts the importance of having a review of the crucial strategic development strategy. With that, I am happy to withdraw the amendment and seek leave to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 300 [Alteration or replacement]:

[Amendments Nos. 541ZA and 541A not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 542: Page 167, line 41, at end insert— ("( ) In this Act, references to the spatial development strategy include, except where the context otherwise requires, a reference to—

  1. (a) the spatial development strategy as altered; or
  2. (b) a new spatial development strategy which replaces a previous spatial development strategy.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.30 p.m.

Clause 303 [Amendments of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990]:

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 543: Page 170, line 32, at end insert— ("(1D) The Mayor shall not exercise any power under subsection (1B) to direct a local planning authority to refuse an application involving the erection of a building by reason only of the floor space which that building is to provide if—

  1. (a) the building to be erected is to replace a building which is located on the land to which the application relates;
  2. (b) the floor space provided by the building to be replaced is not less than the floor space to be provided by the building to be erected; and
  3. (c) the building to be erected and the building which it is to replace fall within the same use class.
(1E) In subsection (1D) above—

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 543 I refer also to the Government's Amendment No. 543YA. I return to a matter that I raised in Committee; namely, that the mayor's strategic development strategy should focus on matters that are truly strategic in nature. Without wishing to repeat what I said on that occasion, the hostility that existed between the boroughs and the Greater London Council for many years had much of its origin in the interference by the upper tier authority in the planning role of the boroughs. I am aware that both we and the Government are anxious to avoid that happening again. It was a major flaw in the legislation and the way that it was implemented.

I make it clear at this stage that it is not my intention to press the matter to a Division, but I hope that in reply to the debate the Minister will be able to give a further indication of the mechanisms— perhaps subordinate legislation or ministerial guidance—by which this strategic focus will be achieved. I said in Committee that if the mayor's strategy did not deliver a quick and streamlined decision-making process for planning applications we would run into the same problems as post-GLC. Therefore, it is important that we get it right; and it is even more important that it is right for the City of London.

It is worth repeating the figures and the reasons for the concern. Based on 1997–98 data, 22 per cent of planning applications and 48 per cent of floorspace generated by developments in the City must be referred to the mayor as involving matters of strategic importance, and therefore will be dependent on the speed and efficiency of the new authority in processing them. Those are very high figures. In responding to the point that I and my noble friends on the Front Bench then raised in Committee, the Minister pointed out that the regime proposed would, in relative terms, involve reference to the mayor of only a very small number of planning applications throughout London. Without quoting from the debate on 27th July, the Minister estimated that it would involve between 150 and 250 applications over the whole of Greater London.

I readily accept that that is relatively small in relation to the whole of Greater London. However, the disproportionate effect on the City of London is illustrated by the fact that, supposing one took as a mid-point 200 applications that had to be referred to the mayor, about 10 per cent of the total would arise within the square mile. I can produce the figures if the Minister wants them. That is about 50 times what would be expected if the referral process was uniform over the whole area. Moreover, the figure of 48 per cent of floorspace generated as referable to the mayor illustrates that a very large proportion of the planning developments in the City will be subject to mayoral involvement.

I do not need to dwell on this for too long, because it is designed to enable the Minister to tell us a little more about the way that the strategy will be operated in practice. But perhaps I may make one or two further points so that they can be taken into account in subordinate legislation or guidance. Since our exchanges in Committee I have continued my consultations with the City. I am aware that the City has been in regular contact with the Minister and his officials. I am also aware that recognition by Ministers of the City's special position has been widely appreciated. Therefore, one approaches this issue on the basis that there is common ground across the House on the underlying objective; namely, to maintain the City's ability to respond rapidly and effectively to the accommodation needs of the international financial community.

My amendment provides that the mayor shall not direct a refusal of planning permission for a development on the grounds of the size of the development alone where the buildings envisaged by the application are no bigger than the ones they replace and are within the same use class. Anyone who is the least bit familiar with development in the City will know that we are talking about the redevelopment of office blocks with replacement on a like-for-like basis—perhaps the single most common form of development within the square mile.

Strategic considerations which might otherwise arise in relation to substantial developments, such as the ability of local services or the transport infrastructure to cope if there were to be a significant increase in the daytime population, will not be in point because by definition there will be no appreciable change in the circumstances in relation to these issues.

I accept it is perfectly possible for issues of strategic importance to arise in other contexts; for example, a redevelopment may have unusual architectural features. The clause caters for this because subsection (1D) to be inserted refers to floorspace alone as preventing the mayor from directing a refusal. If there are other features which raise issues of strategic importance then the mayor can still intervene.

One appreciates that these are matters of some detail, but they are of enormous importance to what one recognises is a hugely significant part of our economic life. The Bill should enable matters to be dealt with through subordinate legislation, and that is my aim here. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that the points I have raised will be considered when those orders and regulations, or guidance, are drawn up.

The Minister for London indicated when the revised proposals for the spatial development strategy were announced in March that an order would be laid, and observed that, the consultation … also highlighted a number of points which need technical clarification … and are to be covered by the drafting of the order". I note that only last week in a Written Answer in another place Mr Keith Hill, now Minister for London, said: The Government will be carrying out further consultation on the draft secondary legislation associated with the mayor's planning role shortly".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/99; col. WA 521.] Therefore, the opportunity exists for these points to be dealt with.

I hope that this evening the Minister will be able to say that the matters I have raised will be considered as part of the process, whether in secondary legislation or supporting guidance. It cannot be right that nearly half the planning applications in the City by floorspace should be regarded as strategic. If the Minister can provide some reassurance on that point it will go some way to allay the concern that has been expressed. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I support the amendment. My noble friend Lord Jenkin made it clear that he spoke mainly about the City of London. I believe that the problem is bigger than that and involves most of central London and, increasingly, areas like Southwark which will undergo a very dramatic change in a short time. Wherever and whenever this situation exists, the essential point of the amendment is that the building proposed is not to be any larger than the previous one. Everyone feels strongly if suddenly a building doubles in size, which of course has strategic importance. My noble friend makes a very relevant point. Anything that holds up the process for an abnormally long time, which I believe may happen, can be very damaging. I support the amendment.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I speak first to Amendment No. 543YA. It arises from a government commitment during Committee stage to consider an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.

We have always made clear that the mayor will be liable to the costs of holding an appeal inquiry and the costs of other parties where he or she has directed a refusal of planning permission unreasonably. We have taken the power in Clause 303(9) to do so by modifying the relevant provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act.

However, the noble Lord was concerned that the mayor might be able to evade costs by not actually appearing at an inquiry and considered that the provisions should be on the face of the Bill. We have accepted the noble Lord's arguments and the amendment ensures that. I trust that on this occasion I can look forward to his support on that amendment.

I turn now to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. The requirement for the mayor to be consulted on a small number of the most significant development proposals, coupled with the fall-back power to direct refusal, is an important element in ensuring that the strategic dimension is taken into account in the consideration of planning applications, which otherwise are entirely a matter for the boroughs.

This in no sense re-establishes a two-tier system or a second-guessing operation of the kind described by the noble Lord which occurred on occasion during the era of the GLC. We have indicated our intention to ensure that the applications to be notified to the mayor are limited and clearly defined, using clear numerical definitions to achieve that. That will help bring certainty for boroughs, developers and others, and will minimise the scope for confusion and delay. We shall review the criteria in the light of experience, but we need clear criteria.

These arrangements will give the mayor the ability to advise boroughs on the strategic aspects of a planning application. In giving that advice, the scale and nature of any existing development would clearly be something for the mayor to take into account.

In response to the noble Lord's request for some advice on the secondary legislation and guidance which we shall issue under this clause, we shall be publishing shortly for consultation draft statutory instruments and a draft circular that will govern the mayor's use of the power of direction. These arrangements will ensure that the mayor cannot unduly delay a decision on a planning application, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. As we have already indicated—I think in the statement by my colleague Nick Raynsford—the time during which the mayor can use the power of direction will be limited to 14 days once the local authority has resolved to grant planning permission.

The mayor will have to give clear reasons, based on strategic grounds, for the use of a direction. I know that the noble Lord, and others outside this House, have been particularly concerned about the City of London. I am confident that the numbers will be much smaller than those he quotes. We recognise the importance of the City. That is why the criteria for notifying the mayor of applications within the City will, quite rightly, be higher than elsewhere in the capital. Indeed, we amended quite substantially the thresholds in our original consultation paper in the autumn of last year in the light of similar comments received.

From the response to the consultation paper from the City, our calculations indicate that in 1997 only 15 applications in the City would have had been referable under the original proposals for size thresholds; and with the amended thresholds just nine of the City's applications would have been caught by the revised proposals we announced in March. There is something odd about the arithmetic here because that is out of a total of over 1,000 planning applications in the City in 1997. By my calculations, that is around 1 per cent, not the 10 per cent referred to by the noble Lord. The provisions for the City seem limited to very major applications. I appreciate the noble Lord's point about no change in use. However, an application of that size may well have the kind of features which need to be taken into account. If it is straightforward, then the procedure requires the mayor to deal with it very quickly; and in most cases, therefore, that would be nodded through.

As regards London as a whole, we estimate that the mayor will need to be consulted over about 150 to 250 applications, as the noble Lord said. Spread across London, where we are talking about 70,000 applications in total, those are very few indeed. I emphasise that I refer to consultation. It does not mean that the mayor will intervene. The mayor may well intervene in far fewer cases than that implies.

We need to be clear about the figures and the potential. I accept that there will be some major developments in the City which will have to go through this process. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, may be right that there will be some other large developments. The use in the development in Southwark to which she referred would be substantially greater than the current use. If the figures rose above the threshold, it is right that the mayor should have the opportunity to intervene.

I hope that we are not conveying to noble Lords that we wish to compromise the ability of the City or other areas—I am very much in favour of the regeneration of the London borough of Southwark—to maintain the City's important contribution and to build and improve on the newly revived parts of the London borough of Southwark and elsewhere. The arrangements that we are putting in place do not inhibit any of that development but ensure that the developments across London as a whole fit together and do not compromise those strategic priorities.

The detailed arrangements which we intend to put into place through secondary legislation and guidance will contain sufficient safeguards. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not pursue the matter today. I hope that when he sees the consultation document and the legislation arising from it he will recognise that his anxieties have been met.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, before the conclusion of the debate, perhaps I may say that I am grateful to the Minister for picking up the point we raised earlier on the costs of planning inquiries. We seem now to have a satisfactory answer for which I thank the Minister.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, I shall not bandy figures with the Minister. I have a calculation which will justify the figures I used. He probably has one. But at this hour and with more of the Bill to deal with that would be a waste of time.

I am grateful to him for having acknowledged that there is concern here. If his figures are right, much of that concern should be met. Given the structure of this part of the Bill, it is of course inevitably right that the mayor should have the power to be consulted on developments which would have truly strategic significance. Part of the case made by the City and others is that merely replacing an old outdated building with a modern building with all the necessary infrastructure for modern communications, and so on, but with no increase in the size and the floor area, does not amount to a strategic development. During Committee stage I said that perhaps the increase should be the trigger which would provoke a reference to the mayor. I understand that the Government have not accepted that point.

If the guidance can provide that only if the new building is of real strategic significance to the mayor's overall plan for London as a whole would he seek to call it in, I think that much of the anxiety would he removed.

However, regulations and guidance are the next stage. As I indicated, I do not intend to take the opinion of the House. But I would not wish the Minister to be under any doubt that the matter is regarded as of grave seriousness by those concerned with the development process. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 543YA: After Clause 303, insert the following new clause—