Yesterday, the House of Commons considered the amendments to the Bill that had been made in the House of Lords - the two houses have to agree on the same version of the Bill. The debate made the headlines because the government only narrowly overturned a rebel amendment from the Lords. The full debate can be found here but here is a summary.
No fewer than 40 amendments were made in the Lords, and can be found here, to be read in conjunction with this version of the Bill. 38 of these were government amendments; the other two, on which the government was defeated, were:
- the insertion of a clause to deal with development in the curtilage of a dwelling house, which was in response to the government's relaxation of planning requirements for house extensions (amendment 7 on the list).
- the removal of the clause whereby employees could receive shares in exchange for giving up certain employment rights (amendment 25 on the list).
Not surprisingly, employment minister Michael Fallon MP launched the debate by saying 'Let me explain that the Government agree with 38 of the 40 amendments that have been made.' The 38 were duly agreed to and the other two were not, but that was after quite a battle.
Five of the 38 relate to the infrastructure provisions in the Bill, which all went through without a word of debate. To summarise:
- Amendment 19 simplifies the wording about pre-Planning Act consents not needing consent under the Planning Act but I don't think it changes its effect significantly
- Amendments 20 and 21 makes it clear that the remaining grounds for Special Parliamentary Procedure are independent of each other
- Amendment 22 removes a reference to compulsory purchase orders in the amendments to the 1945 special parliamentary procedure Act
- Amendment 23 replaces the section of the Planning Act relating to tolling in Development Consent Orders
The government imposed a programme motion (i.e. a timetable) on the debate, where amendment 25 would be debated first and take no more than 45 minutes, then amendment 7 followed by the other amendments, the whole debate taking no more than two hours.
The Commons rejected amendment 25 by 277 votes to 239 (i.e. 38 votes, compared with the current government majority of 80) and then rejected amendment 7 by 286 votes to 259 (i.e. 27 votes). 16 Conservative and eight Lib Dem MPs voted against the latter rejection (John Baron, Andrew Bingham, Bob Blackman, Annette Brooke, Conor Burns, Paul Burstow, Tracy Crouch, Nick de Bois, Nadine Dorries, Zac Goldsmith, John Hemming, Philip Hollobone, Martin Horwood, Stewart Jackson, Julian Lewis, Ann Main, Jason McCartney, Greg Mulholland, Caroline Nokes, Matthew Offord, Mark Pawsey, John Pugh, Adrian Sanders, John Stanley).
Amendment 7 had been brought in to allow individual councils to override the relaxation of the size of house extensions that did not require planning permission, spearheaded by Lord True, leader of the London Borough of Richmond. His twitter account (which I think is genuine, although he hasn't tweeted this year) describes him as 'Boss man at Richmond Council. Political geezer. Tory peer. Potty mouth. Laying down True-isms. 100% True.'
Secretary of State Eric Pickles valiantly tried to defend the extension proposals, saying that there were already powers to override permitted development rights via 'article 4 directions' although it was argued in return that these were too much of a blunt instrument. Simon Hoggart in the Guardian claims Eric Pickles can't stop mentioning food, and he did say 'I have always regarded local government as an omelette of happiness and consensus [rather than a curate's egg]. I hope that by the time I sit down, I shall have spun together a dish that the hon. Gentleman can happily tuck into.' and later 'I am about to use honeyed terms to try to placate my colleagues who have concerns'. Despite his honeyed terms the government decided to agree to water down the amendment, which staved off defeat.
The Bill returns to the Lords on Monday to see if they will agree to reinstating the employment clause, and to agree to the promised revised extensions clause. It will then need to come back to the Commons again to agree that latter change, which will happen on Tuesday 23rd. This back and forth process is known as 'ping pong'. If the Bill goes back and forth too many times without either side giving way (e.g. by suggesting passing a slightly different amendment) or runs out of time, then it will fail altogether, but that is very unlikely to happen, and it will probably be enacted before the end of the session at the beginning of May.
There is a little news on the proposals to change the thresholds for three types of nationally significant infrastructure project.
On electric lines, consultation to introduce a 2km minimun took place last year. The relevant order to change the threshold was laid before Parliament last Wednesday and is due to come into effect in mid-June. it isn't available on the interweb yet.
On highways and railways, consultation to vary the thresholds took place over the new year. I am told that the relevant order will be published in early May and come into effect in July, a month later than the consultation document estimated.
Finally, two further replacement guidance documents are expected in the next week or so: guidance on associated development and examinations. Watch this space.