Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)




  60. So it is site specific.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It decides in principle that the project should go ahead. There is then the public inquiry in which the detail is looked at by the public inquiry, the how, and after that the Secretary of State decides whether to give planning permission.

Miss McIntosh

  61. How are parliamentarians qualified to take this decision for a locally elected planning authority?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because this is an issue of national importance in the hypothesis advanced.

  62. If I live in the north of England, why should my constituents benefit from T5?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a national issue as to whether or not there should be T5. The current arrangement in relation to major infrastructure projects is that every single one of them has been called in, in the last decades, by the relevant Secretary of State and the Secretary of State has decided after a public inquiry whether to agree or not to the major infrastructure project. What we are saying in these proposals is that where you are dealing with a major infrastructure project Parliament has a role to play in deciding whether such a major infrastructure project should go ahead.

Andrew Bennett

  63. On these major schemes, Parliament had the old private business way of doing it. It was somewhat cumbersome and not very efficient but one of the key traditions then was that it was not whipped business. What you are really saying is this is going to be whipped business because the government minister is going to say that he wants to get it through. How far is Parliament going to have any discretion? Are you saying that you are not going to have it as whipped business or is it really going to be the minister decides and the payroll and all the other pressures that the whips can apply get it through?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Parliament will scrutinise the application. It cannot be said that in every case it will necessarily be a government proposal but in many cases it will because one of the other aspects of the major infrastructure proposals was that there should be a policy statement in advance about things like aviation policy or whatever. In many cases it will be something that is done with the support of the government.

  64. It will be whipped business?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would imagine in some cases it will be whipped business, yes, but Parliament is still able to scrutinise it.


  65. They cannot affect it but they can look at it.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They can affect it; they can express views in relation to it. Why is that process not a means by which a public debate goes on properly scrutinising the detail of the proposal?

  66. On the whole if you say to people, "I have taken the decision. Now you can tell me what you think about it", that is not regarded as being a debate.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that is a fair assessment.

  67. Forgive me. I am being unfair this morning.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not at all. I do not think it was an accurate description of what we have in mind. What we have in mind is a policy statement, for example, in relation to aviation or railways, followed by a proposal which would normally be by a body like the BAA, then a process by which Parliament scrutinises the proposal.

  Chairman: A body like the BAA, a public corporation which is now privatised.

Andrew Bennett

  68. Parliament scrutinising really means that you either have to upset the whips or you have to follow the whips' line. Most members are in because they represent a political party and they want to sustain that political party so it is not all that easy to upset the whips, is it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The process by which the individual project is looked at will throw up a debate in detail about the project.

Sir Paul Beresford

  69. I thought you were saying that Parliament was going to look at the principles. The problem I have is where do you draw the line? You used T5 as an example but it is not just T5; there are potentially rail-road connections and infrastructure connections in general.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is for Parliament in determining the principle to look at those issues that they think are relevant to the principle. Should there be, for example, a fifth terminal at Heathrow? That is a debate that has certain parameters. Those engaged in the debate can determine what they think the sensible parameters of that are. It will involve, for example, looking at things like the economic benefits of terminal five or the consequences in general terms of there being a terminal five, but I do not think there is difficulty about such a debate taking place.

  70. Can I give you one other possible example? Suppose we had an application for a railway to go from the Channel Tunnel, up through the southern counties, to loop round the base of London and off up to Liverpool. What sort of stage do we get to? How does that go through?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There was a central railways project to that effect.

  Chairman: I am sure Sir Paul is posing an entirely hypothetical question.

Sir Paul Beresford

  71. Yes. Mr Ash was involved as an adviser on the Channel Tunnel link.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the proposal in the major infrastructure project document suggests is that one uses something akin to the Transport and Works Act in order for the debate of principle to take place. The very proposal that you have suggested was dealt with under the Transport and Works Act and was defeated.


  72. I thought there was a lot of complaint about the Transport and Works Act.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It does not apply to enough areas of major infrastructure. It only applies to certain transport schemes.

Mrs Ellman

  73. Lord Falconer, I want to take you back to the comment you made on whipping. You said a few minutes ago that, yes, some projects may be whipped or would be whipped; and yet local authority planning committees are instructed they must not whip their members. Are you asking for different rules for Parliament than you are imposing on local authorities?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I am responding to Mr Bennett's question, will these issues be whipped. The answer to that is, in many cases, the particular project will be as a result of a national policy statement issued by government. It will represent, in effect, government policy.

  74. So it will be whipped.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Whether it will or whether it will not I do not know is the answer in relation to that. It will be a matter for Parliament and the government of the day to decide how each individual project would be dealt with.

Mr Betts

  75. Surely at local level, where the local planning committee takes the decision, they will also have policy statements. Are the roles going to change? Can the local planning committee now be whipped as to whether it takes the decision?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The way that local authorities work is that the local planning committee has to make its own decision on the basis of the local development framework. I do not want to interfere in the way that local planning authorities make their minds up in relation to those sorts of issues.

  76. In future it will be okay for them to be whipped?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not want to make a suggestion that that should be changed in any way. The major infrastructure project is a completely different sort of issue. We are in effect proposing a wholly new and different sort of process to apply to that.

Miss McIntosh

  77. It is not different. I have shares in BAA. I am totally against the procedure that is proposed. I am probably the only person in the room who has served on the Joint Special Procedures Committee. Are you familiar with that committee?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not familiar with the detail. Mike Ash knows about the two particular cases.

  78. I am on the Northern Tunstall Bypass Joint Special Procedures Committee which sat in the autumn of 1997. Three Members of the Commons and three Members of the Lords were elected to this committee in those cases where the Secretary of State, under present parliamentary procedures, is unable to take a decision. I understand that in that capacity we were asked as parliamentarians to sit in a semi-judicial capacity. We were asked to state that we had no vested interests and I understand that a time share along the route of the proposed bypass would have posed a vested interest.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) A time share?

  79. For example, if we had an allotment. Is that the sort of procedure that you are suggesting?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No. I do not know enough about the North Tunstall Bypass to know what procedure you are referring to. Was it a hybrid bill or a private bill?

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