Draft Transport Act 2000 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2001

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Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Before the hon. Gentleman strays too far from the question of powers over planning, does he, like me, wonder how the proposals being entertained here today fit into the review of planning, which I understand is being undertaken by Lord Falconer? How do the two interlace? Would he, like me, be interested to hear the Minister explain how the issue fits into that broader view of planning?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am very grateful for that very helpful intervention. [Interruption.] No, it is very helpful, because we are approving these powers before we know what is in the Green Paper. We can rely on leaks, which this Government are good at. There have already been some about what will be in the Green

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Paper, and we think that the powers of local authorities, and hence local accountability through locally elected councillors, will be taken away in respect of large planning applications.

That is yet another example of local, democratic accountability being removed. Local councillors will have no control over developments that NATS might propose, because of the powers that we are giving away under the order. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) has done us all a favour. Perhaps the Minister will give us a peek at the Green Paper and tell us how the powers in the order mesh with it, although I am not holding my breath. He may tell us whether he was consulted on the compatibility of those powers during the drafting of the Green Paper.

Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford): On a point of clarification, as regards part III, does the hon. Gentleman agree that local councillors do not get involved in decisions about matters of permitted development?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If the hon. Gentleman had looked at the underlying Acts as I have, he would know that permitted development is not the only issue. The order also involves reduced planning requirements in respect of developments at any airport and within 8 km of an airport.

Many of the Acts contain wide powers, although not as wide as those in section 277 of the 2000 Act. The Acts conform to a trend, in that Acts passed under Labour Governments tend to contain wider powers than those passed under Conservative Governments. When one reads all those huge Acts, one can see that trend. While Conservative Governments jealously guard the parliamentary powers that we are given by the people who elect us, Labour politicians tend not to do so. However, Mr. Chidgey, I am sure that you would soon rule me out of order if I discussed that any further.

The Chairman: I am listening closely, Mr. Clifton-Brown.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful, Mr. Chidgey.

As the Minister in the relevant sponsoring Department, what powers will the hon. Gentleman retain under the order, and under what circumstances, to control, overrule and intervene in the operation of NATS? His Department remains the only hope of retaining some control, as the order gives NATS such wide powers that most challenges in the courts over exceeding its powers are unlikely to succeed. The Secretary of State is the only person who could act as a guardian of the huge powers that are being transferred to NATS, so we need to know how his Department intends to monitor those powers. What would happen if NATS did not succeed, or the Government sold their 49 per cent. share and it became a wholly owned private company? Would the Minister still be satisfied that it should have such wide powers?

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On another point, what does the Minister expect to be the new relationship between the CAA as the regulator and NATS as the air safety operator? What will happen if the CAA is in conflict with NATS when NATS uses powers over which the CAA no longer has control?

Finally, at what stage are the negotiations for the so-called European blue skies directive, and how will it mesh with the role of the CAA and NATS? We cannot sensibly discuss the order unless we know about those three functions.

I shall allow the Minister to answer those few questions, and I shall ask him another batch of questions, if necessary, after his reply.

4.53 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Mr. Chidgey.

I reassure the Committee that I do not intend to speak for an hour and a half, but have a few brief points to cover. As the Minister knows, the Liberal Democrats were opposed to the NATS part-privatisation, but this is not the place to go through that saga again. However, it will be no surprise to the Minister that I echo some concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) about the significant powers being given to a private operator. I hope that he will be able to tell us what checks, balances and guarantees there will for controlling and monitoring the powers.

I also hope that, in relation to the changes made under part III of the order to class B in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, which I assume covers the sort of permitted development that might be needed for Prestwick, the Minister will comment on the progress of that project and the latest date by which he expects it to be under way. Like the hon. Member for Cotswold, I hope that the Minister will comment on the current financial state of NATS.

My final point is about class H, which also appears in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, yet will not be subject to any consequential amendments. I would like the Minister to explain why there are no circumstances in which NATS might need to undertake surveys. Why is that simply a responsibility for the CAA? If there were a possibility that NATS might undertake surveys, I would expect another consequential amendment to be made to that order.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If the hon. Gentleman were to refer to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, he would find that the powers that the order transfers under the Transport Act permit surveys, entry to land and boring on land without the permission of the landowner, provided that due notice is given.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether that is the case. With those few questions, I will sit down and await the Minister's response, which I hope will be detailed.

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4.57 pm

Mr. Jamieson: The debate so far has been helpful. I would like to help the hon. Member for Cotswold through some of what he described as the ''dense legalese'' in the order. I agree with him that it appears to be written in legalese. That is because, although the purpose is simple, a large amount of legislation must be amended in order to achieve it. There is a temptation to stray too far in a debate such as this, Mr. Chidgey, but I am sure that, as the hon. Member for Cotswold pointed out, under your careful chairmanship we will not be allowed to stray from the order.

The hon. Gentleman says that huge powers are being transferred. In fact, powers that currently belong to the CAA are being transferred to NATS. He also says that he is concerned about such powers being transferred to a private body. I must at some point go back to some old volumes of Hansard to see what he said during the passage of the Acts that privatised gas, electricity and water. In those Acts, the same kinds of powers were transferred to private bodies. I do not think that he would have opposed those measures then.

The powers are being transferred so that NATS can carry out its duties under the Transport Act. The hon. Gentleman tried to claim that this was news, and that he had only just chanced upon the measures, yet the powers, and their transfer to NATS, were all set out in the Transport Act 2000.

Tom Brake: Does the Minister agree that it might also be instructive to examine Hansard to see what Labour Members said about those transfers of powers then?

Mr. Jamieson: It is always interesting to study old copies of Hansard, if one has plenty of time in the evenings. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was one of those who, in their earlier days, read Hansard under the covers while the rest of us were out enjoying ourselves.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson: Let me complete the point first. What is happening now, as has been recommended in the past by the Select Committee and many others, is important. The CAA's role as an economic regulator is now separate from the delivery of the service, which is being carried out by NATS.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has tried to imply that in the 1990s I might have said something different from what I am saying now. I am one of those Members who jealously guards Parliament's powers. They should be given away in legislation only where absolutely necessary. The CAA's powers are such that it is able to control developments if it does not happen to like them, particularly in relation to airports, irrespective of who owns them, up to a distance of 8 km. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us which other statutory undertaker has such wide powers.

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Mr. Jamieson: It is useful not only to have an interest in parliamentary scrutiny, but to be consistent in these matters. Many of the CAA's powers were given to it a long time ago. I am not sure which Government were in power at the time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson: In a moment. The order ensures that NATS can operate properly by transferring some of those limited powers to it.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Jamieson: Yes I will.

Hugh Bayley: My hon. Friend is extremely generous. With most transport undertakings, the transport operator has safeguarding powers to prevent developments which would undermine its ability to run the transport system. I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that the hon. Member for Cotswold was a member of the committee that considered the Railways Bill.

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