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3. Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): What steps are being taken to improve the skills of local people seeking work on the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. [172191]

The Minister for the Olympics (Tessa Jowell): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s long campaign on increasing skills, especially among the most disadvantaged people.
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She will be pleased to know that the Olympic site will become a national skills academy for construction, providing specialist skills to local workers through at least 1,000 job and training placements, with more than 500 apprenticeship places. Training is also under way in other key sectors: media, sport and hospitality.

Natascha Engel: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am thinking about Olympic projects up and down the country as well. What kind of work is the Department doing to identify the skills that will be needed between now and 2012 so that places such as Laing O’Rourke, which is near my constituency—it is between Bolsover and Bassetlaw—and employs 320 skilled workers, can benefit from those projects?

Tessa Jowell: That is precisely what we want to achieve. I know that my hon. Friend will work closely with her regional development agency, which has ambitious plans, and the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that her constituents have the opportunity to become skilled and be eligible for jobs in not only the Olympic park but her constituency.

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Point of Order

3.33 pm

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), has just issued a written ministerial statement on Farepak. He says that the report will be ready early in the new year, but that it will not be made public or available to Members of Parliament. Given the possible legal process, I understand that that is justified—we do not want to prejudice a trial. However, he goes on to say that regulators will be given a copy of the report. Will you, Mr. Speaker, facilitate a meeting under Chatham House rules so that Members from both sides of the House may have an opportunity to discuss the outcome of the report?

Mr. Speaker: While I have a great deal of sympathy with the men and women who lost their savings through Farepak, that is something that I cannot get involved in. The hon. Gentleman should take the matter up with the Minister because he is responsible for his parliamentary statements.

Bills Presented

Drugs (Reclassification)

Mr. Christopher Chope, supported by Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. William Cash, Philip Davies, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. Robert Syms and Sir Nicholas Winterton, presented a Bill to provide for the reclassification of cannabis: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 February, and to be printed [Bill 37].

Drugs (Roadside Testing)

Mr. Christopher Chope, supported by Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. William Cash, Philip Davies, Mr. Nigel Evans, Richard Ottaway, Mr. Greg Knight, Mr. Graham Stuart, Peter Viggers, Sir George Young and Sir Nicholas Winterton, presented a Bill to make provision for roadside testing for illegal drugs; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 May, and to be printed. [Bill 38].

Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition)

Mr. Christopher Chope, supported by Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. William Cash, Mr. Nigel Evans, Philip Davies, Mr. Mark Field, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Bob Spink and Mr. Robert Syms, presented a Bill to make provision for the abolition of the television licence fee; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed. [Bill 39].

Sovereignty of Parliament (European Communities)

Mr. Christopher Chope, supported by Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. William Cash, Philip Davies, Mr. Nigel Evans,
10 Dec 2007 : Column 24
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Bob Spink, Mr. Robert Syms, Mr. Andrew Turner, Peter Viggers and Sir Nicholas Winterton, presented a Bill to provide that Community treaties, Community instruments and Community obligations shall only be binding in legal proceedings in the United Kingdom insofar as they do not conflict with a subsequent, expressly inconsistent enactment of the Parliament of the United Kingdom: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 13 June, and to be printed [Bill 40].

European Union (Audit of Benefits and Costs of UK Membership)

Mr. Christopher Chope, supported by Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. William Cash, Mr. Nigel Evans, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Bob Spink, Mr. Robert Syms, Mr. Andrew Turner, Peter Viggers and Sir Nicholas Winterton, presented a Bill to establish a Commission to carry out regular audits of the economic costs and benefits of the UK’s membership of the European Union; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 June, and to be printed [Bill 41].

Road Traffic (Congestion Reduction)

Mr. Christopher Chope, supported by supported by Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. William Cash, Sir Patrick Cormack, Philip Davies, Mr. Mark Field, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. Greg Knight, Bob Spink, Sir Nicholas Winterton and Sir George Young, presented a Bill to place a duty on highway authorities and police forces to minimise congestion and delays caused by collisions and other incidents on the highway; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 13 June, and to be printed [Bill 42].

Crown Employment (Nationality)

Mr. Andrew Dismore, supported by Dr. Tony Wright, Mr. Andy Slaughter, Annette Brooke, Mr. Andrew Love, Keith Vaz, Ms Karen Buck, Mr. Virendra Sharma, Mike Gapes, Jeremy Corbyn, Shona McIsaac and Stephen Pound, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with the removal of general restrictions as to nationality which apply to persons employed or holding office in any civil capacity under the Crown; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed [Bill 43].

Pedlars (Street Trading Regulation)

Dr. Brian Iddon, supported by Mr. David Amess, Jim Dobbin, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mark Hunter, Mr. Eric Illsley, Martin Salter, Alan Simpson, Anne Snelgrove, Mr. Phil Willis and Sir Nicholas Winterton, presented a Bill to confer further powers on local authorities for the regulation of street trading by pedlars; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 1 February, and to be printed [Bill 44].

10 Dec 2007 : Column 25

Orders of the Day

Planning Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.35 pm

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill will reform the planning system to make it fairer, more efficient and ready to equip Britain for the challenges of the 21st century. It will speed up decisions on major projects that are vital to our economic future. Together with the Climate Change Bill and energy Bill, it will accelerate our transition to a low-carbon economy. At every stage it will reinforce the democratic principle that everyone should have a fair say on the future of their neighbourhood.

Sixty years ago, a Labour Government passed the landmark Town and Country Planning Act 1947. I have read the Hansard of the Second Reading, and I can tell the House that the then Minister for town and country planning took two hours to introduce the Bill. I am happy to reassure Members on both sides of the House that I do not intend to emulate that example today. I am sure that that will come as a great relief. It was a Labour Government who introduced that landmark legislation.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I apologise for intervening so early on, but it is probably an appropriate moment. One of the difficulties that I, and many of the individuals whom I know in local government, have with the Bill is that it is very short on detail. We are used to skeletal Bills, but this one has osteoporosis. Will the right hon. Lady please expand on one or two key points? For example, will she give a definition, at the lower level, of what she would call a nationally significant infrastructure project?

Hazel Blears: I will gladly do that. The hon. Gentleman will see that in the clauses we set out the range of nationally significant infrastructure projects. They include ports and harbours, and projects to do with aviation, energy, water, waste water, and waste disposal. Many of the limits determining when a project will be a major project are set out in the Bill. An example would be energy projects over 50 MW. There is detail in the clauses about the ambit of the legislation, and where it is designed to bite on specific projects.

Sir Paul Beresford: I thank the Secretary of State very much. In my area, there is concern about the prospect of a previous Member of Parliament for Putney setting up an eco-town around an incinerator. Could the Bill be utilised by him and his backers?

Hazel Blears: No. The hon. Gentleman will know that our proposal for eco-towns, which are currently the subject of a great deal of interest locally, is to try to make sure that our homes are zero-carbon. We want to ensure that not only our homes, but the whole way in
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which the community is designed, minimise carbon emissions. The hon. Gentleman highlights an interesting case involving conflict; the legislation is designed to integrate our environmental and economic objectives, and not to have them pulling against each other, as may well be the case in the illustration that he gave us.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend spell out how these planning regulations will affect medium-sized airports, some below regional level and some at regional level? That is an area of concern for many members of the public.

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend is right that aviation is a matter of concern to the public. He will know that our air transport White Paper, to which I will refer later, deals with how aviation might become the subject of a designated national policy statement under the Bill and the process that we will need to go through before we get to that point.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): My right hon. Friend did not include motorways in her list. Three years ago, the then Transport Secretary, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer, dropped a bombshell in the Chamber by setting out his preference for a tolled expressway to run parallel with the existing M6 through to Staffordshire and Cheshire. That plan was dropped after a huge public outcry. How will the Bill, specifically the rather Napoleonic arm’s length infrastructure planning commission, affect the ability of local people not only to have their say but to have real leverage over the outcome with the assistance of their Members of Parliament?

Hazel Blears: I hope to be able to reassure my hon. Friend and all Members that under the Bill there will be more accountability and a better place for the public to have a good, substantial debate about the national need for infrastructure, not only for roads but for a whole range of issues, including energy, harbours, aviation and transport.

Several hon. Members rose

Hazel Blears: I will take a couple more interventions and then press on. I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): May I, as another Labour Member, say that some people would like to see a little more of the Napoleonic approach to planning? Not everyone is critical of the Government’s aim of speeding up the planning process. In Merseyside, Peel Holdings, which owns the dock and harbour company, wishes to create on the Birkenhead side of the river a development that, when complete, will lead to some 27,000 new jobs and 15,000 new homes. That will transform our whole area, particularly the job opportunities for some of my poorer constituents. I hope that the Minister will not be weighed down by those who fear that she will act too quickly, but will accept that some of us are worried that she will not act quickly enough.

Hazel Blears: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I have seen for myself the tremendous proposals for Birkenhead that he mentions. Under these
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proposals, we should be able to cut in half the average time that it takes for a major proposal to receive consent. At the moment, the average time is two years; if we can get that down to a year we will do a service to all our constituents.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Given that the Secretary of State rightly spoke about the importance of Labour planning policy as a way of delivering social change, does she understand the concern of many of us that the infrastructure planning commission will be removed from democratic control? Do we not need to focus on that during the passage of the Bill?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. He has a proud record in this House of ensuring that local people, in particular, have a proper say and that there is accountability. I hope to be able to convince him and other Members that there will be accountability under the Bill. There will be democratic input into the national policy statement, parliamentary scrutiny and a big national debate, and then the independent commission will take its decisions with that national policy statement, which will be its primary consideration, as the place where there is proper political accountability. That combination will be a very robust form of accountability.

Several hon. Members rose

Hazel Blears: I will try to be fair by giving way to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk).

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): To return to the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping), who will be in charge? For example, if there were a proposal to build an eco-town in Salford, the Homes and Communities Agency established by the Government might say, “This is a very good idea”, but the IPC might say, “No, this is a poor idea.” Given how the Bill is drafted, is not the truth of the matter that in the end the Minister will be pulling the strings from behind the scenes?

Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is under a fundamental misapprehension and raises an issue that should not be of concern to him. Matters such as eco-towns and large housing developments will continue to be decided by local authorities under the town and country planning system and by reference to the local development plans that have been selected. The Bill is primarily about major infrastructure projects in roads, aviation, energy and so on. We expect that there will be about 45 major infrastructure projects per annum.

I need to press on with my speech. I have only just got to 1947, and I need to make a little bit more progress. The Labour Government of that time were committed to positive steps for managing a period of great change, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) raised the importance of that point. At that time, the Government were rebuilding blitzed cities, building new towns and reconciling the growth of great new industrial activity with making the country a desirable and convenient place to live. The Act they designed then set out the principles of a planning system that has endured for 60 years. We have managed to secure growth and jobs while protecting
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green spaces. Today, again, a Labour Government are ready to make those tough decisions that are in the long-term interests of the country.

Planning should help us to meet and to master the unprecedented challenges of the 21st century: climate change, the economic pressures of globalisation, and the urgent need for new housing and secure, clean energy supplies. The current system really struggles to do that. Nationally significant infrastructure projects, such as transport links or renewable energy, that are vital to our competitiveness and our quality of life face unacceptable delays. It took six years to get approval for a vital upgrade to the north Yorkshire power line; three and a half years to turn down the proposed container port at Dibden bay; and nearly three years for a decision on Little Cheyne Court wind farm in Kent, which had the potential to provide over 50 MW of green energy. No one benefits from such delays: not business, local people, the economy or wider society.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady accept that part of the rural economy revolves around people visiting areas such as the north Yorkshire moors, the Yorkshire dales, the Scottish borders and beautiful, remote and isolated parts of the United Kingdom? Does she accept that when a line of pylons is to be built that will be needed for the new wind farms announced by the Government today, people should have the right and the time to have their views considered before such decisions are taken?

Hazel Blears: Indeed. In fact, under the Bill, people will have three opportunities to have a say. At the moment they have only one chance, at the inquiry. Under the Bill, they will have an opportunity when the national policy statement is being drawn up; a second opportunity because the developer has to consult the community when he or she introduces a proposal; and a third opportunity when we get to the inquiry itself. Far from reducing the public’s voice, the Bill will provide a stronger voice, so that they can have their say.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear me say that the best armlock that the public could ask for is third-party right of appeal. All Oppositions sign up to that idea, but find it difficult to adhere to when they get into government. I am prepared to consider various ways in which that could be introduced, but will my right hon. Friend look seriously at a way in which the public could genuinely participate in the process? They would be able to stop something that had been agreed to by the formal planning authorities if they had a proper way of intervening in that process.

Hazel Blears: I know that my hon. Friend has been pursuing this issue assiduously for a considerable time. Under the Bill, there is provision for consultation before an application is brought forward, and I hope that in many cases the public will be more engaged than they are now. At the moment, I have a sense that developers with a lot of money get a say, as do organised pressure groups or lobby groups. The people who do not get a say are often the individuals who need to be brought into the process, and we shall put an extra £1.5 million into the Planning Aid organisation, which goes out to seek the views of those who do not normally get a say. I hope that the process will be more robust.

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