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New clause 1— Climate change

‘(1) A statement may only be designated under section 5 if the Secretary of State is satisfied that (taken as a whole) the policies in the statement contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

(2) A statement designated under section 5 must contain a statement to the effect that it is the Secretary of State’s view that the requirement of subsection (1) is satisfied.’.

Amendment No. 52, in clause 5, page 3, line 6, leave out ‘and’.

Amendment No. 53, page 3, line 8, at end insert ‘, and

(c) has been approved by both Houses of Parliament.’.

Government amendments Nos. 72 to 75.

Amendment No. 3, in clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—

‘(4A) The Secretary of State must consult with such organisations as appear to the Secretary of State to be able to advise appropriately on the risks to health arising from the policy set out in the national policy statement.’.

Amendment No. 54, in clause 9, page 5, line 16, at end insert

Amendment No. 67, in page 5, line 32, leave out Clause 11.

Government amendment No. 76

Government new clause 35— Application to Parliament.

Amendment No. 1, in clause 97, page 49, line 26, at end insert—

‘(d) the desirability of contributing to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.’.

Government amendments Nos. 184 and 185.

John Healey: A substantial amount of time was set aside in the programme motion for the discussion of this group of amendments, which deals with issues relating to national policy statements, Parliament and climate change. I shall set the scene for hon. Members, which I hope will be helpful, as the group covers a lot of ground.

Government new clause 8 and consequential amendments Nos. 72 to 76 would provide for a parliamentary process for the scrutiny of new national policy statements. Amendment (a), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts),
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would change the time sequence in new clause 8, and amendments Nos. 52 and 53 would require both Houses to approve national policy statements before they could be designated.

Government new clause 35 applies this Bill to Parliament. New clause 1 and amendment No. 54 seek to add a duty on the Secretary of State to address climate change when designating or reviewing a national policy statement, and amendment No. 1 seeks to add a duty on the infrastructure planning commission to have regard to climate change. Amendment No. 3 would require consultation with organisations to seek advice on the risks to health arising from the policy in national policy statements, and amendment No. 67 would remove clause 11 and thereby the provision to designate pre-existing statements of policy as national policy statements. Finally, Government amendments Nos. 184 and 185 deal with the issue of blight in relation to national policy statements.

National policy statements are an important innovation and the foundation of the proposed new system. The Secretary of State would produce national policy statements for strategic development of essential infrastructure investment to ensure that there was a clear, strong policy framework for decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects. They would help to ensure a national debate about, and conclusions on, the infrastructure that the country needs. They would provide the primary framework for the IPC’s consideration of applications for individual projects for energy, transport, water, waste water or waste infrastructure. They would set the complete policy framework relevant to decision making, integrating all the important and relevant environmental, social and other aspects of policy.

The commission would not be able to take decisions on a project unless there was a relevant national policy statement designated and in place. NPSs will be important, serious and significant documents. They will therefore undergo an appraisal of their sustainability, will be subject to public consultation and will be scrutinised by Parliament, to ensure that all elements of the policy are appropriate. The IPC will then base its consideration and decisions on the policy set out in the NPS, weighed against domestic and European law, and the possibility or evidence of any adverse impacts on local areas as a result of the application going ahead.

The exact form of national policy statements would vary by sector. The Bill makes it clear that some existing policy statements could become, or serve as, the basis for national policy statements, but only if they meet the standards set out in the Bill for national policy statements. Those standards include a proper appraisal of sustainability, proper public consultation and proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Government new clause 8 and consequential amendments are among the most significant amendments tabled on Report. They provide for a new system of parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements, which we see as the cornerstone of our new system. When the Bill was first introduced, we made a commitment to ensuring a stronger role for Parliament. We encouraged the House to consider setting up a Select Committee as part of that process, and suggested that it might be drawn from the expertise of the four relevant departmental Committees—the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory
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Reform Committee, the Transport Committee, the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We suggested that it could scrutinise draft NPSs in parallel with public consultation. We undertook that a Secretary of State would consider the Committee’s reports together with responses from the public consultation and would revise draft NPSs before designating them. In addition, if the Committee recommended that an NPS raised issues that should be debated by Parliament, we would make Government time available for such debate before the designation of an NPS.

I recognise, of course, that it is ultimately for the House itself to decide what procedures are appropriate for each NPS. These procedures will need to respect the demands on the time of Members and the House. However, they will need three hallmarks to be successful. First, they will need to be sufficiently flexible to deal with both new NPSs and future amendments to existing NPSs. Secondly, they will need to be timely, without undue delay in establishing NPSs as the Government’s strategic framework for nationally significant infrastructure. Thirdly, they will need to be proportionate to the issues raised. It is conceivable, for example, that a future amendment to an NPS may be relatively limited, and we therefore need a system that can respond to that.

I have had constructive and detailed discussions with the Chairs of the four Committees that I mentioned, and I pay tribute to them. Their Clerks have also provided significant and valuable advice. I have also ensured that we have kept in touch with other Committees, such as the Welsh Affairs Committee, through the Liaison Committee, to explore the potential for a process that will meet the proper role of this House in subjecting these policy statements to sufficient scrutiny. We have had three meetings, helpfully hosted by the Leader of the House, that have taken us a long way towards finding an approach that is workable and effective. I am grateful to those involved and to the House authorities for the time, consideration and expertise that they have devoted to that process.

Together with the Chairs of the Select Committees, we have developed a possible process for Committee examination of national policy statements. Examination would be by either one of the relevant existing departmental Select Committees or a single new Committee drawn from their membership and expertise. That decision would be a matter for the Select Committees, via the Liaison Committee, and not for Government. The Committee would examine the draft national policy statement, largely parallel to public consultation, but there would be a period after the closure of the public consultation in which the Committee could take into account any significant issues that had been raised during that consultation. The Government have undertaken to ensure that briefing and information on those issues is made available immediately to the Select Committees, so that that they can do that. The Committee would then report with recommendations to the Secretary of State—

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): The House.

John Healey: In fact, the Secretary of State would look to that report, which would formally be a report to the House, of course, and would make time available, if necessary, for debate, if the Committee recommended it.

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We propose that the Government would then consider what change was needed to the draft national policy statement in the light of the views expressed in this House and in the public consultation, and we would then revise the draft as appropriate and as necessary.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): The point that my hon. Friend is making relates to my amendment (a) to new clause 8, in which I suggest that parliamentary scrutiny should come after the period of public consultation. My hon. Friend is now apparently saying that there would be an overlap period, and that time would be available after public consultation when the appropriate Committee in the House would be allowed to consider the results of that consultation before concluding its report on the policy statement. Can he give us some idea of the likely time periods involved in the process? They might not be firmed up at present, but it would be useful to have some indication of his thinking at this stage.

John Healey: I have discussed with the Select Committee Chairs—we have not formalised or finalised the proposal—an overhang or continuation period of perhaps four to six weeks to enable the Select Committee to take any additional account that might be necessary of the significant issues raised during the public consultation in its inquiry into and examination and scrutiny of the Government’s proposals.

We considered the proposal for an entirely sequential process, but two factors determined our view that the other approach would be better. First, we did not want to extend the period in which the national policy statements would be put in place for any longer than was necessary. Secondly, as a Government we want to be able to make any substantial revisions that might be required to a national policy statement in the light of the views of the public and Parliament and of any assessment of the sustainability appraisal that might be required. In other words, we want to bring all the relevant matters, observations and views from Parliament and public consultation together in one revision, rather than having to revise the statement at least twice, as would be the case if we had an entirely sequential process. I hope that the further information that I have been able to share with the House and with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe may persuade him that amendment (a) is not necessary at this point, but that its aim can be achieved. The Select Committee Chairs are confident that it can be achieved, too.

7.45 pm

We also gave careful consideration to whether Parliament should be required or should have the opportunity formally to approve a national policy statement by a binding vote. The proposal is before us under the amendments tabled by the official Opposition, which propose a binding vote for both Houses to approve a national policy statement, although everyone, as far as I can tell—including the Opposition and the Select Committee Chairs—was talking about a non-amendable motion and therefore a vote to approve or not to approve the policy statement. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 would have that effect by amending clause 5, which
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would mean that the Secretary of State could designate a national policy statement only if it had been approved by both Houses.

Peter Luff: Although I am personally sorry that Parliament has not been given the chance to vote on the national policy statements, I am very grateful to the Minister and the Leader of the House for the sympathetic way in which they treated the Select Committees’ concerns. New clause 8 certainly represents a great step forward, which we welcome, although we would like the vote on national policy statements.

May I ask the Minister one specific question of some importance? Am I right to believe that new clause 35 is simply intended to apply planning law to Parliament and is not intended to set aside article 9 of the Bill of Rights or to allow the courts to evaluate the Select Committee reports or resolutions of the House provided for in new clause 8? Those are very important matters for the privilege of this House.

John Healey: The hon. Gentleman is right. That new clause has nothing to do with parliamentary procedure, the scrutiny of national policy statements or constitutional matters. It simply deals with the situation in which a potentially nationally significant infrastructure project might relate to parliamentary land. It is akin to the provisions in the Bill for Crown land. Next Monday, we are set to discuss those provisions, including the safeguards that will be in place. It might be better to pick up the matter at that point. I can give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he has requested.

Let me return to whether there is a case for national policy statements to be approved by both Houses. In the end, we took the view that although national policy statements were important documents that would form the basis of decisions by the new infrastructure planning commission, they are ultimately documents that set out the Government’s policy. They are not primary or secondary legislation. It is generally the case in this House that Government decide policy and Parliament scrutinises it as appropriate.

Given that the policy statements are policy documents, they are closer to planning policy statements or super-White Papers, which are not subject to parliamentary approval, than to legislation, which is. I have to say to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), who will try to make the case for amendments Nos. 52 and 53, that I do not see a ready-made model or suitable precedent for a binding vote on such statements of policy. Unlike with legislation, we could be taken into unprecedented and problematic territory if the two Houses were to take a different view of the policy that might be contained in a national policy statement.

Mr. Llwyd: I am listening carefully to the Minister, and want just to put one point to him. The policy, as he refers to it, is obviously created by Government. It then becomes, I suppose, planning policy guidance, which is not legislation but has the force of law and is as far-reaching as any piece of legislation that we could devise in this place. Planning policy guidance decides whether a planning development goes forward or not, with all the consequences of either decision. Although he is saying that they should not come before Parliament, my point is that the policy statements are very far-reaching indeed.

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John Healey: The hon. Gentleman is right, and that is precisely why we propose the new system in the Bill for the proper scrutiny of such national policy statements. However, they are policy statements, not legislation. Although they may be more akin to planning policy statements, we are proposing a formal system that is rooted in the House and assured in a way that we do not currently have for planning policy statements.

Let me spell out the provisions. The new clause will require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a draft national policy statement or an amendment of a policy statement and, subsequently, to lay before Parliament a statement that sets out the Government’s response to any resolution of either House or any recommendation of the Committee of the House of Commons about the proposals in the national policy statement, and to do so within a relevant period. It will require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament the final national policy statement.

The new clause recognises the interest of both Houses in such issues. It will formalise both the Secretary of State’s relationship with both Houses and the Secretary of State’s response to them. However, it also specifically recognises the nature and expertise of the departmental Select Committees in this House, rather than the other place.

Government amendments Nos. 72 and 76 will make consequential changes. They specify that a new national policy statement that has been reviewed or amended cannot be designated unless the parliamentary requirements set out in the Bill have been met and that the final national policy statement or amended NPS must be laid before Parliament.

Government amendment No. 76 will amend clause 11, which deals with the designation of policy statements made before the commencement of the Act, and clarifies that when deciding whether to designate a policy statement as an NPS, the Secretary of State can take account of the parliamentary scrutiny that was previously undertaken in relation to the statement to determine whether it meets the standards laid down by the Act.

Before hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, see a conspiracy, let me say that, essentially, the pre-commencement provision is principally designed to deal with a situation in which a Secretary of State might want to get on with the process of publishing a draft national policy statement, perhaps on renewal energy, in advance of the formal commencement of the Act. As I have made clear before, any national policy statement could be designated only if the specific requirements for the appraisal of sustainability, for the public consultation and for parliamentary scrutiny were all fully met. However, the provision could allow the process to start before the formal commencement of the Act.

John McDonnell: The practical example that Ministers gave when we debated this matter in January was the aviation White Paper being converted into a national policy statement. Will the Minister clarify whether in his view the process by which the aviation White Paper was developed and the subsequent period that has elapsed mean that it would meet the requirements of the legislation to be converted into a national policy statement?

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