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2 Jun 2008 : Column 576

John Healey: My hon. Friend’s concern about the aviation White Paper fits into a different category. The White Paper went through consultation in 2003. If that were to be the basis of a national policy statement in the future, that potential NPS would have to meet the three criteria that we have set out in the Bill and that I have explained to the House today. The appropriate time at which that may be considered is likely to be some time between 2009 and 2011, when we have undertaken to review the aviation White Paper. However, unless and until there is a national policy statement on aviation, the operation of the IPC in relation to any application for significant airport development that meets the thresholds in the Bill could not come into play. I hope that that helps to reassure my hon. Friend and that it underlines the fact that the pre-commencement provisions relate principally to the situation that I described earlier, rather than to his concern about the aviation White Paper or indeed, arguably, to the consideration of something like the waste strategy, which has been published already and could conceivably become the basis of a national policy statement on waste.

John McDonnell: I am sorry to press the Minister for absolute clarity. In his response, does he mean that any development that involves aviation expansion could not be considered by the IPC on the basis of the aviation White Paper but would have to wait until the national policy statement was developed, or is he saying that the IPC could consider any expansion proposal on the basis of the aviation White Paper because no NPS is in place?

John Healey: No, the IPC could consider an application for a major development in the aviation field only if a national policy statement was in place. Unless and until an aviation national policy statement is in place, the IPC could not operate under the terms of the new system.

John McDonnell: I am sorry to press the Minister again. I therefore return to the original question: does the process by which the aviation White Paper was arrived at satisfy the requirements set out in the Bill for its immediate conversion into a national policy statement?

John Healey: That would have to be a judgment that was taken, but we are setting out in the Bill three very clear conditions, including on parliamentary scrutiny, which has not been in place before. That may therefore imply an answer to my hon. Friend’s question. Any view of making the aviation White Paper the basis of a national policy statement on aviation would mean that that proposed national policy statement would have to be produced and undergo the parliamentary scrutiny process, which we have set out and which I have explained, as well as the processes for public consultation and for a tough appraisal of its sustainability. Only if it meets the criteria in those three respects could it then become designated as a national policy statement.

John McDonnell rose—

John Healey: My hon. Friend has had three goes. There are a number of other issues, and number of other hon. Members are keen to make their own points in the debate, but I will give way one more time.

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John McDonnell: I just want to make this explicit: the aviation White Paper did not come with a sustainability appraisal or parliamentary scrutiny. Therefore, it could not be converted into a national policy statement and the IPC could not consider an application for aviation expansion on that basis.

John Healey: My hon. Friend draws his very clear conclusions from the very clear explanation that I have set out for the House.

Peter Luff: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way yet again, and I genuinely intend to be helpful. Surely, any such restatement of the White Paper as a national policy statement would require the full process of scrutiny, so there is not a real issue.

John Healey: In a rather shorter way, the hon. Gentleman says exactly what I was trying to say.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister has made it quite clear that the IPC cannot operate in the absence of a policy statement on a submission or application. Will he therefore say when he thinks that the first of those policy statements will be rolled out, bearing in mind that the Select Committees involved will have a considerable amount of work to do, because the first scrutiny is likely to be the most time-consuming? When are the first national policy statements likely to be rolled out, and when will the IPC be in a position to operate?

8 pm

John Healey: I would expect the first draft national policy statements to be produced and proposed by Secretaries of State this year. It is therefore necessary to put in place the pre-commencement provisions that I have mentioned.

In case my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) feels that I have not gone the whole hog, let me explain that my job as the midhusband of the Bill is to produce a new system for dealing with large planning projects. That system will be based on new national policy statements. I have explained the criteria that must be met, and the processes that have to be undergone, for national policy statements to be put in place.

In the end, it is not for me to judge or decide whether a policy paper has undergone those processes; that is the responsibility and a matter for the judgment of the relevant Secretary of State, and they will have to explain the view that they take. If, in their judgment, there has not been the sustainability appraisal, parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation that national policy statements require under the Bill, it is their responsibility to put in place measures to ensure that that is changed. If no national policy statement is formally designated and in place, the IPC cannot decide on a major application. It could examine the application, but it would be for the Secretary of State to make the decisions on the application, as is the case now. I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied with that; I have to say that I do not feel that I can go much further on that point.

Together, the new clause and the amendments in the group fulfil our commitment to provide for parliamentary scrutiny. They take the significant step
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of setting that out in legislation. That was done with the encouragement of the Select Committee Chairmen, who were keen for us to do it. I hope that the House will agree that the provisions set out significant, innovative arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny, and ensure that Parliament has a strong say, and a strong influence, on any future national policy statement. I hope that at the end of the debate, in light of what has been said, the hon. Member for Beckenham will not feel it necessary to press her amendments to a Division.

I shall now speak rather more briefly, because I recognise the level of the House’s interest in the issues covered by this group of amendments. Through amendments Nos. 184 and 185, we have introduced provisions to deal with the blight that could be produced by a national policy statement, a proposed major project application or an order granting authorisation for compulsory purchase. Those are important provisions that give protection to people who may be affected.

New clause 1 and amendment No. 54 seek to give the Secretary of State a specific duty to consider climate change when designating or reviewing national policy statements. Amendment No. 1 would add climate change as a factor in the decision-making framework for the IPC, which makes the decisions. I hope that Members recognise that since the publication of the Bill, there has been development of the position set out in the White Paper.

Our objectives in relation to sustainable development are central to the consideration of future infrastructure needs. That is clearly sensible and necessary for the future of the country, whatever the infrastructure that we are talking about. That is why the Bill includes a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that national policy statements are drawn up with the objective of contributing to sustainable development. That is why national policy statements will have to be consistent with all relevant European Union law, including the habitats directive, and domestic law, including the Climate Change Bill, which will place tough duties on the Government to tackle the issues of climate change. That is why, before designating a national policy statement, Ministers must carry out an appraisal of their sustainability. The process will also apply to revisions of national policy statements, where the policy is materially affected.

Where the EU strategic environmental assessment directive applies, we will carry out an appraisal of sustainability that will cover all the obligations in the directive, but that directive may not apply to some national policy statements, so it is necessary to have a strong assessment framework that will apply to all statements to ensure that environmental objectives in particular, and also social and economic objectives, are properly factored into the development. That is the principle, purpose and thinking behind our approach.

The planning White Paper included a policy commitment to consider climate change when national policy statements are being developed, and we have delivered on that by requiring an appraisal of sustainability for every national policy statement, in which climate change will be considered. The new regime will also be subject to the provisions of the Climate Change Bill, when they are finally settled and put into statute. That Bill imposes a general duty on Ministers to meet carbon budgets, and to publish
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proposals and policies for meeting them. The Climate Change Bill will put strong measures in place, and strong duties on Government, to tackle climate change, and I would therefore argue that it is not appropriate or necessary to place a specific duty of that sort on the Secretary of State in the Bill, particularly not before the Climate Change Bill’s provisions are made clear and passed by the House.

On amendment No. 1, as I have said, the issue of climate change is dealt with in the requirement to prepare an appraisal of sustainability for national policy statements. That appraisal will be published alongside a draft national policy statement. That will be part of the public consultation that any national policy statement will have to undergo, and part of the parliamentary scrutiny of the statement.

The effect of requiring the IPC to make judgments on the issue of climate change will be to increase the scope of its discretion, but it would be more appropriate for the issue to be dealt with thoroughly by the Secretary of State, with consultation in public and scrutiny in Parliament, when preparing and designating the national policy statement. Requiring the IPC to give a view on a specific issue is likely to introduce additional uncertainty into the process, and it could slow down the decision-making process. It is inconsistent with the approach that we are trying to take in the new system.

I hope that I have set out the thinking behind the significant Government amendments and new clauses, and that I have been able to explain our approach on some of the issues on which hon. Friends and Opposition Members have tabled amendments. I look forward to the rest of the debate.

Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for being so clear on all the amendments tabled by the Government, by Labour Back Benchers and by the Opposition parties. As he said, national policy statements are one of the core aspects of the Bill. In principle, the official Opposition have no difficulty with the policy on national policy statements. We think it is a positive way forward to try to deal with the crumbling infrastructure that we will probably face when we get into government, and we will get on with it a lot more quickly than the present Government have.

There is agreement across the House that we never want to see again lengthy planning inquiries such as Sizewell and terminal 5—examples that have been given throughout our discussion of the Bill. That is a given. The difficulty arises from the status of national policy statements. The Minister clearly said that he saw them as Government statements. He agreed that they were the equivalent of planning policy guidance. We see them as being so important that they need to be voted on substantively by the House.

That is crucial, because the British public believe in the primacy of Parliament. If Parliament has agreed to a policy, there will be fewer challenges in principle as the statements come into use. The problem with national policy statements being Government statements is that that opens the possibility of extensive judicial review, based on all aspects of the policy statements. Hence, the objective on which we are all agreed—the speeding up decisions on infrastructure—will be frustrated
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by continual judicial review. That is the core reason why we tabled amendments Nos. 53 and 52 and why I will press them to a Division, if that is appropriate, in due course.

Mr. Betts: I can sympathise with the argument that the House should have a vote on policy statements, but is the hon. Lady really committing a future Conservative Government to giving a veto to a second Chamber, in whatever form it is comprised in due course, over the policy statements that that Government will issue?

Mrs. Lait: I was about to move on to the text of our amendment. I am happy to accept, as the Minister pointed out, that the proposal would be a new and unique way forward, and I was about to congratulate him on the work that he and our Select Committee Chairman have done in developing a form of consideration of national policy statements that meets the Government’s criteria. That suggests to me that it is not beyond the ability and skills in the House to create a formula for national policy statements to get full parliamentary approval.

I am happy to admit that our amendment is not as detailed as the hon. Gentleman or the Minister might like, but the key for us is the principle that Parliament should own policy statements. That is the difference between us on the issue, and it is the reason I was less than complimentary about the programme motion. As a result of that, we have less time to deal with one of the more important issues than we had to deal with aspects that were important but uncontroversial.

8.15 pm

I would be grateful if the Minister gave us more answers on new clause 8. Although he set out clearly how he envisages it working and the agreement that has been reached so far with various bodies in the House, I am more than a little confused by new clause 8. We have had contradictory statements about how policy statements should be dealt with. Members who have taken an interest in the Bill will remember that the Secretary of State said on Second Reading on 10 December:

That is clear and it seems to chime with what we are suggesting. However, in the evidence sessions the Minister spoke mainly about scrutiny. On 10 January, in the first evidence-giving session, he said that

We had similar statements from him when we were debating clause 5 in Committee. He said that

There is a contradiction between what the Secretary of State said on Second Reading and what the Minister said in Committee. The hon. Member for Sheffield,
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Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) may well remember that when he moved an amendment in Committee very similar to the one that we had tabled, he withdrew it and I immediately took it up, because it conveyed the difficulty that we had. I congratulate him on his close and honourable interest in the Bill. We look forward to the debate next Monday.

New clause 8 refers to the situation where

I have not been in the House as long as some Members, but I have been here for 15 or 16 years. To me, a resolution is not a very clear statement. A resolution implies a vote, but does that mean a resolution by a Select Committee, by the Chamber, or by the Quadripartite Select Committee? What precisely does “a resolution” mean in new clause 8? I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that.

The Minister was clear about the form that he is now proposing for consultation. Those who sat through the Committee will remember that we could not establish whether the consultation would take place in parallel or in sequence. The Minister seems to have agreed to a system comprising a little of both. We can have a debate in Government time—but will it be in Westminster Hall, in Select Committee or on the Floor of the House? Will it be a topical debate? What sort of debate will it be? Will it be on the Adjournment, in which case it will provide us with nothing more than the opportunity to make known our points of view, which the Government may or may not take into account? That would mean that Parliament did not own the statement; in my view, however, that is the crucial thing.

I have explained the principle behind my amendment. I am happy to admit that it is not perfect in any way, shape or form. However, I am sure that, with good will, we can work out how to address the issue properly.

I accept that it will be difficult to get a national policy statement through the House. It will be difficult to get it through as a Government statement; it could be difficult to get through Parliament. However, if the British public do not feel that they own those statements—the planning policies that will affect their lives—we will find it more difficult, take a longer time and spend more money in the courts trying to establish the infrastructure that we all agree we desperately need.

I suspect that one of the reasons the Government have set their hearts against the national policy statements being statements of Parliament is that that would immediately blow out of the water their argument about the Secretary of State’s conflict of interest when it comes to the infrastructure planning commission, which is the basis of the statements’ creation. I shall not go down the route of debating that commission, but I have given what I think is one of the reasons why the Government are so desperate to keep the national policy statements as Government statements.

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