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We have also tabled an amendment on what I took to mean the aviation White Paper. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and others who have got further than the rest of us in getting clarification on the precise statement in respect of that White Paper. We had that debate in Committee.
The status of the aviation policy was not entirely set out in black and white. I will look carefully tomorrow at what the Minister has said, but at this stage I think that we are as close as we will ever get to a statement that the current aviation White Paper will not be regarded as a national planning statement. If I have made a mistake, I apologise. I am sure that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will be the first at the starting gate to ensure that the White Paper meets the criteria.
Some of the national policy statements may be site-specific, hence there will be blight. It is a step forward that compensation should be paid to people affected by the statements. We need a bit more detail, but we are unlikely to get that at this stage; perhaps the other House will be more able to tease out how the system will work.
I tabled our amendments on climate change to ensure that the issue was debated; I also welcome the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). Again, we had the debate in Committee; the hon. Gentleman may have read the report. I am happy to admit that the use of the phrase sustainable development encompasses climate change. However, I tabled the amendments because there is still so much concern that climate change should be included specifically in the Bill that I thought it sensible to explore further what sustainable development encompasses in total, and to get assurances from the Minister that climate change was definitely part of it. I will listen with interest to the rest of the debate on the subject, but I am minded not to press the issue because the Minister clearly stated that climate change was included. Their lordships may wish to look at the issue in greater detail, and we would be happy to return to it.
The nub of our objection, as I have saidI will not go on about it at great length againis that the national policy statement should be a parliamentary, not a Government, statement. That is why I tabled amendments suggesting that it should be approved by both Houses. On that basis, I will press those amendments in due course.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I want to discuss new clause 1 and amendment No. 1, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. To continue where the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) left off, it is important that we have this debate, because if we are changing the planning system at this time, we must recognise that climate change is in every part of our life from now on. Given that planning has a huge impact on our future as well as our present, it is somewhat strange that the Government are nervous about bringing forward a duty not only on the Secretary of State but on the IPC, which may have a more indirect impact but could in many respects be more important as regards how it sets the precedent for major developments. If the Government fail in any way to take account of climate change there will be, at best, a lost opportunity.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the time that he has spent with us. I hope that it has been an interesting discourse. We have learned some things on our side of the argument, and I hope that he has learned some things on his side. This is not a debate
that sits in isolation. Given that this Government have pushed the boat out in more ways than one with the Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill and the forthcoming marine Bill, it is disappointing to fall at the last hurdle when some of us wish to push things to a point whereby everybody is clear that the Secretary of State and the IPC, whoever those people may be in future, have an obligation on them to have due regard to climate change. It is even stranger that what central Government are abdicating from is expected from local government. In the local development frameworks, it is writ large that local authorities must have every regard to climate change in terms of how they progress their planning policies.
Mr. Llwyd: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and further reinforce his argument by saying that the Government of Wales Act 2006 placed a duty on the National Assembly for Wales to act in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. If it was good enough for that Bill, it should be good enough for this one.
This is not just about joined-up government, with different bits of legislation that need to interact, but joined-up action. If we seriously expect the general public to treat climate change as the overwhelming issue of our time, not writing it into national policy statements across the board seems to be a strange way to go about things. At best, it is a lost opportunity. The Minister put his arguments in such a mellifluous way that some of us could be tempted by them. There was charm and certainly a degree of cleverness in the way in which he induced support that may not have initially been there in relation to other aspects of the Bill.
My problem, which I suspect is shared by those who signed up to new clause 1 and amendment No. 1, is that matters change and people move on. It could be implied that something lies behind the words, in the underlying spirit of the legislation, but when it is taken up in the light of day, people forget about such things. They say, Well, it wasnt quite like that. If you read the Ministers response to the debate, you find that he didnt necessarily say that climate change should be the overwhelming issue that underwrites all of the national policy statements.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that while it is obviously appropriate for national policy statements to address climate change, when it comes to the crunch in the individual application, the detail cannot possibly be encompassed in anything as broad as such a statement? The matter must be addressed by the IPC in the robust way suggested by my hon. Friend. The only way to ensure that that happens is to give the IPC responsibility to do so.
Mr. Drew: I agree with that, and I shall deal with amendment No. 1 in a bit more detail in a moment. My hon. Friend is at the crux of subsection (2) of the new clause. Obviously, one change is consequent on the other, but they could have been dealt with as we have debated the changes to the Bill.
I want to pose a particular dilemma. I like the terminology sustainable development. I was partly responsible for the private Members Bill that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) introduced, and we had a lot of debates on what we mean by sustainable development. We might think that the term must include climate change, but there is a danger if climate change is not categorically referred to in the Bill. There is always some clever lawyer somewhere who can define sustainable development as not necessarily having to take due account of climate change. That is why some of us feel strongly that such wording should be in the Bill, that there should be a duty placed on the Secretary of State, and subsequently, that the IPC should pay absolute regard to it. That is why we have tabled this new clause and the amendment.
Subsection (2) of the new clause relates to the IPC. In a sense, the matter is consequent on the duty placed on the Secretary of State, because it is sensible that an organisation that is subsidiary to the Secretary of State would also have such a duty placed on it. It is important that we set the context in which that body operates. The IPC may have a degree of scrutiny and accountability to this place through the Secretary of State, but the people chosen to work for it should be independent individuals. If they were all hired guns, who can pretend that the process will be anything other than the Government pushing through whatever they want? There will have to be a system of checks and balances with regard to who serves on the IPC and who deals with particular inquiries. If the body is independent, we must consider the extent to which it is accountable with regard to the way in which climate change is handled. In order to make that process easier, we must make climate change one of its key responsibilities when it carries out its duties, which would help rather than hinder it.
I understand what my hon. Friend the Minister was arguing earlierat least I think I understand what he was arguing. However, I am not sure that he completely answered the point by categorically stating that there should be duty on the Secretary of State and the IPC to give legitimacy to the process. We want to ensure not only that climate change is writ large in the national policy statements, but that anything worked through as a result of those statements, particularly if it involves the IPC, should be entirely subject to climate change.
That would draw together those three great pieces of legislation, which are historic and which the Government should be proud of passing. However, it seems somewhat strange that the mechanism for pushing through those changes, which could change all our lifestyles, is not quite there. That mechanism is not mentioned categorically, but is entirely dependent upon Ministers, albeit to some extent working with this place and the other place. However, we all know that that is subject to all manner of vagaries. If such a mechanism is not mentioned categorically, some of us fear that the climate change agenda will be diluted and perhaps even forgotten.
That is why I have tabled new clause 1 and the amendments standing in my name. I heard what the hon. Member for Beckenham has said. The Opposition must make their mind up. They have tabled their amendmentswe thought that ours were slightly betterbut we do not believe that we have a monopoly on wisdom. There has been, I hope, a meeting of minds, because we are trying to get the Bill right. Some of us have been working extensively with non-governmental organisations, which are completely nonplussed by the Government, who, in other ways, have moved extensively and been helpful. Something that could be in place for a decade or longer must be got right.
On the aspect that we are discussing, there is, dare I say, not only no meeting of minds, but questions about why the Government are not prepared to do what we think is the right thingto state categorically that there should be a duty on the Secretary of State and the IPC to have regard to climate change.
First, we had an interesting exchange about the aviation White Paper and the designation of national policy statements. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has said that she was encouraged by what the Minister said about the conclusion of his debate with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). However, my recollection is that the Minister said that the matter would be one for the relevant Secretary of State. I do not find that wholly reassuring, because there will be many pressures on the Government, as we all know, to deliver all sorts of things, particularly on aviation.
I hoped that the prompting of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington about the different nature of the White Paper and how it relates to what a national policy statement is designed to be would mean that it could not be considered. The Minister was clear that there are criteria by which the Secretary of State must examine a White Paper or any existing guidelines, to determine whether it could function realistically as a national policy statement. That is a huge responsibility to place on the Secretary of States shoulders, when all the other national policy statements may be considered by another process. I am therefore a little concerned that we are not quite at the stage of being reassured on that point.
The climate change issue is so important that even people such as me, who are quite supportive of aviation, believe that aviation and shipping should be included in measures in this Bill and targets on climate change as a whole. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a concert in the Science museum tomorrow, with me and other MPs, to raise awareness about the Big Ask environmental campaign to try to get shipping and aviation included in the Governments targets?
I must say that I was unaware of that concert, but the whole House and others, through Hansard and broadcast media, are now aware of it. I
am sure that that will help to promote my hon. Friends cause. His support of the aviation industry is renowned at a time when it is somewhat discouraging for people to get involved in aviation, especially for him given his past encounters with the ground.
Returning to the requirement for parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements, I am delighted that we have had some reassurance from the Chairman of one of the relevant Select Committees that the concerns that he and his colleagues have been raising have been taken on board by the Government, and that the process is moving forward in a consensual and considered way.
The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Beckenham set matters out much more clearly, and would make it well understood that the vital regulations that we have been discussing would receive assent through votes in this House or another place. We debated this matter in Committee, and the Minister clearly separated issues of setting policy, and the need for democratic accountability in that regard, from the decision-making function, to which we return in debates on the IPC. I am concerned that if the democratic oversight and scrutiny of national policy statements is not watertight and evident in a way in which people can appreciate, it will, as the hon. Lady has said, lead people to lose all faith in the whole system.
If decisions are not taken either by a democratically elected local authority or by a Secretary of State who is answerable to the House, but by an unelected quango, at least the policies that it uses to take decisions will be scrutinised very fully and will ultimately have been voted on by the House. I am not, therefore, entirely reassured by the Ministers comments, and I hope that the process that is evolving for scrutiny will prove to be satisfactory, but new clause 8 will not necessarily ensure that that is the case. As I understand it, either a resolution may be passed by either House
or...a committee of the House of Commons makes recommendations with regard to the proposal.
That or is the problem. We would welcome the in-depth scrutiny of a Select Committee with expertise on the relevant national policy statement, but I hope that other hon. Members would then have the chance to have their say.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) has tabled an amendment to new clause 8. He, quite sensibly, seeks to ensure that all the measures in the Bill that apply to consultation and publicity will be enforced in this regard as well. That is an important provision, and he is right to raise that issue.
I want to discuss whether the Bill, either in its current form or when it has been amended, will be sufficiently explicit on the need to mitigate climate change and to consider adaptations to it. The amendment that was tabled by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), which he discussed in a fair and helpful way, is far clearer on what we hope that national policy statements will have regard to, and on what the IPC will have regard to when taking decisions on individual applications. The Minister has said that he was wary of giving one issue more weight than all the others in regard to any decisions that the IPC would have to make. However, other hon. Members have already pointed out that, if
there is to be an overarching issue, this is the one. I must admit that I, too, am somewhat surprised that the Government are being particularly resistant to this provision.
Sustainable development covers a whole load of very positive things. As a rural MP, I interpret the sustainability of the rural economy as being at the heart of sustainable development. A major project that would bring jobs to the area could be said to be making it sustainable in the long term, in that it would be doing something for the sustainability of the area, even if it did not necessarily have regard to climate change above all else.
New clause 1, which has been tabled by the hon. Member for Stroud and to which I have added my name, would work in tandem with amendment No. 1 in placing climate change at the top of the agenda when a national policy statement is set. The subject would also be on the agenda when the statement came to be interpreted by the commission. Those safeguards would ensure that we had a policy that made a lot more sense and that showed that Members of Parliament were as serious about tackling climate change as we like to suggest. I hope that the Government will listen to these arguments, but if the hon. Gentleman seeks to press the new clause to a vote, as he said that he will, I shall certainly encourage my hon. Friends to support him.
Mr. Betts: I shall confine my comments to the importance of national policy statements, and to how the House is involved in their scrutiny and whether there should be a vote in Parliament to approve them. It is clear from all our debates on the matter that the national policy statements are almost the basis for this legislation. They are absolutely key, and they have support, in principle, across the House.
When an individual planning application is made, a basis of policy should already have been determined by which the application can be judged. That is right in principle; it is also right in terms of process. Clearly, one of the problems with the present system is that each individual planning application involves not only a decision on whether the location in question is the most appropriate for the development, but a debate on whether the development is right per se in regard to policy on transport, or on power and energy, for example. We need to find a better way of determining the policy and considering applications in the light of that policy, so as to shorten the process and ensure that the applications are dealt with more expeditiously, while still being given full consideration.
The way in which policy statements are formulated is absolutely key. In Committee, I think that we were all in a bit of a haze as to how the scrutiny would take place. The Minister was unable to be as clear as he has been today, for obvious reasons. The House is quite rightly jealous of its own methods and procedures for scrutinising anything that the Government propose. It was therefore right that the Minister did not try to commit himself absolutely, although he did give an indication that he would try to reach an agreement on
the proper process of scrutiny by the House and on how that would fit in with the overall process of Government scrutiny and consultation on policy statements.
It was interesting to hear the Chairman of the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), speaking today to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. There have been fruitful discussions between the Minister and those Committee Chairmen, who are now generally reassured that the Select Committees will be able to do their job of properly scrutinising the policy statements, and that they will be given adequate time in which to do it.
My amendment (a) to new clause 8 is an attempt to flesh out precisely how that process will work. It also sets out what I would not want to see happeningnamely, a situation in which public scrutiny was taking place in parallel with the Select Committee scrutiny, and in which Ministers, faced with potentially contradictory views, could play one off against the other. It is entirely reasonableI described it as an end-on-end processfor the public scrutiny and public consultation to come first. Then, the Select Committee would have an opportunity to scrutinise the Government proposals, but in the light of what the public had to say.
I accept that what my hon. Friend the Minister has done, in consultation with the Select Committee Chairmen, is reach a compromise. The process will set off and there will be consultation with the public and scrutiny in the House, but then there will be a gap after the public consultation has finished. The results of the consultation can be fed into the Select Committee, which can then take account of them before reaching its final view. That seems to be a reasonable compromise.
I am sure that if, in the end, the four to six weeks do not appear to be satisfactory or enough time in practice, Select Committees will not be slow in coming forward to say to Ministers, We will need a bit longer on future occasions. It does not really work. There has been a genuine attempt to work through the interaction between the Government process of consultation and scrutiny and the procedures of the House. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he is trying to achieve, and what he has achieved, according to what I have heard from two Select Committee Chairmen.
We then come to the issue of whether what the House does should be more than scrutiny and whether we should be allowed a vote on all the policy statements. We had that debate in Committee and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has already reminded me of proposals that I may have moved, if not pushed to the vote. Instinctively, any hon. Member would want the House to play as big a role as possible and to have greater opportunity to hold the Government to account, as well as ultimately to say through a vote whether it approves of a policy statement. Those are incredibly important documents and we should not undervalue them.
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