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The third area of major concern, as at each stage of the Bills passage, was the reviewing of national policy statements. Lords amendment No. 3 provides clear criteria to determine when a national policy statement should be reviewed, requiring that the Secretary of State must consider whether there has been a significant change in any circumstances on which the policy is based since the last time it was reviewed. The Secretary
of State must also consider whether the circumstances were already anticipated in the previous review and whether, if the change had been anticipated, any of the policy in the statement would be materially different. Lords amendments Nos. 3, 4, 9,10 and 11 provide that when the Secretary of State wishes to conduct a review of a national policy statement it could be a complete or a partial review. They add a measure of flexibility so that where appropriate the Secretary of State will need only to consider whether circumstances have changed significantly in respect of the part that is to be reviewed rather than for the policy statement as a whole.
Let me turn to statements of policy that pre-date the commencement of these provisions. This aspect is of particular concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Lords amendments Nos. 12, 15, 16 and 17 amend clause 12 to provide that where the Secretary of State wishes to use existing statements of policy or work that was done for the purposes of existing statements of policy, the standards of the Bill will still apply.
John McDonnell: I apologise for the fact that in four minutes time I am meant to be chairing a committee, so I will have to leave shortly. I just wanted to get explicitly on the record what the meaning of the clause, as amended, now is. I assume that it means that existing policy statements for example, the aviation White Paper would not stand up as a national policy statement for use by the new planning commission because it has not gone through the procedures set out in the Bill for a national policy statement, which means exhaustive consultation as well as parliamentary approval, and that on that basis an area such as aviation would require a new national policy statement before a major application was considered by the new planning commission.
John Healey: Let me try to help my hon. Friend, as I did on Report and Third Reading. To be absolutely clear, the amendments mean that all national policy statements, including those designated under clause 12, must meet the standards for appraisal of sustainability, for public consultation and for the parliamentary scrutiny set out in the Bill. In other words, the Secretary of State will not simply be able to dust off an existing policy and designate it as a national policy statement for the purposes of the Bill without meeting the requirements that the Bill sets out.
On guidance, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has raised several concerns about amendments Nos. 53, 54 and 56. I look forward to hearing what she says about that, but I do not understand the reason for the Oppositions concern. Essentially, taken together the Lords amendments are part of strengthening the system in a way that allows the IPC and the Secretary of State not only, to issue guidance at specific points in the system as they did before, but to issue guidance covering any aspect of the pre-application requirements. They also strengthen the requirements for any promoter to have regard to that guidance.
Finally, I come to amendment No. 65, which some of my hon. Friends are concerned about. I understand the intentions behind the amendments that they have tabled, which is to ensure that interested parties have access to advice and assistance where appropriate, but I am not sure that the amendment they propose is necessary or the best way to achieve that aim. The provision of legal advice and assistance under Lords amendment No. 65 is for the examining authority, which would include carrying out on behalf of the examining authorityin other words, the IPCoral questioning of any person making representations at a hearing. That latter potential function raises serious questions about whether that source of legal advice is appropriate as a source of legal advice and assistance to an interested party at a hearing.
Secondly, clause 49 already ensures that the commission can provide advice to interested parties about the application process or on how to make representations. If the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey is that interested parties and local groups might be priced out of being able to secure representation for themselves, he will be aware of our announcements to increase substantially this year, and in following years, provision for the Planning Aid system. That is designed exactly to provide advice to community groups and to ensure that individuals who might not otherwise get it can be represented.
Mr. Drew: I recognise and welcome the additional moneys that will be made available through Planning Aid, but just so that I can be clear, will the Minister tell me whether Planning Aid can represent third parties at an examinationthe process by which the public can express their opinions? May I have it on the record that Planning Aid can do that and that it does not stop before we get to a formal examination?
John Healey: The purpose of Planning Aid, as my hon. Friend knows, is to provide assistance to community groups so that they can develop their understanding of the planning system, allowing them to communicate and express their views or concerns better. It is also there to help individuals who, without assistance, would be excluded from the planning process. It is not necessarily there to fund legal advice and representation.
Several other significant areas have been previously covered in debate. First, we have something that was urged upon us, and was described as a safety valve for IPC decisions. This area, and a couple of others, relates to the final stage of the new process, which is the
consideration of applications. One of the main concerns was that the Bill did not provide for a safety valve if the system was not working. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a commitment on Report, in response to concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), that we would carry out a review of how the IPC was working two years after its establishment. We agreed to table amendments to the Bill in the other place allowing the grounds on which Ministers can intervene in applications made to the IPC, and take decisions, to be extended if the review reveals problems. Lords amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 174 meet that commitment.
The second concern about the final stage of the new process relates to opportunities for the public to participate. While the Bill enhances the right for the public to have a greater say at all three stages in the process rather than one, some have questioned the way in which it provides for the IPC to probe, test and assess evidence through direct questions rather than cross-examination. Our amendments strengthened the process and reassured people, making it clear to them that cross-examination was not ruled out in the new regime and that it would be allowed where the commission considered it necessary.
Mr. Betts: May I ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on one area that he has not mentioned? The Government have clearly given further scope to what should be a nationally significant infrastructure project. We discussed the matter in Committee, and we were concerned that the Department for Transport was extending the number of projects that would end up with the commission because any trunk road, or an alteration to one, would be caught. At the time, I thought that the Government would reflect on the matter and get back to us. The Local Government Association is concerned that fairly small alterations would be caught in the net even if they did not have any national significance.
John Healey: My hon. Friends point is not about the provisions and what constitutes a nationally significant infrastructure project, which would be dealt with under the new regime, but about a Government commitment. This relates to examination by the Department for Transport of planning applications that it deals with which would not necessarily fall within the remit of the IPC, but which could nevertheless be properly and rightly devolved to local authorities as local planning authorities. That work continues, and my colleagues in the Department for Transport will be able to update my hon. Friend and the House when they have concluded their consideration of those questions.
This enormous group of amendments covers a wide number of subjects, most of which we have discussed exhaustively in this House. Their lordships have also discussed them exhaustively, and the cumulative
effect is that the Government have listened. However, some fundamental issues have not been addressed, and they are the basis of our objections to much of the Bill.
I begin, however, by congratulating the Government on taking into account concerns about climate change and design. That represents a great step forward from the original Bill, which talked about sustainable development. However, on close reading of the Lords amendment, one is slightly suspicious that it could turn into a box-ticking amendment. We are attracted to amendment (a) tabled by the hon. Members for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) because it would toughen up the terms of Lords amendment No. 8 and ensure, one hopes, that it is not a box-ticking exercise. We have had enough of such box ticking in the past 10 years, and we now hope to get some action.
I know that a lot of people want to speak, but may I welcome briefly the Ministers reassurances to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) on the old policies? Aviation was the classic example that we all cited while trying to get the Minister to understand that the European directives on strategic environmental assessment had to be incorporated in legislation, and that the existing references to aviation in the Bill were not up to that standard.
Lords amendment No. 7 is at the core of our objection to the system that the Government are setting up. At the risk of repeating myself for the nth time, we believe that national policy statements that do not have Parliaments approval through a substantive vote will not speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects, which we all agree are needed. Recent warnings were issued about possible shortfalls in the electricity supply this winter, let alone in 2015. I believe that the first new power stations could be on stream in 2020, so we have a genuine problem just with energy, let alone with the other infrastructure that needs updating. There is therefore no argument about the need for the national policy statements; the argument is about securing a democratic lock on those policy statements, through a substantive vote in Parliament.
either House of Parliament makes a resolution with regard to the proposal.
a committee of the House of Commons makes recommendations with regard to the proposal.
We believe that either House of Parliament should make those recommendations, and we therefore agree with Lords amendment No. 7. Without a substantive vote in Parliament, the national policy statements will be vulnerable to challenges in the courts, which means that as soon as they go to court, delay is built into the process. That would have the same impact on planning applications as what happened to the lengthy applications for terminal 5, Sizewell and all the examples that we have cited so often.
We recognise and accept that Ministers make decisions on the matter; we are discussing a ministerial recommendation to Parliament. If a Government have a majority, a substantive vote in Parliament should be deliverable. There will be inevitable controversy about national policy statements, but a vote should be deliverable.
The statement would therefore go through the same process as any Bill that becomes an Act. Once the statement receives a substantive vote in Parliament, the Governments basic argument for the Infrastructure Planning Commission falls because the national policy statement becomes a parliamentary statement, with Parliaments approval, and the Secretary of State or a Minister can easily make a decision about the detailed planning application at the final stage, thereby providing another democratic lock on the planning system, which the IPC does not deliver.
I want to put it on record again that, should the IPC be set up, we would look to end its existence as fast as possible because we believe that the British people expect democratically accountable Ministers, who are elected by them, not an unaccountable quango, to be responsible for such decisions. If todays announcement is to mean anything, many of those quangos should be abolished.
Mr. Betts: Many of us are intrinsically sympathetic to the view that there should be a vote in Parliament on matters such as national policy statements. However, as we discussed at length in Committee, the problem is that the other place would also have a vote and, given that the Parliament Act does not cover such votes, we would hand a veto to the other place over all national policy statements. That does not amount to much democratic accountability.
Mrs. Lait: IndeedI trust their lordships House. The hon. Gentleman is long enough in the tooth as a Member of Parliament to know that Conservative Governments have as much difficulty as Labour Governments with their lordships House. It is therefore a big thing for me to say that I would trust their lordships to ensure that national policy statements were treated exactly the same as Bills. Indeed, today we are debating a measure that has been heavily amended in the House of Lords. There is nothing to say that the House of Lords should not be able to recommend amendments to a national policy statement. It would then be up to the Government, with a majority, to assert their will.
Mr. Betts: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again. Is she saying that a future Conservative Government would commit themselves to putting national policy statements before both Houses, that they would be amendable, with full time for debating them, and that the Parliament Act should apply so that the will of this House would prevail in the end?
We are pleased that the Government have acceded to our request about reviewing statements. The Minister asked me why I was unhappy about amendments Nos. 53 to 56. The original Bill mentioned community involvement, but the amendments delete that reference. If one factor is key to where our planning system currently goes wrong, it is that the community does not feel involved. The phrase community involvement is essentially replaced by, There will be guidance. The guidance may well include community involvement, but it is not as explicit as it was in the original measure. If the Minister cares to reassure me, even briefly, I will be happy.
We have argued about the right to be heard throughout the Bills passage. We believe that it is still not strong enough. We welcome the legal advice to the commission to which the Government have agreed, but we would like it to be strengthened so that the right to be heard is guaranteed. I was interested in the answer that the hon. Member for Stroud received about Planning Aid because that was my interpretationand, indeed, Planning Aids interpretationof what it can do. A difficulty remains with peoples ability to get legal representation.
I was interested in the Ministers comments on amendment No. 76, which deals with the Secretary of States ability to call applications in. The Minister said that it covered only the review of the IPC. Again, I am prepared to be correctedI am not a lawyerbut the amendment states:
The Secretary of State may by order specify other circumstances in which section 108 is to apply in relation to an application for an order granting development consent.
That suggests that the Secretary of State can call anything in. If that is the case, why establish an IPC? The power is too wide. I cannot believe that the drafting is so loose that my interpretation is correct, but I would be grateful for the Ministers clarification so that we all know where we stand.
Mr. Truswell: I rise to speak to amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 8, which stands in my name and that of various hon. Members across the House. One of the reasons why my Back-Bench colleagues and I tabled the amendment was to give my right hon. Friend the Minister the opportunity to join the pantheon of our Front-Bench heroes, to which many of his colleagues have recently been elevated. [ Laughter. ] No, no, laugh you notthe roll-call is impressive. It includes our right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who made significant and welcome changes to the Local Transport Bill; and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, our hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), who accepted amendments to the Climate Change Bill and the Energy Bill. Indeed, I think that our hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) is still recovering from the shock.
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