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Schedule 1

The infrastructure planning commission
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Mrs. Lait: I beg to move amendment No. 214, in schedule 1, page 107, line 8, leave out ‘at least’ and insert ‘no more than’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 215, in schedule 1, page 107, line 10, at beginning insert ‘no more than 12’.
No. 216, in schedule 1, page 107, line 13, after ‘effectively’, insert ‘, fairly’.
Mrs. Lait: I do not think that we will take too long over the amendments, but we want to ensure that the commission, which, sadly, we seem to have been landed with, does not turn into an enormous great quango costing us all vast sums of money, so it seemed to us that the best way to do so would be to limit the number of deputy chairmen and the number of commissioners.
We have our concerns about the number of cases that will be brought forward and the time that they will take, and taken together, the two will clog up the system very quickly. However, we want to ensure that the commission does not become over-large and over-mighty, absorbing too much of the costs associated with the planning system, so we have tabled amendments Nos. 214 and 215
Amendment No. 216 deals with a different point, because we want to ensure that the commissioners have regard not only to effectiveness and efficiency, to which the Minister has referred, but to fairness. It has probably become clear from the worries that we have already enunciated that we have serious concerns, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, about the right to be heard of the little people. We must also ensure that when a point is made and new information comes forward that the promoter or contractor of a scheme has not considered—one can imagine that they would be horrified that such a thing had happened, but it is not unknown—they, too, have the right to be heard and to challenge the information, so that they, too, feel that they have had a fair hearing. We want to include in the Bill that the commission should act fairly, as well as effectively and efficiently. That explains and sets out the reasons for the amendment.
Dan Rogerson: The hon. Lady did not explain clearly what is behind the amendments. She will be aware of where my views lie from our recent discussion on whether or not we should have an IPC at all. However, I am concerned that, if the Bill proceeds through the House and we are to have an IPC, limiting the number of its members may hamper its effectiveness. We have heard that the number of schemes may approach some 40 a year. My concern is that if groups of commissioners are considering that many applications, limiting the number of commission members that severely might well cause a huge number of problems, even given the facility to have single commissioners, about which I have grave doubts, although we will come to that later. However, I am tempted by her argument that we want to avoid the commission’s growing in scope by drawing in further work through the provisions that we have already discussed—further Bills coming forward and adding to the work of the commission later on. I am sympathetic to what she has to say, although I have a caveat. I am concerned that, if we are to have a commission, we need to make sure that it can carry out the job set for it.
Amendment No. 216 is on adding fairness, and it would be a brave Member of Parliament who stood here and said that they did not want to see fairness in any legislation. However, I will have to wait and see what the Minister says in response. In summary, this is a useful debate, although I have concerns about amendments Nos. 214 and 215, were they to be accepted.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): This is a sensible group of amendments. Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 get to the heart of the problem and the scale of the IPC, if it goes ahead.
I am confused by the question of the numbers. The schedule mentions two deputy chairmen, and the impact assessment mentions three. Could the Minister clarify that, simply so that the IPC will not come to a grinding halt legally if there is a transition period when one person leaves before a replacement is appointed? I am concerned about the numbers and justifying the IPC in terms of both cost and effectiveness. Page 31 of the impact assessment estimates the cost of a deputy chairman at some £130,000. Nowadays, you can get a half-good Minister for that, so it seems rather expensive.
Why does there need to be more than one deputy chairman? A deputy chairman has two functions: one is to deputise for the chairman; the other is a broader function, in which case, there might be multiple deputy chairmen. Originally, and in the impact assessment, three deputy chairmen were proposed, along with 30 commissioners. Before the Bill has even become an Act, that figure has increased from 30 to 45. Can the Minister confirm that the number of deputy chairmen will remain at three? If there is indeed a wider function beyond simply deputising for the chairman when he is incapacitated or in some way unable to perform his duties, does the number of deputy chairmen need to increase much beyond three? Is that why the schedule refers to at least two deputy chairmen but does not apply a cap, which concerns me greatly?
I will be intrigued to hear the Minister’s reasoning for not accepting amendment No. 216. Presumably, there is some other alternative to the schedule’s effectively saying that the commission can act in a manner that is not fair—that is very confusing—if the Government do not want to include that amendment in some shape or form.
Mr. Llwyd: I have no objection to the amendment, although I rise without much enthusiasm. May I use this opportunity to ask the Minister one simple and short question? If an infrastructure project was designated for Wales, how many commissioners would be involved—one or three? There seems to be some confusion on that matter, so perhaps the Minister will answer the question.
Mr. Curry: On a point of clarification, there may be a number of deputy chairmen, but will they be in a hierarchy? Will there be a senior deputy chairman and a second or third most senior one? If the chairman falls under the proverbial bus, somebody will have to take over the reins. Would the deputy chairmen be allocated broadly according to sector and be expected to take the lead in their sector? In other words, is there a structural reason for the number of deputy chairmen, or is it simply that a few must be picked out of the significant number of followers to take certain responsibilities?
Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 would limit the commission to having two deputy chairs and limit the overall number of commissioners to 15, as the hon. Lady explained. Amendment No. 216 would add a requirement for the Secretary of State, when appointing commissioners, to have regard to the desirability of securing that the commission be able to perform its functions fairly.
I will start with the important issue of fairness. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is intrigued by this matter. Schedule 1 requires the Secretary of State, when appointing commissioners, to
“have regard to the desirability of securing that the Commission is able to perform its functions effectively and efficiently.”
Those functions are defined in clause 1(2). Adding a requirement that they must have regard to the desirability of securing that the commission be able to perform its functions fairly draws a distinction between acting effectively and acting fairly. I do not accept that distinction. Any public body must always act fairly in performing its duties. That is a basic tenet of administrative law.
If the commission acted in a manner that was unfair, it would be open to legal challenge and it would rightly be held to account by the courts. Its decisions would be more vulnerable to being overturned by the courts as a result, and I think that we would all agree that that would hardly be effective. If the commission is able to perform its functions effectively, it must, by definition, be able to perform them fairly. In other words, an effective commission is a fair commission.
James Duddridge: I am confused as to why it has to be stated in the Bill that an organisation should be effective and efficient, and why there is not a presumption of that. I think that the distinction the Minister is drawing regarding unfairness is that if a Department or public body is ineffective or inefficient, that is not a matter for the law. However, if it acts unfairly, that is a matter for the law and it would be subject to legal challenge. If that is what he is saying, it seems to be an odd, but coherent, argument.
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John Healey: I feel that we might be making progress, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he considers my argument coherent. I hope that his observation will persuade the hon. Member for Beckenham not to press the amendment. Clearly, constraining the commission’s size would not be advisable if the hon. Lady wants it to be an effective organisation that can embody a wide range of expertise in the areas in which it needs to be effective, efficient and fair.
The schedule refers to at least two deputy chairs, and we estimated three in the regulatory impact assessment in part to ensure that our calculations about the likely resourcing of the IPC were fully adequate. We anticipate that the deputy chairs will carry out functions first to support the role of the chair. That is plausible and uncontentious, but they will also act as commissioners in their own right. The principal reason for having at least two deputy chairs is that it allows for a certain resilience of the commission during the turnover of commissioners, or at times of particular pressure of work.
I hope that what I have said will be sufficient to persuade the hon. Lady not to press the amendment to a Division. If she does, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to oppose it.
Mrs. Lait: I probably will not press the amendment to a Division, but the way in which the Government and the Minister just dismissed the cost of the quango versus the amount of the potential investment in infrastructure did not show great concern for the poor bloody taxpayer.
Mr. Curry: That is an illogical comparison. We could compare the cost of the Food Standards Agency with the turnover of the entire British food industry and say that the agency costs absolutely nothing. That is a way of simply saying that, for public expenditure, do not bother counting it because it disappears in the broad picture. Treasury Ministers, of which the Minister was one, should not be expressing that argument. I have never heard them make it in the past.
Mrs. Lait: I suspect that the Minister has been able to make it because he has been freed from the Treasury. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. He put it infinitely better than I ever could.
I accept the argument about the commission having to be fair if it is to be effective, but we have now teased that out of the Minister. It is on the record, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Llwyd: I beg to move amendment No. 60, in schedule 1, page 107, line 13, at end insert
‘and must have regard to the statutory duty upon it to discharge its functions in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 53, in clause 5, page 2, line 39, leave out from ‘to’ to end of line 40 and insert—
‘(i) one or more specified descriptions of developments, or
(ii) the natural environment.’.
Amendment No. 180, in clause 5, page 3, line 4, leave out from ‘an’ to end of line 5 and insert
‘environmental assessment in accordance with the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Directive 2001/42/EC and regulations implementing that Directive’.
Amendment No. 236, in clause 5, page 3, line 5, at end insert
‘contained in an overarching national infrastructure policy framework tying together the national policy statements and creating a strategic framework for sustainable development and any cross national issue.’.
Amendment No. 54, in clause 5, page 3, line 5, at end insert—
‘(3A) A statement may only be designated under this section if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the policies in the statement have due regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
(3B) A statement designated under this section must contain a statement that it is the Secretary of State’s view that the requirement of subsection (3)(a) is satisfied.’.
Amendment No. 226, in clause 9, page 5, line 7, at end insert ‘and the Independent Planning Commission’s functions’.
Amendment No. 57, in clause 9, page 5, line 9, at end add—
‘(3) “Sustainable development” is defined as enabling people to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations.’.
Amendment No. 58, in clause 9, page 5, line 9, at end add—
‘(3) In carrying out functions under sections 5 and 6 the Secretary of State shall have regard to—
(a) all relevant international obligations included under the Habitats Directive;
(b) carbon implications and targets set out for carbon emissions;
(c) the biodiversity duty in section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.’.
Clause 9 stand part.
Amendment No. 192, in clause 11, page 5, line 32, at end insert—
‘(1A) No statement referred to within subsection (1) above may be designated as a national policy statement or referred to in such a statement unless it has been subject to environmental assessment in accordance with the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Directive 2001/42/EC and regulations implementing that Directive.’.
Amendment No. 56, in clause 94, page 43, line 37, at end insert—
‘(d) the desirability of contributing to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.’.
Amendment No. 59, in clause 94, page 43, line 37, at end insert—
‘(ba) whether the development is consistent with the principles of sustainable development,’.
Amendment No. 64, in clause 94, page 43, line 37, at end insert—
‘(ba) its duty to act in accordance with the principle of sustainable development,’.
Amendment No. 66, in clause 94, page 43, line 37, at end insert—
‘(ba) any representations made by the Environment Agency,’.
Amendment No. 67, in clause 94, page 43, line 37, at end insert—
‘(ba) any representations made by the Countryside Council for Wales,’.
Amendment No. 68, in clause 94, page 43, line 37, at end insert—
‘(ba) any representations made by Natural England,’.
Amendment No. 70, in clause 98, page 45, line 20, at end insert ‘or global climate change’.
Mr. Llwyd: I will ask the Minister to respond in due course about the Welsh IPC members. He did not mention their number in the previous debate.
John Healey: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for overlooking that point. He did not intervene to remind me of it. In respect of any application to Wales, we would expect that at least one of the commissioners who were considering it as part of the IPC’s work would have been nominated by the Welsh Assembly.
Mr. Llwyd: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 60, 57 and 58. Amendment No. 60 is fairly straightforward and clear. It would amend schedule 1 and insert a duty of observing the principles of sustainable development. I rather suspect that the Minister will say that the amendment would be otiose and unnecessary, but I suggest that there is a certain symmetry with clause 9. I think that it would be a good thing for the Bill to refer to the need to have regard to the principles of sustainable development.
Amendment No. 57 would amend clause 9 by giving a definition of sustainable development. It employs what is commonly accepted as a standard definition:
“‘Sustainable development’ is defined as enabling people to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations.”
That is one fairly popular definition of sustainable development, and I would like the clause to be amended to set it out.
Amendment No. 58 is also self-explanatory. It would amend clause 9 by placing certain duties on the Secretary of State. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that, but I suspect that his answer will be that the amendment is unnecessary because the Secretary of State is in some way bound to have regard to those issues in any event. The amendment would be a good vehicle to put those obligations in the Bill since, hopefully, we are all serious about those matters. Climate change and sustainability are two of the main subjects to which we should be devoting our time, and because the Bill relates to planning, it clearly and most definitely has a huge role to play.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I am slightly confused about where the hon. Gentleman is applying the principle because clause 9 relates to the responsibilities of the Secretary of State and schedule 1 refers to the responsibility of the commission. In relation to the commission, the proposal presumably would be in parallel with legislation that places a responsibility for having regard to sustainable development on, for instance, the National Assembly for Wales. Are Ministers or the body the target of the hon. Gentleman’s proposals?
Mr. Llwyd: I think that the right hon. Gentleman has misread the amendments. The amendment to schedule 1 clearly states that the Secretary of State must have regard when he performs his functions. Amendment No. 58 to clause 9 would do exactly the same thing. The point that he made, I am afraid, was not a good one.
Alun Michael: I was only listening to what you said.
Mr. Llwyd: With respect, I have referred to the Bill, and if one reads the parts of the Bill that I have pointed out, one will see that this is fairly clear.
I hope that those duties can be inserted in the Bill. Recently, there have been huge problems with flooding, and we may yet see more, especially in Gloucester, the midlands and other areas such as north Wales. We must have regard to sustainable development because climate change is clearly upon us. If we do not have regard to a proper sustainable means of planning, we are shoring up huge problems for the future. I suspect that the Minister will say that these duties are unnecessary and that the Secretary of State is mindful of them at all times, but I hope that he might be able to accept at least one of the amendments in the spirit in which it is offered.
Dan Rogerson: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about sustainability and his view that we need to include something about that in the Bill. I shall speak particularly to amendments Nos. 53, 54 and 56.
Amendment No. 53 would make provision for an NPS on the natural environment. While the Minister will no doubt talk about overarching commitments, there are a number of benefits to having a specific NPS on the natural environment. It could inform the other national policy statements with regard to particular concerns about biodiversity, and it would set within the Bill the guarantees and the wins that have been achieved on securing a commitment to biodiversity over the years through planning guidance and other legislation. As we are moving to a new regime with national policy statements and while the other guidance remains out there, it would be helpful if part of the new regime reflected the importance of the environment.
We heard earlier from the hon. Member for Newbury, who is not with us at present, about the issues surrounding the need for a certain bug to get from one side of the Newbury bypass to the other. Those examining the Bill outside this place might assume that on the one hand there are developers who want to press forward with these schemes, who want quicker decisions and who want to use the Bill to ensure that things happen quickly, and that, on the other hand, there are those who are opposed to schemes and who find matters in the national environment that they feel would be put at risk and therefore seek to delay such schemes. Actually, if we considered the natural environment through a dedicated national policy statement, we might help to settle some of the questions that come up later and ensure that we are both guaranteeing biodiversity, which hopefully we all seek to defend, and ensuring that an application is considered speedily. If we do not go down the route of a national policy statement on this issue, there might be a risk that the questions that such statements aim to settle before the application stage might be raised in that particular area of policy.
The Wildlife Trusts has been pressing hard—I am sure that all members of the Committee will have heard from it. It draws particular attention to what the Stern review said about looking at the landscape as a whole with regard to climate change and the way in which things are changing, and the need to ensure that there are such things as wildlife corridors. That has been done through other guidance, but it is important that, as we move to the new framework proposed by the Bill, the gains that have been made are not lost.
Amendments Nos. 54 and 56 relate more specifically to the need for the Bill to refer to climate change. We heard the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy speak about sustainability and sustainable development. An important aspect of the framework would be to have specific reference to climate change in two senses, the first of which is the mitigation of climate change. Other Bills were proposed in the Queen’s Speech to address that directly, but it is important to see a connection between all of those efforts and to ensure that this Bill also makes its contribution. Therefore, in the provision of national policy statements, we should consider whether they meet our aspirations as a country to mitigate the effects of climate change.
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Where we have observed that the climate is already changing—a number of organisations raise that issue and, sadly, present events show how at risk we are from sudden changes in the climate—we need policies to ensure that we adapt to the changing climate and its consequences for us. The amendments that my hon. Friend and I have tabled seek to ensure that the policies and guidelines that have been built up over a time with regard to biodiversity in the natural environment are guaranteed by the new framework. Secondly, we need a reference to climate change both to mitigate its effects and to slow it down wherever possible through planning policy decisions, and to have regard to the important issue of adapting to climate change to ensure that our communities are safe going forward.
James Duddridge: I wish to make a few short points. There were a number of contributions on Second Reading on both sustainability and climate change that called on the Minister to beef up the Bill. We urge him to reconsider and we shall listen to his comments very closely.
I was intrigued by what the hon. Member for North Cornwall said about another national policy statement on the natural environment. In previous discussions and in oral evidence, I have been keen to reduce the number of national policy statements, but his argument was compelling. I would be minded to support it if it came to a vote. The national policy is made up of almost individual silos that are not subject to an overall national policy framework. Perhaps a natural environment national policy statement would provide that framework in a crucial area.
Mr. Curry: How would my hon. Friend envisage the national policy statement he is talking about marrying with the Climate Change Bill which is going through another place at the moment?
James Duddridge: I certainly do not have a crystal ball. I happily pass that on to the Minister, who is responsible for these matters. I am sure that he will want to both note my right hon. Friend’s point and deal with it in great detail.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): I wish to speak briefly to amendment No. 60 in the name of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. I dare say he is correct when he says that he suspects that the Minister will say that his amendment is otiose. But that description is not entirely right. It is clear that clause 9 imposes an obligation on the Secretary of State to exercise the functions contained in clauses 5 and 6 so as to fulfil, so far as possible, the object of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. But it also seems valuable for the Secretary of State in the appointment of the commission to ensure that the commission itself also acts in connection with those principles so as to achieve that objective. It does not seem otiose to that extent. It is rather an underlining process so I therefore suggest that the amendment is desirable and should be supported.
Mrs. Lait: I begin by congratulating the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and for North Cornwall on tabling their amendments because they register the concern we all feel. I am sure there that there is nobody in the room who does not feel that the issue of sustainable development is pressing upon us and needs to be emphasised as much as possible, particularly in this Bill. We hope that tabling our amendments will be a practical way of ensuring that this Bill and the commission take into account the significance and need for sustainable development.
Amendment No. 180 is more specific, insisting that the commission takes into account the strategic environmental assessment directive. Amendment No. 236 is to ensure that sustainable development is across all of the national policy statements. Amendments Nos. 226, 57 and 58 reinforce the sustainable issue and No. 192 tries to get some clarity on the existing policy issue of sustainability within areas such as air transport.
The point we have all been lobbied on, particularly by the Wildlife Trusts, is that there should be a national policy statement on the natural environment. I have sympathy at first glance but I hope that the Minister will reassure us that within each NPS will be a specific requirement that the natural environment be taken into account in all of the different infrastructure issues addressed.
We put down amendment No. 180 to ensure that the commission takes the SEA very seriously. It is a legal requirement. It encompasses many of the issues involved in sustainable development. Even industry and particularly the big contractors, who will be putting forward most of these infrastructure proposals, are well aware that their proposals will need to be justified under sustainable development criteria because they often present challenges to sustainable development. Much as we need many and better roads, it will be interesting to see whether the Highways Agency, with the Government as its sponsor, is going to justify those new roads in terms of sustainable development, other than taking into account the needs of the economy within sustainable development.
We wish to see, as everyone does, the commission take very close account of the environment and the need to ensure that it is improved and that we do our bit to ensure that the impact of climate change is reduced. Getting the strategic environmental assessment into all the commission’s considerations is paramount.
Once the NPSs have gone through this place and been examined outside and come to a conclusion, we would hope that all of them would be consistent with one another and with sustainable development. The commission will have to pick apart the implications of the NPS and we hope that it would develop a policy of consistency, so that it is not open to challenge because it takes one decision in one area that turns out to be inconsistent with a decision in another. Amendment No. 236 would ensure that the commission retains consistency on issues such as sustainable development.
Amendment No. 192 deals with existing policy, which is a problem that we will come to in greater detail. It is tabled because we are still not clear about how the Government are planning to translate current policy into national policy statements without undertaking the type of consultation that the new policy statements will require. Should the air policy statement, and indeed the nuclear statement, be taken as the basis for the national policy statement in those areas, the commission, when it comes to implement it and make planning decisions, must ensure that the decision it takes is based on the highest standards. At the moment the statement is—flawed is probably the wrong word, because it is not necessarily flawed, but it is incomplete in terms of the NPS on air transport. We want to ensure that the commission is more than alive to the problems that we envisage of translating current existing policy into the future.
In a sense, clause 9 needs no more discussion, as we all agree that it should stand part of the Bill. However, we hope that the Minister will feel free to accept our amendments and to ensure that our concerns and fears about sustainable development are met under the terms of clause 9.
John Healey: The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is right. I do not think that his amendments are necessary. Judging from the well tempered and constructive tone of the debate, I think that we have common aims for sustainable development, and a common concern for the environment as part of the proper formulation of national policy statements and the decisions of the commission. However, we perhaps have a difference of view about how best and most appropriately to carry that out. I have made it clear, and the Secretary of State has made it clear in her statement to the House, that it is essential for sustainable development to be central to the consideration of any future infrastructure needs. As has already been discussed, under the new system, Ministers will set out national policy on national infrastructure projects in policy statements—that will be the key framework and the touchstone through which we achieve our aims. Those national policy statements will consider a range of relevant Government policies. They must set out clearly how the Government’s objectives for the particular type of infrastructure in question are integrated with other policies. In that way, they will integrate environmental, social and economic policies with the specific aim of contributing to sustainable development.
We must recognise that careful work will be required to formulate national policy statements in that way. Clause 5 requires any Secretary of State preparing a national policy statement to carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of each of the proposed national policy statements, in order to assess its impact before it can be designated. Under the terms of the Bill, Ministers will be under a duty to designate or review a policy statement with the specific objective of contributing to sustainable development. I hope that hon. Members will also recognise that this provision in the Bill is a change from the White Paper. In our view, it is a strengthening, and it is made in response to views that we had as a result of the White Paper.
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National policy statements, as we have discussed, will be subject to strong parliamentary scrutiny. All members of the Committee expect that scrutiny to test all aspects of their suitability, including whether Ministers have fully complied with their duty to contribute to sustainable development in their draft and proposed national policy statements. Amendments Nos. 60, 56, 59, 64 and 226 would, in addition, place a duty on the commission to consider in the decision-making process the sustainability of development and the desirability of mitigating climate change. That is where the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy are not necessary, because the commission will be obliged to take decisions in accordance with national policy statements. It is not necessary to require it separately to contribute to sustainable development.
Amendments Nos. 54, 58, 180 and 192 would require that national policy statements are subject to strategic environmental assessments, in accordance with European law. They would require the Secretary of State to have regard to obligations under certain provisions of UK and EU law and to be satisfied that the policy set out in a national policy statement had regard to the mitigation of climate change. The production of national policy statements means that Ministers must have regard to all relevant EU and domestic law, including the new Climate Change Bill, which will impose a general duty on Ministers to meet specified carbon targets and carbon budgets and oblige them to publish proposals and policies for meeting them. So, we build into the production of this essential document, the national policy statement, both the duty on sustainable development and the concerns about climate change that are set out in the primary legislation—the Climate Change Bill. A strategic environmental assessment required under EU law will be carried out.
Dan Rogerson: I do not for a moment imagine that the Climate Change Bill will not be enacted, but we need to consider where this Bill impacts on the current state of affairs. To start predicting what other Bills may do before they become Acts is dangerous territory to step into. We have already made considerable progress in guidance, some of which may not be in legislation. I hope that, by accepting some of the amendments, the Minister can ensure that some of that change in the way that we think about planning for the future can be put into the Bill.
John Healey: I am not predicting; I am explaining the policy purpose of the Climate Change Bill and, therefore, the impact that we intend it to have on the conduct of Government—the decisions and policy proposals that Government Ministers will take as a result. Amendments Nos. 66 to 68 require the commission to have regard to the views of certain stakeholders concerned with the environment when taking decisions. The Bill, although not in this clause, has provision to prescribe consultees for the national policy statement process in clause 7 and for project developments in clause 37, and to do so by secondary legislation. Rather than specifying bodies at this stage and trying to put them in the Bill, it is surely better and more flexible for the long term to do that through secondary legislation, and to allow us to take the wide range of views about what should be appropriate statutory consultees at each stage of the process.
Beyond that, all bodies, whether they are prescribed consultees or not, will be able to make their views clear at each stage of the process. The views of all interested parties will be fully considered both in the national policy statement and in the commission’s work, so I do not believe the amendments are either sensible at this stage in primary legislation or particularly helpful.
Amendment No. 70 looks to add global climate change to the shortlist of criteria the Secretary of State could base a call-in of an application determined by the IPC, however I have already explained that national policy statements will integrate all relevant environmental concerns, including climate change. The commission must take its decisions within this framework, so it is not necessary to have this separate duty in the Bill.
Finally, amendment No. 57 adds a definition of sustainable development. This is difficult. If one considers the different elements of international, national, regional level and local machinery of governance, each will be likely to focus on different aspects of sustainable development. I think it is unlikely we will be able to come up with a single, unified definition of sustainable development that will serve all the purposes we may require at every level within the system. I do not believe these amendments would add to the Bill and they may indeed create a problem for it. As to whether, uniquely if this amendment were passed, the Bill should specify there should be a national policy statement on the natural environment, it is not entirely clear to me—as the hon. Member for Beckenham was in a gentle way suggesting, not least to her own Back Benchers—it is not entirely clear what a national policy statement on the natural environment would add, nor what it would contain and it is reasonable to expect that concerns that may underlie the Wildlife Trusts’ advocacy of such an NPS would be properly taken into account through the duty of sustainable development and in any environmental impact assessments carried out during the process.
I hope hon. Members will feel we have had a useful debate on this, I do recognise, as the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East reminded us, these are matters that came up constantly on Second Reading and I am sure will be returned to during the passage of the Bill. I hope they are tabled this afternoon as probing amendments and that hon. Members will not press them, but if they do, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to oppose them.
Mr. Llwyd: It has been an interesting debate and I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, especially on listing of the various agencies that might be consulted and I accept what he says about clause 7 being the vehicle for that. Perhaps naming them in the Bill might be prescriptive in some way and perhaps not helpful and I do stand corrected on that. On the need for proper regard for sustainable development, what the right hon. Gentleman says again is that the national policy statement is the blueprint we all have to work to and from. I have to say, reading clause 5, I do not know why some reference could not be made to the environment. That debate may be for another day. I think it would be a waste of time to press these amendments to a vote, but I do hope we can return to clause 5 later, because maybe clause 5 is a better vehicle for a declaration in the Bill.
I do, however, accept what the right hon. Gentleman says: that in preparing the national policy statement, which all relevant bodies would have to follow, consideration must be given to sustainable development as a very important factor in formulating that policy. I do understand that and I am grateful to the Minister for the way he dealt with the points I have raised. Therefore, as I am sure we will return to this issue at some point, I do not intend to press my amendment to a vote.
Dan Rogerson: Briefly, I note the Minister’s assurances about the overarching nature of the Government’s commitment to biodiversity and so on, and that the other national policy statements, when they come forward, would have to have regard to that. However, having been convinced by the Wildlife Trusts and others, I do think there could be many positive benefits to having a separate NPS, one being the ability to facilitate speedier and more efficient handling of individual applications. In echoing what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said, I do not feel it would be helpful to press these amendments to the vote at this stage. But I hope we will return to these issues later on.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
Question proposed, That this schedule be the First schedule to the Bill.
I think perhaps at this point, even with the Government’s commitment to reinforcing Parliamentary democracy and Parliament’s role in these matters, it is probably a bit much to think that the responsibility for the actual appointment might be transferred to a Select Committee. I wonder, however, if there is some halfway house, where Ministers might indicate that it is their intention to appoint someone, subject to the Select Committee having the opportunity to question the person and report its findings to them. In the end, the decision would be made by
Ministers, but I wonder whether this would take Parliamentary involvement a little further forward, with the Select Committee having a more meaningful role. Ministers would be able to reflect on the hearing and the Committee’s thoughts on it before making the final appointment.
James Duddridge: I want to make two points, one on the interplay between the various officers —
5.59 pm
Si tting suspended for a Division in the House.
6.15 pm
On resuming—
James Duddridge: I rise to make two points. The first is about the interplay in schedule 1 between the chairman, the chief executive, and to a lesser degree, the deputy chairman. I have more experience of private than public sector boards, but the Higgs report on the private sector suggests good corporate practice and governance when the roles of chief executive and chairman are separate, and when active involvement takes place through the chief executive. On salaries, the chief executive will be paid £140,000 and the chairman, £150,000. Will the Minister confirm whether they are full-time roles? What is the interplay and the crossover from corporate governance best practice in the private sector and the public sector? I should not want the schedule to set up issues of conflict, particularly given the confusion already about the role of the deputy chairman.
The second issue is about paragraph 3 on tenure, which limits the appointments to fixed terms between five and eight years. I am concerned about it for two reasons. I see nothing in the Bill to prevent somebody from being in office for eight years, stopping for one day, and then taking another eight-year contract. Is that the schedule’s intention, or by putting an end date of no more than eight years, is it saying that it would be inappropriate for anybody to serve as a commissioner, deputy chairman or chairman—one of those individual roles—for longer than eight years?
I can see how the Minister could make the case that it would be inappropriate to serve on the organisation for longer than eight years in one role, but it may be very appropriate for somebody to serve for longer than eight years in two roles. I can envisage a situation in which the chairman unexpectedly had to stand down, and for continuity purposes, it made sense for a deputy chairman, who was near the end of their tenure and doing very well, to take over and therefore serve a longer tenure. There are merits to the cases for limiting the time, and for extending it in exceptional circumstances, but I am unclear about the intention and effect of schedule 1, so I should appreciate the Minister’s clarification.
Mr. Curry: I wonder whether the Minister can lift the veil on the sort of people who will be appointed to the commission. It will be like a college of appointed cardinals, so I should quite like to see some white smoke coming up the Minister’s chimney. He talks repeatedly about expertise, but what does he mean? Expertise in what precisely? We must be careful that we do not end up with people who are seen as delegates of particular interest groups. It is clear that the nuclear industry will want its person on the commission, that the ports will want their person and that the CBI will wants its person. Hence, the question about the way in which the Minister engineers appointments so that they are seen to be independent, and so that they are of people with expertise, is genuinely important.
Further, when the Minister says expertise, can we be certain that expertise is the only factor in play? I say the following entirely neutrally, but do the Government want a commission with a certain gender, race or age balance? Will they not consider appointing people over a certain age, or people who reach a certain age during their appointment?
Dan Rogerson: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. At the heart of it lies the fact that the commission must not only be independent, it must be seen to be independent. People may begin to read particular points of view into people’s backgrounds. He has not, for example, mentioned geographic place of residence. Where we see schemes at either end of the country being in conflict with one another, there may be such issues.
Mr. Curry: That is absolutely right. In particular, if people are to be nominated to take charge of particular enquiries, are they going to be people who have a geographic affiliation to the area in which they will take place? The Government have been talking about regional Select Committees. I do not know what has happened to that idea, which surfaced in a constitutional paper the Government produced before the summer recess. It seems to have disappeared absolutely without trace, but we might initially see whether they might have a role in the scrutiny or nomination, if they are still on the Government’s horizon and agenda.
What about independence? I suppose it is a certainty that the chair will turn out to be a lawyer—they usually do. Might it turn out to be somebody with business experience and the organisational skills to be able to manage a commission of 35 people, with a significant secretariat? We only have one nomination. Friends of the Earth, I think, nominated Mr. Tony Juniper. I am not sure that he is aware of, or has endorsed, his own nomination, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to that. We know that boards appoint non-executive directors. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East referred to the recommendations of the Higgs report. Are some of these members to be non-executive in the sense that they do not have any particular expertise, but have—to use old-fashioned words—a certain amount of wisdom and experience which they can bring to these enquiries?
Given that we have had a very short debate on the commission itself, I would like very much to know the sort of person the Minister has in mind. There will no doubt be a quota of academics; will the mandatory trade unionist will find a place? How preoccupied are the Government with the notion that there must be some sort of gender or race balance on the committee? If expertise is the key, then of course the other things cannot apply. I was very struck by the two charming ladies from the Planning Inspectorate who gave evidence, and I have great confidence in them handling these cases. These are important matters which, up to now, we have not really discussed. Will the Minister indicate how he is going to go about this, the sort of people and the sort of age ranges we might see?
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe emphasised the point I made earlier about the importance of parliamentary scrutiny for these appointments. What is needed is not a system like the Monetary Policy Committee—where there has been a certain amount of argument about whether they are able to make confirmation hearings, and about the appointment itself—but a means of ensuring that, before the confirmation takes place, Parliament can check whether there is some profound objection to or problem with that person, and allowing Parliament’s role in this process to begin at an earlier stage.
Robert Neill: My hon. Friend finished on the question of scrutiny. This is very important, not least because the more power given to a body such as this—very substantial power in this case—the more important it is that there should be some parliamentary scrutiny of the appointments process. There can be some scrutiny of Ministers, and if power is moved from Ministers to the independent commission to carry out these roles, then it is important that there is the maximum scrutiny of these people. They are neither Ministers nor members of the judiciary with the obligations that their oath involves. Let us therefore have some hold on them to make sure they are appropriate. The precedent is, after all, accepted by the Government in relation to appointments elsewhere: they added to the Greater London Act 2007 the ability for the London assembly to carry out scrutiny of certain key appointments within the Greater London authority. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. We are willing to have the same level of scrutiny by Parliament of those people who are appointed to the commission. That is an important point and I hope that we will get some reassurance on it.
On the question of tenure, I note that members of the commission will be able to be reappointed. We would like some clarity on what the basis of reappointment will be. Why is there a varying period of five to eight years? Is that to get some degree of rotation or continuity? Is it the intention that people can expect to be reappointed unless they have not performed up to a certain level? How will that be monitored and how will that process be transparent? How will we get away from the fear that, because they do not have the judicial security of tenure, there will be the temptation—when the Government have taken a pretty clear line on certain things—to come up with the answer that Government want? That is always a risk under such circumstances. We therefore need to have more transparency about tenure.
Remuneration has also been referred to. Will the Minister help us with the calculation that the Government have made on the total cost of remuneration? There are to be a number of deputy chairs and a number of full time commissioners, but there was also reference to some people being part time. Has any thought been given to what that split will be, on what basis, what the payment rates will be and what the total cost will be?
The required skill sets have been referred to, along with how that will be applied to the balancing of particular panels. I was also interested in the commission’s council, which is to be configured in an interesting way. Under paragraph 6(4), ordinary members of the council can be appointed for specific purposes. Am I right to think that that is to be read as meaning that they will be appointed for a particular application and that there will be a pool of councillors or is it intended that the council should act in a more collegiate way, which might, more normally, be understood from the meaning of the word?
Under paragraph 7, the chair may appoint a commissioner, not within paragraph 6(4)(a) or (b) to be an ordinary member of the council
“for a particular purpose or for particular purposes”.
Is that for the determining of a particular application? Is it for the purpose of giving advice on a particular issue? Will they proceed by unanimity or by a majority vote? Do all votes count equally under such circumstances? Under paragraph 7(4), they can resign
“in relation to all, or some one or more, of the purposes for which the person is an ordinary member of the Council.”
What does that mean? Under what circumstances does the Minister envisage commissioners being appointed to the council for some purpose and being barred from taking part in other issues? In a collegiate body, how will they deal with the idea of different categories or grades of commissioner? As I read it, it looks as if paragraph 7(7) has a sort of quorum of five members. Is that the case? What is the minimum and how would it operate?
What is the relationship between the chief executive and the rest of the commission? Is it intended that the chief executive will be recruited from within the existing Planning Inspectorate or from within the civil service? Is it intended for the position to go to somebody from outside? Will it be a lawyer or a planner? There is some lack of clarity, again.
In due course, we would like much more information on how the delegation arrangements will work, given the importance of the issues that will potentially be dealt with. Will the public be aware of the scheme of delegation? Will there be scope for parliamentary scrutiny of the scheme of delegation? If the chairman of the commission appears before Parliament in the way that the Minister has suggested, will we have the opportunity to question him about how the scheme of delegation works? A number of other issues are raised by this debate, which I hope the Minister will be able to deal with.
6.30 pm
Mrs. Lait: I thank the Committee for raising so many questions about this long and not complex but certainly detailed description of how the infrastructure planning commission should be appointed and about its pay, rations, structure and proceedings. I hope the Minister has been able to take note of all the questions, because I am about to add some more. I have some questions from reading through. I am not sufficiently a student of legislation to know whether or not this has come straight off the shelf, but it certainly looks like a standardised package, which is why there are so many questions emerging once we set out the terms and conditions as set out in the schedule against the functions of the commission as set out in the Bill.
I suppose, which may seem slightly odd from me, that we should congratulate the Government that the commission is not a politically correct one—it is not set out as a PC commission, with quotas of women, ethnic minorities, elderly people and younger people. We should be grateful that expertise—we hope—is the criterion for all the commissioners.
I have a broad question, which I regularly have when I see the Government setting up another quango. The members of the quango are allegedly independent. Some of them may go through the public appointments unit system, although I understand that there is increasing use of a phrase at the end of an announcement of a public appointment, about so-and-so being appointed in accordance with the terms and conditions of the public appointments unit, not having gone through the unit. While I am on the subject, I sometimes wonder why we insist that people of serious seniority, who are well known and household names, go through the public appointments unit when, most of the time, they are employing people who have to go through a selection process that is infinitely more rigorous than that. I will come off that particular high horse and move back to the schedule, having managed to slip that past the Chairman—I must not presume on his kindness.
The whole issue of the independence of the commissioners, when they are appointed by the Secretary of State, continues to concern me, because they are beholden to the Secretary of State for their appointment and their dismissal. One can feel for Mervyn King at the moment, as he waits to hear how truly independent he is as Governor of the Bank of England. However, my hon. Friends and colleagues have raised some specific issues. I will not repeat them. I am glad to reread the schedule more closely and notice that people are not being appointed just for one term—they can be reappointed. I was interested that the fixed terms are for five and eight years, rather than the more usual three and six. I wondered whether that was a reflection of how long it is going to take the commissioners to pick up the expertise that they need, not just in their own field but all the other skills that we talked about, including social skills. Or is that a reflection of the practical length of some of the inquiries that the commissioners will be undertaking?
Another issue of concern is, again, a much broader one. Under paragraph 5, the commission receives its remuneration and allowances from the Secretary of State and as the Secretary of State may determine. To draw a parallel with the Charity Commission, one of the arguments for the Charity Commission not being seen as independent was because it was seen as receiving its pay and rations from the Home Office. Given how much importance the Government are laying on the IPC being independent, I wonder whether its pay and rations coming from the Department lays its independence open to challenge.
If the Minister has not already responded to a similar question from another hon. Member, I should be grateful if he told the Committee if the council’s role within the commission is advisory or executive. Will the council be the equivalent of an executive board? Will it contain non-executive directors or will there be a mix? I genuinely wish to know, too, what its function will be, because that is not clear. Clarification of those matters would be helpful.
Before I discuss paragraph 19, I declare my usual interest: my husband is a member of the Audit Commission. I am fascinated that the planning commission should be overseen by the National Audit Office, as it will be part of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and should therefore be audited by the Audit Commission. As planning is clearly part of local government it may be an oversight that the National Audit Office will audit the IPC and I should be grateful if the Minister explained the thinking behind that decision.
If the Minister can answer our many and varied questions about schedule 1 we can decide how to approach it.
John Healey: After such exhaustive debate today, I had anticipated making more rapid progress. However, I shall deal with the main points that have been raised and if I do not respond adequately to any of the questions I am sure that hon. Members will let me know.
The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon is a good member to have on the team. He asked in a very elaborate and extended fashion precisely the question that he asked me in the evidence session in about 20 seconds and I shall give him the same answer: the commissioners are not delegates; they are appointed as independent figures for their expertise, which could come from fields such as community engagement, planning, law, local government, engineering, economics, business, security, environment, heritage and health.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst told me that he could not stay until the end of the sitting, so I shall deal with his points now.
Mr. Curry: Will the commissioners be appointed without regard to other factors such as gender and race—that sort of thing?
John Healey: The commissioners will be appointed in order to do the job and as experts in their field. The intention is that part-time commissioners might be brought in for a set period, particularly to consider specific applications. They might do so on a periodic basis during their total length of tenure. Essentially, that means that we can allow the commission the flexibility that it might need, within the framework of schedule 1, to ensure that the most suitable commissioners with the appropriate level, nature and mix of expertise are available and allocated to deal with a particular application. To be clear, there will always be at least five commissioners on the council and they will operate collectively and have equal weight.
With regard to delegation, which was the other point that the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was particularly exercised by, the purpose of the Bill’s provisions is to ensure that the IPC’s important functions relating to the examination of an application can only be carried out by commissioners, whereas more everyday functions can be carried out by the commission’s staff as well.
Finally, in response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Beckenham on the meaning of “council” in paragraph 6 of schedule 1, the purpose of that provision clearly suggests that the council’s function in that context is to consider applications and, particularly, any report made by a single commissioner on an application. That will ensure that a body of expertise will make the final decision, rather than an individual commissioner. Of course, the council in that context will also respond to consultations about the particular application or matter before it.
Mrs. Lait: First, I thank the Minister for his courtesy in responding to the queries voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who had an unavoidable appointment. May I just ask who will audit the commission? I am happy to have a written note about that if one could be passed to me at some point. I appreciate that it is the National Audit Office, but my question is why it is the NAO.
6.45 pm
John Healey: I do not know if this is what the hon. Lady is fishing for, but am glad that she appreciates that it will be the NAO. If she is fishing for me to confirm that on the record, I have just done so.
Mrs. Lait: I am most grateful to the Minister, and did read that in the text of the Bill. I am trying to get at why the NAO should audit the accounts of the commission, because my understanding is that the NAO is there to audit the accounts of Government Departments and that the Audit Commission is there to audit accounts from local government. We are talking about the local government Department.
John Healey: I understand now the source of the hon. Lady’s confusion. If she will allow me, I will send her a list of the bodies for which the NAO has auditing responsibility, and she will see that it goes well beyond just central Government Departments. To be clear, although DCLG is framing the legislation, the IPC is not a local government body. I think that the information I can send her will probably help.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. It is not something over which I will call a vote, he will be relieved to learn. I was merely curious as to the reason. I think that all of us on this side of the Committee are grateful to the Minister for his courtesy in answering all our questions to a greater or lesser extent. We will probably take the matter away and may well return to it on another occasion.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
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