Planning Bill

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Clause 59

Panel member continuing though ceasing to be Commissioner
John Healey: I beg to move amendment No. 370, in clause 59, page 30, line 36, after ‘until’ insert ‘— (a)’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 371 to 377.
John Healey: May I own up to the Committee, Mr. Illsley? We have spotted a loophole. We did not spot it earlier, but we have spotted it now, and the amendments are designed to close it. I hope that if I briefly explain to Members what the loophole is, they will agree that the amendments are appropriate. It involves a curious situation that could arise. Clauses 59 and 73 could allow an ex-commissioner to opt to prolong their term of office until the end of a particular examination, regardless of whether or not they had been removed from that examination by the chair—in other words, even though they were no longer conducting or involved in the examination. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman want me to give way?
Mr. Curry indicated dissent.
John Healey: If an ex-commissioner opted to prolong their term of office after they had already been removed from the panel, they would be treated as a commissioner, paid a salary and any other benefits, but would not do any work for it. We are anxious that such a situation should not arise, but it could at the moment.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I shall not detain the Committee for long. I am grateful that the Government have spotted that loophole. I wish that they would pick up on a few of the loopholes that we have spotted, but never mind. We are happy to accept the amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 371, in clause 59, page 30, line 37, after ‘application’ insert ‘, or
(b) (if earlier) the ex-Commissioner ceases to be a member of the Panel.’.
No. 372, in clause 59, page 30, line 39, after ‘until’ insert ‘— (a)’.
No. 373, in clause 59, page 30, line 41, after ‘application’ insert ‘, or
(b) (if earlier) the ex-Commissioner ceased to be a member of the Panel.’.—[John Healey.]
Clause 59 , as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 60 and 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62

Membership of Panel where application relates to land in Wales
Dan Rogerson: I beg to move amendment No. 282, in clause 62, page 31, line 27, leave out ‘or’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 283, in clause 62, page 31, line 28, at end insert ‘or
(c) a Commissioner who is conversant in the Welsh language.’.
Dan Rogerson: This is a relatively minor point, but it could be significant to some people who are concerned with individual applications. There is only one Committee member present who represents a Welsh constituency, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is not here. [Interruption.] There are two members—I apologise to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West. I spotted one, but I had not looked over my right shoulder. I hope, then, that there will be even more support for the amendment than I had anticipated.
The amendment is about the Welsh language. I am a great supporter of the Cornish language, but, unfortunately, we are not quite at the stage when people will need to give evidence in the Cornish language regarding an application in Cornwall. I am grateful to the Department for Communities and Local Government for supporting the Cornish language and for giving it some funding for the first time.
2.45 pm
John Healey: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I will make sure that those responsible in the Departments know about them. Would it be in order if he were to move the amendment in Cornish, Mr. Illsley?
Dan Rogerson: Meur ras. I can say thank you, and that is about it.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Rwy’n barod iawn i ateb yng Nghymraeg.
Dan Rogerson: Meur ras, I think.
The Chairman: Order. In English please.
Dan Rogerson: Sadly, I grew up in Cornwall at a time when the language was not receiving funding and was not available in school. I am sure that the Minister is following the debate on a single written form, which will allow it to be pushed out into schools in the community a lot more. However, the amendment relates to the Welsh language, which has a significant and growing community that includes not only those who use it as a second language, but those who use it as their first language. That is the point.
There have been debates and Bills in this place and consideration in the courts about the use of the Welsh language and the ability of people to be cross-examined in Welsh and to have their case heard by a Welsh-speaking jury. Where we are discussing provisions for the Welsh Assembly to advise on the appointment of members to the commission, it would be beneficial for one of those members to have an understanding of the Welsh language. We have already heard about the many wind farm applications in north Wales, and there may be other significant projects that fall within the provisions of the Bill and that are heard by the commission. I am sure that it would benefit those people who have Welsh as their first language to be able to give evidence in Welsh. I hope that the Minister will consider accepting the amendment.
Mr. Curry: On a point of information, Mr. Illsley. European regulations, which are printed in all sorts of different languages, can sometimes lead to great confusion simply because one concept does not translate easily into another language. For example, the German word “Raum” is not the same as the English word “room”, and I remember that huge problems arose with the regulations concerning the slaughter of poultry on the question whether rooms had to be provided for vets or whether there simply had to be spaces. If there is a dispute between the Welsh and the English, which text will take precedence?
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): I feel constrained to make a contribution to this debate. Over the years, the Conservative party has shown its adherence to and support for the Welsh language. The Conservative party piloted the Welsh Language Act 1993 through Parliament, so we yield to no one in our support for the Welsh language. My concern is not that the commissioner should, so far as is possible, be able to speak Welsh; it is just a question of capacity.
We are talking about appointing commissioners who are experts in their individual fields. Wales is a small, but highly talented nation. Unfortunately, the number of fluent Welsh language speakers who are of working age is relatively small. Among their number are some distinguished hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. I am concerned that it may be difficult to find a sufficient pool of, for example, Welsh-speaking nuclear engineers to form part of the panel. Welsh-speaking nuclear engineers would probably find it far more profitable to be employed as expert witnesses rather than as commissioners. Although I sympathise with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, in practice it is probably unattainable.
Alun Michael: This is probably an attempt by the Liberal Democrats to look positive and sympathetic about the Welsh language, which is always welcome, but it is inappropriate in these circumstances. The fact of the matter is that, because of the greater use of Welsh in a variety of circumstances, such as court and tribunal proceedings, public bodies in Wales are used to dealing with the language and ensuring that that is done appropriately. I hope that the Minister will tell us that, in accordance with the modern requirement for public bodies to have policies on how to deal with the Welsh language, the new body will always look at making it possible for people to give evidence in the language of their choice and for appropriate arrangements to be made, if a commissioner were to need that capacity.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall that the important thing is to have the right people in place with the right competencies, rather than having artificial constraints on the appointment of commissioners. The issue is more about how things have changed over the years, in part because education has developed over many years.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West has mentioned the Conservative party’s support for the Welsh Language Act 1993. The increased use of the language in areas where it was not previously available or spoken is largely due to the considerable generosity of Labour authorities, often in non-Welsh-speaking areas, in promoting the teaching of Welsh over many years.
The point is that the artificial limitation proposed for the appointment of commissioners is inappropriate. I hope that we will hear from the Minister that appropriate provision will be made for Welsh in those arrangements, as in all others.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I first apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate? The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made the point well that, as a public body, the new body must have a Welsh language policy. Therefore, the points that concern the hon. Member for North Cornwall will be dealt with within that body.
John Healey: Clause 62 will ensure, as hon. Members have recognised, that as far as is reasonably practical, any panel that considers an application for a major project in Wales will have among its members a commissioner who has been nominated by Welsh Ministers. We have said that there will be two or three such commissioners, or a commissioner whom Welsh Ministers are content should be considered in that way.
The amendments would add a third option, so that a member of the panel would be able to speak Welsh. We all agree that it would be excellent if at least one member of a panel considering a Welsh application were able to speak Welsh and to understand anyone who wished to be heard in that language. However, it is extremely likely that one of the criteria that any Welsh Minister will want to consider when nominating a potential member of the commission will be the ability to speak Welsh. We will discuss that matter with Welsh Ministers when we come to specify in our advertisements the skills and competencies that we are looking for in potential applicants. In the spirit of devolution, I think that that is something that the Committee should leave in the hands of Welsh Ministers. Well intentioned as the amendments are, I am not sure that they would either add flexibility in appointing commissioners or, in the case of a panel or single commissioner considering an application in Wales, ensure that someone is found with the right skills for the job.
Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and to all hon. Members who have given me the benefit of their experience, particularly the three former Welsh Ministers who have participated in the debate. The amendment is not an attempt to make a political point for the Liberal Democrats; it is a personal point, as I am a great supporter of all the Celtic languages, and wherever I see the opportunity to try and promote them, I will. In passing, I will mention that my mother is Welsh, although she is an English speaker from the valleys. I was also at university in Aberystwyth, where I had the benefit of hearing the Welsh language in action a great deal.
I accept what the Minister is saying. We do not want to fetter too greatly the Welsh Ministers in deciding whom they would like to recommend. However, we have added to the list of qualities that the special people whom the Government will seek must have. The issue of social skills was raised earlier. When considering applications in Welsh, an important consideration could be that the candidate can understand contributions made by members of the public and objectives in both languages that are in common use in Wales. I certainly will not push the matter to a vote, but I am glad that we have had this debate and that the Minister has considered the importance of the Welsh language.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 63 to 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 66

Panel to decide, or make recommendation in respect of, application
Amendment proposed: No. 206, in clause 66, page 32, line 40, at beginning insert ‘Subject to subsection (1A) below,’.—[Mrs. Lait.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 11.
Division No. 13 ]
Curry, rh Mr. David
Jones, Mr. David
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Neill, Robert
Rogerson, Dan
Betts, Mr. Clive
Clark, Paul
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Healey, John
Michael, rh Alun
Mole, Chris
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Watts, Mr. Dave
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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