Planning Bill

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Mrs. Lait: The Minister has set out a convincing argument, but it still begs a number of questions. He refers to inappropriate development in the green belt. I would suggest that that is the issue about which local communities might get most exercised. They wish to feel, as we have set out clearly, that there is recourse to a democratically accountable person—the Secretary of State—because green belts are regarded as being precious in urban communities.
The other concern that I have, which applies to the green belt planning permission that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst referred to, is that once there is any form of infrastructure development such as a pipeline, pylons or an electricity sub-station, the land around it tends to degrade. Over the last few years we have heard the argument that the minute the green belt has degraded, it becomes ripe for development. We are concerned that this planning system should in no way lead to the degradation of the green belt. Therefore, I will press the amendment to a Division.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 12.
Division No. 17]
Benyon, Mr. Richard
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
Sheridan, Jim
Watts, Mr. Dave
Question accordingly negatived.
Mrs. Lait: I beg to move amendment No. 418, in clause 105, page 50, line 12, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 430 to 432.
Mrs. Lait: We tabled the amendment to delete even more sweeping powers than were set out in the green belt provisions in subsection (4). Subsection (6)(a) and (b) will give the IPC the power to override Government decisions. It will be able to amend or repeal any legislation. If that reading is correct, a fundamental principle of democracy is being swept aside in order to speed up the planning system. Doubtless Ministers will have a very clear explanation for giving the IPC this power. We all wish to see the process speeded up, but under this proposal the IPC could ride roughshod over the democratic rights of the British public and of Parliament. I find that fundamentally difficult to contemplate, let alone accept.
Again, we want to hear what the Government have to say on the matter. Unless their rebuttal of the amendment is convincing, it seems that we are moving back to a situation in which the Executive pay absolutely no attention to the people who are democratically accountable. Without going too deeply into one of our continual criticisms of the Government over the past 10 years, that is all of a piece with their ignoring Parliament and wishing that they could ride roughshod over us and that we would all do exactly as they wished. On those powerful grounds, I have tabled the amendment.
Jim Fitzpatrick: We oppose the amendment. I will explain why I hope that it will be withdrawn, subsequent to my explanation, or resisted by my hon. Friends.
The clause sets out which matters can be included in an order granting development consent for an application. In particular, the clause allows an order granting development consent to apply, modify, or exclude legislative provisions relating to matters covered in the order, subject to certain limitations. The ability to do that is modelled closely—I got into trouble last week for using the word “modelled”; I have checked this time and I am using it in the right context—on the powers already available to the Secretary of State in making orders under section 5 of the Transport and Works Act 1992.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s concerns about the fact that the Bill would allow legislation to be applied, modified or excluded by a body other than Parliament. I hope to reassure colleagues about that and to demonstrate that a deletion of the provisions in paragraphs (a) and (b), as envisaged in the amendment, would be the wrong step to take. Before the Committee considers the amendment, it might be worth while to reflect on why the 1992 Act and the Harbours Act 1964 contained the legislative provisions that we are now trying to incorporate into the Bill.
In the past, promoters of several types of nationally significant infrastructure project have found that there are statutory provisions regulating existing infrastructure that they propose to upgrade or improve. In particular, railway infrastructure is frequently covered by one or more private Acts of Parliament, which gave the original promoters of the railway the ability to construct it in the first place. Often, the provisions of the existing legislation are inconsistent with proposals to upgrade or improve infrastructure.
For example, Network Rail might be under an obligation to provide or maintain a certain infrastructure, perhaps a bridge or footway, that would be incompatible with the provisions to upgrade a site. It was with that problem in mind that Parliament previously granted the Secretary of State the extensive powers in section 5 of the Transport and Works Act 1992, including the ability to make an order that can
“apply, modify or exclude any statutory provision which relates to any matter as to which an order could be made”
under that Act. The 1992 Act also permits the Secretary of State to make amendments, repeals and revocations of statutory provisions of local application as appear to her to be expedient in connection with an order. The Harbours Act makes similar provision in respect of local Acts in relation to harbour developments.
Clause 105(6) of the Bill is based on the wording in section 5 of the Transport and Works Act 1992, and the similar provisions in the Harbours Act. As we have seen in part 3, many of the types of projects to which the 1992 Act applies will in future be classified as nationally significant infrastructure projects, and, as such, will require development consent under the Bill. Clause 29(2) has specifically excluded the 1992 Act or 1964 Act orders from being made in relation to those projects. That will prevent the use of orders under those Acts to amend legislation in relation to such projects.
For the reasons I have already given, many of such projects could be incompatible with existing legislation. Unless that is dealt with, the single consent regime will be unworkable. The options would be to retain the provisions of the Transport and Works Act and the Harbours Act in relation to relevant nationally significant infrastructure projects, or for promoters to be required to promote private legislation to enable schemes to proceed. We do not believe that either of those options is sensible.
On the issue of private Bills, we should remember that the huge amount of parliamentary time that was taken up debating private Bills was one of the prime reasons why Parliament created the Transport and Works Act regime in the first place. If we required a promoter to obtain an order under the Transport and Works Act or Harbours Act, in addition to consent under the new regime, it could result in exactly the kind of duplication of effort that the new regime seeks to avoid. It would mean that the decisions would continue to go to the Secretary of State, which is the subject we debated previously. As has been mentioned previously, that would add time to the process and reduce predictability, because there would be multiple decision makers. In any case, we do not believe that such a system would lead to better or different orders because of the safeguards that we have already built into our proposals.
First, and most basically, the only pieces of legislation that can be altered are those that the promoter includes in the application. The IPC will not be able to make orders on a subject other than for that which is applied. Secondly, the form of the draft order is based on model provisions that are set out for the Secretary of State by order, as we discussed under clause 33. Those will be similar to the model provisions currently set out in relation to Transport and Works Act orders. Any Member will have the ability to scrutinise those model provisions and force a parliamentary debate on them.
Thirdly, the decision maker will only be able to approve the application and make an order when that is in accordance with the relevant national policy statement. Again, that will have been set out by the Government and scrutinised in Parliament. Fourthly, where the IPC intends to use the powers in clause 105(6), it will have to send a copy of the draft order to the Secretary of State ahead of time. If the Secretary of State thinks that the terms of the order would contravene Community law or any of the convention rights, she has a power in clause 106 to direct or require the IPC to change the terms of the order.
It should also be remembered that powers set out in clause 105(6), under which legislation may be amended, apply only in relation to the particular development that is under consideration. Those powers do not permit the commission or the Secretary of State to usurp the functions of the legislature. They are powers of limited scope and application. I hope that the explanation of the safeguards on the use by the IPC of legislative powers gives comfort to the Committee and the hon. Member for Beckenham. I therefore ask her to withdraw her amendment.
Government amendments Nos. 430 to 432 are technical in nature. They are intended to ensure that when the IPC needs to use its legislative powers under clause 105(6), those allow amendments not only of legislation but of statutory provisions. Without that provision, the IPC would not be able to amend previous Transport and Works Act orders or Harbours Act orders.
Mrs. Lait: I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive explanation, which goes some way to reassure me. On the basis of that I shall seek to withdraw the amendment, but I will probably have to do some more research to see whether we need to return to the matter on Report. I can understand the arguments about the Harbours Act and the Transport and Works Act. I am concerned that the national policy statement is a much wider system and that the conjunction of all those provisions might enable the IPC to make rulings much more widely than the Government envisage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: No. 430, in clause 105, page 50, line 12, leave out
‘provision of or made under an Act’
and insert ‘statutory provision’.
No. 431, in clause 105, page 50, line 14, leave out
‘provisions of or made under a local Act’
and insert
‘statutory provisions of local application’.
No. 432, in clause 105, page 50, line 22, at end insert—
‘(6A) In subsection (6) “statutory provision” means a provision of an Act or of an instrument made under an Act.’.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
11 am
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 398, in clause 105, page 50, line 23, at end insert
I, too, welcome you back to the Chair, Sir John. Whether this will be one of the sittings where we make speedy progress or whether we will slow down again remains to be seen, but I am sure that you will enjoy watching our deliberations and keeping us in order.
The amendment is similar to that tabled by the hon. Member for Beckenham and is about the power to disregard legislation. We are spending a great deal of time in this Committee. We have 14 sittings in which to debate the Bill and potentially to put it into law. We do that because we take legislation very seriously and want to get it as right as is possible. If we then set up bodies that can disregard legislation and make decisions that will affect the lives of people in the areas concerned, we are going down a very dangerous road.
I did not speak to the last amendment because many of the issues addressed by it are addressed by this amendment. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I reflect on what he said when debating the previous group. He made the case that the Secretary of State is already able to disregard legislation in some circumstances under other Acts. However, there is a fundamental difference between the Secretary of State and the IPC. We have had that argument before.
There is a difference of opinion between the Government and the Opposition parties about whether the IPC is comparable to the Secretary of State. I do not think that they are the same. People are willing to accept that the Secretary of State may, for certain technical reasons—as long as it is in the spirit of the legislation—exempt certain provisions in certain cases. I think that people will find it much harder to accept that an unelected, appointed body, at some distance from a democratic mandate, will have those powers. There are real differences between the two.
The amendment would use the super-affirmative resolution procedure, which sounds very exciting and was set up under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. It would still allow exemptions to be made from legislation, but there would be a powerful means of parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that such departures have been properly considered and that elected Members have had the opportunity to examine them in detail.
I accept what the Minister says about there having to be a facility to do such things to avoid going back to using private Bills. The amendment would provide for such a procedure, but it would be a little more onerous, it would give hon. Members the opportunity to participate in the process and it would take the power away from an unelected body—that is the fundamental point for me.
I hope that the Minister is prepared to consider my arguments. I hope he will see that this is not a black and white issue between the very lengthy procedure of using private Bills and the IPC having this power. There are other possibilities and, as the hon. Lady said, I hope that he will reflect on that and come back to us at a later stage. I am also interested to hear what he has to say now.
As we heard, the Bill is aimed at simplifying the planning procedure for major projects. It should make the whole process more straightforward and transparent. It should also cut out some of the repetition of areas of controversy and ensure that they occur at an earlier stage in the process. However, I still do not see that delaying something by a matter of a few weeks or months is crucial. We have talked about schemes in the past that have been delayed by five, 10 or 20 years while those processes have rumbled on. The important thing is that we get the decisions right. Allowing Parliament the opportunity to examine whether a case has been made for legislation that it has made to be disregarded in that way is an important part of the process, and I hope that the Minister will consider whether there might be a middle way between private Bills and the IPC having the power to throw out legislation whenever it wants.
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