Select Committee on Liaison Fourth Special Report

Annex 3

Letter to the Chairman of the Business and Enterprise Committee from Minister for Local Government, 20 May 2008

Planning Bill Parliamentary Scrutiny of National Policy Statements

I am writing to let you know how we have followed up the Bill of Rights issue raised by your Clerk, Eve Samson, in the meeting Harriet Harman held last week, at which Michael Jack, Phyllis Starkey, Helen Goodman, your Committee Clerks and officials were also present.

I should say first how much I appreciate the time and thought that you and your fellow Chairs have devoted to this important issue. The planning reforms in the Planning Bill are intended to facilitate our national infrastructure needs. Parliamentary scrutiny of draft National Policy Statements (NPSs) for the strategic development of nationally significant infrastructure will be an opportunity to help to ensure these are well-based. I see it as an opportunity for Parliament to have a new and important role in a new system.

The three meetings Harriet has convened, together with the effort that has gone into preparing for them, have taken us a long way towards finding an approach that is workable and effective. I think we have now established a good understanding of your committees' potential scrutiny role, and what you would need in terms of liaison with departments working on NPSs to make the process work as smoothly as possible. We do have the relatively detailed point outstanding about how time limits would work which would be useful to try to resolve between officials. I also recognise the strength of your feeling that Parliament should approve these new policy statements. While I won't repeat the points I made last week, we disagree that that is the right way forward.

However, we have been examining urgently the point that your Clerk, Eve Samson, raised in the meeting, that the approach I outlined for a new clause in the Bill—that the Secretary of State would have regard to the views of Parliament and the Report of the committee—would lead to a significant problem in relation to Article IX of the Bill of Rights. I am grateful to Eve for raising this point since our subsequent consultation with the House authorities, as she suggested, and with Parliamentary Counsel, have confirmed the risks of such an approach. I am also grateful to the House authorities for turning round our questions so quickly.

In light of this, we have revised our approach, and are tabling amendments and a new clause on the parliamentary process. This would require the Secretary of State to:

I hope you can agree that this is preferable to my earlier proposal and see merit in this approach and I would be interested in your thoughts.

I am copying this letter to Harriet Harman, Helen Goodman, Michael Jack, Phyllis Starkey, and to the Clerk of the Transport Committee.

John Healey MP

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