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I urge the Government to be clear about the importance of considering climate change in the planning of major infrastructure. As it stands, neither policy-makers nor decision-makers can be clear about the weight and importance that must be given to this issue if we are to honour our international obligation to reduce carbon emissions and to achieve the reduction in emissions required by the Climate Change Bill. The Minister may reply that this is assumed in the Bill, but I urge the Government to signal this intention explicitly and place a clear duty on both the Secretary of State and the IPC to consider climate change in decision-making on major infrastructure. We are in effect asking for consistency and for joined-up Bills as a proper expression of joined-up government.

8.31 pm

Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, I declare an interest as a legal associate of the Royal Town Planning Institute and as a solicitor with Dundas & Wilson, having advised clients mostly in Scotland but also in England. For many years, I also earned a happy living as a member of a small but, I assure noble Lords, highly select band of the planning Bar in Scotland, going to planning inquiries and representing developers, local authorities and others in court.

I warmly welcome the Bill, and I shall address consents for major infrastructure projects. Not long ago, this House debated the Climate Change Bill, and there was support on all sides for its principle. There was, however, a strong realisation that swift action is necessary if we are to reduce emissions and slow global warming. To achieve these objectives, we have set ourselves challenging targets on various aspects of energy, particularly the development of renewable energy, and the Government have committed themselves to the construction of new nuclear power stations.

If we are to attempt to achieve these objectives, we must have an improved planning regime. Some sceptics have said that the Government’s holding up of the terminal 5 application is atypical of the delays that are inherent in the planning system. Sadly, that is not the case. Kate Barker’s interim report on land use planning gives some case studies. I do not wish to go through them all, but I remind noble Lords that the Heathrow terminal 5 inquiry took 46 months, and the M6 toll road process took 65 months from beginning to end—85 months if you include delays occasioned by a court challenge. The Dibden Bay port application, which apparently cost the applicants £45 million to make, took 14 months from application to inquiry, 13 months in inquiry, nine months from close of inquiry to the report, and seven months thereafter for a decision—a total of 43 months. I have never been on a case that lasted 13 months; even the Lockerbie trial lasted substantially less than that.

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The reasons for the delays are manifest; the Minister touched on them in her opening remarks. Applications often do not take account of all the consultation responses. One benefit of the Bill is the requirement on applicants to consult before the application goes in and to take account of the consultation responses. It is perfectly plain that there is a lack of clear government policy, which was a substantial cause of the delay in the T5 and the Sizewell B inquiries. National policy statements will address that. The inquiry time is long and the double decision-making process whereby the person who listens to the inquiry is not the ultimate decision-maker—the Minister is—involves an added process.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the note by the chair of the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association, of which I have seen a draft. In Committee, we will no doubt debate many of the association’s concerns. My first reaction was to ask whether the association had read the planning White Paper, which clearly addresses strategic environmental assessments, environmental impact assessments and the habitats directive. It is clear, for example, that the national policy statement will have to be subject to a strategic environmental assessment. It is a very significant step forward for those of us who take the view that the national policy statement should be the foundation of our decision-making process.

I shall briefly address two issues. The first is the idea—which my noble friend Lord Hart touched on—that the adversarial process is nowadays a way of properly testing the evidence. A good cross-examination can sometimes expose overblown claims and the weaknesses in a case, but my experience is that the issues are usually clear from the beginning and that the cross-examination can often be of a variable quality; it is often tedious and hair-splitting. The perception that an individual who objects will be subject to a kind of Crown Court cross-examination is daunting to many people and will put them off. That is the very antithesis of involvement. If we expect objectors to sit through 46 months of an inquiry, for example, we are very far from the idea of involving the community in the process.

The second issue is the thorny matter of accountability, to which we will no doubt return in Committee and at further stages of the Bill. I question the value of parliamentary accountability in this process. When did the Secretary of State last personally account to Parliament for a particular decision? In reality, the accountability now for decision-making processes is through the courts. That is where the IPC will be held accountable for its actions. I support the Government on this and wish them well with the Bill.

8.38 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, like others who have spoken, I want to concentrate on the issues surrounding the two main innovations—the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the national policy statements. I do not think that any of us would disagree with the description of the present system given by the Secretary

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of State as over-complicated, bureaucratic and cumbersome. Like others, I in my past have had to take my part in that.

There is also widespread acceptance that we need a lot of new investment in large infrastructure programmes. There is no doubt of that. The central issue is how to achieve these infrastructure programmes with a swifter, less bureaucratic planning process, while retaining the accountability of those who take the decisions. Let me say straightaway that a number of the Government’s proposals are very welcome: the new single consent procedure; the new insistence on thorough pre-application consultation—that is hugely important; and the much tighter statutory timetables. But when one looks at the detail of these two major innovations, they are subject to serious controversy, both in the country and in another place.

Let me take first the national policy statements. Again, let me say that I warmly support this proposal. Anyone who has looked at planning decisions which have incorporated a ministerial recommendation—for instance, on a gas storage project that the noble Baroness may well remember—will have seen that the ministerial input was reduced to one sentence in a 12-page decision. The new statements, which are to be fewer and more authoritative, on the most significant national infrastructure needs will go a long way to dealing with that. There is a lot about this that I welcome, but the controversy surrounds the procedure whereby they are to be approved. We are told that the government statements will be subject to scrutiny by Parliament. In my view, if that is all it is—and notwithstanding the introduction at a late stage in another place of Clause 9—it will not of itself carry the credibility that is absolutely essential if these policy statements are to form the basis of major infrastructure decisions.

The procedure is not like delegated legislation—you can vote but you cannot amend it; indeed, in most cases it goes through on the nod—but is more like Select Committee reports, where detailed evidence can be taken on a wide range of subjects but all you do is make recommendations. To my mind, if national policy statements are to carry the credibility and weight they will have to have in supporting this whole process, Parliament must have to approve them in a positive vote. I should like to ask one further question: if you are going to shorten the process, would it not make sense for both Houses to operate in a joint capacity in this area rather than consideration first in one Chamber and then the other? However, what is absolutely essential is that the process must have the backing of the credibility and authority of full parliamentary assent. That is not what is proposed, but it is important that it should be.

I turn to the Infrastructure Planning Commission, an independent—there may be some question about that—appointed body of experts, and a decision-making body with the power to approve individual planning applications. It says in the White Paper and has been repeated today that its decisions will be taken,

But it is also said that the members of the commission are to be accountable to Ministers and to Parliament. One has to ask: how are they to be accountable?

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Ministers appoint the members of the commission, and that is spelt out fully in Schedule 1, but the circumstances under which they can be removed are extremely limited, being restricted to being,

How is this commission to be accountable to Ministers? If, once appointed, the members serve for the full term, is the commission not simply an unelected quango? We need more details about that, and about the commission’s accountability to Parliament. The chairman or chief executive could be hauled before a Select Committee, and that would give them an uncomfortable time, but Parliament cannot get rid of them. They can be questioned, but Parliament cannot actually get rid of them.

I am impressed by the huge amount of support that has come from a wide range of organisations that are responsible for infrastructure investment. They are in favour of the IPC process. Business, public utilities, the energy industry and the professions are all in favour, and I have a great deal of sympathy for their view. Indeed, I started out as an uncritical supporter of the IPC system. Of course all these bodies think that they are going to get their applications approved by the IPC, and it is not at all clear that that will necessarily be the case.

The noble Baroness said that we have the promise of a two-year review, which is important, and there is also a promise, to which reference has not been made, that the Government will table amendments in your Lordships’ House to allow Ministers to,

We shall have to wait to see the terms of these amendments.

My central point is that the policy statements and the IPC are not two different processes but two stages in a single process. The more parliamentary credibility that the statements have in the way that I have described, the readier one is to accept the decisions of the IPC. Conversely, if the parliamentary processes are as relatively feeble as they are, then it becomes much more difficult to accept that the final decision should be taken by the IPC.

For the moment I am reserving my position on this. There will have to be more improvements, particularly in the parliamentary handling of the policy statements and, unless we are promised stronger powers, I shall find it quite difficult—despite my predilection for it—to support the proposal for the commission. These two things hang together; accountability must be a key consideration.

8.46 pm

Lord Reay: My Lords, I declare a land-owning interest in the south-west and, more particularly, in the north-west.

The planning system we have in this country, deriving as it does from the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, is one of the great lasting achievements of the post-war Labour Government. We can all have our criticisms of it—for my part I deplore that it has not produced higher aesthetic standards of architecture and, of course,

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I am from time to time astonished by what other people have been allowed to get away with in their building—but, on the whole, the system can be said to have worked. There is public confidence in it and there is public confidence in, or at least public acceptance of, the appeals system and the planning inspectorate, which is seen to be a disinterested and professional body. The system has certainly been responsible for the remarkable degree of preservation of our countryside. Its chief defect is that it is cumbersome and slow, but broadly that is the price of winning consent.

Planning is the reconciliation of conflicting interests, and for that process time is required. Certainly there have been some notorious excesses but I would have preferred an attempt to be made to reduce the amount of time taken by inquiries under the existing system. I realise that the Bill makes some proposals in that regard and that further amendments will be put forward from this side, but the basic alternative to our present system would be one which removes or drastically reduces the scope for local opposition and permits Governments or their agents to impose solutions.

I am extremely concerned that the creation of the Infrastructure Planning Commission may be a step too far in that direction. There are great risks in setting up an entirely new system outside the planning inspectorate to consider major planning applications. What will the commission be like? Will it be a collection of interest group representatives? What will be its political bias? Will it be a foregone conclusion which way a panel will decide once the identity of the commissioners or commissioner is known? We simply do not know what its culture will be like.

Nor do I think it right that the quango should necessarily take the final decisions in place of Ministers. The only surviving accountability remaining before Parliament will be when the national policy statement is debated. Even then, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding pointed out, parliamentary approval is not required as the Bill stands. The only involvement of this House is where it adopts a resolution on the national policy statement and then the Government must respond to it. The provision for public involvement is far inferior to that which we have at present. In that regard, I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. To introduce such a system risks losing the trust of the public, with unforeseeable consequences.

I had sympathy with the leadership of my party when they stated unequivocally at Third Reading in another place that they would abolish the commission on coming to power. This is a matter on which what the Opposition say now is of great relevance. The Conservatives are extremely likely to come to power within the next two years. If the provision for the commission remains in the Bill, the Government will barely have time to establish it before the next election. Who will they get to serve on it if it faces almost immediate abolition? I realise that shadow spokesmen in this House may not feel that this is the occasion, or even the place, for that commitment to be confirmed; it is perhaps more important to establish first what the views of this House are on the IPC. Eventually, though, what the Conservative Opposition say on this subject is as important as what the Government say.

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At Second Reading in another place, the Secretary of State said that she expected 47 infrastructure projects a year to come before the commission, of which 30 might be principal and 15 ancillary, and the Minister repeated more or less the same figures today. However, it could be a great deal more than that, for there will be an incentive for promoters to scale up their projects in order to qualify for treatment by the commission rather than run the gauntlet of the planning inspector and a full public inquiry. It will be hoped by promoters, and maybe by the Government, that the commission will more or less rubber-stamp any proposal that accords with whatever government policy, as it is expressed at the time in a national policy statement, may say.

That could certainly happen in the case of wind farm applications. The Government face just as big a quandary over their wind energy policy as they do over their nuclear policy. They have committed themselves to a truly massive increase in the amount of energy to be achieved from that source to bring it up to 20 per cent or more of our electricity by 2020, involving an increase from the present approximately 2,000 turbines to some 10,000 turbines. The difference between the two energy sources is that wind-generated electricity is some two and a half times as expensive as nuclear or coal-generated electricity, and no wind farms could or would ever have been built without receiving an enormous subsidy. Indirect subsidies given to wind farm operators through the renewables obligations are currently calculated to add £1 billion a year to consumers’ electricity bills. The prospect of receiving those subsidies enables developers to offer almost irresistible sums to landowners and irresistible and highly divisive bribes to selective local interest groups.

This is not the occasion to debate the economic or political case for wind energy, but the fact is that the policy is responsible for introducing industrial machinery, in the form of turbines and the links to the grid that they require, into conspicuous positions in beautiful, unspoilt scenery. For those reasons the policy is extremely unpopular, more or less wherever an attempt is made to introduce them. It is therefore not surprising that Ministers complain that some 200 wind farm applications are currently stuck in the planning system. The Government must be desperate to speed up the rate of installation of wind farms. Although they have not talked much about it, it would be only natural if they came to see the Infrastructure Planning Commission as a means of rescuing them from their dilemma.

In conclusion, the Infrastructure Planning Commission provides a far less democratic system than what we have at present, and I am fearful of some of the uses to which it might be put. Despite yesterday’s blast from the CBI, designed to intimidate them, if the Opposition decide to stick to their guns and ensure that the commission has a very brief life, I for one shall not be too unhappy.

8.54 pm

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I propose to speak only on the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I chair. I have been authorised

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to do so by members of the committee. Our 12th report of the Session contains a number of recommendations relating to the Planning Bill, of a type which appears regularly in our reports. I will not comment on them. However, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, speaking about the national policy statement, I must say that we did not and could not comment on the appropriate procedure for that because I do not think it is technically within the definition of legislation.

I want to talk about paragraphs 21 to 25 of the report concerning Part 11, which deals with the community infrastructure levy. In doing so, I will make no comment on the merits of the CIL. There are two issues which arise. The first is the skeletal nature of Part 11, which leaves almost everything to regulations. The second is the fact that all regulations under Part 11 are to require approval by the House of Commons alone.

One reason for setting up the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee some 20 years ago was the development of the practice of presenting Bills to Parliament which contained a bare outline—a skeleton of the Government’s intentions, leaving the flesh to be filled in by statutory instruments. The committee was set up to help ensure that this did not continue. Its decision to declare a Bill, or part of a Bill, skeletal and inappropriate is infrequent. There have been five occasions when we have done so in the past 10 years, the latest being the Compensation Bill in the 2005-06 Session. When we say that a Bill—or, as here, a free-standing part of a Bill—is skeletal, that should be taken seriously. The word “inappropriate”, which we use, is, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, Lords-speak for something considerably stronger.

Part 11 is a particularly bad example of this. It contains only two effective provisions. The first is the exhaustive list of potential charging authorities in Clause 199; the second is the ceiling on criminal sentences that can be imposed by regulations in Clause 204. Everything else is left to regulations. There is a list of these in paragraph 22 of the report. How can your Lordships' House properly consider the Bill if it does not know, for example, who is to pay the CIL, which is under Clause 200; what is development for purposes of the CIL—that is in regulations, again under Clause 200; how the CIL is to be calculated, which comes under Clause 201; what is the infrastructure for the purposes of the CIL, under Clause 202; and part, at least, of the procedure for the CIL, which is in Clause 205? In 11 years of membership of your Lordships' House, I cannot remember any provisions where such an important proposal has been introduced with so much left to secondary legislation.

In its briefing, the CPRE pointed out that the CIL was not fully debated in the House of Commons—indeed, it was hardly debated at all. The RICS said in its briefing that,

Fortunately, the Government have two and a half months before the Bill goes into Committee. I hope that they will use that interval to put flesh on to the skeleton and provide enough detail to satisfy your

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Lordships' House. If not, your Lordships' House will have to give serious consideration to removing Part 11 from the Bill. I would not regard simply the publication of the proposed regulations as adequate to meet this problem. That will remain open to be amended without any approval by your Lordships' House.

The second issue is that all regulations are to be made by the affirmative procedure in the House of Commons only. That assumes that the whole of Part 11 is subject to the financial procedure and therefore to the House of Commons privilege.

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