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Clause 86 already requires the examining authority to invite any interested party to a preliminary meeting, including statutory parties, anyone with an interest in the land, or anyone who has made a relevant representation. Clause 54 requires that where the commission accepts an application, the applicant must notify relevant authorities and so onall the people set out in Clause 55and has to publicise that. That will ensure that potentially interested parties are made aware that an application has been accepted
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Amendment No. 291 on people with an interest in land makes the same case. It seeks to ensure that they have a right to participate in the examination as interested parties. In the other place the Minister for local government said that Clause 99 already includes a provision for the Secretary of State to prescribe persons as being statutory parties, who will automatically be interested parties. We intend that persons who have an interest in land which the applicant proposes to acquire should be prescribed as statutory parties for the purposes of regulation under Clause 92.
as well as the consideration of oral representations. We do not think it appropriate to require that a site visit be carried out in all cases. We are talking, not least, about offshore wind farms here, and I am not sure what the panel would expect. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Reay, is not present. I am sure that we could arrange a visit to an offshore wind farm for him. However, the Bill provides the examining authority with the flexibility to use other methods to support their examination. Nothing rules out a site visit.
Amendment No. 280 states that the deadline for notice of an open-floor hearing must be at least 56 days. We would expect to specify this sort of procedural deadline in regulations and not in primary legislation. That is the standard practice and it means that we can adjust the rules in the light of experience. We will look closely at this issue but I do not think that a deadline of 56 days is necessary. As I have set out elsewhere, because the Bill improves pre-application processes and so on, I do not think that it is realistic to require the commission to give 56 days notice. It is simply the deadline for registering the wish to appear before, and give evidence to, the panel.
Amendment No. 275I am coming to the endwould require the examining authority to publish all written representations. That will be dealt with in regulations under Clause 95. I assure the Committee that we intend that written representations should be made available to interested parties. That is key to the process and we will have to think how best to do that.
I have rattled through a lot of very important and detailed amendments relating to an important part of the Bill. I hope that noble Lords will feel reassured that we have thought very seriously about the content of the Bill and about what we are trying to achieve. We have provided a lot of opportunity for open and direct representation on the floor through oral representation and, exceptionally, cross-examination, supported by written examination, and we have provided the capacity for the IPC to do an extremely good job in challenging and testing the evidence.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I apologise to the Committee for not having been here for the first part of the debate on this group of amendments. The speed at which the previous three or four groups were dealt with took me by surprise. I am having to wrestle with the Energy Bill as well.
This is a very important issue and I want to make just a couple of points. Noble Lords may remember that when the M11 extension was designed to pass through my former constituency of Wanstead and Woodford in north-east London, there was the most terrible hoo-ha. People from outside who had nothing to do with the constituency formed what they called the Wanstonia Free State and tried to take possession of the green in the middle of Wanstead. My own constituents were totally satisfied because the then Government had decided to put a tunnel under part of Wanstead, and they simply wanted them to get on with it. I think that that was a total abuse of the system, with all those people turning up to public inquiry after public inquiry. It is that process that I believe this Bill is intended to prevent.
In contrast to that are the public inquiries that have been held into the extension of Stansted Airport, initially by increasing the number of flights on the existing runway, although I have no doubt that eventually there will be an application for a second runway. It is very difficult to see how you can limit that because all the villages have a direct interest in what is happening. Many of them will expect compensation for injurious affection as well as those who will have their land taken. It seems that somehow the procedure has to draw a distinction between them.
I have studied the Bill and see the various categories 1, 2 and 3, to which I am sure reference has been made, of the people who are entitled to be regarded as interested partiesa phrase used by the noble Baroness. There is no definition of interested party as such but there has to be a way of excluding total outsiders from demanding to be heard. I hope that the noble Baroness will confirm that that is what the Bill is seeking to do. That has given rise to so much delay, hassle and legalistic activities on behalf of organisations that represent people all over the country.
I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Baroness has been saying about all the opportunities for people to have their say before hearings in front of the commission, but I have seen how the existing system can be so grievously abused by people who are making political points rather than challenging the significance of the development in hand. I want to be sure that the Bill will draw the distinction between what I call the Wanstead situation, which was a massive abuselike the Wantage by-passon the one hand, and the Stansted applications on the other. I am not entirely satisfied that that balance has yet been struck.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: I am sorry to detain the Committee when it probably wants to shut up shop, but I have to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. It is in the nature of the kinds of projects that are likely to be covered by this
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Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention, but much of that will have taken place at the earlier stage when the national planning statements set out the policy. Various procedures set out in the Bill, which we discussed at earlier sittings, give ample opportunity for interests such as the noble Baroness is describing to make their case to the authorities. That is one of the reasons why ultimately it has to be a decision of Parliament to approve the national planning statements. Once you are at the commission taking individual applications, the work that is done through the national planning statement must not be duplicated.
The Minister said that it is a seamless road between the two stages. I have argued the same, but they have their separate functions. We are discussing the second stagethe commission stage. I am not sure that I wholly agree with the noble Baroness who said that the national interests could take part in that.
Baroness Hamwee: The Minister has already responded, but I think there will be an opportunity at the next stage to discuss the matters raised by the noble Lord and answered by the noble Baroness. They both made important points about what should happen at what stage. I am rather more towards the noble Baroness on the spectrum.
To pick up what the Minister said, I shall say again that I do not dispute the assurances that she gave, that the Minister with responsibility for local government gave in the Commons and what is stated in the Bill about it being possible for there to be oral representations and cross-examination. The Minister used the term intimidating and referred to those with deep pockets having a loud say. That is not the thrust of my amendments, in particular Amendment No. 283 about testing evidence. She said that this comes at the end of the process. That is exactly my point. What will often have to be tested are fact and technical matters. There are grey areas where technicalities may merge from fact into opinion. I am not talking about the eloquence of the arguments but about establishing facts. If all experts agreedwell, it is never going to happen. The Minister referred to guidance. Guidance will not take precedence over the primary legislation, which is why I am so concerned about the term exceptionally. To use her language, I am sure that at the next stage we will probe, assess and I suspect test
Baroness Andrews: I shall reply very briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I have some sympathy with the way the argument has flowed across the Chamber. It is essential that we treat everyone equally in the light of their right to be heard. The IPC will have a means of dealing with vexatious processes, but the noble Lord was right that we expect the national debate by and large to be swept up in the debate on the NPS. What the local application does, in a way that has not been achieved in any of our public inquiry processes so far, is identify the role of the local voice. It gives statutory consultee status to local authorities and makes sure that there is a local impact report. My noble friend is right that these are nationally significant projects, but they will sit in a local community. It is important that that local community feels it owns that process. There is no way that in a democracy one can exclude people from making their voices heard. We have tried to design a process that balances efficiency and rights. Through the pre-application process, the preliminary hearing and the engagement with promoters, we expect local people to have a close and intense engagement. There will be a balance of interests to be served.
In relation to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, I stand by what I said. I think that in a range of ways, not least the ability of the IPC to bring in people, if it so chooses, to do the questioning for it, she is absolutely right, and I would not assume for a moment that anything that I said about the exclusive nature was the thing that she was primarily concerned with. She was concerned, as were the lawyers, about the efficacy of the process and its ability to tease out and challenge the nature of the technical evidence so that the best judgments are made. I believe that the IPC, as it will evolve, will be able to do that in a way that does not exclude people being heard on the floor of the process and does not deliver them into the hands of people who speak for them. People must speak for themselves, ask their own questions and feel that they are in charge of the process in a way that they are not at the moment.
Lord Dixon-Smith: The noble Baroness has dealt with her usual conscientiousness with a difficult area of the Bill. She has been of considerable help, so the debate has been well worth having. I am bound to say that my noble friend Lord Jenkin and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, precisely illustrated the dilemma that we all face at this point. We are having to make a judgment on a new process that we have not seen. The noble Baroness is quite right: it will constrain the content and proceedings of the sort of inquiry that the IPC members will run in the way that it has not previously been constrained by the current planning inquiry system. We need to think quite carefully what we are about.
I was going to apologise to the noble Baronesswho has had to make a quick call elsewherefor bowling the question of an independent cross-examiner, rather
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This has been a very interesting and useful debate. As I said, in her response, the noble Baroness has given us some help. We will have to go away and study very carefully what she said, compare it with what our advisers are telling us and see how much we want to take further. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My amendments are consequential on earlier amendments that we have not yet pressed and which are therefore not part of the Bill, so it is not particularly helpful to refer to them at this time. I do not intend to speak to them in any detail.
Amendment No. 317 would limit the amount of time that we would give the Secretary of State to take a decision after the IPC had made a recommendation. We seek to compare what can be done if we start using parliamentary procedures with what might happen if we finish up in the courts. We can perfectly practically limit the time that we take as politicians and administrators, but there is no way that I know of, or would be prepared to see, of trying in a Act of Parliament to limit the time that the courts might choose to take over an issue. We would be getting on to very improper ground if we did so.
That is the background to this group of amendments, and I do not intend to fill out any more of the detail at this stage. They are self-explanatory, but they depend on other amendments that have not been pressed, so there is no point in spending more time on them and I shall not take the matter any further forward. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 303 may look as though it relates to the longish debate that we have just had, but it does not quite do so. It probes how the IPC is to take evidence for the purposes of Clause 101(4), (5) and (6), which are about the commission being satisfied that deciding an application in accordance with the relevant national policy statement would lead to the UK being in breach of its international obligations or a statutory duty or be otherwise unlawful. I know that these subsections were inserted after debate in the Commons. I do not challenge the underlying notions, but I am curious as to how the IPC will come to the
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Amendment No. 316 would apply to Clause 102(2)(c). The logical sequence is for the IPC to consider the relevance of a matter. In the context of the relevance, it then considers the importance, but that does not need to be said. One clearly has to have regard to the status of a particular issue. To word it this way aroundto consider the importance firstis confusing and possibly misleading. It perhaps proposes a way of dealing with things with which I would not agree.
Lord Judd: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 301A and 306A. I do not in any way seek to challenge the importance of national policy statements, but rather to ensure that the provisions already laid out in other detailed planning documentation are also considered by the IPC. As national policy statements will almost certainly be economically focused and demand driven, they could present an unbalanced view. In order to redress that imbalance, I therefore propose that the existing planning policy statements, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, and covering such fundamental thematic areas as sustainable development, housing, rural areas and biodiversity, should also be considered a key material consideration for the IPC. As important as the planning statements at national level are the local planning policies in the local development plan covering regional spatial strategy and the local development framework. I am convinced that these should be explicitly part of the Infrastructure Planning Commissions deliberations.
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