|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
If the NPS has to be reviewed, clearly it would take as long as required, although we would try to do it quickly. The extent of the review would depend on the
16 Oct 2008 : Column 930
Following the review, the Secretary of State has some choices. She can amend, withdraw or leave the statement as it was, depending on the findings of the review. If she amended the NPS, an assessment of sustainability would have to be carried out, and there would have to be consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, unless the amendment did not materially affect the policy. There is a proper procedure, which is understood, on what reviews will involve. I hope that I have answered most of these questions; if not, perhaps the noble Earl can tell me and I shall write to him.
On Amendment No. 327 and the stand part debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, tabled a number of amendments. I have described the power of intervention set out in Clauses 105 and 106. I hope that saying a little more about the power of intervention set out in Clause 105 will address the concerns of Members of the Committee before I move on to Amendment No. 327.
Clause 105 provides that if the Secretary of State considers it necessary to review an NPS, the commission can then be directed by her to suspend its consideration of the application until the review has been completed. As I said in response to the noble Earl, that power might be used if the Secretary of State considered the NPS to be out of date, and so on. The clause is necessary to ensure that the Secretary of State has an option short of intervening. We have two clauses doing slightly different things to allow the Secretary of State, when there is a significant change in circumstances, to take the decision herself. Clause 105 gives her the other option of being able to require a review. As I explained, there is some room for manoeuvre. That means that there is some scope for proper judgment on the degree of urgency, and the tests set out in Clause 106 are clear on that.
Amendment No. 327 would expand the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can suspend the examination. The effect would be to give Ministers the right to suspend examination of, and a decision on, an application if they considered that the NPS should be reviewed before the application is decided, regardless of any change in circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, essentially asked me what change in circumstances means. It does indeed cover a change in Government. It would cover, for example, changes to the evidence on the basis of which the policy was developedsuch as a change in oil prices meaning that we would have to revise our air passenger projections. The change could be driven by a European directive. It can cover a wide range of political and other circumstances.
We are after providing a stable, long-term framework for planning and investment. We are not in the habit of making decisions on a whim. In the context of NPSs, which are supposed to be long term and robust, the phrase a change of circumstances is reasonable and not unduly restrictive.
In Clause 106, Amendments Nos. 331 and 332 would require that the Secretary of State would no longer have regard to the views of the commission when deciding whether there is an urgent need in the
16 Oct 2008 : Column 931
The cumulative effect of Amendments Nos. 327, 331 and 332 is to broaden the way in which Ministers could suspend the NPS to intervene in an application and direct the IPC to examine the application and prepare a report. However, the Bill already strikes the right balance between preserving the independence of the IPC and ensuring that appropriate safeguards exist.
In summary, the Bill provides Ministers with a power to suspend an application before the IPC and, in a limited number of circumstances, to intervene and take the decision on the application in place of the IPC, but attaches clear conditions to that. I hope that, on the basis of that explanation, Members of the Committee will be able to withdraw their amendments.
The Earl of Caithness: I listened with care to the noble Baronesss comments on this amendment as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, got me going on general elections again, which we have discussed previously. If a national policy statement can be changed as a result of a general election, the stable, long-term trends in planning decision-making which the Minister wants will be put at severe risk. I refer again to the 1997 decision on the M40 in this regard. Much discussion and consultation will have taken place on such a project and the national policy statement will have been produced. The relevant Secretary of State makes a decision that it will go ahead. However, if there is a general election six months later, the incoming Secretary of State may change the whole policy. Therefore, the national policy statement is not the effective instrument that we all hoped it might be.
Baroness Andrews: We had a brief exchange on this matter on Tuesday. The point the noble Earl makes needs to be set in the context of how the NPSs will be constructed. They are not political documents. For example, they forecast our future energy needs, where we will need to obtain it from and how we will need to store it and plan for energy diversification on the basis of the best available evidence and intelligence. A change in government comes under the heading of changes in circumstances, and it would be illogical if it did not. Nevertheless, the NPS will have sturdy foundations. You cannot change demography or geology. We will be dealing with some very fixed imperatives. Although I take the noble Earls point, the NPS will be devised and driven by what we all know needs to be done in the countrys interests on the basis of the best technical, scientific, economic and social evidence. As I say, we cannot change our demography. We cannot change our need for electricity and water. I am sure that any Government would study carefully and sensibly what the NPS advises.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I hesitate to intervene but we are raking over precisely the ground that we discussed on Tuesday, as the noble Baroness said. I do not think that we should take the matter any further tonight, but it would be wise for us to recognise that the existing limitations on the process give rise to the sort of concerns that my noble friend expressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, inadvertently initiated his nightmares. The Minister is right that these national policy statements need to be more than just political statements. However, we need to face the fact that if we want that to be the case, the existing process may not be sufficient to achieve it.
Baroness Hamwee: As regards Amendments Nos. 331 and 332, I was not suggesting that the Secretary of State should not involve the IPC when she thinks that is appropriate. However, I question its role as it is presented. As regards government Amendment No. 333, it had not occurred to me that other circumstances was code for the two-year review. The purpose of the review is to assess whether we got it right or wrong. That is not a change in circumstances; it is a change in judgment. I may want to return to that, but I will certainly not pursue it tonight.
Baroness Hamwee: The noble Baroness asked whether I would withdraw my amendment, but my noble friend is mischief making. I know that he has a train to catch, so he would not really thank me if I did pursue it tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page