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I picked up on the same words that were used by the Minister as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, did, when the Minister said that the regulations would add or remove nothing, but would preserve the status quo. Indeed, the Minister in the Commons said:
"The SI does nothing more than ensure that the statutory planning framework that applies under the current system continues".-[Official Report, Commons, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 27/1/10; col. 10.]
Is there "nothing less" as well as "nothing more"? The "nothing less" is important. I seek the assurance that no other requirements would apply under the Town and Country Planning Act regime rather than the IPC regime, as it is now. The Minister has made it clear that any changes in the future that applied right across the board would have to come in through the same mechanism. I wish to be quite clear that there are no other requirements to which local planning authorities and inspectors would have to have regard, or that would be binding on them.
Another way of putting this question is: do the regulations simply tidy up, or might other matters at this date have to be prescribed under Sections 104 and 105 of the Planning Act 2008? We said during consideration of that legislation that getting a decision right was more important than deciding something quickly. I shall not rehearse again the arguments that we had then or the arguments about the Infrastructure Planning Commission. My colleagues in the Commons opposed this statutory instrument when they debated it because of wider concerns about the IPC, so I suppose that I respond to these regulations with very modified rapture.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I reassure the Minister that I intend to make a very much shorter speech than I did last week when he and I confronted each other about the carbon emissions target scheme. Like my noble friend Lord Bates, I have one or two questions.
However, I shall preface them with one remark. I have rarely read as silly a leading article as that in the Times last week about the Infrastructure Planning Commission. It was treated as a joke that is wasting everybody's time and money. I do not share that view. Some of us were privileged to have a good meeting with Sir Michael Pitt recently, which I set up, and we were very impressed by the way in which he is setting
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I am satisfied that the arrangements that will be in place in due course if there is a change of government will preserve much of the essence of what is involved in the Planning Act, although there will be changes necessary to reflect the policy. For the Times to suggest as it did that the whole thing was a complete farce and a waste of time struck me as being the silliest article I have read in that newspaper for a long time. I would like to think that that message might reach Sir Michael Pitt.
Are there any other statutory instruments that have not yet been, but which might be laid to come into effect by 1 March when the system is due to start? I totally understand what the Minister said in explaining why these regulations are necessary for the purposes of the four matters mentioned in the body of the measure, but are we expecting any more?
My second question follows from that. The Minister referred to a number of other matters that are automatically applied to the IPC because they apply to things such as Ministers and other public bodies. Is the department producing for the IPC and the applicants a list of all these things to which the IPC must "have regard to"? Those are the words in the regulations. The applicants to the IPC will have to do a great deal of preparatory work, for instance in consultation, before they can submit their applications to the IPC for unified consent. It would be highly desirable to have a clear guide for them on all matters, not just in this statutory instrument but in the others to which the Minister referred. He made it perfectly clear in his speech that this was not an exhaustive list. There must be a large number of other matters to which the IPC has to have regard, stemming from earlier legislation that applies to the town and country planning system generally. It may be that sufficiently experienced advisers can be employed to draw up the list, but I cannot help feeling that it would help the purpose that the Government have in mind if such a list for the applicants could be provided. It may exist somewhere on a website, but I would like reassurance that there will be something of that sort.
As I understand my party's proposals on this-they have not yet been fully published-it is intended that much of the same procedure for the application should be applied. However, the main, very important difference is that the IPC would not make the decision. The decision would be taken by the Secretary of State, who is, after all, accountable to Parliament. No doubt these things will become clearer. I am only a humble Back-Bencher and I do not have much to do with
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I am in no doubt that there will need to be further legislation if the proposals are to be implemented. However, that does not affect the carrying over of existing legislation that already applies in the Town and Country Planning Act to applications which are being considered by the IPC, or perhaps by its successor. That seems to me to be important, but I come back to my question, will there be a comprehensive list of all those matters to which the IPC has to have regard? The applicants would find that very helpful.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister responds, the noble Lord has just referred to meeting Sir Michael Pitt. I would not like him to think that the praise and admiration for the work he is doing comes from only one part of this House. Colleagues and I also met him and were extremely impressed. We were particularly reassured by how much of his local government experience was clearly being carried over to his approach to the relevant work. Therefore, nothing that we have to say is intended in any way as an attack on his operation of the system-quite the contrary. We very much support the way he is going about the work.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have primarily focused on the detail of this measure, notwithstanding the declared and well recognised position of the respective parties in respect of the thrust of the legislation. I am afraid that I did not have the joy of participating in that legislation in any extensive way.
I shall try to answer each of the questions that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, talked about the democratic deficit, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, also referred. This was a well-trodden area when the legislation was debated. We believe it is important that that democratic component comes into play when the national policy statements are being constructed, debated and consulted on. We believe that is a very important component of the new arrangements.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I entirely understand that the noble Lord did not take part in the debates on the Planning Bill when it was going through this House. Of course, the national policy statements have to be
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. He is correct: both Houses will have the opportunity to scrutinise NPSs, and I understand the point he makes in respect of the role of that scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, said that the primary legislation is somehow defective because we are now picking up things that need to be included in the order. It would not have been appropriate to amend these matters in the Bill. It was always intended that the detailed matters of the current framework would be applied in this way. These matters are detailed, and primary legislation sets the framework only. That is not uncommon in legislation; it is not only in planning legislation.
The noble Lord asked whether the adversarial or the inquisitorial method is better. The new system will provide objectors with opportunities to have their views heard. Examinations under the new process will be structured in an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial manner. Panels of commissioners will proactively examine and test the evidence before them. This will not only speed up the process of examining applications, but will improve the analysis of the key issues, allowing the commission to focus its examination on the key points and test them thoroughly. The new system also means that the debate about national need will not feature in the examination process. It will be established by the relevant national policy statement.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: It is a statement of fact, but if the noble Lord feels it could have been better worded, I accept his point. The key point seem to be to be clear on what the system is meant to produce and why it is an improvement on the current arrangements.
The noble Lord also asked what the reference to proposals being properly prepared meant and whether that was in contrast to the current arrangements. The Planning Act requires applications to be consulted on before an application comes to the IPC. We believe that this allows issues, especially big ones, to be addressed before examination, so far as possible. The current system sometimes allows issues to arise during examination that could have been better addressed earlier.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, asked whether the consultation threw up any new issues appropriate for this SI. The Government have undertaken an extensive review of legislation to ensure that this SI catches everything it should. As far as it can be known, the SI is comprehensive. I know that does not deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about a list of everything that it is necessary for the IPC to have regard to, and I shall come on to that point in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about other instruments to be laid. Everything that needs to be laid to be in place on 1 March has already been laid, including the order before us today. Several further regulations are planned for publication in the coming year. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has had a chance to study the route map to the IPC that we published in October, which sets out the programme for its introduction and beyond.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I understand that it may be updated again. It is accurate as of today,
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The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked whether the department was producing for applicants a complete list of the have-regards that will apply. We will consider whether guidance needs to be given on this, and will discuss the matter with the IPC. I take the thrust of the noble Lord's point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether there was any more. The answer is that there is not: everything that we are aware of is covered. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, asked whether the inquisitorial rather than adversarial approach indicated a behind-the-scenes stitch-up. I do not believe that that is a fair and proper description.
I note the reference by the noble Lords, Lord Bates and Lord Jenkin, to the role as they see it of the Secretary of State, who would have a decision-making role with the IPC if an NPS was not in place, but not otherwise.
I hope that I have dealt with every point that has been raised. If I have not, I would encourage noble Lords to ask again. If they do not, I will take the opportunity to say that this is an important change to how we proceed with major infrastructure projects. Noble Lords will be aware of data and statistics showing how long it has taken some major projects to come to fruition through the existing planning process. There is a crying need for change, and this order is part of delivering that. I hope that noble Lords will support it.
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