With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 264, in clause 50, page 26, line 6, at end insert—
‘(7A) The publicity of the application shall include, as a minimum, advertising the application for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper circulating in the locality of the application and in the Gazette.’.
No. 265, in clause 50, page 26, line 6, at end insert—
‘(7B) The application shall be made available for inspection by the public at a reasonably convenient location within the vicinity of the application site and on a website.
(7C) The public may obtain paper and electronically recorded copies of the application for no more than the cost of copying the material.’.
No. 266, in clause 50, page 26, line 10, at end insert—
‘(8A) The deadline referred to in subsection (8) shall be not less than 28 days from the first publication of notice of the application.’.
Never let me be accused of being inconsistent, Mr. Illsley.
Amendment No. 179 relates to the time periods available to objectors in notifying the commission of their objection. The Bill as drafted specifies 28 days. For the reasons that we discussed earlier, and may well return to, that may be too short a period.
I am mindful that the IPC’s work load will be about 40 applications a year and it may well increase. I would hate it to become very busy, as lots of applications are submitted in mid to late December and late July, so people in the community receive notifications at a time of year when they may be otherwise occupied. That might sound as if I am cynical and deeply suspicious of these processes, but my reading of the Bill is that the notification period in clause 50(5) is not up for negotiation with the commission, but is set by the applicants themselves.
I find it rather odd that the applicant decides how long people have to register an objection, but if that is to be the case, 28 days is overly generous to them in dictating that period. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter again. It is very important, as it is a real opportunity for people whose concerns have not been met at the pre-application stage to get involved at the application stage, and to ensure that all the evidence that they have to bring to bear is put forward. It is a crucial question, and I hope that he will be slightly less rigid at this juncture.
I do not disagree with the principle of the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am always willing to try to be an honest broker between him and the Minister. If we split the difference in this case, between 28 and 56, we do indeed arrive at 42 days. That is perhaps the only logical justification for 42 days that I have yet heard since it was produced. We may have answered the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon, and found a reason, for once, for the figure of 42 days which is principled as well as pragmatic.
I wish to make a different, although related, point on our amendments, moving from the time aspect to minimum standards of publicity for the application. As anyone who has looked at good practice in the planning field will know, we have adapted what is good practice anyway—giving two consecutive weeks’ notice in the local newspaper and the Gazette, ensuring that it is posted up in a reasonably convenient location, because one can imagine a large rural area where getting to the local civic centre is quite a trek for people, and recognising the right to obtain copies at a reasonable cost. None of that is in the slightest bit onerous to an applicant for the sort of applications that we are considering. Perhaps the Government intend that those things should happen in practice, but our amendments spell out more specifically rights that are valuable, especially to the individual concerned. They do not harm the scheme of the Bill either.
Even at an advanced hour, there is occasionally the opportunity for a degree of flexibility and charity. I know that the Minister is a charitable man at heart. The amendments would be a concession to the smaller people, which would do no harm at all to the Government’s objectives, and would not hurt anyone. Against that background, I hope that he reflects favourably on them.
We are breaking some interesting political ground this afternoon. The Tories are triangulating and trying to stake out common middle ground, and the Liberal Democrats are being consistent.
I agree with that it is important that people who are affected by an application have suitable and sufficient time to formulate any representation that they want to make to the IPC. As things stand, I believe that 28 days is the appropriate length of time for interested parties to do that. I will try to explain why.
First, let us not forget that, by the time an interested party is formally notified of an application, they are likely to know a great deal about the proposals in the application. It is highly unlikely that it will be the first that they have heard about it, or that it will be the first time that they turn their mind to it. Instead, the application process will have been preceded by an extensive period of consultation and discussion at the pre-application stage, which we considered in part 5. By the time an application is submitted, people who may be affected will be well aware of any problems that they could have with it. In that context, 28 days is an appropriate length of time for them to respond. Of course, the period can be longer if the applicant thinks it necessary.
As the hon. Gentleman said, amendments Nos. 264 to 266 would put some minimum standards for publicising an application in the Bill. I ask him to bear it in mind that the Bill already allows for the Secretary of State to make more detailed regulations about how publicity should be carried out. In particular, subsection (7) gives the Secretary of State powers to prescribe minimum standards for publicity and notification.
Amendment No. 266 would impose a deadline of at least 28 days, by which representations relating to an application must be submitted. That would apply to those who are not notified directly by the applicant, but who respond to the publicity. Regulations are better placed to deal with the issue in a more detailed way, and they will do so. We have deliberately allowed for flexibility in the regulations under subsection (8) so that the deadlines by which people must make their representations take account of different circumstances. I give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that we have no intention of using that flexibility to set a deadline of fewer than 28 days.
Will the Minister also assure me that the type of issues covered in amendments Nos. 264 and 265 are the sort of things that regulations should cover?
I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurance that there will be further regulation on these matters. I understood that subsection (8) related to the form of publicity, but if the Minister is saying that in determining that, greater consideration will be given to the time frame, it is very helpful. The process must be seen to be fair and objectors might find it somewhat odd if it were the applicant setting the period for response rather than the commission. However, on the basis of the Minister’s assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.