Inquiries and Hearings

Orders of the Day — Transport and Works Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 20th February 1992.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:45 pm, 20th February 1992

I beg to move, amendment No.113 in page 6, line 19, after `heard', Insert subject to section 11(7) below.'.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this is will be convenient to take the following amendments: No.114, in page 6, line 20, at end insert— `(2A) The Secretary of State may give a person who makes an objection in accordance with rules under section 10 assistance with legal and administrative costs incurred before, during and after an appearance before a person appointed by the Secretary of State.'. No. 115, in page 6, line 34, at end insert `and (c) any community or environmental group which is representative of any local authority area in which works authorised by the proposed order are to be carried out;'. No. 116, in page 6, line 35, leave out 'paragraph (a)' and insert 'paragraphs (a) and (c)'.

No. 117, in page 6, line 38, at end insert 'and for the purposes of paragraph (c) above, community and environmental group means conservation, archaelogical, art or environmental or similar group.'.

No. 118, in page 7, line 4, at end add— `(7) No person shall be appointed by the Secretary of State without approval being sought from the community and environmental groups under section 11(4)(c).'.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Such is the bizarre nature of our business that I sprinted over to the House an hour ago thinking it was time to move my amendment. I have had time to watch two television programmes since then.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

The hon. Gentleman should have been listening to the debate.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I have been in and out of the Chamber.

The amendments have three interrelated aims. Amendment Nos. 113 and 115 attempt to widen the number of people who are consulted about an application. Amendment No. 114 seeks to give groups financial assistance when they appear before a public inquiry. Amendment No. 118 will give the local community some say in the selection of inspectors at a public inquiry. I hope that it is clear to the House that the theme which connects the amendments is a desire to give community groups a greater say in planning applications.

Traditionally, much of the private business that has gone through the House has been of relevance to London Members. One of the strongest arguments against changing the procedures governing that business and transferring much of it from the House is that we spend a great deal of time dealing with railway and underground legislation that has specific relevance to Members representing London. The King's Cross Railways Bill, for example, has occupied much of the House's time.

I have been here for nine years, and in most of that time, we have passed one or more private Bills that have affected Southwark and Bermondsey. It is often a difficult battle to try to get the legislation right and to force the promoters to accept a change. Therefore, in many senses the idea of replacing a parliamentary debate and Committee stage in two Houses with a public inquiry is a welcome one. However, the proposal has defects, and I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to my amendments.

I listened to the earlier debate about the timetable to which the Government are working. I noted that the Minister was careful not to talk about the timetable in the other place. I understand that the Government are not keen to accept amendments in this place, but I hope that if the Minister considers that they contain good ideas, he will redraft them and re-present them as Government amendments tabled in another place.

8.15 pm

Amendment No. 115 would add to clause 11 as another category eligible to give evidence at a hearing any community or environmental group which is representative of any local authority area in which works authorised by the proposed order are to be carried out". The amendment is designed to ensure that such groups are included in any inquiry, but that those groups have links with the area in question. A traditional complaint about public inquiries is that too many interest groups try to muscle in. Often those groups may represent general environment and community interests, but have no specific area interest.

Under the Bill as it stands, the only people to be consulted are those directly affected by the compulsory acquisition of land under application and the local authority. I want to make it abundantly clear, by adding a third category, that area community groups should also be included.

I have sought to define what I mean by environmental and community groups in amendment No. 117, which lists them as any conservation, archaeological, art or environmental or similar group. Such groups should exist within the relevant local authority area that is affected by a prescribed order.

Sometimes community groups feel that their local authority does not adequately represent their views—some feel that more strongly than others. The London Underground Bill is now in another place between its Committee and Report stages. When the Bill was in Committee in this House, the tenants association of the Canada estate of Rotherhithe petitioned the Committee and sought to persuade it that there was a risk to the well-being and structure of the estate if the line ran directly under it. The association managed to secure the agreement of the Committee that a survey should be carried out.

The tenants association then put its case to the Committee in the other place—I was witness at both Committees. It did not succeed in persuading that Committee, and it felt that one of the reasons for that failure was that the local authority, Southwark, withdrew its original petition of support. As a consequence of that decision, the tenants association felt let down and felt that it could not rely on the authority.

It would be a bad state of affairs if the only way in which community groups could be represented was via a local authority that, for one reason or another, might not want to represent their interests.

The other simple purpose of the amendments is to ensure that those groups who represent certain interests are those that relate to the specific area affected. The Minister will be aware of the Thameslink proposal which will cross London north to south. That proposal will have severe implications in terms of demolition around the Borough market in Southwark by London Bridge station. Listed buildings, including the hop exchange in Southwark street, are also under threat.

The residents association in the Southwark cathedral area has been conscientious in looking after the interests of the area, as has the North Southwark community development group. Their concern about that Bill rightly prompted the suggestion that this Bill could be amended in this way. They speak for many groups around the country in relation to many Bills or public inquiries. I hope that their case will be heard.

Amendment No. 114 deals with financial assistance. As the Minister and his Department know, local groups often cannot hire professionals to pay for promotional expertise to present their case. Extremely high costs are often involved in public inquiries. People lose wages or salaries through taking time off work and community groups must pay for documents that provide evidence. The amendment seeks to build in an entitlement to financial assistance.

I recently asked the Minister's Department whether the families of those who died and those who survived the Marchioness tragedy could have legal assistance in giving evidence to the inquiry on river safety that the Government have announced. So far, the answer has been no. The families feel aggrieved about that.

The fact that people do not have financial assistance in planning inquiries is a common cause of complaint. It is a great unfairness because on one side there are public authorities, Government Departments, British Rail and London Underground; on another there are private companies to which huge amounts of money are available, and sometimes rich individuals; a third group is composed of individuals, often on low incomes, or community groups with no significant resources, representing areas where the residents have low incomes. It is about time we had a fair system, and this would be an appropriate time to achieve one.

On amendment No. 118, one of the problems of the public inquiry system is that no one other than the Secretary of State has a say about who the inspector should be. I do not wish to complain about any particular inspector. In my nine years as an MP, I have been to many public inquiries and I did so in my previous job. However, there should be some arrangement to ensure that, where possible, there is consultation on the inspector and that a list of possible inspectors is available, in the same way as we have lists of approved contractors for local authorities. In that way, inquiries could be made to ensure that the inspector meets the approval of the community as a whole.

All inspectors could then be approved and selected. Just as in industrial tribunals, where trade unions and employers each traditionally nominate a member and there is an independent member, so there should be some say in ensuring that the planning inspectorate is fair and representative.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

In tribunals, people cannot pick those who will hear their case. They may be part of an organisation that helps to nominate people, but they cannot have their unfair dismissal case heard if people are allocated.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

That is a perfectly valid point, but there is a difference. Represented groups at tribunals participate in the process, whereas there is no participation process in relation to Government-appointed inspectors, and no one else has a say.

If we are in favour of open planning processes, giving the only right to appoint an inspector to the Government of the day cannot be the fairest way to proceed. The amendment seeks to suggest a fairer way. I should be grateful for a positive response from the Minister to that amendment, as to the others. I am ever hopeful, and I hope that, even if the Minister cannot give me all that I seek now, he will say that it can be achieved before the Bill is enacted.

Mr. McLoughlin: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). He will be holding his breath for a long time if he is waiting for a positive response to the points that he has raised today. I was a little surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman's admission that he had come to the Chamber an hour earlier and, on seeing that his amendments were nowhere near being reached, went to watch television rather than following the progress of the Bill. This is the first time that the hon. Gentleman has made an appearance at the Bill's Committee or Report stages. For those of us who have been following the Bill from the outset, it comes as a surprise that the hon. Gentleman expects a positive response.

On amendment No. 114, the case for the public funding of objectors attending public inquiries has been presented many times in recent years. However, the Government remain of the view that those participating in public inquiries can reasonably be expected to meet their own costs. Although local objectors have every right to express their individual or collective views in defence of their interests, it would not be right to provide public funds for that purpose. Any funding scheme would involve a process of selection that could give rise to an accusation of bias and call into question the Secretary of State's impartiality in deciding the schemes. That could arise either from the Secretary of State's choosing to distribute funds among objectors or because he was seen to be favouring objectors over prospective developers.

Furthermore, to make an exception for the purpose of the Bill from the long-established policy against paying objectors' costs would be an undesirable precedent with potentially far-reaching implications. It would inevitably lead to similar claims being made by objectors at public inquiries into other work schemes, and the scale of the potential costs to the taxpayer is self-evident.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Is not the Minister in a good position as regards clause 10? Happily, the Committee amended clause 10 to allow him to make a statutory instrument subject to anulment. Subsection (5) says: Rules under this section may make different provision for different cases". That means that rules can be a useful guide and could be set as a statutory instrument. Therefore, the Secretary of State would not be seen to be being dragged into individual allocations. Assistance would be provided according to rules and he could then single out, under the rules, poverty-stricken tenants groups, for example, and exclude the fat cats from the corporations who wish to object. That would create a basis of fairness.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I am not sure whether that is a commitment that Labour Members may want to make. I have expressed the Government's position—we do not see funds being made available for those cases. The hon. Gentleman may be right. As the Bill stands, the hon. Gentleman could increase public expenditure in that area and those cases if he so wished.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

If the Minister is conceding defeat at this early stage in the election proceedings, that is a significant matter. Perhaps he should be back in his constituency knocking on a few doors in case the defeat washes him away.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I am fairly confident that those schemes for objectors will not be funded for a considerable time, irrespective of the outcome of the general election, whenever it may happen. We serve no useful purpose by debating the outcome of an election. No one knows what will happen, but I am fairly confident that we shall remain on this side of the Chamber and the Opposition will remain on theirs.

I should like to explain to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey the advantages of the Bill as opposed to the old system of private Bills. Groups will not have to prove locus standi, and the costs of appearing at a public inquiry are far lower than those of appearing in Parliament. The Bill will give many more opportunities to groups that wish to present a case to a public inquiry than the present private Bill procedure does. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

The other amendments seek to establish a statutory role for community groups. How can a community group represent a local authority area? That is a job for a local authority and Members of Parliament. I was surprised at the hon. Gentleman's somewhat dismissive attitude towards what the Southwark authority had done, bearing in mind that the Liberal Democrats usually stand so firm behind the rights of local councillors, and state that they are the best people to make decisions, come what may. He does not seem to want to follow that policy through.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 8:30 pm, 20th February 1992

I do not want to enter a party political debate. However, local authorities may or may not do a good job—they are not normally representative due to the electoral system, but we cannot do anything about that. Members of all parties, including Liberal Democrats, make the perfectly valid argument that community groups and voluntary sector groups should be able to speak separately from the local authorities, as they may have different interests.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

Amendment No. 115 states: any community or environmental group which is representative of any local authority area in which works authorised by the proposed order are to be carried out". I have to go by what the amendment states, not by what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey may have meant it to mean. Earlier, I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) say that he understood why the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey wished to divorce his remarks from those of Tower Hamlets council—I can understand that.

Amendment No. 118 seeks a role for community groups for vetting the appointment of inspectors. That is absolute madness and clearly wrong. It is of the utmost importance to uphold the impartiality of inspectors. Inquiries have to be fair, and be seen to be fair, by all those involved, including the promoters. That position could not be sustained if appointments were subject to the approval of specific groups on one side of the argument or the other.

Inspectors are chosen for their experience in dealing with the subject matter and their availability. I know of no instance where the selection of inspectors has been controversial. The hon. Gentleman will next be saying that the prosecution should have a vetting right over a judge in a court case. I do not think that his suggestion stands up to scrutiny, and I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I shall take the last point first. The Minister chose the wrong analogy. In a court, the defendant has the right to challenge members of the jury, who are the people who make the decision.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

No, that is the fallacy. The Whip is making a fallacious point. It is not the judge who makes the decision, but the jury, who can be challenged. The defendant has to put up with whichever magistrate he or she is given. However, I am trying to find the best system for planning inquiries.

On the Minister's rejection of my point about community groups, he either does not understand or does not want to understand that a local authority interest is often different from the interests of those who are representative of an area that is smaller than that of the local authority. In authorities with thousands of residents —for example, Tower Hamlets or Southwark—all the residents will not necessarily have the same view. Those living around Southwark cathedral, or Rotherhithe, or Surrey docks, or Bow or Poplar will not necessarily have the same views.

The Minister has put his case clearly. If the Government hold to that view, the community and voluntary sectors will study their policies with interest. I think that they will become much more sympathetic to the Opposition's argument on the future of the planning system and will react adversely to the Conservative view.

The Minister said that the Government are not willing to fund people who otherwise might find it difficult to raise the money. It may or may not be cheaper to take time off work to attend and prepare for a public inquiry than to take time off to prepare for a Committee in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. I do not necessarily think that it would be. The same expenses are generally incurred. Lay people often have to battle against lawyers, and the process is unfair.

It is typical of all parts of the Tory Government to want to preserve the status quo that is to the advantage of those who are well-off, with resources, and to the disadvantage of those who are less well-off and who do not have resources. I leave it to those who read the debate and are interested in the subject to decide. As always, the Tory party is never willing to look at ways of making the system fairer, when given such a golden opportunity to do so.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

I wish to say something about the hon. Gentleman's speech before he goes back to watching television, or whatever he was doing before the debate.

My experience of reading inspectors' reports is that inspectors are often affected by what ordinary people say on their own behalf, which is a good sign of confidence in the system. Inspectors prove far more challenging opponents of those who are professionally represented, and often gain modifications in the proposals of public authorities. One person, without much experience of appearing before public inquiries, can come and say what their interest is and what they would consider a better proposal. Sometimes, people want to build bridges worth half a million pounds so that a farmer's divided land can be united, or want to move part of the Dartford-Thurrock bridge, or make some other adaptation because of the location of someone's house. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to make partisan points and betray the fact that he thinks that there will soon be an election.

The Bill is designed to make life easier for ordinary people. If people read the report of the debate, I hope that they will have the confidence to make objections or put their argument at any form of hearing, and find that they are well represented and receive a good hearing.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

It would be a good idea to study amendment No. 114 to see whether it is possible to provide for minimal costs for people appearing before the Minister or an inquiry. I realise that there could be a problem, as other similar inquiries could then be said to justify such expenditure. However, it is worth keeping that point in mind when considering the procedure.

I do not agree that various groups should vet the inspector. That would prompt accusations of partiality if the inspector were to be approved by one side. The other side might well argue that, as the inspector had been approved by side A, he or she must be opposed to side B.

There was a great argument over the proposed Aire valley trunk road, when, as a matter of course, the inspector was appointed by the Department of Transport. As a matter of routine, inspectors come from the Department, but people simply did not trust the inspector. That was not because he had exhibited prejudice, but because he came from the Department promoting the proposed trunk road.

I believe that, as a result of that outcry, which occurred in 1978, inspectors are now appointed by the Lord Chancellor's Department so that they have an impartial status. I think that the Minister may well confirm that. If that is not true of the Department of Transport, it should be. People are anxious to ensure that the inspector is not identified with the Department—a valid point.

In 1978 the Department of the Environment of the Labour Government separated the inspectors from the Department as a result of pressure from a local inquiry to which there was bitter opposition. The inquiry was felt to be so prejudiced that it was broken up. When the inspector tried to keep members of the public out of the room, doors were knocked down and the public simply burst in.

That background is relevant to the Bill, as nobody has been appointed under the new legislation. The Minister should ensure, in the limited time left available to him, that inspectors are appointed by the Lord Chancellor's Department so that they are seen to be independent, not as appointees who are subordinate to the Minister's Department.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

In a trunk road inquiry, the inspectorate is appointed by a panel approved by the Lord Chancellor. For planning inquiries covered by the Bill, inspectors would be chosen from a planning body. In that respect, it is separate from the Department.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I beg to move amendment No. 66, in page 6, line 25, after 'shall', insert 'without unreasonable delay'.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 67, in clause 13, page 7, line 38, after 'shall', insert 'without unreasonable delay'.

No. 68, in clause 13, page 7, line 49, at end insert— '(2A) If, in the case of an application for the purposes of which an inquiry or hearing is held, the Secretary of State has not given notice of his determination under section 13(1) above before the end of the period of 9 months beginning with the day on which the inquiry or hearing is closed, he shall, if requested to do so by any person to whom notice of the determination must be given under section 14(1) below, specify the date on or before which he expects to give notice of his determination.'.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

The amendments address the important question of the time scales that are likely to he involved in the determination of an order submitted under the provisions of part I of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 require the Secretary of State to act without unreasonable delay in exercising his powers in relation to requiring a public local inquiry to be held and in reaching a final decision on an order. Amendment No. 68 provides an applicant for an order with the right to demand an indication from the Secretary of State of when he expects to make a decision if the Secretary of State has not done so within nine months of the completion of the inquiry.

The matter of time scales for the determination of such orders was discussed in Committee, and in response to amendments the Under-Secretary said: I have concluded that this matter is not suitable for statutory attention. However, I am prepared to consider the publication of guidelines relating to time scales for determining orders … But the Secretary of State could not be bound by them".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 14 January 1992; c. 205.] There is considerable support for the publication of guidelines from groups with an interest in this part of the Bill, and they include the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Passenger Transport Executive group. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether he has reached a conclusion on the subject of guidelines.

However, there are serious concerns that guidelines alone will not be enough. The amendments are designed to give added weight to the need to avoid unnecessary delays in the decision-making process without creating problems for the Secretary of State which the Under-Secretary of State argued would arise from the amendments that we considered in Committee.

There are a number of important factors behind the concern of the promoting authorities. Private sector contributions towards the cost of, for example, light rail schemes are increasingly important, particularly in view of Government policies. An applicant for an order would normally seek to have private funding guaranteed before starting the costly exercise of applying for an order. It is essential that private investors know the extent of their commitment, not only in terms of cost, but in terms of how long the commitment would last. Without the certainty of knowing when a decision would he made, it would be difficult to persuade an investor to make a financial commitment in the first place.

The second important reason relates to the changes in relation to blighted property introduced by the Bill. Under the current private Bill procedures and planning procedures, property is blighted only when the Bill is enacted or planning permission is granted. It is recognised that this can cause unfairness, and the Bill provides that land is blighted once an application for an order has been made. This change will impose a considerable financial burden on promoting authorities, such as passenger transport executives, which may have to buy blighted properties long before a decision on an application is made. Speedy decision-making is essential if the financial implications of this change are to be kept to a minimum.

The concern about the timetable for decision making on orders under this Bill is in part a result of authorities' experience with highway orders. A case in Barnsley illustrates the problem.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

It may be, but it is not far from Sheffield.

Barnsley authority submitted to the Department orders in relation to a road scheme in the borough. What is known as a side roads order was submitted to the Department on 15 July 1991, followed by a compulsory purchase order on 30 September 1991. The last dates for objections to the orders were 9 September and 7 October 1991 respectively. There are a small number of outstanding objections to the orders, and the authority is currently negotiating with those concerned with a view to enabling the objections to be removed.

On 25 November 1991—four months after the first order was submitted—Barnsley borough council received a letter from the Department of Transport raising a number of points of concern about the content and drafting of the orders. The authority replied to these points on 10 December. As of the end of last month, the authority has still received no indication from the Department as to when an inquiry can be held. That was the unsatisfactory position almost six months after the first order had been submitted. This case clearly illustrates the need for these amendments, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will revert to his earlier, more conciliatory, self when he replies.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

In Committee, I moved an amendment requiring quite precise time limits. It was unsuccessful, but I was grateful to the Under-Secretary, who was fairly helpful, responsive and understanding. I am not in the habit of accusing the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) of being moderate or reasonable, but in this instance his amendments are reasonable and moderate. Essentially, the amendments propose that there should not be any unreasonable delay. That is hardly a great imposition on Departments. I suspect that the Minister agrees that it is reasonable for Departments to be subjected to some sort of discipline. I think he said that he could not accept a precise timetable, but that he would accept the logic of guidelines or target dates.

8.45 pm

One understands the difficulty of placing precise guidelines upon the way that Departments deal with planning applications. Some of them can be immensely complex and difficult and one can see all sorts of legal snares if one tries to apply rigid rules. However, the public, and especially applicants and promoters of schemes, are entitled to speedy replies and to some certainty or some understanding of how long it will take so that they can judge the viability of a project and decide whether it should be backed.

I fully understand why the Minister is logically and sensibly constrained by the whole planning ethos in the Department of the Environment as well as in the Department of Transport. Fundamentally, we are on the right lines, and I hope that we shall emerge from this debate and others with more sensible disciplines and constraints upon local authorities and upon the way in which Ministers and civil servants deal with such matters. I hope that the Minister will be helpful.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) for the way in which he moved the amendments and to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) for the constructive part that he played in Committee. I have no doubt that the amendments are well intentioned. [Interruption.] I hope that no one will prejudge my speech. I cannot comment in detail on the Barnsley case to which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East referred, but I shall write to him next week and I shall look into the matter of the delay. It is difficult to comment on a case about which one has not been forewarned.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Will the Minister write without unreasonable delay?

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I will reply in a reasonable time, and that means before next Thursday.

Amendment No. 66 would require the Secretary of State to cause an inquiry to be held without unreasonable delay. Aside from the difficulty of applying appropriate sanctions where the Secretary of State did cause unreasonable delay, the amendment overlooks the fact that the inquiry rules to be made under powers conferred in the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1971 will contain a pre-inquiry timetable within which the Secretary of State would be expected to work. In practice, the timing of the inquiry is likely to be a matter for the applicant to decide, taking into account the outcome of any negotiations that he wishes to hold with objectors. I do not think it wise to try to force the Secretary of State to arrange an inquiry earlier than the promoter wishes. He may well want to enter negotiations to try to overcome some of the objectors' concerns.

Amendment No. 67 also suffers from the problem of what sanction could helpfully be applied to the Secretary of State if there were unnecessary delay in making or refusing an order following, if necessary, an inquiry or a hearing. As I said in Committee, I am prepared to consider publishing guidelines relating to timetables for determining orders, I suggest that they would be of more practical value than the rather imprecise wording proposed in the amendment. I am prepared to go a little further, and say that we shall almost certainly publish such guidelines; but flexibility will be needed.

Amendment No. 68 has several drawbacks. It appears to be based on the assumption that, by the end of nine months from the conclusion of an inquiry, the Secretary of State would have at least received the inspector's report. That may not be the case, because the inquiry may have been long and complex, and the inspector is likely to require double the length of the inquiry to produce his report. To require the Secretary of State to specify the date on which he expects to give notice of his decision on the order in circumstances when he cannot be sure when the inspector's report will be received, or what it will contain, would be meaningless.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Is the Minister really suggesting that a large number of inquiries will take more than nine months to be completed? If that is so, and if it is likely to take 18 months for the Secretary of State to receive the inspector's report, a long period of blight is probable.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I am not saying that; I am saying that that might happen in some cases, and that specifying a figure in the Bill would lead to serious dangers and difficulties. I sincerely hope that the inquiries will not take as long as that. I realise that the aim is to do away with the private Bill procedure, but I must say that, if a nine-month moratorium were imposed on private Bills, the hon.

Gentleman would probably succeed in stopping almost every private Bill from reaching the House for quite some time.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

We do have at least a 12-month block. The amendment merely requires the Secretary of State to give reasons if the process lasts longer than nine months. Normally, if a parliamentary Session lasts for 12 months, a carry-over motion is necessary; and, in a sense, that is the purpose of such a motion—to explain why such a long time has been taken.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I accept that, but in such circumstances the Secretary of State would probably specifiy in the order a date several months ahead, to avoid being criticised for failing to meet the date. That would be of no help to anyone. Finally, if the Secretary of State specified a date and that date was missed, what sanction would apply?

A general comment on enforcement may help the House. If the Secretary of State behaves unreasonably in any way, he may be subject to judicial review. He will always have that in mind. The amendments require the Secretary of State to behave reasonably, and that would have to be enforced—again—by judicial review.

I hope that the House will agree that the amendments do not advance the cause espoused not only by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East, but consistently in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). I hope that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I must confess to some disappointment with that reply. We do not appear to have progressed very far since Committee. We cannot lay down a fixed time, because no sanctions are imposed on the Secretary of State. I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State should be dragged out of his office and shot if he fails to make a decision at the proper time; perhaps he should be given a good cuff round the ear from time to time, but nothing more serious. However, we still do not know any more about the guidelines that the Miniser promised us in Committee. He has given us no further information about them tonight.

I have some bad news for the Minister. According to the latest "Newsnight" opinion poll, Labour is leading by 42 per cent. to 38 per cent. Time is slipping away. Unless the guidelines are published very shortly—

Mr. McLoughin:

rose

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett).

Unless the guidelines are published very shortly, the Minister will not be in a position to do much about them.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

On the basis of the good news that he has announced, will my hon. Friend tell us what guidelines he will work to?

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I knew that I should have given way to the Minister in the first place. Let me correct my mistake immediately.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

May I caution the hon. Gentleman about relying on BBC "Newsnight" polls? At the time of the by-election in which I became a Member of Parliament, they got it wrong, and they have got it wrong many times since then.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. After that little interlude, let us return to the amendment.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I shall bear your strictures in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as they have been rejected, the amendments are less interesting than the result of the opinion poll.

We regret the Minister's hesitancy. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) for describing my amendments as moderate and reasonable: I note that he and I have tabled similar amendments relating to a later clause, and, as he will move his first, I may have an opportunity to reciprocate with moderation and helpfulness. We may well get some moderation from the Minister; whether he will be helpful remains to be seen, but, bearing in mind the fact that he has done his best on earlier occasions, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.