Guidance on Costs and Benefits

Part of New clause 3 – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 27th June 1995.

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Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger , Pembroke 6:30 pm, 27th June 1995

It has been said that, because of the way in which clause 38 is worded, it is likely that we shall see a rash of judicial reviews. My constituency has not produced such a rash so far, but one of my constituents, Mr. Toby Chapman, has been given leave by the High Court to seek a judicial review of a decision made by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. We know that HMIP will shortly become part of the new Environment Agency.

The issue on which Mr. Chapman is seeking judicial review touches on the benefits element of the cost-benefit analysis, which was so interestingly discussed and examined by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis). It bears on a decision following an application by National Power to convert Pembroke power station to burn emulsified fuels.

The application was received by HMIP in August 1994. It took HMIP about five months to arrive at the best practical environmental option and BATNEEC—best available technology not entailing excessive cost. After about five months of deliberation and periodic review of recommendations within HMIP, the decision was made that flue gas desulphurisation was BATNEEC, but that gasification was the best practical environmental option. However, as costs had to be taken into account, it was decided to proceed by reviewing the flue gas desulphurisation proposal and discounting gasification.

My constituent, Mr. Chapman, believes that, because health issues were not taken into account, so he says, by HMIP, there should be judicial review of its decision.

The details of the issue are quite complex, and it is interesting that HMIP has welcomed a judicial review. It will be the first time that its processes will have been tested. Unfortunately, the issue will be tested by a judge. I am not sure of his environmental background and his knowledge of cost-benefit analysis. Although we have judicial review, perhaps it is not the best method to review decisions made by HMIP or, in future, by the Environment Agency.

The new clause refers to the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, the Select Committee on the Environment, the House of Lords Select Committee on Sustainable Development and the Prime Minister's panel on sustainable development. All these organisations represent experts in their own areas. They can give advice and make recommendations on cost-benefit analysis. The issue would not be left, as I fear it will be in Mr. Chapman's case, for determination by a judge.

I take that view no matter how well versed the judge may be in law, and irrespective of what he may have been able to pick up on the side on environmental issues. I think that everyone would accept that a judge is not the best person to arrive at a judgment in this instance.

I urge the Minister to accept that the new clause is sensible and should be inserted in the Bill. I fear that, in future, the new agency will be tied down by a rash of judicial reviews because of the way in which clause 38 is worded.