Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 6, line 32, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
(".—(1) The appropriate Ministers may by regulations make provision about fees for relevant planning applications.
(2) Regulations under subsection (I) above may, in particular—
(2A) Regulations under subsection (1) above may—
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.— [Mr. Watts.]
I am grateful for that reassuring nod; I feared that we were going to have to discuss the whole lot en bloc—in which event, my speech might have been slightly longer than I had anticipated.
Although we are dealing with a set of amendments relating to planning fees and appeals, I feel that I should first pay tribute to the work that has been done in the other place, particularly by the Select Committee. The detailed scrutiny undertaken there has made our work much easier, as have the clear and concise arguments that have been advanced and answered throughout the Bill's passage so far. As that will enable us to engage in a simpler debate tonight, neither my hon. Friends nor I intend to delay the House unduly.
As we are dealing with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill, perhaps I could ask the Minister whether he intends to make any further statement about today's reopening of the tunnel to passengers. Can he give any further information about safety procedures that may have been changed or enhanced as a result of the consideration and discussions that have followed the fire in the tunnel, about the implications of those discussions for the transport of lorries, and about the inquiry that is currently under way?
I am sure the Minister agrees that it is essential for us to put the maximum possible information about any changes in safety conditions or mechanisms into the public domain, in order to restore public confidence in the channel tunnel at the earliest opportunity. Any statement that the Minister is prepared to make would be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
May I also ask the Minister a specific question about the amendments? Have any of the proposed procedural changes any public expenditure implications, and, if so, does the Bill cater for them?
Like the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), I want to link my remarks to the amendments; and, like him, I wish to ask the Minister a question that bears directly on the provisions and proceedings involved in the Bill—and, I believe, on the amendments.
My hon. Friend the Minister will recall that a significant part of the outstanding business from our proceedings that was carried over to the House of Lords was the issue of the Government's response to the parliamentary ombudsman's report, which found the Government responsible for maladministration in relation to the previous planning procedures and the planning blight occasioned by the legislation.
As my hon. Friend will know, the predecessor of the present Secretary of State for Transport endeavoured to sustain the line that maladministration had not taken place, but that line proved unsustainable. It was reversed by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State, who gave an undertaking to the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—which is responsible for the ombudsman's work—that the Government would respond positively to the ombudsman's finding of maladministration.
It is now more than a year since my right hon. Friend made that undertaking to the Select Committee—and, indeed, to Members of Parliament such as myself whose constituents are directly affected. I consider it deeply regrettable that the Government have not responded so far; I do not understand why it has taken them so long. I hope that, when he replies to the hon. Member for Withington, my hon. Friend the Minister will also deal with that extremely important issue, which concerns my constituents and others living along the line of the route.
I, too, commend the work of our colleagues in the other place in scrutinising the Bill. As has been rightly said, it has made our job much easier.
May I link my concerns about the reopening of the tunnel with the amendments, and briefly ask the Minister whether he can provide any further information, particularly in the light of doubts expressed about whether the safety procedures worked on the day of the fire, and the latest suggestion that arson may have been involved?
My most pressing concern is public reassurance. As the safety procedures are covered by a confidentiality agreement, no one seems to know exactly what has happened to the fire safety tests. Can the Minister tell us whether previous safety recommendations, designed and presented at an early stage of the tunnel's design, can be published in due course, so that we can establish which procedures were used and which were discarded, and the reasons for that?
Unfortunately, the combination of a severe attack of 'flu and my growing belief that the version of the Bill that is on the Table is not the one to which the amendments relate is causing me some difficulty. I am not sure when I should make the point that I wish to make. I hope that you will not be too severe, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that your indulgence will last long enough for me to say a few brief words about the reopening of the tunnel. Eurotunnel put proposals to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority for the resumption of freight and passenger shuttle services. The authority considered its applications, together with the further work done on demonstration of safety procedures, and was satisfied that the resumption of services could be authorised. As I understand it, Eurotunnel has as yet made no proposal to resume heavy goods vehicle shuttle services, so no decision has had to be made on that aspect.
As right hon. and hon. Members will know, three inquiries are under way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that he wanted the conclusions of the inquiry by the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority to be published. He also urged that the findings of the two inquiries by Eurotunnel should be published, but I do not believe that we have the power to require that. Similarly, he has been in touch with his French opposite number to urge that the outcome of the official French inquiries should be published. The House will understand that he can go no further than strongly urging our French colleague that that should be done.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) referred to our undertaking to respond to the report of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration by considering the feasibility of developing a scheme to provide some compensation for those who had suffered severe hardship, in the terms in which the Commissioner reported to the Committee, and which the Select Committee endorsed. Progress has been made in that examination, and I hope shortly to be able to respond to the Select Committee. I think that my right hon. Friend will acknowledge that that is the proper way for us to make public our conclusions.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) also referred to the reopening of the tunnel. I hope that I have covered the matters about which he was concerned.
I asked specifically whether the planning applications had any public expenditure implications. Will the Minister respond on that point?
I apologise. The effect of the amendments is to increase the flexibility of the fee regulations, and in particular to extend the time that a local authority has to determine a request for approval in the unlikely event that the payment of a fee that had been thought to have been made had in fact not been made—for example, if a cheque was dishonoured for some odd reason. There are no new public expenditure implications arising from the amendments.
Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.