'(1) This section sets out the parliamentary requirements referred to in sections 5(4) and 6(4).
(2) The Secretary of State must lay the proposal before Parliament.
(3) In this section "the proposal" means—
(a) the statement that the Secretary of State proposes to designate as a national policy statement for the purposes of this Act, or
(b) (as the case may be) the proposed amendment.
(4) Subsection (5) applies if, during the relevant period—
(a) either House of Parliament makes a resolution with regard to the proposal, or
(b) a committee of the House of Commons makes recommendations with regard to the proposal.
(5) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement setting out the Secretary of State's response to the resolution or recommendations.
(6) The relevant period is the period specified by the Secretary of State in relation to the proposal.
(7) The Secretary of State must specify the relevant period in relation to the proposal on or before the day on which the proposal is laid before Parliament under subsection (2).'.— [John Healey.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
'once the consultation and publicity requirements detailed in section 7 have been complied with'.
New clause 1— Climate change —
'(1) A statement may only be designated under section 5 if the Secretary of State is satisfied that (taken as a whole) the policies in the statement contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
(2) A statement designated under section 5 must contain a statement to the effect that it is the Secretary of State's view that the requirement of subsection (1) is satisfied.'.
Amendment No. 52, in clause 5, page 3, line 6, leave out 'and'.
Amendment No. 53, page 3, line 8, at end insert ', and
(c) has been approved by both Houses of Parliament.'.
Government amendments Nos. 72 to 75.
Amendment No. 3, in clause 7, page 4, line 27, at end insert—
'(4A) The Secretary of State must consult with such organisations as appear to the Secretary of State to be able to advise appropriately on the risks to health arising from the policy set out in the national policy statement.'.
Amendment No. 54, in clause 9, page 5, line 16, at end insert
', including the reduction of and adaptation to climate change'.
Amendment No. 67, in page 5, line 32, leave out Clause 11.
Government amendment No. 76
Government new clause 35— Application to Parliament.
Amendment No. 1, in clause 97, page 49, line 26, at end insert—
'(d) the desirability of contributing to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.'.
Government amendments Nos. 184 and 185.
A substantial amount of time was set aside in the programme motion for the discussion of this group of amendments, which deals with issues relating to national policy statements, Parliament and climate change. I shall set the scene for hon. Members, which I hope will be helpful, as the group covers a lot of ground.
Government new clause 8 and consequential amendments Nos. 72 to 76 would provide for a parliamentary process for the scrutiny of new national policy statements. Amendment (a), tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Betts, would change the time sequence in new clause 8, and amendments Nos. 52 and 53 would require both Houses to approve national policy statements before they could be designated.
Government new clause 35 applies this Bill to Parliament. New clause 1 and amendment No. 54 seek to add a duty on the Secretary of State to address climate change when designating or reviewing a national policy statement, and amendment No. 1 seeks to add a duty on the infrastructure planning commission to have regard to climate change. Amendment No. 3 would require consultation with organisations to seek advice on the risks to health arising from the policy in national policy statements, and amendment No. 67 would remove clause 11 and thereby the provision to designate pre-existing statements of policy as national policy statements. Finally, Government amendments Nos. 184 and 185 deal with the issue of blight in relation to national policy statements.
National policy statements are an important innovation and the foundation of the proposed new system. The Secretary of State would produce national policy statements for strategic development of essential infrastructure investment to ensure that there was a clear, strong policy framework for decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects. They would help to ensure a national debate about, and conclusions on, the infrastructure that the country needs. They would provide the primary framework for the IPC's consideration of applications for individual projects for energy, transport, water, waste water or waste infrastructure. They would set the complete policy framework relevant to decision making, integrating all the important and relevant environmental, social and other aspects of policy.
The commission would not be able to take decisions on a project unless there was a relevant national policy statement designated and in place. NPSs will be important, serious and significant documents. They will therefore undergo an appraisal of their sustainability, will be subject to public consultation and will be scrutinised by Parliament, to ensure that all elements of the policy are appropriate. The IPC will then base its consideration and decisions on the policy set out in the NPS, weighed against domestic and European law, and the possibility or evidence of any adverse impacts on local areas as a result of the application going ahead.
The exact form of national policy statements would vary by sector. The Bill makes it clear that some existing policy statements could become, or serve as, the basis for national policy statements, but only if they meet the standards set out in the Bill for national policy statements. Those standards include a proper appraisal of sustainability, proper public consultation and proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Government new clause 8 and consequential amendments are among the most significant amendments tabled on Report. They provide for a new system of parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements, which we see as the cornerstone of our new system. When the Bill was first introduced, we made a commitment to ensuring a stronger role for Parliament. We encouraged the House to consider setting up a Select Committee as part of that process, and suggested that it might be drawn from the expertise of the four relevant departmental Committees—the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Transport Committee, the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We suggested that it could scrutinise draft NPSs in parallel with public consultation. We undertook that a Secretary of State would consider the Committee's reports together with responses from the public consultation and would revise draft NPSs before designating them. In addition, if the Committee recommended that an NPS raised issues that should be debated by Parliament, we would make Government time available for such debate before the designation of an NPS.
I recognise, of course, that it is ultimately for the House itself to decide what procedures are appropriate for each NPS. These procedures will need to respect the demands on the time of Members and the House. However, they will need three hallmarks to be successful. First, they will need to be sufficiently flexible to deal with both new NPSs and future amendments to existing NPSs. Secondly, they will need to be timely, without undue delay in establishing NPSs as the Government's strategic framework for nationally significant infrastructure. Thirdly, they will need to be proportionate to the issues raised. It is conceivable, for example, that a future amendment to an NPS may be relatively limited, and we therefore need a system that can respond to that.
I have had constructive and detailed discussions with the Chairs of the four Committees that I mentioned, and I pay tribute to them. Their Clerks have also provided significant and valuable advice. I have also ensured that we have kept in touch with other Committees, such as the Welsh Affairs Committee, through the Liaison Committee, to explore the potential for a process that will meet the proper role of this House in subjecting these policy statements to sufficient scrutiny. We have had three meetings, helpfully hosted by the Leader of the House, that have taken us a long way towards finding an approach that is workable and effective. I am grateful to those involved and to the House authorities for the time, consideration and expertise that they have devoted to that process.
Together with the Chairs of the Select Committees, we have developed a possible process for Committee examination of national policy statements. Examination would be by either one of the relevant existing departmental Select Committees or a single new Committee drawn from their membership and expertise. That decision would be a matter for the Select Committees, via the Liaison Committee, and not for Government. The Committee would examine the draft national policy statement, largely parallel to public consultation, but there would be a period after the closure of the public consultation in which the Committee could take into account any significant issues that had been raised during that consultation. The Government have undertaken to ensure that briefing and information on those issues is made available immediately to the Select Committees, so that that they can do that. The Committee would then report with recommendations to the Secretary of State—
In fact, the Secretary of State would look to that report, which would formally be a report to the House, of course, and would make time available, if necessary, for debate, if the Committee recommended it.
We propose that the Government would then consider what change was needed to the draft national policy statement in the light of the views expressed in this House and in the public consultation, and we would then revise the draft as appropriate and as necessary.
The point that my hon. Friend is making relates to my amendment (a) to new clause 8, in which I suggest that parliamentary scrutiny should come after the period of public consultation. My hon. Friend is now apparently saying that there would be an overlap period, and that time would be available after public consultation when the appropriate Committee in the House would be allowed to consider the results of that consultation before concluding its report on the policy statement. Can he give us some idea of the likely time periods involved in the process? They might not be firmed up at present, but it would be useful to have some indication of his thinking at this stage.
I have discussed with the Select Committee Chairs—we have not formalised or finalised the proposal—an overhang or continuation period of perhaps four to six weeks to enable the Select Committee to take any additional account that might be necessary of the significant issues raised during the public consultation in its inquiry into and examination and scrutiny of the Government's proposals.
We considered the proposal for an entirely sequential process, but two factors determined our view that the other approach would be better. First, we did not want to extend the period in which the national policy statements would be put in place for any longer than was necessary. Secondly, as a Government we want to be able to make any substantial revisions that might be required to a national policy statement in the light of the views of the public and Parliament and of any assessment of the sustainability appraisal that might be required. In other words, we want to bring all the relevant matters, observations and views from Parliament and public consultation together in one revision, rather than having to revise the statement at least twice, as would be the case if we had an entirely sequential process. I hope that the further information that I have been able to share with the House and with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe may persuade him that amendment (a) is not necessary at this point, but that its aim can be achieved. The Select Committee Chairs are confident that it can be achieved, too.
We also gave careful consideration to whether Parliament should be required or should have the opportunity formally to approve a national policy statement by a binding vote. The proposal is before us under the amendments tabled by the official Opposition, which propose a binding vote for both Houses to approve a national policy statement, although everyone, as far as I can tell—including the Opposition and the Select Committee Chairs—was talking about a non-amendable motion and therefore a vote to approve or not to approve the policy statement. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 would have that effect by amending clause 5, which would mean that the Secretary of State could designate a national policy statement only if it had been approved by both Houses.
Although I am personally sorry that Parliament has not been given the chance to vote on the national policy statements, I am very grateful to the Minister and the Leader of the House for the sympathetic way in which they treated the Select Committees' concerns. New clause 8 certainly represents a great step forward, which we welcome, although we would like the vote on national policy statements.
May I ask the Minister one specific question of some importance? Am I right to believe that new clause 35 is simply intended to apply planning law to Parliament and is not intended to set aside article 9 of the Bill of Rights or to allow the courts to evaluate the Select Committee reports or resolutions of the House provided for in new clause 8? Those are very important matters for the privilege of this House.
The hon. Gentleman is right. That new clause has nothing to do with parliamentary procedure, the scrutiny of national policy statements or constitutional matters. It simply deals with the situation in which a potentially nationally significant infrastructure project might relate to parliamentary land. It is akin to the provisions in the Bill for Crown land. Next Monday, we are set to discuss those provisions, including the safeguards that will be in place. It might be better to pick up the matter at that point. I can give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he has requested.
Let me return to whether there is a case for national policy statements to be approved by both Houses. In the end, we took the view that although national policy statements were important documents that would form the basis of decisions by the new infrastructure planning commission, they are ultimately documents that set out the Government's policy. They are not primary or secondary legislation. It is generally the case in this House that Government decide policy and Parliament scrutinises it as appropriate.
Given that the policy statements are policy documents, they are closer to planning policy statements or super-White Papers, which are not subject to parliamentary approval, than to legislation, which is. I have to say to Mrs. Lait, who will try to make the case for amendments Nos. 52 and 53, that I do not see a ready-made model or suitable precedent for a binding vote on such statements of policy. Unlike with legislation, we could be taken into unprecedented and problematic territory if the two Houses were to take a different view of the policy that might be contained in a national policy statement.
I am listening carefully to the Minister, and want just to put one point to him. The policy, as he refers to it, is obviously created by Government. It then becomes, I suppose, planning policy guidance, which is not legislation but has the force of law and is as far-reaching as any piece of legislation that we could devise in this place. Planning policy guidance decides whether a planning development goes forward or not, with all the consequences of either decision. Although he is saying that they should not come before Parliament, my point is that the policy statements are very far-reaching indeed.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and that is precisely why we propose the new system in the Bill for the proper scrutiny of such national policy statements. However, they are policy statements, not legislation. Although they may be more akin to planning policy statements, we are proposing a formal system that is rooted in the House and assured in a way that we do not currently have for planning policy statements.
Let me spell out the provisions. The new clause will require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a draft national policy statement or an amendment of a policy statement and, subsequently, to lay before Parliament a statement that sets out the Government's response to any resolution of either House or any recommendation of the Committee of the House of Commons about the proposals in the national policy statement, and to do so within a relevant period. It will require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament the final national policy statement.
The new clause recognises the interest of both Houses in such issues. It will formalise both the Secretary of State's relationship with both Houses and the Secretary of State's response to them. However, it also specifically recognises the nature and expertise of the departmental Select Committees in this House, rather than the other place.
Government amendments Nos. 72 and 76 will make consequential changes. They specify that a new national policy statement that has been reviewed or amended cannot be designated unless the parliamentary requirements set out in the Bill have been met and that the final national policy statement or amended NPS must be laid before Parliament.
Government amendment No. 76 will amend clause 11, which deals with the designation of policy statements made before the commencement of the Act, and clarifies that when deciding whether to designate a policy statement as an NPS, the Secretary of State can take account of the parliamentary scrutiny that was previously undertaken in relation to the statement to determine whether it meets the standards laid down by the Act.
Before hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, see a conspiracy, let me say that, essentially, the pre-commencement provision is principally designed to deal with a situation in which a Secretary of State might want to get on with the process of publishing a draft national policy statement, perhaps on renewal energy, in advance of the formal commencement of the Act. As I have made clear before, any national policy statement could be designated only if the specific requirements for the appraisal of sustainability, for the public consultation and for parliamentary scrutiny were all fully met. However, the provision could allow the process to start before the formal commencement of the Act.
The practical example that Ministers gave when we debated this matter in January was the aviation White Paper being converted into a national policy statement. Will the Minister clarify whether in his view the process by which the aviation White Paper was developed and the subsequent period that has elapsed mean that it would meet the requirements of the legislation to be converted into a national policy statement?
My hon. Friend's concern about the aviation White Paper fits into a different category. The White Paper went through consultation in 2003. If that were to be the basis of a national policy statement in the future, that potential NPS would have to meet the three criteria that we have set out in the Bill and that I have explained to the House today. The appropriate time at which that may be considered is likely to be some time between 2009 and 2011, when we have undertaken to review the aviation White Paper. However, unless and until there is a national policy statement on aviation, the operation of the IPC in relation to any application for significant airport development that meets the thresholds in the Bill could not come into play. I hope that that helps to reassure my hon. Friend and that it underlines the fact that the pre-commencement provisions relate principally to the situation that I described earlier, rather than to his concern about the aviation White Paper or indeed, arguably, to the consideration of something like the waste strategy, which has been published already and could conceivably become the basis of a national policy statement on waste.
I am sorry to press the Minister for absolute clarity. In his response, does he mean that any development that involves aviation expansion could not be considered by the IPC on the basis of the aviation White Paper but would have to wait until the national policy statement was developed, or is he saying that the IPC could consider any expansion proposal on the basis of the aviation White Paper because no NPS is in place?
No, the IPC could consider an application for a major development in the aviation field only if a national policy statement was in place. Unless and until an aviation national policy statement is in place, the IPC could not operate under the terms of the new system.
I am sorry to press the Minister again. I therefore return to the original question: does the process by which the aviation White Paper was arrived at satisfy the requirements set out in the Bill for its immediate conversion into a national policy statement?
That would have to be a judgment that was taken, but we are setting out in the Bill three very clear conditions, including on parliamentary scrutiny, which has not been in place before. That may therefore imply an answer to my hon. Friend's question. Any view of making the aviation White Paper the basis of a national policy statement on aviation would mean that that proposed national policy statement would have to be produced and undergo the parliamentary scrutiny process, which we have set out and which I have explained, as well as the processes for public consultation and for a tough appraisal of its sustainability. Only if it meets the criteria in those three respects could it then become designated as a national policy statement.
My hon. Friend has had three goes. There are a number of other issues, and number of other hon. Members are keen to make their own points in the debate, but I will give way one more time.
I just want to make this explicit: the aviation White Paper did not come with a sustainability appraisal or parliamentary scrutiny. Therefore, it could not be converted into a national policy statement and the IPC could not consider an application for aviation expansion on that basis.
My hon. Friend draws his very clear conclusions from the very clear explanation that I have set out for the House.
I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way yet again, and I genuinely intend to be helpful. Surely, any such restatement of the White Paper as a national policy statement would require the full process of scrutiny, so there is not a real issue.
The Minister has made it quite clear that the IPC cannot operate in the absence of a policy statement on a submission or application. Will he therefore say when he thinks that the first of those policy statements will be rolled out, bearing in mind that the Select Committees involved will have a considerable amount of work to do, because the first scrutiny is likely to be the most time-consuming? When are the first national policy statements likely to be rolled out, and when will the IPC be in a position to operate?
I would expect the first draft national policy statements to be produced and proposed by Secretaries of State this year. It is therefore necessary to put in place the pre-commencement provisions that I have mentioned.
In case my hon. Friend John McDonnell feels that I have not gone the whole hog, let me explain that my job as the midhusband of the Bill is to produce a new system for dealing with large planning projects. That system will be based on new national policy statements. I have explained the criteria that must be met, and the processes that have to be undergone, for national policy statements to be put in place.
In the end, it is not for me to judge or decide whether a policy paper has undergone those processes; that is the responsibility and a matter for the judgment of the relevant Secretary of State, and they will have to explain the view that they take. If, in their judgment, there has not been the sustainability appraisal, parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation that national policy statements require under the Bill, it is their responsibility to put in place measures to ensure that that is changed. If no national policy statement is formally designated and in place, the IPC cannot decide on a major application. It could examine the application, but it would be for the Secretary of State to make the decisions on the application, as is the case now. I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied with that; I have to say that I do not feel that I can go much further on that point.
Together, the new clause and the amendments in the group fulfil our commitment to provide for parliamentary scrutiny. They take the significant step of setting that out in legislation. That was done with the encouragement of the Select Committee Chairmen, who were keen for us to do it. I hope that the House will agree that the provisions set out significant, innovative arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny, and ensure that Parliament has a strong say, and a strong influence, on any future national policy statement. I hope that at the end of the debate, in light of what has been said, the hon. Member for Beckenham will not feel it necessary to press her amendments to a Division.
I shall now speak rather more briefly, because I recognise the level of the House's interest in the issues covered by this group of amendments. Through amendments Nos. 184 and 185, we have introduced provisions to deal with the blight that could be produced by a national policy statement, a proposed major project application or an order granting authorisation for compulsory purchase. Those are important provisions that give protection to people who may be affected.
New clause 1 and amendment No. 54 seek to give the Secretary of State a specific duty to consider climate change when designating or reviewing national policy statements. Amendment No. 1 would add climate change as a factor in the decision-making framework for the IPC, which makes the decisions. I hope that Members recognise that since the publication of the Bill, there has been development of the position set out in the White Paper.
Our objectives in relation to sustainable development are central to the consideration of future infrastructure needs. That is clearly sensible and necessary for the future of the country, whatever the infrastructure that we are talking about. That is why the Bill includes a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that national policy statements are drawn up with the objective of contributing to sustainable development. That is why national policy statements will have to be consistent with all relevant European Union law, including the habitats directive, and domestic law, including the Climate Change Bill, which will place tough duties on the Government to tackle the issues of climate change. That is why, before designating a national policy statement, Ministers must carry out an appraisal of their sustainability. The process will also apply to revisions of national policy statements, where the policy is materially affected.
Where the EU strategic environmental assessment directive applies, we will carry out an appraisal of sustainability that will cover all the obligations in the directive, but that directive may not apply to some national policy statements, so it is necessary to have a strong assessment framework that will apply to all statements to ensure that environmental objectives in particular, and also social and economic objectives, are properly factored into the development. That is the principle, purpose and thinking behind our approach.
The planning White Paper included a policy commitment to consider climate change when national policy statements are being developed, and we have delivered on that by requiring an appraisal of sustainability for every national policy statement, in which climate change will be considered. The new regime will also be subject to the provisions of the Climate Change Bill, when they are finally settled and put into statute. That Bill imposes a general duty on Ministers to meet carbon budgets, and to publish proposals and policies for meeting them. The Climate Change Bill will put strong measures in place, and strong duties on Government, to tackle climate change, and I would therefore argue that it is not appropriate or necessary to place a specific duty of that sort on the Secretary of State in the Bill, particularly not before the Climate Change Bill's provisions are made clear and passed by the House.
On amendment No. 1, as I have said, the issue of climate change is dealt with in the requirement to prepare an appraisal of sustainability for national policy statements. That appraisal will be published alongside a draft national policy statement. That will be part of the public consultation that any national policy statement will have to undergo, and part of the parliamentary scrutiny of the statement.
The effect of requiring the IPC to make judgments on the issue of climate change will be to increase the scope of its discretion, but it would be more appropriate for the issue to be dealt with thoroughly by the Secretary of State, with consultation in public and scrutiny in Parliament, when preparing and designating the national policy statement. Requiring the IPC to give a view on a specific issue is likely to introduce additional uncertainty into the process, and it could slow down the decision-making process. It is inconsistent with the approach that we are trying to take in the new system.
I hope that I have set out the thinking behind the significant Government amendments and new clauses, and that I have been able to explain our approach on some of the issues on which hon. Friends and Opposition Members have tabled amendments. I look forward to the rest of the debate.
I am grateful to the Minister for being so clear on all the amendments tabled by the Government, by Labour Back Benchers and by the Opposition parties. As he said, national policy statements are one of the core aspects of the Bill. In principle, the official Opposition have no difficulty with the policy on national policy statements. We think it is a positive way forward to try to deal with the crumbling infrastructure that we will probably face when we get into government, and we will get on with it a lot more quickly than the present Government have.
There is agreement across the House that we never want to see again lengthy planning inquiries such as Sizewell and terminal 5—examples that have been given throughout our discussion of the Bill. That is a given. The difficulty arises from the status of national policy statements. The Minister clearly said that he saw them as Government statements. He agreed that they were the equivalent of planning policy guidance. We see them as being so important that they need to be voted on substantively by the House.
That is crucial, because the British public believe in the primacy of Parliament. If Parliament has agreed to a policy, there will be fewer challenges in principle as the statements come into use. The problem with national policy statements being Government statements is that that opens the possibility of extensive judicial review, based on all aspects of the policy statements. Hence, the objective on which we are all agreed—the speeding up decisions on infrastructure—will be frustrated by continual judicial review. That is the core reason why we tabled amendments Nos. 53 and 52 and why I will press them to a Division, if that is appropriate, in due course.
I can sympathise with the argument that the House should have a vote on policy statements, but is the hon. Lady really committing a future Conservative Government to giving a veto to a second Chamber, in whatever form it is comprised in due course, over the policy statements that that Government will issue?
I was about to move on to the text of our amendment. I am happy to accept, as the Minister pointed out, that the proposal would be a new and unique way forward, and I was about to congratulate him on the work that he and our Select Committee Chairman have done in developing a form of consideration of national policy statements that meets the Government's criteria. That suggests to me that it is not beyond the ability and skills in the House to create a formula for national policy statements to get full parliamentary approval.
I am happy to admit that our amendment is not as detailed as the hon. Gentleman or the Minister might like, but the key for us is the principle that Parliament should own policy statements. That is the difference between us on the issue, and it is the reason I was less than complimentary about the programme motion. As a result of that, we have less time to deal with one of the more important issues than we had to deal with aspects that were important but uncontroversial.
I would be grateful if the Minister gave us more answers on new clause 8. Although he set out clearly how he envisages it working and the agreement that has been reached so far with various bodies in the House, I am more than a little confused by new clause 8. We have had contradictory statements about how policy statements should be dealt with. Members who have taken an interest in the Bill will remember that the Secretary of State said on Second Reading on
"If Parliament were to want to vote on those issues, that will be the right and proper course to take."—[ Hansard, 10 December 2007; Vol. 469, c. 30.]
That is clear and it seems to chime with what we are suggesting. However, in the evidence sessions the Minister spoke mainly about scrutiny. On
"that Select Committee, or the arrangements that Parliament puts in place, will have the scope, as closely as they wish and in the manner that they wish, to scrutinise and comment on the proposals, and we will then take them into consideration". ——[Official Report, Planning Public Bill Committee,
We had similar statements from him when we were debating clause 5 in Committee. He said that
"the Government will consider any reports or observations that such a Committee or such scrutiny provides together with the responses". ——[Official Report, Planning Public Bill Committee,
There is a contradiction between what the Secretary of State said on Second Reading and what the Minister said in Committee. Mr. Betts may well remember that when he moved an amendment in Committee very similar to the one that we had tabled, he withdrew it and I immediately took it up, because it conveyed the difficulty that we had. I congratulate him on his close and honourable interest in the Bill. We look forward to the debate next Monday.
New clause 8 refers to the situation where
"either House of Parliament makes a resolution with regard to the proposal".
I have not been in the House as long as some Members, but I have been here for 15 or 16 years. To me, a resolution is not a very clear statement. A resolution implies a vote, but does that mean a resolution by a Select Committee, by the Chamber, or by the Quadripartite Select Committee? What precisely does "a resolution" mean in new clause 8? I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that.
The Minister was clear about the form that he is now proposing for consultation. Those who sat through the Committee will remember that we could not establish whether the consultation would take place in parallel or in sequence. The Minister seems to have agreed to a system comprising a little of both. We can have a debate in Government time—but will it be in Westminster Hall, in Select Committee or on the Floor of the House? Will it be a topical debate? What sort of debate will it be? Will it be on the Adjournment, in which case it will provide us with nothing more than the opportunity to make known our points of view, which the Government may or may not take into account? That would mean that Parliament did not own the statement; in my view, however, that is the crucial thing.
I have explained the principle behind my amendment. I am happy to admit that it is not perfect in any way, shape or form. However, I am sure that, with good will, we can work out how to address the issue properly.
I accept that it will be difficult to get a national policy statement through the House. It will be difficult to get it through as a Government statement; it could be difficult to get through Parliament. However, if the British public do not feel that they own those statements—the planning policies that will affect their lives—we will find it more difficult, take a longer time and spend more money in the courts trying to establish the infrastructure that we all agree we desperately need.
I suspect that one of the reasons the Government have set their hearts against the national policy statements being statements of Parliament is that that would immediately blow out of the water their argument about the Secretary of State's conflict of interest when it comes to the infrastructure planning commission, which is the basis of the statements' creation. I shall not go down the route of debating that commission, but I have given what I think is one of the reasons why the Government are so desperate to keep the national policy statements as Government statements.
We have also tabled an amendment on what I took to mean the aviation White Paper. I congratulate John McDonnell and others who have got further than the rest of us in getting clarification on the precise statement in respect of that White Paper. We had that debate in Committee. The status of the aviation policy was not entirely set out in black and white. I will look carefully tomorrow at what the Minister has said, but at this stage I think that we are as close as we will ever get to a statement that the current aviation White Paper will not be regarded as a national planning statement. If I have made a mistake, I apologise. I am sure that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will be the first at the starting gate to ensure that the White Paper meets the criteria.
Some of the national policy statements may be site-specific, hence there will be blight. It is a step forward that compensation should be paid to people affected by the statements. We need a bit more detail, but we are unlikely to get that at this stage; perhaps the other House will be more able to tease out how the system will work.
I tabled our amendments on climate change to ensure that the issue was debated; I also welcome the amendment tabled by Mr. Drew. Again, we had the debate in Committee; the hon. Gentleman may have read the report. I am happy to admit that the use of the phrase "sustainable development" encompasses climate change. However, I tabled the amendments because there is still so much concern that climate change should be included specifically in the Bill that I thought it sensible to explore further what "sustainable development" encompasses in total, and to get assurances from the Minister that climate change was definitely part of it. I will listen with interest to the rest of the debate on the subject, but I am minded not to press the issue because the Minister clearly stated that climate change was included. Their lordships may wish to look at the issue in greater detail, and we would be happy to return to it.
The nub of our objection, as I have said—I will not go on about it at great length again—is that the national policy statement should be a parliamentary, not a Government, statement. That is why I tabled amendments suggesting that it should be approved by both Houses. On that basis, I will press those amendments in due course.
I want to discuss new clause 1 and amendment No. 1, which stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. To continue where Mrs. Lait left off, it is important that we have this debate, because if we are changing the planning system at this time, we must recognise that climate change is in every part of our life from now on. Given that planning has a huge impact on our future as well as our present, it is somewhat strange that the Government are nervous about bringing forward a duty not only on the Secretary of State but on the IPC, which may have a more indirect impact but could in many respects be more important as regards how it sets the precedent for major developments. If the Government fail in any way to take account of climate change there will be, at best, a lost opportunity.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the time that he has spent with us. I hope that it has been an interesting discourse. We have learned some things on our side of the argument, and I hope that he has learned some things on his side. This is not a debate that sits in isolation. Given that this Government have pushed the boat out in more ways than one with the Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill and the forthcoming marine Bill, it is disappointing to fall at the last hurdle when some of us wish to push things to a point whereby everybody is clear that the Secretary of State and the IPC, whoever those people may be in future, have an obligation on them to have due regard to climate change. It is even stranger that what central Government are abdicating from is expected from local government. In the local development frameworks, it is writ large that local authorities must have every regard to climate change in terms of how they progress their planning policies.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and further reinforce his argument by saying that the Government of Wales Act 2006 placed a duty on the National Assembly for Wales to act in accordance with the principles of sustainable development. If it was good enough for that Bill, it should be good enough for this one.
That is an excellent point that is very helpful to my argument. If it is good enough for Wales, it is good enough for England and for our planning policies.
This is not just about joined-up government, with different bits of legislation that need to interact, but joined-up action. If we seriously expect the general public to treat climate change as the overwhelming issue of our time, not writing it into national policy statements across the board seems to be a strange way to go about things. At best, it is a lost opportunity. The Minister put his arguments in such a mellifluous way that some of us could be tempted by them. There was charm and certainly a degree of cleverness in the way in which he induced support that may not have initially been there in relation to other aspects of the Bill.
My problem, which I suspect is shared by those who signed up to new clause 1 and amendment No. 1, is that matters change and people move on. It could be implied that something lies behind the words, in the underlying spirit of the legislation, but when it is taken up in the light of day, people forget about such things. They say, "Well, it wasn't quite like that. If you read the Minister's response to the debate, you find that he didn't necessarily say that climate change should be the overwhelming issue that underwrites all of the national policy statements."
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that while it is obviously appropriate for national policy statements to address climate change, when it comes to the crunch in the individual application, the detail cannot possibly be encompassed in anything as broad as such a statement? The matter must be addressed by the IPC in the robust way suggested by my hon. Friend. The only way to ensure that that happens is to give the IPC responsibility to do so.
I agree with that, and I shall deal with amendment No. 1 in a bit more detail in a moment. My hon. Friend is at the crux of subsection (2) of the new clause. Obviously, one change is consequent on the other, but they could have been dealt with as we have debated the changes to the Bill.
I want to pose a particular dilemma. I like the terminology "sustainable development". I was partly responsible for the private Member's Bill that Mr. Hurd introduced, and we had a lot of debates on what we mean by sustainable development. We might think that the term must include climate change, but there is a danger if climate change is not categorically referred to in the Bill. There is always some clever lawyer somewhere who can define "sustainable development" as not necessarily having to take due account of climate change. That is why some of us feel strongly that such wording should be in the Bill, that there should be a duty placed on the Secretary of State, and subsequently, that the IPC should pay absolute regard to it. That is why we have tabled this new clause and the amendment.
Subsection (2) of the new clause relates to the IPC. In a sense, the matter is consequent on the duty placed on the Secretary of State, because it is sensible that an organisation that is subsidiary to the Secretary of State would also have such a duty placed on it. It is important that we set the context in which that body operates. The IPC may have a degree of scrutiny and accountability to this place through the Secretary of State, but the people chosen to work for it should be independent individuals. If they were all hired guns, who can pretend that the process will be anything other than the Government pushing through whatever they want? There will have to be a system of checks and balances with regard to who serves on the IPC and who deals with particular inquiries. If the body is independent, we must consider the extent to which it is accountable with regard to the way in which climate change is handled. In order to make that process easier, we must make climate change one of its key responsibilities when it carries out its duties, which would help rather than hinder it.
I understand what my hon. Friend the Minister was arguing earlier—at least I think I understand what he was arguing. However, I am not sure that he completely answered the point by categorically stating that there should be duty on the Secretary of State and the IPC to give legitimacy to the process. We want to ensure not only that climate change is writ large in the national policy statements, but that anything worked through as a result of those statements, particularly if it involves the IPC, should be entirely subject to climate change.
That would draw together those three great pieces of legislation, which are historic and which the Government should be proud of passing. However, it seems somewhat strange that the mechanism for pushing through those changes, which could change all our lifestyles, is not quite there. That mechanism is not mentioned categorically, but is entirely dependent upon Ministers, albeit to some extent working with this place and the other place. However, we all know that that is subject to all manner of vagaries. If such a mechanism is not mentioned categorically, some of us fear that the climate change agenda will be diluted and perhaps even forgotten.
That is why I have tabled new clause 1 and the amendments standing in my name. I heard what the hon. Member for Beckenham has said. The Opposition must make their mind up. They have tabled their amendments—we thought that ours were slightly better—but we do not believe that we have a monopoly on wisdom. There has been, I hope, a meeting of minds, because we are trying to get the Bill right. Some of us have been working extensively with non-governmental organisations, which are completely nonplussed by the Government, who, in other ways, have moved extensively and been helpful. Something that could be in place for a decade or longer must be got right.
On the aspect that we are discussing, there is, dare I say, not only no meeting of minds, but questions about why the Government are not prepared to do what we think is the right thing—to state categorically that there should be a duty on the Secretary of State and the IPC to have regard to climate change.
The debate on this group of amendments is the main event this evening. Three elements have emerged from the discussion so far, and I suppose that I, too, should refer to them.
First, we had an interesting exchange about the aviation White Paper and the designation of national policy statements. Mrs. Lait has said that she was encouraged by what the Minister said about the conclusion of his debate with John McDonnell. However, my recollection is that the Minister said that the matter would be one for the relevant Secretary of State. I do not find that wholly reassuring, because there will be many pressures on the Government, as we all know, to deliver all sorts of things, particularly on aviation.
I hoped that the prompting of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington about the different nature of the White Paper and how it relates to what a national policy statement is designed to be would mean that it could not be considered. The Minister was clear that there are criteria by which the Secretary of State must examine a White Paper or any existing guidelines, to determine whether it could function realistically as a national policy statement. That is a huge responsibility to place on the Secretary of State's shoulders, when all the other national policy statements may be considered by another process. I am therefore a little concerned that we are not quite at the stage of being reassured on that point.
I apologise to the House for joining the debate late, but Virgin Trains has once again done its utmost to prevent me from being here on time.
The climate change issue is so important that even people such as me, who are quite supportive of aviation, believe that aviation and shipping should be included in measures in this Bill and targets on climate change as a whole. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a concert in the Science museum tomorrow, with me and other MPs, to raise awareness about the Big Ask environmental campaign to try to get shipping and aviation included in the Government's targets?
I must say that I was unaware of that concert, but the whole House and others, through Hansard and broadcast media, are now aware of it. I am sure that that will help to promote my hon. Friend's cause. His support of the aviation industry is renowned at a time when it is somewhat discouraging for people to get involved in aviation, especially for him given his past encounters with the ground.
Returning to the requirement for parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements, I am delighted that we have had some reassurance from the Chairman of one of the relevant Select Committees that the concerns that he and his colleagues have been raising have been taken on board by the Government, and that the process is moving forward in a consensual and considered way.
The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Beckenham set matters out much more clearly, and would make it well understood that the vital regulations that we have been discussing would receive assent through votes in this House or another place. We debated this matter in Committee, and the Minister clearly separated issues of setting policy, and the need for democratic accountability in that regard, from the decision-making function, to which we return in debates on the IPC. I am concerned that if the democratic oversight and scrutiny of national policy statements is not watertight and evident in a way in which people can appreciate, it will, as the hon. Lady has said, lead people to lose all faith in the whole system.
If decisions are not taken either by a democratically elected local authority or by a Secretary of State who is answerable to the House, but by an unelected quango, at least the policies that it uses to take decisions will be scrutinised very fully and will ultimately have been voted on by the House. I am not, therefore, entirely reassured by the Minister's comments, and I hope that the process that is evolving for scrutiny will prove to be satisfactory, but new clause 8 will not necessarily ensure that that is the case. As I understand it, either a resolution may be passed by either House
"or...a committee of the House of Commons makes recommendations with regard to the proposal."
That "or" is the problem. We would welcome the in-depth scrutiny of a Select Committee with expertise on the relevant national policy statement, but I hope that other hon. Members would then have the chance to have their say.
Mr. Betts has tabled an amendment to new clause 8. He, quite sensibly, seeks to ensure that all the measures in the Bill that apply to consultation and publicity will be enforced in this regard as well. That is an important provision, and he is right to raise that issue.
I want to discuss whether the Bill, either in its current form or when it has been amended, will be sufficiently explicit on the need to mitigate climate change and to consider adaptations to it. The amendment that was tabled by Mr. Drew, which he discussed in a fair and helpful way, is far clearer on what we hope that national policy statements will have regard to, and on what the IPC will have regard to when taking decisions on individual applications. The Minister has said that he was wary of giving one issue more weight than all the others in regard to any decisions that the IPC would have to make. However, other hon. Members have already pointed out that, if there is to be an overarching issue, this is the one. I must admit that I, too, am somewhat surprised that the Government are being particularly resistant to this provision.
Sustainable development covers a whole load of very positive things. As a rural MP, I interpret the sustainability of the rural economy as being at the heart of sustainable development. A major project that would bring jobs to the area could be said to be making it sustainable in the long term, in that it would be doing something for the sustainability of the area, even if it did not necessarily have regard to climate change above all else.
New clause 1, which has been tabled by the hon. Member for Stroud and to which I have added my name, would work in tandem with amendment No. 1 in placing climate change at the top of the agenda when a national policy statement is set. The subject would also be on the agenda when the statement came to be interpreted by the commission. Those safeguards would ensure that we had a policy that made a lot more sense and that showed that Members of Parliament were as serious about tackling climate change as we like to suggest. I hope that the Government will listen to these arguments, but if the hon. Gentleman seeks to press the new clause to a vote, as he said that he will, I shall certainly encourage my hon. Friends to support him.
I shall confine my comments to the importance of national policy statements, and to how the House is involved in their scrutiny and whether there should be a vote in Parliament to approve them. It is clear from all our debates on the matter that the national policy statements are almost the basis for this legislation. They are absolutely key, and they have support, in principle, across the House.
When an individual planning application is made, a basis of policy should already have been determined by which the application can be judged. That is right in principle; it is also right in terms of process. Clearly, one of the problems with the present system is that each individual planning application involves not only a decision on whether the location in question is the most appropriate for the development, but a debate on whether the development is right per se in regard to policy on transport, or on power and energy, for example. We need to find a better way of determining the policy and considering applications in the light of that policy, so as to shorten the process and ensure that the applications are dealt with more expeditiously, while still being given full consideration.
The way in which policy statements are formulated is absolutely key. In Committee, I think that we were all in a bit of a haze as to how the scrutiny would take place. The Minister was unable to be as clear as he has been today, for obvious reasons. The House is quite rightly jealous of its own methods and procedures for scrutinising anything that the Government propose. It was therefore right that the Minister did not try to commit himself absolutely, although he did give an indication that he would try to reach an agreement on the proper process of scrutiny by the House and on how that would fit in with the overall process of Government scrutiny and consultation on policy statements.
It was interesting to hear the Chairman of the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Peter Luff, speaking today to my hon. Friend Dr. Starkey, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. There have been fruitful discussions between the Minister and those Committee Chairmen, who are now generally reassured that the Select Committees will be able to do their job of properly scrutinising the policy statements, and that they will be given adequate time in which to do it.
My amendment (a) to new clause 8 is an attempt to flesh out precisely how that process will work. It also sets out what I would not want to see happening—namely, a situation in which public scrutiny was taking place in parallel with the Select Committee scrutiny, and in which Ministers, faced with potentially contradictory views, could play one off against the other. It is entirely reasonable—I described it as an end-on-end process—for the public scrutiny and public consultation to come first. Then, the Select Committee would have an opportunity to scrutinise the Government proposals, but in the light of what the public had to say.
I accept that what my hon. Friend the Minister has done, in consultation with the Select Committee Chairmen, is reach a compromise. The process will set off and there will be consultation with the public and scrutiny in the House, but then there will be a gap after the public consultation has finished. The results of the consultation can be fed into the Select Committee, which can then take account of them before reaching its final view. That seems to be a reasonable compromise.
I am sure that if, in the end, the four to six weeks do not appear to be satisfactory or enough time in practice, Select Committees will not be slow in coming forward to say to Ministers, "We will need a bit longer on future occasions. It does not really work." There has been a genuine attempt to work through the interaction between the Government process of consultation and scrutiny and the procedures of the House. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he is trying to achieve, and what he has achieved, according to what I have heard from two Select Committee Chairmen.
We then come to the issue of whether what the House does should be more than scrutiny and whether we should be allowed a vote on all the policy statements. We had that debate in Committee and Mrs. Lait has already reminded me of proposals that I may have moved, if not pushed to the vote. Instinctively, any hon. Member would want the House to play as big a role as possible and to have greater opportunity to hold the Government to account, as well as ultimately to say through a vote whether it approves of a policy statement. Those are incredibly important documents and we should not undervalue them.
There are, however, two real problems. In an intervention, I asked the hon. Lady whether she was really saying that a Conservative Government, if we ever have one, would give up to an unelected second Chamber the right to decide whether their policy statements went through. Would the Conservatives give an unelected second Chamber a right of veto? She can say so today because she is in opposition, but if she ever occupies a seat on the Treasury Bench she will probably come to a slightly different view. Governments tend to do that, do they not? Once people get into power, they do not much like the idea of giving in to a body that is unaccountable.
That brings me to another, quite important point. When my constituents talk about parliamentary accountability, they mean holding me to account because they elect me. They do not mean holding to account some Members of the House of Lords, because they know that that cannot be done. There is a fundamental problem here. In principle, the hon. Lady is right and the House ought to have some ability to take a view on national policy statements, but surely the House should not be put in a position whereby it could find its view on a national policy statement being overridden by the other place, with no right under the Parliament Acts or any other measure for the wishes of this House to take primacy in that argument.
The hon. Lady has to untangle this one because there is a real problem here. Would we in the House seriously vote to set up a situation whereby we could vote for a policy statement only to find that nothing would be agreed because a veto had been given to the other place?
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has provoked me. I had been sitting here thinking, "I am not going to be provoked." He has produced the solution, which of course is the Parliament Acts. They give the House of Commons primacy.
I understand that the Parliament Acts operate only on legislation. I may be wrong about that and someone with more experience of these matters could correct me, but these measures are not legislation as such. They are orders and there will be no right to use the Parliament Acts.
I do not want this to turn into a dialogue, but the hon. Gentleman may remember that my comments were along the lines of my accepting that my proposal is not perfect and that a method would have to be found for us to create a new, unique process. Within that, we could build in the Parliament Acts.
In due course we may arrive where the hon. Lady would like to be, where I would like to be, and where I suspect Ministers want to be. The essential problem, which she has just identified again, is this. While it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to devise a solution, does she think it possible for us to propose in the Bill—perhaps it is not possible, because it would amount to a fairly fundamental constitutional change—application of the Parliament Act to orders, and establishing an arrangement whereby the process of approval for national policy statements ultimately gives the wishes of this House primacy over those of the other place? Would Members of the other place be likely to vote for a clause to that effect? The answer is that they probably would not, and trying to push the proposal through could delay the passage of the entire Bill.
I believe that the hon. Lady is arguing that when we come to discuss again—in, I hope, the not-too-distant future—the relationship between this House and the other place, we should begin by discussing not how the constitution of the other place should be constructed and who should be a Member of it, but what are the powers of this House in relation to those of the House of Lords, which House has primacy, and whether that primacy applies to orders as well as to legislation. That is an important and interesting argument, but I am not convinced that tacking it on to a clause in the Planning Bill is the solution. If a solution could be found that satisfied the law officers who are advising us, I would probably vote for it, but I suspect that the hon. Lady's amendment does not do that, and I think she accepts that it does not really work in the context in which it probably ought to work. I therefore do not feel that I can support the amendment, although I instinctively share her sentiments.
I wish to speak to my amendment No. 3. The Minister and members of the Committee will recall that I raised the issue of extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields in Committee. As I said then, the Draper report, funded by the Department of Health and published in 2005, found that children who had lived within 200 m of high-voltage power lines since birth had a 70 per cent. higher risk of developing childhood leukaemia. The Government have received recommendations for action on the issue from the Health Protection Agency, from the Government's own stakeholder group SAGE—the Stakeholder Advisory Group ELF EMF—and from those involved in the cross-party inquiry on childhood leukaemia and EMFs last year.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hurd, who could not be present for the debate, has given a lead. Recently, along with members of Children with Leukaemia, he met the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Mr. Wright, who stated—as he has stated elsewhere—that his Department, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department of Health were considering proposals for precautionary measures to be introduced this year. Those measures are likely to involve either the issuing of information to the public and planning authorities, or planning controls restricting the building of houses very close to high-voltage power lines.
The Bill provides for the expansion of essential infrastructure, such as high-voltage power lines, and for the fast-tracking of planning approval for such projects. I believe that it should also provide for the introduction of precautionary measures. If the Government introduce planning controls applying to the building of houses and schools near power lines, the IPC must be able to implement planning controls on new power lines near houses and schools.
As we know, for we have debated it at tortuous length, the Bill also provides for the creation of national policy statements on infrastructure. If the Government are not prepared to accept an amendment allowing the IPC to consider EMFs and health concerns in its decision making, I want to receive assurances that high-voltage overhead transmission lines will be the subject of a national policy statement.
Amendment No. 3 would simply require the Secretary of State to consult on potential health risks arising from national planning policy during the drafting of national policy statements. I have deliberately left the wording vague. No doubt civil servants advising the Minister have expressed the fear that he may be required to consult all sorts of weird and wonderful organisations that are worried about energy fields and the like. Actually, we leave it to the Secretary of State to designate the organisations that he or she feels are "appropriate" to consult on the risks to health arising from the national policy statement.
Many closely involved with this matter, such as the excellent pressure group Children with Leukaemia, are concerned that the proposed system will allow much less consultation and opportunity for representation from members of the public, as the IPC will be given only six months from the initial meeting to take evidence and another three months to deliberate. The IPC can decide what subjects are relevant to the discussion at the evidence sessions and can explicitly exclude subjects that are deemed to be covered by a national policy statement, which of course could include health.
Obviously this is an extremely emotive issue for families and I ask the Minister to consider the implications for families and parents when a new proposed high-voltage power line or large transformer station is to be placed within close reach of housing or a school, as the understanding of the risks involved increases. This is an opportunity to address those concerns and to put a precautionary principle in the Bill. I ask the Minister to share his thoughts and an up-to-date assessment of where these negotiations are going in his Department and the two others that I have mentioned. I ask him also to give some comfort to the House that the Government are taking the matter seriously and are addressing a matter of great concern to a great many people. How he responds will determine how I proceed with the amendment.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Drew on his amendment. As an aside, the proposal is relevant because, within 20 years, we will be on the edge of a tipping point on climate change, which will be potentially irreversible. That is why it behoves us, on every relevant piece of legislation, to emphasise the issue of climate change. That is what the amendment does and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why there is any opposition to it whatever. I welcome the opportunity to vote on it.
I have a number of problems with the Bill, but the one area where I did not have problems—it was mentioned by my hon. Friend Mr. Betts—was the concept of national policy statements. I support them overwhelmingly. I encourage the idea of democratic involvement in the development of a policy statement that then becomes policy, and then advises those making planning decisions. Everyone who has served on a planning committee in the past knows the difficulty of understanding some of the policy diktats that have come from central Government and how they were ever developed, in many instances. This proposal clarifies the process, and I welcome the idea of publishing, publicising and consulting on the statements.
On parliamentary scrutiny, I would prefer sequential involvement—consultation followed by the Committee—but I accept the compromise reached. We will see how it works. I hope that we will have a commitment to a review, which would then be brought back to the House after a period to see whether the system was working effectively. That review should be undertaken by Committee Chairmen but then reported back to the House.
I do not understand why, at the end of the process, the House cannot have a vote. It is constitutional sophistry to say that these are policies and not legislation. We have a vote on a policy statement; it is called the Queen's Speech. There is a precedent. To give these statements credibility, they need the democratic stamp of approval, and what better than a vote of this House? Credibility is important. If these policy statements are driven through this House without a vote, we will find even more protestors on the roof of Parliament trying to exercise their democratic rights to tell us that we are not doing our job.
On the question whether the other place has a veto, if it were up to me we would abolish the other place in the first instance, but that is another debate. However, as long as the other place has a role in the determination of legislation, I see no problem in it having a role in the determination of policy as well. We all know that the Parliament Act is implemented very rarely. The issues are bounced back between us and we eventually arrive at a compromise.
On those points, I wish the debate would move on to examine how we can resolve the issue of the process. I do not understand the provision referring to
"either House of Parliament makes a resolution with regard to the proposal".
I echo what Mrs. Lait says; I do not know what "makes a resolution" means. Does it mean that an early-day motion is tabled? Does it refer to a Committee resolution? Is a negative or affirmative procedure of this House involved? We need clarification on that matter, to assure us that we have some democratic role in its final determination.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is problem? I hope that we could eventually find a way whereby we could resolve any conflict on orders that might arise between this House and the House of Lords, but the legislation process to which he referred is about the two Houses examining how different amendments that are moved in one place and not the other can eventually be reconciled. The problem with these orders is that there is just one vote on them; they are not amendable orders, so there is no process for resolving a situation where one House votes one way and the other House votes the other.
I accept that, but I still think that the issue of principle can be resolved by negotiation in that sense, and that even if it involves facing down the other House, so be it. I would welcome the opportunity to involve some amendment process in these documents, but that is not being afforded to us in this debate. I regret that that was not raised in more detail in Committee.
I tabled a specific amendment with regard to the adoption of existing policy statements as new policy statements, and I think that we have been given further clarity on that. I used the example of the aviation White Paper because that was the example that the Minister used in January. At that point in time, he was expressing the concern of the House that in some way the aviation White Paper would be bounced overnight—to use his expression—into a national policy statement. Let me put my understanding of what we have heard from the Minister tonight on the record, and if he does not intervene on me, I shall take that as tacit consent. I understand that if any existing policy statement has not satisfied the measures being introduced in this Bill for future policy statements—thorough consultation, a sustainability assessment, parliamentary scrutiny and then some form of resolution of this House, whatever that might be—it cannot therefore be accepted as a policy statement.
The Minister then said that any existing proposal has therefore to be determined under the existing procedures. Let us consider the example of aviation, which I take at random. Such a proposal would thus have to be based on the policies set out in the existing aviation White Paper. If that is the case, may I put on record the fact that the aviation White Paper is considerably out of date now? Many of us believe it was inaccurate when it was published in the first instance. Things have moved on, so any Government would be in jeopardy of considering a decision about the expansion of Heathrow airport—again, I use a random example—on the proposals set out in the aviation White Paper. Given that we know that the issues have moved on and the factors that brought about that White Paper are no longer relevant, it would be unreasonable to take any decision based on that existing policy statement. Therefore, any future decisions about aviation should be based on a national policy statement that starts afresh.
As I have made clear, I am quite a big supporter of aviation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Ministers do not really need to be too afraid of the proposal, because they could work in partnership with the aviation sector? It knows very well that the writing is on the wall and that it will have to work to consider the environmental consequences that he is describing in terms of emissions and other considerations. The problem is that as long as the Government refuse to engage with aviation on the environmental agenda, aviation will not feel considerable parliamentary pressure to operate responsibly in this regard.
That intervention is incredibly helpful; I do not know how the hon. Gentleman will fit that into tomorrow night's concert, but I look forward to hearing the lyrics. [Interruption.] I thought that I would get another plug in for him. The essential point that I am trying to make is that this legislation, which I fully and wholeheartedly support with regard to national policy statements, sets a rigorous standard of process for engagement with the wider general public, the various other statutory bodies and the interest groups. A definitive statement on policy will then be arrived at, and the IPC can use it to guide its decisions.
Any process by which we tried to pre-empt that and bounce in an existing statement without due process would undermine the whole system and be open to challenge. We cannot use existing White Papers as a stopgap or to justify major infrastructure decisions because they are so out of date. It would be better to await the development of proper NPSs before any major infrastructure decisions are made. In that way, we would arrive at legitimate decisions that may achieve popular support.
I obviously have concerns about the development of Heathrow, but that is not the only issue. There are genuine concerns across the piece about the development of NPSs from existing statements without due process. I shall list the organisations that have expressed concern about the clause in question, which I have tabled an amendment to delete. Those organisations include the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Civic Trust, Friends of the Earth, the National Trust, the Ramblers Association, the Woodland Trust, the Campaign for Better Transport, the Wildlife Trust, the Council for National Parks, Plantlife International, the Geoconservation Association, the Enough is Enough organisation, AirportWatch and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I do not know of a greater and wider coalition that has come together on an environmental issue. Those organisations represent millions of our constituents who are anxious about this process. They want to see due process take place and to be involved in the development of NPSs, which would give them credibility.
There is potential for a new planning process based on real engagement, which could build up once again the credibility of planning. It could also meet the Government's criteria for expeditious decision making. On the basis of the assurances that we have been given and the Minister's tacit consent to the statements I have just made about my beliefs about the Government's position, I shall not press my amendment to a vote tonight.
"The Secretary of State may take account of consultation carried out, and publicity arranged, before the commencement day for the purpose of complying with the requirements of section 7", which address the consultation leading up to the policy document. So that is a worry. It is also apparent that if a statement issued before the commencement is designated as an NPS, the Secretary of State is not bound to take into account the consultation carried out in connection with the statement. Those are contradictory and bad, but could happen under the Bill as it stands. Matters are not as comfortable as the hon. Gentleman seemed to think.
I know that the Minister did his best to explain the position, and I am not being critical of him, but this issue is of great concern. The public have to be involved in the process from the beginning. After all, we are legislating for a brand new system for large-scale developments, and if the system is to stand the test of time the public must feel, and must be, fully involved in the process. It is no use having consultations with all and sundry to the exclusion of those who should have first say.
Let us not kid ourselves: the Bill is designed to hurry through bad neighbour developments of the type listed in clause 13 (a) to (o)—all potentially bad neighbours. The need for public scrutiny is thus higher than ever it was for general planning legislation.
The point has been well made about the sort of retrospection that might occur if we were to accept previous White Papers as policy statements. I realise, too, that as the Minister said in a reply in Committee it might take up to 18 months to bring forward the national policy statement. We do not necessarily want a lacuna for all that time. I am not absolutely sure what we have to bridge that lacuna, but no doubt the Minister will respond on that point in due course.
The national policy statement is a vital document. Everybody, in all corners of the House, would agree that it is important. In order to ensure that it is given the utmost legitimacy and the full support of the public, the public must be seen to be deeply engaged at all times in its formulation. I am sure that that is a fairly obvious thing to say, but perhaps it needs repeating.
I concur with what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said virtually throughout his speech. I agree with what Mr. Drew, too, has said in his new clause. I cannot understand why new clause 1 is so unacceptable to the Government: as I mentioned before, "sustainable development" were the words used in the Government of Wales Act 2006, and we are talking about a tighter definition of "climate change", as explained by the hon. Gentleman.
Politicians today all talk about climate change and say that it is the biggest threat that we face. It should be uppermost in our minds at all times when we deal with legislation and problems. We must always consider climate change and sustainable development. If we were to accept the new clause, that would be a very positive sign. With respect to the Minister, I do not think that accepting it would hamper anybody. It will not tie anybody's hands—far from it—and it would ensure that we concentrated, as we should, on this major threat to mankind.
As politicians, we often say that the young are disengaged from the political process. In my experience, the young are often not disengaged from the issues of sustainability, climate change and the need for eco-friendly policies. No, they are not; they are probably more attuned than my generation was way back when. I do not know whether such a statement in the Bill would encourage more participation, bring youngsters into the process and make them feel that we are reflecting what is going on out there. We read our newspapers every day—we look at the icebergs melting and at the problems everywhere with pollution, and so on and so forth. It would be a fine thing if we were to accept the new clause, or something similar to it, and put those words in the Bill. It would be a sign that we were serious about what we say about climate change, and that we were not merely playing lip service to it, as some people outside might suspect.
I might be the last to speak in this debate, so may I congratulate the Government on producing a groundbreaking procedure through the national policy statements? They have been acknowledged as such by Members from both sides of the House. It is good to see the Secretary of State listening to what I think is one of the most important debates that we have had for a long time. I am surprised that there are not more Members present to contribute.
There is no question about the fact that what we are doing today is groundbreaking. The national policy statements will need to be scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament in one way or another. Indeed, it would be folly not to use the expertise in the other place. The Minister needs to think about the parliamentary procedure very carefully. As well as being discussed with the four relevant Select Committees, the matter ought to have been referred to the Procedure Committee because we are making a new parliamentary procedure. The Procedure Committee should have worked out a way forward with the involvement of every Member of this House and of the other House who wished to become involved.
There are lots of issues for the Select Committees to consider. There will be a huge work load. I do not necessarily know whether the Chairmen of the four Select Committees involved have worked out what the work load of producing the national policy statements will be. Even with the Government's help and even with the Government having produced a draft in the first place, the public consultation must then be considered, and expert witnesses must be taken into account as well.
Some while ago in the debate, I should have declared my interest as one of the four chartered surveyors in the House and one who has practised in the planning field. I therefore know the minutiae of the issues involved and how long some inquires can take. If any of the minutiae is translated into what the Select Committees must do, the Committees have got a shock in store as regards the amount of work they are going to have to do. If the system is to work properly, not only must they produce a national policy statement on the subject that they are considering, but they must consider other national policy statements that have been already issued, because all national policy statements must interlock if they are to work properly with the IPC's involvement. There is no separating different transport systems or different energy-producing systems. All infrastructure in this country is ultimately interlocking; what we do with one system has an effect on the others.
There is an immense work load. Yes, of course such things must be done in proper detail. I am open-minded about whether there should be a vote on this matter. I can understand the argument for a vote—it gives democratic legitimacy—but the Secretary of State is the person ultimately responsible to Parliament for how the whole IPC procedure works. Indeed, one of the major problems if Parliament has a vote is that I do not know how that review procedure that the Secretary of State can invoke will work. He would be invoking a review of something that Parliament had already voted on. So my inclination is to say that Parliament should scrutinise such things in great detail with whatever method is come up with, but the Secretary of State should be responsible for producing the national policy statement. That is probably the only way that it will work.
In considering how they will proceed, the Select Committees will need to consider how the private Bill procedure worked in the past. That gives a clue to the amount of work that is involved. Will they allow the promoters to be legally represented, for example? Under the private Bill procedure, that delays the process hugely, because the professionals involved tend to go into much greater and much more technical detail than the laymen involved in the process. The Select Committees will need to look at that very carefully. Of course, those involved will want to streamline the procedure, but if it is too streamlined the legitimacy of the report produced will not be as great as if the matter had been considered in great detail.
The promoters' position must be considered. For example, let us take BAA and this country's airports policy. How will the Select Committees deal with BAA's evidence? What declarations will the companies and individuals involved in the process have to make? Indeed, the members of the Select Committees will need to think about what declarations they make.
We are making groundbreaking rules. The process needs to be expedited, but it must be seen to be legitimate and fair, and as other hon. Members have said the public must have an adequate say in every national policy statement if they are to come out at the end of the process with the legitimacy that they deserve, but that is not the end of the process. In a complicated world things move on very quickly, and I can understand that, at the end of the process, the national policy statements will need to be revised fairly frequently—so the cycle starts all over again. The Secretary of State will have a role in their revision and the IPC can make recommendations on their revision, but Parliament must constantly keep in mind whether its own national policy statement is up to date and still applicable.
The Government still have a little thinking to do on the whole matter. I am sure that the other place, with its acute legal brains, will have a great deal to say on the matter. It is a highly important matter; we need to get it right. I hope that the Government will not rush it. They should put it to the Procedure Committee. We need to think very carefully about the role of both Houses and whether or not we should have a vote and whether the Secretary of State should be the final arbiter in producing the national policy statements.
I had not planned to speak but, unusually, I disagree with my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown. National policy statements are extremely important and will receive a lot of scrutiny. The Lords is best at doing that sort of thing. The idea that the Secretary of State will make the final decision without a vote in both Houses of Parliament seems utterly wrong. I suggest to her that there is a danger that if national policy statements are not subject to scrutiny in the other place and are not voted on there, she will not have won the argument. We are talking about important national policy statements that should command the support of the whole House. I say to the Ministers present, in good faith, that it is not impossible that in a few months they will be sitting on the Opposition Benches and will regret the fact that the other place has not been given more of a say on the matters that we are discussing. As I say, unusually, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold.
My hon. Friend is of course fully entitled to his views, and I welcome any disagreement; that is the nature of the House. However, if he proposes that there should be a vote, he will have to say how this House will retain primacy. Somebody has to make an ultimate decision. If he is saying that national policy statements have to be subject to a vote, at the end of the day one or other of the Houses will have to be supreme. I suggest that it must be this House, and there has to be a new mechanism to enable that.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but I am afraid that I disagree again. My argument is that the proposal must command the support of both Houses. Whether this House or the other has primacy is another debate. The idea that the other place should not be given a vote because its Members are not elected does not bear scrutiny, because I understand that the Government's policy is to have an elected upper Chamber. However, that is a different issue. If there are to be highly important national policy statements, they must command the widest support. If the Government cannot get their way, they need to revise the policy until it commands widespread support in both Houses. It is therefore important that votes are held at the end of the process. Any system that gives power to the Secretary of State is undemocratic.
We have had a serious debate on the serious issues covered by this group of amendments. I pay tribute to the contributions that all Members have made this afternoon. We are breaking new ground in the Bill; we are putting in place a set of reforms and a new system that is opening up new territory for us.
I was particularly struck by the contribution that Mr. Clifton-Brown made; it was thoughtful and constructive, and there were points for me, and the Chairs of the Select Committees, to consider. I say to him that the Procedure Committee and the Liaison Committee were brought into discussions, not least because the Select Committee Chairs rightly wanted to consider and consult them. As a Minister, I have taken the view that it is proper for me to have a relationship and discussion with the Select Committee Chairs. It is for them to consult and consider the views of different parts of the House. That is how we have conducted the process to date.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the Select Committees' work load might be significant as a result of national policy statements, particularly over the next year or two, when the bulk of national policy statements will be produced in draft for the first time. That is one of the reasons why, quite early on, I took the view, in response to the Select Committee Chairs' arguments, that they needed flexibility to decide how best to deal with each national policy statement that is produced—whether that should be one of the existing four departmental Committees or whether it should be a combined Committee that draws on the expertise, talent and experience from all four.
Therefore, as I explained earlier, we have, through the Liaison Committee, left the Select Committee Chairs to take charge of that decision. In the end, we are interested in making sure that the scrutiny is strong and that it helps us produce the best possible national policy statements, but the Select Committee Chairs must take into account the potential pressures on their Committee.
This has been a very good debate. Whatever our disagreements about having a vote, one thing that has come out of the debate is that we should use the expertise of the other place. In his discussions with the Select Committees, did the Minister discuss how that might be invoked?
I have some respect for the other place and for the expertise of its membership, but this House has specific departmental Select Committees with the expertise to scrutinise and hold to account the Departments of Government. The other House has nothing akin to that. The other House may choose to debate and vote on national policy statements in the future. That is why we have said clearly that although we will take into account any resolution of either House, we will take into account the recommendations and reports of Select Committees of this House, giving proper recognition to the special expertise that our departmental Select Committees have, which marks them out from the range of different Committees that the other place has established.
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he was open-minded on the question of voting. His hon. Friend Mr. Bone, sitting immediately behind the Front-Bench team, promptly jumped up to say loyally that he was not open-minded on the question of a vote. For those who seriously advocate a vote, there are some significant factors that have not yet been worked through. I shall return to the matter at the end of my remarks, but the hon. Member for Cotswold was spot on when he said in the end that Secretaries of State must be responsible for national policy statements, because national policy statements are just that: they are policy statements and they are the responsibility of Government.
I welcomed the contribution of Mr. Llwyd to the debate in the Chamber and in Committee. He said that the public must be fully involved in the new planning system. They will be. There will be opportunities for them to be involved in a stronger, clearer and more systematic way than in the current system. First, the new national policy statements will be subject to full public consultation, with particular provisions where there are location-specific elements to policy statements that will have potential effects in local areas.
Secondly, for the first time ever, there will be a duty on any promoter who wants to submit an application for a major project to contact and consult local communities and local councils before they even submit their application, with the IPC being prepared not even to consider the application unless that is done properly. Thirdly, there will be a protection for the right to be heard in inquiries. Fourthly, planning aid will be doubled so that individuals and local groups that are short of resources can get the advice and in some cases the support on representation that they require to make their views heard and their point of view tell in inquiries.
I thank the Minister for the detailed response that he is giving the House.
At the end of the day, the IPC can decide in what form an objector is to give evidence before it, and it can decide whether to allow cross-examination of the proposer. To my way of thinking, that is a little different from what the Minister said, albeit inadvertently.
It is not different at all. Everyone will have a right to submit evidence to the commission; they can do that in writing. Everyone will have the right to be heard in an open session if they require that. We seek to put in place specific open sessions for those whose properties are affected by compulsory purchase orders. The questioning will be led by the commission itself, not by lawyers. It will not involve the kind of adversarial, sometimes off-putting, hugely expensive and often lengthy lawyer-driven process in which local voices are normally the first to get lost. We can ensure that the inquiry can be conducted fairly and faster than is sometimes the case in the big inquiries, some of which get bogged down for years.
On the issue of existing policy statements, I say to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend John McDonnell, to paraphrase a former US President: read my words. [Hon. Members: "Read my lips!"] I said "to paraphrase". I encourage the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy to consult the Official Report tomorrow.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that I am glad to have his support for national policy statements and his acceptance that the arrangements on parliamentary scrutiny and public consultation, which we have now agreed with the Select Committee Chairs, are an important step forward. However, simply saying that he might wish to abolish the other place is beyond the scope of the Bill and does not answer the concern that the other place may take a different view, if that is equally binding to that of this place, on a policy statement. It is not an answer simply to say that the Parliament Act 1949 is in place; that is used only for legislation.
Will my hon. Friend forgive me if I do not? I have given way to him so often today, and I want to deal with the other points that have been raised.
It is good to see Mr. Benyon in his place for this part of the proceedings. I hope that he will accept that his amendment No. 3 seeks to add a level of detail that is not appropriate for the Bill—certainly not before the Government have come to their conclusions following consideration of the specialist advisory report or the recommendations and views of the Health Protection Agency.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman what I hope he will take as a note of encouragement. The appraisal of sustainability that I have made clear will be required as part of the process for producing a draft national policy statement—certainly before the statement can be designated—will need to consider, as an appraisal of sustainability and not just of the environment, population and human health as part of the social, economic and environmental effects. Furthermore, there is a provision in the Bill that gives the Secretary of State a power to prescribe statutory consultees in secondary legislation. I say to the hon. Gentleman that this is the process and that is the place in which to consider the roles of the organisations in which he has an interest.
I am grateful for those assurances, but will the Minister give me one more? Will he, in consultation with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department of Health, speed the process along? The issue now has a head of steam. We have a detailed statistic on the risk for children who live close to such facilities. We want progress in co-operation with other Departments, so that we can carry a precautionary principle through to some future conclusion.
I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance and I pay tribute to him and Mr. Hurd, who contributed to the Housing and Regeneration Bill. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr. Iddon, who contributed in the same way to the Energy Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mr. Wright, is keen to see this concluded, and I will also do my best to ensure that it is.
My hon. Friend Mr. Betts described national policy statements as the basis of the Bill and said that they are right in principle and in process. He rightly said that the Select Committees are reassuring about the fact that they can do a proper job of scrutiny under the provisions that we set out in the Bill. I hope that that is a firm basis for this House to endorse our proposals. I understand him when he says that he has an instinctive attraction to the idea of a binding vote for approval, but he set out, more eloquently than I did, some of the problems and flaws that still exist in that regard.
In response to Dan Rogerson, resolutions of either House are designed to deal with debates that may or may not take place in either House on a national policy statement. In the Bill, we frame that as taking into account those debates or the report of a Committee of this House. We mean both but draft it in that way because there may well be no debate or resolution on a particular national policy statement in either House.
Very few Members on either side of the House have been more consistent or committed as advocates of action on climate change than my hon. Friend Mr. Drew. He is right to say that we should not be debating this in isolation. There are links to the Energy Bill, to the prospective marine Bill and, as I tried to make clear, to the Climate Change Bill. As I said earlier, there will be what he described as due regard to climate change in the appraisals of sustainability. It will then be built into national policy statements based on the sustainable development that he has been so keen to see, which will be the framework that the IPC has to use as a single-principle policy framework for considering and determining any applications for major projects.
My hon. Friend took me to task and pointed out in particular that there is a duty in clause 151 on local planning authorities in relation to climate change. Let me be clear to the House. Clause 151 relates to plan-making only—to development plan documents, which are the equivalent at the local level of our national policy statements. We do not need to put a similar duty on Ministers when drawing up the national policy statements because, first, we have the sustainable development duty; secondly, we have the duty on Ministers to do an appraisal of sustainability and to publish it alongside the draft national policy statement; and, thirdly, we have the Climate Change Bill, which will bear on Ministers in a way that it will not bear on local authorities. I hope that that may be sufficient reassurance to my hon. Friend not to press his amendments.
I hear what the Minister says. However, if we are going to state categorically in the Climate Change Bill that there is a duty on Ministers, I see even more of a dilemma in not stating it categorically in this Bill. They should be interwoven—that is what gives them their strength.
But the interlinking of the provisions of this Bill with the provisions of the Climate Change Bill was precisely his point and precisely my point. Instead of replicating or duplicating, the power of the provisions in the Climate Change Bill will bite hard on Ministers and on central Government but will not bite in the same way on local authorities. It is therefore reasonable and right to look in clause 151 at placing this duty on the equivalent plan-making power, with the development plan documents, as we are doing in the national policy statements.
Finally, I turn to the comments of Mrs. Lait. I welcome her welcome of our amendments on blight and compulsory purchase and her recognition that climate change will be considered as part of sustainability appraisals of the national policy statements. When she spoke to her amendments, she was right to say that the House will not own the policy. The policy is properly the responsibility of the Government and elected Ministers. The policy is rightly that of the Government, but before it is put in place it is also right that it is subject to strong and full public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, which is what new clause 8 and the associated amendments are designed to do.
The hon. Lady said that she did not want to see long inquiries in the future. We share that view. I do not want long, costly inquiries in which local people lose out to lawyers who make it impossible for them to get their views across. I do not want a situation where the inquiry becomes the place in which national need and national policy is debated. That is vital. It is a matter for the Government and this House, not inspectors or commissioners conducting an inquiry or an examination of a particular application. It is our responsibility to settle the matter so that decisions on applications are taken on the strength of applications within the framework of the new national policy statements. Those statements should be the principal reference for any IPC considerations. Of course, national policy statements must meet the standards of a sustainability appraisal, a public consultation and the parliamentary scrutiny set out in the Bill.
The hon. Lady was kind enough to describe the form of parliamentary scrutiny and consideration that we proposed as "new" and "unique". I hope that she accepts after this debate that it is an important innovation. I hope that she also accepts that the case she tried to make for a binding vote is rather like the state of the drafting, which she admitted is flawed. I hope that she accepts new clause 8, and I hope that she will not press either of her amendments to a Division. If she does, I shall ask my hon. Friends to resist.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.