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New Clause 8 — Parliamentary requirements

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 2nd June 2008.

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Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 9:00 pm, 2nd June 2008

Following on from what John McDonnell has just said, I wish to refer to an exchange that I had with the Minister in Committee. I referred to clause 11, which states:

"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.

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