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New Clause 8 — Parliamentary requirements

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 2nd June 2008.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 9:15 pm, 2nd June 2008

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.

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