Planning Bill

Part of Deferred Division – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 25th June 2008.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe 4:15 pm, 25th June 2008

I will not respond to that in technical terms. My understanding is that there is currently a deficiency that would not allow people to have that right, which is covered by the new clause. I would have thought that such a change was fairly uncontentious. As I understand it, it would give people the same rights as they have to a public hearing on applications that go to the IPC. There has been a lot of misunderstanding on this matter, and I hope that Ministers will be able to make it absolutely clear that any individual who expresses an interest in an application that goes to the IPC will be able to ask for and get a public hearing, and that none of those matters will be dealt with by written representations in those circumstances.

I explored the matter of potential delay with my right hon. Friends, and we come back to the proposals of the hon. Member for Beckenham concerning Ministers' confirmation. I suggested that Ministers could take all the decisions from the IPC and, where there was no contention or they had no concerns, they could fast-track them, but there may be other issues that Ministers might want to take longer to consider. The problem is that if Ministers decided that they had no particular concerns, they would still have to go through a long-winded process of assuring themselves that they did not have concerns. If they did not, a fast-track process might be subject to judicial review, with all the problems that that can bring about.

It might be possible to introduce additional criteria meaning that Ministers could consider particularly contentious applications, but as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained, the Bill lists criteria such as cases where there are concerns of national security, where there is no national policy statement or where a policy statement is out of date, or becomes out of date before the application or during the process of considering it. In all those circumstances, Ministers can intervene. If there are other circumstances in which ministerial intervention might be appropriate, I would like to hear about them, because I am prepared to consider them, but I thought that it might be best to consider what comes out of the practical application of the process. If, during the first two years, there are clear examples of where it would be more appropriate to refer a matter to Ministers, criteria can be developed at the end of the two-year review. This House sometimes has an obligation to be proactive in such matters. My right hon. Friend has said that there will be pre-appointment scrutiny of the chair and vice-chair. Regular reports will be provided to Select Committees, and Select Committees currently request such reports.

There is also a crucial point, which I raised, about accountability. Ministers can be brought to the Chamber to explain decisions about applications and now the chairman of the commission can be brought before any Select Committee. Indeed, the commissioners who make decisions can also be requested to appear before a Committee with the chairman to explain their reasons. If the House is proactive, it will build for itself a body of evidence about how the process is working and whether there are problems, and thus contribute to the two-year review. That is a challenge for us.

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