Schedule 7 — Repeals

Deferred Division – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 25th June 2008.

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Votes in this debate

Amendments made: No. 284, page 148, line 27, at end insert—

'Forestry Act 1967 (c. 10) In paragraph 2 of Schedule 3— (a) the words from "section 77" to "(for Scotland)", and (b) "the said section 77 or (for Scotland)".'.

No. 285, page 148, line 33, at end insert—

'Section 212(4).'.

No. 286, page 148, line 33, at end insert—

'In section 284(3)(a), "for planning permission".

No. 287, page 149, line 5, column 2, at end insert—

'Sections 46 to 48.'.

No. 288, page 149, line 6, at end insert—

'Section 122(5)(a).
In section 122(6), "(a),".
In Schedule 6, paragraph 5.'.

No. 289, page 149, line 6, at end insert—

'Greater London Authority Act 2007 (c. 24) Section 36.'.

—[ Mr. Watts. ]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 7:30 pm, 25th June 2008

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As we begin Third Reading, we have come to a wide agreement that this is an important Bill that makes important far-reaching reforms to our planning system. The challenges facing the country demand difficult decisions in order to make such improvements. We must replace a third of our electricity generation capacity in the next 20 years. We must increase the power we generate from renewable resources and we aim to see that at a level of 20 per cent. by 2020. We must secure water supplies for a growing population with an increasingly changing climate, and we must improve the major transport systems to support jobs and economic growth in this country for the future.

We know that to get major investment for such major developments we need clearer national policies on big energy, water and transport developments. We know that we need a better way to make decisions on big project applications and that we need more opportunities for local people to have a say and an influence, particularly those from the local council areas and communities that are most affected by big project applications. That is precisely what the Bill provides us with.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I will not give way—not to the hon. Gentleman at this point.

The House, and members of the Public Bill Committee in particular, have given the Bill strong scrutiny. We have had four Committee evidence sessions, 14 Committee scrutiny sessions and two days on Report. At every stage, the Government have been ready to listen carefully to the arguments and concerns raised by Members from all parties and from groups with an interest in the Bill.

When there has been a good case for changes that can also strengthen the Bill, we have been ready to make such changes. We have done that in relation to the accountability of the IPC to the House through Select Committees, a stronger duty for Ministers to take the environment into account, and the role of local councils in reporting to the IPC on the consultation conducted by promoters before an application and on the impact of an application in their area. We have made such changes on the right to be heard at inquiries conducted by the IPC and on a range of other matters, from enforcement loopholes to excluding tramways and other guided transport systems from the Bill.

I pay tribute to the Chairs of the four main departmental Select Committees who have worked with me and with the Leader of the House. As a result of what the Chair of the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has described as "extremely constructive dialogue", we have developed and legislated for a special system to allow Parliament to scrutinise the new national policy statements, which was agreed by the House during our first day on Report.

There is also wide agreement that the planning system requires a radical overhaul. As we pass the Bill to the other place, we have reached the point where there is wide, if not universal, acceptance of our plans to reform the existing eight separate consent regimes—often arcane and antiquated—into one. Also accepted are our new national policy statements that will cover the big questions on the balance between environmental, economic and social objectives. Those policy statements will also consider the national need for development, including where nuclear power stations and airport extensions should be sited. Our plans for a new independent commission, drawn from a wide range of relevant expertise and tasked with assessing and deciding on applications, have also been accepted.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

If someone wanted to begin a planning application for a new power station today, how long would it take to get an answer under the new system?

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

An application today for a new power station would be handled under the existing regime. The new system means that the commission will handle such matters only when the new national policy statements are in place, and under their terms.

The Government have also gained approval for new legal obligations for project developers to consult locally before submitting an application. If they do not do so, the commission will not even look at an application. We have also gained approval for our plans for a new inquiry process that guarantees the right to be heard, in writing and in person, and which makes cross-examination available. The commission will lead the questions, so that lawyers do not dominate and cause local voices to be shut out.

Finally, we have gained approval for our plans to improve the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and for a new power allowing councils to introduce a community infrastructure levy for their areas.

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Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me, and I shall be brief. He mentioned the public's right to be heard, but many people are worried about how areas subject to flooding and standing water are handled. Is he confident that the new planning process will give local residents the opportunity to have their opinions heard before the Environment Agency turns an area into a standing water flood plain?

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Minister of State (Department of Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I rather regret giving way to the hon. Gentleman now, as he has a habit of coming in halfway through a debate and going off half-cocked. The Bill does not cover those matters, nor does it touch that part of the planning system.

Some of the proposals in the Bill involve tough decisions, but they will help meet this country's vital long-term needs for more homes, nuclear power and airport extensions. Faced with those difficult planning decisions, the Tories have ducked and dived—worse, though, they have at times played the Bill for short-term political gain. In Committee they voted against the IPC, preferring that the planning inspectorate should do the job of hearing applications. At the start of the Report stage today, a Tory amendment accepted the IPC, but only to make recommendations. By the end of Report stage, they voted to allow the IPC to make decisions, but only if they were confirmed by the Secretary of State after six months.

Not only do the Opposition duck the difficult questions, their policy moves with the political wind. There is no consistency or credibility, so no wonder they are still not taken seriously by serious opinion. Today's edition of the Financial Times devoted a leading article to the Planning Bill. It said that the Tories

"are facing in two directions at once. Despite their claims to want more housing and development, they are prepared to sink the reforms necessary to deliver a better system...Leader David Cameron's half-pregnant pose on planning will not do."

Another heavyweight view was expressed in a letter last week to the Leader of the Opposition. It stated:

""Improving the way the UK gives planning approval for this infrastructure is now absolutely crucial to delivery of a secure, greener, energy economy for the UK...Without a much smoother planning process we believe many of the aspirations you set out so clear in your Blue/Green Charter will not be achieved".

That letter was written by Steve Holliday, the chief executive of the National Grid, on behalf of all this country's major energy companies.

In other words, we have a Conservative party with a leader who cannot take tough decisions, and who cannot say where he stands on the big issues, because he is too concerned with his immediate political position. I say to my hon. Friends that that is good for Labour, good for the Government and good for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister sees what Britain needs for the long term and he is determined to see the changes through the short-term difficulties, because they are essential for the country. I am pleased to say that the House has given the Bill strong backing in Divisions on all the main issues, which is a sound basis on which to send it to the other place. I look forward to seeing their Lordships lend their support to the Bill's main provisions, as this elected House has.

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 7:40 pm, 25th June 2008

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not think that I had become wholly invisible. That is a more relaxed note for me to start on than if I had started by attacking the Minister for his rather unpleasant summing up. Although we had our differences, we behaved very reasonably in Committee and exchanged a lot of views, although we may not have agreed. We had a very pleasant atmosphere, and it is a great shame that there is this rather bitter and twisted approach on Third Reading.

It is lovely to see the Minister back, by the way. He worked so hard, and then he was pushed aside for the two really difficult groups of amendments that we debated this afternoon. I think he needs to keep his women under control.

We need to agree where we agree, and make it absolutely clear where we disagree and why. Nobody disagrees that we need to speed up infrastructure planning. In fact, one of the most shocking things that happened in the past 10 years was that when Tony Blair became Prime Minister, he instantly ducked decisions on nuclear power, and did so for 10 years. Now, suddenly, the Government are wedded to nuclear power. For 10 years they have deliberately not made decisions, and we are now facing the hangover from that.

The deputy director of the CBI asked earlier this week what we would do when the lights went out in 2015. Even with the changes in the Bill, there is no way in which we will get new nuclear power stations up and running by then. Let us work together to try to ensure that we speed up infrastructure planning applications.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is most likely that the first nuclear power station will be in my constituency? I welcome that, so there is nothing wrong with my saying on the one hand that I want the Government to make decisions instead of hanging about for 10 years before doing so, but on the other hand that they are much more likely to get their plans through if my constituents have a clear ability to talk about what they care about locally, without a quango interposing. That is the issue that we have had to consider.

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, and after I have clarified what we and the Government agree on, I shall address the issues on which we fundamentally disagree.

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I know that others wish to contribute, but I shall give way if my right hon. Friend will be brief.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Will my hon. Friend answer the question that the Minister obviously could not? If somebody wanted to build a power station now, would it be quicker for them to submit an application today, under the current system, or to wait for all the gobbledegook of the new system and run with that?

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I believe that E.ON has submitted a planning application for a coal-fired power station, and I suggest that it needs to get on with it. Under the new system, it would be mired in the courts under judicial review into infinity.

It will be really helpful if I can get back to what we agree about. We agree that the system needs to be sped up. We agree on the single consent regime. We agree in principle on the national policy statements and on the community infrastructure levy, which we did not reach this afternoon, largely because the changes to the programme motion allowed the Government to ensure that we would not debate it.

In Committee, we put forward ideas to make the Bill work better. We wanted to keep the democratic principles. We wanted a vote in Parliament on a national policy statement because that would make it democratically owned. We do not want Ministers to make decisions on the IPC, and we tabled a variety of amendments to determine whether the Government had made any moves towards understanding that the IPC will be totally undemocratic and unaccountable.

The IPC will be abolished. We have agreed to take on the review after two years that the Secretary of State offered Mr. Betts. In two years we will be in government, and we will review the IPC out of existence. For the second time today, I put on record the fact that anyone who takes up a contract to be a commissioner will have a very short contract.

We want to ensure that applications are kept out of the courts, but this system will drive them into the courts, to judicial review. We want local authorities to have effective powers over the community infrastructure levy. We want them to have effective powers over small planning applications and local housing and planning developments. We do not want regional development agencies to take over those roles.

The Bill does not allow for a vote on national policy statements in Parliament. It hands over the power and responsibility of Ministers. The British people understand that Ministers are there to take decisions, not to hand that power to the unelected. Handing over the powers to the IPC is an abrogation of their democratic responsibility.

We do not want planning authority to be transferred from regional assemblies, which we hate anyway, to RDAs, which are inappropriate bodies to handle it. We do not want infrastructure money to be taken away from the people in a community who suffer from developments and handed to somewhere totally remote from where they live.

It was a scandal that we did not consider the community infrastructure levy on Report. Key points of principle needed to be debated—although, of course, we could not have debated the detail because we still do not know it. I doubt that even the House of Lords will have the detail. It looks as though the community infrastructure levy is unravelling. The Government are setting it up to fail, and they are getting away with it because they are not prepared to repeal the Planning-gain Supplement (Preparations) Act 2007. Until that Act is repealed, it provides a fall-back position for the Government.

If the 2007 Act is still on the statute book, no one will accept that the community infrastructure levy can be made to work under the various proposals that might come forward. It is a paving Act, but the mere fact that it is on the statute book indicates that the Government are still prepared to use it. I challenge the Government to repeal the Act. When they do, we might get a workable community infrastructure levy.

We have not been able to debate the serious transfer of power to the Welsh Assembly and we have not been able to discuss issues relating to Scotland. The Bill is one of the most undemocratic, unaccountable—

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I will, but I wish that my hon. Friend had not interrupted as I was moving into my peroration.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Having sat through both days' consideration on Report, and given that I am unlikely to be called to speak on Third Reading, I feel that I am entitled to interrupt her. Does she agree that there is a wonderful irony in the fact that Ministers have announced today that they will have site-specific national policy statements for aviation and nuclear power stations? Does she think that those statements will be in existence in two years' time when she reviews the future of the IPC?

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

There is a very quick answer to that question: no. Those are part of the undemocratic nature of the Bill.

The Bill does not chime with the history, traditions or beliefs of the British people. It is centralising, in that it will take power away from communities rather than giving it to them, and I advise my hon. Friends to vote against its Third Reading at 8 o'clock. I hope that the Lords will send it back to us in a much better state.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe 7:50 pm, 25th June 2008

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When you mistakenly called me to speak a few minutes ago, I thought that you were asking for a speech on the real opposition to the Bill. I have just listened to what Mrs. Lait had to say.

I should like to thank my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench for the open and constructive way in which they have conducted the consideration of the Bill. I listened to the hon. Member for Beckenham talking about the Conservatives' proposal to scrap the IPC as part of the review. My idea of carrying out a review is that we should look at how something is operating and, on the basis of that evidence, decide whether we like what we see or whether we want to change it. We should not prejudge these things in advance.

Apart from the hon. Lady's well-rehearsed arguments about who should take the final decisions, and her suggestion that she might change the name of the IPC and call it the planning inspectorate mark 2, I have not heard any detailed proposals on what the Conservatives would put in place of our provisions if they were in government. I have heard a few soundbites, but there is no substance to their proposals. It is important that we get this right in order to tackle climate change.

I welcome the community infrastructure levy. It is a positive measure to help the regeneration of our cities, to which I am very committed, and for which I want local authorities to have the appropriate resources. The fact that the provision will be embedded in the planning system and have local democratic accountability—it will be part of the work of the local authorities that are accountable to their communities—is a major step forward. This is an improvement on the planning gain supplement. I know that there are still issues to be worked out. The whole question of valuation and how we work it into the system is a difficult one, but the concept is nevertheless right and it deserves support.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the proposals will simply delay and complicate matters more? Far from streamlining the process, establishing the quango and putting in place the ministerial guidance—all of which will be much delayed—will be an impediment to speedy decision making, not an encouragement.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

I do not agree with that, but that is just a difference of opinion.

The Bill presents a real challenge to Members of the House. The national policy statements are the bedrock of the first part of the Bill. There will be room for scrutiny of the statements and—if Members are serious about these issues—when we eventually get a decision from the IPC that we do not like, it might well be because the policy statement is one that we did not like in the first place. It will be a challenge to all of us to take part in that debate and to ensure that we give the matter full scrutiny.

There will be a challenge to the Select Committees to ensure that we get the right chair and vice-chair, through pre-appointment scrutiny. There will also be a challenge to the Select Committees to monitor the work of the IPC and to call in its chair and commissioners to question them about applications that they have received and decisions that they have made. There are challenges in the Bill in regard to the work of the House, but there are also opportunities as part of the accountability process.

I welcome the Bill. It has been improved as a result of the constructive debates that we have had, and there are important provisions here that will do much to tackle climate change and to help the regeneration of our cities, which I welcome.

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Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 7:53 pm, 25th June 2008

As we come to the end of this the first time that I have had the opportunity to represent my party on the consideration of a Bill, I feel that I should thank the Minister and his colleagues for the courteous way in which they have conducted the proceedings, if not for the cotton wool that has been in their ears whenever we have tried to effect any changes. I should also like to extend my thanks to the hon. Members for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)—and, indeed, all the members of the Committee and all those who have participated in the debates up to now—for the serious consideration that they have given to the matters at hand.

This is still a bad Bill. We had the chance to improve it, but if the Government's handling of the Bill is an example of the kind of consultation that is on offer to our constituents—they are right to be concerned about the Bill—it strikes me that we have a metaphor for the new planning regime that the Government are seeking to implement. Liberal Democrat Members and those Labour Members who bravely stood up to their Whips tried to tighten environmental controls, strengthen accountability and ensure a right to be heard. We sought to add a third party right of appeal; we sought to give new powers to local authorities on use class orders to allow them to resolve problems locally; and we sought a fairer regime on phone masts. Throughout, the Government said that they heard what we were saying, but the answer was no. Liberal Democrat Members have heard what the Government have to say in support of the Bill this evening, and our answer is no.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 7:55 pm, 25th June 2008

The behaviour of the House in agreeing the programme motion and conducting today's debate has been little short of a disgrace.

The practical implication of the Bill is that it will most probably be used in my constituency first with regard to Heathrow. Before Members walk through the Lobby tonight, they should recognise what they are doing. If they vote for the Bill and it is used at Heathrow, thousands of people will lose their homes—they will be forcibly removed from their properties. Those parents who send their children to Heathrow primary, William Byrd school and Harmondsworth school will see those schools demolished. The proposal will also mean a roadway through Cherry Lane cemetery, so we will dig up our dead as a result of the proposals for Heathrow that will be forced through under this procedure. When Members vote tonight, they should recognise the human implications as well as the pollution of the air of communities across London.

It denigrates this House to force through a Bill in this way. As we have heard, there will be no votes in this House on national policy statements. No Member of Parliament who has a big scheme, such as the one at Heathrow, inflicted on them will have any say in this Chamber on that proposal. People will ask themselves, "What is the point of voting?" Others will ask themselves, "What is the point of standing for Parliament?", if they can have no say on a national policy statement that has implications for our country.

I agree with Mr. Clifton-Brown that policy statements will be site-specific. Inquiries and discussions at the local level will be pre-empted without even a vote in this Chamber. When hon. Members vote to destroy my local community with this legislation, it will possibly be their last chance in this Chamber to vote on the matter. They should understand the implications.

In addition, we now know that the consultation will be undertaken by the developer, which means that BAA will undertake the consultation on the expansion of Heathrow. That organisation has lied and deceived this Chamber and my community on a consistent basis over every development proposal at Heathrow.

Turning to the inquiry, local people will no longer have the right to be heard—let us be honest about that. They will have the right to turn up at an open floor session, where will they will compete with hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are trying to make their voices heard. They will not be allowed to interrogate anybody who introduces such a proposal.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not give way, because I have two minutes left.

Let us not kid ourselves—the Bill undermines the democratic process. We are outsourcing democratic decision making to the IPC, because the Secretary of State will not be responsible and we will not have a final vote on the decision. You know as well as I do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when we undermine the powers of this House, people go elsewhere. We will be encouraging the largest direct action movement that this country has seen since the suffragettes. People will not only climb on the roof of this Chamber, but lie down in front of bulldozers when the developers come to smash their homes and demolish their churches, schools and community centres.

Hon. Members need to be aware how fundamentally different this Bill is from anything that we have considered before—it is not an administrative measure to speed up the planning process. It undermines the democratic involvement and engagement in the planning process that we have had in this country for two centuries. When Members vote tonight, I want them to remember the families who will be forced out of their homes in my constituency. I want them to know the names of the schools that will be demolished, and I want them to remember Cherry Lane cemetery, where the dead will have to be dug up if this legislation goes through and the Heathrow expansion is forced through as a result.

I am ashamed of what has happened in this Chamber today. We have not even been allowed to speak to the amendments that were tabled in my and other Members' names because of the Government's programme motion. What are we doing tomorrow? Nothing! We could have had this debate tomorrow and on other days, because it is so significant for the future democracy of this country. Yet the Bill is being railroaded through. I want my constituents to know that it goes through with my opposition and my protest today.

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It being Eight o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Orders [2 June and this day].

The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 198.

Division number 236 Deferred Division — Schedule 7 — Repeals

Aye: 280 MPs

No: 198 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.