Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:48 pm on 15th July 2008.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 9:48 pm, 15th July 2008

My Lords, I am happy to follow that very wise speech—perhaps I say that because I agree with so much of it. I especially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, about the attractions of the first part of the Bill and the approach being adopted by the Government. The national policy statements will put the political aspects of major infrastructure development where they belong, which is up front, in Parliament, to be debated and dealt with properly before we get into any of the more complicated and local procedures.

I will come back to how I think that Parliament will deal with them afterwards, because that is where I want to get into the detail. It is high time that we had a structure to draw out the politics and for Parliament to face up to the decisions that it is making about what should happen out in the country rather than have this endless fudge and people having to go through endless hoops merely to achieve what Parliament and the Government have already decided, to our immense economic disadvantage. I welcome that.

I also welcome the proposals for developer consultation. I am involved with, although not in any way paid by, a company that specialises in that area. A tremendously helpful development in the past decade or so has been that developers are becoming much more open with communities about what they want to do and much more open to their suggestions as to how what they want to do can be improved from a local point of view. This does not put a chop on the project; the IPC will not say, "Right, this has been done and therefore we can take the developers' views on what the consultation has achieved as part of our input". This is about waking up, informing and involving local communities so that, when we get to the planning inquiry or IPC stage, the process runs much more efficiently.

In Committee, I will look with interest at how the Government justify the IPC. Why, given the other two parts of the structure, do we need to move to an IPC rather than use the existing planning structures, or a variant on them, with which we are all familiar? Given that we have taken so much of the politics out of the process, what does the IPC as a structure add that could not have been added by amending the planning inquiry regulations? Is there really no function for a Minister at the end of the process? It is a political comfort, as the Liberals and others have said, to know at the end of the day that a Minister, not an official, is looking at this.

The Government are right to say that ministerial involvement has become much more formal. I remember the decisions that my right honourable friend John Gummer took in his tenure as Environment Minister and the personal steer that he could give to development. Such personal input has got rather swamped by the increase in judicial review and Ministers' law-sensitiveness and has gone, but a Minister might well have a role in looking at the result and saying that, in their opinion, the whole process had been gone through properly and the conclusion was valid, without having to revisit all the arguments that went into reaching it. I should like to explore in Committee whether we can bring back a Minister in that context.

I like most of all the proposals for discussing national policy statements in Parliament. The Bill and what has been said about how it will work focus very much on the Commons. As I understand it, the process will be that after the publication of an NPS, the relevant Select Committees in the Commons will get together, decide who will hold an inquiry and run a 12-week inquiry that takes evidence from witnesses. It will then have a period to digest the evidence before it produces a report. The proposal at the moment is that, when that report is produced, the House of Lords will decide whether it wants to debate it. That will not do.

We have a lot to contribute in these areas. In areas such as nuclear power stations and airports, in which a lot of technicality is involved, we have expertise and experience to bring to the process that are not obviously present in the Commons. When it comes particularly to national policy statements, for example on wind turbines, that are not location-specific but leave open the whole question of where these things should be located, and in which the process through which the IPC has to go is specified by a series of restrictions—a series of guidelines which the IPC will have to follow—there would be a great function for your Lordships' House in considering whether those guidelines are practical and sufficient and will produce something that actually works in practice, to take the politics out of it, and whether they have been properly drawn. We should not get involved in deciding whether something should go in a particular place. Place is very much a matter for the Commons; practicality and principle are things that we should consider.

We have a reasonable procedure in this House for negotiating with the Commons and for making sure that where we hold parallel inquiries we do not do too much of the same thing. I do not think that the Lords should be afraid of saying that it wants a role from the beginning whereby, as soon as a national policy statement is published, it can consider whether it wishes to hold its own inquiry on the same timescale and basis as the Commons. Because we are sensible people and do not like wasting public money, I am sure that we will not do it when we have nothing to add. I hope that having to wait on the Commons, its opinions and its limitations, will not appeal to many people in this House.

The process after that is interesting. It will require us to be quite innovative in our structures. The proposal is that there will be a Motion that can be amended, which this House will discuss. We will have a process whereby people may want put down quite a lot of amendments to a Motion to say that they would prefer the Government to do this or that. We will need almost a Committee stage structure to deal with a Motion on the Floor of the House. I do not know how the Commons propose to deal with that, but it will pose some challenges for us and I hope that will have a chance to discuss that in Committee. Again, I do not see any reason why we should not be able to innovate in that way and make sure that we can discuss those things properly.

Whatever Motion we pass will go to the Government. They will react to it and will produce an answer. That should be followed by further debate if we wish, at which point Parliament will have had its say and the national policy statement will be there. That process will expose the whole planning structure for these major infrastructure projects to real democratic accountability at the beginning, which is an enormous advance.

As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has said, we should use the CIL for dealing with the lack of detail. We really cannot consider it as it is at the moment. There are so many ways in which we need to understand how it will work and how we can pin down its interaction with other local structures. I very much enjoyed the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and I will not add to them. Where you need infrastructure to go with a particular development, which can be secured under Section 106 at the moment, it is not clear how that can be secured under the CIL arrangements. We have a lot of detailed thinking to do and we need detail in the Bill to be able to do it.