Planning Bill

– in the House of Lords at 4:35 pm on 6th October 2008.

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House again in Committee on Clause 1, Amendment No. 1.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 4:55 pm, 6th October 2008

It may be appropriate if I make a few remarks following our debate before the Statement. I remind the Committee that we are considering an amendment moved by my noble friend on the Front Bench that would transfer the decision-making function of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to the Secretary of State. One difficulty with that is that the Bill is drawn up in reverse order. The first stage of the process for dealing with these major infrastructure investments will be the creation of the national planning statements, whereas the first part of the Bill deals with the second stage—the creation of the commission.

Those who took part in the Second Reading debate, many of whom are present, will recollect that a number of us made the point that the crucial stage at which Parliament will have to make decisions is the planning statements stage. I said that if we could pass amendments—a number of such amendments are on the Marshalled List—that made those statements subject to affirmative resolutions in both Houses of Parliament, the role of the commission at the later stage might become more readily acceptable.

In her winding up speech, at a very late hour in July, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, kindly said that she recognised that point. She talked about this being a seamless process, and I made exactly that point: that it is two stages of a single process. If we can make sure that the national planning statements are subject not just to parliamentary scrutiny, which the Bill provides in considerable detail, but to parliamentary decisions, so that the main framework of the work that the commission will have to do has actually been approved by Parliament, then it becomes possible to look at the commission in a rather different light.

I would be hesitant, on the basis of the arguments that we have heard so far, to say that nevertheless the decisions should be taken by the Secretary of State. There must be others, in addition to me, who found themselves having to make such decisions. When I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I dealt with a number of major planning decisions to which I may have occasion to refer later in this Committee stage. However, it is a bit of a fiction to believe that other than in very few cases are the decisions taken by Ministers or that the cases even reach Ministers' desks. In the vast majority of cases which are not necessarily wildly controversial or of great national interest and which have gone to appeal to Ministers, decisions are taken by civil servants. A Minister may be alerted but the difficulty there is that Ministers always act in a quasi-judicial capacity and it is not open to the public or anyone else to seek to intervene in the decision. It is quite a difficult process.

The other point about Ministers making the decision is as follows. If the commission does its work properly, it will cover a huge range of issues—not least those of public and local consultation and so on—and it will therefore be able to make an extremely thorough recommendation. My anxiety is that such is the culture of departments—for example, the noble Baroness's department and there may be others—that it would be extremely difficult to stop civil servants or officials crawling all over the case again, and that could give rise to substantial delays in the process.

At the same time, I am well aware that there is much anxiety about an unelected, appointed body making these major decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, gave a number of examples in other fields of principles being laid down by Parliament and then decisions being taken by departments. He gave the Inland Revenue as one example. If I have misunderstood him, I shall gladly give way.

Photo of Lord Turnbull Lord Turnbull Crossbench

If I did mention the Inland Revenue, I would not describe it as a department. Most of my other examples were courts, tribunals, the Monetary Policy Committee and so on, so it is not a question of departments or civil servants working for Ministers.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

I entirely take the point and I shall certainly want to study what the noble Lord said. However, whatever the Bill may say, there is a deep-seated culture and a danger that officials will need to say that they wish to protect their Ministers against any suggestion of a referral to the courts.

There is another problem. In its representations—I am sure that other noble Lords have received the paper—the CBI produced an extremely interesting chart, at the end of which is a procedural graph on the Government's proposal in the Bill. At the bottom of the chart are the words "IPC Decision"—that is, the Infrastructure Planning Commission's decision. Below that are the words "Approve" and "Reject", and in the middle the words "Judicial review?". As the law stands at present, I do not think that we will be able to escape the inevitability of a resort to judicial review in contentious matters. In a book about the British constitution that I read recently, there was a very interesting passage about how this had grown over the past 20 or 25 years from being a small, last-resort application to the court where a decision had been taken which no reasonable person could possibly have taken to becoming open house for the courts to substitute their judgments for those of a public body such as the commission or, indeed, of Ministers. The noble Lord, who knows far more about these things than I do, shakes his head and no doubt he will be able to correct me but that is the impression that is being given, and it was remarked on in the constitutional book that I read recently.

The one body which is not subject to judicial review is, of course, Parliament. We are at a very early stage in this process and if it is felt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, very interestingly said, that it is not acceptable that the commission, as an appointed body, should take these important decisions, is it not possible that the right body to which the recommendations from the commission should go is Parliament? The argument would then be how could Parliament possibly cope? I take some comfort from the estimate given in the White Paper, referred to at Second Reading by the noble Baroness, I think, about how much work the commission would have to deal with. Paragraph 5.57 states that,

"it is hard to be specific because of the likelihood of fluctuations in the frequency with which major infrastructure projects are brought forward, and there might potentially be peaks of anywhere up to 25 major projects in some years. Depending on the volume ... we expect that the commission might require between 20 and 30 commissioners".

We shall come to the number in later amendments. I ask the Minister whether that estimate still stands. Is that the Government's best guess of the number of major infrastructure decisions that will fall to the commission? Is it so impossible that Parliament could be the recipient of the commission's recommendations? A committee or perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses could then say, "Yea" or "Nay". It could refer the decision back or it could take it, and then perfectly clearly Parliament would be responsible.

Another point, made very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, at Second Reading—I have had a very happy weekend re-reading the Second Reading debate, which was a long time ago—is that there is moral value in the decisions being taken by Parliament. I think he meant by that—I would interpret it in this way—that if one challenges the decision of Parliament, one challenges the whole basis of the constitution.

I can speak with some personal knowledge on that as I faced 36 recalcitrant local authorities which were determined to subvert the whole of the rate support grant system then in force, demanding that I should repeal the rate settlement that had been made and demanding that I should get rid of all the constrictions of capping and so on. My answer to them was, "I cannot do that: these have all been approved by Parliament". To my mind and to theirs, that was the end of the argument. We had this great summit in the Department of the Environment with 36 council leaders, led by Mr Blunkett, and it is now well documented that their ambition was to overthrow the Government. When I said to them, "I cannot repeal these: they have been passed by Parliament", they had no further arguments. My legislation went through, the support grant was effective and they all made their rates in the ordinary way.

To my mind, the real authority in this country, which cannot be challenged through judicial review, is Parliament. I suggest to my noble friend that if one shares his view that an appointed, unelected, independent commission should not make these decisions, the right answer is to refer them to Parliament. After all, Parliament will have already considered the national policy statements in great detail. That is all in the Bill and we shall come to that later. Why should not the same committee or committees say, "Here is a particular project, here is the recommendation of the IPC, are we prepared to accept it, yea or nay?". That seems to me to be the right way to proceed.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

No doubt we will come back to some of the very interesting points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, when we discuss the national policy statements. His linking of the two seems fundamental to how the debate proceeds.

However, referring to the earlier debate on whether the Infrastructure Planning Commission should be a decision-making or an advisory body, perhaps I may inject one or two additional thoughts to those that have already been aired. The first is a small sense of urgency about the whole debate. We are in for an enormous amount of infrastructure projects over the years to come. We will be closing down 17 existing power stations between now and 2016 and will have to take very unpopular decisions about where the successors to those power stations will be, 11 of them coal-fired and six of them nuclear power stations. Where will the replacements for them go? We know how difficult it is to get planning consent for a wind farm. I have the honour of serving on the Economic Affairs Committee, which is currently considering the future of renewable energy. I learnt from that that we are trying to increase the amount of energy produced from renewables from our current 1.5 per cent to 15 per cent by 2016. It will require an enormous number of infrastructure projects to achieve that kind of sustainability. Climate change may require that we do.

Big decisions are ahead for us on transport. I was very interested in the proposals of the leader of the Conservative Party for a new national railway network—interesting to those of us who live in the north of England; it sounds like a very exciting proposition. That would require major infrastructure work and, I suggest, an awful lot of difficult appeals along the way between conflicting interests.

A lot of projects are backing up. Our dependency on imported sources of energy from overseas will make energy security a significant national issue. By 2016, we will be importing 80 per cent of the gas that we use in this country—we are very dependent on gas for energy purposes. We must get on top of the energy and transport issues, where there are loads of major infrastructure projects. The current system is already more than creaking. The CBI report mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, tells us just how bad it looks from the perspective of business.

I remind the Committee that in order to carry out all that infrastructure work we will need to draw in, mostly from overseas, immense amounts of capital—billions of pounds of private sector investment. We heard earlier when considering the credit crunch about the international flow of capital around the world. It is that capital that we will need to draw in for our infrastructure projects. Nothing puts off the good capitalist more than a system in which he has little understanding or idea of where the rules are and what will happen at the end of the day—the uncertainties, the inconsistencies and the delays. Why do Germany and Holland, with which I have some familiarity, do so well in terms of their infrastructure? The answer is that they have a much more streamlined system, which is much more attractive for investors. If those billions of pounds are to come our way for our infrastructure projects, we must get a system that is more fit for purpose. I am absolutely sure that the national policy statements, with all the parliamentary input to them—perhaps there may be more of that, as we will discuss later—are the way to sort out policy.

When it comes to the difficult decisions to be taken on the ground, the Bill proposes that the Infrastructure Planning Commission, a group of about 35 commissioners, independent experts, people who will know who else to call before them as witnesses, will, after all the due processes—there are an awful lot of those, an awful lot of public involvement—take the decision. Would it be better if all they did was advise and this went back to Ministers and to the Secretary of State for the final judgment?

I have been on the receiving end of awaiting the outcome of planning inquiries and been called in by Ministers when applications have gone to the Secretary of State for a decision. I have waited many months for the outcome, and have wondered what the Ministers—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, suggests that they may not consider the matter at all—were doing with my planning application when it had already gone through an inquiry. When things have gone through the IPC, they will have gone through extensive inquiry and reached the point of decision, so what are the Ministers adding? The only thing I can think of was that they are thinking about the political consequences of their decision. What else do they add to the party?

If Ministers have to ponder the political consequences at the end before the final decision is taken, that is not the best basis on which to arbitrate in disputes between two different groups of citizens, which is very often what these planning decisions are about. There will be the objectors and the protesters; indeed, there will be dozens of them. Someone needs to arbitrate, and if the only ingredient brought in by Ministers at the end is politics, I should point out that politics are subject to all kinds of hazards and dangers: "Is an election coming?", "Can we delay this for a few more months, or possibly longer, until it is no longer our job to take this very unpopular decision about a nuclear power station or a railway track that is going through some area of scientific importance?".

Who will take this difficult decision? It is rather noble of the Government to propose to stand back and relinquish power, giving it to others who will, very nobly I hope, come forward as commissioners. I will feel safer if that process is in the hands of an independent group of individuals, the policy having been firmly established by Parliament beforehand. The point about a judicial review makes few odds, because at the moment the Secretary of State and other Ministers could face judicial review of their decision, so putting in the IPC has made nothing worse and that opportunity would remain in either case. I come down on the side of there being a new body that is decision-making, and I look forward to considering more of the aspects of the national policy statements that were so importantly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.

Photo of Lord Woolmer of Leeds Lord Woolmer of Leeds Labour 5:15 pm, 6th October 2008

I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he moved his amendment and spoke to his other amendments in the group. On the two critical amendments and the question of the planning commission making recommendations to Parliament rather than taking decisions, the only words that the noble Lord uttered were that they were probing amendments. He then moved on and did not enlighten the Committee at all about the arguments for and against that. When it came to eliminating Schedule 1, which is in effect all about the powers and the wherefore of the commission, he said simply that the effect of the amendment would be that there would be no commission. I should say to the noble Lord that the Official Opposition owe more to the Committee and the public in their thinking on these matters than moving amendments in a way that does not do justice to the issues and that is not typical of him.

I shall take up some of those matters. First, most people agreed that there is a need to improve the speed and efficiency of the planning process while at the same time maintaining the proper integrity of democracy and process. In my own part of the country—Yorkshire has already been mentioned—it took six years to get a decision on upgrading the national power grid, which is important for the whole nation and not only for north Yorkshire. It is simply a ludicrous way of running the country. We need to address the process and how to speed it up. The Government have come forward with some very practical proposals that will speed up the planning decision process. While they not unreasonably allow a perfectly adequate amount of time to consider matters, they do not allow them to drag on and on. I shall come to that in a moment. At the same time, they will ensure that the system in place to improve speed and inefficiency is more transparent and improves public consultation rather than makes it worse. One of the worst features of the debate outside this House is the stated view that this Bill threatens democracy, is undemocratic and reduces democratic processes. That is not true: it improves democratic processes. In a moment, I shall comment on the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

This Bill makes clear where the public and people can make representations and have their views heard in the establishing of and the discussions about the national policy framework. We all know that the discussions on the national policy framework, as well as all other big discussions, go on for months before the matter gets to Parliament. People have views about those matters: for example, everyone has a view on nuclear power. There will be ample time and opportunity for people to be consulted and to express their views before matters get to Parliament, where there will be a great deal of discussion. National policy frameworks will not appear in Parliament undiscussed or unconsulted.

Under this Bill, when the national policy statements and the Infrastructure Planning Commission are in place, applicants who wish to undertake a major project legally will have a framework in which they will have to consult widely the people who will be affected. That will include not only individuals and other interests, but also local authorities. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it simply is not true that this will take local politics out of decisions. There will be enormous discussion at local level on a major application such as this, not only between interest groups, communities and individuals, but also with the local authorities concerned. Local authorities have a statutory part in this process and the various processes have to be gone through before an application can go in.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Non-affiliated

I do not want to prolong this debate, but my point was not that there would not be adequate opportunity throughout the process for local people and local authorities to be involved. Ultimately, the final decision will be made by the commission, which is not democratically accountable. At the moment, the final decision is made either by the local authority or by the Minister.

Photo of Lord Woolmer of Leeds Lord Woolmer of Leeds Labour

At the moment, on a major proposal like this, the decision is not taken by the local authority. On that we can all be agreed. Effectively, it is subject to a public inquiry, which usually is conducted over a long period of time and a recommendation is made to the Minister. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others that Ministers in an overwhelming number of cases, if not in all—I suspect that they will say in all cases—will take that decision entirely on the basis of planning law and planning process, not on a different set of values and judgments. In referring these matters to Parliament, as one of these amendments suggests, if it then discusses these issues and takes a decision on completely different grounds from those of the planning commission or an inspector, the applicants rightly would be outraged. Applicants could go through the planning process, which has clear rules in place, and could meet all the criteria after all the consultations. The commission would make a recommendation. Parliament then could sit down in a committee or elsewhere and reach a completely different decision. What on earth have the applicants been through all the other processes for? That strikes me as a recipe for chaos. Not only will it not speed things up, in my view it will slow them down and seriously weaken investment processes and decisions.

I hope that these truly are probing amendments and that in the event, at least the Official Opposition will feel that these matters, having been aired, are best left as they stand in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Reay Lord Reay Conservative

What concerns me most about the IPC, apart from its unaccountability, is of its independence. I view independence as being the detached professional independence of a judge or adjudicator, someone who is not committed to any industry or political viewpoint relevant to the inquiry on which he is adjudicating. A planning inspector is such a person. He may well find in favour of a certain type of application on one occasion and against on another. The Planning Inspectorate has developed this culture over many years and thereby has painstakingly won the confidence of the public. On the IPC, as I see it, all the industrial and political interests will be jostling for representation and the resulting appointees are very likely to have committed viewpoints, if not agendas. Surely we do not want a situation where the outcome of an inquiry is considered to be a foregone conclusion once the identity of the commissioner or commissioners is public knowledge. As the CPRE says in its brief of 19 September:

"The creation of the IPC does not suggest a body designed to engage fairly with all the different interests involved in planning, rather it suggests a body specifically charged to sponsor and approve developer applications for new infrastructure through the planning process".

I thoroughly endorse those words.

I fully appreciate the need to try to enable us to reach major planning decisions more quickly. It would help if Governments stuck consistently to convincing policies. But like the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who I thought made a brilliant speech, I would prefer it if we sought to improve further the system we have rather than launch into the uncharted waters of the vastly more expensive system proposed in this Bill. However, I would go further than the noble Baroness and prefer us not to have the IPC at all, and if the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pursues her amendment to remove Clause 1, I will support her in the Lobby.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I line up with my noble friend Lord Jenkin on this issue. The first two parts of the Bill are very much one, and the argument about politics really belongs to the second of those parts, covering national policy statements. It is in that area where the political arguments will take place and ought to be settled. In some cases, it will be relatively easy to settle them. If we have a policy statement saying that we will build new nuclear power stations on the sites of the old ones, that is specific enough to make it clear that Parliament has said what is going to happen and someone else can be left to sort out the details. If the policy statement merely says that we want another 5 per cent of our energy to come from wind farms, it is very unclear that we have done our duty as politicians; that is, to take political decisions. To my mind, a lot of the political questions come down to how we are going to handle national policy statements. So at the moment I do not line up with those on the Front Bench or the Liberals who think that the whole idea of the IPC is a wrong 'un. It depends very much on how it meshes with national policy statements.

I may as well flag up my concerns about national policy statements now, which turn on how this House will be involved in them. I believe that the other place has negotiated a very substantial involvement in the process. Contemporaneously with things going on outside, Members will be able to hold their own investigation into a policy statement and to have any resulting report considered, debated and voted on. But, as far as I understand it, the proposal is that this House will have no involvement whatever in the process. I do not find that either sensible or acceptable. I hope the noble Baroness will enlarge on what rights she expects this House to have in dealing with national policy statements. If that is where the politics are going to be, it is important that the practicality of this House is engaged as well as the pure politics of another place.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench 5:30 pm, 6th October 2008

Before participating in the Committee I should declare an interest as a farmer, landowner, member of the CLA, NFU, RICS, RSPB and CPRE, and chairman of the Charities' Property Association. I think that covers it.

The debate so far has largely centred upon who takes the ultimate decision, but there are many issues in the clauses. Taking the proposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that Clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill as a basis for my intervention—I know she said she did not raise the issue in a particularly serious note—it may be worth reiterating the strengths of the IPC. As many noble Lords said at Second Reading, we need to find a way of speeding up the delivery of our major infrastructure projects and, as has been said again today, especially those projects designed to counter the effect of climate change. The obvious way to do what seeks to be done is to separate the principle from the details. As has been said several times today, the principles are to be dealt with in a democratic fashion at the national level through the full use of Parliament—we shall come to that debate in due course—but the details will be dealt with by the IPC. This will be a national body which, at the same time, will adjudicate on local details at a local level, in a way whereby everyone will have their say but without causing needless delay, I hope.

Delay is a bad thing not only for our national destiny, as it were, but also for locals. There is nothing worse than having your neighbourhood or your lives blighted by the possibility of, say, a bypass or a major project. Very often, even a bad decision is better than no decision at all for 10 or 15 years.

For the purposes of translating the principles laid down by Parliament in a way which works in the considerable demands, worries and concerns of locals, it is vital that the IPC, or something similar, is created. I do not believe the Planning Inspectorate could do the job. Large national projects, often covering several planning authorities, need a different kind of expertise and experience. It is right that a special body should be set up for the purposes of interpreting the national policy statements and cross-referencing or cross-gridding them with local demands and concerns.

This is very important. Where local concerns outbalance the national policy statements, the IPC should and must be able to say no even if the application conforms to the national policy statement. It should be able to say, "Such and such a spot is not suitable for a dam or a railway interchange or the right route for a pipeline, so go away, you applicant, and think again". I hope the Minister will confirm this when she responds to the debate. We will come to the make-up of the IPC in a moment, but I repeat that it needs to be created and brought into being.

Turning to the narrower issue that has dominated the debate about who takes the ultimate decision, I am yet to be persuaded that the decisions will need the interference of a Minister after all the processes that will be gone through when the legislation comes into being. The IPC's decision-making process will be carried out in public, with all representations, written and oral, open to public scrutiny and comment. To date that has not applied to ministerial decisions, which have a reputation of being political decisions taken behind closed doors, with a suspicion that a Minister or civil servant, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, pointed out, had been got at or had already made up their mind. As has been said, many of these projects will have been initiated, either directly or indirectly, by a body of government and it is totally wrong that the Government should then decide on them. There is already a strong suspicion that planning decisions by Ministers are politically motivated and depend on how the Government of the day want to be viewed in a particular constituency. For instance, is a bad-neighbour project more or less likely to end up in a marginal constituency? Is a decision likely to be different if it is in an opposition constituency? Whatever the rights or wrongs of these suspicions, I do not believe that the planning system should be seen to be politically motivated.

The IPC decisions will be taken on the basis of the democratically agreed national policy statements and will be decided on in an open process. I still hold to the view that, once they have decided on the national policy statements, we should then keep the politicians out of the process.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the Opposition for tabling a comet's tail of amendments which has picked up many subsequent issues. The debate has therefore been able to range over the wide but central issues of what the Government are attempting to do with the Bill. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, particularly to those who think that the Government are doing something which is absolutely right, radical and sufficient for the great needs of our country. It has been an excellent and thoughtful debate.

It is tempting to try to answer everything but I am afraid that that would lead me into a kind of Second Reading debate. However, I have to take up issues which range slightly wider than the amendments because they touch on many aspects of the Bill. We had some excellent speeches. I mention, in particular, the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who spoke with authority after overseeing government processes for so long. I was extremely grateful for his perspective on that.

Let me deal with the debate in the context of the opposition to Clause 1 stand part, pick up on the amendments and answer the questions that noble Lords have raised. I found it interesting that at the heart of the debate are the questions—which were pertinently put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—"What is it? Who should take the decision? Who do people think takes the decision at the moment?". The debate around the Committee has revealed many different responses to those questions. That is reflected in an obscurity for the general public about who takes the decision, on what grounds they take it, how they can be challenged and what we mean by ministerial accountability. It helps enormously to have the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, available. He, like me, has been in a position where we have to take complex decisions. He is therefore very familiar with the processes involved.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd for demonstrating the scale and the urgency of the situation we face. We had a Statement today on the instability in the world economic system, the implications of which have never been more acute. If one considers the energy markets, one sees that wholesale gas prices have risen by more than 70 per cent in a little over six months and there have been similar increases in the price of electricity. There is an enormous need for greater certainty, clarity and security in both environmental and economic sustainability. Frankly, the Bill has never been more salient. It is being brought forward now at absolutely the right time. One of the first things the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said was about the burden on the taxpayer of creating the IPC. I will come back to the costs in a moment, but the burden on the taxpayer if the lights go out will be something we simply will not be able to cost.

I hope that, as we go through this scrupulous process in this House, I will be able to persuade noble Lords opposite to support our independent Infrastructure Planning Commission. I want to address their concerns in the context of the amendment. I understand that these are real concerns about what they see as a loss of accountability. That must be balanced, but what I see, and what many noble Lords have spoken about today, is a gain in both accountability and transparency in the full context of what we are proposing. It is a wholly new strategy, one that brings sustainability and energy security together. The noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Jenkin, are quite right: we will be talking about national policy statements as the first part of the new process. That cannot be divorced from the IPC; they are fundamental to each other.

As the Bill has progressed this far, it has become clear that the present system has very few friends, but the price we pay for not stepping up and understanding that we need to be radical now is not really grasped. We have had statistics across the House today about what we have to do—we have to replace one-third of our electricity generating capacity, for example—but the scale of investment needed is huge. Barker and the Eddington report went into this in great detail and illustrated the sheer competitiveness of the global markets as they are at the moment. The CBI has pointed out that we need 40 to 45 new large offshore wind farms in the next eight to 10 years, and seven nuclear power stations. We need to invest in our gas storage facilities. Last year 27 per cent of our gas was imported; it is now 40 per cent. These issues are urgent, and they face us at a difficult time for investors around the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, there is a huge demand for national infrastructure. Whether you look at Australia, Canada or China, people want these large projects now because of the energy security situation we all face.

Why should any investor come to Britain in an environment where we can guarantee only indefinite delays, circular processes, general obscurity about where the debate will be held and an inability to take the decision without going back to the Minister, who is sometimes the slowest part of the process? I say that not because I am dilatory or, I am certain, because the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was. In all integrity, one has to revisit the evidence and look again at the issues. We are trying to create a safe environment for the investment that we need, both to address the challenge of climate change in terms of moving to a low-carbon economy and to create the infrastructure that we need to keep the lights on.

My noble friend referred to the Yorkshire upgrade. It took six and a half years, I should say, not just six. The figures show that delays to what we are trying to do with wind farms are equally serious. On average it takes 20 months to secure development consents for a large onshore wind farm. By November 2007 there were 23 onshore wind projects in England and Wales, with a combined capacity of over 500 megawatts, that had already been under consideration for more than two years. We cannot afford these delays. Delay brings uncertainty, not simply for the promoter but for the blighted community that is living with the cost of not knowing what is going to happen. More than anything else, given the pressures on resources and the timeframes we are working in, we need greater certainty and clarity throughout the planning system so that it provides a fair, transparent, credible and robust independent framework.

I do not want to rehearse the reasons for delay—I did that at Second Reading—but, critically, there are the following four things. First, we have delays, difficulties and uncertainties because we have a body of national planning policy that is too voluminous, complex and unwieldy for those who use it, compounded by as many as eight separate consent regimes. That is precisely why the Bill simplifies the consent process.

Secondly, the confusion between policy and planning means that each public inquiry becomes highly congested and contested by debate on the policy of the national infrastructure, often at the expense of detailed consideration of local impacts and implications. If you were to look at the process for the Heathrow application, for example, you would find that in relation to the days that were spent debating national policy, the local impacts were barely debated. That is often typical of the balance of effort that goes into a public inquiry. That is why the Bill separates the policy, which will be set out in the national policy statements, from the planning process framed by the IPC, and why we have now provided not one but three stages for people to have their say.

Thirdly, there is a lack of incentives and opportunities for developers to bring forward good, thoughtful applications early so that the implications can be explained and be challenged by local communities. That is why we have created a new, transparent, fairer application process.

Fourthly, we have two stages of decision where an inspector's report is followed by a ministerial decision, and more than one Minister is often involved. As I have said, major delays can occur at that stage. It is interesting, for instance, that the inquiry regarding Bathside Bay took 26 weeks while the ministerial decision took 52 weeks.

All the changes in the Bill will mean that the process will be more transparent, fairer and faster. The process will be made better and, I could say, more trustworthy—although that does not reflect at all on the extraordinary expertise and integrity of the present planning inspectors, who are extraordinary people and do an excellent job. We need to have a more transparent system, and we need to have a clear relationship between policy-making and planning.

That goes to the heart of the debate, because so much of the Opposition's argument is about retaining that in some form as it offers a form of ministerial accountability, which is seen to be indispensable. I believe, and a lot of noble Lords around the House who have spoken agree, that this concern is misplaced. It is a misreading of ministerial accountability; Ministers are not accountable for their decisions to Parliament as they are in other areas of decision-making.

However, my case for an independent IPC rests not simply on that point. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, spoke about it being a fiction. I am not sure I entirely agree with him—"fiction" is a strong word—but I believe the Minister is conflicted by the present system in such a way that it obscures and hampers a proper national debate. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, referred to this when he talked about the judge and jury.

With regard to what the public think the Minister is doing if they think the Minister is involved, confusion arises in particular when Ministers take decisions on schemes where the Government have a specific policy interest. Ministers must be independent—they cannot be prey to political lobbying—and, because the role is quasi-judicial, when deciding planning applications they have to base decisions on the evidence presented and published policy. They have to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest. If they are likely to be involved in taking decisions, they are sometimes heavily circumscribed in their ability to promote the national interest—to promote or encourage projects even if they consider them to be vital in the national interest. They cannot discuss projects with representatives of communities. They cannot engage with stakeholders or get involved with resolving problems or brokering compromises. When noble Lords consider that we are talking here about nationally significant projects that help to meet national objectives, they will understand how Ministers feel about being constrained and not being able to promote them.

We therefore have a situation at the moment that is the worst of all worlds. Ministers occupy a role that is inhibited by the fact that they are at the same the policy-setters, the promoters and the decision-makers.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 5:45 pm, 6th October 2008

I have listened to the Minister with great care, and it is extremely interesting. She will remember the Caythorpe gas storage project, which I discussed with her on more than one occasion. In that, there was a ministerial Statement—by Alistair Darling, as it happens, when he was Secretary of State at the then DTI—that more gas storage was imperative if we were going to get the security we needed. That was, in a sense, a ministerial policy statement. It was reduced to one sentence in the 12-page letter of decision from the noble Baroness's department. Why have these so-called policy statements from the past had so little weight when Ministers take decisions? It was there—why could her department not say yes?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

The noble Lord has made an excellent case for national policy statements, which will frame the decision. As he will know—and this will apply to future decisions, although I cannot comment on an individual case—the issues are always to do with matters such as safety and geological security. Those are the locational issues—the site issues—which the planning inspectors must address. They know that we need more gas storage but in this place one has to look at exactly what the consequences would be.

The whole rationale behind the Bill is that there must be a way of balancing economic, environmental and social objectives that is properly considered by Ministers at the beginning of the process through the production of, consultation on and parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements. We have created in the Bill an IPC, not because we do not think that Ministers should be involved in the process of deciding where critical infrastructure should go—far from it—but because we think that Ministers are making decisions on major infrastructure projects in the wrong place, at the wrong time and in the wrong way. We now propose that, rather than having a final appearance of a quasi-judicial sort, which is very limited, Ministers should set out infrastructure policy in a series of national policy statements which will be open to public debate and influence as well as an intensive form of parliamentary scrutiny.

As I said on Second Reading, I do not think that this will be a comfortable position for Ministers. For the first time, these decisions will be transparent and able to be challenged. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the plans would become out of date, which is true. But they will be plans for the long term which deal with our forecasted capacity of what we need and, should they become out of date, the Minister will review them. There is proper provision for both stability and review in the system. The plans will in some instances be locationally specific, as the Secretary of State has already made clear. There will be a debate on those specific locations as they are set out in criteria in the relevant national policy statements. There will be a full public debate, in which local authorities will be able to be fully involved. The Minister will be seen to be fully accountable in those specific NPSs.

The NPSs set out the broad framework and will integrate all other relevant policies, including planning policies. They will be the subject of an appraisal of sustainability; they will be the framework in which the decisions of the IPC will be made and the criteria against which its decisions will be tested.

We come now to some of the detail about how the IPC will work. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for saying that we are looking for a different sort of expert and a different sort of experience. I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Reay. These people will not be representatives; they will not be agents of interests. These 35 commissioners—the number has been assessed according to our assumptions about the workload provided by the 45 projects—will be independent experts across a wide range of competences. Some may come from planning backgrounds and some may come from the public sector in terms of project management. They will come from the range that we need to make the decisions sound and the testing of evidence substantial.

We are assuming that most projects will be considered and decided by a panel of three to five commissioners, with less complex cases, such as uncontroversial works to the strategic road network, for example, decided by a single commissioner. But the decisions will be made in those cases by a council of at least five commissioners; no single commissioner will take the final decision. There will be timetables for completing examinations and taking decisions.

On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, our best guess is still that the number of major projects will be about 45 a year. There may be some variation regarding the balance of projects but we still think that that is a sound estimate. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about costings. We expect the one-off costs of the IPC to be £5 million; we expect the cost of running it to be £9.3 million each year; and we expect an average cost of £300 million per year—£4.8 billion by 2030—because there will be such a significant fall in the time taken by the process. Those costs are in the RIA.

The IPC will be able to take into account any other matters that it considers important and relevant, but it will be independent. It will be able to reject any application if it thinks that the local impact will result in the adverse effects outweighing the benefits. It will have to set out reasons for reaching its decisions. It will be focused on local impacts and will look at the more technical issues concerning specific sites and schemes in the sort of detail that generally I believe our planning inquiries have not been able to do so far.

Noble Lords have referred to the commission as unaccountable. The fact that it is unelected does not mean that it is unaccountable. It will operate within the clear constraints set by Parliament; it will only ever determine applications within the very clear policy statements set out in the NPS. The commission will be appointed by and need to report on its performance to the Secretary of State. The most senior appointments will be subject to pre-appointment hearings by a Select Committee. In fact, they will be among the first public appointments to be subjected to this process. The commission will have to set out in full the reasons for its decisions. It can be challenged in the courts if it is thought to have acted unreasonably. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said, we are not advocating anything completely new. He listed some sound analogies in relation to the relative role of Ministers.

I hope that noble Lords will take away their amendments and think again about some of the issues that have been raised in this debate. I should like to address the amendments specifically and some of the issues that have arisen.

Amendment No. 1 would require the IPC to be a recommending rather than a decision-making body. I have set out at some length why we think that the IPC needs to be a decision maker in a much tougher and more challenging world in relation to infrastructure. If it were only a recommending body, much of the logic and the advantages, as well as the savings in time, would be lost. We would lose transparency and efficiency. I cannot accept the proposal that it should be a recommending body. I have serious doubts about whether it should make its recommendations to Parliament. Where Parliament and the House fit in is a serious issue, which we will come back to when debating later amendments. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to Clause 9, which provides for resolutions of this House to be taken into account by the Government. I am sure that we will come back to that at a later stage. I do not see, as other noble Lords have said, how Parliament can cope with this. How would it review the evidence, for example, as my noble friend Lord Woolmer asked? This would take Parliament into another area of policy, and planning policy at that. There are major issues, which we would need to consider very carefully before we went along with that proposal.

Amendment No. 2 relates to mission creep. The Bill clearly states that the IPC can deal only with applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects. They are defined in Clauses 14 to 29, which set out the specific thresholds. The Bill allows us to change those, but only with the approval of Parliament. That strikes the right balance between flexibility and safeguards.

Amendment No. 3 relates to confirmation. I have a problem with the language. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, Ministers could not simply rubber-stamp a decision. The integrity of the process would lie in a Minister's ability to review, which would inevitably mean reviewing evidence and the way in which judgments were made. That would be bound to add a significant delay of at least six months while parties waited for the Minister to decide whether to confirm the decision. Worse still, it would add another layer of uncertainty for promoters. A community might be waiting for a new reservoir for water security, for instance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned. The IPC would examine the case and reach a decision. There would then be another stage to go through.

If Ministers were take the final decisions on applications, however described, there would also be an incentive for them to reopen the political debate. We would have gone almost full circle. It would raise serious doubts about the extent to which national need could be excluded from those inquiries and decisions, as well as the greater risk of sequential challenges, first to the IPC's decision and then to that of the Minister, which would undermine transparency. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, the point of establishing the IPC, which is an expert group of people who will make their decisions in public, with written and oral evidence tested out and new stages for floor hearings, is to provide a huge advantage to the local community and to give it access that it has not previously had.

Amendment No. 4 suggests that the IPC should be put back on virtually the same basis as the Planning Inspectorate. I think that I have argued sufficiently why we need a new system. The Planning Inspectorate is not independent; it is an arm of government. It provides a superb service, but it does not do what we would want the IPC to do. I recommend that noble Lords read the evidence given by the Planning Inspectorate when the Bill started its process through the House of Lords.

Establishing an independent commission is vital. It is essential to improving speed, efficiency and transparency; it is essential to meeting the scale and the urgency of the task that we face; it is essential to ensuring open, high-quality decisions; and it is essential to the transparency of the system. I hope that, on the basis of that argument, noble Lords will not press their amendments. I apologise for speaking at such length, but these issues run through the course of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 6:00 pm, 6th October 2008

I will not press my amendment. I know that the Minister did not expect that I would do so at this stage. However, will she say a little more about the scope for the IPC to refuse an application? Faced with a national policy statement that says that we must have whatever it might be, the IPC will not look at comparative applications. It will have one application in front of it, but I suppose that it will receive evidence about possibilities elsewhere—I do not know; I am struggling to understand quite how the system will operate. The Minister stressed that the IPC can say, "No, this application causes so many problems that it can't be agreed". However, it might be told in the national policy statement that, for example, a reservoir—there must be a limited number of places where a reservoir can be built—is required. Will she say a little more about how the IPC can say no? Can it say no if all the possible sites have been explored in some way or another? We may come back to this issue when discussing national policy statements, but it is central to the role of the IPC as well. I am sorry that I have not expressed it well, but that is because I do not understand it very well.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

This goes to the heart of the role of the IPC and why it has to be independent. The IPC can reject an application even if it is in accordance with the NPS, because the local adverse impact outweighs the potential benefits. It is not a million miles away from what planning inspectors do at the moment, when they look closely at local impacts and benefits. We have processes in planning—for example, sequential tests—which will apply to the application processes as well, so the commission will not invent a completely new system. It will be able to reject local applications also if it is clear that there has been a breach of EU or domestic law.

I cannot enlighten the noble Baroness greatly. Applications will be considered case by case. There will not be very many of the big cases with which we are concerned. Each one will probably bring some local benefit; other people may see an adverse effect. However, we will have to wait until those applications start coming in. The great task of the 35 expert commissioners, who will have a range of expertise, not least in testing evidence, will be to give people the confidence to express their fears in a session with them. We will return to these issues later in the Bill, when we talk about the processes of the IPC, but, for the moment, I cannot go further than what I have said.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

We may be faced with a national policy statement that says that something is imperative. I find it hard to see that the IPC will be able to say in such a case that the local impact will be too great, because that argument will have been had and a conclusion reached in producing the national policy statement.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

It is more likely that the language of the NPS—I do not have any examples that I can put before the Committee—will address capacity issues and describe what we need as a country. Some of the NPSs will be able to say where we need the schemes. They will be able also to set out criteria for the impacts that the IPC should look for. If there were a location-specific NPS, it would mean that the strategic suitability of the site had been established in principle. The strategic suitability would not then be re-examined by the IPC. The IPC would focus on the impact. In a location-specific NPS, much of the local debate will be had in the context of the NPS, so local anxieties, fears and aspirations will be able to be debated at that level as well.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. It raises the crucial question of how the whole structure will work. Where the NPS is location-specific, we know exactly what will happen. Where it is not, I ask how we will get away from the problem that has bedevilled planning inquiries: the necessity to solve the whole national problem within the inquiry before one can determine what its results should be.

Let us suppose that we had a national policy statement that said that we should derive 5 per cent of our energy from wind. Let us suppose that it went a bit further and said that that would imply 5,000 turbines that, allowing for other things, ought to occupy half of the 10,000 best sites in the UK. If the IPC is faced with an application to put 24 turbines on a hill somewhere, how on earth is it to know whether this is one of the 10,000 best sites in the UK? How is it to know how that division is made between the best sites that get turbines and the best sites that do not?

Unless we have solved those problems in putting the national policy statement together, we will leave the IPC in exactly the same position as we leave inspectors now and the difficulties and delays will remain. We have to sort out, in considering this Bill, how national policy statements will absorb all the politics, without leaving large chunks around to obstruct the process of the IPC later.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I agree with that; it is a very sound point. The noble Baroness asked whether the NPSs would consider different locations. With location-specific NPSs, Ministers have been bound to give consideration to alternative sites before deciding which one is strategically suitable. The politics of the discussion will be at the NPS level, for all the reasons that are logical and proper.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I must first apologise to the Committee. I should have repeated a declaration of interest that I made at Second Reading—that I am a farmer and landowner in Essex, so it is just conceivable that something might march my way. I am not aware that the part of Essex where I live is likely ever to be affected by anything that is likely to be a consideration for the IPC or, indeed, a national policy statement. But one lives and learns.

This has been a very good debate and a very useful one, because the issue is very much at the heart of the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, felt that I did not do the matter sufficient justice. I thought that, having spoken for 12 minutes, that was long enough to introduce a small group of amendments at the beginning of a Bill. If I had spoken for the 35 minutes that it would have taken me adequately to do justice to this subject, much of what has been said since would have been very repetitious. So I think that that was reasonable.

The question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, right at the end of the debate goes to the nub of the problem that the commissioners will face. It is slightly awkward, but I have an awful feeling that in the end, if they have to make these judgments, they will have to become politicians. In that case, I sympathise with them, because their lives will not be easy. If we can write national policy statements with sufficient clarity and identity that judgment is not required, it will be a wholly remarkable thing.

I go back to the beginning of the debate to remind the Committee of what I said at Second Reading about the changes that we will face over the next 30 or 40 years. I asked whether we were giving sufficient consideration to the shape of the economy in 2050. That seems a long way away, but the truth is that the changes that will be required will be changes not only in the planning process but in the government and parliamentary process. We will all have to adapt to the need, particularly in this sort of field, for much greater speed.

I accept that the Minister made a very good case for what the Government propose. I do not quarrel with the need to do something, but it is the product of a number of years of neglect in this whole field. The problems that we now face have been predictable and predicted for a very long time, and now we are acting in desperation—and the question is whether we have got it right. Will the new process provide the security of decision now required, particularly if we are to gain the confidence of international investors that this is the right place for them to put their money? We know from what we have heard that the system that the Government propose will be tested to destruction by judicial review, if people can find a reason to do it—and, in my experience of lawyers, there are always reasons. If that is what happens once the new system is brought into place, initially at least there will not be any certainty of speed and, if there is no certainty of speed, we will not be as attractive in the international markets as we need to be.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin made a very significant point; he said that when he was under attack from a number of local authorities, that attack died when the decision was known to have been made and agreed by Parliament. It may be that the idea of Parliament getting involved in this sort of decision is seen as somewhat difficult at present, because of existing parliamentary procedures; but why should Parliament be immune from the need to change its processes, when we expect everybody else in the country—industry, commerce and private individuals—to do just that? There is no easy answer to that. We will have to change, whether we like it or not. If that means that we have to find a way to put through quickly a recommendation from a body such as the IPC, to ensure that it would not be subject to judicial review, that is perhaps what we should do.

The pity of it is that sufficient work has not really been done on how the existing planning process could have been accelerated. Much of the process in this Bill could have been applied to the planning inspectorate, had it been decided to do that. The Government have chosen to go down this different route, which does not provide the certainty that is required. This is a matter of judgment, but that is the dilemma that we face. How will the commission make the critical judgments between one site and another when it has an application for only one site before it—bearing in mind that we are talking about a limited number of facilities in every instance? The number of places where you can put ports in this country is very small, for example. We know that there is a possibility, subject to an amendment that I have tabled to a later part of the Bill, of nuclear power station proposals being site-specific—and so on. These matters will leave the commission and commissioners with some very difficult decisions to take. I have sufficient confidence in and knowledge of the existing planning inspectorate to know that these will be people of absolute integrity who will do their job very well. However, on numerous occasions they will find themselves, as Ministers sitting on appeals do, in an impossible situation. We cannot get away from that.

We have had a very useful debate on the whole principle behind the Bill. I apologise to those whose names I have not mentioned, but we have covered all the ground extremely well. As an opening for the debate and a detailed résumé of what the Bill is about, after what was, unfortunately, a somewhat curtailed Second Reading, this has been a very good start to our proceedings. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The Infrastructure Planning Commission]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 6:15 pm, 6th October 2008

moved Amendment No. 6:

Schedule 1, page 141, line 8, leave out "at least" and insert "no more than"

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

The first three amendments in the group concern details of the Infrastructure Planning Commission's structure, as set out in Schedule 1. Amendment No. 6 limits the number of vice-chairmen to two only. I always thought that a vice-chairman was a number two and that you needed only one. For some reason it appears to be agreed that you might have two vice-chairmen. To go beyond that is pushing matters—shall we say?—beyond the limits of what is reasonable, particularly bearing in mind the overall number of commissioners.

Amendment No. 8 limits the number of commissioners to 12. The noble Baroness has said that she expects there will be about 30 commissioners. Therefore, I probably will not press that amendment.

Amendment No. 9 introduces the concept of fairness to the work of the commission. The Bill talks about efficiency and so on. In the end the commission's reputation will depend also on its decisions being seen to be fair. That goes back to the heart of the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, at the end of the previous debate. If somebody feels that there is better site, or, worse still, if a decision is taken and permission is granted for a site and subsequently there is another application on what proves in the event to have been a better site than the one that has already been approved and you can make a case for only one of them, there will be a feeling of injustice.

Amendment No. 22 returns us to page one of the Bill. It removes the composing of a code of conduct from the commissioners and gives it to the Secretary of State. The question of codes of conduct is always difficult. Certainly in other walks of life, and particularly in local government, codes of conduct tend to come from the government department concerned. If the commission is to write its own code of conduct, it becomes judge and jury in its own case. We would prefer to see the code of conduct coming from the Secretary of State. That is not to belittle the people who will be commissioners, in whom I have the greatest of faith.

Amendment No. 23 is really to try to find out what such other matters might be. Clause 2 states that the code must include certain things, and then, at paragraph (b),

"such other provision as the Secretary of State may direct".

I see those words and wonder what the Secretary of State has in mind. They usually have something in mind and it would be interesting to know what that might be. Or is this simply again another saving clause in case somebody has an idea somewhere in the future? We really do not know.

Amendment No. 24 removes the responsibility to review the code of conduct again from the commission to the Secretary of State. This repeats the reasoning behind the amendment setting up the code of conduct so that the code is derived from the Secretary of State. That would make matters consistent.

Amendment No. 25 makes the point that the requirement to publish the register of interests should be a part of the code of conduct. These are probing amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

I have tabled Amendment No. 10 and have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Schedule 1 be the first schedule to the Bill. I too am probing. Amendment No. 10 seeks to discover whether somebody who has been the chair or deputy chair of the commission and then is subsequently appointed as a commissioner is limited in the total number of terms of appointment. There is a fixed period for the appointment of chair, deputy and any other commissioner under paragraph 3 of the schedule, but I was not clear whether that applied to reappointment.

I turn to whether Schedule 1 should be the first schedule to the Bill. We have not finished going through the schedule but the Minister is aware of particular points I want to raise. Paragraph 15 is about delegation and provides that the commission can delegate certain functions to one or more commissioners. They are very important functions about guidance on pre-application consultation, advising on ministerial interventions and so on. It also provides for delegation of any of the commission's other functions to commissioners, the chief executive or other staff. Should it not be the case that the commission as a whole takes responsibility for all these matters?

I have two other questions. First, on those important matters—I have not tried to analyse whether paragraph 15(1) lists everything that I would consider ought to be at that level—I should have thought that guidance and so on really should come from the commission as a whole and that the commission should stand behind them. Secondly, who is legally responsible for the matters?

I turn to the qualifications of commissioners. The noble Baroness has alluded to this by saying that among the array of commissioners the Government would expect people skilled in project management. I wish them luck in finding them, certainly in this country. We do not know whether the commissioners have to be British. I am interested in whether the Government expect all the commissioners to bring a specific qualification or whether there is room for what I have described as good generalists. I think that people with judgment, wisdom, intelligence, perspicacity, and all those things, have a huge amount to bring to this process.

Thirdly, will the chair of the commission be the chair of each council—in other words, deal with each application? Will a similar provision apply to the deputies? It seems a heavy workload if that is the case.

Finally, I oppose Amendment No. 23 to remove Clause 2(2)(b), which I accept is probing, for a reason on which we spent some time during the passage of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008: disclosure of interests and whether interests should prohibit, in this case, a commissioner from taking part in consideration of a decision. Clause 2(2)(a) requires only disclosure. A commissioner who has an interest should be disqualified from taking part in dealing with the application in question. Can the Minister give me comfort on whether that provision might be directed by the Secretary of State?

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative 6:30 pm, 6th October 2008

With the greatest of respect to my noble friend on the Front Bench, to limit the commission to 12 members would be extremely difficult. The White Paper made it clear that it could be between 20 and 30; 30 seems rather a lot, but I would not quarrel if the Government decided that there must be 20 to 25 commissioners.

On major infrastructure projects, to remit a major inquiry to one commissioner seems not very wise. Having a panel is probably the best way of splitting the work. What sort of things might be remitted to a single commissioner? I recognise that a single commissioner will not be able to make decisions, but must refer the case to a council. I am never sure of the difference between a council and a panel; I think that a panel may be appointed for a particular inquiry and a council may be appointed generally—the Minister is nodding. How will one commissioner act? I find that a difficult concept, bearing in mind all that the Minister said at Second Reading about the IPC's need to gain the widest measure of public confidence.

Secondly, my noble friend quite properly made a point about the code of conduct. If the Bill provides that the commission is to draw up its own code of conduct, I am sure that it would consult with the department before doing so. If a dispute arose between the department and the commission in doing so, it would be unfortunate if the commission could say to the department, "The Act makes us responsible for this, so we are not going to listen to you". No doubt that would be unlikely, given the distinction of those to be appointed, but I would have thought that Parliament would want to ensure that the department would have a role in this. Whether the department draws up the code of conduct, or the commission does so in consultation with it, we might want to return to this matter and I hope that the Minister can say something about it.

Thirdly, I draw the Committee's attention to the fact that department has already embarked on the process of selecting a chairman and chief executive, which I applaud. The Bill has had its Second Reading in another place, and the normal procedures can therefore be overridden in special cases. In his Written Statement on 17 September, the right honourable John Healey—I congratulate him on his elevation to the Privy Council—said that,

"the Government will shortly commence the early recruitment and appointment of a chair and chief executive".—[Hansard, Commons, 17/09/08; col. 139WS.]

He goes on to describe what the IPC will do, how provision will be made for the financing of this process—which would no doubt involve employing head-hunters—and how authority will eventually be sought in a supplementary estimate. I applaud that.

I have now talked to a number of the bodies which will want to submit major applications to the commission. They recognise that there will be time before the commission is up and running, but they need to know at the earliest possible opportunity what the guidance issued by the commission, provided for in the Bill, will be. It is extremely difficult for a company, or consortium, to determine how it will frame its application before it has that guidance. I have therefore heard words of delight that recruitment is already starting. This is evidence of the urgency it all needs. In the last debate, the Minister stressed the huge urgency for us to get ahead with some of our infrastructure investment, notably in energy. I certainly agree with that, and hope that nothing will hold it up.

The major things must obviously wait until Parliament has approved the Bill. In the mean time, a large number of people outside would welcome things being done to get ahead with this.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

I shall use this group of amendments to probe the Minister more generally as to the type of person to be appointed an IPC commissioner. I know that the next group of amendments is about a specific commissioner with design credibility and that, in her response to the previous debate, the Minister said that commissioners would be neither agents nor representatives of interests. I was glad to hear that.

However, I got the impression from the discussions in the other place that the commission might be made up largely of experts in the various fields on which it would be deliberating. I have a problem with that. The trouble with experts is that they tend to be keen on their subject—so keen, in fact, that they might even appear to be biased. If you have spent all your life in the aviation industry, breathing in all the arguments rebuffing complaints about noise or carbon footprints and so on, because your job depends on them, you are less likely to take an even-handed view of the representations made to you—or, more importantly, to be seen to do so. The same might apply to nuclear experts or hydro engineers, and so on.

We need the IPC to be made up of expert planners, and certainly mediators and experts in design—to which we will come—all of whom should be men and women of experience in public life. They may even require political credibility. If the IPC wants experts on the sort of project on which it is deliberating, it should be able to hire that expertise the same way that House of Lords EU sub-committees hire in expert advice when writing reports. Those experts are not part of the committee but advise it, and their advice can be taken or rejected. I would be grateful for a fuller expansion on the Minister's views of what type of people are likely to be appointed as commissioners, because she has touched on it earlier this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

I am encouraged by the fact that we have moved from page 1 to page 140-something, but that is a false dawn as we have reached Schedule 1 only. However, I should like to follow up the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cameron. What we have in the text at the moment is the composition of the body, which comprises the chairman, the deputy chairmen and "other Commissioners" who, if the phrase were not used for another purpose, I would describe as the significant others. They are not defined at all in the text. However, like my noble friend Lord Cameron, I think that it is important for us to understand what sort of experience and what sort of people are likely to be appointed. That does not necessarily mean that we have to specify everything in the Bill, but we need to be satisfied about those people who will take extremely important decisions in areas such as design. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for mentioning that a little early but it is an important point because these major projects will have a huge effect on design and on the countryside. We need to have as much information as the Minister can give us about the Government's vision of the type of people who will be on the commission as that will influence our opinion about the structure that the Government propose. Broadly speaking, I support that structure although I would like more information from the Government about the type of members they envisage will be appointed.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 6:45 pm, 6th October 2008

I thank noble Lords for tabling these amendments which allow us to explore at length the details of how the IPC will work. I shall try to respond to all the questions that have been raised but if I do not succeed I shall certainly write to noble Lords.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 seek to limit the commission to having two deputy chairs and to limit the overall number of commissioners to 15. We have set out that the commission should have around 35 commissioners. I explained at some length in my previous long reply that there are two reasons for this. The first and most obvious is the pressure of work. The impact assessment estimated that 35 commissioners would be necessary to handle the expected caseload of around 45 major projects a year, each one of which may take several months to look at. We expect that there will be spikes of activity throughout this period. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to there being possibly 25 in one year. There will be more applications in some years than others. Therefore, we need to have a reasonably large base of commissioners who are able to give each application the level of attention that it deserves.

I will try to respond to the important questions asked by the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Williamson. What are we looking for? We are certainly committed to ensuring that the commission comprises commissioners who demonstrate a broad range of expertise. However, I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made that sometimes expertise can be obsessive. At all costs we want to avoid people who have axes to grind. We specified in the White Paper the fields that we were thinking of such as community engagement, planning, law, local government, engineering, economics, business, security, environment, heritage and health. These are generic competences as well as in-depth professionalisms. We could probably expand that list. It is not by any means finite but rather a first assessment of what we might be looking for. However, I think that the point the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, makes is that we will be looking for experience and temperament. We will be looking for people who are well used to being in the public eye and who can deal safely with often emotive situations. Therefore, we shall be looking for wisdom as well as expertise. These paragons exist and I am sure that the Secretary of State will be able to find them. However, we shall not cast them adrift. We certainly intend to provide training, particularly in the examination and testing of evidence, if there is a need for it. That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on Second Reading.

The Bill also covers the provision of expertise and specialist advice. Paragraph 14 of Schedule 1 provides for arrangements for assistance, which could include specialist advice. We cannot expect the commissioners to cover every known discipline with regard to these projects but it will be for them to decide when they need the advice of outside experts, including legal advice. Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State will exercise the judgment we are discussing, I think that there is sufficient scope for us to get the people we need. I do not think that this will be an unwieldy quango in any sense. We are looking for the minimum number of commissioners who will be necessary properly to examine the details of applications for significant infrastructure projects. I am very gratified by what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said about having brought forward the application process because it is important to signal urgency. As regards what he said about promoters waiting for guidance, I hope that noble Lords will enable us to pass the Bill and then we can proceed as quickly as possible with all the processes that will need to be put in place to achieve what we want.

In the context of the other amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which seek to ensure that the IPC's decisions are fair, I do not think that there should be a problem here. When this was debated in the other place it was clear that there was no support for it across the House. We are in danger of creating unnecessary opposition here between efficiency and fairness, which would certainly not be beneficial to the operation of the IPC. To operate efficiently is to operate fairly. The Liberal Democrat spokesman put this rather well in saying:

"However, I am concerned that, if the Bill proceeds through the House and we are to have an IPC, limiting the number of its members may hamper its effectiveness".—[Official Report, Commons, Planning Bill Committee, 15/1/08; col. 207.]

As regards fair decisions, that is part of the problem. We do not want to restrict the commission's ability to look at applications from a number of angles and to restrict it treating them and the people who bring them forward and the local community fairly and objectively. However, I assure noble Lords that we know that the commission has to be sufficiently resourced to make proper, fair and timely decisions.

Amendment No. 9 on fair decisions would widen the duty so that the Secretary of State must also have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the commission is able to perform its functions fairly. Indeed, this point was raised in the other place, as I say. On the basis that the explanation was given for why the amendment was otiose, I am content to rest on the same simple arguments. It is a basic tenet of administrative law that any public body, including the commission, must, in performing its duties always act fairly. To identify that it is required to do so weakens a very important assumption. As I say, if we added that to the definition, we would draw a distinction between acting effectively and acting fairly. If the commission were to act in an unfair manner it would, like every other body, be open to legal challenge and held to account in the courts. Its decision could be overturned, which is hardly effective. Therefore, a fair commission will be an effective commission.

I understand that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the eight-year limit to appointments is a probing amendment, and we do not want to accept it. However, I hope that I can reassure her about the intentions in this regard. We certainly intend that all commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State will be appointed according to the code of practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and that up to three commissioners will be nominated by Welsh Ministers. The commissioners will be appointed for a fixed term of between five and eight years, although any commissioner can resign if they give three months' written notice to the Secretary of State. The purpose of this is to ensure the independence of the IPC such that Ministers can remove commissioners from office before their appointments end only on the grounds of misconduct or incapacity. It is important that commissioners are not constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering whether they might be reappointed.

The IPC will be an important body with regard to reappointments, making decisions on projects of national significance. It will be vital in the course of what it does that such decisions will not be affected by an inability to reappoint commissioners when it is right to do so. It is entirely possible, when a commissioner comes to the end of an appointment, after a full and open competition, that he or she is still the most appropriate person for the position. Should the Secretary of State be restricted from making a reappointment that may limit the range of expertise that the IPC can call on? I do not believe so. All appointments will take into account guidance from the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which recommends an upper limit of 10 years. Essentially, we are looking for consistency and the ability to introduce new blood.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 25 concern the code of conduct. The main point that was brought up about the code of conduct is that the IPC issues the code, rather than the Secretary of State. Given the importance of the personal integrity and impartiality of the commissioners, Ministers decided that the Bill should include an explicit duty for the commission to prepare a code of conduct. In the other place, my honourable friend John Healey said the Government did not consider a similar amendment necessary. We believe that, as an independent body, it sends the signal of independence for the commission to take responsibility for its own code of conduct. Like any public body, the commission would be expected to follow best practice when drafting a code of conduct, as well as keeping it under review. We have also included in Clause 2(2)(b) a safeguard that allows the Secretary of State to direct the commission to include those matters. The noble Lord asked me what those "other" matters might be. I cannot find my note, so I shall write to him on that point, if he will forgive me.

That is not an entirely new concept, and I am sure that noble Lords will be reassured that the parallel that we are drawing is with the judicial code of conduct, which is overseen by the Judges' Council. It was set up in 1873, so it has worn well as a parallel. It is chaired by the Lord Chancellor, and all the judges of the Supreme Court were members. The current Judges' Council includes representatives from all areas of the judiciary, including the House of Lords. The primary function is to broadly represent the judiciary as a whole, which will inform and advise the Lord Chief Justice on matters as requested, from time to time. One of its functions is to maintain and develop a judicial code of conduct. With that splendid example, I hope that noble Lords will accept that this is something that we want and which serves the visible independence of the commission.

I have been rescued, so I shall not have to write. The other kinds of things that Ministers would expect the code to include are the key principles necessary to ensuring that all stakeholders, promoters and interest groups have confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the process. That might include objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership and integrity. Those are fairly common things to find in codes of conduct, including local government codes of conduct, as I recall.

The other issue raised was the register of commissioners' interests. The code of conduct requires the commissioners to disclose financial and other interests in accordance with the procedure established under Clause 3. I think I have picked up most of the questions.

Finally, I reiterate that the IPC will be subject to a number of accountability mechanisms. The chair and the deputy chairs will be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by a Select Committee. Parliament will have a strong role in scrutinising the performance of the commission.

Before I address the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—I am grateful for her advance warning, because they are rather technical—I will take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about what sort of projects the single commissioner would do. The best example is probably a small road application. In itself, a critical road junction would not require the full panoply of the three-person panel approach, but because of its significance in that it plays a critical part of the road in question, it therefore becomes a national infrastructure project. It goes to a single commissioner because it is limited in character.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for doing her best with my question, but I find the example that she has given, to put it kindly, very unconvincing. How could you have a major national infrastructure project that would constitute any single road junction and therefore justify the attention of one commissioner? Perhaps we could return to this later, because there is quite a point about the single commissioner.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

There are sufficient details around the notion of the small project in relation to the single commissioner that it deserves a proper letter from me on that point. I did not explain it very well. I could offer the Committee other examples before we address that point, and I shall do that quickly.

On the question of Schedule 1 stand part, in relation to delegation, as set out in paragraph 15, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked who takes responsibility for the commission's functions. I think I can reassure her on that. Paragraph 15 does not apply to the central functions of the IPC, such as decisions by the panel or council on applications for orders granting development consent. Those are dealt with in the body of the Bill at Clauses 72, 82, 101 and 113. They specify that, where a NPS is in place, the panel or council—a group of commissioners—has the function of deciding the application, and the decisions are made in the name of the commission.

That compares with other functions of the commission, which, as provided for in paragraph 15(2), can be delegated to a commissioner or member of the IPC secretariat. It is sensible that general functions, such as providing everyday advice about how to make a representation, can be provided by the secretariat. Paragraph 15(1), however, provides a restriction on that and sets out the functions of the commission that can only be made by commissioners. Ministers included that safeguard to ensure that only commissioners can carry out the more important functions—which I think is what the noble Baroness was concerned about—such as providing overarching guidance on how promoters should comply with the duty to consult before submitting an application to the IPC, in Clause 41(2); authorising persons to obtain information about land, in Clause 50; and authorising persons to enter land for the purpose of surveying and taking levels in connection with an application for development consent, in Clause 51.

I think I have answered the question about the qualifications of commissioners, by saying that they should be good generalists. We are looking for people with a very wide range of—

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour

Earlier, the Minister replied on the broad areas where one would expect expertise, but she did not mention risk, which is perhaps the most important area of all. It is a growing area but, in the list including finance and engineering, there was a slight hint of an anti-science and engineering element. I hope that will be very firmly dispelled. Expertise in risk is something that the public will look for in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

That demonstrates exactly what I was trying to say. I talked about project management. It is not so much detailed expertise that one wants; it is the ability to weigh up consequences and understand notions of risk and distribution of risk. That is an extremely important skill.

The third question was about the chair possibly being overloaded if she or he is chair of every council. The impact assessment estimated that the commission would have to have a chair and three deputy chairs. It was felt that that was the necessary resource. There were 45 applications. In relation to the chair of any one council, the chair of the commission may decide to chair it—in later amendments we will talk about what we mean by "council"—and that is provided for in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1, whereby he can delegate the function to a deputy.

That provides sufficient flexibility and, during a period of heavy workload, the chair can spread the chairmanship of the council across a number of commissioners. We hope that we are building into the ability to move between councils and to change the chairmanship maximum flexibility as well as the maximum deployment of expertise. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that we are not expecting the chair to chair every council that would be created.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 7:00 pm, 6th October 2008

Before we finish on this matter, am I right in understanding that this goes back to the question of delegation and that we should distinguish the commission as a body from a panel or council? When there is talk of the commission delegating other functions—one would have thought about them as the whole lot—is it the case that, because they are not commission functions but panel or council functions, they do not fall within this? The Minister nods, which is helpful.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

Among those who have contributed to this debate, I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin regarding the number of commissioners. I said that the Minister had already explained the numbers issue and that, therefore, I was not proposing to press it. The argument that the commissioners will be men of sufficient integrity should have weight. The example was given of the judges drawing up their own code of conduct. It certainly lends strength to the argument that the commissioners will be independent. We have only some concern that someone needs to keep an eye on things, but presumably that will happen.

One of the key questions was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton: what type of people will the commissioners be? It is to be hoped that there will be sufficient people of sufficient calibre who will volunteer for this onerous task—and they clearly exist in the community. If there are no suitable applicants, the process, assuming that it arrives in its present form, will fall into disrepute. That would be worse than not starting. We need suitable people and I am sure that the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who will operate the process, will do a very good job. We can all think of examples of people in this field who, if they are willing to do the work, will do it very successfully.

The code of conduct is a difficult issue, but given the points that have been made, I do not wish to press these amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

moved Amendment No. 7:

Schedule 1, page 141, line 9, after "("deputies")," insert—

"( ) at least one person appointed by the Secretary of State with experience of, and capacity in design,"

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

I shall speak only momentarily to introduce the amendments in this group. It is appropriate to consider them following the wider debate that we have just had on the members of the IPC and its council and on aspects of their duties. However, the amendments in this group are only a trailer for the fuller debate on design that we shall have when we reach the group that begins with Amendment No. 28.

My noble friend Lady Whitaker and I have tabled these amendments because we feel, as I know do noble Lords on all sides of the Committee, that it is essential that the IPC should be fairly and squarely committed to promoting high-quality design in the developments that will fall to it to consider. My noble friend the Minister told us at Second Reading that the IPC will,

"consist of experts in a range of fields, including community engagement, planning, local government and the environment".—[Hansard, 15/7/08; col. 1161.]

She has just added engineering to that illustrative list. However, she did not, for whatever reason, include in her illustrative list, either at Second Reading or today, experts in design. Yet we are legislating to create a massively powerful body that will take outstandingly important planning decisions that will affect the quality of life in this country for many years to come.

I have therefore proposed in my amendments that decision makers on the IPC, including commissioners on its council, should include at least one person with experience of, and a capacity in, design. That is what Amendments Nos. 7 and 14 would require. Noble Lords will recognise the wording of those amendments as being drawn from the Government's own wording in the Housing and Regeneration Act.

This is only a token of what is required and I absolutely take the good sense of what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said in the previous debate: it is not a solution to the problem to appoint to a large body of some 35 commissioners one person with special responsibility for design. That person risks becoming rather tedious on the subject and there is a risk that the other commissioners will feel that design is not part of their responsibility because the design commissioner is there. That would not work well. I note also that my noble friend the Minister rightly said that we are looking not only for experts, but for good generalists. Our proposal would be only a token of what is required. The whole culture of the IPC should be imbued with a commitment to good design, but these amendments are intended only to flag up the wider issue of design. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for acknowledging the importance of that.

I support also Amendment No. 17 in the name of my noble friend Lady Whitaker, which would require the IPC to give details in its annual report of the design quality of developments that it has approved. That is a much better amendment than mine, as I would expect of my noble friend. She offers a practical and easy way to require the IPC regularly to give an account of how it has acquitted itself of an important part of its responsibilities. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My name is attached to the amendment and to the subsequent amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I emphasise the importance of design in infrastructure projects. There is a huge tradition going back to Victorian days of building beautiful things in constructing railways, for example, with their viaducts, stations and the rest. Our designers, not least two Members of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, and my noble friend Lord Foster, have designed wonderful airports for other countries—Spain and China. When engaging in the enormous number of infrastructure projects that lie before us, we need to take the opportunity to create things of beauty as well as of utility. That will make the infrastructure that we must have more acceptable to the public. I thoroughly support these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

As my noble friend Lord Howarth said, Amendments Nos. 7 and 14 would ensure that the nationally important work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission is always design-aware. Amendment No. 17 would ensure that the IPC is accountable for its exercise of that awareness.

Design is not an add-on. It should not be consigned to "design experts". Our contention is that a sense of good design must inform all the commission's decisions and that there needs to be sufficient design capacity in the commission to do that. The statutory duties in these amendments would give a clear signal from Parliament that the planning system encourages a well designed built environment. They would give local planning authorities confidence to refuse poorly designed planning applications. They would also encourage local authorities to entrench good design quality into their own decision-making processes. The reasons we need such explicit obligations can be seen all around us, in poor design that does not work well. But we have high-quality practitioners and there is plenty of authoritative advice, from CABE and from DCLG, to help in the objective evaluation of design. We just need the obligation.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

I shall reserve my main comments on the design function to the longer debate, foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on Amendment No. 48 and subsequent amendments. I shall say only that I support the principle behind these amendments. You cannot have the commission trying to design buildings, saying that you must have this and not that, but it needs a critical faculty, being able to listen to those who say, "Yes, this is good", or, "This is bad". The Committee may remember the phrase about the National Gallery proposal that at the time became a headline concerning,

"a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved ... friend".

I had to decide that application after the Prince of Wales had made that remark but it was absolutely true. What is now at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square is a splendid addition but, as the Prince of Wales said, the original design was an absolute monstrosity.

It seems to me that one needs people with the capacity and willingness to listen to those who make comments about good and bad design. A view that I heard expressed at the Department of the Environment was, "Well, if it's a really bad building, it won't last longer than 40 years". I find that a terribly negative attitude. Forty years is half a lifetime and one has to do better to try to avoid some of the horrors. I live near a building in Vauxhall that a few months ago was voted the most ugly in London. I hope that it will be coming down in 2010 but I shall believe it when I see it.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My comments follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just said. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baroness will know that we on these Benches very much supported the principle of what was put forward in the Housing and Regeneration Bill. My noble friend Lord Tyler would have wished to be here today to speak more authoritatively than I can on the issue.

Earlier, the noble Baroness referred to the training of commissioners. I hope that training in analysing and articulating points in relation to design can be very much on the agenda. "Taste" is not the same as saying whether something is good or bad design. However, the area has become fudged and I think that that is partly because it is difficult to express one's views about design any further than "I like it" or "I don't like it". Therefore, I make a plea for this area to be a very early part of any would-be commissioner's training.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

I add my support for this group of amendments. Design is very important in relation to a road, a harbour or a big infrastructure project, and often the relationship between the buildings in a larger project can make all the difference to the acceptability of largely bad-neighbour projects. The worse the bad-neighbour project is, the greater the need for good design.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 7:15 pm, 6th October 2008

I could not be more pro-design if I tried and I hope that I am as pro-design as the noble Lords and the noble Baroness whose names are attached to these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, indicated that this debate is in part a trailer for later ones, and I recall an exactly similar debate at an exactly similar point in our consideration of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. In that spirit, I welcome the amendments.

I always enjoy the case of the Royal Albert Hall. It was entrusted by Sir Henry Cole to Captain Fowke of the Royal Engineers, whose only previous design experience had been in relation to a portable bath for use on active service. Unfortunately, Captain Fowke was not able to complete the Albert Hall. For obvious family reasons, the sovereign had been playing close attention to the progress being made on it and, when Captain Fowke died, Sir Henry went to her and said, "Ma'am, are you happy with the progress that we've made so far and would you be happy if we were to put it in the hands of another officer in the Royal Engineers?". Her Majesty replied—in my view, memorably—"I am entirely happy with the progress and I am entirely happy with the principle but I think that this time we might have a major".

Despite my welcome, I have some reservations about the efficacy of what the amendments seek to achieve. As I said a moment ago, they are part of a familiar category of amendments at this stage of a Bill such as this, but there are no other particular specifications and this amendment asks for "at least one person". I do not think that we should have a unique specification, not least because that would open the floodgates for other specifications on Report. I suspect that that may be the timbre of the Minister's reply, expressing considerable sympathy in relation to design. If, however, the principle that we should have a specification of this sort were accepted, I should be much happier if the words "at least one" were amended to read "at least two". That is partly because one hazard is, as has already been indicated, that if only one person is specified, other commissioners will say, "Oh, there he or she goes again". I believe that there is an argument for having more than one person with different backgrounds in particular areas of design so that they can spark off each other and thus further illuminate the scene.

It would be reasonable for the two noble Lords and the noble Baroness who tabled these amendments to query why I did not put down an amendment to this effect. However, three weeks ago I slipped a disc and I have to say that in the past three weeks I have been paying more attention to my back than to the Bill, but at least I have been happy to have the opportunity of expressing these views at this moment.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

We are all in favour of good design but I have an awful feeling that one commissioner with design expertise will always be in the wrong place at the wrong time and so will have a very difficult life. However, I think that the commission should be required to pay attention to design and that it should be able to purchase design expertise if it feels the need for it. That would be a satisfactory solution.

I once had to talk to the senior partner of a certain London firm about his business. He lived in, and his firm worked from, a building that I would have said was designed by quantity surveyors. We used to have many of those in London. It was a very profitable business and I asked him why he did not set to and produce a decent building. He said, "Our business is to provide good service for our clients and not to leave articles of national heritage". Unfortunately, that is a common attitude.

In my days at County Hall I was responsible for many of these quantity surveyor-designed buildings, but one has to remember that, going back to the 1950s and 1960s, which was when I began in public life, that was the height of architectural expertise. Those buildings were designed to cost limits and architects were ingenious at producing more building for less cash. One could admire that but the bill came home about 15 years later as the buildings began to fall to bits. We had a study done that showed that you could afford to double the cost of the building for a 5 per cent annual saving in running costs. Building design improved immediately. That is another factor that everyone needs to keep in mind and it applies to all buildings. As has been said, good design is fundamental to the acceptance even of very utilitarian buildings.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I agree with my noble friend that the cost of buildings is important because, as we were reminded at four o'clock today, we are about to enter another phase. The projects will be very big; money for them will be extremely short; people will be desperate to get them done; and they will be done cheap. I disagree with my noble friend that design should be there because the commission feels the need for it; design should be there because we feel the need for it. The commission should always be aware of that.

I very much go for Amendment No. 17, which pulls the commission rather than pushes it, as the other two amendments do. That is really what ought to be done. The commission ought to know that design is important. Every year it will have to tell us what it has done to ensure that the projects that it has allowed through are beautiful, or striking, or have other aspects of design excellence about them.

I do not mind if this turns into a list. A good way of influencing the commission would be for Parliament to say that it regards such matters as important. We might well add the environment to the list. It should not be a long list, but I cannot currently think of anything beyond design and the environment that I would want to add to it. As a way of giving direction to the commission, it would be clean, simple and all-embracing and would avoid a lot of regulation and paperwork that would come if we did this in a different way. If we had a commissioner who was an expert on design, we might get Denys Lasdun again.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

We have been anticipating a debate that will range over a number of these issues, but we are fixed on a couple of specific amendments here. My noble friend, having raised questions, answered them very well. He anticipated what I would say and what other noble Lords have already said. First, we have the proof in the Housing and Regeneration Act that we take design seriously; we were pleased to reflect that on the face of the Bill. However, that was a different Bill with different circumstances and requirements. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who gave a marvellous illustration of design, I am passionate about design in the work that I do. Like my department as a whole, I am absolutely serious about the importance of good design in development.

Much of our debate on this series of amendments and on the longer set will turn on how we can be most effective. The general case in relation to the national policy statements is that they will have to take into account, reflect and reinforce where they can the existing planning principles. The keystone planning document overarching everything that we do in planning is policy statement 1. In policy statement 1 there is a very clear recognition of the importance of design and sustainability. That is the principal driver.

Under the new regime, Ministers will set out their policy according to individual areas of infrastructure in national policy statements. Those are of primary consideration for the IPC, as we have already discussed at some length today. It will base its decisions on the policy set out in the NPS and it will be bound by those policies in relation to design, as in relation to everything else. We will have a full and robust framework for the application of good design principles in everything that we do. I take the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that this is a matter not of taste but of functionality. Good design makes things work. We will be bound to take account of design issues to the extent that they are relevant to each NPS and the process will reflect that.

On the amendments, we have had a good debate today on the need for our commissioners not to represent narrow areas of expertise. I am not saying that design is narrow, but we want the commissioners to have a wide range of competences. I take the point that we are also looking for an ability to judge what constitutes good design and to be on the cutting edge of that judgment. I do not think that a single commissioner representing design serves the point at all. I am sorry if I left it out of the list, but I also left out a whole range of other professional competences that could be included. As I said, we are looking for individual commissioners who can be chosen on the basis of their expertise, their experience, their ability and their diversity of background. There will need to be generic skills and policy area skills—transport, aviation and so on—and there will be the need for the other skills that we have talked about this afternoon. A commissioner to represent design is not the way in which to get the best cultural driving-edge of design throughout the process. We need more than that. The IPC chair, in consultation with the other commissioners, will determine the expertise required for each case.

I have the same problem with Amendment No. 17. I do not think that we should specify what should be in the IPC's annual report. The IPC is an independent organisation and to specify design opens up the notion of a list. I am surprised that the noble Lord can think only of environment and design. I am sure that around the Committee we could put together a list of almost infinite possibilities that might be included. However, we all know that we have a problem with lists on the face of legislation. We must be wary of thinking that a token reference to design solves the problem. I do not believe that my noble friend thinks like that at all, but we need to be careful about what we specify and what we ask to be specified.

The schedule allows the Secretary of State to direct what issues the IPC should report on. It would be slightly bizarre for us to insist that it emphasise one thing rather than another. We will address all those issues at some length and in a wider context when we come to debate later amendments, but for the moment I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

This has been a short but exceptionally useful and important debate. I am enormously grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the Committee who have expressed support for the essence of what my noble friends and I are seeking to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Best, was absolutely right to say that we have to be ambitious to create beauty. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that Parliament must insist that the IPC not only does not neglect design but is ambitious in promoting good design. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made the point that members of the commission will need critical discernment and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put it, they will need taste. I am very grateful to both Front Benches for their support for the principle of what I seek to achieve in these debates. I note that the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, were of the view that one commissioner was not enough, so perhaps we should have an option to consider more commissioners.

On the group of amendments headed by Amendment No. 28 we will have a fuller opportunity to examine ways and means to achieve an objective that I think is genuinely shared on all sides of the Committee. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that good design will help acceptability of these major infrastructure proposals is enormously important politically and economically. I note that the Minister is serious in her desire that there should be good design. She says that the Housing and Regeneration Act was different. However, we will return to this in a later debate and see how we can achieve what we all want. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]