Planning Bill

– in the House of Lords at 11:36 am on 6th November 2008.

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Clause 1 [The Infrastructure Planning Commission]:

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 11:38 am, 6th November 2008

moved Amendment No. 1:

Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert "for the purpose of advising the Secretary of State on decisions made under section (Decisions by the Secretary of State on applications for orders granting development consent)"

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

My Lords, the more that I work on this Bill and consider its gestation, the more I find that it is not in very good order. I am sure that the Government's consideration of the Bill arose from the definition of a problem. The problem that they identified was that we were suffering because the national planning process, especially where it concerns major infrastructure, was flawed under the present regime and that we needed to do something about that. Then they thought: can we define that? They answered, yes, it is national infrastructure. Then, I am sure, the thinking went: so what do we need to do something about that problem? They then came up with the Infrastructure Planning Commission. The Bill is written the other way round, so we have the mechanism for dealing with the problem before we have defined the problem. I am bound to say that that is a little unfortunate, but there it is; we have to deal with the Bill as it is.

My Amendment No. 1 would make it the purpose of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to advise the Secretary of State on the decisions to be taken on planning applications for national infrastructure problems. This is different from the Bill, which largely makes those decisions the prerogative of the commission. I do not apologise for bringing these amendments back to the House; the arguments that we began to advance in Committee are still vital. I remind the House that, under the existing planning regime, all planning decisions are in effect taken by politicians. At the local-government level, where the vast bulk of planning is done, planning decisions are taken by a committee of the local authority acting as the planning authority, and only the very minor decisions are decided in a delegation process. However, even the delegation process is subject to politicians' approval.

The departure from this is when an application is called in either because it is nationally significant or because it is inconsistent with approved plans. Then it goes to the national level and becomes the prerogative of the Secretary of State. That political decision-making may have been criticised for the way in which it has been administered, but in general it has lent great strength to the planning system, and although people might not always agree with the conclusions, by and large they accept them. There are flaws in the Bill, not least the fact that that process is now to be eroded because the decisions are to be taken by a planning commission. We really need to ask why there is a need to depart from a well-tried and proven process.

In earlier discussions, the Minister has made much of the difficulties caused by the present appeal process. In that instance, she is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. She must have a thorough and detailed review of absolutely everything to do with the application, which may involve a departure from the planning process. In many cases, it almost certainly involves overriding the views of a local authority. However, that is a very different process from the one that we are now discussing, which is a decision-making process not an appeal process. There is a clear distinction.

One of the interesting facets of the Bill is that, in its conclusion, there is no appeal procedure at the end of the process, with the possible exception of judicial review. If I understand matters correctly—I have no doubt that the Minister will tear me to shreds if I am wrong—the judicial review will be relevant really only with regard to process. If the process is correct, there will be no scope for judicial review. The purpose of these amendments and others that we have tabled later in the Bill is not least to try to ensure that the process in the Bill, particularly on decision-making, is so robust that it is not susceptible to the possibility of judicial review. If it is so susceptible, we are likely to lose most of the advantage of expedition, which this Bill is supposed to bring about. That is a very important point.

Amendment No. 1, which would bring the decision to the Secretary of State, is reinforced by Amendment No. 101, which would give Parliament the power to review a Secretary of State's decision. It would be an order-making power, which could be set aside by a negative resolution by either House of Parliament. Bearing in mind particularly that the parliamentary processes would be subject to a timetable to be established in the Bill, if these amendments are agreed, we would have a much more robust process which would secure the new situation against review.

I find it really difficult. I understand the views of the CBI and major infrastructure providers that Ministers and MPs should be kept out of the planning process. I have a long and bitter experience of the existing system, which too often has provided prevarication, obfuscation and delay at what I would call the ministerial stage. This is not a particularly political point, because it has been going on for a very long time. But we need to realise that we are not discussing an appeal process, but a decision-making process.

I find it humiliating that at the national level we cannot behave and take decisions which are no more than parallel to the decisions we expect members of local authorities to take on a day-to-day basis. We expect them to be efficient and decisive. We criticise them if they do not deal with applications with sufficient speed, which has been a regular problem. It worries me that Ministers in Parliament apparently are not and cannot be trusted to do the same. As politicians at the national level, are we such a different breed that we cannot behave as we expect others to behave on a lesser scale in their own field? It simply is unbelievable to me. When you consider the scale of some decisions that some local authorities are obliged to take in relation to their size and functions, they are at least as significant as any decision that we are requiring to be made by a Secretary of State with the approbation of Parliament. There is no difference in scale.

While I understand to some degree why the Government have drafted the Bill in this way, it is wrong. The Bill sets out to bring change to the system. There is no disagreement between those of us on this side of the House and those on the Government's side that the system needs to change. But, if we are going to change the system, we have to realise that Parliament and government cannot stand aside from change. It is part of what is necessary.

I do not need to but I shall, slightly naughtily, refer to the new theme of the President-elect of the United States. We are living through times of change and in an environment, particularly as regards climate change, in which change will become absolutely necessary. Members in both Houses of Parliament will not be immune from the process. I suggest that we begin to think about it quite seriously. Amendment No. 1 and the accompanying amendment would help to bring that process forward. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I do not want to repeat all that I said at the Committee stage, but I will repeat what for us is at the heart of the issue, and that is not only who takes the decisions, but who the public believe does so and who they believe should do so. We have made it clear that we strongly support the model which puts the construction of policy ahead of individual decisions, and that will be a matter for scrutiny and possibly a vote when we come to it later today. But on the second and third questions, the answer is unequivocally that it is for the Government to do so. The public think that the Government take these major decisions, and that they should lie with the Government.

My amendments are more modest than those of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, but if he chooses to divide the House, we will support him. I propose a system of ratification by the Secretary of State of a decision taken by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I am prepared to acknowledge that the work that goes into considering representations, the local impact statement, the testing of evidence and so on is a matter for the IPC. In Committee the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, said that individual decisions are,

"more properly and better done by the body charged with assessing the evidence".—[Hansard, 6/10/08; col. 18.]

It did not occur to me at the time whether that might demonstrate a lack of faith in the robustness of decisions taken by Secretary of States hitherto—many decisions over a long period—or indeed in decisions that in the future will be taken by the Secretary of State when they do not go through the IPC. We are not proposing the abolition of the call-in procedure whereby something that would remain a local decision is called in by the Secretary of State. It goes through an inquiry process, but the final decision is taken by the Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said that what we proposed—the Secretary of State at the last stage—was,

"increasingly suspect and anachronistic, as a Minister is subject to political pressure".—[Hansard, 6/10/08; col. 20.

But we believe that these big decisions are political in nature.

It was also said that it would be wrong for the Secretary of State to be both judge and jury in the case of a government-sponsored project. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, pointed out, those of us who have experience of local decision-making are used to being confronted with a council-sponsored project that has to go through the planning process and where proper planning criteria are applied as well as all the propriety matters. My amendment would not, I believe, amount to reopening these matters. There is a distinction between bringing out the issues going through the whole detail of the process and drawing a conclusion. I believe that it would be both right and possible for the Secretary of State to consider the issues brought out but perhaps come to a different conclusion.

We have heard a great deal about the need to avoid delay—I do not depart from that—but I do not think that requiring the Secretary of State to look at the evidence, consider it with her or his advisers and so on, would amount to the catastrophic delay that is being presented to us. If there is a problem with the Secretary of State being required to take the final decision, how did it come about that the new Secretary of State for Transport was able to publish a decision on the expansion of Stansted Airport six days after his appointment? Perhaps he spent the whole of the six days working on this—I do not know—but it seems unlikely.

I asked a Question about this, framed in less direct language, on 13 October, and I referred to comments made by the Minister. Despite that, the Government did not realise until quite recently that there might be some connection with the Planning Bill and the Question went to the Department for Transport rather than it being connected with CLG. In any event, the Question has not yet been answered. I will be interested if the Minister is able to give an answer today.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 106 would provide for the Secretary of State to require the commission to take back and reconsider the whole or any part of its decision. To us, that is less desirable than the more radical approach but the Secretary of State may well think that the IPC should reconsider, for instance, conditions attached to a decision. But, overall, big projects are political matters and we feel that the Secretary of State should be seen to have responsibility for them.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

My Lords, the amendment goes to the heart of the role of the Infrastructure Planning Commission which will be set up by the Bill, and hence to the heart of the new arrangements for handling the planning of nationally significant infrastructure projects as proposed in the Bill. It is a very important amendment. Subject to a number of smaller points—for example, on attention to good design and a list of those who should be statutorily consulted—to some of which the Minister has responded by tabling government amendments, for which I thank her, I am broadly satisfied with the structure proposed by the Government.

It is reasonable that the Secretary of State and Parliament must be fully concerned with the national policy statements that are drawn up and approved. The Secretary of State designates and is responsible for the national policy statements and must lay them before Parliament. It remains to be settled whether parliamentary approval is to be required—I think it should be—and that is the purpose of Amendment No. 34, to which we shall come later. However, the question which now arises on Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 101 and the others is whether the Infrastructure Policy Commission, working within the national policy statements established by the Secretary of State—and, I hope, approved by Parliament—should now have the power to take the decisions on proposed developments and projects; or should it have only a consultative role, leaving the decision, or at least ratification, to the Secretary of State.

There are extensive provisions in the Bill on the pre-application procedures; for example, on the duty to consult the local community and to publicise. There are also detailed provisions on the handling of applications by the commission. I think that we can seriously ask what is to be gained by transferring the role of decision-making to the Secretary of State and reducing the role of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to an advisory role. If we can get right the basic building blocks consisting of the national policy statements and parliamentary approval, we can leave the specific development and project decisions in the hands of the commission. We do not need to add a further stage of submission to the Secretary of State.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice 12:00 pm, 6th November 2008

My Lords, I should like to make a brief contribution to this very important debate. I think it is true that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has never been an elected representative. I have been, in a number of roles, including vice-chair of a planning committee. All of us in this House and in the other place must be very concerned at the degree of disengagement that the public feel regarding political decisions, and no more so than in planning decisions. We all know how in any community a planning issue of a major development can stir a feeling of frustration and concern which is probably never reflected in any other process in our democracy. But we are talking about a representative democracy, and that is why inserting a ministerial longstop at the very end of the process, as proposed in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, will be critical in terms of public perception. If it is not there—even if it is very rarely used—that will be interpreted as the bureaucrats having won, which would be extremely dangerous.

In our democracy it is very important that we know who will ultimately be accountable for decisions. If they get them wrong and do not, for example, reflect the policy that has been agreed by Parliament or go through the processes of consultation to which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, referred, who is ultimately responsible for checking that that decision has been properly arrived at?

In my view, going to the courts is not a proper longstop. I hope that everyone in your Lordships' House agrees that regular recourse to judicial review on these matters is something that we should avoid at all costs. Therefore, it is surely much better that the final court of appeal, as it were—the final check to make sure that the process has been correct—should be a Minister rather than judges, somebody who has been elected.

I hope that the Government will reflect very carefully on what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee have said. If we do not put in place that longstop, the public will interpret this change in the law as yet another move away from engagement by the public in the political process. At a time when the United States has come alive again, and people are a great deal more involved and interested in what is going to happen to them in terms of political decision-making, we would be stepping in the opposite and wrong direction.

Photo of Lord Hart of Chilton Lord Hart of Chilton Labour

My Lords, I oppose these amendments, which seek to make the IPC a referral body. I have carefully listened to the debates in Committee and have, of course, read Hansard. I have reflected on the arguments through the prism of my 35 years of experience in the planning arena where, for the most part, I was on the receiving end of decisions made on planning applications.

I have become more and more convinced that the Government's architecture for the new planning approach—separating policy-making from decision-making—is correct. The years of delay inherent in the old system, which have been rehearsed many times in this House, are threefold but interlinked. First, the tangle of policy, which took much time to unravel; secondly, the lengthy processes in use at the inquiry; and, thirdly—and this is the point in question today—the delay involved in a Minister taking a decision following an inspector's report, which often took as long as the inquiry itself. The Bill seeks to solve all these problems and, I believe, does so satisfactorily.

Let us not forget that all the delay and expense which the old system created have a deterrent effect on developers and funders alike at the very time when so much of our infrastructure is in urgent need of replacement. The amendments would reduce one of the elements of delay by referring back a decision of the IPC to a Secretary of State, with the lorry-loads of material gathered at the hearing going back to be trawled through by officials for a final decision by the Secretary of State. This is in the name, as I understand it, of the principle of democratic accountability. However, in Committee, this argument for accountability was shown to be quite misplaced. A Minister reaching a decision fulfils a quasi-judicial function. He is constrained; he must act independently; he is not open to parliamentary persuasion; he is not a free agent. It is said that the IPC is unaccountable, but, as the Minister pointed out on the first day of the Committee stage, while the commission is unelected, that does not mean that it is unaccountable. It will operate within statute, within the powers given to it. It will be appointed by a Secretary of State to whom it will report. Senior appointments are subject to pre-appointment scrutiny, and it will make full reports which will be the subject of judicial challenge. Indeed, the independence of the commission, with its body of experts, is a strength, not a weakness, and it will come to be welcomed by the public because it will not be seen to be a rubber stamp and it will not be a judge and jury.

The late Lord Denning once said in relation to a Housing Act inquiry that it was infinitely better that the man who heard the evidence and the arguments should decide the case, but that Parliament had decreed otherwise. Here, in this new system, the body which hears the evidence, finds the facts and balances the arguments will be just that, and we should welcome it. I oppose the amendments because they will bring the dangers of additional cost and delay without any corresponding benefit.

Photo of Lord Jenkin of Roding Lord Jenkin of Roding Conservative

My Lords, this has been a long-running argument. It has run through the debates in another place and has figured substantially in debates in this House at every stage of the Bill. I have received, as have, no doubt, many noble Lords, a sheaf of representations on this issue. It will not surprise noble Lords who were perhaps not in the House yesterday that I have received a lot of information and advice from those who are concerned with the energy infrastructure of this country. I have also had evidence from a variety of statutory and voluntary bodies which seek to argue the case that has been argued by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

I find the argument slightly difficult. At Second Reading, I made my opinion very clear, which is that the key part of this process is the approval of the national policy statements. In Committee, I moved amendments to require that those statements be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Amendments on this Marshalled List would have the same effect. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who said at the beginning of his speech that the structure of the Bill is the wrong way round, because the process starts with the national policy statements. When they are approved—howsoever that is done—the planning commission takes possession of the individual applications. We have to consider this the other way round, and it is a difficult process.

However, we will come to the other question later. I was delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said about that. I hope that we shall have his support for the amendment seeking affirmative approval by both Houses for the national planning statements.

One comes back, therefore, to the function of the commission. I am not sure that I would go the whole way with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who said that the new Secretary of State for Transport was able to take the decision on increasing the number of flights on the first runway at Stansted in a matter of six days. As Financial Secretary in 1970, I think I approved the expenditure on the Thames Barrier in rather less time than that. But, of course, it had been considered by Treasury officials for years before I came into office. I was puzzled as to why my predecessor had not taken the decision and signed the authorisation but, under the rules, as anyone who has served in government will know, my officials were not allowed to discuss that at all. I did not ask them, because I knew that they would not be able to tell me. So the point about the right honourable Geoff Hoon taking a decision in six days is not wholly convincing.

I have occupied the position of Secretary of State for Industry and been, therefore, concerned with industrial developments and related issues. I have been Minister for Energy and concerned with investment; in those days, it was primarily about the North Sea. But I have also held office as the Secretary of State for Environment and been responsible for the planning process. No doubt, in the eyes of applicants or opponents, I was seen to take an astonishingly long time to reach a decision required by the Secretary of State after an appeal on a planning application. So in a sense I have seen both sides of this. I was interested in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, who has much longer experience on this matter than me, on where he saw the balance lie.

I find this an extremely difficult decision, largely because I start from the proposition that I should like to support my Front Bench. When I was a Minister, I liked my Back-Benchers to support me, although they did not always do so and it could sometimes be rather painful. At the same time, I have been mightily impressed by the weight of evidence from those who will be responsible for producing the infrastructure investment which lies at the heart of this Bill. It is in order to accelerate the process of vastly needed investment, not just in energy but in other infrastructure projects, that the whole of the first part of the Bill has been introduced.

I addressed a conference the day before yesterday, in the City, which happened to be hosted by the City Forum and was headed "Nuclear renaissance". I was asked to talk from the point of view of the political and planning aspects. I described for that audience on Tuesday the argument between, on the one hand, those who would hope to invest in major infrastructure projects and those responsible for bringing them forward and, on the other hand, a mixture of the environmentalists, who make their views very clear, and the constitutionalists, who feel that somehow this has to be a political decision. I said that on the whole I had the impression that the former group was winning the argument. The noble Lords, Lord Williamson of Horton and Lord Hart of Chilton, reflected what I have come to regard as perhaps the better view. I will not vote against my noble friend's amendment but, as I have discussed with him at some length over recent weeks, I think that I shall find it difficult to vote with him. I shall probably abstain.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench 12:15 pm, 6th November 2008

My Lords, I am grateful to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, because I, too, want the Bill to be the right way round. I believe that most of us in this House really want the Bill to work. We desperately want to speed up our ability to respond to climate change and to invest in modern infrastructure. Of course it would be wonderful if we could wave a wand and have a high-speed rail link up the east and west coasts of Britain and it would be nice if 50 per cent of our energy came from renewable resources and fed into a modern grid et cetera—as long as it was not in my back yard, of course.

For these projects, which, as I hinted, are almost certainly locally unpopular, to be implemented with minimum delay in our democratic society, we need the full authority of Parliament. I believe that, if we can achieve the full authority of Parliament behind the national policy statements, it will be perfectly acceptable for the IPC to implement and carry out the will of Parliament. If the NPSs have the full authority of Parliament and the IPC makes its judgment in the light of that authority, Parliament will have spoken, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said in Committee, and the decision will be unchallengeable. However, if the decision were questioned or reversed by a set of civil servants answering for the Minister but at one remove from the detailed analysis of the project, that would be a travesty of democracy and justice and would probably hold up the projects for no good reason; it may even make them challengeable in court.

Why would the Secretary of State come to a different decision, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested? In my view, the Secretary of State would either be taking a decision for reasons of party politics in the constituency concerned or he or she could be ignoring the recognised and overriding local circumstances, which would have been thrashed out in public at an open hearing conducted by the IPC. Thrashing things out in public and having an open decision-making process are not synonymous with the ministerial decision-making process, with which the phrase "behind closed doors" seems to fit more readily. In conclusion, I believe that if we get Clause 9 right, we will not need ministerial involvement in the IPC decisions. I therefore give my full support to the Government on this issue.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, I have not spoken before on this Bill, largely because I regard it as probably the most progressive planning Bill since the last great progressive planning Bill, that of 1948. I will say a little about the Conservative Party's policy, the evolution of which I had some involvement with, in a strange way. If the Conservatives were in government, they would strongly resist the amendment, because it strikes at the heart of the Bill. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on the national policy statements, which I think should be the start of the process, but I agree with much else of what he said. He is right to be concerned about delays in the process.

The reality is that we have never had in this country a planning system that allows us to promote infrastructure. Britain's infrastructure lets us down in all sorts of ways. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, when he says that people are disaffected because of bureaucracy and their inability to intervene in the planning process. I suggest that what frustrates people is their inability to understand why we cannot deliver infrastructure programmes in this country as we used to be able to do in the 19th and early 20th centuries and as Europe does now.

I declare an interest, more for reasons of form than for reasons of substance, as a campaign director for Future Heathrow, which not only deals with the expansion of Heathrow but campaigns for the extension of the high-speed line to Heathrow and further north—I made a speech about this in Manchester two years ago. The two should go together. That hinges on one of the most important aspects of the Bill: how we deliver an integrated transport system in the UK.

As I said, the evolution of Conservative policy on this is interesting. In the 1980s, I set up an organisation called the Labour Planning and Environment Group, a group affiliated to the Labour Party and of which I was chairman. We ran a number of successful conferences and invited members of the Conservative Front Bench to speak—although not the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who might remember those occasions—and they did. The Secretary of State spoke at them because we were drawing together local authorities and business to address problems.

We never dealt with the infrastructure problems. They were not part of the discussion then, which focused on things such as out-of-town shopping centres. However, there was recognition by all of us, almost across the political spectrum, that the infrastructure planning process in Britain was seriously flawed. We all know the importance of infrastructure—roads, railways, airports, sewers, water, the lot—but the most important part of delivering it is the planning process. If you get that wrong, an awful lot of other things go wrong as well, which is what has happened.

I do not want to speak for long, so I conclude with a—slightly long—example. When the high-speed rail line opened in 2007 between the Kent coast and Paddington it had been about nine years in construction, while the French high-speed line had already been open and running for 10 years. Why? Was it because the British are not capable of building it fast? Was it because we did not have the money? Was it because of the urban density of the south-east? There is an element of truth in that; the density of the south-east corner of the UK is a problem. But urban density is a problem in Belgium and Holland, too, but they have a high-speed line. The financing is different here from France, and the French were better at getting that through.

However, a major cause of the delay was planning. People were travelling around Europe at 180 miles per hour, then coming through the tunnel and slowing down to about 80 miles per hour—in the country that had invented the train, started the industrial revolution and achieved all the scientific progress that enabled that revolution to take place.

The construction of the high-speed lines in Europe and Britain should warn Members to think twice before voting for the amendment. If you take away the independence of the infrastructure committee and place it within a political process, certain things will happen; the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will know this as well as I do. If I am invited, as a local resident or politician, to object to something that local people say that they do not want, I will use every weapon in my arsenal to slow it down. That has happened for years, which is why we need a system in which we accept that problems for local people must be addressed through compensation and other things, without seizing up the whole country because of problems in particular areas.

I beg those who are thinking of voting for the amendment—particularly the Liberal Democrats, but also the Conservatives—to go into the Library before they vote and ask for maps of transport infrastructure in the European Union countries. There is heading after heading: France, Italy, the Benelux countries and all the others, and the links between road, rail and air. That is integrated transport, to which we all pay lip service in this country but do not deliver. Looking at the maps, you get to the Channel and see one little link to London, with talk in just one section of a proposed west coast line.

Britain is left out of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, signed the single market treaty and believed in it very strongly. Whether you are pro-Europe or anti-Europe, if you are part of a single market, the last thing you want to do is design an infrastructure that excludes you from it. We are doing that, and it is a serious issue.

Noble Lords who vote for this amendment will strike at the heart of the independent process. If it is accepted, we will lurch right back into the situation, which we all agree we want to get away from, of constant delays to infrastructure projects which are necessary for the United Kingdom's economic development. It does not help anyone if we lead people to believe that they can slow something down and stop change happening. Of course, people often object to change and of course it causes problems when it takes place, but you deal with that by addressing the problems caused for people; you do not just accept that slowing it down is a good thing.

My final warning is that if anybody thinks that either the objectors or the developer got any satisfaction at all from the planning process on terminal 5, they should forget it. It upset just about everyone. The one good thing that came out of the terminal 5 inquiry was that it made many people, myself included, go away and look at what was happening with regard to airports in continental Europe and ask why Heathrow was going downhill so fast. That was the only good thing about it. Everybody came out dissatisfied. It did us no good at all. I ask noble Lords please not to support the amendment. I ask noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench, in view of their own history on this matter, not to push the amendment to a vote, and if they do push it to a vote, to look first at the maps of Europe and ask themselves whether they want Britain to end up as an offshore island that is cut off from the incredibly dynamic European economy, and with an infrastructure system of which we, as the first industrial power, ought to be slightly ashamed.

Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Spokesperson in the Lords (Planning), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I draw the House's attention to my interests on the Register. My law firm carries out considerable planning work, in which I am sometimes involved. The inspector at the terminal 5 inquiry—a most distinguished barrister, Roy Vandermeer QC—really had his work cut out. The local plan was years and years out of date. The then Government had not produced proper traffic forecasts. All those things had to be sorted out by the inspector. That was not his fault. There were no national policy statements and that led to the problem.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, I was not criticising the inspector in any way. I think that he did a good job. The issue was the planning structure.

Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Spokesperson in the Lords (Planning), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, my point is that there were no national policy statements. The inspector had nothing up to date at his side to assist him in dealing with these very complex major matters.

I have a fairly straightforward question for the Minister. If the IPC's decision is wayward, or is, in the Minister's view, unacceptable, or if circumstances change fundamentally after it has given its decision, can the Secretary of State intervene either to quash the decision or to challenge it in a court? What powers does the Secretary of State have in those circumstances? I support the system of national policy statements. It is a sound system and Parliament should have a crucial role in it. I also support the thrust of the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, so succinctly said, the Secretary of State does not consider these matters lightly. Teams of officials work on inspectors' reports. One should get a valid, properly scrutinised and well considered decision from a Secretary of State. These major projects are deeply political and the buck should stop with the elected Government.

Photo of Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Labour 12:30 pm, 6th November 2008

My Lords, I oppose the amendments, and I do so for the reasons that I explained before when we spoke about these matters. I draw attention to the fact that I have interests in the nuclear industry.

I am concerned about the apparent elevated status that ministerial involvement in this process seems to be accorded. Under the present planning system I cannot imagine even a Government whom I support, confronted with an unpleasant decision 18 to 20 months away from a general election, grasping that nettle and courting unpopularity in their constituencies. Frankly, in the unlikely event of the Liberals ever securing a place in government, I imagine that, faced with such a choice, they would do the honourable thing and resign, because their ability to grasp nettles of any kind is virtually unknown.

I therefore draw an analogy in this instance with the MPC, a body set up with the express purpose of denying ministerial political involvement by the Treasury in virtually every circumstance in the determination of interest rates. I offer the House the information that the interest rate has today been cut by 1.5 per cent, a cut of such magnitude that no politician would ever have had the guts to make it. Even with the respect that I have for Alistair Darling, a friend of many years' standing, I do not think that any politician would have taken a chance like that. I do not think that the IPC is about taking chances, but it is about taking necessary decisions which at times might be popular and which at times might, equally importantly, be unpopular.

Frankly, in my 40 years and more of political involvement, the degree of courage shown across the political spectrum has not been of an order to indicate that political accountability would enable people to make that kind of decision. It is near hypocritical for people to tell us that Ministers like taking unpopular decisions and that they will go boldly on and take the consequences. They do not do that. They certainly do not do it in council groups where, as I understand it, there is no political involvement in the planning committee and there is no attempt by Whips to interfere, or so I am told. Certainly, no one would ever put anything on paper—conversations never took place and meetings were never held. We know that these things happen and that little councils sometimes come to decisions for daft reasons, in the almost certain knowledge that the applicants do not have the resources to appeal. Where the applicants do have the resources to appeal, they appeal and appeal and appeal, and the infrastructure gets into a dreadful state. We are not able to sustain the kind of economy or the kind of environment that is becoming ever more important in these sorts of debates.

There is a large dose of hypocrisy in what is being said today. I think that the amendment will be defeated and the proposers will be quietly satisfied, because they will know that they will not have to deal with that kind of problem in the future and that it will be left to the IPC to do so.

Photo of Lord Boyd of Duncansby Lord Boyd of Duncansby Labour

My Lords, I, too, declare interests, which are in the Register. My law firm also deals with planning matters, including infrastructure issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quoted my intervention in Committee, and it may be said, as someone who has just been acting as counsel in a planning inquiry in Scotland, and having just received a positive response from Ministers to my client's application, that it ill behoves me to take issue with the involvement of Ministers. However, I do so, and I do so in this context. The architecture of the Bill is to set up a new procedure to deal with large infrastructure projects. As I see it, the national policy statements are at the core of that. To that extent, I agree with those noble Lords who have suggested that we have got the Bill the wrong way round; not that it matters at the end of the day, but the key issue is the national policy statements, which will set out the strategic direction for the construction of infrastructure in our country.

Against that, the role of the IPC is critical and crucial. It will take decisions in an independent and quasi-judicial manner. Independence is at the core of the role of the Infrastructure Planning Commission. It is absolutely critical. To that extent, the amendments that have been tabled are almost wrecking conditions, because of the way in which they would go to the heart of the operation of the Infrastructure Planning Commission.

I draw noble Lords' attention to Clause 102(3), which sets out the role of the commission in taking these decisions. It states:

"The Panel or Council must decide the application in accordance with any relevant national policy statement, except to the extent that one or more of the following subsections applies".

That is absolutely clear. The national policy statements, which have gone through the procedure set out in the Bill, subject to whatever parliamentary procedure is finally agreed, are the determining factor. One of the key subsections is Clause 102(7):

"the adverse impact of the proposed development would outweigh its benefits".

I suggest that that will be at the core of much of the IPC's consideration. The IPC will have before it the national policy statement, which may very well support the application that it is considering; but the adverse impacts of the development on the locality are the key consideration.

I suggest that the body that is most able and which ought to take that decision is that which is charged with receiving all the evidence and, to the extent it is necessary, testing it. That is the IPC. To have, otherwise, the intervention of a Minister goes to the heart of the independent and quasi-judicial nature of the IPC. The amendments, particularly those from the Liberal Democrat Benches, suggest that the decision, once the IPC has taken it, would be subject to ratification by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's alternative, as I understand it, is to remit the decision back to the IPC.

On what grounds would the Secretary of State undertake that function? It would only happen if the Secretary of State felt for some reason that he had got it wrong. If I were on the IPC I would send it straight back because to countenance a remit on that basis would go to the heart of the independence and the quasi-judicial nature of the function that I as a member of the IPC had been charged to fulfil.

With the greatest respect to those who tabled the amendment, it is a dangerous proposition for the House to contemplate. It is also dangerous for the Secretary of State. Let us imagine that the IPC has taken a decision in accordance with the NPS, to the effect that there are adverse impacts from the development but those adverse impacts do not in its judgment outweigh the benefits of the development; so it makes a judgment in favour of the applicant. In some communities, particularly the more middle-class and vociferous communities, there might very well be a vociferous campaign to try to overturn the decision. That would come, for example, through questions to Ministers and newspaper campaigns, as pressure increased on the Secretary of State to remit the decision back to the IPC. That goes to the heart of the constitutional arrangements that the Bill sets out—that there should be a clear division between the strategic direction which the IPC is implementing, and the independent, quasi-judicial decision on the individual applications.

I wish to raise two final matters. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, suggested that one needed a long stop—the Secretary of State, not the courts. In fact, the courts are always a long stop. They are the long stop now and they are the long stop in the Planning Bill, because we live in a constitutional democracy, subject to the rule of law. The courts will always have a function. I, too, am concerned at the delay that may very well be occasioned by remitting back or involving the Secretary of State in any way. I echo what has been said by other noble Lords, and recall the words of a chief executive of one of our major utilities companies, who told me that in his opinion this was the most important Bill that Parliament had considered in the past 50 years, because it was critical to achieving security of energy supply and meeting the challenges of climate change. After recently debating climate change and energy matters, we should keep these issues at the forefront and defeat these amendments.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, I am wondering what is left for me to add in opposition to these amendments. Perhaps I may take up two points that may not have had as much exposure as they could have. The first relates to the views of all those trying to carry out infrastructure who have written to many of us and made their views well known. They include the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the transport industry, the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy, the British Wind Energy Association and the Renewable Energy Association. The list goes on. These are the organisations that we are expecting to produce energy-saving measures, let alone to maintain supplies of gas and electricity and build the infrastructure to create the new transport links. These are the organisations that are asking us to get on with the job and not proceed with an amendment that they believe would—if the Secretary of State were to take his responsibilities seriously—create delay. It would slow things down, which would mean waits of more months. The Secretary of State could intervene but then be distracted by other matters. Not only would there be delay; there would be the uncertainty that came from not knowing on what basis the Secretary of State was coming in possibly to exercise a different judgment from that of the independent experts. One would expect noble Lords on these Benches to believe that independent expertise had merit in its own right. We on these Benches do not inherently believe that politicians will always exercise superior wisdom over and above the views of the experts in these circumstances.

I have been subject to local pressures. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has cited a parallel example involving local councillors who have to stand up to an awful lot of pressure at the local level. In trying to achieve affordable housing schemes, I have had the letters through the post box, anonymous phone calls made to my wife in the day, the local protests making themselves known in the very unpleasant ways that they do, let alone the formal representations from national lobby groups and the rest. I know how councillors feel. When a project is unpopular it requires great powers of leadership at the local level to stand up to these pressures and say yes. It is very difficult for politicians. If my affordable housing schemes can cause so much hostility and resentment, how much greater will it be if we are considering large-scale national infrastructure projects? A nuclear power station will multiply by 100 the pressure on politicians. I suspect that if we take the Secretary of State and frontline politicians out of the equation and allow the independent, impartial and expert group, the IPC, to take these decisions, we will be blessed not only by those who want to get out there and get on with doing the job, but by any political party that finds itself in power on another day and needs to face up to these difficult decisions.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 12:45 pm, 6th November 2008

My Lords, I promise the Minister that I will be brief, particularly at this stage and hour. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding for helping me to resolve my dilemma. I happened to have a personal leper's squint at the Sizewell B inquiry. On 1 January 1983, the Treasury Solicitor rang my brother, shortly after he became a Silk, to say that the Secretary of State for Energy, my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, had decided to brief counsel to the inquiry and to ask my brother if he would undertake that role. Two-and-a-half years later, I was in the British Embassy in Tokyo and coincided with the late, great Walter Marshall, whose accent a number of noble Lords will have in their minds' ear. He kindly said that although the quality and quantity of the questions which my brother had asked had greatly prolonged the inquiry, which at that stage had been running for two-and-a-half years, he was satisfied that those on the technology and the hazards absolutely needed to be asked. He said that provided the questions were asked only rarely and there was confidence that they would not have to be repeated, he, at the receiving end, was happy for them to be asked.

I understand the pressure of the questions that have been brought to us and I can understand them more readily, because of the Sizewell B case. At about the same time, I attended a public seminar conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, on the transportation of irradiated fuel. That was not strictly a planning matter but it was an analogous situation. He said that he was totally satisfied with the safety of the urban transportation of irradiated fuel. I was the only Member of Parliament to attend, but I was an urban MP. However, he realised that there would be very grave public apprehension about that process and that, therefore, it was important that by one means or another, the public should be satisfied that the right decisions were being taken.

What we are contemplating in the Bill would confer a major responsibility on the IPC to explain and justify its decisions on a host of matters to the general public and to the specific public, in the context of specific applications. It would be welcome if the Minister said a little about the discharge of that responsibility on the part of the IPC. In the mean time, I am minded to follow my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, having listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan, it occurs to me that his proposition would result in no person who depended for their position on elections taking an executive decision. That seems to be a wide proposition. I do not express any view about the desirability of applying that doctrine in this case, but it seems to be a doctrine of very general application which would have a great effect on the machinery of government in our country.

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

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has spoken in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, started by saying that this is the fundamental clause, and indeed it expresses the fundamental purpose of the Bill. Therefore, I am grateful that we have had such a serious, thoughtful and expert debate on this group of amendments.

I do not want to repeat the arguments that I set out at length in Committee; they have been well rehearsed this morning. However, I believe that the weight of the argument has been with the Government. Despite my best efforts—and I shall continue to try to persuade the opposition Front Bench—the amendments still seem to suggest that an independent body making final planning decisions is a step too far because Ministers should be seen to be, and indeed be, politically accountable, and that the Secretary of State can and should continue to have a residual role at the end of the planning process.

I find it slightly odd that noble Lords opposite accept the scale of the challenges that we face, together with the logic of the NPS and what it is designed to achieve, but that they are still reluctant to follow that logic when it comes to the role of an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will bring greater certainty, transparency, expertise and efficiency to the final planning processes.

The question before us—it was posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in Committee, and I shall return to it because it is the right question—is: where does accountability more properly and effectively lie in the new system set up in the Bill? What are we trying to achieve through the changes in the Bill, and how can that best be secured in the new processes that we have put forward and amended since Committee?

The case that I want to reinforce this morning—it has already been made by many of my noble friends and by noble Lords across the House—is not simply that the Bill provides for a stronger and more certain response to the formidable challenges that we face in terms of energy and climate security, but that the process that we have put in place brings greater accountability and divisibility within the political process and in terms of ministerial responsibility. It also provides a process which will allow for the community to exert greater influence—I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on this—at different key stages, and, as my noble friend Lord Howarth said, for decisions to be taken by those who have heard and weighed up the evidence and are able to balance national need and local impact, and are as free to reject an application for development consent as they are to accept it.

A great deal unites us across the House, despite our different conclusions on the place and role of Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, agrees that we need to change the system, and few would dispute that or dispute the definition of failure—which is where he started his argument today—or the scale of failure. It has been documented by the Eddington and Barker reports, and by the weight of evidence that has been brought to your Lordships' attention and attested to this morning. In simple terms, that evidence means that, when it comes to major infrastructure projects, our planning system is so slow, so uncertain and so unclear that most applications are begun "at risk" by promoters. The deterrent effect is the default mechanism. We have heard evidence of the costs of failure. The ports industry has put a price tag of £45 million on the Dibden Bay application process.

The wider costs are borne by the community, which lives with uncertainty and blight for many years. Ultimately, if we fail to build the power stations, reservoirs and roads—the things that we need for our survival—we will all pay a far higher cost. The problems are becoming more urgent. There is no exaggeration in the statement that the great challenge to our generation is to provide energy and climate security together in a way that promotes and guarantees economic and social sustainability.

Those are common challenges for every country, which is one reason why this is such a competitive situation when we are looking for investment. However, we have specific problems in this country. We are the first industrial nation; we have a growing and ageing population, which we need to house; we need to provide transport; and we need to meet energy needs. Much of our infrastructure requires urgent replacement now, and it needs to be done sustainably. At the same time, we need to grow a competitive, knowledge-led and energy-dependent economy. That would be a big enough challenge but doing so in the face of a need to move towards an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050 to avert catastrophic climate change means a tenfold increase in renewable generation over the next 12 years. To secure a new supply, the best modelling that we have suggests that between 10 and 20 new power stations and around a dozen major gas storage facilities will be needed by 2020.

The point about competitiveness comes in when you look at the scale of all this. Let us take Shellhaven Port as an example. It is phenomenally expensive, involving a £1.5 billion investment, and it will bring with it the largest logistics centre in Europe. It will generate 12,000 jobs and bring huge regeneration benefits for the Thames Gateway. That is the sort of investment that we need.

To achieve that, we need a predictable, clear planning system, which we do not have but other countries do. It is to other countries that the investment and skills will go unless we get this right in the Bill now. They will attract the skills to modernise their infrastructure because their planning systems are more certain—whether you are talking about Australia, Germany or North America—more welcoming and more liable to manage risk. Why should anyone commit to building our new power stations or ports when what we offer is a process where nothing—timetables, processes, outcomes or decisions—is certain, where national policy is debated and disputed on the floor of the planning inquiry at the final stage, where local interests and impacts are often overlooked, and when countless separate consents are needed.

Therefore, we are putting forward a planning regime for major energy, transport, waste and water infrastructure that addresses those things. Thresholds are set out in the Bill for each sector to capture only those projects which can genuinely be described as nationally significant—about 45 each year. That is why I do not take the parallel with the local planning decision that noble Lords have been making. The Bill replaces the eight current consent regimes for major infrastructure with a single consent regime. There are three stages in this regime and they are all interdependent.

The first stage in an entirely new process is indeed the national policy statements, which will set out the Government's overall objectives for infrastructure development, including in relation to need. In some cases, as we have debated, these may specify locations as being potentially suitable for development; in others, they will need to specify criteria against which the suitability of locations can be assessed. In all cases, national policy statements will be subject to mandatory consultation, appraisal of sustainability and an entirely new form of parliamentary scrutiny. The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, referred to the failure of the process in relation to Heathrow—not least because we had no national policy statement.

Photo of Lord Burnett Lord Burnett Spokesperson in the Lords (Planning), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I think there is consensus around the House that there is a very powerful case for these national policy statements. The Minister makes a very powerful argument. She has talked about the planning system being uncertain and expensive and about the fact that we need a predictable planning system. I am moved to ask her whether the Government will alter, or try to streamline, the remaining elements of the planning system which are also unsatisfactory.

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

My Lords, I can answer that. At the moment, we have an end-to-end review—the Killian/Pretty review—which is looking at just the sort of problem that the noble Lord and I both know exists.

The second stage is about project development. The Bill requires applicants to consult those whose land interests may be affected, the local community, the local authority and statutory consultees. This, again, is a new process of pre-application.

The final stage is consideration by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Complex projects will be considered by a panel of expert commissioners, with less complex cases being considered by single commissioners. The time limits will be very important. There is a statutory six-month limit for inquiries and a further three months for a decision, both measured from the point at which the inquiry begins. Decisions will be made by the commission, taking into account the national policy statement, the local impacts report from relevant local authorities and any other matters which the commission considers important and relevant. That is the framework in which we are having this discussion on accountability.

The charge here is that, by giving decision-making to an unelected body, the proposals undermine the accountability of such decisions to the public. The argument, which we heard again on Report, is that this in turn is unacceptable because of the significance of these decisions.

I should like to make three arguments. The first—I could not agree more with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—is that we fully recognise that the decisions on power stations, airports and major roads are indeed big political matters. They involve important questions of the balance of the public interest, the national economy and sustainability. Because we believe that so deeply, the essential change that we are making in the Bill is not to remove the Minister, not to reduce responsibility and certainly not to humiliate the Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggested, but to reposition the Minister, the Government and that responsibility in a way that makes the process visible and actually enhances it.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord O'Neill for a very powerful speech, which drew out some rather uncomfortable home truths. For the first time, Ministers will have to set a clear policy framework for our key elements of infrastructure. They will have to make their case for their policy through public consultation; they will have to set out clearly how sustainability is achieved and where the balance of public interest lies; and they will have to consult and go through parliamentary scrutiny.

I believe that the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are fully answered. Who takes the decision? The Secretary of State takes the decision. Who do the people believe takes the decision? The people will see that the Secretary of State takes the decision in the national policy statement. Who should take the decision? The Secretary of State should do so. Ministerial accountability will be tested in parliamentary scrutiny. That is strengthened by our own amendment that the Government will need to respond to the views of committees of either House. So let us be clear: Ministers will be visible and at the front of the process rather than at the back end where the Minister takes a decision within the privacy of the private office.

My second argument has already been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Hart. He pointed out that because the commission is unelected does not mean that it is unaccountable. I offer two instances. First, it will be appointed by, and need to report on its performance to, the Secretary of State; and, secondly, it will have to give full reasons for its decisions.

The third and the most important argument is that this regime will provide much clearer and more transparent decision-making than the current system. I believe that noble Lords have challenged and demolished the misconceptions about the nature of ministerial decision-making. It is often asserted that these decisions are essentially political acts. This morning, those arguments have been exposed as fragile by planning lawyers and Ministers with years of experience. I agree with the very frank appreciation of the process of decision-making by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who has so much experience in this area.

Ministers who take planning decisions do so in a quasi-judicial fashion. They cannot be lobbied, or take into account representations received outside the prescribed procedures, and they cannot be challenged in Parliament. But as long as the roles of policy making and decision-taking are so entangled, as they are, there will be an understandable confusion and an obscuration of where decisions are taken.

Under the regime in the Planning Bill, the process will be much clearer. The boundary between policy and planning will be clear and explicit. The current situation where the Secretary of State may in some instances set the policy, promote a scheme and then decide whether it should go ahead, effectively acting as judge, jury and defence counsel, will no longer apply. The basis on which decisions are to be taken will be absolutely clear and fair. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, that the commission will determine applications in accordance with the law. It will not take daft decisions. This is a process of such rigour—

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

My Lords, I will not give way to the noble Lord as I need to press on. While, of course, it will need to consider important and relevant evidence and to reject projects where the costs outweigh the benefits, it will have no discretion to apply a different policy other than that set out in the national policy statement.

We are satisfied that the regime proposed in which Ministers are held clearly accountable for overarching policy, and in which individual decisions taken independently within this framework can be challenged in the courts as now, is fully accountable, clearer and more certain than the current system.

I turn to the amendments. If the IPC were only an advisory or recommending body, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would have, much of the logic and the advantage of having ministerial accountability set out in the NPS would be lost; and the speed, efficiency and clarity of a single process would be lost. The incentive for Ministers to produce rigorous NPSs would be greatly diminished and there would be an inevitable tendency to use the decision process to tinker with policy. All that would significantly and unnecessarily increase the risk of challenges and uncertainty. Under our proposals, there would be a clear opportunity to challenge proposals after the IPC decision. The approach recommended by the parties opposite would mean that there would potentially be sequential challenges. That would create more uncertainty. People have said to us, loud and clear, that they do not want that.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 1 and 101, and to new Clause 101. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, to Clause 101 would require that any decision taken by the Secretary of State be subject to annulment pursuant to a resolution of either House of Parliament, which would exasperate the situation further, adding another layer of delay and uncertainty as everyone waits to see whether Parliament would intervene and annul the decision of the Secretary of State. That would be yet more uncertainty.

On Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 106, I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has struggled "womanfully" to address the problem about which she feels strongly. As my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd made perfectly clear whether one is talking about recommendation, ratification or reconsideration, one cannot invent a spurious process which simply requires the Minister, in all integrity, to rubber-stamp a decision. The Minister would have to revisit the evidence.

A question was raised about why the Secretary of State was able to take a decision in six days on Stansted. I think that rather makes our case. The inspector reported in January; the department considered the evidence extremely carefully over the course of several months; and we had to refer back to the inspector on two occasions to obtain further detail. Ministers were involved throughout the whole process, but it took months to come to a decision. In the end, this is precisely why we believe that those who examine the evidence are the right people to take the decision.

With regret, I cannot accept the amendments. I am sure that the noble Baroness is also aware that her amendments would render the commission inoperable because it would require that all decisions taken under it, including matters such as whether to accept an application or how to examine it, would be subject to ratification.

Before I conclude, I want to make a further brief set of comments. We brought back to this House a number of amendments which I believe address the second of the questions which started my personal debate with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on this Bill: we need to be assured that this is a workable process. The job of this House is to ensure that whatever we bring forward will work. We have brought forward a number of amendments which not only strengthen the workability of the process and improve it, but also strengthen accountability. We have strengthened the role of this House by putting an explicit reference in the Bill to its role in scrutinising national policy statements. We have strengthened its sustainability duty. We have given high quality design greater prominence. We have strengthened the role of planning authorities by putting national parks authorities on the face of the Bill. We have clarified the considerations that the Secretary of State should take into account when deciding when to review national policy statements. We have made it absolutely explicit in Clause 12 that all national policy statements should meet the tests set out in the Bill for consultation, scrutiny and appraisal of sustainability. We have given the IPC new powers to appoint legal advisers in the examination of applications and clarified when the examining authority should invite participants to cross-examine witnesses.

The Bill is better and stronger as regards democracy and accountability. All that will add to a process which we have tried very hard to ensure is speedier, clearer, more certain and more transparent. That will ensure that the independence of the IPC is not achieved at the expense of confusion or compromise, and that ministerial accountability is in the right place and will be strong enough for parties opposite to have every confidence in it.

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

My Lords, this has been a long, interesting and in some ways very detailed debate, which I find saddening and depressing. For 28 years, I was a member of a county council and for five years I served on a county planning committee when the county was the planning authority. When I first stood for election, I could genuinely say to my electorate, "These decisions will be for me and other members, and if you do not like what I decide, that is fine by me; you can chuck me out at the next election".

Forty years ago—heaven help me when I think of that number—somebody introduced public consultation into the planning system. The planning process has been going downhill ever since. I accept that we are where we are and the position is not satisfactory. The body of objections that we have heard from most Members opposite were unquestionably right in their criticism of the existing system. That is fair enough. The existing system is wrong, but we are not discussing the existing system; we are discussing the Bill. Our amendment would not prolong the existing system. Most people seem to have forgotten Clause 105, which time limits the Secretary of State's decision. If the national policy statements are appropriately and correctly approved, if the commission, as I would expect it to, properly and equitably follows the processes to its, in our case, recommendation, and in the Government's case, decision, the efficiency of the system will work perfectly satisfactorily, if—and I admit this is an "if"—we as politicians can behave responsibly and act with sufficient expedition. I entirely acknowledge that under the existing system that has not happened for a host of not good reasons. I find it very sad that the Opposition—sorry, the Government—appear to be rather nihilist in this matter. The time may come when that remark of mine is entirely appropriate, except that I may be sitting over there.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern got it right when he said of the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, and, effectively, so many other noble Lords on that side of the House, that if the reality is that politicians are not to be trusted with executive decisions, we need to start thinking very seriously because they should not take any executive decisions. If that is the conclusion that we are to draw from this debate, that is why I am depressed and saddened by what I have heard today. This is a significant matter. I have more faith and confidence in the future and in the politicians who we will have in the future. I am not being party political when I say that; I think that we will find that we will change in nature and become more positive.

I do not accept—although I have to acknowledge that it is more expeditious—that the continentals have some great advantage in this. If one goes to the continent, there are a great many things that still need to be done. If one asks whether the French system is satisfactory from the point of view of the general populous, the general populous accepts what is done, but on the whole is not very satisfied with it because it has very little input. That may be a wonderful model for a Government, but it is not in keeping with our traditions in this country.

This is a matter of sufficient significance that we ought to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 158.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Planning Bill

Aye: 110 Members of the House of Lords

No: 156 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Darzi of Denham Lord Darzi of Denham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 1:26 pm, 6th November 2008

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, I suggest that Report begins again not before 2.26 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.