Clause 43 - Major infrastructure projects

Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 23rd January 2003.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 10:15 am, 23rd January 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 99, in

clause 43, page 30, line 11, at end insert—

'(1A) Any planning application that the Secretary of State declares is of national or regional importance, as designated through subsection (1), must be subject to an Economic Impact Report.'.

This important clause deals with major infrastructure projects and covers some of the biggest planning applications in this country. I am sure that the Minister could do this, but it would be useful to give the Committee some examples of the projects that are covered by the clause. For example, it covers runways over a certain length, airport terminals, power stations and nuclear reprocessing plants—although not nuclear power stations—major port and major refinery applications and big quarrying applications. It does not cover roads because they are subject to separate legislation but, in short, it covers some of the most important planning applications in the UK.

We all know from past large public inquiries—for example, on terminal 5 and on some of the power station applications—that they are extremely complex and take a long time. Subject to certain safeguards, Conservatives support the principle of reform that streamlines that system, provided—this is the caveat—that the local planning authority and local people have an adequate opportunity to make their views known. This is perhaps where we begin to have a problem with the Government's proposals, because they do not allow the LPA in whose area the big projects are situated an adequate opportunity to have its say. I will return to that on the clause stand part debate, and before you rule me out of order, Mr. Amess, I shall move to amendment No. 99.

It is extraordinary that the clause does not specifically state that there must be an economic impact report. That would form much of one part of a major infrastructure project inquiry. There should be an economic impact report, just as there will almost certainly be an environmental impact report, a sustainability report and numerous other reports. It would be useful to state in the Bill that there had to be an economic impact report.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England raised that point. It says:

''Frequently new infrastructure is promoted on the basis that it will deliver economic regeneration benefits. Some of these schemes, including major new built development, airports and road schemes''—

I doubt that road schemes come within the scope of the Bill—

''can have a significantly damaging impact on the environment. It is therefore essential that demonstrable benefits will accrue, and for this information to be available before a decision is made on a development . . . The most expansive study into the relationship between transport infrastructure and economic regeneration was undertaken by the Government's Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA). The Committee (which comprised . . . academics, consultants, and those from environmental groups and business) reported in 1999. They

wanted to discover whether there was a causal link between delivering new transport infrastructure and economic benefits . . . The SACTRA report recommended that Economic Impact Reports be produced before decisions over new infrastructure are taken forward. The Government accepted this recommendation and the Department for Transport is continuing to work up guidance. In the meantime, there is no requirement for promoters of developments to undertake an EIR, as envisaged by SACTRA. We believe a requirement to undertake an EIR for any major infrastructure project should be included in the Bill because it would: help inform decision making, in keeping with the Government's desire for evidence based decision making; separate information on the genuine economic benefits of a new development from the more spurious arguments; enable proper consideration to be given to the distributional impacts of new infrastructure, particularly regarding income and geographical groups . . . avoid developments being promoted which have serious environmental consequences but are based on inadequate information on their economic implications; and assist in assessing the true value for money of the development.''

The CPRE gives one or two useful examples of case studies. It cites the Hastings bypasses:

''The Government commissioned a major study to examine the transport needs of the coastal town of Hastings. The Multi-Modal Study considered the need for two bypasses for Hastings. These would run through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a number of Britain's top wildlife sites. The local authorities in the area had consistently argued that the two roads were essential to the regeneration of the town. The consultants undertaking the study attempted to undertake an Economic Impact Report''

but they had great difficulty reconciling that with the environmental considerations.

That is a good example of why an economic impact report is useful in every case. It can begin to put the entire scheme in context. It must help to inform the Secretary of State, because he or she has to make the decision when an application is of sufficient size, complexity and national importance that it should become subject to the major infrastructure procedure.

Our amendment is eminently sensible, and I hope that the Minister will accede to it.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Liberal Democrat, Ludlow 10:30 am, 23rd January 2003

I do not intend to detain the Committee for long because I should like us to make progress today, but I want to add my support to the amendment. If the Government are not minded to accept it, I should like them to explain how they will ensure that the economic impact report, as recommended by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, is taken into account. If they are not so minded, I would appreciate some clarification from the Minister.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

If, Mr. Amess, as this debate and the following debate unfold you conclude that a stand part debate is not necessary it would be helpful if you could let us know. There are a number of issues that go over and above the specifics of the amendments that need to be considered.

The amendment is topical. The judicial review on London Gatwick airport is a classic example of what can go wrong if we do not think economic issues through on major infrastructure projects. For technical planning reasons—proper reasons, which I respect—it was felt inappropriate to include one aspect of the runway debate in the south of England. The court found that it was sensible to look at the whole pattern of runways in the south-east. That seems right. The economic implications of where that runway is put are crucial. If one part of the equation is left out, a

sensible planning decision cannot be reached on the others. I am sure that that is a cause dear to your heart, Mr. Amess, because Southend airport could well figure in all of this if Gatwick is left out. I am sure that you understand the point that I am making.

Whenever a major national, or even regional, planning application is before us, it is easy for everyone to focus on the environment. From past experience that is what happens, particularly with the lay community in an affected area. They will immediately see the environmental consequences and so it is easy for that planning application, when it starts on its tortuous route, to be seen as an environmental issue.

Therefore if we are to have a balanced debate about these sorts of projects, the environmental matters that will become blindingly obvious should not be allowed to stand in isolation. Minds are made up during the early part of these debates and then ears become closed and it is difficult to reopen them. It would be an enormous step forward to have, at the beginning of the process when the matter is called in and when the debate gets going, a clear economic impact report that could be considered alongside the obvious environmental issues. The debate could then be started on the totality of the issue.

It may be tempting for the Minister to say, ''It does not matter because these things will be teased out as time goes by.'' That is not so. I shall use Heathrow as an example. I want to talk about the terminal 5 issue on the next group of amendments, but for the moment I shall concentrate on the Government's suggestion that there should be another runway at Heathrow. It must be beyond dispute across this Committee that that would be called in should it come to an application. This is a major infrastructure project.

The debate has started and two things have happened quite predictably. The moment that the project is suggested, the local pressure groups limber up and start developing all the environmental arguments about why it should not happen there but preferably somewhere else. It is a nimby field day. Within moments all of the environmental issues are rehearsed. An environmental report from the Government is not needed for that to happen. It breaks out instantly. The Minister may be tempted to say that all that is needed is to let local people consider the economic impact on their community, but that is not possible. My experience both of terminal 5 and now of the runway debate is that local councils, for whatever reason, do not appreciate the need to consider the economic impact of such major issues.

I can give no clearer example than Spelthorne borough council, which was asked to consider the Government's consultation paper. The environmental issues raised were rightly considered and a report was presented to the council, asking it to reach a view on the consultation document. That report has just over 20 pages of reasons why the environmental damage to the local community would be so great that local people should oppose the plan. The report contains only one short sentence about the economic issue—not even a full page—dismissing it as being of no relevance. Neither local pressure groups nor, in my

experience, local councils can be relied upon to give a fair hearing to the economic aspects of such matters.

I therefore believe that it is an enormous step in the right direction to require the start of the debate to be focused equally on economic and environmental issues. For once, I am prepared to agree that that should start with the Secretary of State. I exempt that from my earlier complaints about the jackboot powers that the Minister has taken for the Secretary of State.

As I have suggested, it is not possible to rely on anyone other than the Secretary of State to put the economic arguments into the public domain, and so I agree that he should be required to do so. It is inevitable that when that happens there will be tensions, conflicts and disagreements within the community.

The choice of the words ''economic impact assessment'' in the amendment is significant. The amendment does not specify a national, regional or local assessment. It must therefore be made clear that the assessment should cover national and regional issues, because those are the issues that will be called in. However, my support for the amendment is based on the fact that there must be a local consideration in any such assessment.

I shall attempt to explain that by reference to Heathrow. Any economic report about an application to develop Heathrow would focus on UK plc. It would say that the financial base of the City of London depends on ease of access in and out of the City to the rest of the world via Heathrow. It would also undoubtedly say that UK tourism is hugely dependent on the very large proportion of tourists who, surprisingly, arrive on scheduled airlines through Heathrow.

Such a report would also focus on our ability to do business with the rest of the world, because the routes from Heathrow are routes to the right places. It is often said that Charles de Gaulle airport has more routes, but that is only if one wants to go to Niger or to the Ivory Coast. The routes out of Heathrow are crucial to UK plc.

These arguments are well known, and an economic impact report on these sorts of issues would rightly say that when considering the environment, the national economic interest should also be considered. These two aspects will quite often conflict.

It is also self-evident that, in the case of Heathrow, the regional issue would have to be considered. The regional economy of the Thames valley and the M4 corridor all the way to south Wales and the economic prosperity of Greater London are dependent upon international business and international routes in and out of the world's busiest international airport.

I should stress that that is not all that I would expect to see in an economic impact assessment on any of these infrastructures. That is why local people are reluctant, or find it difficult, to get their minds round such issues. About 26 per cent. of my constituents who are in work depend directly or indirectly on Heathrow

airport for their livelihoods. That is a huge proportion, comparable to a coal-mining or shipbuilding community. After the tragedy of September 2001 at the World Trade Centre, there were tens of thousands of redundancies, at Heathrow airport and elsewhere. There were several thousand redundancies in my constituency. Such redundancies might seem trivial, but I use the example to make my point about the need to consider local economic issues.

There was somebody near my constituency office who made the most wonderful pasta—far better than one would expect to find in a community the size of Staines. That was a huge joy, yet it suddenly disappeared. I was curious about that because, as you can see from my shape, Mr. Amess, pasta figures in my diet. It so happened that the local community lost that joy because that person's biggest customer, Alitalia, had lost so much business owing to the World Trade Centre crisis that it stopped buying anything like as much pasta as previously. People might say that that is trivial, and wonder what it has to do with the issue.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

They do wonder. That is the point, and that is why the clause is so important. When one talks about such major projects, one uses such grand concepts as the country and the region. It is so simple to assume that the only local interest in a major infrastructure project will be from local people who gang up and say, ''Our local interest is more important than the national interest'' or ''We don't care about the region, frankly, but we do care about our community.'' It is all too easy for the local community to see the downside. People turn up and protest against national infrastructure projects; in the case of an airport, they protest because of the noise, pollution, surface access problems, and the huge housing costs caused by the demand to live there. One of the great fallacies is that people do not like living near airports. In fact, they queue up to do so. Paradoxically, house prices tend to rise the nearer one gets to an airport.

It is simple and easy to fall into the trap of assuming that local people are guaranteed to be against a development and that the issues will all be environmental. My argument to my constituents about a runway—it was the same with terminal 5—is that there is a huge economic consideration that must be weighed against the environmental issues. As I said at the outset, one cannot rely on the pressure groups or local councils because they will be motivated by their perceptions of the obvious environmental damage. In fact, a major infrastructure project probably will damage the environment in some way—that is inevitable. If one builds another runway anywhere, there will be a downside to it. We cannot disguise that.

The clause should be amended as we suggest. The problems are obvious if, for example, one puts another runway at Heathrow, although I do not necessarily argue in favour of that. However, it is not so obvious, popular or palatable to extend the debate to the issue of the harm that will be done to economy of the

nation, region and the local community—and there will be harm to the local community.

The ultimate way of reaching decisions on such major infrastructure projects is to strike a balance. One has to accept that there are environmental implications and face up to the economic consequences of not going ahead. One must then take a subjective decision, as there is no objective way of getting the right answer. In the end, however, one must ask where the balance of interests lies in a major infrastructure project. Is the environmental damage so overwhelming that we must refuse it, irrespective of the economic consequences? Are the economic consequences of not proceeding so dire that we must learn to mitigate the environmental consequences so that they are bearable, in the greater interests of the prosperity of not only the nation and the region but the local people?

If we learn only one lesson from the fiasco of past public inquiries, it is that from the outset, before there is a public inquiry, the debate should be about the environment and the economy. If we cannot get that right at the beginning we are in danger of making rotten planning decisions that will harm everyone.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I advise the Committee that I am minded to have a clause stand part debate, but if the hon. Member for Spelthorne seeks to catch my eye I would not want him to repeat the arguments he has already advanced.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

My hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold and for Spelthorne have said it all, so my remarks will take a minute or less.

I want to make two points. First, in an age of environmental impact assessments, there should be an economic impact report on major infrastructure applications for reasons that have already been outlined.

Secondly, Conservative Members of the Committee have sought, without success, to include in the Bill a definition of sustainable development and the purpose of planning and I regret that the Minister has not acceded to those requests. However, what unites us is the four legs of what should be taken into account when applications are considered: first, the environment; secondly, sustainable development and the prudent use of natural resources; thirdly, the economic benefits or disbenefits; and fourthly, the importance of the planning application in relation to employment. For those reasons, the clause should contain a requirement for an economic impact report.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

The amendment requires the economic impact report to be made in relation to an application that has been designated as a major infrastructure project by the Secretary of State. The requirement is not necessary because in the course of the inquiry the inspector will consider all aspects of the application, including economic, environmental and other impacts. It is not the case that such an inquiry would take place without substantial regard to the economic impact of what, by definition, are significant applications.

The report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment recommended an economic impact report only in relation to transport infrastructure schemes, which require a much broader planning application. SACTRA also recommended that the Government should issue advice on the content of economic impact reports in the transport context. The Government have accepted the proposal for guidance, which the Department is now drafting.

Under the planning and land use system, the major infrastructure projects are likely to be on a far wider scale than with transport infrastructure, but that is not unusual. SACTRA did not propose that primary legislation be deployed to require economic impact reports. That is not needed for planning purposes—[Interruption.] That is the first time that I have seen anyone other than a member of the Committee willingly attempt to join our proceedings. Perhaps the speed with which he departed said something about our deliberations.

SACTRA did not propose that primary legislation be deployed to require economic impact reports, which are not needed for planning purposes. Depending on the circumstances, all issues material to planning needs already have to be considered. Economic as well as environmental and social aspects are, to some degree, already included.

The amendment is unnecessary and is not strictly what SACTRA requested. The notion that the inspector would not consider the economic impact dimension of significantly large applications is entirely wrong. In deliberating on a major infrastructure project, the inspector must consider economic, environmental and all other relevant and material planning considerations. I can imagine very few projects in any context that would not require significant study of the economic dimension as part of due process. The amendment is unnecessary and I ask that it be withdrawn.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

The Minister contends that the amendment is unnecessary because the inspector will consider the economic issues. Of course he will, but that is not the point. The point is that if consideration of the economic issues is left until the inquiry, it will be too late and the damage will already have been done. The ability to take a balanced decision that is seen to be balanced and fair is hugely compromised by the Minister's view.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

If the Secretary of State does not put the economic arguments into the public domain at the outset, the people who oppose the developments will be seen as having vested interests. In the Heathrow terminal 5 debate, for example, if the Secretary of State does not put forward the considered, balanced and researched economic arguments, it will be left to British Airways, Virgin, British Midland, the Star Alliance, One World Alliance and so forth to do so,

but they will be sneered at—''They would say that, wouldn't they?''—because they appear to have selfish vested interests. The only way to prevent the damage done by leaving the economic case to people with an economic interest is to accept the amendment, or similar provision. Otherwise, these successful businesses would be undermined.

As I said earlier, I make no apology for speaking up for the business interest of Heathrow airport. About 60,000 jobs have been created, and who knows how many more—60,000, 70,000 or 80,000—will be created by the success of future businesses? Sneering at companies that create so many jobs for my constituents does not help the balanced consideration of an application.

Photo of Mr Huw Edwards Mr Huw Edwards Labour, Monmouth

Would the hon. Gentleman therefore be prepared to speak out against the proposal for a Severn-side international airport, advocated by one of his former colleagues, Mr. Michael Stephens, a former hon. Member for Worthing, East and Shoreham?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Spelthorne will resist responding to that point, which is out of order.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am grateful, Mr. Amess, as it rescues me from having to admit that I know nothing about the details of that proposal and could not possibly comment. I would, of course, be happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman afterwards.

A south Wales issue is relevant to my point about the need for a balanced consideration of economic factors. British Airways does much of its servicing in south Wales, so if Heathrow and British Airways were damaged by the failure to conduct a proper economic debate, a spin-off would be redundancies in the area. The more one examines the economic dimensions of huge infrastructure projects, the easier it becomes to see a spin-off for constituencies way beyond the immediate area.

The Minister has not come anywhere near understanding the issues at stake. He fails to realise the damage that could and would be done if something along the lines of an economic report were not produced at the outset. I plead with him to change his mind between now and Report. The issue is so important and so relevant to so much in this country that I hope that we will return to it on Report.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The Minister will see how passionately my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne feels about the amendment. The issue is clearly important, and as my hon. Friend said, we will want to return to it on Report, subject to Mr. Speaker's ruling. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 11:00 am, 23rd January 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 360, in

clause 43, page 31, line 10, at end insert—

'(c) to require all those seeking to give evidence in person to submit in advance a written summary of the evidence they

wish to give so that he can restrict the evidence given in person to new evidence that has not already been given.'.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 361, in

clause 43, page 31, line 10, at end insert—

'(c) to submit his report under subsection (7) by a specified date.'.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I fear that the Committee will have to hear about airports again. The best example of why such amendments are necessary is the country's longest planning inquiry, which just happens to relate to terminal 5. I am not wedded to the wording of either amendment, but I am deeply committed to the principles behind both.

When the Government started their consultation on planning issues, which led to the Bill, they identified many important issues. One was the need to do something about the length of major planning inquiries, and there was the inevitable hue and cry from the predictable people, who said that it was not a good idea; that, somehow or other, it was not democratic; and that people should be given every opportunity to speak. However, my experience of the T5 planning inquiry is that it was not a democratic process but an attempt by certain people to thwart proceedings by spinning them out for as long as possible so that it would probably be too late to implement decisions by the time they had been reached.

That raises two issues, which the Government really must pluck up their courage to address despite the hue and cry and the criticism they will get from certain quarters. The first is covered by amendment No. 360, which relates to the abuse of procedures for giving evidence in person. The second is covered by amendment No. 361, which relates to the open-ended time scale for these wretched procedures.

As regards giving evidence in person, a major infrastructure project—particularly in the aviation industry—could easily involve 1 million people who live fairly close by. Anyone who wants to have a debate about runways soon realises that 1 million people, or 500,000 households, may be affected. However, the vast numbers are not the issue. It is always said on such occasions that pressure groups speak for vast numbers, and 10,000 might look like a lot, but it is just 1 per cent. of 1 million.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Liberal Democrat, Ludlow

To paraphrase the amendment, the hon. Gentleman is trying to speed up the process to ensure that as little time as possible is wasted hearing the same evidence on several separate occasions. Does he not think that a similar rule should apply in this Committee?

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

There is a difference. A planning inquiry seeks to improve the lot of the community in the local area, the region or the nation. In our proceedings, other hon. Members and I are doing our level best to improve a dreadful Bill. If it takes us heaven knows how long to prevent it from being inflicted on the country, I make no great apologies. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am perfectly prepared to have my tail tweaked on occasions, and I have to learn to live with that. However, I will now have to go back to where I started.

As I said, a project could easily affect 1 million people, and a group of 10,000 would represent just 1 per cent. of that number. Sometimes, our knees knock when someone comes along saying, ''I speak on behalf of 10,000 people. I demand to be heard.'' One per cent. of a community should not be allowed to hold the other 99 per cent. to ransom, which is what happened on those occasions. I do not for one minute suggest that all 10,000 people—all 1 per cent.—will go off to a public inquiry. Life is not like that. However, it would take only 0.1 per cent. of that lot to be prepared to give evidence in order to have 1,000 people. That does happen. If 1,000 people all demand to be heard and want to say exactly the same thing, years go by and we are no further forward. Democracy demands the opportunity for everybody to say something new, but if it has been said 500 times before, it is not an abuse of democracy to say, ''Well, we have heard it before.''

If you have heard my arguments before, Mr. Amess, you will shut me up. The fact that I am not being ruled out of order tells the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) that I am not yet being repetitive. Just as we rightly have rules for debate in the House whereby one cannot be repetitive, the purpose of amendment No. 360 is to apply similar rules to a public inquiry to prevent someone spinning out an argument year upon year.

I know the argument goes that if one imposes a timetable on public inquiries, as I seek to do—or seek to give the Secretary of State powers to do—in amendment No. 361, people will argue that that is undemocratic because one is saying, ''We are going to take a decision whether you like it or not and whether you have finished debating or you haven't.'' I understand that. However, against the argument that a public inquiry should take as long as is necessary, we must take into account the effect of spinning it out.

I shall give some brief examples that arise from T5 issue. In that time, Heathrow has lost business and therefore jobs. At one stage it was possible to fly into one terminal on BA or another airline and to transfer to another terminal. An individual would be ticketed through on connecting flights, and there would be three quarters of an hour between arrival and departure. That gap is now around an hour and a quarter. The reason that it takes that length of time is the congestion at Heathrow. The airport needs another terminal, and it could have had one by now. When people who are travelling intercontinentally look at how long it takes to transfer at Heathrow, they will make their connections elsewhere in Europe. The congestion is such that even if people are ticketed through in an hour and a quarter, they still miss their connections.

Business has been lost during the T5 inquiry because of the congestion and the failure to build the terminal. Jobs have been lost as result, and it will be incredibly difficult to get them back. Another issue that we have seen in the newspapers in the past few days—I predict we shall see it again this weekend—is that when a project such as terminal 5 was considered, costings were done and assumptions were made based on good research and hard facts. Five years later, costs

have escalated to the extent that the entire project may become unviable. That is what the protestors seek to achieve.

A timetable is necessary because all the projects concerned are national projects that are important to this country. If the Government allow a planning inquiry to go on and on and on, any future public inquiry on runways will break the record of T5. That will be the tactic that protesters will use. In the period spent waffling before that decision is taken, our competitors will have overtaken us, and it becomes too late to redress the situation. Runways and terminals are being built outside this country, and people will transfer to them because they are a better bet than having to put up with suffering while people seek to wreck the project by spinning out this public inquiry. It is a few people only, and we tend to know who they are: they are self-appointed; they are not democratically elected; and they have an agenda that is not in the best interests of the majority of people I, and others, represent. We need some restriction on the abuse of democracy occasioned by hundreds and hundreds of people saying the same thing and spinning out applications in the hope that the developers will go away. The amendments may not be perfect in their wording, but in principle they are necessary.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I did not expect that in serving on this Standing Committee I would become much better informed about the comings and goings-on at Heathrow international airport.

I support the amendments because my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne is making a good point, but I, too, am unsure whether amendment No. 360 is written in the best possible way. It would allow the Secretary of State to direct the lead inspector

''to require all those seeking to give evidence in person to submit in advance a written summary of the evidence they wish to give so that he can restrict the evidence given in person to new evidence that has not already been given.''

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I stand chastened by my hon. Friend. He wisely did not write amendments on new year's day, for reasons he gave earlier. I may have got the English wrong because I wrote this amendment on new year's day.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

My hon. Friend is very honest. However, I subscribe entirely to the point behind the amendment. It is helpful for evidence to be written down at the outset so that it is known what each person will give evidence about, rather than to have a shambling, rolling procedure in which anyone can come in at any time. Before I commit to supporting the amendment, subject to the Minister's response, I am sure that my hon. Friend can assure me that those people will still be able to give oral evidence to the inquiry because it is essential not only that they put their point of view to the inspector, but that they can be cross-examined by other parties. Therefore, I support the thrust of amendment No. 360.

My hon. Friend spoke about the Heathrow terminal 5 saga. I remember one before that—the Sizewell B inquiry about a nuclear power station near Aldeburgh on the east coast of Suffolk. Instruments should be used to ensure the efficiency, as well as the fairness, of

such major infrastructure public inquiries. I have another point to make which applies to both the past inquiries. We should consider not only the length of the inquiry, which in those two cases was overly long, but the time taken after the inquiry for the inspector to report his findings to the Secretary of State. That sometimes takes many months or even years.

We should also examine the time that the Secretary of State takes between receiving the inspector's report and pronouncing his judgment. That, too, has been held up, for political reasons. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ludlow would agree that there would have been no question of the announcement about Heathrow terminal 5 coming out just before a general election. It is obviously prudently safe for the inspector to release his decision as soon as possible after an election. Members may think that the iron has entered my soul far too early, but I do not say that with cynicism; I present it simply as an objective fact. Secretaries of State understandably consider the political considerations as well as the merits of an inquiry's findings.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Liberal Democrat, Ludlow

I cannot support the amendments. Amendment No. 360 would restrict the right of the public to do something that the hon. Member for Spelthorne does here. I would defend his right to do it here, reluctantly, and the right of other people do to it outside.

Amendment No. 361 is the equivalent of a programme motion. I am surprised that the Conservatives should support it, as they usually oppose such motions. What is worse, it is a programme motion on which the public cannot vote—unlike those in the House.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

If the Committee were to last four years, even I might support a timetable motion.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Liberal Democrat, Ludlow

At least we can debate and vote on the programme motion; the public will not be allowed to, so I cannot support the amendments.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 11:15 am, 23rd January 2003

Because the knife will come down at 11.25 am, large sections of the Bill will be undebated. In particular, we will not have debated schedule 2. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne drafted amendment No. 382, which would apply the provisions of clause 43 to the timetabling made under schedule 2. That is an important amendment, but we shall not have time to reach it.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

That causes me some surprise. Although I see from today's selection list that the knife is to fall at 11.25 am, the list for the previous sitting said 11.25 pm. I would be grateful, Mr. Amess—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. That is not the case. On other occasions, too, it said 11.25 am.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The point is, however, that large chunks of part 5 of the Bill—as well as schedule 2 and my hon. Friend's important amendment

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I entirely see the hon. Gentleman's point, but I ask him to stick to the amendments before the Committee.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I entirely accept your ruling, Mr. Amess, but I hope that you will allow me another minute or two—or even 30 seconds.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I have made my decision. I ask the hon. Gentleman to stick to the amendment.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

When he addresses amendment No. 361, I ask the Minister to say whether, in respect of timetabling, this clause and this amendment apply also to schedule 2. That would be helpful, because as I read the Bill they do not. It seems odd that all other planning applications should be subject to the timetabling but not those in clause 43.

The Minister will recall that he—or was it his predecessor, now the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble)?—introduced statutory instrument 2002/1223, the Town and Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Project Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2002, which covered timetabling and how evidence should be given. Those rules were made under the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992. How will the powers under the 1992 Act that produced the 2002 rules mesh with clause 43? Under that statutory instrument, which we voted against, paragraph (5) states that:

''the Secretary of State may in writing require any other person, who has notified him of an intention or wish to appear at an inquiry, to send within 4 weeks of being so required . . . 3 copies of their statement of case to him; and . . . a copy of their statement of case to any statutory party.''

It seems that the Government have already introduced a statutory instrument that governs how evidence is to be submitted. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.

In relation to amendment No. 361, the timetable for the Secretary of State is an important matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will remember—I am sorry, Mr. Amess, to return to the terminal 5 inquiry—one of the reasons that it took so long was that the Secretary of State took a year and a half to make his decision after the inspector had reported. Often, a major cause of delay in major infrastructure project inquiries is how long it takes the Secretary of State to make a decision. I accept that complex issues need to be discussed, but paragraph 20 of the same statutory instrument contains the phrase:

''The Secretary of State shall, as soon as practicable''.

That is putting the onus on him, but the problem is that having put that onus on himself, he then removes it in paragraph 22, which deals with allowing further time. It states:

''The Secretary of State may at any time in any particular case allow further time for the taking of any step which is required''.

In other words, the onus on the Secretary of State to make a decision as soon as possible is removed. It seems quite wrong that we have a rigid timetable under that statutory instrument—how and when witnesses are to give evidence, the timetable for submitting it and for cross-questioning people on other inquiries, the procedure for appointing inspectors, conciliators,

arbitrators and everything else covered by that huge statutory instrument—yet there appears to be no onus on the Secretary of State to make his decision, the most important decision of all, within a reasonable time.

Amendment No. 361 therefore has some validity. I am less inclined to think the same of amendment No. 360, but my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will have to consider that matter when deciding whether to press it to a Division. It will be interesting, in the short time left to us, to hear what the Minister has to say; my hon. Friend will then be able to make up his mind what to do.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Schedule 2 does not apply to major infrastructure projects. The hon. Member for Cotswold was right to say that timetables do not apply to the Secretary of State; nor should they, in the global sense, because seeking to impose a timetable on major infrastructure projects is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. Each project will be complex and different. We may set a timetable for the Secretary of State's consideration, if appropriate, but that will certainly not be included in primary legislation.

Amendment No. 360 is the most ludicrous amendment; it would do nothing to aid the speedy consideration of major infrastructure projects. Reading it literally, it seems that the amendment would result in anyone who had an interest in a major infrastructure project having to submit evidence in advance, and appearing before the inquiry only if they had new evidence above and beyond that which they had already submitted. That is a literal interpretation of the amendment; if it seeks to do something else, then it is has clearly failed. It will not add in any way, shape or form to the speed with which such projects are determined. Primary legislation is not the place to make such procedural points. The amendment is not worth entertaining.

Provisions broadly similar to that proposed in amendment No. 360 can be found in the Nicholas Parsons clause; an inspector has the discretion to rule out third-party evidence if he considers it repetitive or irrelevant, and he can ask persons who are making similar points to combine their arguments. Rather than messing up our deliberations—I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said at the start of our proceedings; I shall talk to him about that afterwards—perhaps the Modernisation Committee should introduce a Nicholas Parsons clause on how to chair Committees. Members would be invited to sit down if they repeated ad nauseam—in which case, we would have heard far less from the hon. Member for Spelthorne.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

On a point of order, Mr. Amess. On Tuesday afternoon, the Government gave me and my colleagues a lecture on not persisting with an amendment that would have resulted in the reprinting of the Bill. In a moment or two we shall be asked to vote on Government amendment No. 297, which was on the selection paper for consideration on Tuesday. As the Government have not withdrawn it, why were we wrong to require the reprinting of the Bill? I assume that the Government will insist on their amendment, which will cause the Bill to be reprinted.

Should they not apologise to us for using a spurious argument to attack us?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. That is not a matter for me; the amendment is a matter for the Government.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

It was actually, if I could pursue that, a vicious attack by me on the Government and their inability to have only two typographical errors in the entire Bill. That was the premise behind it, and that alone.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [29 October 2002] and the Order of the Committee [9 January 2003], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 4.

Division number 19 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 43 - Major infrastructure projects

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.