Clause 98

Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 24th January 2008.

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When power to intervene arises

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

I beg to move amendment No. 386, in clause 98, page 45, line 16, after ‘effect,’ insert—

‘(aa) the Commission has accepted the application and has received a certificate under section 52(2) in relation to the application,’.

This clause, together with the next two clauses, provides that the Secretary of State can intervene to decide an application in place of the commission, but only in certain circumstances. Amendment No. 386 is designed to add a procedural safeguard in such circumstances. It means that the Secretary of State can intervene in an application only once it has been accepted by the commission in accordance with clause 49, and the applicant has given notice of the application to the appropriate people as required in clause 50. What the amendment will do—I hope hon. Members will understand this—is ensure that even when the Secretary of State decides that they may need to intervene in a case to take the decision, the application will still have gone through the appropriate procedures before that point.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 324, in clause 98, page 45, line 32, at end insert ‘and

(f) if the national policy statement was given effect during the course of a previous Parliament.’.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

These are probing amendments as this seemed to be a part of the Bill where debate could be had. As I have said before, the Minister has been very careful to make the distinction between the role of Governments in setting policy and the role of the commission in determining applications. One of the benefits of national policy statements is that they provide a framework of which everyone is aware. Once they are in place, they should speed up applications because various issues do not need to be revisited on each occasion if the national policy is clear.

However, the limitation of national policy statements in that context is that they are set by a Government who have been elected. At the next general election, when one of the statements may have become a cause of controversy, an alternative Government may be elected on a mandate to overturn the statement. I am sure that the Minister, and indeed the hon. Member for Beckenham, will have their own views about that contention.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman have any particular policy in mind? Does he have any particular party in mind?

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

One could think of policies on nuclear energy, for example. A hypothetical party may be opposed to nuclear energy on principle.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I did not mention the Liberal Democrats; the Minister did. Various political parties are opposed to nuclear power.

The point I am trying to make is that circumstances may change, and a national policy statement’s virtue is that it should exist for a period of which applicants are aware and within which they can work. The point that provoked the amendments is that, in fact, the statements may be time limited up until the next general election, because there may be changes—even within a party. If the same party stays in power, its balance and views may change based on who leads it following a general election. All sorts of factors may change, and a national policy statement can be guaranteed only until a general election, because if there is a change of Government the statement may change. What view has the Minister taken on that issue? Does he feel that it undermines the concept of the national policy statement? This is really a probing amendment to provoke that discussion.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

An interesting point has been raised, but I shall not add to what has been said. One assumes that the power of intervention will be extremely limited, but I am intrigued, and we return to a previous discussion prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. If one considers subsection (3), which sets out the second set of conditions for an intervention, it is noteworthy that the test throughout is materiality, as opposed to, let us say, importance or relevance. It seems to me that there is an internal inconsistency in the Bill. It is sensible to use materiality, because it covers all the important issues, and is well known and well established, but the fact that the Government think it appropriate to use materiality in this clause undermines the use of a different test elsewhere.

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

I am not sure that the amendments proposed by the hon. Member for North Cornwall would do what he thinks they might, because if they were agreed to, the Secretary of State, to intervene, would have to be satisfied not only that all the conditions in clause 98(3) had been met, but that the national policy statement in question had been given effect in the previous Parliament. In other words, the amendments would prevent the Secretary of State from intervening in any cases where the relevant national policy statement had been designated during the current Parliament. I am not sure that that is what the hon. Gentleman wants.

There is a good case for intervention when defence or national security matters are involved, and there is also a good case when a national policy statement is out of date and bears on a decision that cannot wait until the review of the statement is complete. Those conditions are set out in the Bill. I am struggling to grasp the hypothetical situation that the hon. Gentleman introduced to the Committee, but—perish the thought—those conditions may meet his concerns rather better than his amendments would.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 4:45 pm, 24th January 2008

I made it clear that I do not feel that the commission will be accountable enough. The Minister has countered that argument by saying that  there is enough accountability at the policy-setting stage. I was merely making the point that national policy statements are only really valid until there is a change of Government, when they might change. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 98, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 99 and 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.