I am most grateful, Mr. Fraser. I had not intended to speak in this debate, but the subject matter is of enormous interest to many people throughout the country and, indeed, in my constituency. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin for securing this debate, and I look forward with interest to what the Minister has to say.
My right hon. Friend ended his remarks by saying that this House and Parliament are here for the purposes of remedy and clarification. I asked him in an intervention whether anyone had raised the issue of judicial review, and they clearly have. I am still somewhat fascinated-I await the Minister's reply-by why, in this case, if indeed the application and the information that had been provided to the planning officers and the council were misleading, and leaving aside the question of costs, to which I shall refer later, it was deemed that an application for a judicial review somehow would not have succeeded.
I would have thought that there were ample grounds for quashing an application on judicial review, and that, by definition and as a result of that, the original planning permission would be deemed invalid. There are great experts on all this, and my right hon. Friend may well have taken the most expert advice from people who would disagree with me. I have some difficulty in understanding the matter, but we shall see-perhaps the Minister can explain it.
However, I want to deal with a broader political question that arises in the context of planning applications. Having practised in this field-on a far more reduced basis in the past 26 years, for obvious reasons-I have in the past raised the issue of costs. My right hon. Friend was right in suggesting that, in matters of this kind, a small amenity group or people who are trying to protect themselves from some utterly horrific monstrosity that is about to be deposited on their doorstep should have the right to go through appropriate legal procedures; otherwise, the law is an ass or, at any rate, an extremely ineffective donkey.
I therefore proposed way back in the days of-dare I say it?-Margaret Thatcher that there ought to be an arrangement, if there are sufficient grounds in the public interest, for persons to oppose the almighty coffers of a massive company, a public authority or whatever. On a certificate of public interest-an application to a judge that there is sufficient national/public interest-a proper analysis could be made which could come only from the kind of judicial expertise in chambers such as Harcourt and Landmark. There are distinguished chambers that deal in such matters, and their people tend to be the ones who end up in the House of Lords.
Where there is a matter of principle and a degree of unfairness on the scale that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has described, a certificate of public interest warranting the use of legal aid for the amenity group would seem to be a solution of a kind. It does not deal entirely with whether the law should be clarified, which would be the best way of tackling the matter, but it would deal with circumstances in which it was impossible, simply by producing another line of legislation, to alter the fact that there is an issue of public interest about whether something was misleading in a matter of law. A certificate of public interest would be one way of dealing with the matter because, ultimately, everyone would be affected by the outcome.
I merely offer that suggestion, and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed her mind to it as well. I am not in favour of massive amounts of unnecessary legal aid. However, if there is a massive amount of financial artillery on the side of the public authority, which, after all, is paid for by the taxpayer, or on the side of some monumental company that can bulldoze its way through, the people who have a right, in the national interest, to raise a serious question of law and of fact should have the right to apply for some assistance with funds because it would be in the public interest for them to do so.