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Commons Chamber

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

House of Commons

Monday 2 June 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Social Care Services

1. What progress has been made in developing the pilot projects for individual budgets for people receiving social care services, with particular reference to disabled people; and if he will make a statement. (208017)

Individual budgets, which have been piloted in 13 local authority areas, have given social care customers, including disabled people, greater choice and control over the services they receive. The pilots were comprehensively evaluated, and we expect to publish the results later in the year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Next week is carers week, when we will be thinking about those issues a great deal more than usual, and I believe that disabled people and their carers in my constituency could really benefit from the extra flexibility of individual budgets. What extra steps can his Department take to try to ensure that disabled people use individual budgets much more widely once the pilots are completed?

I quite agree with my hon. Friend, and we believe firmly that disabled people get greater dignity and control from the use of individual budgets, which also enable them to get better solutions to the problems that we are trying to help them with.

To give an example from the pilots, a woman with breathing problems used her individual budget to buy some air conditioning and instead of having to spend the summer in hospital, as she used to do, she was able to stay at home and look after her children. That is a great example of the kind of work that we want to encourage and will be looking to take forward in the Green Paper, which we will publish shortly.

While entirely endorsing the principle of individual budgets and in no sense wishing to suggest that people are not well empowered to make up their own mind, will the Secretary of State please bear in mind the importance of giving access to adequate and responsible advice, so that people are not, as it were, suborned into the misuse of their budget, but can use it in accordance with their needs and to best effect?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he has a very long record of campaigning on those issues, which I acknowledge. The key point is that the default should be that people can continue to get the service, but if they are not satisfied with it and want to be able to do things differently they should be able to do so. Of course, they should then have the advice to enable them to do that. That is one of the key things to come up in the pilots and he is right to raise it.

My own local authority, Aberdeen city council, is looking at introducing individualised budgets, particularly through a system called In Control. That is all very laudable, but Aberdeen city council’s Scottish National party-Liberal administration has just slashed £27 million out of its budget and is closing a lot of facilities that were accessible to people who would qualify for individualised budgets. In fact, the whole thing is being introduced on a cuts agenda. What does my right hon. Friend make of that?

I condemn strongly the action of the council, which I know my hon. Friend has raised before. These issues should never be used as cover for a cuts agenda; they should be about empowering people to get better care for themselves and to get back into work.

One of the critical things for those getting the benefit of individual budgets is the means of enabling them to get back into work and making it more possible for them to do so. They are, therefore, concerned about the support that they will get through the employment and support allowance. Can the Secretary of State confirm how much extra the Government are planning to spend on employment and support allowance benefit over the next five years, compared with what they spend on incapacity benefit?


The Government do not produce forecasts of the numbers moving from out-of-work benefits into employment. However, we aim to reduce the number on incapacity benefit by 1 million by 2015.

I am grateful for that answer from the Secretary of State, but if that is the case, why do his Department’s financial projections allow for only 350,000? What does he really expect the figure to end up as?

As the hon. Gentleman very well knows, our goal is to get 1 million off incapacity benefit, and we are bringing forward proposals in the Green Paper to do exactly that. It is established financial practice that one does not assume the effect of policies that have not yet been brought into effect—one would be spending money that one did not have already—and that is exactly what should be done under cautious financial management.

As my right hon. Friend will know, many hundreds of thousands of miners were condemned to incapacity benefit by the Conservative party, receiving no assistance whatever to get back to work, and he would probably join me in condemning that. Many of those people have been on incapacity benefit since the strike, or since the closure of the pits, and they are approaching retirement age. Can we have an assurance from him that those people will be handled with great care in any effort to get them back to work, given that they were condemned by the Conservative Administration to long-term receipt of incapacity benefit and received no help whatever from society?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The number on incapacity benefit tripled under the Conservative party but has been falling for the past few years, rather than rising inexorably, which is what it used to do. The Conservative party provided no help at all for people on incapacity benefit.

Since April, everyone has had access to pathways to work, and my hon. Friend will have constituency examples of people who have been out of work for many years who are messianic about the effect of pathways and the transformation in their lives that it has brought about.

Is the Secretary of State not embarrassed that the Government have presided over circumstances in which so many people who are capable of work are not working—particularly young people sitting on their backsides and doing nothing—while relying on cheap labour from eastern Europe to hide the fact that a large number of those on benefits should be working, and could be working if the Government had more will power?

I think the hon. Gentleman should consider carefully the tone of his remarks and the way in which he has stigmatised young people. The truth is that each year only just over 6,000 young people are unemployed for more than a year, 90 per cent. fewer than in 1997. That constitutes a transformation of the system. Moreover, out-of-work benefits are down by £1 million overall. We have transformed the system: we have fewer people unemployed than at any time since the 1970s, and more people in work than ever before. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that rather than dog-whistling on immigration.

The question from the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) covers the gamut of out-of-work benefits. In my constituency, more than 6,000 people were unemployed in the mid-1980s; now the figure is less than a quarter of that, below 1,500. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was the welfare-to-work schemes introduced by the Labour Government that brought the figure down, and that that is most likely to continue if we retain a Labour Government?

I certainly agree with the last part of my hon. Friend’s question. He is absolutely right: the number of people on jobseeker’s allowance has more than halved. That is because we have an active welfare state which requires more from people after three months, after six months and after a year, and which I am glad to see that the Opposition are now trying to copy.

Both the Government and the Conservatives recently announced proposals to enforce tough new measures on working-age benefit claimants, including boot camps and compulsory work programmes. Those proposals have been widely criticised by child poverty campaigners who argue that they represent a revival of workhouse rules, and that they show little regard for the consequences for child poverty.

Does it concern the Government that they now appear to be uniting with the Conservatives in their disregard for the effect of their policies on child poverty, and can the Secretary of State assure me that the welfare reform Bill that we expect to be introduced in the next parliamentary Session will focus on reducing poverty?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I can certainly give her that assurance. The whole point of the welfare reforms that we are introducing is to reduce poverty. We have had no truck with talk of boot camps, although, as she will see when she examines the details of what the Conservatives announced last week, they were actually only reannouncing what we are already doing through the new deal.

The Secretary of State was all at sea when he replied to the original question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin). He said that it was not possible to assume a figure, but his answer did assume a figure in his financial forecast, and it is less than the figure that my hon. Friend cited as the Secretary of State’s target. Meanwhile, according to the Government’s own answers and in contradistinction to what the Secretary of State has said, unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds has risen since the Government came to power, and some 5 million people are languishing on out-of-work benefits. On the subject of dog whistles, it was the Secretary of State’s right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) who brought to light the fact that more than half the increase in employment in this country was due to jobs being given to migrant workers.

Against that dismal background, is it not time for some fresh thinking and fresh policy, which this clapped-out Government are manifestly incapable of providing?

Let us take the 5 million figure that the hon. Gentleman gave. It includes carers—whom he says his party will not force back into work—severely disabled people, lone parents with very young children, and those who retire early. The Tories are using figures that are completely inconsistent. They themselves acknowledge that they would not want to return those people to work. What they should be considering are the JSA count, which is down by more than half, and the fact that, as I have said, only 6,000-odd young people are unemployed for more than a year.

Rather than citing inconsistent figures, the Tories should start to cost their policies. The proposals that they announced last week would require at least hundreds of millions of pounds of extra spending, and would mean the cost of welfare going up, not down.

Pensioner Poverty

In 1996-97, 2.9 million pensioners were living in relative poverty, after housing costs. Measures such as pension credit have helped reduce that number by over a million to 1.8 million in 2005-06. I have today placed in the Library a fact sheet containing projections of entitlement to pension credit and other income-related benefits, up to 2050.

The Government have said that a small but important inaccuracy in the 2006-07 data is the reason for the delay in publishing the statistics for the percentage of pensioners who are living in poverty. Will the Minister enlarge upon that small inaccuracy and take the opportunity to refute firmly and absolutely the scurrilous suggestions that the figures could have been delayed because of the local elections, the mayoral elections and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election?

It is a matter for the hon. Gentleman whether he wishes to describe as scurrilous the views of those on his own Front Bench. The DWP statisticians identified an inaccuracy in the statistical framework that led to some of the headline statistics being somewhat inaccurate. That was verified by the independent quality assessment of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and was looked at by Karen Dunnell, the national statistician. The view was taken that the inaccuracy had to be corrected. The new figures will be released on 10 June.

It is always essential constantly and regularly to improve the situation of pensioners, but will my hon. and learned Friend compare the situation now with that before the introduction of the winter fuel payment, which the Conservatives derided, of the free television licences and of pension credit? Will he remember the words of Aneurin Bevan, whose National Health Service Act the Conservatives voted against, “Why look into the crystal when you can read the book”?

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. When we came into office, tens of thousands of pensioners were trying to scrape by on £69 a week. Not only that, the then Government had sought to double the VAT on fuel, which would have hit pensioners even harder. That is the record that we inherited and we have turned it around, taking more than 1 million pensioners out of poverty. The percentage of pensioners in absolute poverty has fallen by three quarters, from 32 per cent. in 1997 to 8 per cent. in 2005-06. I suspect that most people would regard that as a very good record compared with that of the previous Conservative Government.

If the situation is as marvellous as the Minister says, why has the number of pensioners going bankrupt gone up from 900 five years ago to 7,900 this year? Is not one of the reasons why those most in need of help are not getting it through the pension credit—as we warned at the time of its introduction—the fact that it is an over-complex system introduced by a Chancellor who is now the Prime Minister and is still getting it wrong?

Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in this country, and many in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, are in receipt of pension credit and are very grateful for the fact that rather than having to live on the £69 a week that he voted to support they are now able to get a minimum of £124 to ensure that they are not in dire poverty. We are the Government who have looked after pensioners while the Government supported by the hon. Gentleman not only wanted to double VAT on fuel, but kept large numbers of pensioners in poverty.

The Minister is right to take no lessons on pensioner poverty from the Conservatives but given that fuel prices have a disproportionate impact on pensioners, could he say a little more about weekend newspaper reports that measures are to be brought in to give extra help, through winter fuel payments, to the poorest pensioners?

It is certainly the case that the Government need to take steps to get energy companies to help the vulnerable with rising fuel bills this winter. Energy companies offered to increase funding on their social tariffs to £225 million over three years. We want to move quickly to help people with their fuel bills—that is a priority for us. The Government have made an offer to the fuel companies: to send out a mailshot or voucher for the energy suppliers to all people who are on pension credit, letting them know how they can get on to the lower social tariff and, thus, lower their fuel bills. We also want to ensure that pensioners get access to better insulation grants, and that, in the long-term, they can help to lower their fuel bills by fitting proper insulation. We are offering that facility, but we are also offering fuel companies the option to share our data on who is in deprivation—that would be done through a trusted intermediary, so that those data are secure—and, in that way, fuel companies can ensure that their social tariff is directed to those most in need.

Can the Minister confirm that he has quietly dropped the target originally set by the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor for maximising the take-up of pension credit? What estimate has the Minister made of the additional number of pensioners who will be thrown into poverty as a result of that decision? Is it not adding insult to injury for hard-pressed UK pensioners, who live in one of the EU countries where pensioners are most likely to fall into poverty?

As a result of the steps that we have taken, particularly on pension credit, this country’s pensioners are, on balance, less likely to be in poverty either than they were under the hon. Gentleman’s Government or in respect of any other proportion of the population at the moment.

News of the removal of this target bizarrely appeared in today’s The Daily Telegraph, but the measure was announced in 2006 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) and it has been raised several times in Select Committee—this is so old that it is not even old news, as the targets changed some time ago. Four out of five of those entitled to guaranteed credit are now receiving it, and this Government are committed to getting more people on to pension credit. Our new target on pension credit, which has been recently increased, focuses on successful applications, instead of case load.

Child Care

Annual expenditure on child care under the child care element of tax credits was just under £1.2 billion in 2006-07. Jobcentre Plus is actively involved in improving the take-up of formal child care by its customers, and Jobcentre Plus advisers routinely discuss formal child care with all parents.

Good quality child care is not only enriching for children, but essential for parents who want to combine parenting with work. The Government have had real success in recent years through investing in child care, particularly for three and four-year-olds, as has been evident in my constituency and across the country. Does my hon. Friend accept that there are problems in the system of paying for child care, particularly when it comes to older children? That was borne out in the recent study by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Is it time that the DCSF, the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions got together to work on a new package to replace the child care tax credit for older children and their families, so that holiday schemes and out-of-school provision can be—

My hon. Friend must be congratulated on constantly raising child care issues and on advising the Government as to how to improve uptake. She has alerted us to some issues, as have other organisations, in particular the higher level of up-front costs, which can act as a real barrier to some parents. She will know that from April 2008, we have been examining, in London, how we can pay those up-front costs. Of course, we want to examine every avenue to improve the system and to ensure that parents who want to move into work can get the wrap-around child care that they need. Our Department will work closely with the other Departments she mentioned to ensure that that happens.

Is the Minister disappointed that the figures show that take-up has gone down dramatically and that the much vaunted free nursery place system has done nothing except shroud nursery schools in red tape and additional bureaucracy? More people seeking such child care use family members such as grandparents.

I am astonished that the hon. Lady uses the words “shrouded in red tape”. I would have thought that she would welcome the fact that we have set safety standards and that we ensure that young children put into the care of nurseries and pre-school groups are properly cared for. It would embarrass me to have to defend the record that her Government left us in 1997, as we now have 10 times more child care places than we had then. That is a record that the hon. Lady should be ashamed of.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the disproportionate costs of child care for disabled children. In the Treasury review of child care tax credit, will she, as Minister for disabled people, make representations on that important issue?

My hon. Friend knows that Aiming High for Disabled Children has included an additional resource of £35 million up to 2011 to improve access to child care. We also have the new supporting access to child care project. In many local authorities, disabled children are supported successfully in mainstream child care, and I am sure that my hon. Friend, as Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, has seen many examples of that. We need to break down the barriers that parents with disabled children face in accessing good quality child care.

What encouragement is given, and financial incentives offered, to parents who wish to stay at home to bring up their pre-school children?

We have expanded maternity leave and introduced paternity leave. We are looking at ways in which we can support parents through access to child care, with—currently—12 and a half hours free child care a week, which will increase to 15 hours. The hon. Gentleman has to realise that we can support parents in a mixture of ways, whether they choose to go out to work or to stay at home. The record of this Government stands up to scrutiny, especially compared with the record of the Administration whom he supported.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the form of support that single parents most appreciate is provided not by her Department but by extended schools? Such support reduces single parents’ anxiety because it means that they can go to work and earn money while their children are at school, and need not depend on public support.

My hon. Friend is right. It is often the periods before and after school that are crucial to giving parents the confidence that their children are being looked after, and that is why extended school programmes, with wrap-around care from 8 am to 6 pm—which will be rolled out across England and Wales over the next couple of years—are crucial.

Child Poverty

In many cases, the break-up of families can lead to lower incomes and a greater risk of children living in poverty. So, we have a strong focus on supporting lone parents into work. The number of children in poverty in lone parent families has reduced by around 200,000 children. The risk of a child in such a household being in poverty has fallen from 46 per cent. to 35 per cent.

Improvements to the Child Support Agency mean that a record £1 billion of maintenance is now flowing to children. Our new reforms of the child maintenance system will lift a further 100,000 children out of poverty.

The Department’s website continues to suggest that it sees family breakdown more as a symptom of child poverty than as a cause. If the Minister is changing that impression, that would be welcomed. Does he agree that the Department is somewhat hamstrung by playing down the impact of family breakdown? If so, can he find a way out of that trap so as to respond positively to the comments of people such as Mr. Justice Coleridge who has 37 years of experience in the family court and who said last month:

“High sounding declarations about taking children out of poverty are all well and good but where are the necessary investments in research and support for family life?”

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are many reasons why families end up in breakdown. The obligation on us is to ensure that when families encounter that, support is available. That is why, for example, one of the most important things that we can ensure when a family splits up is that the parent who continues to care for the children gets a decent income coming into the household. That is why programmes that support lone parents as they go back to work are so important. As the hon. Gentleman will know from his history of involvement with the subject, when couples separate it is crucial that maintenance flows to support the children. That is why we are making a big investment in the CSA, which is now collecting a record £1 billion of maintenance, as I have said.

Another thing that is coming in, which I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome, is the child maintenance options service whereby for the first time couples moving towards separation will have information and support provided objectively and independently, for free, to help them to deal with that. Independent support and advice, on subjects from across the range of areas for which this Department is responsible, are available to assist couples.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most insidious causes of family breakdown is mass unemployment? Will he therefore pay little regard to any Government who ever consider mass unemployment a price worth paying?

Certainly, the experience of mass unemployment and the break-up of communities led to the break-up of families. I do not think that there is any doubt about that. My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that a pro-employment policy is a pro-family policy and helps couples to stay together. He is right to point out that the policies that have seen unemployment fall dramatically, that have virtually eliminated long-term unemployment and that have restored employment in broken communities have contributed to supporting families. That is the result of policies that this Government have implemented.

Does the Minister agree that, with the odd rare exception, such as the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), to hear people on the Conservative Benches talk about the alleviation of poverty and their ideas in that regard is similar to hearing that King Herod has been appointed to a post in charge of child protection?

My hon. Friend always has his own way of putting such things. The important point, I think, is to ensure that we continue to pursue policies that support families as they face the variety of strains of modern life and try to achieve the right balance between work and family life. Through a range of policies pursued by this Department and others, we have put in place measures that back families, that support them and that help them to deal with the tensions of modern life.

Child Poverty

Child poverty more than doubled under the previous Government to the worst rate in Europe. We have arrested and reversed the rising trend, with 600,000 children lifted out of poverty in the past decade. We reaffirmed on Budget day our commitment to halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020, and measures announced in last year’s Budget, and since, are expected to lift 500,000 children above the poverty line.

Like the figures for pensioner poverty referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), publication of the figures for child poverty has been delayed. Given that the reason for the delay cited by the pensions Minister concerned a technical problem that, according to the DWP’s technical note, relates to a relatively small number of people around pension age, can the Minister confirm that the yet to be released headline figures on child poverty have been known to the Government for some months?

No, I cannot confirm that. I do not know what the figures are. They are being reviewed in the way that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Pensions Reform described earlier, on the basis of a decision by the departmental statistician in consultation with the Government statistician and the Institute for Fiscal Studies. As my hon. and learned Friend said, the figures for households below the average income will be published on 10 June.

Can the Minister explain why the number of children in poverty in two-parent households went up from 21 to 23 per cent. last year?

We have made a decisive break with the disastrous policy of the Conservative party in government, for which even now addressing child poverty remains a vague aspiration. We have reduced the number of children in poverty from 3.4 million to 2.8 million. If we had left the policies as they were in 1997, the figure would be above 5 million by now. Measures in the last two Budgets and in the pre-Budget report will help further. They are expected to reduce child poverty by 500,000. We remain committed to the target. There was a very small increase last year. The overall impact has been very positive.

Occupation-related Illnesses

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Health and Safety Executive on its programmes on occupation-related illnesses. (208029)

Ministers hold regular discussions with the chair of the Health and Safety Executive and its senior officials regarding the executive’s programmes on occupation-related illnesses.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although everyone regrets the tragic deaths of 241 people in industrial accidents last year, the perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 people who die every year from occupational diseases—cancers and so on—nevertheless represent a problem on a much bigger scale? Can I have an assurance that the Health and Safety Executive will crack down on that and have the resources to ensure that we both educate and encourage prevention—for example, where diesel fumes are allowed to permeate the working space—to make sure that another generation in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time will not die in that horrible way?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of deaths that sometimes occur a long time after people have ceased to work in a particular occupation. Of course, asbestosis accounts for about 4,000 deaths a year, which is the highest rate of any occupational health killer. I hope he recognises the importance of the hidden killer pilot that we rolled out in the north-west. It was not specifically aimed at diesel fumes, but it worked with tradesmen, particularly plumbers and electricians, to look at how they work in at-risk occupations. He is right to highlight the fact that the Health and Safety Executive, along with employers, employees and trade unions, needs to look at how we manage risk for the current work force and to ensure that those risks are reduced as much as possible.

The Minister will be aware that payments for certain industrial diseases, such as pneumoconiosis, changed on the demise of British Coal on 27 March 2004. Since then, there have been 3,300 new claims. I understand that only 300 of those new claimants have claimed benefit under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979. I understand that her Department did not put down the line the information that miners could now claim under the 1979 Act. Will she therefore look into the matter and ensure that, if it is shown that anyone has been disadvantaged by not being able to claim under the 1979 Act, they will allowed to make a new claim?

Of course, I will look at the points made by my hon. Friend, who has consistently and persistently promoted the cause of those miners who suffered as a result of working down the pits, and I will get back to him on that issue.

No Government have done more than this one to compensate those people who have suffered industrial health problems, such as coal miners, who were referred to by hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). However, will my hon. Friend the Minister look again at the 1979 Act, as my hon. Friend has asked, and look beyond the coal mining population, because a constituent of mine from the building industry, along with a handful of other people, has been told that his only way forward is to seek judicial review of the Government? That does not seem to be a humane way to deal with someone who manifestly suffers from pneumoconiosis.

Obviously, if my hon. Friend gives me the details of his constituency case, I will look into it for him.

Benefits System

Benefit simplification is important to our welfare reform programme, for example in the roll-out of the local housing allowance since April, in the introduction of the employment and support allowance in October, and in pensions reform from 2010. In the longer term, we are looking into the possibility of a single benefit for people of working age.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I think that Britain is the only country in Europe where benefits are delivered through the agencies of three Departments. That makes the system complicated, expensive to administer, and difficult for claimants. Is it not time that we seriously considered giving responsibility for all benefits to one Department, namely his?

There is good co-operation between my Department and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on tax credits, and between the Department and local authorities on housing benefit. A very good pilot in north Tyneside has shown excellent results, and we have now extended it to another half a dozen local authorities. My hon. Friend is right that there is good scope for co-operation, particularly with local authorities, in order to deliver benefits more quickly, and to deliver a better service.

Occasionally, complications in the system to do with benefits and allowances can impact on people doing voluntary work or holding particular offices in their community. I would very much like to discuss a constituent’s case with the Secretary of State or one of his colleagues, and I should be grateful if he agreed to a meeting in which we could do that.

There certainly are a number of issues to do with volunteering and the benefit system. We have been considering them, and we have made good progress in recent months. If the hon. Gentleman would like to drop me a line, I will be happy to look at the case that he has in mind.

I welcome the progress that my right hon. Friend the Minister has made in extending the 16-hour rule to Stoke-on-Trent, but further flexibility is needed. In particular, will he look at the situation faced by those on incapacity benefit who are anxious to gain skills and move into education and training, but who do not want to have to go on to jobseeker’s allowance to do so, and will he get back to me on that, please?

I thank my hon. Friend for what she says. As she will know, under the employment and support allowance, which is being introduced from October, the arrangements for therapeutic work will be significantly different from those in place under incapacity benefit. If she looks at the new arrangements, she will find that there has been some welcome progress. If there are other points that she would like me to consider, I should be happy to have a conversation with her about them.

Does the Minister accept that one of the reasons for the low take-up of some benefits is the complexity of the application forms? Is that not another powerful reason for seeking to simplify the benefits system?

Of course the right hon. Gentleman is right. I am sure that he will therefore warmly welcome, as others have done, the introduction of the three-page application form for housing benefit and council tax benefit for people already receiving pension credit. That has been a big step forward, and we will be looking for others.

Child Maintenance

14. What steps he is taking to improve maintenance arrangements for children of non-resident parents; and if he will make a statement. (208032)

There are two key steps. First, we are improving the performance of the Child Support Agency. The agency now collects £200 million more, for 200,000 more children, than it did in the last year of operation before the improvement plan. Secondly, we will ultimately replace the agency with the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to ensure even better support for children. The advances that we are making in that area continue to lift more children out of poverty.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concerns raised by a community in my constituency about UK-born men who go abroad, get married, have families, and then return to the UK without making any arrangements at all for the family’s maintenance? Does he agree that there is an obligation on non-resident parents to provide support for their children, even if the children are living abroad and are therefore outside the immediate reach of the Child Support Agency?

Those are rather unusual circumstances. I am aware that my hon. Friend has encountered them in her constituency, and I encourage her to write to me with the details of the cases, if she does not mind. I am happy to look into them a bit further. However, it has always been part of the regulations applying to the child support system that for a maintenance calculation to be made and enforced, all the parties have to be habitually resident in the UK. I think that that is not so in the case that she has encountered, and there would therefore be difficulties in pursuing the matter, but still, if she gives me more details about it, I will look further into it for her.

Will the Minister be kind enough to look into the case of my constituent, Mrs. Faringdon, who has full-time care of her 14-year-old niece? The niece’s child benefit is still being paid to her father, despite the fact that there is a non-molestation order against him. Mrs. Faringdon would like to apply for a permanent residency order for her niece, but has been told that no funding will be available to enable her to do that, and she is unable to fund the process herself. I should be most grateful if he looked into the matter for me.

I would be more than happy for the hon. Lady to write to me with further details of the case, and I undertake to look into it. The normal rule in relation to child benefit is that it goes to the parent who has the majority of care of the child, and that is a fairly firm rule. However, the case sounds complex, so if she writes to me with further information about it, I will look into it and try to help her constituent out.

Can the Minister explain and justify the practice whereby people in emergency financial need seeking loans from the social fund are no longer being interviewed, but are required to access a telephone helpline, which is invariably engaged or unobtainable and, at best, provides a highly impersonal and unsatisfactory service?

The fact of the matter is that the telephone helpline has been introduced. I accept that there were difficulties with it initially; we have been clear about that. A great deal of extra investment has gone into it and more staff have been transferred to the helpline. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the latest statistics show that it is performing well, calls are being answered swiftly, calls are not being lost, and support is being given in the same way as it was on a face-to-face basis. I can also confirm to him that if any of his constituents still require a face-to-face interview and do not want to proceed with a telephone application, they are entitled to ask for a face-to-face interview and it will be provided.

Topical Questions

We want to give children the best possible start in life. Responsible parenting is important to provide children with the security and confidence that they need to thrive. The moment that a child’s birth is registered is of enormous significance, both practical and symbolic. It is an opportunity for public acknowledgment of the responsibilities of parenthood, where both mother and father can commit to their role in nurturing and supporting their child, yet as many as 45,000 to 50,000 birth registrations in the UK each year do not include the name of the father.

I can therefore announce today that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Children, Schools and Families are publishing the White Paper “Joint Birth Registration: Recording Responsibility” in order to ensure that wherever possible both parents are named on a child’s birth certificate. We propose that joint birth registration should become a legal requirement for all unmarried parents, unless that is decided by the registrar to be impossible, impracticable or unreasonable. The measures will continue to protect vulnerable women and children, but allow a mother to ensure that a father acknowledges his responsibility for his offspring. Equally, they will ensure that unmarried fathers will get the right to have a say in their child’s life.

I welcome the Government’s proposal for joint registration of a birth, and I note those exceptions. It is important that both parents, fathers included, are on the registration of a birth, but if there is a contestation about who the father is, could there be a system of revised registration, perhaps at a later date, to take into account the results of any DNA tests that might have taken place?

That is something that we should look at. The system of paternity testing is there for parents to be able to establish paternity accurately. I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes the moves that we are introducing. It is important to change the default system so that both parents are registered, for unmarried couples as well as for married ones.

T2. I appreciate the answer that the Minister gave to my previous question and the way in which he put it, but I do not think he quite got the point. All the financial support that goes to people after family and relationship breakdown is not worth nearly as much as support and investment given before the break-up. There is mounting evidence that such support, in all its many forms, is needed to prevent relationships from breaking up, but there is little evidence to suggest that the Government have yet understood that. Can the Minister help the House a little more? (207998)

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument that no support is going through. All the measures that we have introduced since 1997 in support of families, especially families on low incomes, who have been the principal gainers from Budget and benefit changes, mean that more support is going into households. That support helps to sustain the family, helps the family to deal with the challenges of the day, and is therefore in support of the family. Tax policies and benefit policies, as well as child maintenance policies, have been very much pro-family and continue to be so.

T3. Many of the services offered by the Minister’s Department have to be accessed through phone lines. However, as my hon. Friend will know, an increasing number of people do not have land lines; they just have mobile phones. Accessing the Department’s services can cost such people much more than is paid by those who can use local services or freephone lines. What will the Department do to take account of the development that I have mentioned as it tries to make its services as accessible as possible to the public? (207999)

First, there is an array of freephone lines, as my hon. Friend knows. If claimants contact us via a mobile phone, we will always agree to call them back at a predetermined time. Those claimants only have to make the one, brief initial request for a telephone exchange with us; we will then make the call back. In such circumstances, we can help people who have access only through mobile phones.

I join the Secretary of State in welcoming the new Lib Dem spokesman to her position; it seems a long time since we debated against each other on Merton council.

We welcome today’s White Paper. Its direction is right and the Secretary of State will have our support, although there will no doubt be debate over the detail. Will he tell us exactly what the relationship is between him, the Department for Work and Pensions and Mr. Phil Collins?

I certainly can; I have enjoyed watching this story. First, the press said, wrongly, that Mr. Collins was my special adviser; then they said, wrongly, that he had been sacked. They then launched a great inquisition about why he was not sacked in the first place. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I should say that Mr. Collins has not charged for or been paid for any work at the Department for Work and Pensions and that he is not employed by the DWP. We do play football together, however—and we are becoming an increasingly slow central defensive partnership.

I am none the less slightly puzzled by the Secretary of State’s answer. We are talking about the gentleman who wrote an article last week saying:

“In the drama of British politics a Labour tragedy is unfolding.”

What we do know is that Mr. Collins has been writing speeches for the Secretary of State that have been edited by officials in the Department; there has clearly been some kind of working relationship. Can the Secretary of State explain that? Can he also say what conversations he has had with the Prime Minister in the past few days about the work that Mr. Collins has been doing?

As I said, it could not be simpler: Mr. Collins has not been paid by the DWP for any work. It is interesting that after another six weeks of thinking, the hon. Gentleman has yet again resorted to trivia and refused to engage in any debate about welfare policy. The very clear reason for that is that he knows that the minute there is any scrutiny of his proposals, people will see that they are expensive, that they will increase the cost of welfare and that, at best, all they will do is copy things that we are doing already.

T7. May we get back to real issues, which affect my constituents? Sadly, my constituents still suffer the highest rate of child poverty in the country. Do my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench accept that getting lone parents into work and supporting them is probably the most important thing that we can do to tackle the impact of poverty in our society? In that context, would not the abolition of Sure Start—one of the cost-cutting proposals from the Conservative Front Bench—be a tragedy in areas such as the centre of Manchester? [Interruption.] (208003)

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) is absolutely right: the abolition of Sure Start would be a disaster in respect of addressing child poverty. The discussions and ideas coming from Conservative Front-Bench Members show how little importance they attach to that whole question.

The progress that we have made on reducing child poverty is very welcome. However, we need to do a great deal more. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: helping lone parents into work is perhaps the most important of the initiatives that we have in hand. Changes to lone parent benefit later this year will help. What has been borne out by my visits to Sure Start centres is that the personal help provided to lone parents at those centres is also making a big difference.

T4. With £4.6 billion of benefits going unclaimed every year, Age Concern’s excellent report, “Just what the doctor ordered”, has suggested that health care settings are an excellent way to publicise benefits. As the architect of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, I am concerned that the Government will not meet their target of eliminating fuel poverty by 2010, so will they accept Age Concern’s report? (208000)

We will certainly give it full and due consideration. One of the key things that we are doing is taking real steps to ensure that we deal with some of the issues surrounding fuel poverty, particularly for pensioners. Age Concern has worked with us in doing that, and I am grateful to it for that. One of our key proposals is the new data-sharing initiative. For years, the fuel companies have said, “We are prepared to provide social tariffs and lower bills for those who are on low incomes, but we don’t know who they are.” In the past, DWP has not been prepared to share that data. In the next six weeks, I will table a new amendment to the Pensions Bill that will enable us to data share with the power companies through a trusted intermediary. Pensioners will be able to opt out if they do not want to have their data shared. We hope that that will be a first step towards dealing with some of the problems that Age Concern has identified.

I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend says about helping pensioners with fuel bills. Will he look at extending the franchise that we gave to pensioners aged over 75 to get free TV licences to ensure that all old-age pensioners will benefit from that measure?

Over-75s’ TV licences, and indeed under-75s’ TV licences, are a matter for another Department. However, we are anxious to ensure that we continue to take steps to deal with the issues of pensioner poverty that this Government are committed to tackling. That is why we introduced pension credit in 2003 and have since taken initiatives to increase it substantially. We want to ensure, too, that some of our steps on fuel poverty deal with the problems that pensioners are facing with their fuel bills.

T5. Organisations such as Kettering welfare rights advisory service and Kettering citizens advice bureau help to secure hundreds of thousands of pounds of benefits for residents in and around Kettering. Why can such organisations do such good work when Government officials apparently cannot? (208001)

There has long been a very valuable role for citizens advice bureaux; that is why Citizens Advice is supported and funded by the Government. It does a great job up and down the country, and that is why we will continue to support it.

T6. In using the benefits system to compensate the remaining 1 million losers from the loss of the 10p tax rate, why are the Government using working tax credits, which are based on gross income and therefore cannot help, rather than housing benefit and council tax benefit, which are based on net income and can help? Is it that they do not understand their own benefits system? (208002)

The hon. Gentleman gets a whole Question Time to himself to ask these questions of the Chancellor, so I am sure that he will want to do so. However, I would have thought that he would welcome the cut in tax and increase in allowances that we have brought in for people not only on low incomes but on middle incomes.

T8. The Department’s report for 2008 shows that the Government have not met three public service agreement targets and have encountered slippage on no fewer than nine. Targets 1a, 1b and 1c all relate to child poverty. Is not that an example of a failing Government, and who does the Minister think is responsible? (208004)

One thing is absolutely clear: we will not take any lectures from the Conservatives until they commit to the target on child poverty and come up with a single policy to reduce it.

T9. Now that rising food and fuel prices are putting pressure week by week on the incomes particularly of low-income people, do the Government have any plans in advance of the next scheduled revaluation of benefits to introduce interim measures to ameliorate that? (208005)

The latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 591,000 people arrived in the UK in 2006. How many of those were gainfully employed?

Immigration into the UK over the past few years has left us in a position where more people are in work in Britain than ever before—above 29.5 million for the first time ever—and where we have the lowest number of people claiming unemployment benefit since the mid-1970s. That is an extraordinarily strong economic performance, and part of the explanation for it is the contribution made by people coming to work from overseas.

New Member

Will the Members wishing to take their seats please come to the Table?

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath:

Edward Timpson, Crewe and Nantwich.

Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 10th December 2007 (Planning Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows—

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.

3. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.

4. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the table.

First day


Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Parts 3 and 4, New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 7, New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 8, and New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to correction of errors in development consent decisions or changes to, or revocation of, orders granting development consent.

7.30 p.m.

New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 2.

The moment of interruption.

Second day

New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Chapter 2 of Part 9, and New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 11.

7.00 p.m.

New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to functions of the Infrastructure Planning Commission or the Secretary of State in relation to applications for orders granting development consent, and remaining proceedings on consideration.

One hour before the moment of


5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.—[John Healey.]

It is a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson). It is sad, however, that the first business of the House that he will see is a programme motion under which the Government seek to hide from the demands of democracy.

The programme motion is a fig leaf to cover the embarrassment of the huge number of new clauses, new schedules and amendments—28 new clauses, six new schedules and 218 amendments. I acknowledge that some result from work we did in Committee and subsequent discussions, but after 10 years I would have thought that the Government had enough experience to get a Bill substantially right the first time. Many of the proposals are substantial and we need time to explore them. The groupings on the development consent regime are doubtless fascinating; they demand exploration and provoke many questions. However, they should have been introduced in Committee and not on Report, when we have little time to explore their effect or decide whether they improve the Bill.

More importantly, the programme motion has been used to hide matters of fundamental principle. The Bill is profoundly undemocratic because it denies Parliament a substantive vote on national planning statements. Those statements, which we support in principle, cover the replacement of our crumbling infrastructure, whose effect we experienced with last week’s near power blackout, and with the Prime Minister’s conversion to more nuclear power stations. Where was he when the subject was kicked into the long grass by his predecessor—disappearing like Macavity? If such difficult decisions are to be made acceptable to the British public, we believe that Parliament should decide, not the Government. The debate on that takes place later this evening, as does the debate on climate change, which is also high up the political agenda. I hope that those debates will attract many participants, but it is a scandal, given how few Government Back Benchers are present, that such crucial issues are being consigned to the equivalent of the graveyard slot.

Next week, the even more important issue of the unelected and undemocratic infrastructure planning commission will also be consigned to the graveyard slot. Perhaps that is not unconnected with early-day motions 603 to 606, all of which were tabled by Government Back Benchers, and with amendments from the very same people, who have consistently and honourably opposed this dilution of democratic rights throughout the progress of the Bill.

The programme motion is designed to allow the Government to hide from the British public and from their responsibility to take the tough decisions that they were elected to take. On those grounds, we will vote against it.

I had some disagreements with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) in Committee, but on this occasion I agree with her. Although some of the large number of Government amendments that we are being asked to consider are responses to the issues raised in Committee, as she said, they will take up a great deal of time that may have been of value to hon. Members who did not have the opportunity to serve on the Committee, but who want to debate some of the substantive issues. They include environmental concerns, which a number of organisations have raised, how national statements will address such concerns and, crucially, the scrutiny of those statements by this place and perhaps the other place.

Although it was good of the Minister to take the opportunity to explain to Opposition Front Benchers the Government’s intention in respect of some provisions, Members who want to pay due attention to the important matters contained in the Bill—this is their first and indeed only opportunity to do so in detail—will want greater time to do so. In fact, the restrictions placed on some of those key discussions by the large amount of time that we shall be spending on other issues will be a disadvantage to hon. Members who wish to contribute. Therefore, I concur with the hon. Lady that the programme motion unfortunately does not do justice to the subject at hand.

I rise to support the opposition to the programme motion. It is another travesty of democracy that we should be expected to be allocated time on a range of sensitive and important constitutional matters about how something as crucial as planning should be decided. It may be that there are provisions for which the time allocated by Ministers is too great. However, there will undoubtedly be occasions on which the issue is so important that many more Members would like to join in and to have the opportunity to be here, if only a more sensible time had been chosen for considering such matters.

I urge Ministers to think again, even now. It may be that we can consider the Bill in the total amount of time that they have made available, but they should allow the House to decide how that time is best spent and how the priorities should be reflected in that debate. Often, when we give people greater freedom, they show greater responsibility, and we get a better quality of debate that concentrates more on the issues that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) powerfully made the case that the Bill will set up an unelected quango to make extremely important decisions, whereas I and many of my constituents believe that there should be a stronger democratic input. I would add that many of my constituents feel that there should be more influence from the locality, not less. They do not feel that their local views are properly considered under the current process, because there is so much centralising, railroading and regional, overarching influence. The situation will be even worse if we have an unelected national quango making important decisions and forcing consequential decisions on local authorities once the main decision has been taken. We need proper time to debate safeguards and guarantees for local empowerment and influence over such decisions.

I am not one who wishes to stop every new development, and I certainly am not one who thinks that we need to resist all the important infrastructure and energy projects that this country is crying out for. The reason why such projects have been delayed in the past decade is not so much the planning system, but the Government, who have singularly failed to have a positive energy or transport policy. They have singularly failed to provide a framework in which the private sector can operate, or to make public funding available for public projects, so that that infrastructure can be put in place. They have wasted 11 years, and now come forward with this fig leaf of a Bill, saying that it was the planning system that was wrong. Eleven years into a Labour Government—somewhere near their end, we hope—they have decided that they can reform the planning permission system to try to accelerate the projects that they have prevented by chopping and changing, dithering and delaying and going to endless consultation on all the infrastructure issues to do with energy and transport.

I also wish to condemn the guillotine because the Bill contains a taxation measure that will provide the opportunity, through secondary regulation, to set up levies on development projects. I shall not go into whether that is good or bad, as I hope that we will have time to discuss that properly within the limits of the timetable motion, but such a tax measure is surely of some importance. It therefore deserves prime-time debate and as much time as the House thinks necessary to consider the whys and wherefores of the matter. It might restrict, defer or delay development, and we need the opportunity to probe, test and examine that case.

Above all, we need enough time to show that we are sick and tired of local communities being overridden by national and regional planners. We are sick and tired of mock consultations that go on for too long and do not take local opinion seriously. The Opposition do not want more delay, and we would welcome any sensible measure that reduced how long it takes to make important planning decisions, but the system has to understand the power and passion of local feeling and must find a way of coming to just decisions having taken those feelings seriously. The system proposed in the Bill would not do that, and it is a further democratic travesty that it is going to be railroaded through on a guillotine that will not leave enough time to debate some of the most sensitive issues and that might allow too much time for other issues.

I ask the Government to think again, please. They are so unpopular because they have damaged our Parliament and undermined our democracy. Do they really want to stand arraigned again today for a further body blow against our democracy? This is an attack on the right of our local communities to be heard on planning and an attack on the right of this House to examine serious measures for more public spending, more quangos and more taxation. The Government are in the dock, and they will be even more unpopular if they insist on driving the measure through.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is absolutely right. Indeed, the contributions of all those who have spoken in this short debate have been very appropriate. He referred particularly to the importance of people having a say locally about important strategic decisions that will impact on the communities in which they live. If we take that away by setting up an undemocratic bureaucracy, how will we ensure that local people have a real say?

My real purpose for rising is to say that what is happening today—putting through a programme motion that allows only two days’ debate on a very important Bill—is an abuse of this House. I say to the Minister for Local Government, for whom I have considerable affection—he and I have met on several occasions regarding local issues and have found common ground—that he must surely accept that a Bill that will take away from Members of the House the opportunity to represent the interests of their constituents and the areas that they represent is a serious blow to democracy.

The purpose of Back Benchers is to hold the Government of the day to account and to scrutinise properly the legislation that they put before the House and for which they seek the House’s approval. If there is inadequate time in which to do scrutinise it, that cannot be right as it does not permit this House to do what it is here to do.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, I hope that even at this late stage the Government will review this timetable motion. It is not too late. If they value democracy, and if they are prepared to listen to people, they will know that the Bill is unpopular. It is even being opposed by some Labour Members, as well as by the Opposition parties whose duty it is to oppose it.

In recent years, I have taken a huge interest in the processes of the House and in our ability to do the job that we are here to do—namely, to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government of the day to account. This is not the way to encourage people to have confidence in the House, and it is certainly not the way to encourage them to vote. The Government say that they want people to vote and to be involved, and they claim to support localism. The contents of the programme motion and much of the Bill certainly do not illustrate that.

I ask the Minister to think again and to respond to the genuine concerns of the Opposition. Some of the opposition to the Bill is coming from those on his own side of the House. We want this place to be respected. We want people out there to have confidence in the integrity of the House of Commons and in its ability to do the job that Members are here to do. I appreciate the difference between Front Benchers and Back Benchers. I have been here on the Back Benches for 37 years—[Interruption.] Not long enough? It is an important role, and I ask the Minister and the Government of the day to respect that fact.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the inordinate amount of Government amendments that have appeared on Report means that the Bill is barely recognisable compared with the one that went into Committee? This cannot be a good way for Parliament to conduct its business.

In another role, I have made the observation that the Government of the day—not only Labour Governments, but my own party in government—have from time to time brought forward massive tranches of new clauses, new schedules and amendments to Bills. On many occasions, that has been done on Report. In the past, it was probably tolerated because there was no programme motion relating to remaining stages or Report. Now, we have programme motions that greatly limit the time that the House has to debate important strategic legislation.

This is important legislation. It will introduce a significant change to the way in which we deal with planning matters, which will impact on the people of this country. We have already heard mention of the number of new clauses and amendments that are being introduced on Report, when we have very limited time to discuss them. I must ask the Minister sincerely—perhaps he will think about this in the early hours of the morning—to consider whether this is the proper way to deal with legislation. Or are the Government simply determined to get their legislation through at all costs, however it is done and however democratic it is? Surely we deserve better from this Government.

It is not my intention to detain the House by using rhetorical flourishes like those that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I simply want to say to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government that he will be aware of the tremendous amount of concern among Back-Bench Labour Members about key aspects of the Bill, not least those relating to the role, status and powers of the infrastructure planning commission and to the mechanisms for public engagement in planning inquiries on major infrastructure projects. It should therefore come as no surprise to him that there is tremendous concern among Members—many of whom he has met to discuss these issues on a number of occasions—that these matters are to be compressed into a two-hour period next Monday night, which will itself be further truncated by any votes on the preceding group of amendments. I therefore hope that he understands why a number of my hon. Friends and I will be unable to support him in the Lobby when the House divides on this motion.

I support what has just been said. Frankly, I am astonished at the programme motion. Having served on the Public Bill Committee, I am beginning to wonder what on earth was the point of doing so. According to my mathematics, 110 Government amendments, 20 Government new clauses and several new schedules have been tabled. Really, that is a travesty of the whole process.

If we are talking about modernisation, as we often are, we should consider the fact that we now have a procedure whereby we take evidence from the public—the pre-legislative procedure. Typically, the Government take no notice whatever of what is said to them in the consultation process. It is a fig leaf. It is demeaning to the Government, as they will see if they think about it, and demeaning to every Member of the House that we are being pushed to deal with such an important Bill in the matter of minutes that the Government have deigned to allow for debate. It is absolutely atrocious.

I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, who has given his time to this absurd procedure. Will he confirm that in Committee Ministers gave no ground on any sensible proposal suggested from the Opposition side, showing that they are not really engaged and that they do not care?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. In some instances, when matters were being pushed, there was support from local government organisations, planning organisations, professional bodies—everybody outside who really knows about the subject. Nevertheless, everything was refused. During the Committee process, I felt—[Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head. One minor comma here or there was changed, but nothing much more.

To say that the Government were going to engage in the process is absolutely untrue. It calls into question the Public Bill Committee process if we cannot have reasonable debates and the Government responding properly to points that have been raised—not simply by Members, but by experts who brief Members. That is the important point. They are the people out there who will have to deal with these matters.

We are dealing with such things as new taxation procedure and the IPC, which appears to be highly undemocratic, and the Bill is important and rather drastic, so for the Government to come back and give us only minutes to deal with it is unacceptable. I for one will vote with the Opposition on this matter.

I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker.

I used to take part in debates such as this with the late and much-lamented right hon. Eric Forth. He railed against these timetable motions, which this Government invented when they came to office in 1997. I have not spoken in one of these debates lately, until this one. I am speaking—I have been driven to do so—because the motion is such a travesty of democracy, for two reasons. Some of the matters that I shall discuss have been alluded to by my hon. Friends.

First, my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who spoke for the Welsh nationalists, as well as the Minister for Local Government and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who are sitting on the Treasury Bench, spent 18 sittings in Committee, taking evidence during three and subjecting the Bill to so-called line-by-line examination in the remaining 15. So, one wonders what on earth they have been doing since the now Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced in a written statement on 9 October 2007—some eight months ago—that the Bill was to be introduced to the House.

Why have Ministers had to come forward today with 215 amendments, 28 new clauses and six new schedules? What on earth have they and their Department been doing? It is a complete travesty and a complete insult to the House to introduce a Bill so inadequately written that it has to be subjected to such major amendment. Indeed, it is an insult to the members of the Committee who debated the Bill line by line and are now having to debate a completely different Bill.

The second reason why I am moved to speak on the timetable motion is the fact that we are elected to represent our constituents and to produce good law. We are not elected to take away their rights. Their rights include the right to have their say in the planning process and the appeal process, and the right to be heard. The Bill will not only affect those involved in the planning process; property owners will be affected by the compulsory purchase provisions, as will become clear when we discuss the second group of amendments and new clauses. I hope that the Minister will consider ordinary citizens’ right to have their say, not just during the proceedings of the infrastructure planning commission, to which one of the major groups of amendments refers, but on national policy statements and compulsory acquisition. If the Government railroad the Bill through in its present form, the citizens of this country will rue the day that they ever did it.

I was involved in the first planning Bill, whose Committee stage had to be reconvened because the Government had got it so badly wrong the first time. An entirely new Committee had to be formed to deal with that Bill. I wonder whether the Government will now end up in the courts time after time, dealing with complaints from ordinary citizens whose rights have been taken away and who have not been given an opportunity to be heard.

Will my hon. Friend support my suggestion to the Procedure Committee that it should examine the way in which programme motions are working and conduct a full review of the procedure, leading to an important report?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Committee should examine not just programme motions, but the way in which the House does its business. If a Committee is to include a pre-legislative scrutiny element—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going too far. It is fine if he sticks to the subject of the programme motion, but he should not allow his speech to become any wider.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The House will need to examine its procedures, including those applying to programme motions. The programme motion relating to this Bill does not allow adequate time for what the Government are asking us to do, given the number of amendments, new clauses and new schedules that they have tabled.

I did not intend to speak, but I shall say a few words.

When the late Douglas Jay stated all those years ago that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, he was roundly and rightly derided by those who held to the philosophy that we share on these Benches, but at least he said it in an age when Parliament stood for something. When Bills were put before the House of Commons in that Parliament of 1945, and in every Parliament until that of 1997, they were discussed properly and adequately. Sometimes Governments resorted to guillotine motions, but each had to be introduced at the Dispatch Box and discussed not for 45 minutes but in a full debate, generally finishing at 10 pm and always lasting for at least three hours. When a Conservative Government were in power between 1979 and 1997, a number of us felt that we were going too far with guillotine motions, and on occasion some of us voted against them. Nevertheless, those motions specified an allocation of time that was generous in the extreme compared with what we have today.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that no Committee of the House would consider a guillotine motion until it had sat for 100 hours?

I was going to make that very point. I thank my hon. Friend for making it for me. Yes, guillotine motions were not introduced— either by dear Michael Foot when he was Leader of the House and dealt with five in a day, or by any member of my party—unless the Committee stage had almost ground to a halt because of the amount of time allotted to the Bill in question. The guillotine motion had to be justified, had to be advocated and had to be defended, and it was voted on. We now have the automatic programme motion, which represents, in effect, the emasculation of this place.

I sometimes wonder what is the point of this place. If I did not, deep down in my bones, believe in it, I would think “I have had enough”. I stay here only because I want to see the day when Parliament is once again able to behave as a civilised Parliament in a civilised nation. It is utterly disgraceful.

I have a fond personal regard for the Minister, a decent man who is being made to do a very indecent thing today—to defend the indefensible. No one who truly believes in parliamentary democracy or that it is our duty critically to examine and scrutinise measures brought before us by the Government of the day can possibly defend what is now being done. It would be bad enough if this were just an ordinary Report stage, because the time given is not great, but as a number of colleagues have mentioned, this is effectively a new Bill, rewritten by the amendments listed on the Order Paper. Most of those amendments will not be discussed at all, although some will be referred to. I support strongly the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that the Procedure Committee should look at the issue of programming.

I make one final point, to support the brave words of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell). I know what it is like, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, to speak out and vote against the Government of the day who in general measure one supports. It is not easy. But the fact that the hon. Gentleman, briefly and eloquently, said that he and a number of his colleagues could not support the motion ought to make the Minister realise that he has gone too far.

The Bill makes radical changes to our planning system and takes power away from the people, rather than giving it to them—something the Prime Minister is always harping on about. It takes power away, this very afternoon, from Parliament; again, the Prime Minister is always taking about that. The Bill makes utter nonsense of all his protestations to be a doughty defender of democracy and the champion of this place. The Prime Minister has taken away power from this place and continues to do so. He is taking away power from the people in the country, who have the right to have a true say in the planning process. It is a shoddy bit of work. It is a bad day for Parliament and the Government should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Pages 2375 to 2473 of today’s Order Paper contain the amendments and new clauses that the Government are proposing. The Government are yet again trying to push through a measure that is controversial. They are determined, at every opportunity, to restrict debate on controversial matters. The Government do not get it. They should want to debate controversial measures rather than push them through. That is why they are failing and not communicating with the public.

In the last week that the House sat, we debated the Second Reading of what we might call the “Yes Minister” Bill. The debate lasted two hours and 44 minutes. There were three Conservative Back-Bench speakers, none from the Government and none from the Liberal Democrats. That left unused more than three hours that could have been used for debate. It seems that whenever something is not controversial, there is plenty of time to debate it, but there is no time to debate controversial things. The Lisbon treaty is another example. The Government brought in a measure to restrict the amount of time that we could debate an issue in Committee.

I urge the Government to think again. If they really want to communicate with the British public and put their ideas forward—if they really have a vision for Britain—let us debate that and not hide behind programming motions.

My reasons for moving this motion were straightforward. I had hoped that they would be welcomed in the interest of good debate, not least by some of those who are clearly coming to these issues for the first time, because we will largely be able to settle the points of concern once we reach the debate. It is true that the Bill is wide-ranging and important, which is why we have, unusually, provided two full days for the Report stage.

We had some vigorous debates in Committee. We reached a number of areas of shared ground and, if my memory serves me correctly, we finished the Committee stage early. The Government have reflected on a number of the points made in Committee and tabled amendments for consideration on Report accordingly. I have examined where the interest of the Committee lay and where the balance of interests is likely to lie on Report, and I have tried to allocate the time accordingly. It is true that we have tabled a substantial number of amendments for consideration on Report. Many of those are technical, many are minor in nature and many try to clarify points put to us in Committee and by some who have been interested in advising members of the Committee and Members of this House as the Bill progresses.

The Minister is trying to sound reasonable, but he could prove that he is reasonable by allowing the House to decide how much time it needed on each set of amendments and new clauses. Why will he not do that? The Opposition are behaving honourably and seriously—they do not want to filibuster, although that would be against the rules anyway; they want to consider the issues, including the ones that matter most. Will he give us that opportunity?

I have lived through this Bill since its start, including all the Committee sittings and evidence sessions, and I am trying to explain to the House that I made a judgment when allocating the time. I wanted to ensure that as much time as possible was given to covering those areas that are likely to be of most interest, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that.

The Minister is a cerebral man, and he has obviously done a great deal of reflecting on the Committee’s deliberations in order to produce so many amendments. Why is he curbing the House’s time for reflection so much?

I am hardly curbing the House’s time; I am ensuring that for more than two full days—particularly if we are able to get beyond this programme motion debate—we can debate the issues at stake on the Order Paper. Let me be clear that we have not sought to make fundamental changes to the scope or nature of the Bill; we have attempted to refine it, particularly in light of points made in Committee. This is far from being a new Bill, as some have tried to argue, although there are some areas of important amendment, not least those that we will consider tonight, which are about this House’s ability to scrutinise strongly the new proposed national policy statements. Contrary to what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) said, we want Members to give due attention to these provisions, and contrary to what the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has argued, this programme motion is designed to help and not hide debate on the main issues.

I respect the fact that there are Members of this House who speak fiercely on the point of principle on any programme motion, whatever the subject, but we have departed from the usual by giving two days to this consideration. We have spread the consideration over the full two days and we have allocated the time to where the debate and the interest is likely to be greatest. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put:—

Orders of the Day

Planning Bill

[1st alloted day]

[Relevant documents: the letter from the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government of 3rd April and the Minister for Local Government’s letter of reply of 16th April.]

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 9


‘(1) Highway-related development is within section 13(1)(g) only if the development is—

(a) construction of a highway in a case within subsection (2),

(b) improvement of a highway in a case within subsection (3), or

(c) alteration of a highway in a case within subsection (4).

(2) Construction of a highway is within this subsection only if the highway will (when constructed) be wholly in England and—

(a) the Secretary of State will be the highway authority for the highway, or

(b) the highway is to be constructed for a purpose connected with a highway for which the Secretary of State is (or will be) the highway authority.

(3) Improvement of a highway is within this subsection only if—

(a) the highway is wholly in England,

(b) the Secretary of State is the highway authority for the highway, and

(c) the improvement is likely to have a significant effect on the environment.

(4) Alteration of a highway is within this subsection only if—

(a) the highway is wholly in England,

(b) the alteration is to be carried out by or on behalf of the Secretary of State, and

(c) the highway is to be altered for a purpose connected with a highway for which the Secretary of State is (or will be) the highway authority.’.—[John Healey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 10—Railways.

Government amendments Nos. 77 and 78.

Amendment No. 325, in clause 14, page 8, line 12, leave out ‘or Wales’.

Amendment No. 315, in clause 19, page 11, line 10, after ‘authorisation)’, insert

‘or a pipe-line laid by a gas transporter holding a licence pursuant to section 91(a) of the Gas Act 1986 and which requires consent under regulation 14 of the Public Gas Transporter Pipe-line Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1999’.

Government amendment No. 79

Amendment No. 331, in clause 20, page 12, line 18, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment No. 332, page 12, line 23, leave out paragraph (d).

Amendment No. 333, line 30, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 334, line 32, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 335, line 37, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 336, line 38, leave out ‘trunk road or’.

Amendment No. 337, line 41, leave out ‘cycle track’.

Amendment No. 338, line 42, leave out ‘footpath’.

Government amendments Nos. 80 to 88.

Amendment No. 316, in clause 31, page 19, line 32, at end insert—

‘(l) consent under regulation 14 of the Public Gas Transporter Pipe-line Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1999.’.

Government amendments Nos. 89 to 92, 158 to 160, 249, 251, 253 and 254.

I am delighted to move new clause 9, which sets off the debate on a series of provisions on developments for which consent is required or can be granted.

This group of amendments includes a number tabled by the Government, which make significant changes to the thresholds for highway, railway and airport development. There are also changes ensuring that clusters of projects are dealt with correctly and reflect some of the concerns raised in Committee. There are amendments tabled by Opposition Members and two from my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan).

New clause 9 and amendments Nos. 79, 90, 91, 158 to 160, 249, 251, 253 and 254 are intended to clarify the type of highway project that is captured in the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will see that the amendments make the highways threshold considerably simpler. They are the result of work undertaken to reflect points put to us in Committee, and points of concern put to us by other interested parties about the complexity of the Bill as originally drafted. To some extent, that complexity cannot be avoided, as the Bill draws numerous pieces of legislation together in a single consent regime for the first time—a prize and a policy aim for which there is, I think, broad support in all parts of the House. That was certainly the case in Committee.

The principal change in new clause 9 is that we are setting out three clear types of highway development in England that will be put before the infrastructure planning commission for determination. The first type concerns a development that is, or will be, constructed for the purposes of a highway on the strategic road network—roads for which the Secretary of State is, or will be, the highway authority. The second type of development is the improvement of a highway on the strategic road network that will have a significant impact on the environment. The third is an alteration of a highway that is being carried out by, or on behalf of, the Secretary of State for a purpose connected with a highway on the strategic road network.

Decisions on all those projects are currently made by the Secretary of State, so let me make it clear to the House that there is no question of taking from local decision making, or of there being an impact on local decision making. I should also stress that the clauses clarify the existing threshold. They will not result in additional projects going before the IPC for determination. I now turn to amendments Nos. 331 to 338, tabled by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson).

I chided the Minister rather hard in the previous debate, but may I ask him a question gently, in a spirit of good will? New clause 9, along with a large number of other clauses, applies to England only. With the greatest good will in the world, how will the Bill work when the provisions for England are so different from the provisions for the rest of the United Kingdom? For example, if the powers in new clause 9 were to be invoked in relation to a road that ran from England to Wales, how would the development be dealt with?

When we published the White Paper on the planning system and our proposals for reform last year, we recognised that certain planning matters are devolved. The devolution settlement was generally working well, and we did not set out to change it in the Bill. That is why, under new clause 9 and the amendments in the group, where there are matters for the Secretary of State relating to England and English roads, they can be passed to the IPC for determination. Decisions of that sort in Scotland or in Wales might be variously devolved and therefore will not be matters that we put to the IPC. That is the reason for the difference.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North Cornwall. As we said in Committee—the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), dealt with these parts of the Bill in Committee—most motorways and some A roads are indeed strategic roads that are essential to the economic functioning and prosperity of the country, allowing people and goods to move quickly and efficiently. In all cases, if a road is a trunk road, the Secretary of State will be the highway authority: the new clause and related amendments will have no impact on local decision making. Those roads will remain defined under the provisions as nationally significant infrastructure and therefore a matter for the IPC.

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman also raised Committee cycle tracks and footpaths, to which the old definition applied. The Secretary of State can currently include provisions about cycle tracks and footpaths in a Highways Act order, where such paths are created or diverted in connection with a wider development to a main carriageway on a strategic road. But as my hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee, there are instances where cycle tracks and footpaths closely connected to developments on the strategic road network can be considered in isolation. There are examples, such as work going on alongside the A38 at present. We believe, however—this explains why we have set it out—that it is appropriate that where works are proposed to parts of the strategic road network, they should go to the IPC in the normal way as part of the package of proposals for the development.

New clause 10 and amendments Nos. 78 and 85 replace the current railways threshold with a more detailed definition of the types of railway development that should go to the IPC for consideration and respond to the points made in Committee by the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). Their concern was that the railways clause as drafted was too broad and that it would appear, for instance, to capture heritage railways and some tramway systems, which are classed as railways under the Transport and Works Act 1992, but it is not our intention that they should be determined by the IPC.

As promised in Committee, having looked at these concerns, I am happy to confirm that new clause 10 will achieve the effect that the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman were seeking. The intention is that under the new threshold the IPC will consider only applications relating to the rail network operated by Network Rail or a subsidiary of it, including the Heathrow spur rail link and the channel tunnel rail link—in other words, those routes commonly known as the national rail network.

On the intensification of use of airports and the airports threshold, amendments Nos. 77, 80 to 84, 86 and 87 ensure that the airports threshold is wide enough to capture any airport development that creates additional capacity at that airport by at least 10 million passengers a year or 10,000 air transport movements per year in relation to freight. In particular, it covers situations other than the physical development of a new or extended runway or the development of terminal buildings or an air traffic control mast, which would mean that more passengers could use an airport. It seemed to us an anomaly that the new planning system should deal with a significant increase in capacity at airports only when that was the result of physical development, not by the lifting of a planning condition that may currently restrict the number of flights or movements. The thresholds for what constitutes a nationally significant infrastructure project should capture a change of that magnitude in the use of an airport, even if no physical development were needed to bring that change about. Our amendments will ensure that such changes are considered in the framework of the new national policy statement and that they are given the same independent expert scrutiny as other major airport developments.

As recently amended, the Bill specifically brings aircraft and air passenger movements into the realm of the planning system. What regime currently governs passenger and air movements in airports? I understand that a Civil Aviation Authority licence is involved in the cases of Heathrow and Gatwick, but will the Minister explain the position for the rest of the country?

I will happily give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. He is an expert on these matters and has a strong constituency interest in and track record on the issues that we are discussing. I shall give way to him and then deal with any necessary points from both interventions.

On a point of clarity, will the Minister confirm that what we are referring to is, for example, the potential for the lifting of the Cranford agreement or changes on runway alternation to be included in the legislation?

Any changes to, and therefore increase in, the use of an airport that lead to an additional 10 million or more passengers a year or to an additional 10,000 or more freight movements a year—whatever the source—should be considered, within the new planning system in the context of the new national policy statements, as physical developments; they might lead to the same impact. Stansted is an example. At that airport, there is an application relating to the lifting of a planning condition that restricts the number of flights. If such an application went ahead, there could be an increase in the number of passengers. To be consistent, such a change would be brought within the new system. That is what we propose.

It would be invaluable if Members whose constituencies, in west London and beyond, are affected by Heathrow, got absolute clarity on this matter with regard to the Cranford agreement and runway alternation at Heathrow. At some time during the debate, will the Minister clarify whether he is now saying that the amendments tabled by the Government would enable those agreements to be changed or lifted in some way as a result of this process? That could result in a significant increase in air traffic movements at Heathrow without there being any physical infrastructural developments.

To the extent that I can give such clarification and that it is necessary to go beyond what I have already explained in order to do so, I will.

What we are discussing is one of the most controversial aspects of the Bill in relation to air travel, and it would be useful to have it clarified. To understand how these amendments and clauses work, may I ask whether, in future, that extra runway at Stansted—to take the Minister’s example—would already have been subject to an examination in respect of a national policy statement? In other words, will the infrastructure planning commission operate in a climate in which a national policy statement will already say whether there should be another runway at Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick or wherever?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stick around for the whole debate, because we will come later to the question of national policy statements, what properly constitutes them and what stages of public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny and environmental appraisal are required before such statements can be put in place. Only when such a statement is in place can the IPC consider an eligible application for a major development project within the relevant territory. That basis would have to be properly put in place before the new system could activate to consider an application that, under the terms of these provisions, would meet the thresholds that we set out.

Turning to clusters and our amendment No. 92, we had a useful debate in Committee about the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might direct a series of proposed projects to the IPC. The amendment clarifies our intention that where a series of projects that fall below the threshold are proposed for similar infrastructure projects, the Secretary of State may direct them to the IPC as being collectively of national significance, thereby reflecting the potential cumulative impact that such clusters of projects can have on an area. The hon. Member for North Cornwall is well aware of that from his own area. I stress, however, that we envisage that that ministerial power of direction would be exercised on the basis of clear criteria set out in a ministerial statement or in the national policy statement itself. Furthermore, we would expect it to be used comparatively rarely and to deal largely with circumstances that were impossible to predict, such as changing technology, changing circumstances in a particular sector, or situations where several projects have come forward in close proximity to each other and are therefore likely to have a cumulative impact requiring consideration as a whole. I hope that hon. Members accept that this is a sensible flexibility in the system that will allow us to deal with appropriate but unforeseen circumstances.

Will the Minister confirm, purely for the record, that his proposals on clusters will not be applied to eco-towns?

It is hard to see how eco-towns would fall within the Bill’s provisions, not least because they are housing developments, which are not proposed as eligible major infrastructure projects for the new system of IPC consideration and determination.

Let me respond to the points raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Beckenham when we discussed how multiple applications or multiple projects considered as a whole in one application could work. The mechanisms by which the IPC considers separate applications together will be outlined in the relevant national policy statement, in the terms of the Secretary of State’s direction, and in other relevant IPC standards and guidance. We intend that where separate projects are directed to the IPC to be treated together, the promoters will be required to work together to create a harmonised set of documentation for the ease not only of the IPC but, importantly, of the public and other local interests that might want to have a significant say on such an application.

I will touch briefly on two other important issues dealt with in this group of amendments. The first is raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) in his amendments Nos. 315 and 316, which relate to high-pressure pipelines constructed by licence—gas transporters. He has pursued that subject strongly over the past few months. As I said, the aim of the Bill is to simplify and streamline the planning system for major infrastructure projects. The industry has raised the issue of larger gas transporter pipelines, which can sometimes require a number of other consents. We regard this as raising several important matters, as my hon. Friend has rightly argued. We have a number of practical points to explore further with the industry, and we have to do that before we come to a firm decision on whether those pipeline projects should be considered by the IPC.

On those practical points, would the Minister consider meeting people from the industry at an early stage to discuss the security aspects and the environmental ones?

My hon. Friend pre-empts me. I was going to suggest that he broker a meeting with my leading officials—if not with me—so that we can take the process a stage further. We could assess the impact of the industry’s proposal and see how it would fit within the established devolution, and assess the extent to which the existing system of permitted development is working well. If my hon. Friend were prepared to broker such a meeting, it would be an important and useful next step.

Finally, I come to amendment No. 325, which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) tabled. I suspect that behind the amendment lies a request to the Government to devolve the consideration of the applications to Welsh Ministers. We have had detailed discussions, not just with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform but with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Wales Office. Consistent with what I said earlier, we do not want to change the devolution settlement through this Bill , but to respect its significant points.

The best approach for the long-term energy needs of this country is to develop reserve powers on nationally significant energy infrastructure, including the sort of power stations covered by the amendment. We made it clear in the White Paper that we did not propose to change the devolution settlement, so we have been consistent in our approach to the issue. Given that position, it is clear that such projects should be included within the IPC’s remit; they would benefit from a quicker, more effective system of determination and consideration that gives a reinforced role to the public and enables them to have their say. I am not sure that it would serve Wales well if applications for major new generating stations there used the old regime while their equivalents in England used the new regime.

I hope that that helped the House. I hope that I have explained matters and convinced Members that the Government’s new clauses and amendments will reinforce and strengthen the Bill, and that their intent is one that the House can support. I hope that those of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who tabled amendments can see that we have dealt with the issues about which they are concerned. I hope, therefore, that they will not find it necessary to press any of their amendments to a vote. If they do, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to resist.

This is the first group of a large number of Government amendments—they are overwhelmingly of a technical nature—that we have to consider. As we heard, the large number of amendments has taken those who served in Committee by surprise. The amendments are extensive, and for the most part they are significant. To a considerable extent, the amendments appear to address matters that should have been considered long before the Bill was published—certainly not later than the Committee sittings. In fact, some of the amendments amend amendments that were made in Committee. It is fairly obvious that amendments have been tabled as a result of pressure on the Minister from other Whitehall Departments, which have clearly been crawling all over the Bill, having their four pennies’ worth.

The most significant amendments, as the Minister said, are new clauses 9 and 10. By virtue of amendment No. 79, clause 20, which deals with nationally significant highway projects, is deleted altogether, while new clause 9 substitutes a definition of “highway-related development”. New clause 9 is largely welcome, given that it appears to avoid the risk of small-scale highway projects falling within the definition of “nationally significant infrastructure project”. Members of the Committee were concerned that including smaller scale projects could clog up the development consent system and so defeat the object of streamlining the consents process. The Local Government Association expressed the view that local authorities should continue to maintain their role on trunk roads, particularly the smaller and less used ones. It is therefore good that the Government have acknowledged the force of the arguments expressed in Committee and by the LGA, by effectively restricting the IPC procedure to major trunk road projects.

However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) pointed out in his intervention, it is notable that the development consent route is available only for roads wholly contained in England; Wales and Scotland are excluded, as are cross-border routes. The issue of cross-border routes is particularly contentious. The Government have made it clear throughout the passage of the Bill—in fact, the Minister just reiterated this—that they are reluctant to disturb the devolution settlement. That is quite understandable. Nevertheless, it is hard to see why such an important Bill could not have been introduced with the co-operation and support of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Executive, so as to ensure that the streamlined development consent process, which the Government are so keen on, could apply to cross-border highway routes.

The matter was raised in Committee. I had hoped that the Government would liaise with their colleagues in the devolved Administrations, to see whether it was possible to extend the development consent procedure to cross-border highways. As it is, consents relating to both ends of new cross-border routes will have to be considered under the existing disparate procedure. As I am sure the Minister will be well aware, that procedure has resulted in some cross-border routes not being completed as quickly as they should be.

A prime example—I relate this with feeling—is the A5117 link road between the M56 and the A55 north Wales expressway. That route has taken an inordinately long time to complete; in fact, it is still in construction as I speak. If devolution is to work sensibly, there is no reason why the Government should not liaise with the devolved Administrations to see whether it is possible to bring uniformity to matters as important as those that we are considering today. Perhaps the Minister will indicate whether the opportunity was taken to liaise with the devolved Administration in respect of that matter and whether he feels that an opportunity was missed to improve cross-border road networks.

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows this better than I do, but in that respect the Bill applies not only to roads, but to railways. Is it not folly that a major road or rail scheme might get to the boundary of Scotland or Wales, but then face inordinate delays in reaching its final destination, thereby watering down the whole purpose of the scheme?

My hon. Friend is quite right. As I have said, that is the very problem that travellers along the north Wales coastal road have experienced for many years, as a consequence of the delayed completion of the A5117 link. He is right, too, that the regime applies also to railways. The concern is that devolution, which is supposed to work for the benefit of the residents of the devolved Administrations, is perhaps being applied too strictly, to the extent that it is penalising those people.

The Minister mentioned the amendments to the regime concerning railways. New clause 10 is a substitute for the old clause 23, and provides a new definition of the construction or alteration of a railway. It is the second such amendment of the clause. In essence, the new clause raises the railway threshold so that it relates only to strategic rail links and not to light tramways or guided transport. Again, the Government, to their credit, appear to have listened to the concerns that were expressed in Committee, where Members said that tramways should properly be in the domain of the local planning authority and not the infrastructure planning commission.

Subsections (1)(c) and (2)(c) of the new clause provide that the construction or alteration of a railway carried out pursuant to permitted development, which is

“development in relation to which planning permission is granted by article 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995”,

is specifically excluded. As the Minister will be aware, part 17 of the 1995 order provides that permitted development is:

“Development by railway undertakers on their operational land, required in connection with the movement of traffic by rail.”

It is interesting that the new clause does not disturb that.

One can fully understand the need for the GPD regime to be preserved in respect of railways, but will the Minister explain why Network Rail, uniquely among statutory undertakers, should have those rights preserved? As far as I can see, permitted rights are not being preserved for other statutory undertakers—specifically, as I hope to discuss later, the operators of ports and harbours. Will the Minister explain why it is thought proper to preserve those GPD rights in relation to railways but not for other statutory undertakers?

The Minister mentioned the amendments on airports. Amendments Nos. 77, 81, 82, 83 and 84 all relate to air transport. Their effect is to ensure that where there is an existing restriction on the number of passenger movements or cargo aircraft movements at an airport, any proposal to increase the annual use of the airport by more than 10 million passengers or 10,000 air transport movements of cargo aircraft will be a matter for the new single development consent process. The Minister has said that that will apply even if the promoter does not propose the physical development of the site.

I have asked the Minister which regimes currently govern passenger and air cargo movements per se—those that are unrelated to physical alterations to the airport— and I understand that the Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for a licensing regime in respect of Gatwick and Heathrow. The Minister has indicated that the planning regime is already used for other matters, but that would, I imagine, be in respect of physical development, because it is clear from the amendments that passenger and air transport movements, per se, are being brought within the planning process for the first time.

Speaking entirely as a lay person, I find it hard to see how the significant intensification of an airport’s use by so many additional traffic movements could be accommodated without at least some physical development of the site. That might simply mean more lavatories in the air terminal, but more car parks and reception facilities might also be needed. I should think, therefore, that applications seeking consent for increased air traffic movements, in isolation, will be relatively rare, but one can imagine how disturbing such applications will be to residents of neighbouring properties and even of properties some miles away from the airport. To put it bluntly, there is extreme concern that such applications will result in a large number of irate householders complaining about the disturbance that they are likely to experience as a result. We shall debate the subject of the IPC at a later date, but this seems to be a prime example of a situation in which it is right for there to be political accountability and transparency, and for a Minister to be answerable for a policy, in the House, to the Members of Parliament who represent the aggrieved householders. Given the sensitivity of these proposals, what assurance can the Minister give us that the interests of aggrieved neighbours will be properly represented in respect of such applications?

The Minister referred to amendment No. 92, and to the clustering of developments. The amendment would provide that such clusters may be the subject of a direction by the Secretary of State to be treated as an application for an order granting development consent. That is welcome, given the potential impact of the proliferation of a number of applications for the same kind of development in the same area. Prime examples nowadays are applications for the development of a number of wind farms, each of which is just below the 50 MW onshore capacity limit. It is quite right that the impact of such applications should be given consideration as a development of nationally significant importance. Individually, such applications are usually made to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform under the Electricity Act 1989.

However, the provisions in clause 33, as amended, relate only to England and to English waters. The Minister has already explained that the Government are concerned not to disturb the devolution settlement, but I find it hard to understand, even within the context of that concern, why the proposal should relate only to England and not extend to Wales. The Minister has already explained, when dealing with amendment No. 325, that the Welsh Assembly does not have devolved competence in respect of onshore wind farms above 50 MW, under the Electricity Act, or of offshore wind farms above 100 MW. I therefore suggest that extending the provisions of clause 33, as amended by amendment No. 92, to Wales would not in any sense disturb the devolution settlement. There seems to be a possibility that Wales could be left behind when the new streamlined procedure is adopted to consider large-scale generating applications. Will the Minister explain why he has decided to exclude Wales on this occasion?

I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 77 and 80 to 87, which deal with airport-related developments. It is critical for my constituents to get some clarity on the process by which future airport developments—particularly at Heathrow—will be dealt with as a result of this legislation.

A conspiracy theory is developing in my constituency around the development of Heathrow airport. It is not some sort of collective paranoia; it is based on the reality that the development of Heathrow has, until now, been a conspiracy. Every assurance that my constituents have been given about the limitations to be placed on the development of Heathrow has been reneged upon within a short space of time after it was given, even on the Floor of the House. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide that clarity.

The Bill deals with the process by which an airport development can take place to increase the usage of that airport, with or without the physical development of some form of infrastructure at the airport. At the moment, airport development is controlled, first, by statements to the House made as a result of the various planning inquiries. The last statement was made by the Secretary of State for Transport and, as a result of the recommendation by the inspector at the inquiry on terminal 5, it capped air traffic movements at Heathrow airport at 480,000 a year. That limit will shortly be reached.

I understand that if there is a proposal to lift that cap beyond the limits set out in this legislation, that decision will form part of the new process in the Bill. That is one form of limitation that will have to be considered through this process, if it results in the additional 10 million air cargo movements set out in the amendments.

In addition to the overall cap on flight movements, at Heathrow there are other agreements that have arisen as a result of the planning processes at a number of inquiries, such as those for the fourth and fifth terminals, and even ones before those. Largely, they are voluntary agreements. One is on runway alternation and another is the Cranford agreement. They provide a means of relief for households in my constituency and across west London and beyond, into Windsor. At least for part of the day and for part of the week, people have a break from aircraft flying overhead, creating noise and pollution.

I am unsure whether those agreements, if they were lifted or amended in some way, would also form part of this process. Lifting or changing the agreements could result in a significant increase in the intensity of the use of Heathrow airport and, as a result, have a devastating impact on the lives lived in the locality.

I shall give an example. On Saturday, there was a demonstration that said no to the expansion of Heathrow airport, and a head teacher was present with their pupils. As a result of those agreements, they at least gain some break during the day when teaching with the windows open can continue. Without those agreements, the windows would have to be closed. It is difficult to teach anyway due to the noise of the aircraft overhead. It is critical for my constituents and others to be absolutely clear about what falls within this legislation and what does not.

I refer back to the concept of a conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory that is developing now about the proposals for the expansion of Heathrow airport relates to the amendments. The Government are having difficulty overcoming the issues around air and noise pollution, which would enable them to expand with a third runway and a sixth terminal, as proposed. We now know that the Government are privately looking to go to the European Union for permission to derogate from those pollution limits, despite the assurances given on the Floor of the House that no third runway or sixth terminal would go ahead unless they strictly comply with those limits.

If that was the case, my constituents would be concerned that the Government might not get permission or would allow themselves in the short term to go ahead with a third runway and sixth terminal. Therefore, to increase capacity at Heathrow airport they would lift the cap on flights but also remove the Cranford agreement and the alternation agreement. That would allow intensified use of the airport and have a major impact on the local environment and the quality of life of local constituents.

It is critical that we get it clear what will and will not fall within the legislation as a result of the amendments. If it is the overall cap, I can understand that, but is it also the voluntary agreements, which have given some protection to my constituents as well as to most parts of London and into Windsor and elsewhere? I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that in today’s debate. Failing that, I would be happy to receive information over the next few days, but before next week’s discussions. He may want to provide information or write to us so that we can at least inform our constituents accordingly. I believe that a number of Members representing west London seats, Windsor and elsewhere have not fully appreciated the potential of the amendments, if they will indeed have such an impact on runway alternation and the Cranford agreement. There would have been wider attendance at today’s debate from those Members if they had been aware of those matters.

As was pointed out in our earlier debate, a number of the amendments that we are discussing will change the Bill significantly. Some were tabled in response to the raising of issues in Committee, but they are not new issues. Organisations and people out in the real world who will be affected by the Bill have doubtless been raising them with the Government ever since the announcement that it was to be introduced. As other Members have said, it is a shame that it has taken us from the beginning of the Committee stage until a fairly crowded Report stage to address some of them.

Let me deal with the new clauses and amendments in turn, as was done by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones). New clause 9 is welcome in that it delineates a little more clearly which highway schemes would be given to the IPC to decide and consult on. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West rightly pointed out that the Local Government Association has lobbied heavily on that issue. Indeed, its chairman gave evidence to us before the Committee stage. He said that the LGA would be happy with the Government’s proposals, but I must confess that I think that it probably is not. Amendments tabled by me, which I shall discuss later, may be slightly more in accord with the concern expressed by local government about which roads will be involved.

Trunk roads are handled by the Highways Agency and are currently under the aegis of the Secretary of State when it comes to planning decisions. The arrangements are not confined to motorways and other specific kinds of road, which I believe are described as special roads, or special highways, in the Bill. The arrangements include a number of important highways whose construction would have a big local impact, and on which local authorities would want the power to decide. As the Minister has said, such decisions are currently made by the Secretary of State, which returns us to a discussion that we have had before about whether it would be preferable for them to be made by the IPC. As others have said, we shall discuss that more fully later, but I believe that the clarification provided in the new clause—although helpful in explaining the Government’s intent—does not go far enough to deal with concern about the growing role of the IPC.

I do not like the dreadful phrase “mission creep”, although I have yet to come up with a better term; I am sure that older and wiser heads than mine will do so as the debate proceeds. However, I think that the concept it describes is cause for great concern, not just in the context of highways but in relation to a raft of possible IPC decisions, and—as we heard in evidence—the Local Government Association wants that to be restricted.

Amendments Nos. 331 to 338, tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), seek to remove trunk roads from the provisions of clause 29, further restricting the application to highways. That clause may, of course, be replaced by new clause 9 today. I do not intend to press our amendments to a Division, but I believe that the Government could do more to meet the concerns expressed by the LGA and others.

New clause 10 tightens the definition of railway applications. I welcome what the Minister said in response to points about, for instance, light rail that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington in Committee. However, as a result of concern expressed by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West about permitted development rights I tabled new clause 38, which I understand will be debated next Monday, and which also deals with the widening of scope.

The Minister spoke at some length about the devolution settlement and about the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has sought to address with his amendment; the aspiration of the Welsh Assembly Government to have a greater say over power generation. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), the Minister said that discussions were continuing, implying that it might be possible to do this without substantially altering the devolution settlement.

Amendment No. 325 seeks to prevent the powers from being transferred to the IPC in the hope that those discussions can continue. I support the concept, not just in terms of my traditional—as it has become during the course of the Bill—antipathy to the IPC. Restricting anything from going to the IPC is worth doing, but in this case the amendment seeks to reserve the possibility of negotiations continuing in future without the added complication of the IPC interfering.

The Minister sought to address clustering through amendment No. 92, an important issue that may be relevant to my constituency in the near future. The Minister was referring to wind power and onshore wind development. We had the first wind farm in the country in North Cornwall at Delabole. We are proud of that, and there is great support for renewable energy. But there is concern that when an area has shown it is willing to take steps in that direction, it becomes the focal point for developers across the country, who descend on it rather than look at other equally suitable sites, causing saturation.

Certain smaller applications may come together to make something that is nationally significant, but in that clustering, there is even more local significance. The concern for people in my area is not just that clustering is taking place, but that the initial decision on it is taken away from the local authority, even if that decision might go to the Planning Inspectorate. Clustering could make matters slightly worse. The recognition of clustering is welcome, but the idea of transferring consideration of it to the IPC is problematic and adds to my growing concern about its expanding role.

The Minister has sought to respond to a number of concerns and has offered some clarification. Unfortunately, that has not brought about a state of affairs that I and others outside the House can support. It implies yet again a growing concentration of decision-making powers in the hands of the IPC. We are yet to see how the IPC will work and whether it will be able to undertake all the functions being heaped upon it.

On airport expansion, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) set out, as he always does, just how important the issue is to people in west London. He is right to point out that many Members from west London will be concerned if that thorny issue is drawn into the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) was discussing this with me earlier and sought some clarification on what may be in the Bill.

I suppose that, yet again, the feeling will be that it is very welcome that this matter will move in some way into the planning realm, that people will therefore have the chance to get their opinions across and that there will be consultation and so on, although there may well be disquiet that the IPC, which is not a democratically accountable body, will be taking this decision. I risk straying again into issues that we will be deciding later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have concerns about some of the Minister’s comments about how the new clauses and amendments will change the Bill. I shall seek permission to put amendment No. 325, which stands in the name of my hon. Friends, to a separate vote, should that be the will of the House. I also reserve judgment on some of the other measures that the Minister has addressed.

I wish to refer to new clauses 9 and 10, which are self-explanatory and introduce a great deal of clarity into the debate at rather a late stage. Those new clauses clearly assist us in our deliberations, and they are entirely appropriate and acceptable.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) said that he was concerned that there might be a problem if major roadway infrastructure were to be considered for England, when a different authority were considering the matter over the border. I do not see any problem with such an arrangement. A devolution settlement is in place, and transport is largely, if not almost totally, devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. I am sure that this will be a challenge in the future not in any way to be shrugged off by anybody on either side of the border in the best interests of people in England and, of course, in the best interests of the people in Wales. I do not think that using the terminology that we might be left behind in some way is at all helpful, because that will not happen. This will be a challenge, but I have no doubt that Ministers in Cardiff and Ministers in London will liaise carefully on these matters in the best interests of bringing in developments.

I am concerned about the lack of understanding on the 50 MW issue, which we discussed in Committee. The Minister knows that the whole point of amendment No. 325, which stands in the name of several Liberal Democrat Members, is to exclude Wales from this particular aspect of energy creation. I tabled a similar amendment in Committee, so I fully support it. He will know that the National Assembly for Wales has considerable powers in respect of major energy projects in Wales, and a winding back on that particular issue seems to be taking place, because offshore generating stations of more than 50 MW will now effectively be called in to be dealt with by the IPC. Many people in Wales, for example, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and some people in government in Wales, are unhappy about that; there is unease not simply in my party, but across the political spectrum, because that unnecessarily complicates matters. I hoped that the Government would accept this amendment earlier, but clearly they are not going to accept it.

The approach being taken creates an inconsistency, and when one looks at that in the context of Welsh planning policy, existing national policy statements, the role and status of planning policy in Wales and the associated technical advice notes for the Wales spatial plan and so on, one sees that the Government could and should have accepted the amendment. It is a lost opportunity. It will be put to a vote today, but it is unlikely to be won, so I hope that the Government will reconsider at some point. It is an unnecessary complication that could be simplified very easily, were the amendment accepted.

Government new clauses 9 and 10 are unobjectionable, as are the consequential amendments. They bring clarity to the Bill, albeit at a rather late stage. I echo what others have said about the considerable amount of work that we need to do today and next week to deal with all the Government amendments, and I shall therefore truncate my remarks on amendment No. 325.

I suppose that it is fair for hon. Members to have a go at me and at the Government over the number of amendments tabled on Report, but it is also reasonable to recognise the complexity of the Bill, and especially of the prize that we are trying to create, which is supported by both sides of the House, of a single consent regime in place of a maze of other consents and pieces of legislation, some dating back 50 years or more. At each stage, if we have heard serious, well argued and evidence-based points that suggest that the framework in the Bill is not adequate or could be clearer or stronger, I have tried to respond. That is largely what we have tried to do in many of the amendments.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) questioned the number of amendments earlier, but I was pleased by the tone that he struck in dealing with this group. He said that it was good to see changes to the highway definitions and thresholds, and I appreciate that. He also gave us credit for listening to views expressed in Committee on railways, and he welcomed the amendments on the power to direct clusters of, for instance, wind farms just below the 50 MW threshold, which appear sensible to several other hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions. On cross-border roads, decision making will continue to be split between England, Scotland and Wales, and the English developments that fall within the categories to be determined by the IPC will be determined by it. The schemes that cross borders are now often planned on a whole-network basis. The Highways Agency currently plans for cross-border highways, and it does so in conjunction with the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I see no reason why that arrangement, which works reasonably well, cannot continue in the future.

On clusters in Wales, I must be blunt. It is not the case that Welsh Ministers have expressed any enthusiasm for directing wind farm applications in Wales to the IPC, so we have not moved in that direction—

There is an interesting divergence in views from the Welsh perspective on the Opposition Benches. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West first.

I apologise if I gave the impression that the Welsh Ministers were expressing enthusiasm for the IPC process: I am sure that they are not. It just seems to me that the Government are anxious not to disturb the devolution settlement. However, given that it does not extend to onshore wind farms above 50 MW and offshore wind farms above 100 MW, how can it possibly be said that to extend the competency of the IPC, or the single consent process, to such wind farms would disturb the devolution settlement? It clearly would not do so.

I tried to explain when I made my opening remarks that that is an important feature, which is likely to become increasingly important, of the UK’s overall energy supply and energy security. It is not a devolved function. That is why we have taken the view, after quite detailed discussions between the Welsh Assembly Government, the Welsh Office and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, that that is the approach that we should take and that it is consistent with the devolution settlement.

I wanted to respond to something that the Minister said earlier. He gave the impression that Welsh Ministers were in some way arguing against what was proposed in the amendment when they were, in fact, arguing in favour of it, as his brother—his colleague—said in Committee. I say brother, but that is all old Labour-talk now, is it not? In Committee, the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) said:

“I am well aware that Welsh Ministers have argued for the devolution of energy consents of more than 50 MW, and that there have been tripartite discussions”.––[Official Report, Planning Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 334.]

The Minister for Local Government just mentioned those discussions. His colleague went on to say that the Government remain of the view that the situation should be as per the Bill. The Minister for Local Government somehow gave the impression that Welsh Ministers had not argued in favour of the amendment on that subject, when they had done so strongly.

I am under no misapprehension, and I do not think that I have given any cause for misunderstanding, about the approach to the question of consents for 50 MW wind farms that has interested Welsh Ministers. My point, which the hon. Gentleman tried to quote back to me, was about clusters. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West was making a different point about a different amendment on the power of direction to cluster more minor projects together in one single application, rather than the issue that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is concerned about. I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done, which I shall come to in a moment.

I shall give way again, but I wanted to answer the points that have been made during the debate rather than dealing with a set of fresh points, particularly from those who have only just joined us.

I am most grateful to the Minister, who is being very generous. May I revert to the point that I raised? How would the extension of the cluster procedure to Wales and Welsh wind farms in any sense disturb the devolution settlement?

The question of where we set the threshold for wind farms has been set in the context of looking at the UK’s energy security and energy supply strategy, which is a reserved power. The 50 MW threshold is the appropriate way to reflect what need to be, nevertheless, a range of planning responsibilities that are properly devolved and should properly remain devolved in Wales. That is the approach that we have taken.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West asked why only railways will have permitted development rights. We are protecting all permitted development rights in the Bill, but the railways are explicit, because of the drafting of how we will deal with the thresholds. In addition, the Highways Agency has the power to carry out similar types of works via an administrative order. That is the equivalent for highways of the permitted development rights for railways. Ports and airports have explicit numerical thresholds for those works and so, if the hon. Gentleman likes to see it that way, the permitted development rights for ports and airports are preserved in our proposed approach.

On the points made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), I tried earlier—I shall not repeat myself—to deal with the intent behind the highways amendments and the approach to the question of cycle paths and the definition of trunk roads. I understand the Local Government Association’s general concern, but since 2001 the Department for Transport has detrunked 175 sections of road and thereby passed them to local authority control. More of those are in the pipeline. The DFT specifically welcomed and invited suggestions of where other trunk roads might be passed to local authority control. Finally, the DFT has confirmed that it plans to consult during the summer on local highways consents under the Highways Act 1980 that could be passed to lower tiers of government. Rather than decision making being taken further out of the hands of local authorities, we are not changing any of the consents at present. This is part of a number of steps that the Department is quite rightly considering to put more under local control.

I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) about the agreements, including voluntary ones, that are currently in place at Heathrow. I have tried to explain the intent of the definition that we propose. He is quite right to say—in particular, before we get to the debate next week—that it is important to be precisely clear about that. I will review tomorrow the Hansard record, and if I feel that what has been said is not complete and clear enough, I will certainly write to him to ensure that he has the information that he is looking for.

I would be grateful if that letter were received before the debate on Third Reading, because I would welcome the opportunity to read that correspondence into the parliamentary record.

If I judge that there is a need to write to my hon. Friend, I will do so this week, and he will receive the letter this week.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) returned to what he described as the lack of understanding on the 50 MW wind farm issue. He produced his amendment in Committee before the Liberal Democrats produced theirs, and he has expressed concerns about the issue. I have tried to explain to him that there may well be unease or unhappiness in Wales, but there is emphatically no winding back, as he described it, of the provisions and the devolution settlement in relation to Wales in our approach.

Government amendment No. 88 relates to provisions in the Coast Protection Act 1949 that largely deal with the content of development consents, which we can discuss more fully in conjunction with proposals in the third group of new clauses and amendments, and that is what I propose to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10


‘(1) Construction of a railway is within section 13(1)(j) only if—

(a) the railway will (when constructed) be wholly in England,

(b) the railway will (when constructed) be part of a network operated by an approved operator, and

(c) the construction of the railway is not permitted development.

(2) Alteration of a railway is within section 13(1)(j) only if—

(a) the part of the railway to be altered is wholly in England,

(b) the railway is part of a network operated by an approved operator, and

(c) the alteration of the railway is not permitted development.

(3) Construction or alteration of a railway is not within section 13(1)(j) to the extent that the railway forms part (or will when constructed form part) of a rail freight interchange.

(4) “Approved operator” means a person who meets the conditions in subsections (5) and (6).

(5) The condition is that the person must be—

(a) a person who is authorised to be the operator of a network by a licence granted under section 8 of the Railways Act 1993 (licences for operation of railway assets), or

(b) a wholly-owned subsidiary of a company which is such a person.

(6) The condition is that the person is designated, or is of a description designated, in an order made by the Secretary of State.

(7) In this section—

“network” has the meaning given by section 83(1) of the Railways Act 1993;

“permitted development” means development in relation to which planning permission is granted by article 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995;

“wholly-owned subsidiary” has the same meaning as in the Companies Act 2006 (see section 1159 of that Act).

(8) The reference in subsection (7) to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 is to that Order as it has effect immediately before the day on which this section comes fully into force.’.—[John Healey.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 13

Nationally significant infrastructure projects: general

Amendments made: No. 77, page 7, line 14, leave out

‘the construction or alteration of an airport’

and insert ‘airport-related development’.

No. 78, page 7, line 16, after ‘construction’, insert ‘or alteration’.—[John Healey.]

Amendment proposed: No. 325, in page 8, line 12, clause 14, leave out ‘or Wales’.—[Dan Rogerson.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Clause 20


Amendment made: No. 79, page 11, line 41, leave out Clause 20.—[John Healey.]

Clause 21


Amendments made: No. 80, page 13, line 1, at end insert—

‘(A1) Airport-related development is within section 13(1)(h) only if the development is—

(a) the construction of an airport in a case within subsection (1),

(b) the alteration of an airport in a case within subsection (3), or

(c) an increase in the permitted use of an airport in a case within subsection (5A).’.

No. 81, page 13, line 2, leave out ‘The construction of an airport is within section 13(1)(h)’ and insert

‘Construction of an airport is within this subsection’.

No. 82, page 13, line 12, leave out ‘An alteration of an airport is within section 13(1)(h)’ and insert

‘Alteration of an airport is within this subsection’.

No. 83, page 13, line 26, at end insert—

‘(5A) An increase in the permitted use of an airport is within this subsection only if—

(a) the airport is in England or in English waters, and

(b) the increase is within subsection (5B).

(5B) An increase is within this subsection if—

(a) it is an increase of at least 10 million per year in the number of passengers for whom the airport is permitted to provide air passenger transport services, or

(b) it is an increase of at least 10,000 per year in the number of air transport movements of cargo aircraft for which the airport is permitted to provide air cargo transport services.’.

No. 84, page 13, line 38, at end insert—

‘“permitted” means permitted by planning permission or development consent.”’.—[John Healey.]

Clause 23


Amendment made: No. 85, page 15, line 4, leave out Clause 23.—[John Healey.]

Clause 30

Meaning of “development”

Amendments made: No. 86, page 18, line 19, at end insert—

‘(c) an increase in the permitted use of an airport is treated as a material change in the use of the airport.’.

No. 87, page 18, line 40, at end insert—

‘“permitted” means permitted by planning permission or development consent;’.—[John Healey.]

Clause 31

Effect of requirement for development consent on other consent regimes

Amendments made: No. 88, page 19, leave out lines 11 and 12.

No. 89, page 19, line 33, leave out from second ‘development’ to end of line 34 and insert

‘, the development may not be authorised by any of the following—’.

No. 90, page 19, line 42, leave out ‘of a proposed’ and insert ‘, improvement or alteration of a’.

No. 91, page 19, line 43, leave out from ‘made’ to end of line 44 and insert

‘or confirmed in relation to the highway or in connection with the construction, improvement or alteration of the highway—’.—[John Healey.]

Clause 33

Directions in relation to projects of national significance

Amendment made: No. 92, page 20, line 34, at end insert

‘, either by itself or when considered with one or more other projects or proposed projects in one or more of the fields specified in subsection (2)’.—[John Healey.]

New Clause 15

Land to which authorisation of compulsory acquisition can relate

‘(1) An order granting development consent may include provision authorising the compulsory acquisition of land only if the decision-maker is satisfied that one of the conditions in subsections (2) to (4) is met.

(2) The condition is that the application for the order included a request for compulsory acquisition of the land to be authorised.

(3) The condition is that all persons with an interest in the land consent to the inclusion of the provision.

(4) The condition is that the prescribed procedure has been followed in relation to the land.’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 17—Rights in connection with underground gas storage facilities.

Government new clause 18—Public rights of way: statutory undertakers’ apparatus etc..

Government new clause 19—Extinguishment of rights, and removal of apparatus, of statutory undertakers etc.

Government new clause 26—Interpretation: land and rights over land.

Government new clause 37—Application of compulsory acquisition procedure provisions.

Government amendments Nos. 116 to 151, 153 to 157, 93 to 96, 101, 102, 186, 187, 252, 255 and 269.

This set of amendments largely makes technical changes to ensure that the provisions of part 7 of the Bill work correctly on the issues of compulsory acquisition of land—in particular, the compulsory acquisition of specially protected categories of land known as “special land”, and including common land. The definitions can be found in part 7 of the Bill.

Please excuse me for sounding a bit like a bingo caller, but I must refer to a whole raft of small technical amendments. New clauses 17 and 26, amendments Nos. 93 to 96, 101, 102, 119, 122, 123, 125, 126, 128, 129, 131, 132, 140, 141, 146, 147, 151, 153 to 156, 252, 255 and 269 clarify that development consent orders can authorise the compulsory acquisition of rights over land and compulsorily create new rights over land. I shall address that in a little more detail.

Those new clauses and amendments are necessary to avoid a situation in which a promoter must unnecessarily purchase the whole of a person’s land when all they need is a right over it—or under it, such as the right to store natural gas in the subsoil. The amendments provide flexibility and more options for the developer and land owners. New clauses 18 and 19 give protections for statutory undertakers, such as water companies, gas transporters and mobile phone operators, that have apparatus on land that is to be compulsorily acquired. If those statutory undertakers object to the proposed extinguishment of the right of way on the land or the proposed removal of their apparatus from the land, the Secretary of State who sponsors the relevant statutory undertaker would need to consent to the provisions.

Amendments Nos. 117, 120, 121, 134, 137, 142 and 145 clarify the procedures by which a promoter can propose land as a replacement for special land that it seeks to acquire compulsorily—for example, common land, allotments or statutory undertakers’ land. The Secretary of State can certify that the proposed replacement land is as good as the land that it replaces.

When a promoter intends to acquire compulsorily common land or rights over common land, the amendments clarify that the Secretary of State must notify those interested in the proposal of his or her intention to certify the promoters’ offer of replacement land as acceptable. The amendments also allow the Secretary of State to cause a public inquiry to be held into the proposed package of replacement common land. That strikes us as a common-sense thing to do to ensure fairness.

The provisions are designed to ensure alignment with existing provisions in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. New clause 15 clarifies that the decision maker may authorise the compulsory acquisition of land that was not included in the original application if all affected parties consent, or if specified procedures have been followed. Without that amendment, only land identified in the original application could be compulsorily acquired. It is important to allow the decision maker the flexibility to make changes to the draft order if they believe that a decision to approve could be made only on the basis of a project that requires revisions.

The amendment gives the Secretary of State a power to prescribe the procedures to be followed whenever the decision maker wishes to approve additional compulsory acquisition. We believe it is right for the Secretary of State to set the rules when additional compulsory acquisition is envisaged, in order to ensure that human rights and other interests are respected. We anticipate that these procedures would, at a minimum, ensure that the promoter and all interested parties were notified and may make representations, and that the decision maker must take into account any representations and objections made about the proposed changes.

Amendments Nos. 124, 127 and 130 clarify who are to be counted as statutory undertakers for the purposes of clauses 114, 115 and 116. That is necessary in order to include companies that have been deemed as statutory undertakers in legislation other than the 1981 Act. The amendments allow for flexibility beyond that Act.

Amendments Nos. 135, 138, 143 and 148 respond to concerns raised in Committee about the possibility that the promoter of a nationally significant infrastructure project may claim a need to acquire common land compulsorily in order to secure its preservation or preserve its management. The amendments remove that possibility and respond to the requests that were made in Committee.

Amendments Nos. 136 and 144 respond to concerns raised in Committee about the threshold of 209.03 sq m of common land above which compulsory acquisition can be made only if a package of replacement land is offered, or through special parliamentary procedure. As we described in Committee, that figure was merely a metrification of 250 sq yd. We were asked to round that number down, and we have done so by rounding the threshold down to 200 sq m, which is in line with the existing threshold in the Commons Act 2006.

Amendment No. 157 clarifies that if a development consent order extinguishes a public right of way, the appropriate authority must order that that right be revived if it becomes clear that the promoter has abandoned proposals to acquire the land covered by the right of way. New clause 37 requires that the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 applies to cases in which compulsory acquisition is authorised by a development consent order unless the order specifies otherwise. There are other ways in which compulsory purchase orders can come about beyond the 1965 Act, so the new clause leaves this open and provides for that flexibility. It also applies the 1965 Act to the acquisition of land where a landowner serves a blight notice because an application that has been submitted proposes its compulsory purchase. That provides safeguards and protection for those whose land may well be blighted as a consequence of the process. Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 make further technical changes to ensure that blight notices following the passage of the Bill are served on the correct authority and identify the appropriate enactment.

I appreciate that this is a large array of amendments, but they are mostly technical.

As the Minister has so comprehensively pointed out, this is a series of detailed amendments required to implement the compulsory acquisition regime that is necessary in order to make the unified consent system work. There are a significant number of amendments, and I hope the Minister will not take it amiss if I gently chide him once again for the fact that their provisions were not included in the Bill originally. It was evident from the moment the Bill was published that a regime for compulsory acquisition would be necessary, and it should have been obvious that that regime would have to be detailed. The details that have been supplied in the amendments clearly make up the deficiency that was so manifestly there, and I am glad that they have been tabled.

I shall refer to a number of matters, one of which is the right of persons who will be on the receiving end of a compulsory acquisition order to have their representations properly heard. The power compulsorily to acquire land and interests in land is one of the more draconian powers in the hands of the infrastructure planning commission, and it should therefore be used carefully, sparingly and with sensitivity. It is important that the rights of those whose interests will be affected by a compulsory acquisition order should be properly heard and respected. I am worried that when the procedure for inquiries comes to be considered, we will see that the interests of those who are likely to be affected by compulsory acquisition orders are frequently regarded as not primary in the course of those proceedings and may even be discounted altogether. That is not right. The powers that the Bill gives to the commission are very extensive, and if an individual’s rights are to be usurped in the manner proposed, albeit legally, their interests should be fully heard.

New clause 15 provides that an order authorising compulsory acquisition of land may be made only if, inter alia, “the prescribed procedure” has been followed in relation to the land. I may have missed something—no doubt the Minister will enlighten me—but I wonder where that prescribed procedure is set out. Clause 112 provides that the Secretary of State may issue guidance about the making of an order granting development consent, which includes provision authorising the compulsory acquisition of land, but that appears to be something less than a prescribed procedure.

I have nothing further to add, save that for my own part I would have been happier if we had stuck with 250 sq yd and imperial measurements.

The Minister was clearly aware of the seemingly dry nature of the part of the Bill that he has been asked to shepherd through and has sought to brighten up the occasion with a tie to keep awake anybody who might be nodding off—and an excellent tie it is, too.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) made some serious points about the rights of people who may find themselves subject to compulsory acquisition of land. I am particularly concerned about a point that was raised in Committee, as the Minister will recall. When land is being offered in lieu of something that is being taken away, how can we be sure that it is a suitable replacement? If it is common land, for example, will it be geographically suitable for the people who would be exercising rights upon it in the way that they have done customarily? Indeed, land that is special for any other purpose or reason should be borne in mind when an alternative piece of land is offered. We also have to consider how the process will be arbitrated. If there are questions about whether the land represents appropriate compensation for what has been taken away, there should be recourse to some sort of negotiation.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West is right to raise the problem whereby if the compulsory acquisition of land is handled at the time of the development consent order, other issues will obscure the importance or severity of it. People in the community affected in other ways, in far greater number, will have the floor to a greater extent than those affected in a small, personal way that is nevertheless important to that individual. The Government clearly had the desire to speed up the process—they have been clear and up front about that throughout—but my concern is that the process should be correct and just and that any acquisition must be entirely necessary. If those matters are obscured in some way and rolled up into the process of development consent, some of them might be overlooked.

I am concerned about some of the changes that are being made, but I welcome the fact that the Government are removing the fog from the proposals and clarifying some of the issues that we explored in Committee.

I have just a couple of points to make. We are talking about placing an immense power in the hands of the IPC, which will affect a large number of people with regard to major infrastructure developments. I refer hon. Members to early potential expansion of Heathrow. The provisions give immense power for compulsory purchase and the forced removal of people. When it comes to Heathrow, the calculations show that anything up to 10,000 people will be removed from their homes, alongside the loss of three schools, community centres and so on. I would welcome information about the financial support and professional assistance that will be given to those who wish to contest a compulsory acquisition. What additional support will be given to local authorities to represent their constituents in such matters?

I have a point of detail with regard to BAA. When the industry was a nationalised one, it had specific powers of compulsory purchase. Once it was privatised, those powers were apparently retained, and I would welcome clarity about the powers that it will have on compulsory acquisition of land after this legislation is passed, and with regard to whether it will have any special status above any other private sector company.

I would like to probe the Minister on the procedure for compulsory acquisition. Following on from what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) said, compulsory acquisition is one of the most severe powers anyone can take to acquire land. Can the Minister clarify what the procedure will be when it becomes clear that the promoter has served notice under new clause 19, or any other provision in the Bill, that compulsory powers are likely to be used? There was some confusion about that in Committee. The Minister said:

“To be clear, people who are subject to compulsory purchase orders as a result of this provision will have exactly the same rights that they have at present.”––[Official Report, Planning Public Bill Committee, 10 January 2008; c. 150, Q367.]

I want to probe the Minister—my neighbour in Gloucestershire—on the rights that people will have to be heard.

Under the Compulsory Purchase (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 2007 made by the Lord Chancellor on 15 December 2007, people had the right to be heard orally and in writing, and they had the right to summon witnesses and to cross-examine them. It would not only be landowners who had that right: under rule 6 of the Town and Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Projects Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2005, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) in the oral evidence session, others affected, such as parish or town councils, would have the same rights. I seek to probe the Minister on the right that parties affected by compulsory purchase powers will have to be heard and to summon and cross-examine witnesses. Will they have an absolute right, or will they be able to do so only at the discretion of the IPC commissioner?

I thank the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) for his kind remarks about my tie. I am inclined to agree that this grouping relates to one of the more detailed and, some would say, drier aspects of the Bill, but it is an important one, as hon. Members have said.

People are particularly concerned about homes—my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned those near Heathrow—and under our proposals, those whose homes are subject to compulsory purchase, and other landowners, would have exactly the same rights as they do at present. They would have the same human rights protection as they do now. They will be able to object to a proposal for compulsory purchase, submit evidence to the IPC on why their home should not be purchased and appear at the examination to have their say. As now, they will be able to challenge a decision on compulsory purchase in the courts. Rules on compensation will be the same as now, and disputed compensation will be decided by the Lands Tribunal. The commission would be required to explain how it used powers for compulsory purchase in an annual report to Parliament.

The Minister has skated over the critical point that I raised. Will objectors to compulsory purchase powers have the absolute right to be heard both orally and in writing? Will they have the power to summon witnesses, and will they have the power to cross-examine those witnesses? I am not talking about going to court, but about the IPC procedure. Will such matters be at the discretion of the IPC commissioner hearing the case?

The role of the IPC commissioner is important and we must remember that although the Bill and the legislation set the framework—and not just through the amendments, which are mostly technical—most of the framework policy was already in the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was aware of that. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) rightly pointed out that he wants to see more flesh on the bones with regard to the process, as does the hon. Member for North Cornwall, and I was about to refer to that. Although the Bill sets the framework, there will be regulations to provide the detail of the process; we will consult widely on those, and they will have to go through Parliament.

We are coming to the relevant amendments later, but do not the new clauses specifically mean that those who seek to be heard on compulsory purchase alone will not necessarily have the right to be heard by the commissioners?