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Uk Planning Decisions: Ec Impact

Volume 547: debated on Friday 9 July 1993

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11.18 a.m.

Whether and, if so, in what circumstances the European Commission has power to interfere with planning decisions in regard to property in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the Commission has no rights to interfere directly with planning decisions in the United Kingdom, but certain Community directives have implications for the operation of the planning system.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware, as I have no doubt he is, that the latter part of his Answer is very far from clear—and is probably not intended to be clear? Does it mean, or does it not mean, that the Commission can say in respect of a particular planning decision, "This shall be stopped"?

My Lords, this is a complicated area, and I certainly have no desire to create any more confusion. The point is that the Commission does not have any direct role of interference in planning decisions but there are some Community directives—for instance, on environmental impact assessments, on the birds directive and on the habitats directive—where the Commission has a role to play in terms of deciding what should and should not be developed.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, whatever powers the Commission has in this particular field, it can have them only on the basis of approval by the Council of Ministers? Is the Minister aware that the Commission makes a number of proposals for submission to the Council and they are filtered through the Committee of Permanent Representatives on which the Commission is represented? Is he further aware that the Committee of Permanent Representatives passes such measures as it believes merits the attention of, the Council of Ministers, but in practice gets a number through on the nod, including many of those which are effective in this field? Further, if restrictions are placed on this country and others, does the Minister agree that they are placed there because of the docility and imbecility of the Council of Ministers?

My Lords, I cannot think of any directives which are passed on the nod and not without a great deal of discussion between member states on the merits of a particular case.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, could have been put more succinctly by asking whether it is true that the Commission proposes and the Council disposes, and that is that?

My Lords, that would have been very appropriate. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, always likes to make an important point when dealing with matters of this kind.

My Lords, is it not the case that in certain instances the European Commission occasionally has a wiser head than this country, and does not the case of Oxleas Wood bear that out?

No, my Lords. I cannot think of any occasion when the European Commission has been wiser than the British Government. Certainly, the decision on Oxleas Wood had nothing to do with the European Community and everything to do with the wisdom of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

My Lords, if that is really the case—and I rather doubt it—can the noble Lord explain why infraction proceedings were instigated by the European Commission under the environmental impact assessment directive on the subject of Oxleas Wood and why they are still outstanding? Perhaps the Minister can explain why the Government are continuing to oppose those infraction proceedings and why taxpayers' money is being spent on that? Will the noble Lord further assure my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington that the environmental impact assessment directive received a great deal of discussion before it was unanimously agreed?

My Lords, I agree with the latter part of the noble Lord's question. As regards the first part, it is up to the Commission to decide whether Or not to make a case against the United Kingdom. We do not believe that there has been an infraction of the directive and we shall continue to oppose very vigorously what the Commission has said about us.

My Lords, on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington in relation to the environmental impact assessment. directive, is it not clear that there were major debates on it in the Council? Will the noble Lord accept that. I participated in those debates and that it is quite untrue to say that this matter was cut and dried as regards the COREPER debates?

My Lords, I accept the point that the noble Lord made. It is true that directives are not passed on the nod, but greatly discussed. I fear that we are getting far away from the original Question on the Order Paper.

My Lords, in view of the questions and answers which have been given, does the noble Lord agree that it would be very good if the proceedings of the Council of Ministers were made public?

My Lords, returning to my noble friend's original Answer, can he confirm that, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, planning decisions affecting solely matters concerning this country are solely matters for the British authorities?