House again in Committee on Schedule 1.
11: Schedule 1, page 142, line 18, leave out sub-paragraphs (4) and (5)
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 15 and 16. I have put my name to Amendment No. 21, of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, but I shall leave him to make the argument. Amendment No. 26 is also in the group.
Amendment No. 11 would leave out sub-paragraphs (4) and (5) of paragraph 5 in Schedule 1. They provide that the commission should pay an amount of compensation determined by the Secretary of State to a commissioner who ceases to hold office if the Secretary of State thinks that there are special circumstances.
I will not be surprised if I am told that this is a form of words to be found in every such schedule setting up every quango. It is perhaps my fault that I had not noticed it previously, but it suggests to me that the Government are already thinking about golden goodbyes and parachutes, providing for compensation to a departing commissioner if the Secretary of State says so. That raises also the Secretary of State’s relationship with the IPC, but that is not so much the thrust of my concern.
I assume that the office of commissioner will be either employment carrying the usual employment rights or a contract of appointment for the fixed term that we have heard about, which I assume will be with the commission and not the Government. If the IPC is to be independent, as we keep hearing, it should take the decisions and do so on the basis of what is right in the circumstances of employment or some kind of contract of engagement, which will not be employment. A contract of services will carry the usual rights with it if it is breached. I therefore had a knee-jerk reaction to what we saw as anticipating golden goodbyes before anybody had even been appointed.
Amendment No. 15 would leave out sub-paragraphs (3) and (4) from paragraph 12. They require the commission to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State to the number of staff that it proposes to appoint and to the terms and conditions of service. I entirely accept that the commission will have to function on the budget that it is given by government, but once that decision has been made by the Treasury, in conjunction, I would hope, with the relevant Secretary of State, it should be up to the Infrastructure Planning Commission to sort out what it does with its budget. It should be able to deploy it at its own discretion. This is excessive control.
Amendment No. 16 is—to mangle the English language—consequential on later amendments, questioning the IPC’s role in compulsory acquisition. I should perhaps have said this to the Minister before, but it might be better to take the debate on the substance of the matter, rather than where it pops up in the schedule. I thought that I should say why I tabled the amendment, but it would not be appropriate to have the debate on the commission’s powers at this point, on the basis of the schedule. I beg to move.
I have one of the amendments grouped with this, Amendment No. 21. Noble Lords will be aware that there are four paragraphs at the end of the schedule that refer to other legislation and apply them to the IPC. Paragraph 24 refers to the Parliamentary Commissioner, paragraph 25 to the disqualification of Members of the House of Commons, and so on, while paragraph 26 refers to public records. I propose to add a new paragraph which refers to the Disability Discrimination Act.
The amendment intends that the Disability Discrimination Act should be amended to include the commission as a public authority for the purposes of subsection (1). As the amendment points out, Section 49D of the Disability Discrimination Act refers to the power to impose specific duties. We intend not only that the IPC should be subject to the normal laws against discrimination but that there should be specific duties on the IPC to promote disability equality and establish when it will happen.
The background to this, although I will not go into it at great length at this hour of the night, is that there is widespread evidence that disabled people—I refer particularly to blind people, as this was suggested to me by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; I served for some years on its council—feel uniquely disadvantaged under the planning system. On the whole, the system does not listen to their representations. I have a number of quotes here, with which I shall not weary the Committee; but they are enough to convince me that there needs to be a continuing change of culture on this.
Great strides have been made in recent years to promote access for the disabled, which is very important when one is dealing with buildings, as well as a greater sense of equality for the disabled, to persuade them that they are listened to as much as anybody else. Yet there is still quite a strong feeling in the disabled community that, in the case of planning inquiries and investigations, they are not listened to. It will be important for the commission to lead on a positive promotion of listening to the disabled.
We come later to amendments on consultation and on how it should be done in such a way that disabled people have as much access to it as anybody else. At this point, the amendment that we seek to put into the Disability Discrimination Act simply says:
“A public authority for the purposes of subsection (1) includes the Infrastructure Planning Commission”.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a reassuring reply on that.
I remind the Committee of the declarations of interest that I made at Second Reading—namely, that for the past 10 years I have been on the planning committee of my local council and that I am a landlord and a landowner.
I will offer a few words in support of this group of amendments. The first three, Amendments Nos. 11, 15 and 16, which are Liberal Democrat amendments, and Amendment No. 20, which was tabled by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, are neatly complemented by Amendment No. 26, which was tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness and which I would like to speak to on his behalf. His amendment proposes that an annual report on the business of the IPC should be laid before Parliament for approval. I echo what has been so ably and succinctly said on the Liberal Democrat amendments, and am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on those and, indeed, on that of my noble friend Lord Jenkin.
The commission that the Government wish to create is a major new organisation. It is right that we in this House and those in another place should be kept informed about what it is getting up to and how it is conducting its affairs. It is perfectly normal practice to have this kind of parliamentary overview to request an annual report for parliamentary approval. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that the commission should be trusted with a little bit of competence in appointing its own employees, as long as its business is detailed in the report, which can be examined by Parliament in a perfectly routine manner.
These amendments offer us a good opportunity to address some detailed issues. I start with the noble Baroness’s amendment on compensation. She has anticipated what I have to say. Essentially, this is a standard provision to deal with a case where a public servant ceases to hold office in unusual circumstances—for instance, to settle an employment dispute. The provision is nothing new. It is replicated in existing legislation—for example, in paragraph 7 of Schedule 7 to the Competition Act 1998 in relation to members of the Competition Commission.
The noble Baroness referred to planning golden handshakes, golden goodbyes and so on. Before we broke for dinner, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, congratulated the Government on having the foresight to get things moving in anticipation, as we all hope, that the Bill will pass. This is part of the preparation for sound governance, about which, as an ex-member of the GLA, the noble Baroness is only too well aware.
Amendment No. 15 would remove certain provisions which require the commission to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State on the overall number of staff it proposes to appoint and the terms and conditions of such staff. Clearly the commission secretariat will be responsible for the internal running of the IPC’s resource-planning, finance and expenditure, and it will be headed by a chief executive.
We are absolutely of the opinion that the chief executive must have the freedom to plan and manage his or her resources, but it is still important that Ministers have some financial control because of the involvement of public money. This is a very well worn principle. Among the public bodies that it applies to—and I do not think that the noble Baroness would argue that it compromises the independence of these bodies—is the Competition Commission, as I have said, and the Greater London Authority. Section 67(2) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 requires the Assembly to consult the mayor in connection with the appointment of Assembly staff, and so on. It also applies to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Being sensible noble Lords, we would probably agree that this is hardly likely to compromise the IPC’s independence while providing a feature of control over the whole budget in terms of public policy. The controls do not go into detail; they only relate to the overall number of staff and their terms and conditions, and, as I have said, it is not a precedent.
I understand why the noble Baroness tabled Amendment No. 16. It clearly is important; it refers to the making of orders, what is included in the orders and some parliamentary controls over some form of orders. If she is content to leave that until later in the debate I am very happy to turn swiftly to the next set of amendments.
The next amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would introduce a new paragraph into Schedule 1, inserting a reference to the IPC into the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, amended in 2005. Its effect, as he says, is to specify that the term “public authorities” includes the IPC in the Secretary of State’s ability to impose specific disability equality duties on a public authority. The noble Lord will know that the IPC will be bound by the general duty; I do not need to reinforce that point. However, I am absolutely happy to assure him that the Government will give proper consideration to what specific equality duties should apply to the IPC, whether on disability or other public sector duties.
I cannot go further than that at this point. As the noble Lord will know, the considerations that govern the application of specific duties are rather legalistic. We are still taking advice on exactly what sort of judgments will be covered. If the noble Lord will leave that with me, I will keep him informed. As soon as I have complete advice, I will ensure that both he and the House of Lords also have it. We are still considering the primary legislation, and the commission is a new body. I reassure the noble Lord that any specific duties appropriate to the IPC will be considered as part of the implementation process.
I will do my best to ensure that that happens.
The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is about accountability and Parliament being kept informed of the operation of the IPC. It would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an annual report covering all matters referred to in Part 1, on which Parliament would have a vote. The Secretary of State made a commitment in the other place to strengthen accountability, and Clause 9 lays out how the Select Committee will have a role in doing so. We will require the IPC to provide the Select Committee with reports on subjects that concern it. Relevant Select Committees should be able to call the chair of the IPC before them to explain not just the overall performance of the organisation, but particular aspects of decisions. The chair and deputy chair of the commission will be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by the Select Committee. This is a new, powerful way of doing things.
In addition, the Bill requires the IPC to prepare annual accounts, which will be scrutinised, and an annual report on the performance of its functions during the year. That will include specific detail about where the commissioner has exercised his powers on, for example, compulsory acquisition. That report will be laid before Parliament. The commission will also be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and, of course, investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration should there be maladministration. That goes further than most analogous bodies.
However, the noble Earl has asked that each House should vote on the report. We must draw the line at that. I cannot think of any other instance where Parliament votes in favour of or against a report provided to it by an external body. The provisions we are making for accountability should serve the noble Earl’s purpose well and, frankly, I do not see what the purpose of such a vote would be. It would be essentially retrospective: the report would be on activities that the IPC had completed in the preceding year. There are procedural issues here, and we need a bit of a reality check.
We have tried hard to strengthen the system so that Parliament is not only informed, but has the ability to scrutinise in quite novel ways. It is a strong package, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will be able to advise his noble friend not to press the amendment.
The fact that Amendments Nos. 11 and 15 do not constitute new provisions does not mean that I think those provisions were necessarily right in the first place. The GLA is sui generis. I do not want to draw on experience there, particularly not as regards departing staff and compensation packages. Therefore, I shall not go there. I hear what the noble Baroness has to say. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
12: Schedule 1, page 142, line 25, leave out paragraph 6
The noble Lord said: My group of amendments has one objective and that is to get rid of the concept of the council, which seems to me to be superfluous and an expensive and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. The Bill starts by defining the Infrastructure Planning Commission and nationally significant infrastructure projects. Clause 36(2) states on page 22:
“An application for an order granting development consent must be made to the Commission”.
It then goes into pre-application procedures and states in Clause 59(2) on page 35 that the commission must decide whether the application,
“is to be handled by a Panel”,
which is, in effect, a sub-committee of the commission, or by a single commissioner, depending, one imagines, on the importance of the application. Clause 59(4) states that the commissioners responsible for making the decision must be members of the council. This is the first mention of the word “council” and you have to go to paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 on page 142 to discover what is meant by the council. Paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 1 states:
“The members of the Council may be different for different purposes”.
Sub-paragraph (3) states:
“Those purposes include (in particular)—
(a) the purpose of deciding a particular application referred under section 82;
(b) the purpose of responding to consultation about a matter”.
Behind this helpful definition the council is effectively a sub-committee of the commission, falling between the commission, the panels and individual commissioners. It seems to me that the function could just as well be performed by a sub-committee of the commission or by one of the panels.
I believe that the council represents an unnecessary and expensive extra layer of bureaucracy. My Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 and all the rest are designed to remove the concept of the council from the Bill. I beg to move.
These amendments concern the council that is to be created within the commission. I listened with great interest to the argument which the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, put forward in support of his amendments. I shall be equally interested to hear the Minister’s response. For my part, I find the role of the council a useful one as the Bill stands.
Under Clause 82, referred to in paragraph 6 of Schedule 1, a single commissioner may report on an application with the final decision being taken by the council. If I understand the role of the council correctly, it will act, in effect, as a peer review of the single commissioner’s report. It seems to me that if the council does its job well, it could be seen as a system of inbuilt checks and balances within the commission.
When responding to the first group of amendments the Minister said that no single commissioner would make the final decision, which means that it must be made by a bigger group within the commission. Obviously, you cannot have the whole commission making the decision as that would be very unwieldy. Therefore, the council constitutes an effort to get a smaller group to make this decision. With that in mind I think it is appropriate that the chairman of the council should be able to exercise their powers of appointment and delegation after due consultation with the commissioners under paragraphs 7, 8 and 9.
For those reasons, as the Bill stands, I regret that I do not support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. However, if the IPC were to only make recommendations, as is suggested in other amendments and as discussed in the first amendment, I can understand why the noble Lord tabled the amendments. The council within the commission may not be so necessary, as the final decision would be taken outside the IPC.
I want to go slightly off script, because thinking about where the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, was coming from provoked me to ask, “Why not scrap the council? What is the council for?”. There are other things, but predominantly it is to make the decision when there is a single commissioner. Then you ask why there is going to be a single commissioner. What is the IPC going to be hearing that requires only a single commissioner? The big infrastructures will be heard by a panel. Therefore, by their very nature, the smaller, more insignificant applications will be heard by a single commissioner.
It rather begs the question of what sort of applications the single commissioner will be hearing. I know that the noble Baroness tried to answer that earlier. If they are so insignificant—the significant ones will be done by the panel—why can they not go through the normal planning process that we have already? The example used by the Minister when she was thinking on her feet was a road junction. That should not be for the IPC to decide; it should be for the normal planning practices that we have currently. That begs the question raised by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith about mission creep. “This one is too difficult locally; let’s put it in for the IPC to decide”. At some stage, we need to know exactly what the IPC will be deciding. The small ones maybe should not be decided by a single commissioner, because they are by their very nature not significant infrastructures. That issue is raised under the amendment.
With Insignificant and nationally significant infrastructure projects, the noble Earl has taken us into the territory of the national policy statements. I shall not follow that, but he has made me think about how the commission will function. It must be the case that, whether it is a single commissioner or a panel, there will be the need to discuss matters that arise, as colleagues in any situation do; they will want to test comparative matters and talk about how procedures are going, and so on. I can see a role for the council, and I am beginning to wonder whether there is not actually a bigger role for the council. I apologise to the noble Lord, who has done so much work on this. I hope he had the assistance of a word processor in finding every reference to the council, because it would have taken ages otherwise. As the noble Earl said, as the Bill stands, I do not think that we should lose the council. I can see its function.
My Amendment No. 254 is in this group. The benefit of reading things again and again, but then hearing other people talk about them, is that suddenly things fall into place. I now understand what that is about. The noble Baroness need not look for it, because I am not going to move it when we come to it. My question has been answered.
It is incredibly reassuring to know that noble Lords do not need a Minister to answer questions. On many of the issues that we have discussed, we could have done without anyone at the Dispatch Box. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, has provided an opportunity to discuss the role to the council and I congratulate him on his assiduousness in drawing the amendments together. I have sympathy in terms of the potential confusion that the term “the council” raises. Although I cannot get rid of the concept of the council, because it is important in concept and in practice, I am happy to discuss what we meant. In fact, that has already ably been done by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, in rather better language when he talked about peer review, because that is part of this. As one looks at the need for collective judgment, one can see a role for these groups of people.
Why have we put forward this organisational model? The term “council” is understood to be a permanent and fixed group of people who undertake what is usually a supervisory function. The concept of the council as set out in paragraphs 6 to 10 of Schedule 1 is not that at all. It is not a layer of bureaucracy, but an important part of ensuring that the right decisions are made in the right way, with the right sort of expertise and judgment available.
I do not wish to reiterate what was said earlier, but essentially we have been talking about the IPC consisting of about 35 commissioners of different skills. At various times the chair and the deputy chair will be able to draw upon that expertise in different ways. They will need to be able to bring people with particular skills for particular purposes—and sometimes for different purposes. Those groupings of between five and nine commissioners will, in effect, be the councils of the commission.
The main task of these small groups will be to take the final decision on any application which has been decided in the first instance by a single commissioner. I resist the temptation to try to explain even more clearly than I did earlier about the example of the road junction. I will write to noble Lords, because it is important to spell out that issue. However, the noble Lord was not quite accurate. The single commissioner will bring a report and recommendation to the relevant council of commissioners for their final judgement.
Regarding the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the collective wisdom of the council can be applied to other roles. A council of relevant commissioners will also advise the chair in the first instance as to whether it is appropriate for a single commissioner to take the application, or whether, in light of the complexity of the issue, a panel of three commissioners is needed to take the decision. If appropriate, we can envisage a fixed group of commissioners who might be appointed to decide a particular category of infrastructure—for example, highway cases. In addition, different groups of commissioners with a combination of skills might be appointed on a case-by-case basis.
Perhaps I may give an example of how I think it will work, bearing in mind that the implementation process is very much in its early days. Let us assume that a developer brings forward an application for a port development. The chair, or delegated deputy chair, looking at the range of expertise and experience in the 35 commissioners, might have already put together a council of the most appropriate people to decide in the first instance how the application should be treated. If the decision is that the application can safely be left to a single commissioner, the same council would in all probability take a final decision. The case would be referred to it by the single commissioner on recommendation. I said “probably” because we cannot set this in stone. It will be for the common sense and judgment of the chair and deputy chair to decide how this works. The council that makes the final decision could, indeed, include different commissioners if that were appropriate.
If the decision is that the case needs three commissioners to scrutinise complex matters of evidence and so on, those three commissioners could be drawn from the same council. But that need not necessarily be the case if other people with particular skills were needed on that panel. The result will be not the fixed concept of a single council but a series of small councils, sitting at any one time and undertaking different functions. The benefit is that that will produce the opposite of the rigid bureaucracy that one could imagine would be created if everything had to be referred upwards to a single council of 35 commissioners. This allows flexibility and fluidity, and it allows the expertise of commissioners to be moved around. They can be deployed more fluidly and that, in turn, will ensure that they are as effective as possible. It allows for proportionate action and decisions in relation to the relative complexity of the applications, and it allows the maximum use of resources. In short, it gives us better value for money.
As I said, if there were to be a fixed council, I would have some sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, because it would be rigid and a waste of time and talent. In this way, the most appropriate skills can be marshalled in relation to different development projects, and there will be collective judgment in instances where a single commissioner has been charged with the initial decision. This combination means that we will have high-quality, impartial decisions, and the appropriate skills will be applied as and when necessary. I hope that that satisfies the Committee that this is a sensible and proportionate way to proceed with the IPC.
Before the noble Lord responds, I wish to say that he made a very good point about terminology. It is a very confusing term and the Minister had to explain it to us. I urge the Government to try to think of an alternative. “Committee” may be the word to choose because it is much more readily understood. It would be a great pity to start with a new body whose component parts were not immediately obvious to the people who had to deal with it.
To me, the strange thing is that it is not just one council. The noble Baroness has just said that there would be a separate council for each speciality, and it is the complexity of the structure of the council that I find very difficult to take. If the councils are making all the decisions, what role is the commission playing? In effect, the councils are sub-committees of the commission, are they not? Is all that complex structuring necessary?
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, perhaps I may intervene as we are in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made a very good point. It is highly confusing to have what I can only describe as a chameleon-like council which can change its composition and colour at any time. It would be a sort of moving body. Those who have to deal with the commission will find that very confusing and perhaps the Government could come up with another description. The Minister made a very good point: there is a need for something between the whole commission and a single commissioner—if there is to be a single commissioner. However, “council” sounds a great deal more permanent than this body, because this body takes different forms at different times, and that could be extremely confusing. I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene.
I thank noble Lords for taking the suggestion seriously and I hope that it will be given further consideration along the lines put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
13A: Schedule 1, page 143, line 4, leave out sub-paragraph (2)
The noble Lord said: I apologise that this is a manuscript amendment. I can only plead that the lawyers—working very late, as so many lawyers do—got the amendment to me after the Public Bill Office had closed on Friday, so I could not table it until this morning. The Public Bill Office seemed to think that I would be in order to move it as a manuscript amendment.
The issue is comparatively simple. Paragraph 7(2) in relation to the council reads:
“The chair may at any time end a person’s appointment as an ordinary member of the Council”.
Given what we have just been discussing about this moveable body—this chameleon-like body—at first sight it might seem a reasonable thing for the chairman to be able to do. He may want to remove one member of the council and perhaps appoint another. However, it has been represented to me that that could lead to potential abuse with quite serious implications. Under the Bill, a single commissioner can be appointed to handle a particular application, as we have seen, and in cases dealt with by a single commissioner the procedure concludes with the submission of a report to the council. But the power of the chair to remove a commissioner from the council could be used, for example, to remove an individual who has adopted a consistent approach in opposing the grant of development consent for a particular type of nationally significant infrastructure project. One hopes that the people appointed to the commission will not be people who come with preconceived ideas, but such things might happen.
I believe that reassurance is required that this power will not be used, because the noble Baroness has made it absolutely clear that the commissioners must have a tenure so that they are not subject to the fear of removal if they make unpopular decisions. Yet this sub-paragraph seems to suggest that a member of the council might be subject to such pressures by the chairman—not by external forces. That anxiety has been raised with me and it is appropriate that I should raise it in this Committee this evening. I beg to move.
The noble Lord has pleaded pressure of time for his manuscript amendment and I shall plead pressure of time for my response. In the context of the grouping on the function of the council, it makes perfect sense for me to say that the power to which he has drawn our attention is another of those powers which simply allow the chair or the deputy chair to be as flexible as possible with the resources available to them in the shape and competence of commissioners. To withdraw that flexibility would make it very difficult for the council to function, so clearly we have a problem with the amendment. Whether it would be used to remove awkward people or people with vested interests or whatever, the problem which has been identified would come under the nature of abuse.
In the light of everything that we have said—the noble Lord cited me—the choice of commissioners would be undertaken very carefully. Anything approaching a vested interest or a track record of opposing particular sorts of infrastructure would be precisely the kind of thing that we would take care to avoid. The code of conduct and the register of interests, which would flush out conflicts of interest, would take care of the potential for abuse which is possible. Given that we have not had time to think about what the noble Lord has said—it is an important point—I hope he will allow me to write to him and to take the point in the context of some of the other things that we have discussed this evening.
The noble Baroness has dealt perfectly adequately with the appointments procedure and consideration of track records. She seems not to have dealt with the issue of someone who, shall we say, evolves or develops, perhaps for very good reason—certainly for very good reason to themselves—and becomes a thorn in the flesh to the chairman. My noble friend has raised an important issue which I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to deal with. If she would copy her letter to my noble friend to me, I should be very grateful. People change in the light of experience. That will be significant and, sometimes, extremely awkward.
I am extremely grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench who, with his customary perspicacity, has recognised the substance of my case. I must apologise profusely to the noble Baroness, because she had very little notice of the amendment. She certainly did her best with it, but that is the problem with manuscript amendments. I also thank her most warmly for her offer to give it consideration and to be in touch with me. There may be a point in her officials meeting the Law Society, which has put that proposition to me. I will discuss that with the Law Society tomorrow but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 14 to 18 not moved.]
19: Schedule 1, page 147, line 13, leave out “must be” and insert “is”
The noble Baroness said: I think that I can be fairly swift with the amendments. They are technical and relate to provisions in the Bill concerning the application of the commission’s seal and execution of contracts and instruments.
The first amendment changes the wording of paragraph 23(1) of Schedule 1 in line with current drafting practice relating to the authentication of seals. The provision was meant to set out the method of authentication that is necessary and sufficient. It was not intended to require a specific person to authenticate every application of every seal, but that is what the words “must be authenticated” in paragraph 23(1) suggest. Therefore, “is” is being substituted for “must be” to avoid anyone being misled.
The second amendment removes paragraph 23(2) from Schedule 1. That provides that a contract or instrument which, if entered into or executed by an individual, would not need to be under seal may be entered into or executed on behalf of the commission by any person who has been authorised by the commission for this purpose. As a result of the Corporate Bodies’ Contracts Act 1960 and the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1989, that sort of old common form provision is unnecessary in Acts other than those extending to Northern Ireland.
With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will permit me to make those changes to the Bill. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
20: Schedule 1, page 147, line 17, leave out sub-paragraph (2)
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]
On Question, Whether Schedule 1 shall be agreed to?
The problem with raising this at this stage is that, having dealt with the first group of amendments, we have effectively dealt with the question of whether the schedule should stand part of the Bill. In those circumstances, I do not intend to pursue the matter.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 [Code of conduct]:
[Amendments Nos. 22 to 24 not moved.]
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 [Register of Commissioners' interests]:
[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]
Clause 5 [National policy statements]:
27: Clause 5, page 2, line 36, leave out “may” and insert “must”
The noble Lord said: We move to the important business of national policy statements. There is no question but that they are a good idea, but it is important that they do not emerge in areas that are not laid out in Clause 14(6). Hence we decided to table this amendment, which would change the Secretary of State’s duty in this regard. If it were accepted, it would secure and limit the powers of the Secretary of State, who could not dream up another source of national policy at some point in the future.
Amendment No. 29 would bring forward the list from Clause 14(6) to Clause 5 to ensure that the national policy statements cover only those areas. Amendment No. 31 is another attempt to prevent mission creep. The Secretary of State should not have an open-ended power. It is better that the intentions are laid out clearly in the Bill from the beginning and that a clear process is established. All the amendments are quietly designed to ensure that the Bill as we pass it remains in the form in which it is passed, assuming of course that we pass it. That has yet to be seen.
Amendment No. 51 specifically recognises flood risk in particular locations. One tends to think of flood risk exclusively in the context of rivers that burst their banks, but we need to remember that most of our nuclear power stations are on the coast and are all susceptible to rising sea levels. The thought of a nuclear power station being inundated in half a century’s time, even if it is out of action, is unacceptable. A large load of radioactive material being lapped by the sea would not be tolerable for anyone. We need to think very carefully about that, particularly in view of the potential for the site-specific nature of proposals for nuclear power that have been made. It is fine if the nuclear power station is on the top of a cliff. It is quite another thing if it happens to be, say, Dungeness, which is on the end of a long spit of very low-lying land, all of which is susceptible to rising sea levels. A similar thing could be said about Sizewell and possibly other power stations. Identifying flood risk is important, because precautions will unquestionably be required.
That deals with the substance of the amendments. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.
I have two amendments in this group, but it might be easier if I consider the amendments in numerical order. I have a few comments to make on the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Amendment No. 27 is good and I have a lot of sympathy with it. Many Members of the Committee have spoken about the importance of national policy statements, which are fundamental to achieving a policy framework within which different types of projects can be delivered and, we hope, passed by the new system.
On Amendment No. 29, I cannot understand whether the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, wants to confine the policy statements to energy, transport, water, waste water and waste. It seems to me that policy statements are required for everything. Under Clause 14, if I have counted correctly, there are 16. Perhaps I misunderstood the noble Lord, but we should need a policy statement for nuclear power stations just as much as for waste or something like that. I probably have misinterpreted what he said, but perhaps he could clarify that.
On Amendment No. 32, in my name, I am concerned that the five transport-related infrastructure projects under Clause 14(1)(g), (h), (i), (j) and (k) could end up with different national policy statements that possibly do not bear as much relation to each other as they might. For example, we still have our airport policy, which could convert into a national policy statement requiring a third runway to be built at Heathrow. But I suspect that quite soon Ministers may decide they have to catch up with the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats and propose a high-speed line, which would go through Heathrow to Scotland and London. Whether both are needed is a debate that should be had, but it is no good having one policy statement for air, another for rail and another for road.
I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I am very pleased that rail freight interchanges are included in the Bill. Rail freight interchanges could happen at airports as well. Air freight could easily be transferred from air to rail, which could save a lot of the traffic around airports that causes the traffic jams we see today. There is an enormous benefit in the Government agreeing that the five transport-related infrastructure projects should come under one policy statement. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say about that.
On Amendment No. 43, there is an inconsistency in whether national policy statements, under Clause 5, will be site specific. In the past, I have discussed that with my noble friend and officials, but I do not have a logical answer. To be site specific, you presumably would produce a national policy statement on nuclear power stations; for example, one will be next to Sizewell, one will be at Dungeness, whether or not there are floods, and another one will be somewhere else. We could debate the point of producing a national policy statement which specifies the exact site.
On the other hand, if that is done for ports, Ministers will find that port owners and operators will get extremely angry. They see the importance of the private sector being able to compete on equal terms between, say, Southampton ABP, Felixstowe and anywhere else. With some justification they would complain bitterly if the Government were to say, “We’ll have a port at Felixstowe and we won’t have one at Southampton, but we might have one in Romney Marsh”. I urge my noble friend to look at subsection (5) and indicate in her response how site-specific these policy statements are going to be. They may be route-specific or site-specific, or they may not be specific at all. There is a serious inconsistency here, and I think it would be better to change the reference in paragraph (a) from “specified area” to “a region”. If this is a series of national policy statements, a region is probably a better area to look at than, say, an area down the field and turning left at the signpost.
I have a number of amendments in this group, but first I should like to say how strongly I agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, particularly on his Amendment No. 32. My Amendments Nos. 38 and 54, to which we shall come later, also express anxiety about the integration of national policy statements as a whole raft because, like the noble Lord, I am concerned about little groups drafting worthy documents that do not work as a whole. We shall come to the parliamentary processes which ought to tease out problems in this area, but it is best to start by accepting that while the noble Lord has picked on transport as the most vivid example, almost no item in the list is not affected by policy on other items.
Before the noble Baroness moves on to her next issue, does she agree that the discussion we shall have in the next day or so on the parliamentary process will not solve the problem of having a series of different policy statements? That is because if you have one, but the next is not due for two years, there is no solution.
I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, and I may have given him the wrong impression with my words. What I meant was that the parliamentary process should tease out through comments by parliamentarians and by those who make representations to them whether this problem exists.
My amendments start with Amendment No. 44, which seeks to amend Clause 5(5). We are told in paragraph (b) that the policy statement “may”—I take that as a “must” type of may—
“set out criteria to be applied in deciding whether a location is suitable … for a specified description of development”.
The preceding paragraph, paragraph (a), refers to development and uses the words “amount, type and size”. I have simply repeated the formula in order to obtain what I hope will be the Minister’s confirmation that that is what is in fact intended.
Amendment No. 46 amends paragraph (d), although I should have tabled a similar amendment to paragraph (b) as well. Paragraph (d) refers to where the policy statement is to,
“identify one or more locations as suitable (or potentially suitable)”.
I find the words “potentially suitable” very difficult. I have been struggling with the concept of site-specific or location-specific, but how can a location ever be more than potentially suitable if the IPC is to have a job to do and a decision to make? I look forward to the Minister’s response. It is not a frivolous amendment. Amendment No. 47 is similar to Amendment No. 44.
Amendment No. 48 would leave out the paragraph providing for the policy to identify particular statutory undertakers as the appropriate persons to carry out certain developments. I query whether it is appropriate for a policy statement to identify particular undertakers. This is crossing the line and is beyond policy. If we are going to stick to the hierarchy to which we are all signing up and we need to get the policy right, we should not be distracted by who should do it. You then start thinking whether they are in a position to do it, whether they will have the funds and what the relationship is between government and the particular undertaker. That is out of place at this point.
Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 are essentially one amendment to paragraph (f), which states that the statement may,
“set out circumstances in which it is appropriate for a specified type of action to be taken to mitigate the impact of a specified description of development”.
That is the wrong way round because it seems to accept that mitigation will sort out the problem. One should identify the problem first and then consider whether it is possible to mitigate the impact. My wording is an attempt to put things the other way about and to change the order.
I have some sympathy with the sentiments behind Amendments Nos. 32 and 38. It is important that we should have an overarching view of various types of infrastructure development. My understanding is that, on energy at least, the Government’s intention is that there should be one overarching national policy statement. That would then be supported by individual NPSs in relation to, for example, renewables, nuclear energy and so on. As to the concern of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, it should also be possible, and desirable, to group the transport infrastructure in such a way. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister what intentions, if any, the Government have on that at this point.
I wonder whether it is right, however, to set this in stone on the face of the Bill. That would make the policy inflexible. At some stage in the future the Government may wish to bring forward proposals for national policy statements that depart in some way from it and setting it in stone might cause more difficulty. For example, the generation of electricity may well have a greater importance in future in relation to certain forms of transport infrastructure, particularly railways.
Amendment No. 51 relates to flood risk. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to nuclear power in relation to that. My understanding from the consultation on the strategic siting assessment is that there are two forms of criteria—exclusionary criteria and discretionary criteria. Those that are exclusionary, at least in the consultation document at the moment, relate almost exclusively to geological and other issues. The risk of flooding is identified within the strategic siting assessment but it is discretionary because, as engineers will tell you, there is virtually nothing that cannot be engineered out—the question is whether it can be done in a cost-effective way. I mention that merely because, from my knowledge, at least, it is not something that the Government are not aware of, particularly in relation to nuclear power. I would think that that will be one of the fundamental issues that Parliament will look at when the Secretary of State brings forward the national policy statement for parliamentary approval. Again, the question might be whether it is necessary to set this out in the Bill or whether it can be dealt with through the national policy statement.
I should like to add to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, has said, particularly with reference to nuclear stations. Last year there was a report by Jackson Consulting, at the request of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, on the best potential sites for new nuclear power stations. By that time it was clearly going to be the Government’s policy that there should be new nuclear build.
I shall not go into great detail, but that report listed three categories of site that would be suitable for new stations. Not surprisingly, most of them were existing power stations, on sites either of the existing one or immediately adjacent to it. That is for two very good reasons. The first is that at those sites the infrastructure for transmission is already in being—even though some of it may have to be upgraded, as I think is becoming apparent. Secondly, there is likely to be far less popular opposition to a nuclear power station if a lot of jobs depend on it. If the existing stations—all of them Magnox at present, but eventually some of the AGR stations will be included—are going to be closed down and decommissioned, the local community will want the continuity of jobs. The report recently presented by Professor Pidgeon and his colleagues from Cardiff and East Anglia universities has also emphasised that there is a considerably greater appeal for new nuclear build in the areas where there are existing nuclear power stations.
The third category in the Jackson Consulting report is one or two former—as they will be—coal power stations. Under the European large plant directive, they are going to have to be closed because they are too polluting. There again, the infrastructure is there and it is certain that the local population will want the jobs that would be available in building and operating new nuclear power stations.
In relation to that, and in relation to this clause, it seems highly appropriate that the national policy statement should be, in that sense, site specific. It may not want to mention all the sites by name; I do not know. Nevertheless, I would have thought that the Government, in putting forward their national policy statement, would say that there was clearly a preference for building any nuclear power stations on sites where they can have the benefit of the existing transmission infrastructure and are likely to have the support of local populations. I do not know how this is going to be done, but here is a case where it would be perfectly appropriate for the national policy statement to give some indication of what would be the preferred location of the infrastructure that it is referring to. I understand the points that were made about wanting to take that out, but this is an example of where, on the basis of existing knowledge and existing reports, I am sure BERR would be able to produce a national policy statement that would, to that extent, indicate the preferred location.
Of course, as I am sure the noble Baroness will want to reaffirm once again, the actual decision on where applications will be made will be for the private sector companies that will be doing the investing. A number of them are already negotiating. There is the merger currently going ahead between British Energy and EDF—Électricité de France. Energy Solutions, a company that I have mentioned in the House on previous occasions, is currently decommissioning nuclear power stations in the south of England; it is very anxious to get consideration regarding building a new one at Wylfa, one possibly at Oldbury and another in Essex—somewhere that begins with a B—
I am most grateful to my noble friend. At this hour of the night, my brain ceases to function properly. Those are projects that are actually going ahead. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is seeking to attract interest in the sites where it is decommissioning nuclear power stations because it has the sites. As everyone has said about British Energy and the NDA, they have the sites. In those circumstances, it seems entirely appropriate that the national policy statements should clearly include that policy. In that way, we would be encouraging the local communities and removing any anxieties that other communities, which may not want a nuclear power station at all, may have one foisted on them.
This is an important issue and, as other noble Lords have often said, there is a need to get ahead with this. We will be in considerable difficulties in five or six years’ time if we close power stations when there are no new ones to replace them. A recent book by Professor Fells emphasised this—he believes that the lights will go out in the middle of the next decade and that there is not much we can do about it now. The trouble is that it has all been left too late—10 years have been wasted. Those of us who said right at the beginning that we should have new nuclear build have been vindicated, but it has taken 10 years for us to make our point.
I know that BERR is drafting a national policy statement on gas storage which it hopes will be ready by the middle of next year. But it is a little difficult for us to debate these matters when we do not have any examples in front of us, even in draft, of what the thing might be. We have to give the Government the maximum amount of freedom to decide how this will be done. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said about transport. Like him, I shall wait to see how the Minister responds. We must not be too specific about this. It is the heart of the new planning policy and it must be allowed to work properly.
I remind the noble Lord of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said when she spoke to Amendment No. 48. In the scenario that the noble Lord is painting, the national policy statement for nuclear power would propose six sites around the country—the number does not really matter. He then said that EDF has two, somebody else has the other one and somebody else has the last one. That is coming very close to the worry expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which I share, that by producing such statements the Government are giving these companies an enormous start-up present because they have monopolies and no one else can build a nuclear power station anywhere else. That, of course, assumes that these stations will get built in the private sector. There is some debate about that but, if they are, I would be very careful about specifying the number because, as the companies will then own them all, they will be sitting pretty.
It is obvious that this is a matter to which the Government are giving great thought, as are a number of us. They are talking to the companies about this and saying that it is important that it should not be just one group with one design. There has been a lot of rather ill informed comment in the press following the announcement of the British Energy/EDF merger that a monopoly run by the French will be created, which is not the case at all. There are other companies: the German company E.ON, the American company EnergySolutions, and still lurking in the wings is General Electric, whose man I was talking to the other day in London. It has not gone away—the department is not sure, but I can tell it that it has not. It is still interested. There are at least two different designs. Therefore, if we have, as I suspect, 10 or thereabouts new nuclear power stations within the next 20 or 25 years, there will be at least two designs and there will not be a monopoly. The Government are absolutely right to try to create the conditions where there is not a monopoly.
I refer to Amendment No. 32, proposed by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. As he knows, I share his enthusiasm for rail and freight. I apologise for not repeating earlier the declaration of interest that I made at Second Reading that I am a partner in a company that works with major developers on major schemes. One of them was a rail freight interchange, but that was some years ago. Now I fear that my good will ends because I am not entirely supportive of my noble friend, but I may not have entirely understood his proposal.
Years ago, the most vociferous lobby for a single, overarching view of policy was the transport lobby. People thought that you could have a single policy that brought together rail, road, buses, air and ports. If my noble friend’s amendment means that there should be a sole policy statement in the transport area which brings everything together, I would be extremely dubious, because, as he vigorously pointed out, ports and other parts want to compete. Shipping changes over time. If one bit changes, you need a whole new national transport policy statement that goes through everything again. A change in a port must be reflected in a change in highway policy and airport policy, leading to a clogging-up of the arteries. The notion often promoted by transport enthusiasts of a great scheme of things that brings everything together is always doomed to disaster. It finishes up in a meaningless, broad-brush statement. I ask my noble friend to reflect carefully on whether he should press his amendment. It is far better to have clear statements in individual areas. One should by all means seek at all times to show where the intersections of different elements occur and where the flexibility for development over time lies.
That raises timescales. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has said eloquently on a number of occasions that we should think where we will be in 2050. The timescales of national policy statements also have to be handled with great care, because the longer you go out, the more flexibility you have to build in. Then it becomes more opaque and meaningless at the edges. It would therefore be extremely helpful to hear from my noble friend on a future occasion—not tonight, because time is pushing—the thinking about timescales, which will differ depending on the national policy statement. I ask my noble friend Lord Berkeley not to become too enthusiastic for the overarching, big-bang solution for all time for all transport. I am very dubious about that as a proposition.
That was a very interesting series of debates, because this group of amendments covers a number of different sorts of issues. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for his excellent exposition of locationally specific decisions on nuclear energy and to my noble friend Lord Woolmer for putting, far better than I shall be able to, the problems of having a single transport NPS.
I shall be as quick as possible because I know that time is getting on. This group of amendments addresses a number of goals. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Amendments Nos. 44, 46, 47, 49, 50 and 55, would mean that when setting out criteria for deciding suitability of a location, or identifying suitable locations for particular development, NPSs can identify the amount, type and size of proposed development. Amendment No. 48 would also remove the discretion to identify an individual statutory undertaker as appropriate to carry out a specified description of development. Amendment No. 46 was about the definition of suitable as opposed to potentially suitable, while Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 were about other things.
I shall start with Amendment No. 48, although noble Lords will have to bear with me because my speaking notes are in a slightly different order from the order in which the amendments were raised.
On why we have identified a particular statutory undertaker as appropriate to carrying out a development, the amendment probes the relevance to decision-making of doing that and identifying the particular promoter. In some cases, such as with highways or rail, only certain developers—the Highways Agency or Network Rail—may provide infrastructure. Clause 5(5)(e) simply allows organisations in such circumstances to be identified, where appropriate. Clause 5(8) defines what is meant by statutory undertakers in this clause. The amendment would remove the ability to ensure that only suitable organisations were able to undertake development. We do not envisage that it would be used by any means in every national policy statement, especially where applications come forward through the market, but we need to retain that ability to specify.
I imagine the Minister will want to move on moderately rapidly through the amendments but, on that point, if only certain bodies are in a position to act as developers, I do not see that it is necessary to say that at all. It raises the sorts of questions that we have debated.
Part of the problem with the amendment, however, is that it would also have an adverse impact on the blight provisions set out in Clause 168(6), which define “appropriate authority” for the purposes of Chapter 2 of Part VI of the Town and Country Planning Act. The amendments would create some confusion about the responsibility for any blight caused by the national policy statement. That is one reason why we have the provision. The amendment would have the unintended consequence that responsibility for any blight caused by the NPS would fall upon the Secretary of State, rather than upon the statutory undertaker, who would provide the infrastructure and would therefore be expected to purchase the land in due course. This is clearly very technical, and I would prefer the security of being able to write and pursue this in some detail, if that is acceptable.
Amendments Nos. 44 and 47 seek to specify that when setting out criteria for deciding suitability of a location or identifying suitable locations for particular development, NPSs may take into account amount, type and size of proposed development. I think that the noble Baroness was seeking to tighten the definition of what should be taken into account and she asked me whether that was, indeed, the burden of this.
Clause 5(5) is permissive. Although it is not explicitly set out in the Bill, NPSs may already take account of such detail when setting out criteria for deciding suitability of location or identifying suitable locations for particular development. Actually setting out those sorts of criteria will meet the noble Baroness’s concerns there.
I address briefly the issue of location specificity. Ministers made a commitment in the other place that both nuclear and aviation NPSs would be location-specific policy statements. That was partly to make it clear that Ministers, when they took account of the views of Parliament and the public, would take difficult decisions regarding which locations would be suitable for development in those areas. My right honourable friend Hazel Blears said on Report that the,
“statements that cover nuclear power stations and airport development—the two most contentious forms of development covered by the Bill—will be location specific”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/06/08; col. 348.]
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, described why the locations of nuclear power stations would be in all logic constrained by a number of different factors.
More choices are to be made with other NPSs. Clearly the NPS itself will not be as locationally specific, but it will set out criteria about the types of locations that might be suitable for the development of NSIPs.
The terms “suitable” and “potentially suitable” are virtually interchangeable. They highlight that the suitability itself might be conditional on external factors. One cannot set out specific criteria for these situations in all cases. The NPSs must be rational and sensible documents. In all cases we expect the identification of the suitability of a location to be ultimately dependent on the details of the particular project proposal. It would be one of the tasks of the IPC. The IPC would have to look closely at the details. I am addressing Amendment No. 46 in this context. It would have to look at the specific application and the precise siting of potential impacts to determine whether the application was appropriate to go in the place identified.
In some cases it is possible that the suitability of a location identified in an NPS was conditional and not simply on the details of the particular application. There would be other factors as well—for example, we might find that there was a location that was suitable for an airport. That might depend on whether the air quality was of a satisfactory standard regardless of the details of the other aspects of the project actually fitting the other sets of criteria. The flexibility that these terms give us is important.
It seems to me that the noble Baroness is addressing an amendment that I have not tabled. It is as though I am trying to take out “suitable”. I entirely agree with her. All I am saying is that the provision should be limited to “potentially suitable”. Her argument seems to be that one cannot go beyond “potentially suitable”, and that is precisely my argument.
I take the noble Baroness’s point. In fact I think that everything I have said applies to “potentially suitable”, for the very reason that I gave.
Perhaps I may move to the question of mission creep and Amendments Nos. 27, 29 and 53. Noble Lords argue that it is necessary to place these conditions in the Bill to prevent it extending its sphere of influence beyond the parameters set out in Clause 14. I understand why noble Lords are exercised about this. The provisions of the Bill are specifically drawn up in order to prevent this happening. Perhaps I may give some reassurance here. My fears are that Amendment No. 27 could constrain Ministers in ways that would not be helpful. I do not think noble Lords would want to do that.
The principal purpose of national policy statements is to provide a clear statement of national policy on particular nationally significant infrastructure which will be relevant to the IPC.
However, there may be occasions when the Secretary of State wishes to set out aspects of national policy in relation to the fields in question without designating them for the purposes of the Bill. For example, Ministers would decide to publish a general and wide-ranging statement of policy in relation to any of the infrastructure types covered by the Bill, setting out long-term strategic goals, but which was not intended to function as a decision-making tool. The amendment would remove that. The Secretary of State must retain the flexibility and authority to set out policy statements in future, as happens now, alongside the NPSs.
Ministers may also wish to set out policy in relation to an area of infrastructure covered by the Bill but aimed at decision-making below the threshold set out in the Bill, such as in certain planning policy statements. They would be directed at local planning authorities rather than the IPC. Amendment No. 27 would constrain Ministers from doing that, and foreclose on these important possibilities. Any such documents will obviously form part of the policy background that national policy statements must take into account. Indeed, the NPS would have to explain how it had taken those sorts of policy statements into account, and the full range of factors set out there.
Amendments Nos. 29 and 53 attempt to restrict the areas in which the Secretary of State can set out policy in an NPS to developments in the fields of energy, transport, water, waste water and waste. They clarify that national policy statements might be issued in relation to the categories of project set out in Clause 14. In fact, they would have no practical effect. NPSs will be designated under the proposals of the Bill for the purposes of the Bill. Although they will have the same status as other statements of national policy for the TCPA system generally, their principal purpose is in relation to an application for development consent for a nationally significant infrastructure project, as set out in Clause 14. Clause 14 makes it clear that any new projects could be added to this list only if they fell within those fields. I understand that Members of the Committee were seeking clarification, but—
I do not understand some of that; maybe it is the time of night. I thought that the whole point of the Bill and the policy statement was to give developers comfort. They have an enormous amount of work before anything even gets to the NPC, which they will have to fund themselves. If they comply with the national policy statement, however, they have a good chance of getting a fair hearing and possibly getting permission. Without a policy statement, where is the comfort for them to go ahead?
Maybe my noble friend misunderstood me. He is absolutely right that national policy statements will be the decision-making frameworks that the IPC will follow. Developers need to know that there is certainty and clarity. I am saying that the amendments’ objectives are achieved by Clause 14. I obviously did not explain it clearly enough.
I was reassuring Members of the Committee that the Bill will apply only to the five broad types of development set out in Clause 14. Amendment No. 31 would require publication of a process and a timetable for each case. The amendment was tabled in the other place, and the Member who did so expressed concerns that the processes for designation, consultation and so on might not be adequate, especially in the context of Clause 12’s provision for designating pre-existing statements of policy. I understand the need for Members of the Committee to be reassured that we have a clear and appropriate process that meets these same high standards, whether they are newly designated or based on existing standards.
The amendment would not have much practical effect. It requires the publication of only a process and timetable before designation, at the very end of the process. However, I shall address the spirit of the amendment and hopefully allay the noble Lord’s concerns. We can all agree that it is important that NPSs are produced in a timely and efficient manner. Each NPS will need to undergo public consultation, appraisal of sustainability and parliamentary scrutiny. However, they will vary a lot in complexity, depending on the type of infrastructure with which they deal. Therefore, the timescales will differ as well, so I do not think we can set down a specified timetable. We need the flexibility to respond appropriately, but the amendment would not enable us to do that. However, I take the point and we will address as best we can the issue of having a clear and specified process. Different issues of varying degrees of impact will arise too, which is why we need to achieve a balance between flexibility and speed.
Amendment No. 32 would require a single NPS dealing with all the transport projects set out in Clause 14. The noble Lord argued eloquently that it is important that strategic policy priorities related to transport infrastructure are considered together, in view of the relationships and interactions between them, to ensure consistency and synergy. I assure him that the Government are actively pursuing the development of an overarching transport strategy, as set out in the discussion document Towards a Sustainable Transport Strategy, which we published last year. That approach reflected the advice of the Eddington report, looking across the transport modes and markets at the outcomes. The DfT will be consulting formally later this year on the emerging conclusions and the next steps.
The transport strategy will extend far wider than the relatively few major infrastructure schemes that will be affected by the Bill. It will look across all the transport networks and the physical infrastructure. I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Woolmer for putting this so powerfully. Putting all that into an NPS would make for an unwieldy, complex and probably very delayed document. Having done that, it would be difficult to distil the key issues. I am afraid that it could hinder rather than help. However, the overarching strategy is subject to a substantial programme of further analysis. The aim is to produce by 2012 a programme of action for implementation from 2014 onwards. Therefore, it makes more sense at this stage to produce an NPS which is specific to the sectors and networks that we need to deal with. However, I assure noble Lords that care will be taken to establish consistency. One of the objectives of having an NPS is to relate one to the other without creating huge comprehensive policy documents in so doing, but they will have to read across and we shall try to make that as explicit as possible.
Amendment No. 43 seeks to tie national policy statements into the regional planning framework and it is extremely important to do that. We must have the various layers of the planning decision system tied closely together. The NPSs will inform the regional spatial strategies as well as local development frameworks. However, this amendment would create confusion as it would create an impression that NPSs might operate at a regional level. That is a problem. However, NPSs seek to set out national policy in relation to infrastructure and then it will be fed down the planning chain. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that explanation.
Amendment No. 32A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would require a Secretary of State to consider any request from an applicant for the production of a national policy statement on an issue on which a national policy statement has not yet been produced. The whole burden of what we have said today is that it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to produce a national policy statement to meet national needs. Government Ministers are fully in the frame. However, when coming to a view on whether an NPS would be appropriate for a certain area of infrastructure they have an obligation to listen to stakeholders. This is something that I should like to think occurs as a matter of course. However, the noble Lord has put that necessity on the record and that was an important contribution. I do not think that we need to specify it in legislation.
Amendment No. 51 would require an NPS to set out the flood risk of identified locations. Noble Lords rightly argue that flood risk is an extremely important consideration, and should be included in the Bill. I certainly do not dispute the increasing importance of taking into account PPS 25 with its various degrees of flood risk identified in terms of the planning decision.
I think that the amendment, however, adds too great a level of detail to the Bill. If we were to add flood risk, I can see that we might end up adding all sorts of things. The key is appraisal of sustainability, which is key to the policy development process. That will assess the various impacts and will ensure that they are properly taken account of. I have made it clear during the debates today that NPSs must integrate the environmental, social and economic aspects of policy and all the relevant planning policy documents, which certainly includes PPS25 on flooding. That will be critical, whatever infrastructure we are talking about. Under Clause 5(6), Ministers must give reasons for the policies set out in the statement. We can expect a clear explanation of the factors, and in some instances they will include flooding. NPSs will be subject to public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. Flood risk is very much in the minds of the public and in our minds here in Parliament.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 are the final items in the list of examples of policy that may be included in a national policy statement. I think the intention of the noble Lord was to allow NPSs to specify when a type of development is appropriate only if specific mitigation is applied. Nothing in Clause 5 rules that out. I would like to look again at what the noble Baroness said to make sure that we have an adequate response.
I am sorry to have taken such a long time. If there had not been so many different amendments, I would not have taken so much time. They were all worth debating. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken.
I am looking at the clock and wondering how soon midnight might arrive. This has been a very interesting and helpful debate, and I will run through one or two points that arose, which I do not regret. I was slightly amused when the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, wondered how we managed to reduce 16 areas down to five, and then began to talk about a uniform, overarching transport policy. That seemed to me to make my point. The subjects in Clause 16 can be reduced to the five headings that we gave in Amendment No. 27.
The only thing that I want to say on the question of overarching policy across particular fields is that you have to cater for complete changes in circumstances. Historically, the obvious example is the impact of the railways on coaching and coaching inns. More recently, very much in our time, the channel ferries thought that they had it made until someone dreamed up the tunnel. We have to be able to cater for that sort of change. That is a particular area.
I agree with the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about site specificity. This is very difficult. The fact of the matter is that the commission will be considering specific sites and, if granted, the permission will relate to the site and not to the owner or operator of the site at the time. If the current financial explosions were to have an impact on an applicant two or three years down the line and they had to pack up and go out of business, a successor would still have the benefit of the permission, and there would not be a problem. However, I find myself wondering about a subject that we have not mentioned tonight and which perhaps ought to be covered. What might the regulators make of this? All our major national undertakers are subject to regulators. We have not really discussed the question of regulators in relation to this whole issue. Regulators might well have a view if an undertaker had to change. At some point, we perhaps need to give that some consideration.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, also sympathised with our amendment and raised the question of flood risk and nuclear sites. My problem with flood risk is that one has to consider it in the context of timescales. In my area in 2001, we had a one-in-800-years flood. The problem with such a flood is that nothing prevents you having another one in the succeeding year. Thank heavens, that has not happened, but no one whom I have read has considered what the potential sea level rise will be in 800 years if we continue along our present path. At that point it becomes very significant and perhaps we need to think about this matter strategically in relation to coastal sites for power stations. My view is that the insurers are doing very nicely out of that one-in-800-years flood. They have upped their premiums accordingly and they may take the money for 800 years before it is called on. We need to recognise that there are long-term risks out there that are longer than the timescales that we are used to thinking about.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness says that our amendment on floods is too severe to be considered, but I am glad that she has some sympathy with it. I shall read the whole of her response with considerable interest, because she covered a number of points in great detail. I could go on for another 10 minutes, but I guess that at this hour the Committee would prefer that I did not. With the assurance that I shall read with interest her response to my noble friend Lord Jenkin and her statement, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.