House of Lords
Monday, 6 October 2008.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.
Introduction: Lord Judge
Lord Judge—The Right Honourable Sir Igor Judge, Knight, having been appointed Lord Chief Justice and created Baron Judge, of Draycote in the County of Warwickshire, for life, was introduced between the Lord Woolf and the Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.
Death of Members
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the deaths during the Summer Recess of the noble Lords, Lord Russell-Johnston, Lord Varley, Lord Bruce-Lockhart and Lord Thomson of Monifieth. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to those noble Lords’ families and friends.
Government: Ministerial Changes
My Lords, perhaps I may be the first after the Summer Recess to welcome the new Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon. We very much look forward to working with her, as we have with her predecessors. We wish her good fortune in that job, particularly offering our support in her dealing with House matters as Leader of the whole House.
I should also like to pay a special tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, who has been tremendously promoted to European Commissioner. It is a post which, I think, surprised her almost as much as me, since, on Friday, I was having lunch with her when the Prime Minister rang her mobile telephone. He, I have to say, was even more surprised to hear that she was having lunch with me. In the relatively short time that the noble Baroness was Leader, she demonstrated most ably how she led for the whole House by finding that balance between representing the whole House and still being a party politician. That should remain as an example for us all. From this side, we wish her the best of good fortune in her post and we hope to see her from time to time in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I associate these Benches with the good wishes expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I am not surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has gone to Brussels. Anyone watching the skill and knowledge she deployed during the passage of the Lisbon Bill will know that our Commission portfolio in Brussels is now in very safe hands, and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will have at least one friend when he wants to go over there.
Turning to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, Lady Royall, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out the skills and attributes needed in a Leader of the House. I think that one is needed above all—to be a good listener. When we recall that the noble Baroness spent so many years working for the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, we know that she must have that skill in spades. She also left a vacancy that has been filled by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. The noble Lord has often been the good soldier Svejk of this Government, going out into no man’s land to defend the indefensible. It is a great encouragement to see that he did after all have a field-marshal’s baton in his knapsack. We wish them both well.
My Lords, on behalf of the Cross Benches I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, on her appointment as an EU Commissioner. We will feel her absence in the House and we wish her well, while having no doubt that her robust and can-do approach will add immeasurably to the work of the Commission. Our congratulations also go with great pleasure to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, on her appointment as Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council. I will miss my weekly meetings with her, but that is a small price to pay for the work of this place being passed into such safe hands. Finally, but by no means least, I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on his appointment as the government Chief Whip. I look forward very much to working with him in the future.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I offer my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I have particular memories of working with her on an education Bill and on various debates. It always struck me that no one else in the House could speak as quickly as her. At the end of one debate I passed her a note with a Gilbert and Sullivan quotation:
“This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter
Isn’t generally heard, and if it is it doesn’t matter”.
I would not quite want that to be my last word about her because it is not absolutely true, and I am sure that she will bring that sharp and engaging way of speaking to her new job. All I can say about the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is that my hair was once the colour of hers, but it has all gone now. However, I can assure her that I have sired three offspring redheads because the red gene is very strong. Finally, I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on his appointment. We have very much enjoyed working with him.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken today for their kind remarks about my noble friends Lady Ashton and Lord Bassam, and for what they have said about me. I am very grateful. That is perhaps an understatement. Someone once said that a week is a long time in politics. From my own experience of the changes to Government announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, clearly a day is now a long time in politics. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, told us that my noble friend was lunching with him when she got the call from the Prime Minister; I was in the swimming pool. It was an enormous surprise.
My noble friend Lady Ashton is unable to be with us today. Her duties as the UK’s Commissioner-designate in the European Commission are already heavy and undoubtedly will get much heavier. I echo and share the tributes that have been paid to her. My noble friend Lady Ashton—I am sure she will be appalled to hear herself called Lady Ashton rather than Cathy—has been for the last year a spirited and dynamic Leader of the House and, of course, a highly effective Minister in your Lordships’ House for a great deal longer. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her energy boundless. She had an extraordinary capacity to master a brief and I watched in awe her handling of the European Union (Amendment) Bill. Although she will, of course, continue to be a Member of the House, she will be missed as Leader and as a constant presence with your Lordships. Our loss is very much Brussels’s gain.
I am deeply honoured, privileged and humbled to stand here as Leader of your Lordships’ House. I believe that we have a strong and exciting government team in the House of Lords and I look forward to working with it. Cathy Ashton—my noble friend Lady Ashton—very much saw herself as Leader of the whole House as well as of these Benches. I entirely agree that that is the role of the Leader of the House, and I shall discharge that role and the privilege of carrying it out to the very best of my ability. The job of the Government is to serve. I have a very high and warm regard for this House. In fact, I love the House of Lords. It is an immensely special place and, as I pledge myself to be its Leader, I pledge myself also to be its servant. My Lords, I look forward to working with you all.
My Lords, the percentage of NHS expenditure on drugs was 14.3 per cent in 1996-97, which is £4,735 million, and 13.1 per cent, which is £10,545 million, in 2006-07. However, I am afraid that we are not comparing like with like because funding for the NHS in 1996-97 was on a cash basis and in 2006-07 it had changed to a more accurate measure of resources. By using restated figures, we are in fact spending more money than before.
My Lords, I doubt that anyone is convinced by these new statistics. The Compendium of Health Statistics, which is the official version, states that the cut is from 11.7 per cent to 10.5 per cent—in effect, a cut of £1 billion. Is that not, in effect, the reason why our cancer patients do not get the drugs they deserve and which other countries provide? Is it not about time that the NICE management was brought to task so that its methodology is published and that it takes a reasonable, not immense, amount of time evaluating these drugs? Finally, will the Minister recognise that these poor patients, who have a very short life, deserve these drugs?
My Lords, that is a compendium supplementary question. I shall do my best to cover some of the points raised by the noble Lord; if I do not cover them all, I undertake to write to him. The growth in drugs over that period has been higher than the growth in overall NHS expenditure. The average growth of drugs was 5.6 per cent clear above inflation compared to the average growth of 5.2 per cent in overall NHS expenditure. The noble Lord referred to issues around cancer patients. He will know that from next year we are abolishing prescription charges for all cancer patients. He may also be aware that the review of top-up fees being completed by Professor Richards will be with us very shortly. The Government are committed to not only providing cost-effective drug treatment for NHS patients but also to allowing the innovation that is necessary to ensure that the new drugs are available to those who need them.
My Lords, my noble friend is right that satisfaction is much higher than it was. Indeed, the Government are working hard to ensure that we use our resources in the best possible way. For example, we have issued guidance to the NHS saying that it is not acceptable to use a lack of NICE guidance to refuse treatment, and that the funding is available for the treatment that people need.
My Lords, there are serious ethical, as well as financial, issues in the noble Lord’s Question. Do the Government agree that a starting point might be to speed up the processes of authorising new drugs, particularly the work of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence? I am told that Scotland is quicker than England in this regard, so perhaps we have some catching up to do south of the border. Another starting point might be a much more robust and transparent discussion of what costs are, both in developing drugs and in using them. We must not forget that this is not about balancing books; it is about anxious patients, of which I have been one, who are sometimes brought into the discussion and are involved in some of the judgments made about how long people might live.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is correct that this is not about balancing the books. The Government have recently expressed the opinion that NICE needs to be quicker with its guidance.
NICE’s guidance is based on a thorough assessment of the best available evidence, and it is recognised across the world as a leader in its field. The reason that Scotland occasionally reaches a decision more quickly is that it does not go into the same detail that NICE does; it does not use the same evidence. That is why that happens.
My Lords, is not the problem with NICE that it is not actually nice at all? It is designed to be nasty and to ration the amount of money that is made available for drugs in this country. Clearly, we cannot spend indefinite sums, so NICE has the invidious task of deciding who should have drugs and who should not.
My Lords, NICE issues guidance about the appropriate drugs for the appropriate conditions. It is then, quite rightly, up to the doctors to decide how those are prescribed.
The NHS has some of the most efficient prescribing practices in the world. It has long had a policy of encouraging generic prescribing to ensure that lower-cost generics are used as soon as higher-cost branded medicines lose their patent rights, for example, so the rate of generic prescribing has risen from 51 per cent to 83 per cent, the highest in Europe. We are not spending unnecessary money on branded drugs, but we are making sure that those drugs that need to be available are available.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Britain has done extremely well, partly through NICE, in decreasing the prescribing of drugs for weak clinical indications, but that the criteria that NICE uses when assessing potentially life-saving drugs such as cancer drugs may need to be viewed differently from the criteria for those that are much more symptomatic and for more minor conditions? Does she agree that the current position of withdrawing NHS funding from patients who have purchased drugs has damaged people’s confidence in the whole NHS and the system as it stands?
My Lords, is the noble Baroness referring to the top-up fees review? We expect that Professor Richards will make his report to the Secretary of State in October—this month. When he has considered it, he intends to publish its findings as quickly as possible.
Railways: Network Rail
My Lords, Network Rail is a private sector company, limited by guarantee. The company has significantly improved its overall performance in recent years, and its efficiency targets for the five-year period from 2009 to 2014 are in the process of being determined by the independent Office of Rail Regulation. The Office of Rail Regulation is expected to issue its final determination at the end of this month.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his new post. Does he agree that, notwithstanding some improvements, weekend journeys by rail are still difficult, if not impossible, and that this summer maintenance work overran the weekend by several days, making travel very difficult? Does he further agree that if we are trying to get people off the roads and on to the railways, Network Rail will have to do a lot better than it has been doing up to now?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his opening remarks. My call came while I was in the Wallace Collection and the custodian asked me to turn off my mobile phone. I toyed with the idea of telling him that it was the Prime Minister on the line but thought that he might not believe me, so I made a rapid exit and took the call in the street.
I of course appreciate my noble friend’s concerns about the impact of engineering work. I know that he is particularly concerned about the work that has been taking place on the west coast main line. As he knows, Network Rail was fined £14 million for the late running of work at Rugby over Christmas and the new year on the west coast main line. However, although there has been unavoidable inconvenience for passengers in the completion of the work—this is a huge, £8 billion programme to upgrade the line—when it is completed, by the end of this year, journey times will significantly reduce and the inconvenience to which my noble friend and others have been subjected will be at an end. The gains will be considerable; for example, the journey time from London to Lancaster, the route that my noble friend uses, which in 2004 took three hours 13 minutes, will reduce to two hours 24 minutes. So, to use a railway metaphor, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on his new appointment. I very much look forward to working with him across the Table. However, a lot of us regret his departure from education and children’s services, because he was doing a really good job there. We hope that his successor will carry on that good work.
About 200,000 passengers were inconvenienced and in considerable difficulties last Christmas and Network Rail was fined £14 million. Are the Government taking any steps to ensure that there is not similar chaos this year? Rail transport passengers need some assurance that they can travel in comfort this Christmas time.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks and look forward to working with him closely, as we do in this House, across the Dispatch Box. I hope that the £14 million exemplary fine on Network Rail will indeed ensure that the company is much more careful about ensuring that engineering work is completed in future. But work on the west coast main line, which was the cause of those delays last year, will be completed by the end of this year, so there will not be any recurrence.
My Lords, to continue in the same vein as the answers given, the efficiency of Network Rail and the train operating companies would be greatly improved if they could be encouraged to work closely together to make services better and cost less. But the Department for Transport has apparently told both parties that, if there are any savings as a result of these improved efficiency measures, the department will claim them, so there is no incentive for the two parties to co-operate.
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great knowledge and experience in these matters and I very much look forward to working with him, too. Network Rail has seen a significant improvement in efficiency in recent years—admittedly that has been from a low base, but it has been significant. In the five years up to 2009, we are projecting efficiency gains of 30 per cent. The regulator’s ambition is for about a 20 per cent efficiency gain over the five years to 2014. We see those as appropriate efficiency gains if the Office of Rail Regulation determines that it wishes to proceed with them.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while the majority of us who travel on the west coast main line are concerned about journey times, we are more concerned about reliability? We do not care if a journey takes 20 minutes longer as long as we can rely on being in Euston or Lancaster at a certain time.
My Lords, I completely understand my noble friend’s point. When modernisation of the west coast main line is complete, we expect reliability to improve as well. However, I am glad to say that reliability has improved on the railways in recent years. The most recent figures, for August of this year, show more than 90 per cent of trains arriving punctually, compared to barely 81 per cent only five years ago. The reliability of the network is improving, but it still has further to go.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his new post. Will he and his department keep in mind that all judgments on British railways must be conditioned by the memory of the cruel axe wielded on them by Dr Beeching, which has recently had more attention in the media?
My Lords, that is a question more for the historians than for me, but I watched a fascinating programme about Beeching on BBC Four last week, in which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made a star turn as a railway manager who worked through that period. The nostalgia in me was overpowering.
My Lords, civil and family court fees are generally set to reflect the full cost of the system, but this does not mean that the courts are fully self-financing. The taxpayer funds a fee remissions scheme to protect access to justice for those who need financial assistance. Following a review, a public consultation and an independent research study, a revised remissions scheme was introduced in October last year. My department recently commissioned research to evaluate the new scheme. It is expected to report in spring 2009.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I am concerned that local authorities wishing to bring a care case will find that their fee has gone from £150 to £4,500, which is an increase of 2,500 per cent. I am concerned that this might mean local authorities delay bringing their cases because their social services budgets are so stretched. Could that place children at more risk?
My Lords, there is currently no evidence that fee increases affect the number of cases coming to court. It is true that public law family fees were introduced in May 2008, which coincided with the public law outline national rollout in April. That outline was introduced in pilot courts last year to clarify and narrow the issues in dispute, leading to greater focus and fewer unnecessary hearings. Everyone would agree that in family public law matters of that kind, it is better to have fewer hearings if it is at all possible. When the guidelines that were introduced last year are also taken into account, one may see fewer cases eventually coming to court. If so, that will be a good thing. We are not trying to discourage proper cases from coming to court. What is important is that fewer cases come to court if that is possible.
My Lords, I acknowledge the work that is being undertaken to prevent families and children having to face court, but does the Minister not agree that there are still serious delays in the family court system and that when those delays affect the safeguarding and development of children, because they are waiting for cases to be heard, this is to be deplored? Will the Government do all in their power to ensure that those cases that do have to go to court are heard as speedily as possible? I declare an interest as the deputy chair of CAFCASS.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, whose expertise in this field is well known to the House. I agree entirely with what she says. Of course, cases should be brought to court at the appropriate time. I am glad that she agrees with what I said earlier—that it is better not to have unnecessary court cases, particularly involving children.
My Lords, when I initiated a debate on this subject on 2 May 2007, the then Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson, promised that there would be research. That was 18 months ago. Why has there been this long delay in that crucial research to look at the adverse impact of the full cost recovery policy on the most vulnerable? Does the Minister know that the Civil Justice Council and senior judges have expressed again and again to the department their view that the system does not adequately protect the constitutional rights of access to justice? More recently, experienced legal practitioners have expressed their concern that in public law proceedings, including cases involving children at risk in care proceedings, local authorities under this policy will not be able to afford to bring the statutory proceedings needed to protect children. Is the Minister aware of that? Is he aware of any other country in which that policy is being pursued?
My Lords, when consultation was taking place on the effect that the increase in fees, along with the other matters that I have raised, might mean for public law cases in the family field, the Local Government Association said in its response:
“There is no evidence to suggest that local authorities would act inappropriately”.
It does not accept that local authorities are influenced by cost considerations in their approach to initiating proceedings, or in their decision about pre-proceeding work. The new scheme came into effect only in May this year, less than six months ago. It is important that we give it a bit of time to bed down before deciding whether there is anything that we need to do about it.
My Lords, does the Minister recollect the words of Mr Justice Darling, some three-quarters of a century ago, when he said that the courts of this land were open to everybody, the same as the Ritz Hotel?
On a more sober note, what percentage of the adult population of England and Wales is on financial grounds practically exempt from legal aid? How does that compare broadly with the situation some 20 years ago?
My Lords, I remember the phrase, not because I was around at the time, but because I was tutored in it as a law student—although I am afraid that that was many years ago.
I cannot give the noble Lord the figures on the number of individuals who would not qualify for legal aid, but I can tell him that for fee remissions—which is what this Question is primarily about—the figure for 2007-08 was £27 million, with approximately 207,000 instances of fee remissions in the family and civil field. Of course, fees do not come into the question when we are talking about criminal proceedings.
My Lords, when Ministers come to consider the fee remission scheme later in the year, will they take the trouble to talk to high street solicitors around the country, who are saying consistently that they no longer find it economic to bring cases for poor, vulnerable and threatened people? Will they try to ensure that the legal system is as truly accessible to all citizens as I suspect that every Member of this House would wish it to be?
My Lords, the Government wish it to be so as well, of course. I praise the noble Lord’s expertise, too. We spend more on legal aid per head in this country than any other country in the world, but we shall of course talk to high street solicitors, as we shall to other members of that profession and to members of his own profession.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of those service personnel who have lost their lives in operations since the House was last in session. On the Question, UK force levels remain at around 8,000 and continue to improve security in Helmand. The Taliban continues to use intimidation and violence against the local population, and expanding Afghan-led security remains key to our success. Sixty thousand Afghan national army troops have been trained and are increasing their ability to operate alongside ISAF. In Kabul, Afghan national security forces have begun the process of taking over responsibility for security.
My Lords, I associate these Benches with the earlier tribute. We all praise the bravery and skill of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan in an extremely complex and dangerous mission but, given the comments of Brigadier Carleton-Smith, voicing what many of us believe, that this is a war that probably cannot be won in a traditional sense and that ultimately negotiations will have to take place with the Taliban, and given last week’s reports that President Karzai has asked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to help to broker a settlement with the Taliban, apparently with significant assistance from British intelligence, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s attitude to negotiations with the Taliban and does America share their approach?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his statement about the bravery and skill of our Armed Forces, which we have seen demonstrated very well this summer, not least with the good work in regenerating the Kajaki dam. Brigadier Carleton-Smith’s comments should not come as a surprise to anyone in this House. In a Statement in another place on 16 June, the Secretary of State said:
“The military know better than anyone else that this is a campaign that cannot be won by military means alone”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/08; col. 676.]
That has been said for some time and is something that everyone should agree with. President Karzai has had a reconciliation commission set up for some time for individuals previously associated with the Taliban. It is hoped that disaffected Afghans involved in insurgency or other activity can be brought into the mainstream. However, there are provisos and red lines, which are that such people should renounce violence and accept Afghanistan’s constitution.
My Lords, from these Benches we, too, send our condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan. Will the Minister confirm that adequate supplies of ammunition ordnance are now being delivered there and say whether there has been any improvement in helicopter support?
My Lords, the noble Lord will know that during the summer we signed a new agreement on the supply of ammunition. We have no reason to think that there are specific problems with that. On helicopters—and I acknowledge the interest that the noble Lord has taken in this issue for some time—we have 60 per cent more airframes than we had two years ago. We have several initiatives, including one with other NATO partners on burden sharing, and we have plans to make sure that more flying hours are available, because it is flying hours that are the essence, not just the number of helicopters. We have made plans by improving the servicing of helicopters and doing more of that in the field. While we could always use more helicopters, we have sufficient for essential operations and are discussing with allies and in our own community how best to maximise the use of those that are available.
My Lords, my noble friend raised this issue at the time of the Statement. The situation with regard to the poppy crop has not changed significantly. There is a problem in Taliban-controlled areas because the growing of poppies and the trade surrounding it are closely linked to criminality and the funding of the Taliban. We are trying to tackle this, but it is a difficulty. We are working hard with development agencies to bring about the same improvements in family incomes through farming other crops and we are working in other development areas such as getting more youngsters, especially girls, into school and increasing healthcare generally. These are all challenges. We must improve the development of the country, as well as just being engaged in military activity where necessary.
My Lords, how secure is Kabul from incursions by the Taliban? Has there not been a worrying deterioration over the past year? Surely no wider military or other strategy can succeed unless confidence in Kabul’s own security is achieved beyond question.
My Lords, as I mentioned in my Answer, the Afghan national security forces began the process of taking over security in Kabul on 28 August. It is not surprising that some insurgents wanted to test their ability and to challenge their control in that area. That is part of what we are seeing at the moment. We have not walked away from the situation; training, mentoring and support are ongoing. The situation was considered sufficiently secure for the Afghan national security services to take that significant step forward. It is not surprising that those forces are being tested, but we are trying to help them.
My Lords, co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is important and significant. Discussions, sometimes involving third parties and sometimes direct, are ongoing. There is general recognition on both sides of the need for proper co-operation and discussion before there can be any calmness in the area.
My Lords, at a convenient point after 3.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham will repeat a Statement on financial markets. Looking at the groupings list, I can see that the debate on the first amendment of the Planning Bill is likely to be substantial. For the convenience of the House, I therefore suggest that we adjourn the debate at approximately 4 pm to enable the Statement to be repeated and to avoid unnecessary delay in doing so.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]
Clause 1 [The Infrastructure Planning Commission]:
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert “for the purpose of advising Parliament on applications for orders granting development consent”
The noble Lord said: The Bill creates yet another public body and yet another burden on the poor old taxpayer. This may be a minute matter when considered in the context of the Statement on national finances that we shall discuss at four o’clock, but we are running a record budget deficit and here we have a proposal to increase it. It may be a marginal increase only but it is an increase. I have not been able to extract information on this, so I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us exactly what the costs are and, perhaps even more importantly, what savings might arise if the commission comes into being. She will reply to this group of amendments which go to the heart of the Bill as it establishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission to deal with the heavyweight planning applications that arise from time to time, and are likely to arise with increasing regularity over the coming years as we attempt to restructure our energy industry, improve our major infrastructure across the country and meet our climate change obligations about which we became well informed during the passage of the Climate Change Bill earlier in the Session. These are heavyweight matters.
Amendment No. 1 is a probing amendment and seeks to establish a slightly different purpose for the Infrastructure Planning Commission from that in the Bill. It seeks to enable the commission to advise Parliament on applications for orders granting planning permission. The reason for doing this is, in my view, very sound. Planning is not, and never has been, an exact science. I spent some time on a planning committee, which rapidly drove me close to insanity. The fact that I survived and am here to talk about it offers hope for the future, but perhaps that is not the view of those sitting opposite.
Development in whatever form is rarely site-specific. Most development can be established on a variety of sites. Up until now that decision has rightly been political. It is a political decision, whether it is taken by local politicians sitting on local planning authorities, or by the Secretary of State on call-in if the application is of sufficient national significance, is of sufficient exception to existing planning policy, or is an appeal. The very fact that the final decision is taken by an elected politician gives strength and integrity to the existing planning process. However, the Bill removes that and in doing so diminishes the strength and integrity of the existing system. It seems to me that, certainly initially, the results of the new system will be far more open to challenge, albeit that the existing system—the Bill seeks to tackle this—permits many challenges before planning permission is granted for controversial applications.
We need to explore exactly why the Government are departing from this sound principle. We regard that departure as a disadvantage. There are many ways to approach the difficulty and this is not the only one. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, proposes a different approach in a later amendment in the group. I will leave her to speak to that and another amendment in the group in her name. We do not think that the Government have really thought this through. If we were to finish up with the proposed system, the way in which decisions are finally taken would need to be changed. At the moment, we are exploring the possibilities.
The amendment suggests that the commission should become an advisory body, doing all the hard work that has to be done—by golly, there will be hard work to be done—and then making a recommendation to Parliament, which is my personal preference. That is a subject for debate at this stage, because these matters need greater clarification. We are attempting to tease out the Government’s motives and the justification for their proposals.
Amendment No. 2 is in the same group. It removes the possibility of future changes to the planning commission. We should not contemplate with any form of comfort the chance of what I would call “mission creep”. The body of people who will be required to do the work under the commission established by the Government will perforce need to become very specialist. In effect, it is a specialist branch of the inspectorate. I pay tribute to the planning inspectorate; I have known members of that body over the years and they are remarkable people. In some circumstances, they have had to do remarkable jobs. One thinks of the two obvious applications; Sizewell B and terminal 5. They were deeply intense matters that called for detailed knowledge and critical judgment. I know that the Government’s ambition in the Bill is to diminish such types of inquiry. They cannot do that without the creation of a great deal of certainty, and that must be done by politicians; no one else can do it. Amendment No. 2 is designed to make that specialist body exactly what it is and to keep it that way.
Amendment No. 4 is another probing amendment, which requires commission appointments to be made by a similar means to that used to appoint members of the planning inspectorate. Those people, whoever they may be and whatever their background—I suspect some of them will come from the inspectorate; maybe the noble Baroness will tell us that they all will—must be very intensively trained. This is not going to be the same sort of job that is presently done by a planning inspector. They are going to have to go through all the detail. Preliminary procedures are laid out about consultation and so on.
The whole application process is different and the applicants will face a different working environment. Their applications will have to be perfect from the day that the commission receives them because the process that is laid down will not permit the type of negotiation that has often occurred during inquiries. Indeed, it was not at all unusual for an application to be amended in the course of its development. The application will have to be word-perfect when it is sent to the commission, because otherwise it will have the absolute right to throw it out. The amendment is therefore tabled to find out exactly how the commission’s members will be appointed and to give me an opportunity to mention the very intensive training which will undoubtedly be required before the commission can start to function effectively.
Amendment No. 5 offers a different approach to this dilemma, which I introduced when I spoke to the first amendment. If we delete subsection (3), we effectively delete Schedule 1. If we do that, we do not have a commission to worry about. That is taking the ground from under the feet of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for which I apologise. Her opposition to the Question that Clause 1 stand part of the Bill is included in this group of amendments. I beg to move.
I was not in the Chamber when, no doubt, plaudits were given to various Members of the House with regard to various positions, but perhaps I may start the Committee stage of the Bill by saying how relieved and pleased I am that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, remains in her position. It is such a pleasure working with her and she would have been so frustrated had the effort that she had put into the Bill gone to waste at the very last minute.
I should also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. It takes a great deal to stand still and silent for as long as he did while Members of the House left the Chamber. That performance is quite an art. Like him, I spent some years on a planning committee. It did not drive me to insanity or, if it did, I have not noticed. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do not start quite from where he does. I was not proposing to say anything about the costs of the new planning commission, although clearly they are an issue.
The substantial issue—there are a lot of amendments—is a short point and a political point: who is to take the big decisions about big infrastructure projects, who will the public believe takes them, and who do they believe should take them? The public will regard the Government as responsible and liable to have the buck stop at their door, with the accountability that goes with it. It is not simply counterintuitive, but literally incredible that these big decisions may not be decisions of government. The argument is twofold. Who should take the decisions and carry the can, and who will be thought to have taken the decisions? On the latter question, the Government argue that the new national policy statements will set the policy framework, but will not pre-empt the IPC’s decisions. We have said that we support the national policy statements and the sorting out of policy away from a tribunal, although we will be debating how much scope the NPSs will leave for the IPC to exercise discretion, but having set the policy context the Government must live with the consequences. The projects are the consequences.
When I was preparing yesterday for this debate, I realised that giving the IPC the right of final decision might not even be doing it any favours, given the context that the Government will set for it. The IPC will certainly struggle to establish a reputation for independence. Given that the national policy statements will, by definition, require a project to be permitted, the IPC will have to clock up a string of refusals for the Government to perceive it as independent.
Who should take the decision? On the part of these Benches, there is no question but that it should be the Secretary of State. The policies will be political; the projects will be political; the decisions will be political. If we assume that the IPC has a role, that could stop short of the final decision at two points. One is that the IPC could make recommendations to the Secretary of State—a point that is, in effect, covered by my string of later amendments. I apologise to the Committee that this is more of a Second Reading speech than one going into the detail of the amendments but I do not imagine that your Lordships would want me to go through every clause that essentially is amended in the same way. Alternatively, the IPC could make a decision that was subject to confirmation or, if the Government are more comfortable with the term, “ratification” by the Secretary of State, and that essentially is my Amendment No. 3.
It has been argued that there is no real distinction between those two but I believe that there is. Surely, confirmation or ratification requires less process—proper process, obviously, but less process. From what I have heard, I am not convinced that either of the models would amount to duplicating the work of the IPC. As I understand it, the IPC would be left with the important, time-consuming and difficult job of testing the evidence. That should comprise a very large part of the tribunal’s work, whether adversarial or inquisitorial. If the matter is left for final decision by the Secretary of State, that will avoid time being taken by oral and aural proceedings, which always take longer than something confined to paper.
Above all, the decisions will require judgment. They will require a balancing of policies and interests, and we do not believe that it would be right to give that responsibility to an unaccountable quango. Of course, there is the issue of whether there should be an IPC at all. Why not make use of the planning inspectorate and adapt the procedure—I do not see that there is any inherent reason why the inspectorate cannot use an inquisitorial approach—if it is considered that a different procedure will be better or more economic? It would be inappropriate not to question the establishment of the IPC with whatever powers it may have. However, I am pretty clear that the Government’s position is so entrenched that there is not an awful lot of future in that, which is why I am focusing more on the relationship between the IPC and the Secretary of State.
The point of principle at issue in the establishment of the IPC is: whose is the final decision? We are not talking about technical matters; the decisions will be of enormous significance to enormous numbers of people. They will include decisions between conflicting—even clashing—interests, and they will require judgment and political choice. Therefore, we say that accountability must not be denied: the decisions must be taken by the Secretary of State.
I declare interests as a legal associate of the Royal Town Planning Institute and as a solicitor in private practice advising clients on a range of planning matters.
The challenges that we face are significant and the infrastructure requirements of this country are formidable. If we are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, it is clear that the infrastructure that will be required in the generation of energy—particularly electricity—and for transport will be significant. The speed with which these consenting decisions are taken will obviously be important, as it will be necessary to ensure that the infrastructure can be put in place as quickly as possible. As referred to at Second Reading, there have been delays in the consenting process. Terminal 5 was always given as one of those which took a particularly long time, but delays have occurred with a very large number of other infrastructure projects.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 3, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, go to the heart of decision-making. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to the Government not having thought this matter through. With the greatest respect, we have had the Barker and Eddington reviews and a White Paper and these proposals have been around for a long time. Perhaps he does not agree with the conclusions reached, but I do not think that they can be characterised properly as not having been thought through.
It appears to me that decisions on infrastructure can be divided into two broad areas. There are the strategic issues which face this country: do we invest in renewable energy, do we invest in nuclear energy, do we build a high-speed rail link between London and Leeds or, I hope, even to Scotland? This country will have to face up to those kinds of issues and decisions will have to be taken on them. Quite rightly, they are the prerogative of the Secretary of State and, of course, of Parliament, which is what the Government suggest through the national policy statement and the parliamentary process which will accompany the NPS. No one suggests that they should not be done by the Secretary of State and by Parliament.
However, individual decisions which are quasi-judicial and which require, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said, assessment of the evidence and judgments on that evidence are, I believe, more properly and better done by the body charged with assessing that evidence. For example, the local impact of a generating station can be assessed by the Infrastructure Planning Commission and a decision can be taken on that using the national planning statement to determine the decision, unless the local impacts provide otherwise. In my submission, that is the proper way to do it. Through legislation, we have rightly taken away from Ministers those decisions which are and should be independent. The assessment of evidence should be an independent process. I believe that the Government’s proposals aim to do that.
On whether the Secretary of State should take the decision, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggests that there is an issue as regards what people expect. I sometimes encounter cynicism about decisions made by the Secretary of State—that they are inevitable, one way or another, because they are supposedly in line with government policy. If one takes a final decision away from the Secretary of State and it is made independently, in accordance with the national policy statement, then the strategic issues are set by Government and by Parliament and the individual decision is taken by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I hope that we will not go down the road of emasculating the IPC. It is important that it is the final arbiter of such decisions and I support the Government’s position on this.
I thank those who produced the Marshalled List for doing so in a way that brings together all the clauses, so allowing us to debate the central issue of whether the commission should take decisions or whether it is an advisory body.
I believe—backed partly by experience for four years as permanent secretary to the Department for the Environment, seared by planning inquiries such as NIREX waste disposal and Terminal 5—that that should be resisted and the existing provisions of the Bill be supported for reasons of both principle and practice.
What might those reasons of principle be? The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said in his speech at Second Reading, and repeated in similar words today:
“The public accept the results of planning decisions … because a decision is taken by a politician”.
He went on to say that there should be a,
“democratic final point of decision”.—[Official Report, 15/07/08; cols. 1167-68.]
That sounds self-evident, but there are problems with it. The first problem is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, recognised at Second Reading only a few months ago, the noble Lord’s colleague, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, suggested exactly the opposite: that the Committee on Climate Change should be made a decision-taking body, not an advisory body.
The more fundamental problem is that that doctrine is just not true; it is a fallacy. There are huge swathes of public life where Ministers and Parliament create a framework and then stand aside from decisions affecting individual citizens. For example, let us take the courts. Parliament decides what is an offence and, broadly, the penalty that should be attached to it. Individual cases and penalties are decided by the courts. The same applies to the resolution of disputes, whether in courts or in tribunals, whether between citizen and citizen or between state and state. Ministers and Parliament decide the rate of tax and what should be taxed and the Commissioners of Revenue and Customs decide how much an individual taxpayer should pay. Ministers come nowhere near those decisions. The Monetary Policy Committee was cited earlier in debates on the Climate Change Bill. Ministers decide what the inflation target is and the MPC makes operational decisions.
The Competition Commission is now a deciding body—except, as we have seen recently, in very exceptional cases. You could say the same about admissions to schools and hospitals, arm’s-length grants to arts bodies. In huge swathes of life, exactly the opposite principle from that which is being argued for here is followed. It looks as though decisions on, for example, immigration and asylum may be the exception rather than the rule.
Planning is something of a hybrid, with decisions being taken by a Minister in a quasi-judicial capacity. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, suggested, that is looking increasingly suspect and anachronistic, as a Minister is subject to political pressure and, with many projects being government-sponsored, being both judge and jury.
How then will I decide which of those models to follow—advisory or decision-making. Two conditions are necessary. First, there must be a clear framework within which decisions are made, a framework within which democratic politics plays its part to the full. Secondly, when a decision has to be made about the choice between the benefit of one citizen or organisation and another, it is best to put Ministers at a distance. In the case of the Climate Change Bill, I thought that we came to the right answer, because the Bill was advising on what the framework should be. It was equivalent to advising on what should be the inflation rate that the MPC is targeting.
In this case, I think that the balance of the argument goes the other way. Ministers, after consultation and subject to debate in Parliament, set the framework through the national policy statement, but the IPC decides the outcome in any particular application.
I turn to practicality. I believe that the arguments of practice point in the same direction. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the planning process: the time that the process takes, its unpredictability, its tolerance of repetition and filibuster and its inability to distinguish issues of national importance from those which are principally local. To turn the IPC into an advisory body would, in my view, make things worse than they are today, adding two new processes, neither of which can lead to a definitive and timely outcome. The IPC would conduct its work not knowing whether it was advising or deciding, and when it made a recommendation the aim of anyone opposing the project would be to have another go at raising sufficient clamour to intimidate the Minister into reversing the decision, whatever it was. Issues that logically should have been resolved at a much earlier stage would be reopened, taking us back to square one. The IPC should therefore be the final point of decision, subject only, of course, to the courts.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, discussed at Second Reading, the ageing infrastructure and the need to adapt energy, waste and water systems to reflect climate change mean that, in the next 20 to 30 years, the planning system will come under unprecedented pressure. The delays and uncertainty of the present system cannot be allowed to continue, and the proposals in the Bill balance that sense of urgency with a proposal to give local communities and national interest groups a proper opportunity to make their impact at the right stage in the process. If one wants to close an apparent democratic deficit one should look to the way in which the NPS is handled in Parliament, rather than turning the IPC into an advisory body.
I add a footnote to the excellent points already made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, proposes that the IPC should advise Parliament and that Parliament should take the decision. Although we all may feel to a degree uncomfortable that an unaccountable body should take decisions of such political magnitude and sensitivity, there is all the same a question of practicality and how Parliament would cope. The Government anticipate bringing forward some 12 national policy statements, which Parliament will certainly need to consider rather exhaustively. If Parliament is then to consider another large body of specific planning decisions on major infrastructure proposals, how does the noble Lord think parliamentary procedure and parliamentary time will accommodate that sort of workload?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, believes that the Secretary of State should take the decision on the advice of the IPC. Would she be entirely relaxed about the Secretary of State being judge and jury in so many cases in which the Government themselves are the developer and where they or their agencies are putting forward these very proposals? Is it really satisfactory that the Government should then have the final say?
I shall briefly supplement the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport. As I understand it—I am by no means an expert—the IPC operates within a framework and cannot operate outside the parameters of the national policy statements. It is in the drawing up of the national policy statements where parliamentary and public input is most prominent. At the risk of sounding terribly sycophantic, I commend an article in today’s House Magazine by my noble friend the Minister, which sets out absolutely clearly that the IPC is independent and,
“free to reject any application which it considers fails to meet the conditions set out in the NPS”.
It is hardly a powerful body, flying around the universe doing exactly what it likes.
I sound a discordant note compared with the past few speakers, because I firmly believe that the advisory model, rather than the decision-making model, is the one to be aimed for for the IPC. Perhaps I should say a little about my experience in this field to give noble Lords a flavour of where I am coming from. I have been involved in work on the environment for the past 20 years and have become rather a fan of the planning system, because at times when democracy in this country was looking a bit shaky, it was one of the last few bits of genuine democracy that still existed; elected leaders took decisions about hotly controversial issues with a strong local interest amidst, quite rightly, the discordant views of many stakeholders. It was quite a juicy kernel of the democratic process. To be honest, we toy with that at our peril. That we can take the politics out of these hotly contested decisions is unrealistic.
I do not believe that in many cases the national policy statements will be sufficiently specific to give the certainty of framework that will mean it is simply a technical issue to decide whether a proposal should go ahead. In addition, national policy statements will rapidly get out of date and, therefore, may not continue to be fit for purpose. We need ministerial intervention to give a fresh policy steer at the time of a decision.
In this country, we are in a perilous position as regards the readiness of our infrastructure to deal with all sorts of issues, not least climate change. In many cases, our water system needs replacing and our drainage systems are inadequate. Many pieces of infrastructure are in the flood plain or are not sufficiently climate-change proof. Our energy system needs to be made climate-change proof. Without doubt, there is a need for speed, but I would worry that the IPC, which is tasked with breaking through the logjams and hastening these proposals forward, would regard its performance indicator as politics rather than a satisfactory decision that takes account of all the competing views on a very local issue.
All those pieces of infrastructure are not about national policy. They are about developments happening on a very local basis that will affect local communities, the local environment and the local economy. Therefore, they all will be very individual and not necessarily amenable to the framework of the national policy statements. In environmental terms, they will be vital. My noble friend Lord Turnbull referred to a few cause célèbres and I can add many more with a strong environmental flavour, not least Dibden Bay where the Minister stepped in. He made a very valuable contribution after the inspector reached a decision and added value by indicating that what needed to be looked at was much wider than that individual location and interpretation of policy.
I urge Ministers to think again. We need a political accountability in making those decisions. I do not believe that it should be Parliament. The prospect of us sitting here listening endlessly to long technical discussion is not the right way forward. The IPC should gather that technical information and should reach a proposition to go to Ministers for an ultimate decision.
My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement made in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement regarding developments in financial markets. The events in America over the past few weeks, and in Europe over the past few days, have again demonstrated the global nature and sheer scale of the problems affecting the global financial system.
“What started in America last year has now spread to every part of the world and the disruption in global financial markets has intensified, especially over the past few weeks. People are rightly concerned about what is happening and I have made it clear that we will do whatever is necessary to maintain stability.
“Along with Governments across the world, I have a responsibility to support a stable and well-functioning banking system. Financial transactions are at the heart of everything we do. They allow people to buy goods, pay for services, buy homes, save for pensions, and invest. So it is essential that we take action both to support the banking system as a whole as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases when it is necessary to do so. It is not a case of doing either one or the other. Both general support and individual intervention are necessary. And we need to work with other countries to tackle the causes of these problems as well as dealing with their consequences.
“Let me briefly remind the House what we have done to stabilise the banking system as a whole. Since April, the Bank of England, with support from the Government, has introduced the special liquidity scheme providing funding to the banks. The Government have made available in excess of £100 billion of long-term funding to be lent through the scheme, and the Bank of England has extended it until January. I am willing to make further resources available as necessary. The governor has made it clear that:
‘In these extraordinary market conditions, the Bank of England will take all actions necessary to ensure that the banking system has access to sufficient liquidity’.
“The Bank of England has also continued to inject substantial funds into the markets through its normal operations, and it will continue to do so. Tomorrow it will put in another £40 billion, taking a wider range of security, and these operations will continue into November. We also need to deal with specific problems as they arise to maintain stability. In February, we took special powers to bring Northern Rock into public ownership, now seen by most people as the right thing to do. I can tell the House that Northern Rock has now paid back more than half of the taxpayers’ money that was lent to it, and continues to repay its loan ahead of schedule. In August, I announced that the Government would swap up to £3 billion of outstanding debt for equity, if required, to strengthen Northern Rock’s capital position.
“In September, we amended the competition regime to allow the interests of financial stability to be considered in the merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS. We took this exceptional measure because financial stability had to come before normal competition concerns. And 10 days ago, we had to deal with the problems at Bradford and Bingley. We transferred the savings business, the branches and the related jobs to Abbey Santander, thus protecting savers, and took the rest of the company into public ownership. We acted decisively to protect savers and also to protect the interest of taxpayers, ensuring that the financial sector bears its share of the costs.
“I have made it clear on many occasions that our priority is to maintain stability, protect the interests of depositors, and safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. I want to set out what we have done so far here at home and to deal with the developments in Europe over the weekend. The Financial Services Authority has announced a further increase from tomorrow to the compensation limit for retail bank deposits to £50,000 per depositor, which means £100,000 for joint accounts. This measure will ensure that 98 per cent of accounts are fully covered, and the FSA is consulting on whether to increase this limit further to ensure that arrangements here continue to be comparable with international best practice.
“I have always been clear that each country needs to do whatever is needed to deal with its own particular circumstances. However, I also believe that wherever it is possible to do so, countries should work and act together to maintain stability. This afternoon the European Union member states have reaffirmed the need to take whatever measures are necessary to maintain the stability of the financial system, whether through liquidity support, action to deal with individual banks or enhanced depositor protection schemes. In light of what has happened over the weekend, it is especially important that EU member states work far more closely together, so tomorrow I will meet European finance Ministers in Luxembourg to further discuss how we bring stability to the system and protect depositors. This further demonstrates that every country in the world, Europe included, is being affected by these problems.
“In the United States, Congress has now approved measures to support the banking system, which we welcome. Our approach has been different, but what has happened in America emphasises yet again the need for countries to take whatever action they believe is necessary and also to work closely together, not just to resolve these problems but also to try to prevent them happening again.
“Later this week I will attend the G7 and IMF meetings in Washington. Our aim is to reduce uncertainty and improve confidence in financial markets by increasing the openness of financial institutions' exposures. We also want to change to improve the effectiveness of credit rating agencies. These measures are now being implemented but we must move far more quickly.
“Here at home, there are a number of specific steps that are necessary. First, the Bank of England will continue to do whatever it takes to make cash available for banks to lend. Secondly, the banking Bill will be introduced tomorrow, building on the special powers we took in February to allow us to intervene quickly and decisively. It will also give the Bank of England a statutory role to maintain financial stability to complement the role of the FSA. Thirdly, just as at the international level lessons need to be learnt, we need to ensure our regulatory system here is up to the mark. It is not about light-touch against heavy-handed regulation; it is about making sure that we have the necessary rules in place and that these rules are enforced effectively. I have asked Adair Turner, the chairman of the FSA, to make recommendations for reforms.
“And as recent events in financial markets have shown us, regulation should be about liquidity as well as capital. That is why the FSA is considering changes to liquidity requirements. It is also looking at remuneration structures in the institutions it regulates.
“Fourthly, we must do everything we can to ensure that not only do banks have the confidence to lend to each other but also that lending is maintained to the mortgage market, businesses and individuals. I shall publish shortly Sir James Crosby’s recommendations on options for improving the functioning of mortgage finance markets.
“These are exceptional times. I am in no doubt as to the size of the task facing us and Governments around the world in bringing order to the financial system. The process of change will necessarily take some time to work through, and because we are dealing with international institutions and international markets it will require action not only at a national level but also concerted international action.
“It is right that we look at every aspect—liquidity, capital and regulation—with other countries and of course with the financial sector itself. But it would also be irresponsible to speculate on the specifics of future responses. Indeed, providing a running commentary could add to uncertainty in the already febrile market conditions. But all practical options must remain open to us and I have made it very clear that the Government stand ready—with the resources and the commitment—to do whatever is necessary. And I will keep the House informed.
“Mr Speaker, our priority, at home and abroad, is to bring stability to the financial system, ensure depositors and savers are protected and defend the interest of the taxpayer. I commend the Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Chancellor in another place.
When we departed for the Recess in late July, none of us could have foreseen the turmoil in the financial markets that has occurred. I do not think that we were alone in hoping that financial life would gradually get better and that confidence would creep back into financial markets. We would not have predicted the virtual elimination of the investment banking sector in the US, the nationalisation of the major US insurer and mortgage lenders and a US$700 billion rescue plan. Having lived through the ignominy of Northern Rock, we would not have foreseen the suspension of ordinary competition principles as a dowry for the forced marriage of one major UK bank or the nationalisation of another. There have been financial shocks to the system almost everywhere. Indeed, so momentous have been the events of the past couple of months that the biggest surprise is that the Government did not see fit to recall Parliament. Will the Minister explain why that did not occur?
We believe that there needs to be action to deal with three areas: liquidity, asset quality and bank capitalisation. I listened hard to the Chancellor’s Statement. I heard a bit about liquidity but not much else. On liquidity, we support the Bank of England’s extension of the Special Liquidity Scheme. We hope that it will be sufficient but, if not, we will continue to support the Bank’s taking the action that it deems appropriate. We support the FSA’s decision to increase the bank deposit protection to £50,000; indeed, we have been arguing for that for some time.
We are now in a wholly different ballpark, with the consequences, intended or not, of the unilateral action taken by other countries to protect their own liquidity. The Irish, the Danes and the Greeks have given complete guarantees and the Swedes have massively increased their guarantees. We do not yet know what Chancellor Merkel has actually agreed to do in Germany. Latest reports indicate that there will be no new legislative backing for the apparently open-ended guarantees that were first reported. Does the Minister have any definitive information on what is happening in Germany? Anecdotally, money started to shift to Ireland last week. The position in Germany may cause even bigger flows. Do the Government have a response to such developments?
The last few days have shown what the European project is worth when national issues come to the fore. Just when we thought that we might see some benefit from the EU in co-ordinated action to respond to the turmoil in financial markets, we got the most telling unilateral demonstrations of how the EU is not a coherent whole. Do the Government expect tangible benefit to come from EU action? If so, how will that be achieved against the overriding interests of nation states, which have been so clearly expressed in recent days?
Secondly, on asset quality, the Chancellor said that he wanted to improve the effectiveness of the credit rating agencies. The Prime Minister threatened to sort them out some six months ago and I asked the Minister then what that meant. We have no more substance today, so I repeat: what does this mean in practice?
The Government’s Statement is silent on a matter that is much discussed in the US and in Europe: the impact of mark-to-market accounting on valuing banks’ assets. I know that the Chancellor has expressed some scepticism about that and, as an accountant, I have some sympathy from a technical perspective. But in the real world, where markets are not working efficiently, there are questions about the relevance of financial measurements, based on imperfect markets, that then feed through to the calculation of regulatory capital and tighten the squeeze on banks. The International Accounting Standards Board, which is based in London, is meeting this week to discuss the issue. What are the Government saying to the IASB, or are they simply ignoring the issue?
Thirdly, on bank capitalisation, the Minister will be aware of the intense press speculation about the Government injecting capital into banks and taking minority stakes in return. The Chancellor’s Statement was silent on that. Can the Minister give us any more information about the circumstances in which the Government might consider that course of action, how much might be involved and on what terms?
Our preferred position is for shareholders to shoulder the burden of mending weak balance sheets, whether through dividend policy or share issues. We would not rule out government participation as a last resort because we recognise that the health of the UK economy depends on a stable banking system, but if the Government decide to go down that route we shall want to see taxpayers protected, as well as effective measures to constrain any excesses in the system.
The Prime Minister has described the preceding decade as the age of irresponsibility. We completely agree. The Government, in particular the economic stewardship under the Prime Minister, have been irresponsible bordering on reckless. The Prime Minister built an economy on excessive debt, both personal and national. He created the financial supervision architecture that manifestly failed and presided over the massive leveraging of the banking system that is now unwinding.
The measures needed to deal with the age of irresponsibility go beyond the technical banking issues that we are dealing with today. The people of our country will have the last word at the next election but, in the short term, my party stands ready to provide constructive support to the Government in order to get the financial system back to some form of health. That includes working constructively, although not necessarily uncritically, on the banking reform Bill. We care about the businesses, large and especially small, that need access to capital, which has virtually dried up. Without that, our economy will surely do even worse than it is currently doing. Families, too, need mortgage markets to resume ordinary business, which is not the same thing as the business that they were doing before the problems arose. These factors drive our stance.
We welcome the morsels of policy in today’s Statement, but these are no substitute for a full debate in your Lordships’ House on the financial crisis. Will the Minister commit to the Government finding time for a proper debate on these issues?
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It is very nice to see him still in his place; we are sorry that he may not be there for much longer, although I suspect that our sorrow is not matched by his.
The Government have repeatedly said that they will do whatever they have to do to deal with this crisis. Can the Minister clarify one area in which they have already taken action? I refer to depositor protection, where the limit has been effectively doubled. But there remain a number of secondary issues that are very important to individuals where further clarity is still needed, such as accounts in merged banks, small private businesses and large sums temporarily on deposit during a house sale. The FSA has been unclear about these matters. If the FSA does not feel that these matters are its direct responsibility, can the Government put pressure on it to provide clarity on these secondary issues that, for the individuals involved, are very important?
In his Statement, the Chancellor said that the FSA is consulting on whether to increase the £50,000 limit to ensure that arrangements in the UK continue to be comparable with international best practice. Is not this a complete euphemism? It is not a question of international best practice; the problem is that we now have a free-for-all internationally, started by the Irish, now taken up by other small countries in Europe, with complete ambiguity regarding the situation in Germany. It may be a bit much to expect the Minister to explain Angela Merkel to us to a greater extent than she has so far been able to do to the German population. Nevertheless, we should accept that it is not a question of international best practice being universally, or nearly universally, adopted; instead, we are searching for such international best practice.
Here I completely take issue with the noble Baroness, who uses this as another occasion on which to say that Europe is inevitably a failure and that, by implication, the UK should be setting a standard that other grateful nations might follow. The truth is that, if we are to deal with a major crisis such as this, with international flows of capital, there will need to be much greater international co-operation. The place to start is Europe. I therefore urge the Minister and his colleague in another place, when they meet tomorrow, to have a sense of urgency about the importance of European co-ordination and to go beyond the photo opportunity of Saturday and make a commitment to long-term working together to put new rules in place at a European level.
The noble Baroness went on to talk about bank capitalisation. We agree with her reluctant acquiescence to the concept of recapitalising the banks based on government support and part-nationalisation. There are other ways of doing it, which she described, but the scale of the emergency and the need for speed suggest that this will be the most effective way of getting the banks back into some kind of order.
Before I move on to my last major point, I must again take issue with the noble Baroness, who gave us a lecture on the evils of credit and bank excesses. We on these Benches have talked about the likely problems of excess borrowing for a very long time. We have done so as a lonely voice for much of that time, so it is interesting and strange to hear the noble Baroness take that line of argument today.
We have necessarily concentrated today on the availability of credit rather than its cost, but it is clear that we now face not just a financial crisis but a crisis that will hit the whole of the real economy. It is now a question not of whether we are in recession but of how deep it will be and how long it will last.
In getting out of a recession or reducing its severity, interest rates will play a major part. Although we on these Benches have been strong supporters of the independence of the Bank of England, my colleague in another place, Vince Cable, has suggested that, given the emergency in which we now find ourselves, the Chancellor should make it clear to the Bank that its remit, possibly under the “subject to that” clause in the Bank Act, should enable it to take decisive action to cut interest rates at this point to reduce the chance in this country of a major recession. Deflation, not inflation, is the risk; those in the MPC and elsewhere who argue otherwise are surely living on a different planet.
As I said at the start of my comments, the Government have regularly used the mantra that they will do whatever they have to do. When the Chancellor first said a few weeks ago that we were facing the worst economic crisis for 60 years, I think that many thought that it was a bit of an exaggeration. It is now clear that it was not. The Government are committed to doing everything that needs to be done and it is clear that bold action is required. The Government must now take it.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate on the Statement. I think that the House will appreciate the offers of support for those strategies which prove necessary for the Government to pursue. I hope and anticipate that that will extend to the banking Bill, which is critical to the future of banking in this country and which is subject to time constraints. I am grateful for indications of support in those terms despite the fact that the tone of the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, was at times excessively critical. It was critical in hindsight: I cannot recall any of the prescriptions advanced from the opposition Benches today having been advanced during the past few months or years. If ever there were a case of being wise after the event, it is in some of her comments today.
One of the noble Baroness’s big charges was on the consequences of unilateral action. The Government, of course, took early unilateral action on Northern Rock last year. I was able to report, as the Chancellor has in today’s Statement, the progress made in that area. But it is clear that we have moved beyond the immediate issues that confront the British economy to a worldwide tsunami. The crisis that has hit the American banking and mortgage industry dwarfs that of all other parts of the world and is bound to have the most profound implications for our banking sector and financial sector and create very real worries about the real economy. That is why the Chancellor has included in his Statement a clear recognition that there has to be international action. The international financial system requires a number of quite significant reforms, and the Chancellor in his Statement—which I had the privilege of repeating a little earlier—itemises the areas in which reform is necessary.
In addition to that, the charge is being made that the European position is fragmented. There is clearly a danger in that; if it were every country for itself in this situation, there could be the most deleterious effects across the economies of all. That is why it is necessary that discussions take place in Europe on the illustration offered by the Irish action at the weekend, possibly followed in one or two other instances. I have been asked whether I can give further details on the major economy that is Germany. I cannot—but then, as I understand the situation at present, neither can the German Government. Why can they not give an answer at this stage? Let us give them credit for recognising that they have a role to play in relation to the significance of the economy and European economies as a whole. That is the basis on which we need to discuss with the Germans and all other partners in Europe how we can make progress to ensure that we do not get unilateral action, which could so easily be detrimental.
My right honourable friend in the other place clearly indicated why he puts such an emphasis on international action. However, that does not alter the fact that, as each individual issue arose, starting with Northern Rock last year and going on in more recent weeks to the Bradford and Bingley and HBOS issues, the Government dealt with those issues expeditiously and effectively. We recognise that there are exceptional aspects to these arrangements, but they have helped to stabilise the position of these very significant institutions, inhibit the possibility of a chain reaction that would be so damaging to us all and, at the same time, give some security to these institutions while protecting depositors and the interests of taxpayers.
We have taken action in the particular. We recognise the necessary action in the general, both in Europe and in relationship to the wider economy in which the United States is bound to feature so largely. The noble Baroness says that it is a pity that Parliament was not recalled. I hope that Parliament would have something a bit more constructive to say than what she managed today, if the Government are going to benefit from the support that the Opposition are offering.
My Lords, perhaps I may follow the Official Opposition’s new supportive line, as followed by the noble Baroness, which I did not note as being as supportive as my noble friend found. He told us that the Chancellor said in his Statement that the Bank of England is willing to take on a wider range of assets. I do not know whether that is to include so called—toxic assets, which I hope he will agree are not always easy to value, given the multiplier effect of many of the doubtful mortgage debts that were apparently being bought and sold until recently. I do not know whether they still are. In fairness to the accountancy profession, it is impossible to value them as nobody is willing to buy them these days. Will he accept that that is the case? Therefore, the case for guaranteeing all deposits is not really made; indeed, it might have the reverse effect on the stability the Government are rightly seeking by reducing the credibility of the banks themselves, which is pretty poor anyway.
Just before we rose for the Summer Recess I asked my noble friend a straight question—was it government policy to guarantee that all banks would never go bankrupt? His answer was no at that time. Is he now saying, as the assumption must be, that the answer is really yes? Will he accept that if the answer is yes now, it would help the stability the Chancellor is rightly seeking?
My Lords, the issue, as my noble friend knows only too well, is how we increase and restore confidence in a system that has been badly battered in recent months. He will appreciate that, within this framework, of course the Government are not going to underwrite every asset of every bank. Nor have we acted in such a manner. We have been careful about the guarantees we are giving. He will recognise that we are not guaranteeing all deposits; we are increasing the guarantee to £50,000 per deposit account, which covers 98 per cent of depositors, so we are giving that assurance. No Government could dream of being in a position to underwrite the totality of every banking failure but, where effective action can be taken to safeguard the interests of depositors and protect the interests of taxpayers, it ought to be taken because it is in the interests of the whole of our community that the financial system is restored to health. I merely sought to emphasise in my reply to the opening statements from the Opposition that the Government had acted with precision and effectively with regard to two banks that were in trouble. Therefore, I think that my noble friend will appreciate the effective action that has been taken thus far.
My Lords, the noble Lord says that the new compensation scheme will cover 98 per cent of depositors. What percentage of deposits will it cover, since it is important to protect the interests of large savers as well as small savers if we are going to deal with this problem?
It is confusing to deal with the Northern Rock and the Bradford and Bingley situations, as they were special cases. The first was in trouble because it gave excessive valuations and the second because it relied too much on self-certification of income. That is not the same as dealing with the banking system generally. Is it not clear from the taxpayers’ point of view that, if we are going to help to recapitalise the banking system, we are far better to do it by taking an interest in a particular bank or banks, preferably by way of preference shares, rather than to buy dud assets which may be worth nothing or varying degrees of nothing? It is not a good idea to follow the American model.
Having said that, the Government’s borrowing requirements have escalated beyond belief in the light of the various measures they have taken. Is the Government’s policy to fund that borrowing from the non-bank sector? There would otherwise be an enormous escalation in the money supply, with a delayed effect on inflation. Whatever balance one hits now between inflation and recession, one must take a longer, as well as a short-term, view on the problems that we face.
My Lords, first, I agree with the noble Lord on the importance of taking a longer view on such significant issues. The Government will do so. We will shortly be reporting on public finances in the Pre-Budget Report. The noble Lord will recognise how significant these issues are, and we will make a full report to Parliament on the situation. He will have to show a little patience there.
As for large savers, I fully understand what the noble Lord says. It would no doubt be ideal if every bank liability were underwritten, but there are obvious reasons for the Government being unable to do that. It must be a priority for the Government to ensure that the millions of relatively small savers have banking security. The larger savers are in a position to make judgments on the assets; the smaller savers are by definition bound to look to the Government to give reassurance, lest we have a run on a bank, which is a judgment not on the bank’s assets or a correct evaluation of where it stands, but on the rumour and false information that can so easily trigger such a run. The guarantee to the small savers helps to stabilise these things.
I accept what the noble Lord says about co-ordinated international action. Although we want it, we are concerned that our ideas form an important part of the debate upon it. I agree with him that following the American model would not be wise for this country, which is why we have followed a different path. We recognise the rights of other Governments to have different strategies, but if we are to come out of this crisis successfully together there must be co-ordination on the basis of international agreement, in which my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will undoubtedly play an important role.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the safest place for British savers in a troubled world is a big British high-street bank or building society? I have not had a moment’s worry about my savings in Bank of Scotland or HSBC, but if my cash were in an Icelandic bank I would be very worried indeed: the currency has collapsed, interest rates are sky high and bank liabilities are hundreds of thousands of pounds for each Icelandic citizen. Would the Minister be happy if his savings were in an Icelandic bank? What is the position of the 100,000 or so British savers with £5 billion in the icesave product, who would have to claim the first £16,000 from the Icelandic compensation fund? What are the assets of that fund? Can it pay out? What happens if it cannot or will not pay out? Countries can go bust when they run out of foreign exchange and this country shows every sign of doing that.
My Lords, I came fully briefed on the British responsibility but not on the Icelandic one. I do not have too many notes on which to fall back but I shall trade on the noble Lord’s comments. British high-street banks and building societies are safe and secure. That is why the Government have no compunction about underwriting savings in those banks up to the point that I mentioned.
As regards the international position, the noble Lord will recognise that in these tumultuous times countries are likely to face particularly difficult circumstances. It is not for me at the Dispatch Box to judge whether it is safe to invest in Icelandic banks. However, the safeguarding of their position will depend on co-ordinated action in which this country must play a leading role.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a danger of people shedding crocodile tears about the lack of co-ordinated action in Europe? If it proves to be the case that the competences of the European Union are ambiguous as regards doing what we know is necessary to avoid beggar-my-neighbour policies, will we obtain the all-party support in this Parliament which will ensure that we can strengthen the necessary European competences?
My Lords, I agree with the sentiment expressed by my noble friend in his latter remarks. As regards co-ordinated action, we were all somewhat shaken by the position adopted by the Germans over the weekend. However, I think it will be recognised that the European Community has sought to take steps to address the matter. President Sarkozy sought to bring together Finance Ministers and the Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the leading countries to initiate effective action. We are all aware that it is difficult for Governments to act in time when things happen so suddenly. However, the delays are greater in the case of the European Community as it needs to achieve much greater consensus and has a much smaller capacity for taking executive action. Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the overall intention to ensure that co-ordinated action is initiated to address what everybody recognises is not just a Europe-wide problem but an international one.
My Lords, I add my support and welcome to that expressed for the Statement, but is the action of the Government of the Republic of Ireland in giving a full and unreserved guarantee in relation to depositors’ funds legal as regards the competition laws of the European Union? If not, what is the worst scenario that could happen in that context? I respectfully suggest that that should be considered.
My Lords, I do not have detailed knowledge about the legal position but I imagine that in the present circumstances the Irish Government are postponing consideration of questions of legality until a later date. In the mean time, they consider that they are taking action to address the immediate crisis. Legal questions may not have figured too largely in their consideration. However, such unilateral action could have, and may be having, repercussions on other economies. That is why we need a co-ordinated response rather than the individual stance which the Irish have adopted.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that today we might have some thoughts for the unfortunate Mr Leeson, whose misdemeanours now look quite trivial against those of his elders and betters more recently? Secondly, will the noble Lord give some consideration to an inquiry into whether there has been any element of false accounting in any of our financial institutions, in view of the way in which they have swung from what appear to be vastly inflated profits into enormous losses in recent times? Finally, does he further agree that many of the problems that we are now witnessing on both sides of the Atlantic have their origins, on both sides, in the growth of government debt and of money supply at about four times the rate of growth in the economy?
My Lords, I imagine that the noble Lord’s recollection of Mr Leeson is somewhat greener than mine, as he had greater responsibility at that time than I had for the consequences. Perhaps not, but certainly the noble Lord was very active in public life when the Leeson issue broke.
The Leeson issue was dealt with in a fairly condign way. It ought to be the case—the whole country is clamouring for it, and no noble Lord on either side of the House does not think this—that if people have been involved in anything close to fraudulent or reckless activity, certain prices ought to be paid for that. That is why I emphasise that the Financial Services Authority will take into account the question of levels of remuneration when it looks at the status of any institution that it needs to examine.
On the more general issue, the noble Lord, an outstanding exemplar of deregulation, ought to show a little reticence at this stage, when so much of the claim is that certain people were acting in an unregulated fashion.
My Lords, on 1 April 1967, I first went to work in the town of Halifax and, until coming to this place, that was where I spent most of my working days. I was aware at that stage of the mighty umbrella that was the Halifax Building Society, and even today there are 6,500 jobs in that town, including that of my esteemed son-in-law.
Yorkshire is a financial centre; we have Halifax, Leeds and Bingley. We have been proud of having the biggest building society in the world, but where are we now? What is happening to the mantra of a mortgage business—lending long, borrowing short in diversity—with this new mantra of lending long and borrowing short in bulk?
Clearly, there is government influence around at present, and there are 50 points in the Statement. Where is regional policy in this and who is batting for Yorkshire? We have a Prime Minister, a Chancellor and a First Minister of Scotland. We hear about the Bank of Scotland every day and about preserving jobs in Scotland. I have no desire to talk down Scotland, but I want to talk up Yorkshire. Edinburgh is the second city as far as financial services are concerned, but what assurances can the Minister give that someone is speaking up for and looking after those jobs and the financial services sector in Yorkshire? The Minister has said that the Government have acted expeditiously and effectively on HBOS and Bradford and Bingley, but where is the work in making certain that they are looking after jobs in Yorkshire?
My Lords, the whole House appreciates the strength of the noble Lord’s advocacy of the interests of Yorkshire, which is suffering significantly because of the significant growth of the financial sector in Yorkshire, particularly in the city of Leeds. This is a calamity for the area, and no one is underestimating that, but the noble Lord will appreciate the obvious fact that the issues are so profound that no corner of the United Kingdom will not be affected adversely unless we are able to minimise the impact of this very difficult situation upon the real economy. Yorkshire, of course, has to be looked upon and safeguarded in those terms. The noble Lord will be all too well aware that the Government have to address themselves to issues that affect the whole of the nation, from which, when we prove them to be effective, Yorkshire will also benefit.
House again in Committee on Clause 1, Amendment No. 1.
It may be appropriate if I make a few remarks following our debate before the Statement. I remind the Committee that we are considering an amendment moved by my noble friend on the Front Bench that would transfer the decision-making function of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to the Secretary of State. One difficulty with that is that the Bill is drawn up in reverse order. The first stage of the process for dealing with these major infrastructure investments will be the creation of the national planning statements, whereas the first part of the Bill deals with the second stage—the creation of the commission.
Those who took part in the Second Reading debate, many of whom are present, will recollect that a number of us made the point that the crucial stage at which Parliament will have to make decisions is the planning statements stage. I said that if we could pass amendments—a number of such amendments are on the Marshalled List—that made those statements subject to affirmative resolutions in both Houses of Parliament, the role of the commission at the later stage might become more readily acceptable.
In her winding up speech, at a very late hour in July, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, kindly said that she recognised that point. She talked about this being a seamless process, and I made exactly that point: that it is two stages of a single process. If we can make sure that the national planning statements are subject not just to parliamentary scrutiny, which the Bill provides in considerable detail, but to parliamentary decisions, so that the main framework of the work that the commission will have to do has actually been approved by Parliament, then it becomes possible to look at the commission in a rather different light.
I would be hesitant, on the basis of the arguments that we have heard so far, to say that nevertheless the decisions should be taken by the Secretary of State. There must be others, in addition to me, who found themselves having to make such decisions. When I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I dealt with a number of major planning decisions to which I may have occasion to refer later in this Committee stage. However, it is a bit of a fiction to believe that other than in very few cases are the decisions taken by Ministers or that the cases even reach Ministers’ desks. In the vast majority of cases which are not necessarily wildly controversial or of great national interest and which have gone to appeal to Ministers, decisions are taken by civil servants. A Minister may be alerted but the difficulty there is that Ministers always act in a quasi-judicial capacity and it is not open to the public or anyone else to seek to intervene in the decision. It is quite a difficult process.
The other point about Ministers making the decision is as follows. If the commission does its work properly, it will cover a huge range of issues—not least those of public and local consultation and so on—and it will therefore be able to make an extremely thorough recommendation. My anxiety is that such is the culture of departments—for example, the noble Baroness’s department and there may be others—that it would be extremely difficult to stop civil servants or officials crawling all over the case again, and that could give rise to substantial delays in the process.
At the same time, I am well aware that there is much anxiety about an unelected, appointed body making these major decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, gave a number of examples in other fields of principles being laid down by Parliament and then decisions being taken by departments. He gave the Inland Revenue as one example. If I have misunderstood him, I shall gladly give way.
I entirely take the point and I shall certainly want to study what the noble Lord said. However, whatever the Bill may say, there is a deep-seated culture and a danger that officials will need to say that they wish to protect their Ministers against any suggestion of a referral to the courts.
There is another problem. In its representations—I am sure that other noble Lords have received the paper—the CBI produced an extremely interesting chart, at the end of which is a procedural graph on the Government’s proposal in the Bill. At the bottom of the chart are the words “IPC Decision”—that is, the Infrastructure Planning Commission’s decision. Below that are the words “Approve” and “Reject”, and in the middle the words “Judicial review?”. As the law stands at present, I do not think that we will be able to escape the inevitability of a resort to judicial review in contentious matters. In a book about the British constitution that I read recently, there was a very interesting passage about how this had grown over the past 20 or 25 years from being a small, last-resort application to the court where a decision had been taken which no reasonable person could possibly have taken to becoming open house for the courts to substitute their judgments for those of a public body such as the commission or, indeed, of Ministers. The noble Lord, who knows far more about these things than I do, shakes his head and no doubt he will be able to correct me but that is the impression that is being given, and it was remarked on in the constitutional book that I read recently.
The one body which is not subject to judicial review is, of course, Parliament. We are at a very early stage in this process and if it is felt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, very interestingly said, that it is not acceptable that the commission, as an appointed body, should take these important decisions, is it not possible that the right body to which the recommendations from the commission should go is Parliament? The argument would then be how could Parliament possibly cope? I take some comfort from the estimate given in the White Paper, referred to at Second Reading by the noble Baroness, I think, about how much work the commission would have to deal with. Paragraph 5.57 states that,
“it is hard to be specific because of the likelihood of fluctuations in the frequency with which major infrastructure projects are brought forward, and there might potentially be peaks of anywhere up to 25 major projects in some years. Depending on the volume … we expect that the commission might require between 20 and 30 commissioners”.
We shall come to the number in later amendments. I ask the Minister whether that estimate still stands. Is that the Government’s best guess of the number of major infrastructure decisions that will fall to the commission? Is it so impossible that Parliament could be the recipient of the commission's recommendations? A committee or perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses could then say yea or nay. It could refer the decision back or it could take it, and then perfectly clearly Parliament would be responsible.
Another point, made very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, at Second Reading—I have had a very happy weekend rereading the Second Reading debate, which was a long time ago—is that there is moral value in the decisions being taken by Parliament. I think he meant by that—I would interpret it in this way—that if one challenges the decision of Parliament, one challenges the whole basis of the constitution.
I can speak with some personal knowledge on that as I faced 36 recalcitrant local authorities which were determined to subvert the whole of the rate support grant system then in force, demanding that I should repeal the rate settlement that had been made and demanding that I should get rid of all the constrictions of capping and so on. My answer to them was, “I cannot do that: these have all been approved by Parliament”. To my mind and to theirs, that was the end of the argument. We had this great summit in the Department of the Environment with 36 council leaders, led by Mr Blunkett, and it is now well documented that their ambition was to overthrow the Government. When I said to them, “I cannot repeal these: they have been passed by Parliament”, they had no further arguments. My legislation went through, the support grant was effective and they all made their rates in the ordinary way.
To my mind, the real authority in this country, which cannot be challenged through judicial review, is Parliament. I suggest to my noble friend that if one shares his view that an appointed, unelected, independent commission should not make these decisions, the right answer is to refer them to Parliament. After all, Parliament will have already considered the national policy statements in great detail. That is all in the Bill and we shall come to that later. Why should not the same committee or committees say, “Here is a particular project, here is the recommendation of the IPC, are we prepared to accept it, yea or nay?”. That seems to me to be the right way to proceed.
No doubt we will come back to some of the very interesting points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, when we discuss the national policy statements. His linking of the two seems fundamental to how the debate proceeds.
However, referring to the earlier debate on whether the Infrastructure Planning Commission should be a decision-making or an advisory body, perhaps I may inject one or two additional thoughts to those that have already been aired. The first is a small sense of urgency about the whole debate. We are in for an enormous amount of infrastructure projects over the years to come. We will be closing down 17 existing power stations between now and 2016 and will have to take very unpopular decisions about where the successors to those power stations will be, 11 of them coal-fired and six of them nuclear power stations. We know how difficult it is to get planning consent for a wind farm. I have the honour of serving on the Economic Affairs Committee, which is currently considering the future of renewable energy. I learnt from that that we are trying to increase the amount of energy produced from renewables from our current 1.5 per cent to 15 per cent by 2016. It will require an enormous number of infrastructure projects to achieve that kind of sustainability. Climate change may require that we do.
Big decisions are ahead for us on transport. I was very interested in the proposals of the leader of the Conservative Party for a new national railway network—interesting to those of us who live in the north of England; it sounds like a very exciting proposition. That would require major infrastructure work and, I suggest, an awful lot of difficult appeals along the way between conflicting interests.
A lot of projects are backing up. Our dependency on imported sources of energy from overseas will make energy security a significant national issue. By 2016, we will be importing 80 per cent of the gas that we use in this country—we are very dependent on gas for energy purposes. We must get on top of the energy and transport issues, where there are loads of major infrastructure projects. The current system is already more than creaking. The CBI report mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, tells us just how bad it looks from the perspective of business.
I remind the Committee that in order to carry out all that infrastructure work we will need to draw in, mostly from overseas, immense amounts of capital—billions of pounds of private sector investment. We heard earlier when considering the credit crunch about the international flow of capital around the world. It is that capital that we will need to draw in for our infrastructure projects. Nothing puts off the good capitalist more than a system in which he has little understanding or idea of where the rules are and what will happen at the end of the day—the uncertainties, the inconsistencies and the delays. Why do Germany and Holland, with which I have some familiarity, do so well in terms of their infrastructure? The answer is that they have a much more streamlined system, which is much more attractive for investors. If those billions of pounds are to come our way for our infrastructure projects, we must get a system that is more fit for purpose. I am absolutely sure that the national policy statements, with all the parliamentary input to them—perhaps there may be more of that, as we will discuss later—are the way to sort out policy.
When it comes to the difficult decisions to be taken on the ground, the Bill proposes that the Infrastructure Planning Commission, a group of about 35 commissioners, independent experts, people who will know who else to call before them as witnesses, will, after all the due processes—there are an awful lot of those, an awful lot of public involvement—take the decision. Would it be better if all they did was advise and this went back to Ministers and to the Secretary of State for the final judgment?
I have been on the receiving end of awaiting the outcome of planning inquiries and been called in by Ministers when applications have gone to the Secretary of State for a decision. I have waited many months for the outcome, and have wondered what the Ministers—the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, suggests that they may not consider the matter at all—were doing with my planning application when it had already gone through an inquiry. When things have gone through the IPC, they will have gone through extensive inquiry and reached the point of decision, so what are the Ministers adding? The only thing I can think of was that they are thinking about the political consequences of their decision. What else do they add to the party?
If Ministers have to ponder the political consequences at the end before the final decision is taken, that is not the best basis on which to arbitrate in disputes between two different groups of citizens, which is very often what these planning decisions are about. There will be the objectors and the protesters; indeed, there will be dozens of them. Someone needs to arbitrate, and if the only ingredient brought in by Ministers at the end is politics, I should point out that politics are subject to all kinds of hazards and dangers: “Is an election coming?”, “Can we delay this for a few more months, or possibly longer, until it is no longer our job to take this very unpopular decision about a nuclear power station or a railway track that is going through some area of scientific importance?”.
Who will take this difficult decision? It is rather noble of the Government to propose to stand back and relinquish power, giving it to others who will, very nobly I hope, come forward as commissioners. I will feel safer if that process is in the hands of an independent group of individuals, the policy having been firmly established by Parliament beforehand. The point about a judicial review makes few odds, because at the moment the Secretary of State and other Ministers could face judicial review of their decision, so putting in the IPC has made nothing worse and that opportunity would remain in either case. I come down on the side of there being a new body that is decision-making, and I look forward to considering more of the aspects of the national policy statements that were so importantly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.
I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he moved his amendment and spoke to his other amendments in the group. On the two critical amendments and the question of the planning commission making recommendations to Parliament rather than taking decisions, the only words that the noble Lord uttered were that they were probing amendments. He then moved on and did not enlighten the Committee at all about the arguments for and against that. When it came to eliminating Schedule 1, which is in effect all about the powers and the wherefore of the commission, he said simply that the effect of the amendment would be that there would be no commission. I should say to the noble Lord that the Official Opposition owe more to the Committee and the public in their thinking on these matters than moving amendments in a way that does not do justice to the issues and that is not typical of him.
I shall take up some of those matters. First, most people agreed that there is a need to improve the speed and efficiency of the planning process while at the same time maintaining the proper integrity of democracy and process. In my own part of the country—Yorkshire has already been mentioned—it took six years to get a decision on upgrading the national power grid, which is important for the whole nation and not only for north Yorkshire. It is simply a ludicrous way of running the country. We need to address the process and how to speed it up. The Government have come forward with some very practical proposals that will speed up the planning decision process. While they not unreasonably allow a perfectly adequate amount of time to consider matters, they do not allow them to drag on and on. I shall come to that in a moment. At the same time, they will ensure that the system in place to improve speed and inefficiency is more transparent and improves public consultation rather than makes it worse. One of the worst features of the debate outside this House is the stated view that this Bill threatens democracy, is undemocratic and reduces democratic processes. That is not true: it improves democratic processes. In a moment, I shall comment on the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
This Bill makes clear where the public and people can make representations and have their views heard in the establishing of and the discussions about the national policy framework. We all know that the discussions on the national policy framework, as well as all other big discussions, go on for months before the matter gets to Parliament. People have views about those matters: for example, everyone has a view on nuclear power. There will be ample time and opportunity for people to be consulted and to express their views before matters get to Parliament, where there will be a great deal of discussion. National policy frameworks will not appear in Parliament undiscussed or unconsulted.
Under this Bill, when the national policy statements and the Infrastructure Planning Commission are in place, applicants who wish to undertake a major project legally will have a framework in which they will have to consult widely the people who will be affected. That will include not only individuals and other interests, but also local authorities. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it simply is not true that this will take local politics out of decisions. There will be enormous discussion at local level on a major application such as this, not only between interest groups, communities and individuals, but also with the local authorities concerned. Local authorities have a statutory part in this process and the various processes have to be gone through before an application can go in.
I do not want to prolong this debate, but my point was not that there would not be adequate opportunity throughout the process for local people and local authorities to be involved. Ultimately, the final decision will be made by the commission, which is not democratically accountable. At the moment, the final decision is made either by the local authority or by the Minister.
At the moment, on a major proposal like this, the decision is not taken by the local authority. On that we can all be agreed. Effectively, it is subject to a public inquiry, which usually is conducted over a long period of time and a recommendation is made to the Minister. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others that Ministers in an overwhelming number of cases, if not in all—I suspect that they will say in all cases—will take that decision entirely on the basis of planning law and planning process, not on a different set of values and judgments. In referring these matters to Parliament, as one of these amendments suggests, if it then discusses these issues and takes a decision on completely different grounds from those of the planning commission or an inspector, the applicants rightly would be outraged. Applicants could go through the planning process, which has clear rules in place, and could meet all the criteria after all the consultations. The commission would make a recommendation. Parliament then could sit down in a committee or elsewhere and reach a completely different decision. What on earth have the applicants been through all the other processes for? That strikes me as a recipe for chaos. Not only will it not speed things up, in my view it will slow them down and seriously weaken investment processes and decisions.
I hope that these truly are probing amendments and that in the event, at least the Official Opposition will feel that these matters, having been aired, are best left as they stand in the Bill.
What concerns me most about the IPC, apart from its unaccountability, is its independence. I view independence as being the detached professional independence of a judge or adjudicator, someone who is not committed to any industry or political viewpoint relevant to the inquiry on which he is adjudicating. A planning inspector is such a person. He may well find in favour of a certain type of application on one occasion and against on another. The Planning Inspectorate has developed this culture over many years and thereby has painstakingly won the confidence of the public. On the IPC, as I see it, all the industrial and political interests will be jostling for representation and the resulting appointees are very likely to have committed viewpoints, if not agendas. Surely we do not want a situation where the outcome of an inquiry is considered to be a foregone conclusion once the identity of the commissioner or commissioners is public knowledge. As the CPRE says in its brief of 19 September:
“The creation of the IPC does not suggest a body designed to engage fairly with all the different interests involved in planning, rather it suggests a body specifically charged to sponsor and approve developer applications for new infrastructure through the planning process”.
I thoroughly endorse those words.
I fully appreciate the need to try to enable us to reach major planning decisions more quickly. It would help if Governments stuck consistently to convincing policies. But like the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who I thought made a brilliant speech, I would prefer it if we sought to improve further the system we have rather than launch into the uncharted waters of the vastly more expensive system proposed in this Bill. However, I would go further than the noble Baroness and prefer us not to have the IPC at all, and if the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pursues her amendment to remove Clause 1, I will support her in the Lobby.
I line up with my noble friend Lord Jenkin on this issue. The first two parts of the Bill are very much one, and the argument about politics really belongs to the second of those parts, covering national policy statements. It is in that area where the political arguments will take place and ought to be settled. In some cases, it will be relatively easy to settle them. If we have a policy statement saying that we will build new nuclear power stations on the sites of the old ones, that is specific enough to make it clear that Parliament has said what is going to happen and someone else can be left to sort out the details. If the policy statement merely says that we want another 5 per cent of our energy to come from wind farms, it is very unclear that we have done our duty as politicians; that is, to take political decisions. To my mind, a lot of the political questions come down to how we are going to handle national policy statements. So at the moment I do not line up with those on the Front Bench or the Liberals who think that the whole idea of the IPC is a wrong ‘un. It depends very much on how it meshes with national policy statements.
I may as well flag up my concerns about national policy statements now, which turn on how this House will be involved in them. I believe that the other place has negotiated a very substantial involvement in the process. Contemporaneously with things going on outside, Members will be able to hold their own investigation into a policy statement and to have any resulting report considered, debated and voted on. But, as far as I understand it, the proposal is that this House will have no involvement whatever in the process. I do not find that either sensible or acceptable. I hope the noble Baroness will enlarge on what rights she expects this House to have in dealing with national policy statements. If that is where the politics are going to be, it is important that the practicality of this House is engaged as well as the pure politics of another place.
Before participating in the Committee I should declare an interest as a farmer, landowner, member of the CLA, NFU, RICS, RSPB and CPRE, and chairman of the Charities’ Property Association. I think that covers it.
The debate so far has largely centred upon who takes the ultimate decision, but there are many issues in the clauses. Taking the proposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that Clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill as a basis for my intervention—I know she said she did not raise the issue in a particularly serious note—it may be worth reiterating the strengths of the IPC. As many noble Lords said at Second Reading, we need to find a way of speeding up the delivery of our major infrastructure projects and, as has been said again today, especially those projects designed to counter the effect of climate change. The obvious way to do what seeks to be done is to separate the principle from the details. As has been said several times today, the principles are to be dealt with in a democratic fashion at the national level through the full use of Parliament—we shall come to that debate in due course—but the details will be dealt with by the IPC. This will be a national body which, at the same time, will adjudicate on local details at a local level, in a way whereby everyone will have their say but without causing needless delay, I hope.
Delay is a bad thing not only for our national destiny, as it were, but also for locals. There is nothing worse than having your neighbourhood or your lives blighted by the possibility of, say, a bypass or a major project. Very often, even a bad decision is better than no decision at all for 10 or 15 years.
For the purposes of translating the principles laid down by Parliament in a way which works in the considerable demands, worries and concerns of locals, it is vital that the IPC, or something similar, is created. I do not believe the Planning Inspectorate could do the job. Large national projects, often covering several planning authorities, need a different kind of expertise and experience. It is right that a special body should be set up for the purposes of interpreting the national policy statements and cross-referencing or cross-gridding them with local demands and concerns.
This is very important. Where local concerns outbalance the national policy statements, the IPC should and must be able to say no even if the application conforms to the national policy statement. It should be able to say, “Such and such a spot is not suitable for a dam or a railway interchange or the right route for a pipeline, so go away, you applicant, and think again”. I hope the Minister will confirm this when she responds to the debate. We will come to the make-up of the IPC in a moment, but I repeat that it needs to be created and brought into being.
Turning to the narrower issue that has dominated the debate about who takes the ultimate decision, I am yet to be persuaded that the decisions will need the interference of a Minister after all the processes that will be gone through when the legislation comes into being. The IPC’s decision-making process will be carried out in public, with all representations, written and oral, open to public scrutiny and comment. To date that has not applied to ministerial decisions, which have a reputation of being political decisions taken behind closed doors, with a suspicion that a Minister or civil servant, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, pointed out, had been got at or had already made up their mind. As has been said, many of these projects will have been initiated, either directly or indirectly, by a body of government and it is totally wrong that the Government should then decide on them. There is already a strong suspicion that planning decisions by Ministers are politically motivated and depend on how the Government of the day want to be viewed in a particular constituency. For instance, is a bad-neighbour project more or less likely to end up in a marginal constituency? Is a decision likely to be different if it is in an opposition constituency? Whatever the rights or wrongs of these suspicions, I do not believe that the planning system should be seen to be politically motivated.
The IPC decisions will be taken on the basis of the democratically agreed national policy statements and will be decided on in an open process. I still hold to the view that, once they have decided on the national policy statements, we should then keep the politicians out of the process.
I am grateful to the Opposition for tabling a comet’s tail of amendments which has picked up many subsequent issues. The debate has therefore been able to range over the wide but central issues of what the Government are attempting to do with the Bill. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, particularly to those who think that the Government are doing something which is absolutely right, radical and sufficient for the great needs of our country. It has been an excellent and thoughtful debate.
It is tempting to try to answer everything but I am afraid that that would lead me into a kind of Second Reading debate. However, I have to take up issues which range slightly wider than the amendments because they touch on many aspects of the Bill. We had some excellent speeches. I mention, in particular, the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who spoke with authority after overseeing government processes for so long. I was extremely grateful for his perspective on that.
Let me deal with the debate in the context of the opposition to Clause 1 stand part, pick up on the amendments and answer the questions that noble Lords have raised. I found it interesting that at the heart of the debate are the questions—which were pertinently put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—“What is it? Who should take the decision? Who do people think takes the decision at the moment?”. The debate around the Committee has revealed many different responses to those questions. That is reflected in an obscurity for the general public about who takes the decision, on what grounds they take it, how they can be challenged and what we mean by ministerial accountability. It helps enormously to have the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, available. He, like me, has been in a position where we have to take complex decisions. He is therefore very familiar with the processes involved.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd for demonstrating the scale and the urgency of the situation we face. We had a Statement today on the instability in the world economic system, the implications of which have never been more acute. If one considers the energy markets, one sees that wholesale gas prices have risen by more than 70 per cent in a little over six months and there have been similar increases in the price of electricity. There is an enormous need for greater certainty, clarity and security in both environmental and economic sustainability. Frankly, the Bill has never been more salient. It is being brought forward now at absolutely the right time. One of the first things the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said was about the burden on the taxpayer of creating the IPC. I will come back to the costs in a moment, but the burden on the taxpayer if the lights go out will be something we simply will not be able to cost.
I hope that, as we go through this scrupulous process in this House, I will be able to persuade noble Lords opposite to support our independent Infrastructure Planning Commission. I want to address their concerns in the context of the amendment. I understand that these are real concerns about what they see as a loss of accountability. That must be balanced, but what I see, and what many noble Lords have spoken about today, is a gain in both accountability and transparency in the full context of what we are proposing. It is a wholly new strategy, one that brings sustainability and energy security together. The noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Jenkin, are quite right: we will be talking about national policy statements as the first part of the new process. That cannot be divorced from the IPC; they are fundamental to each other.
As the Bill has progressed this far, it has become clear that the present system has very few friends, but the price we pay for not stepping up and understanding that we need to be radical now is not really grasped. We have had statistics across the House today about what we have to do—we have to replace one-third of our electricity generating capacity, for example—but the scale of investment needed is huge. Barker and the Eddington report went into this in great detail and illustrated the sheer competitiveness of the global markets as they are at the moment. The CBI has pointed out that we need 40 to 45 new large offshore wind farms in the next eight to 10 years, and seven nuclear power stations. We need to invest in our gas storage facilities. Last year 27 per cent of our gas was imported; it is now 40 per cent. These issues are urgent, and they face us at a difficult time for investors around the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, there is a huge demand for national infrastructure. Whether you look at Australia, Canada or China, people want these large projects now because of the energy security situation we all face.
Why should any investor come to Britain in an environment where we can guarantee only indefinite delays, circular processes, general obscurity about where the debate will be held and an inability to take the decision without going back to the Minister, who is sometimes the slowest part of the process? I say that not because I am dilatory or, I am certain, because the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was. In all integrity, one has to revisit the evidence and look again at the issues. We are trying to create a safe environment for the investment that we need, both to address the challenge of climate change in terms of moving to a low-carbon economy and to create the infrastructure that we need to keep the lights on.
My noble friend referred to the Yorkshire upgrade. It took six and a half years, I should say, not just six. The figures show that delays to what we are trying to do with wind farms are equally serious. On average it takes 20 months to secure development consents for a large onshore wind farm. By November 2007 there were 23 onshore wind projects in England and Wales, with a combined capacity of over 500 megawatts, that had already been under consideration for more than two years. We cannot afford these delays. Delay brings uncertainty, not simply for the promoter but for the blighted community that is living with the cost of not knowing what is going to happen. More than anything else, given the pressures on resources and the timeframes we are working in, we need greater certainty and clarity throughout the planning system so that it provides a fair, transparent, credible and robust independent framework.
I do not want to rehearse the reasons for delay—I did that at Second Reading—but, critically, there are the following four things. First, we have delays, difficulties and uncertainties because we have a body of national planning policy that is too voluminous, complex and unwieldy for those who use it, compounded by as many as eight separate consent regimes. That is precisely why the Bill simplifies the consent process.
Secondly, the confusion between policy and planning means that each public inquiry becomes highly congested and contested by debate on the policy of the national infrastructure, often at the expense of detailed consideration of local impacts and implications. If you were to look at the process for the Heathrow application, for example, you would find that in relation to the days that were spent debating national policy, the local impacts were barely debated. That is often typical of the balance of effort that goes into a public inquiry. That is why the Bill separates the policy, which will be set out in the national policy statements, from the planning process framed by the IPC, and why we have now provided not one but three stages for people to have their say.
Thirdly, there is a lack of incentives and opportunities for developers to bring forward good, thoughtful applications early so that the implications can be explained and be challenged by local communities. That is why we have created a new, transparent, fairer application process.
Fourthly, we have two stages of decision where an inspector’s report is followed by a ministerial decision, and more than one Minister is often involved. As I have said, major delays can occur at that stage. It is interesting, for instance, that the inquiry regarding Bathside Bay took 26 weeks while the ministerial decision took 52 weeks.
All the changes in the Bill will mean that the process will be more transparent, fairer and faster. The process will be made better and, I could say, more trustworthy—although that does not reflect at all on the extraordinary expertise and integrity of the present planning inspectors, who are extraordinary people and do an excellent job. We need to have a more transparent system, and we need to have a clear relationship between policy-making and planning.
That goes to the heart of the debate, because so much of the Opposition’s argument is about retaining that in some form as it offers a form of ministerial accountability, which is seen to be indispensable. I believe, and a lot of noble Lords around the House who have spoken agree, that this concern is misplaced. It is a misreading of ministerial accountability; Ministers are not accountable for their decisions to Parliament as they are in other areas of decision-making.
However, my case for an independent IPC rests not simply on that point. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, spoke about it being a fiction. I am not sure I entirely agree with him—“fiction” is a strong word—but I believe the Minister is conflicted by the present system in such a way that it obscures and hampers a proper national debate. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, referred to this when he talked about the judge and jury.
With regard to what the public think the Minister is doing if they think the Minister is involved, confusion arises in particular when Ministers take decisions on schemes where the Government have a specific policy interest. Ministers must be independent—they cannot be prey to political lobbying—and, because the role is quasi-judicial, when deciding planning applications they have to base decisions on the evidence presented and published policy. They have to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest. If they are likely to be involved in taking decisions, they are sometimes heavily circumscribed in their ability to promote the national interest—to promote or encourage projects even if they consider them to be vital in the national interest. They cannot discuss projects with representatives of communities. They cannot engage with stakeholders or get involved with resolving problems or brokering compromises. When noble Lords consider that we are talking here about nationally significant projects that help to meet national objectives, they will understand how Ministers feel about being constrained and not being able to promote them.
We therefore have a situation at the moment that is the worst of all worlds. Ministers occupy a role that is inhibited by the fact that they are at the same time the policy-setters, the promoters and the decision-makers.
I have listened to the Minister with great care, and it is extremely interesting. She will remember the Caythorpe gas storage project, which I discussed with her on more than one occasion. In that, there was a ministerial Statement—by Alistair Darling, as it happens, when he was Secretary of State at the then DTI—that more gas storage was imperative if we were going to get the security we needed. That was, in a sense, a ministerial policy statement. It was reduced to one sentence in the 12-page letter of decision from the noble Baroness’s department. Why have these so-called policy statements from the past had so little weight when Ministers take decisions? It was there—why could her department not say yes?
The noble Lord has made an excellent case for national policy statements, which will frame the decision. As he will know—and this will apply to future decisions, although I cannot comment on an individual case—the issues are always to do with matters such as safety and geological security. Those are the locational issues—the site issues—which the planning inspectors must address. They know that we need more gas storage but in this place one has to look at exactly what the consequences would be.
The whole rationale behind the Bill is that there must be a way of balancing economic, environmental and social objectives that is properly considered by Ministers at the beginning of the process through the production of, consultation on and parliamentary scrutiny of national policy statements. We have created in the Bill an IPC, not because we do not think that Ministers should be involved in the process of deciding where critical infrastructure should go—far from it—but because we think that Ministers are making decisions on major infrastructure projects in the wrong place, at the wrong time and in the wrong way. We now propose that, rather than having a final appearance of a quasi-judicial sort, which is very limited, Ministers should set out infrastructure policy in a series of national policy statements which will be open to public debate and influence as well as an intensive form of parliamentary scrutiny.
As I said on Second Reading, I do not think that this will be a comfortable position for Ministers. For the first time, these decisions will be transparent and able to be challenged. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the plans would become out of date, which is true. But they will be plans for the long term which deal with our forecasted capacity of what we need and, should they become out of date, the Minister will review them. There is proper provision for both stability and review in the system. The plans will in some instances be locationally specific, as the Secretary of State has already made clear. There will be a debate on those specific locations as they are set out in criteria in the relevant national policy statements. There will be a full public debate, in which local authorities will be able to be fully involved. The Minister will be seen to be fully accountable in those specific NPSs.
The NPSs set out the broad framework and will integrate all other relevant policies, including planning policies. They will be the subject of an appraisal of sustainability; they will be the framework in which the decisions of the IPC will be made and the criteria against which its decisions will be tested.
We come now to some of the detail about how the IPC will work. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for saying that we are looking for a different sort of expert and a different sort of experience. I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Reay. These people will not be representatives; they will not be agents of interests. These 35 commissioners—the number has been assessed according to our assumptions about the workload provided by the 45 projects—will be independent experts across a wide range of competences. Some may come from planning backgrounds and some may come from the public sector in terms of project management. They will come from the range that we need to make the decisions sound and the testing of evidence substantial.
We are assuming that most projects will be considered and decided by a panel of three to five commissioners, with less complex cases, such as uncontroversial works to the strategic road network, for example, decided by a single commissioner. But the decisions will be made in those cases by a council of at least five commissioners; no single commissioner will take the final decision. There will be timetables for completing examinations and taking decisions.
On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, our best guess is still that the number of major projects will be about 45 a year. There may be some variation regarding the balance of projects but we still think that that is a sound estimate. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about costings. We expect the one-off costs of the IPC to be £5 million; we expect the cost of running it to be £9.3 million each year; and we expect an average cost of £300 million per year—£4.8 billion by 2030—because there will be such a significant fall in the time taken by the process. Those costs are in the RIA.
The IPC will be able to take into account any other matters that it considers important and relevant, but it will be independent. It will be able to reject any application if it thinks that the local impact will result in the adverse effects outweighing the benefits. It will have to set out reasons for reaching its decisions. It will be focused on local impacts and will look at the more technical issues concerning specific sites and schemes in the sort of detail that generally I believe our planning inquiries have not been able to do so far.
Noble Lords have referred to the commission as unaccountable. The fact that it is unelected does not mean that it is unaccountable. It will operate within the clear constraints set by Parliament; it will only ever determine applications within the very clear policy statements set out in the NPS. The commission will be appointed by and need to report on its performance to the Secretary of State. The most senior appointments will be subject to pre-appointment hearings by a Select Committee. In fact, they will be among the first public appointments to be subjected to this process. The commission will have to set out in full the reasons for its decisions. It can be challenged in the courts if it is thought to have acted unreasonably. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said, we are not advocating anything completely new. He listed some sound analogies in relation to the relative role of Ministers.
I hope that noble Lords will take away their amendments and think again about some of the issues that have been raised in this debate. I should like to address the amendments specifically and some of the issues that have arisen.
Amendment No. 1 would require the IPC to be a recommending rather than a decision-making body. I have set out at some length why we think that the IPC needs to be a decision maker in a much tougher and more challenging world in relation to infrastructure. If it were only a recommending body, much of the logic and the advantages, as well as the savings in time, would be lost. We would lose transparency and efficiency. I cannot accept the proposal that it should be a recommending body. I have serious doubts about whether it should make its recommendations to Parliament. Where Parliament and the House fit in is a serious issue, which we will come back to when debating later amendments. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to Clause 9, which provides for resolutions of this House to be taken into account by the Government. I am sure that we will come back to that at a later stage. I do not see, as other noble Lords have said, how Parliament can cope with this. How would it review the evidence, for example, as my noble friend Lord Woolmer asked? This would take Parliament into another area of policy, and planning policy at that. There are major issues, which we would need to consider very carefully before we went along with that proposal.
Amendment No. 2 relates to mission creep. The Bill clearly states that the IPC can deal only with applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects. They are defined in Clauses 14 to 29, which set out the specific thresholds. The Bill allows us to change those, but only with the approval of Parliament. That strikes the right balance between flexibility and safeguards.
Amendment No. 3 relates to confirmation. I have a problem with the language. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, Ministers could not simply rubber-stamp a decision. The integrity of the process would lie in a Minister’s ability to review, which would inevitably mean reviewing evidence and the way in which judgments were made. That would be bound to add a significant delay of at least six months while parties waited for the Minister to decide whether to confirm the decision. Worse still, it would add another layer of uncertainty for promoters. A community might be waiting for a new reservoir for water security, for instance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned. The IPC would examine the case and reach a decision. There would then be another stage to go through.
If Ministers were to take the final decisions on applications, however described, there would also be an incentive for them to reopen the political debate. We would have gone almost full circle. It would raise serious doubts about the extent to which national need could be excluded from those inquiries and decisions, as well as the greater risk of sequential challenges, first to the IPC’s decision and then to that of the Minister, which would undermine transparency. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, the point of establishing the IPC, which is an expert group of people who will make their decisions in public, with written and oral evidence tested out and new stages for floor hearings, is to provide a huge advantage to the local community and to give it access that it has not previously had.
Amendment No. 4 suggests that the IPC should be put back on virtually the same basis as the Planning Inspectorate. I think that I have argued sufficiently why we need a new system. The Planning Inspectorate is not independent; it is an arm of government. It provides a superb service, but it does not do what we would want the IPC to do. I recommend that noble Lords read the evidence given by the Planning Inspectorate when the Bill started its process through the House of Lords.
Establishing an independent commission is vital. It is essential to improving speed, efficiency and transparency; it is essential to meeting the scale and the urgency of the task that we face; it is essential to ensuring open, high-quality decisions; and it is essential to the transparency of the system. I hope that, on the basis of that argument, noble Lords will not press their amendments. I apologise for speaking at such length, but these issues run through the course of the Bill.
I will not press my amendment. I know that the Minister did not expect that I would do so at this stage. However, will she say a little more about the scope for the IPC to refuse an application? Faced with a national policy statement that says that we must have whatever it might be, the IPC will not look at comparative applications. It will have one application in front of it, but I suppose that it will receive evidence about possibilities elsewhere—I do not know; I am struggling to understand quite how the system will operate. The Minister stressed that the IPC can say, “No, this application causes so many problems that it can’t be agreed”. However, it might be told in the national policy statement that, for example, a reservoir—there must be a limited number of places where a reservoir can be built—is required. Will she say a little more about how the IPC can say no? Can it say no if all the possible sites have been explored in some way or another? We may come back to this issue when discussing national policy statements, but it is central to the role of the IPC as well. I am sorry that I have not expressed it well, but that is because I do not understand it very well.
This goes to the heart of the role of the IPC and why it has to be independent. The IPC can reject an application even if it is in accordance with the NPS, because the local adverse impact outweighs the potential benefits. It is not a million miles away from what planning inspectors do at the moment, when they look closely at local impacts and benefits. We have processes in planning—for example, sequential tests—which will apply to the application processes as well, so the commission will not invent a completely new system. It will be able to reject local applications also if it is clear that there has been a breach of EU or domestic law.
I cannot enlighten the noble Baroness greatly. Applications will be considered case by case. There will not be very many of the big cases with which we are concerned. Each one will probably bring some local benefit; other people may see an adverse effect. However, we will have to wait until those applications start coming in. The great task of the 35 expert commissioners, who will have a range of expertise, not least in testing evidence, will be to give people the confidence to express their fears in a session with them. We will return to these issues later in the Bill, when we talk about the processes of the IPC, but, for the moment, I cannot go further than what I have said.
We may be faced with a national policy statement that says that something is imperative. I find it hard to see that the IPC will be able to say in such a case that the local impact will be too great, because that argument will have been had and a conclusion reached in producing the national policy statement.
It is more likely that the language of the NPS—I do not have any examples that I can put before the Committee—will address capacity issues and describe what we need as a country. Some of the NPSs will be able to say where we need the schemes. They will be able also to set out criteria for the impacts that the IPC should look for. If there were a location-specific NPS, it would mean that the strategic suitability of the site had been established in principle. The strategic suitability would not then be re-examined by the IPC. The IPC would focus on the impact. In a location-specific NPS, much of the local debate will be had in the context of the NPS, so local anxieties, fears and aspirations will be able to be debated at that level as well.
I have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. It raises the crucial question of how the whole structure will work. Where the NPS is location-specific, we know exactly what will happen. Where it is not, I ask how we will get away from the problem that has bedevilled planning inquiries: the necessity to solve the whole national problem within the inquiry before one can determine what its results should be.
Let us suppose that we had a national policy statement that said that we should derive 5 per cent of our energy from wind. Let us suppose that it went a bit further and said that that would imply 5,000 turbines that, allowing for other things, ought to occupy half of the 10,000 best sites in the UK. If the IPC is faced with an application to put 24 turbines on a hill somewhere, how on earth is it to know whether this is one of the 10,000 best sites in the UK? How is it to know how that division is made between the best sites that get turbines and the best sites that do not?
Unless we have solved those problems in putting the national policy statement together, we will leave the IPC in exactly the same position as we leave inspectors now and the difficulties and delays will remain. We have to sort out, in considering this Bill, how national policy statements will absorb all the politics, without leaving large chunks around to obstruct the process of the IPC later.
I agree with that; it is a very sound point. The noble Baroness asked whether the NPSs would consider different locations. With location-specific NPSs, Ministers have been bound to give consideration to alternative sites before deciding which one is strategically suitable. The politics of the discussion will be at the NPS level, for all the reasons that are logical and proper.
I must first apologise to the Committee. I should have repeated a declaration of interest that I made at Second Reading—that I am a farmer and landowner in Essex, so it is just conceivable that something might march my way. I am not aware that the part of Essex where I live is likely ever to be affected by anything that is likely to be a consideration for the IPC or, indeed, a national policy statement. But one lives and learns.
This has been a very good debate and a very useful one, because the issue is very much at the heart of the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, felt that I did not do the matter sufficient justice. I thought that, having spoken for 12 minutes, that was long enough to introduce a small group of amendments at the beginning of a Bill. If I had spoken for the 35 minutes that it would have taken me adequately to do justice to this subject, much of what has been said since would have been very repetitious. So I think that that was reasonable.
The question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, right at the end of the debate goes to the nub of the problem that the commissioners will face. It is slightly awkward, but I have an awful feeling that in the end, if they have to make these judgments, they will have to become politicians. In that case, I sympathise with them, because their lives will not be easy. If we can write national policy statements with sufficient clarity and identity that judgment is not required, it will be a wholly remarkable thing.
I go back to the beginning of the debate to remind the Committee of what I said at Second Reading about the changes that we will face over the next 30 or 40 years. I asked whether we were giving sufficient consideration to the shape of the economy in 2050. That seems a long way away, but the truth is that the changes that will be required will be changes not only in the planning process but in the government and parliamentary process. We will all have to adapt to the need, particularly in this sort of field, for much greater speed.
I accept that the Minister made a very good case for what the Government propose. I do not quarrel with the need to do something, but it is the product of a number of years of neglect in this whole field. The problems that we now face have been predictable and predicted for a very long time, and now we are acting in desperation—and the question is whether we have got it right. Will the new process provide the security of decision now required, particularly if we are to gain the confidence of international investors that this is the right place for them to put their money? We know from what we have heard that the system that the Government propose will be tested to destruction by judicial review, if people can find a reason to do it—and, in my experience of lawyers, there are always reasons. If that is what happens once the new system is brought into place, initially at least there will not be any certainty of speed and, if there is no certainty of speed, we will not be as attractive in the international markets as we need to be.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin made a very significant point; he said that when he was under attack from a number of local authorities, that attack died when the decision was known to have been made and agreed by Parliament. It may be that the idea of Parliament getting involved in this sort of decision is seen as somewhat difficult at present, because of existing parliamentary procedures; but why should Parliament be immune from the need to change its processes, when we expect everybody else in the country—industry, commerce and private individuals—to do just that? There is no easy answer to that. We will have to change, whether we like it or not. If that means that we have to find a way to put through quickly a recommendation from a body such as the IPC, to ensure that it would not be subject to judicial review, that is perhaps what we should do.
The pity of it is that sufficient work has not really been done on how the existing planning process could have been accelerated. Much of the process in this Bill could have been applied to the planning inspectorate, had it been decided to do that. The Government have chosen to go down this different route, which does not provide the certainty that is required. This is a matter of judgment, but that is the dilemma that we face. How will the commission make the critical judgments between one site and another when it has an application for only one site before it—bearing in mind that we are talking about a limited number of facilities in every instance? The number of places where you can put ports in this country is very small, for example. We know that there is a possibility, subject to an amendment that I have tabled to a later part of the Bill, of nuclear power station proposals being site-specific—and so on. These matters will leave the commission and commissioners with some very difficult decisions to take. I have sufficient confidence in and knowledge of the existing planning inspectorate to know that these will be people of absolute integrity who will do their job very well. However, on numerous occasions they will find themselves, as Ministers sitting on appeals do, in an impossible situation. We cannot get away from that.
We have had a very useful debate on the whole principle behind the Bill. I apologise to those whose names I have not mentioned, but we have covered all the ground extremely well. As an opening for the debate and a detailed résumé of what the Bill is about, after what was, unfortunately, a somewhat curtailed Second Reading, this has been a very good start to our proceedings. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 not moved.]
Clause 1 agreed to.
Schedule 1 [The Infrastructure Planning Commission]:
6: Schedule 1, page 141, line 8, leave out “at least” and insert “no more than”
The noble Lord said: The first three amendments in the group concern details of the Infrastructure Planning Commission’s structure, as set out in Schedule 1. Amendment No. 6 limits the number of vice-chairmen to two only. I always thought that a vice-chairman was a number two and that you needed only one. For some reason it appears to be agreed that you might have two vice-chairmen. To go beyond that is pushing matters—shall we say?—beyond the limits of what is reasonable, particularly bearing in mind the overall number of commissioners.
Amendment No. 8 limits the number of commissioners to 12. The noble Baroness has said that she expects there will be about 30 commissioners. Therefore, I probably will not press that amendment.
Amendment No. 9 introduces the concept of fairness to the work of the commission. The Bill talks about efficiency and so on. In the end the commission’s reputation will depend also on its decisions being seen to be fair. That goes back to the heart of the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, at the end of the previous debate. If somebody feels that there is better site, or, worse still, if a decision is taken and permission is granted for a site and subsequently there is another application on what proves in the event to have been a better site than the one that has already been approved and you can make a case for only one of them, there will be a feeling of injustice.
Amendment No. 22 returns us to page one of the Bill. It removes the composing of a code of conduct from the commissioners and gives it to the Secretary of State. The question of codes of conduct is always difficult. Certainly in other walks of life, and particularly in local government, codes of conduct tend to come from the government department concerned. If the commission is to write its own code of conduct, it becomes judge and jury in its own case. We would prefer to see the code of conduct coming from the Secretary of State. That is not to belittle the people who will be commissioners, in whom I have the greatest of faith.
Amendment No. 23 is really to try to find out what such other matters might be. Clause 2 states that the code must include certain things, and then, at paragraph (b),
“such other provision as the Secretary of State may direct”.
I see those words and wonder what the Secretary of State has in mind. They usually have something in mind and it would be interesting to know what that might be. Or is this simply again another saving clause in case somebody has an idea somewhere in the future? We really do not know.
Amendment No. 24 removes the responsibility to review the code of conduct again from the commission to the Secretary of State. This repeats the reasoning behind the amendment setting up the code of conduct so that the code is derived from the Secretary of State. That would make matters consistent.
Amendment No. 25 makes the point that the requirement to publish the register of interests should be a part of the code of conduct. These are probing amendments. I beg to move.
I have tabled Amendment No. 10 and have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Schedule 1 be the first schedule to the Bill. I, too, am probing. Amendment No. 10 seeks to discover whether somebody who has been the chair or deputy chair of the commission and then is subsequently appointed as a commissioner is limited in the total number of terms of appointment. There is a fixed period for the appointment of chair, deputy and any other commissioner under paragraph 3 of the schedule, but I was not clear whether that applied to reappointment.
I turn to whether Schedule 1 should be the first schedule to the Bill. We have not finished going through the schedule but the Minister is aware of particular points I want to raise. Paragraph 15 is about delegation and provides that the commission can delegate certain functions to one or more commissioners. They are very important functions about guidance on pre-application consultation, advising on ministerial interventions and so on. It also provides for delegation of any of the commission’s other functions to commissioners, the chief executive or other staff. Should it not be the case that the commission as a whole takes responsibility for all these matters?
I have two other questions. First, on those important matters—I have not tried to analyse whether paragraph 15(1) lists everything that I would consider ought to be at that level—I should have thought that guidance and so on really should come from the commission as a whole and that the commission should stand behind them. Secondly, who is legally responsible for the matters?
I turn to the qualifications of commissioners. The noble Baroness has alluded to this by saying that among the array of commissioners the Government would expect people skilled in project management. I wish them luck in finding them, certainly in this country. We do not know whether the commissioners have to be British. I am interested in whether the Government expect all the commissioners to bring a specific qualification or whether there is room for what I have described as good generalists. I think that people with judgment, wisdom, intelligence, perspicacity, and all those things, have a huge amount to bring to this process.
Thirdly, will the chair of the commission be the chair of each council—in other words, deal with each application? Will a similar provision apply to the deputies? It seems a heavy workload if that is the case.
Finally, I oppose Amendment No. 23 to remove Clause 2(2)(b), which I accept is probing, for a reason on which we spent some time during the passage of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008: disclosure of interests and whether interests should prohibit, in this case, a commissioner from taking part in consideration of a decision. Clause 2(2)(a) requires only disclosure. A commissioner who has an interest should be disqualified from taking part in dealing with the application in question. Can the Minister give me comfort on whether that provision might be directed by the Secretary of State?
With the greatest of respect to my noble friend on the Front Bench, to limit the commission to 12 members would be extremely difficult. The White Paper made it clear that it could be between 20 and 30; 30 seems rather a lot, but I would not quarrel if the Government decided that there must be 20 to 25 commissioners.
On major infrastructure projects, to remit a major inquiry to one commissioner seems not very wise. Having a panel is probably the best way of splitting the work. What sort of things might be remitted to a single commissioner? I recognise that a single commissioner will not be able to make decisions, but must refer the case to a council. I am never sure of the difference between a council and a panel; I think that a panel may be appointed for a particular inquiry and a council may be appointed generally—the Minister is nodding. How will one commissioner act? I find that a difficult concept, bearing in mind all that the Minister said at Second Reading about the IPC’s need to gain the widest measure of public confidence.
Secondly, my noble friend quite properly made a point about the code of conduct. If the Bill provides that the commission is to draw up its own code of conduct, I am sure that it would consult with the department before doing so. If a dispute arose between the department and the commission in doing so, it would be unfortunate if the commission could say to the department, “The Act makes us responsible for this, so we are not going to listen to you”. No doubt that would be unlikely, given the distinction of those to be appointed, but I would have thought that Parliament would want to ensure that the department would have a role in this. Whether the department draws up the code of conduct, or the commission does so in consultation with it, we might want to return to this matter and I hope that the Minister can say something about it.
Thirdly, I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that the department has already embarked on the process of selecting a chairman and chief executive, which I applaud. The Bill has had its Second Reading in another place, and the normal procedures can therefore be overridden in special cases. In his Written Statement on 17 September, the right honourable John Healey—I congratulate him on his elevation to the Privy Council—said that,
“the Government will shortly commence the early recruitment and appointment of a chair and chief executive”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/09/08; col. 139WS.]
He goes on to describe what the IPC will do, how provision will be made for the financing of this process—which would no doubt involve employing head-hunters—and how authority will eventually be sought in a supplementary estimate. I applaud that.
I have now talked to a number of the bodies which will want to submit major applications to the commission. They recognise that there will be time before the commission is up and running, but they need to know at the earliest possible opportunity what the guidance issued by the commission, provided for in the Bill, will be. It is extremely difficult for a company, or consortium, to determine how it will frame its application before it has that guidance. I have therefore heard words of delight that recruitment is already starting. This is evidence of the urgency it all needs. In the last debate, the Minister stressed the huge urgency for us to get ahead with some of our infrastructure investment, notably in energy. I certainly agree with that, and hope that nothing will hold it up.
The major things must obviously wait until Parliament has approved the Bill. In the mean time, a large number of people outside would welcome things being done to get ahead with this.
I shall use this group of amendments to probe the Minister more generally as to the type of person to be appointed an IPC commissioner. I know that the next group of amendments is about a specific commissioner with design credibility and that, in her response to the previous debate, the Minister said that commissioners would be neither agents nor representatives of interests. I was glad to hear that.
However, I got the impression from the discussions in the other place that the commission might be made up largely of experts in the various fields on which it would be deliberating. I have a problem with that. The trouble with experts is that they tend to be keen on their subject—so keen, in fact, that they might even appear to be biased. If you have spent all your life in the aviation industry, breathing in all the arguments rebuffing complaints about noise or carbon footprints and so on, because your job depends on them, you are less likely to take an even-handed view of the representations made to you—or, more importantly, to be seen to do so. The same might apply to nuclear experts or hydro engineers, and so on.
We need the IPC to be made up of expert planners, and certainly mediators and experts in design—to which we will come—all of whom should be men and women of experience in public life. They may even require political credibility. If the IPC wants experts on the sort of project on which it is deliberating, it should be able to hire that expertise the same way that House of Lords EU sub-committees hire in expert advice when writing reports. Those experts are not part of the committee but advise it, and their advice can be taken or rejected. I would be grateful for a fuller expansion on the Minister’s views of what type of people are likely to be appointed as commissioners, because she has touched on it earlier this afternoon.
I am encouraged by the fact that we have moved from page 1 to page 140-something, but that is a false dawn as we have reached Schedule 1 only. However, I should like to follow up the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cameron. What we have in the text at the moment is the composition of the body, which comprises the chairman, the deputy chairmen and “other Commissioners” who, if the phrase were not used for another purpose, I would describe as the significant others. They are not defined at all in the text. However, like my noble friend Lord Cameron, I think that it is important for us to understand what sort of experience and what sort of people are likely to be appointed. That does not necessarily mean that we have to specify everything in the Bill, but we need to be satisfied about those people who will take extremely important decisions in areas such as design. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for mentioning that a little early but it is an important point because these major projects will have a huge effect on design and on the countryside. We need to have as much information as the Minister can give us about the Government’s vision of the type of people who will be on the commission as that will influence our opinion about the structure that the Government propose. Broadly speaking, I support that structure although I would like more information from the Government about the type of members they envisage will be appointed.
I thank noble Lords for tabling these amendments which allow us to explore at length the details of how the IPC will work. I shall try to respond to all the questions that have been raised but if I do not succeed I shall certainly write to noble Lords.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 seek to limit the commission to having two deputy chairs and to limit the overall number of commissioners to 15. We have set out that the commission should have around 35 commissioners. I explained at some length in my previous long reply that there are two reasons for this. The first and most obvious is the pressure of work. The impact assessment estimated that 35 commissioners would be necessary to handle the expected caseload of around 45 major projects a year, each one of which may take several months to look at. We expect that there will be spikes of activity throughout this period. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to there being possibly 25 in one year. There will be more applications in some years than others. Therefore, we need to have a reasonably large base of commissioners who are able to give each application the level of attention that it deserves.
I will try to respond to the important questions asked by the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Williamson. What are we looking for? We are certainly committed to ensuring that the commission comprises commissioners who demonstrate a broad range of expertise. However, I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made that sometimes expertise can be obsessive. At all costs we want to avoid people who have axes to grind. We specified in the White Paper the fields that we were thinking of such as community engagement, planning, law, local government, engineering, economics, business, security, environment, heritage and health. These are generic competences as well as in-depth professionalisms. We could probably expand that list. It is not by any means finite but rather a first assessment of what we might be looking for. However, I think that the point the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, makes is that we will be looking for experience and temperament. We will be looking for people who are well used to being in the public eye and who can deal safely with often emotive situations. Therefore, we shall be looking for wisdom as well as expertise. These paragons exist and I am sure that the Secretary of State will be able to find them. However, we shall not cast them adrift. We certainly intend to provide training, particularly in the examination and testing of evidence, if there is a need for it. That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on Second Reading.
The Bill also covers the provision of expertise and specialist advice. Paragraph 14 of Schedule 1 provides for arrangements for assistance, which could include specialist advice. We cannot expect the commissioners to cover every known discipline with regard to these projects but it will be for them to decide when they need the advice of outside experts, including legal advice. Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State will exercise the judgment we are discussing, I think that there is sufficient scope for us to get the people we need. I do not think that this will be an unwieldy quango in any sense. We are looking for the minimum number of commissioners who will be necessary properly to examine the details of applications for significant infrastructure projects. I am very gratified by what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said about having brought forward the application process because it is important to signal urgency. As regards what he said about promoters waiting for guidance, I hope that noble Lords will enable us to pass the Bill and then we can proceed as quickly as possible with all the processes that will need to be put in place to achieve what we want.
In the context of the other amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which seek to ensure that the IPC’s decisions are fair, I do not think that there should be a problem here. When this was debated in the other place it was clear that there was no support for it across the House. We are in danger of creating unnecessary opposition here between efficiency and fairness, which would certainly not be beneficial to the operation of the IPC. To operate efficiently is to operate fairly. The Liberal Democrat spokesman put this rather well in saying:
“However, I am concerned that, if the Bill proceeds through the House and we are to have an IPC, limiting the number of its members may hamper its effectiveness”.—[Official Report, Commons, Planning Bill Committee, 15/1/08; col. 207.]
As regards fair decisions, that is part of the problem. We do not want to restrict the commission’s ability to look at applications from a number of angles and to restrict it treating them and the people who bring them forward and the local community fairly and objectively. However, I assure noble Lords that we know that the commission has to be sufficiently resourced to make proper, fair and timely decisions.
Amendment No. 9 on fair decisions would widen the duty so that the Secretary of State must also have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the commission is able to perform its functions fairly. Indeed, this point was raised in the other place, as I say. On the basis that the explanation was given for why the amendment was otiose, I am content to rest on the same simple arguments. It is a basic tenet of administrative law that any public body, including the commission, must, in performing its duties, always act fairly. To identify that it is required to do so weakens a very important assumption. As I say, if we added that to the definition, we would draw a distinction between acting effectively and acting fairly. If the commission were to act in an unfair manner it would, like every other body, be open to legal challenge and held to account in the courts. Its decision could be overturned, which is hardly effective. Therefore, a fair commission will be an effective commission.
I understand that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the eight-year limit to appointments is a probing amendment, and we do not want to accept it. However, I hope that I can reassure her about the intentions in this regard. We certainly intend that all commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State will be appointed according to the code of practice of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and that up to three commissioners will be nominated by Welsh Ministers. The commissioners will be appointed for a fixed term of between five and eight years, although any commissioner can resign if they give three months’ written notice to the Secretary of State. The purpose of this is to ensure the independence of the IPC such that Ministers can remove commissioners from office before their appointments end only on the grounds of misconduct or incapacity. It is important that commissioners are not constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering whether they might be reappointed.
The IPC will be an important body with regard to reappointments, making decisions on projects of national significance. It will be vital in the course of what it does that such decisions will not be affected by an inability to reappoint commissioners when it is right to do so. It is entirely possible, when a commissioner comes to the end of an appointment, after a full and open competition, that he or she is still the most appropriate person for the position. Should the Secretary of State be restricted from making a reappointment that may limit the range of expertise that the IPC can call on? I do not believe so. All appointments will take into account guidance from the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which recommends an upper limit of 10 years. Essentially, we are looking for consistency and the ability to introduce new blood.
Amendments Nos. 22 to 25 concern the code of conduct. The main point that was brought up about the code of conduct is that the IPC issues the code, rather than the Secretary of State. Given the importance of the personal integrity and impartiality of the commissioners, Ministers decided that the Bill should include an explicit duty for the commission to prepare a code of conduct. In the other place, my honourable friend John Healey said the Government did not consider a similar amendment necessary. We believe that, as an independent body, it sends the signal of independence for the commission to take responsibility for its own code of conduct. Like any public body, the commission would be expected to follow best practice when drafting a code of conduct, as well as keeping it under review. We have also included in Clause 2(2)(b) a safeguard that allows the Secretary of State to direct the commission to include those matters. The noble Lord asked me what those “other” matters might be. I cannot find my note, so I shall write to him on that point, if he will forgive me.
That is not an entirely new concept, and I am sure that noble Lords will be reassured that the parallel that we are drawing is with the judicial code of conduct, which is overseen by the Judges’ Council. It was set up in 1873, so it has worn well as a parallel. It is chaired by the Lord Chancellor, and all the judges of the Supreme Court were members. The current Judges’ Council includes representatives from all areas of the judiciary, including the House of Lords. The primary function is to broadly represent the judiciary as a whole, which will inform and advise the Lord Chief Justice on matters as requested, from time to time. One of its functions is to maintain and develop a judicial code of conduct. With that splendid example, I hope that noble Lords will accept that this is something that we want and which serves the visible independence of the commission.
I have been rescued, so I shall not have to write. The other kinds of things that Ministers would expect the code to include are the key principles necessary to ensuring that all stakeholders, promoters and interest groups have confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the process. That might include objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership and integrity. Those are fairly common things to find in codes of conduct, including local government codes of conduct, as I recall.
The other issue raised was the register of commissioners’ interests. The code of conduct requires the commissioners to disclose financial and other interests in accordance with the procedure established under Clause 3. I think I have picked up most of the questions.
Finally, I reiterate that the IPC will be subject to a number of accountability mechanisms. The chair and the deputy chairs will be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by a Select Committee. Parliament will have a strong role in scrutinising the performance of the commission.
Before I address the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—I am grateful for her advance warning, because they are rather technical—I will take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about what sort of projects the single commissioner would do. The best example is probably a small road application. In itself, a critical road junction would not require the full panoply of the three-person panel approach, but because of its significance in that it plays a critical part of the road in question, it therefore becomes a national infrastructure project. It goes to a single commissioner because it is limited in character.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for doing her best with my question, but I find the example that she has given, to put it kindly, very unconvincing. How could you have a major national infrastructure project that would constitute any single road junction and therefore justify the attention of one commissioner? Perhaps we could return to this later, because there is quite a point about the single commissioner.
There are sufficient details around the notion of the small project in relation to the single commissioner that it deserves a proper letter from me on that point. I did not explain it very well. I could offer the Committee other examples before we address that point, and I shall do that quickly.
On the question of Schedule 1 stand part, in relation to delegation, as set out in paragraph 15, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked who takes responsibility for the commission’s functions. I think I can reassure her on that. Paragraph 15 does not apply to the central functions of the IPC, such as decisions by the panel or council on applications for orders granting development consent. Those are dealt with in the body of the Bill at Clauses 72, 82, 101 and 113. They specify that, where an NPS is in place, the panel or council—a group of commissioners—has the function of deciding the application, and the decisions are made in the name of the commission.
That compares with other functions of the commission, which, as provided for in paragraph 15(2), can be delegated to a commissioner or member of the IPC secretariat. It is sensible that general functions, such as providing everyday advice about how to make a representation, can be provided by the secretariat. Paragraph 15(1), however, provides a restriction on that and sets out the functions of the commission that can only be made by commissioners. Ministers included that safeguard to ensure that only commissioners can carry out the more important functions—which I think is what the noble Baroness was concerned about—such as providing overarching guidance on how promoters should comply with the duty to consult before submitting an application to the IPC, in Clause 41(2); authorising persons to obtain information about land, in Clause 50; and authorising persons to enter land for the purpose of surveying and taking levels in connection with an application for development consent, in Clause 51.
I think I have answered the question about the qualifications of commissioners, by saying that they should be good generalists. We are looking for people with a very wide range of—
Earlier, the Minister replied on the broad areas where one would expect expertise, but she did not mention risk, which is perhaps the most important area of all. It is a growing area but, in the list including finance and engineering, there was a slight hint of an anti-science and engineering element. I hope that will be very firmly dispelled. Expertise in risk is something that the public will look for in the Bill.
That demonstrates exactly what I was trying to say. I talked about project management. It is not so much detailed expertise that one wants; it is the ability to weigh up consequences and understand notions of risk and distribution of risk. That is an extremely important skill.
The third question was about the chair possibly being overloaded if she or he is chair of every council. The impact assessment estimated that the commission would have to have a chair and three deputy chairs. It was felt that that was the necessary resource. There were 45 applications. In relation to the chair of any one council, the chair of the commission may decide to chair it—in later amendments we will talk about what we mean by “council”—and that is provided for in paragraph 8 of Schedule 1, whereby he can delegate the function to a deputy.
That provides sufficient flexibility and, during a period of heavy workload, the chair can spread the chairmanship of the council across a number of commissioners. We hope that we are building into the ability to move between councils and to change the chairmanship maximum flexibility as well as the maximum deployment of expertise. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that we are not expecting the chair to chair every council that would be created.
Before we finish on this matter, am I right in understanding that this goes back to the question of delegation and that we should distinguish the commission as a body from a panel or council? When there is talk of the commission delegating other functions—one would have thought about them as the whole lot—is it the case that, because they are not commission functions but panel or council functions, they do not fall within this? The Minister nods, which is helpful.
Among those who have contributed to this debate, I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin regarding the number of commissioners. I said that the Minister had already explained the numbers issue and that, therefore, I was not proposing to press it. The argument that the commissioners will be men of sufficient integrity should have weight. The example was given of the judges drawing up their own code of conduct. It certainly lends strength to the argument that the commissioners will be independent. We have only some concern that someone needs to keep an eye on things, but presumably that will happen.
One of the key questions was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton: what type of people will the commissioners be? It is to be hoped that there will be sufficient people of sufficient calibre who will volunteer for this onerous task—and they clearly exist in the community. If there are no suitable applicants, the process, assuming that it arrives in its present form, will fall into disrepute. That would be worse than not starting. We need suitable people and I am sure that the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who will operate the process, will do a very good job. We can all think of examples of people in this field who, if they are willing to do the work, will do it very successfully.
The code of conduct is a difficult issue, but given the points that have been made, I do not wish to press these amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
7: Schedule 1, page 141, line 9, after “(“deputies”),” insert—
“( ) at least one person appointed by the Secretary of State with experience of, and capacity in design,”
The noble Lord said: I shall speak only momentarily to introduce the amendments in this group. It is appropriate to consider them following the wider debate that we have just had on the members of the IPC and its council and on aspects of their duties. However, the amendments in this group are only a trailer for the fuller debate on design that we shall have when we reach the group that begins with Amendment No. 28.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker and I have tabled these amendments because we feel, as I know do noble Lords on all sides of the Committee, that it is essential that the IPC should be fairly and squarely committed to promoting high-quality design in the developments that will fall to it to consider. My noble friend the Minister told us at Second Reading that the IPC will,
“consist of experts in a range of fields, including community engagement, planning, local government and the environment”.—[Official Report, 15/7/08; col. 1161.]
She has just added engineering to that illustrative list. However, she did not, for whatever reason, include in her illustrative list, either at Second Reading or today, experts in design. Yet we are legislating to create a massively powerful body that will take outstandingly important planning decisions that will affect the quality of life in this country for many years to come.
I have therefore proposed in my amendments that decision makers on the IPC, including commissioners on its council, should include at least one person with experience of, and a capacity in, design. That is what Amendments Nos. 7 and 14 would require. Noble Lords will recognise the wording of those amendments as being drawn from the Government’s own wording in the Housing and Regeneration Act.
This is only a token of what is required and I absolutely take the good sense of what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said in the previous debate: it is not a solution to the problem to appoint to a large body of some 35 commissioners one person with special responsibility for design. That person risks becoming rather tedious on the subject and there is a risk that the other commissioners will feel that design is not part of their responsibility because the design commissioner is there. That would not work well. I note also that my noble friend the Minister rightly said that we are looking not only for experts, but for good generalists. Our proposal would be only a token of what is required. The whole culture of the IPC should be imbued with a commitment to good design, but these amendments are intended only to flag up the wider issue of design. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for acknowledging the importance of that.
I support also Amendment No. 17 in the name of my noble friend Lady Whitaker, which would require the IPC to give details in its annual report of the design quality of developments that it has approved. That is a much better amendment than mine, as I would expect of my noble friend. She offers a practical and easy way to require the IPC regularly to give an account of how it has acquitted itself of an important part of its responsibilities. I beg to move.
My name is attached to the amendment and to the subsequent amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I emphasise the importance of design in infrastructure projects. There is a huge tradition going back to Victorian days of building beautiful things in constructing railways, for example, with their viaducts, stations and the rest. Our designers, not least two Members of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, and my noble friend Lord Foster, have designed wonderful airports for other countries—Spain and China. When engaging in the enormous number of infrastructure projects that lie before us, we need to take the opportunity to create things of beauty as well as of utility. That will make the infrastructure that we must have more acceptable to the public. I thoroughly support these amendments.
As my noble friend Lord Howarth said, Amendments Nos. 7 and 14 would ensure that the nationally important work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission is always design-aware. Amendment No. 17 would ensure that the IPC is accountable for its exercise of that awareness.
Design is not an add-on. It should not be consigned to “design experts”. Our contention is that a sense of good design must inform all the commission’s decisions and that there needs to be sufficient design capacity in the commission to do that. The statutory duties in these amendments would give a clear signal from Parliament that the planning system encourages a well designed built environment. They would give local planning authorities confidence to refuse poorly designed planning applications. They would also encourage local authorities to entrench good design quality into their own decision-making processes. The reasons we need such explicit obligations can be seen all around us, in poor design that does not work well. But we have high-quality practitioners and there is plenty of authoritative advice, from CABE and from DCLG, to help in the objective evaluation of design. We just need the obligation.
I shall reserve my main comments on the design function to the longer debate, foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on Amendment No. 48 and subsequent amendments. I shall say only that I support the principle behind these amendments. You cannot have the commission trying to design buildings, saying that you must have this and not that, but it needs a critical faculty, being able to listen to those who say, “Yes, this is good”, or, “This is bad”. The Committee may remember the phrase about the National Gallery proposal that at the time became a headline concerning,
“a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved … friend”.
I had to decide that application after the Prince of Wales had made that remark but it was absolutely true. What is now at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square is a splendid addition but, as the Prince of Wales said, the original design was an absolute monstrosity.
It seems to me that one needs people with the capacity and willingness to listen to those who make comments about good and bad design. A view that I heard expressed at the Department of the Environment was, “Well, if it’s a really bad building, it won’t last longer than 40 years”. I find that a terribly negative attitude. Forty years is half a lifetime and one has to do better to try to avoid some of the horrors. I live near a building in Vauxhall that a few months ago was voted the most ugly in London. I hope that it will be coming down in 2010 but I shall believe it when I see it.
My comments follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just said. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baroness will know that we on these Benches very much supported the principle of what was put forward in the Housing and Regeneration Bill. My noble friend Lord Tyler would have wished to be here today to speak more authoritatively than I can on the issue.
Earlier, the noble Baroness referred to the training of commissioners. I hope that training in analysing and articulating points in relation to design can be very much on the agenda. “Taste” is not the same as saying whether something is good or bad design. However, the area has become fudged and I think that that is partly because it is difficult to express one’s views about design any further than “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. Therefore, I make a plea for this area to be a very early part of any would-be commissioner’s training.
I add my support for this group of amendments. Design is very important in relation to a road, a harbour or a big infrastructure project, and often the relationship between the buildings in a larger project can make all the difference to the acceptability of largely bad-neighbour projects. The worse the bad-neighbour project is, the greater the need for good design.
I could not be more pro-design if I tried and I hope that I am as pro-design as the noble Lords and the noble Baroness whose names are attached to these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, indicated that this debate is in part a trailer for later ones, and I recall an exactly similar debate at an exactly similar point in our consideration of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. In that spirit, I welcome the amendments.
I always enjoy the case of the Royal Albert Hall. It was entrusted by Sir Henry Cole to Captain Fowke of the Royal Engineers, whose only previous design experience had been in relation to a portable bath for use on active service. Unfortunately, Captain Fowke was not able to complete the Albert Hall. For obvious family reasons, the sovereign had been playing close attention to the progress being made on it and, when Captain Fowke died, Sir Henry went to her and said, “Ma’am, are you happy with the progress that we’ve made so far and would you be happy if we were to put it in the hands of another officer in the Royal Engineers?”. Her Majesty replied—in my view, memorably—“I am entirely happy with the progress and I am entirely happy with the principle but I think that this time we might have a major”.
Despite my welcome, I have some reservations about the efficacy of what the amendments seek to achieve. As I said a moment ago, they are part of a familiar category of amendments at this stage of a Bill such as this, but there are no other particular specifications and this amendment asks for “at least one person”. I do not think that we should have a unique specification, not least because that would open the floodgates for other specifications on Report. I suspect that that may be the timbre of the Minister’s reply, expressing considerable sympathy in relation to design. If, however, the principle that we should have a specification of this sort were accepted, I should be much happier if the words “at least one” were amended to read “at least two”. That is partly because one hazard is, as has already been indicated, that if only one person is specified, other commissioners will say, “Oh, there he or she goes again”. I believe that there is an argument for having more than one person with different backgrounds in particular areas of design so that they can spark off each other and thus further illuminate the scene.
It would be reasonable for the two noble Lords and the noble Baroness who tabled these amendments to query why I did not put down an amendment to this effect. However, three weeks ago I slipped a disc and I have to say that in the past three weeks I have been paying more attention to my back than to the Bill, but at least I have been happy to have the opportunity of expressing these views at this moment.
We are all in favour of good design but I have an awful feeling that one commissioner with design expertise will always be in the wrong place at the wrong time and so will have a very difficult life. However, I think that the commission should be required to pay attention to design and that it should be able to purchase design expertise if it feels the need for it. That would be a satisfactory solution.
I once had to talk to the senior partner of a certain London firm about his business. He lived in, and his firm worked from, a building that I would have said was designed by quantity surveyors. We used to have many of those in London. It was a very profitable business and I asked him why he did not set to and produce a decent building. He said, “Our business is to provide good service for our clients and not to leave articles of national heritage”. Unfortunately, that is a common attitude.
In my days at County Hall I was responsible for many of these quantity surveyor-designed buildings, but one has to remember that, going back to the 1950s and 1960s, which was when I began in public life, that was the height of architectural expertise. Those buildings were designed to cost limits and architects were ingenious at producing more building for less cash. One could admire that but the bill came home about 15 years later as the buildings began to fall to bits. We had a study done that showed that you could afford to double the cost of the building for a 5 per cent annual saving in running costs. Building design improved immediately. That is another factor that everyone needs to keep in mind and it applies to all buildings. As has been said, good design is fundamental to the acceptance even of very utilitarian buildings.
I agree with my noble friend that the cost of buildings is important because, as we were reminded at four o’clock today, we are about to enter another phase. The projects will be very big; money for them will be extremely short; people will be desperate to get them done; and they will be done cheap. I disagree with my noble friend that design should be there because the commission feels the need for it; design should be there because we feel the need for it. The commission should always be aware of that.
I very much go for Amendment No. 17, which pulls the commission rather than pushes it, as the other two amendments do. That is really what ought to be done. The commission ought to know that design is important. Every year it will have to tell us what it has done to ensure that the projects that it has allowed through are beautiful, or striking, or have other aspects of design excellence about them.
I do not mind if this turns into a list. A good way of influencing the commission would be for Parliament to say that it regards such matters as important. We might well add the environment to the list. It should not be a long list, but I cannot currently think of anything beyond design and the environment that I would want to add to it. As a way of giving direction to the commission, it would be clean, simple and all-embracing and would avoid a lot of regulation and paperwork that would come if we did this in a different way. If we had a commissioner who was an expert on design, we might get Denys Lasdun again.
We have been anticipating a debate that will range over a number of these issues, but we are fixed on a couple of specific amendments here. My noble friend, having raised questions, answered them very well. He anticipated what I would say and what other noble Lords have already said. First, we have the proof in the Housing and Regeneration Act that we take design seriously; we were pleased to reflect that on the face of the Bill. However, that was a different Bill with different circumstances and requirements. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who gave a marvellous illustration of design, I am passionate about design in the work that I do. Like my department as a whole, I am absolutely serious about the importance of good design in development.
Much of our debate on this series of amendments and on the longer set will turn on how we can be most effective. The general case in relation to the national policy statements is that they will have to take into account, reflect and reinforce where they can the existing planning principles. The keystone planning document overarching everything that we do in planning is policy statement 1. In policy statement 1 there is a very clear recognition of the importance of design and sustainability. That is the principal driver.
Under the new regime, Ministers will set out their policy according to individual areas of infrastructure in national policy statements. Those are of primary consideration for the IPC, as we have already discussed at some length today. It will base its decisions on the policy set out in the NPS and it will be bound by those policies in relation to design, as in relation to everything else. We will have a full and robust framework for the application of good design principles in everything that we do. I take the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that this is a matter not of taste but of functionality. Good design makes things work. We will be bound to take account of design issues to the extent that they are relevant to each NPS and the process will reflect that.
On the amendments, we have had a good debate today on the need for our commissioners not to represent narrow areas of expertise. I am not saying that design is narrow, but we want the commissioners to have a wide range of competences. I take the point that we are also looking for an ability to judge what constitutes good design and to be on the cutting edge of that judgment. I do not think that a single commissioner representing design serves the point at all. I am sorry if I left it out of the list, but I also left out a whole range of other professional competences that could be included. As I said, we are looking for individual commissioners who can be chosen on the basis of their expertise, their experience, their ability and their diversity of background. There will need to be generic skills and policy area skills—transport, aviation and so on—and there will be the need for the other skills that we have talked about this afternoon. A commissioner to represent design is not the way in which to get the best cultural driving-edge of design throughout the process. We need more than that. The IPC chair, in consultation with the other commissioners, will determine the expertise required for each case.
I have the same problem with Amendment No. 17. I do not think that we should specify what should be in the IPC’s annual report. The IPC is an independent organisation and to specify design opens up the notion of a list. I am surprised that the noble Lord can think only of environment and design. I am sure that around the Committee we could put together a list of almost infinite possibilities that might be included. However, we all know that we have a problem with lists on the face of legislation. We must be wary of thinking that a token reference to design solves the problem. I do not believe that my noble friend thinks like that at all, but we need to be careful about what we specify and what we ask to be specified.
The schedule allows the Secretary of State to direct what issues the IPC should report on. It would be slightly bizarre for us to insist that it emphasise one thing rather than another. We will address all those issues at some length and in a wider context when we come to debate later amendments, but for the moment I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
This has been a short but exceptionally useful and important debate. I am enormously grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the Committee who have expressed support for the essence of what my noble friends and I are seeking to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Best, was absolutely right to say that we have to be ambitious to create beauty. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that Parliament must insist that the IPC not only does not neglect design but is ambitious in promoting good design. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made the point that members of the commission will need critical discernment and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put it, they will need taste. I am very grateful to both Front Benches for their support for the principle of what I seek to achieve in these debates. I note that the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, were of the view that one commissioner was not enough, so perhaps we should have an option to consider more commissioners.
On the group of amendments headed by Amendment No. 28, we will have a fuller opportunity to examine ways and means to achieve an objective that I think is genuinely shared on all sides of the Committee. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that good design will help acceptability of these major infrastructure proposals, is enormously important politically and economically. I note that the Minister is serious in her desire that there should be good design. She says that the Housing and Regeneration Act was different. However, we will return to this in a later debate and see how we can achieve what we all want. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the political situation in Pakistan.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is my pleasure to invite Her Majesty's Government to give to this House tonight their position on the political situation in Pakistan.
My questions are quite simple. I ask the Government to give us knowledge of how closely the British Government are linked to the USA on Pakistan. Is there a greater role for the United Kingdom in Pakistan today, bilaterally or with our partners in the European Union, the USA and India? How realistic are the DfID goals, given the rapidly deteriorating situation of Pakistan? Turning to the elections, given that the UK Government’s requests and this House’s Statements for a modest wish list for the February elections were not fulfilled, what next steps do Her Majesty's Government foresee? Seeing that the empowerment of minorities and the achievement of fundamental freedoms are so far off, how do Her Majesty's Government intend to tackle the fundamental lack of freedoms in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan—freedom to worship, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, lack of capacity to vote and, indeed, lack of access to the key millennium development goals?
Having myself recently held meetings in Lahore, Islamabad and along the line of control in Azad Jammu-Kashmir, I speak tonight with the voice of the people, with the messages that they requested to be delivered to Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels. Their message is that the election in February this year was fatally flawed, that it was neither free, fair nor democratic and that the situation has drastically worsened for the people since the ruling coalition has fallen apart.
As an example, 20,000 Pakistanis recently fled to Afghanistan for shelter and protection, leaving 300,000 internally displaced persons on borders in recent weeks. Twenty per cent of the state budget is spent on the military and only 2 per cent on education. Of the $2 billion given by the United States annually for the war against terror, 90 per cent goes to the military and almost nothing goes on social education, health or developmental projects, or on enhancement of the fragmentary fundamental freedoms.
Surely Her Majesty's Government would agree that the war on terror, as with so many other wars, can be won only in the hearts and minds of the local population, of the people of Pakistan. But the advance of the Taliban and al-Qaeda is aided by the ISI of Pakistan— whether they be rogue or official elements makes no difference to the people. Most recently, the tragedies of the Indian embassy in Kabul, and the Marriott in Islamabad have demonstrated the involvement of the ISI. In Lahore, where I monitored the elections, there were huge blasts killing hundreds only a moment or two after the election itself. So far advanced have Taliban and al-Qaeda elements become that the first of those big blasts was right outside the military garrison in the centre of the city of Lahore.
Indeed, I think that it is correct to say that the country is currently in a complete political vacuum comparable in its sense of drift, instability and fragmentation to the break-up of East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh. One can feel the same loss of identity as a nation, the lack of implementation of the law, the barriers rising to democratic solutions and the fundamental freedoms and rights of the people being progressively ignored.
As a member of the European Parliament and delegate on the European Union election observation mission to Pakistan, I gave my backing to our final report on the February 2008 national and provincial elections. I and my colleagues found that, although some improvements had been made since the 2002 poll in Pakistan, the overall standards fell short of a number of international standards for genuine democratic elections.
I visited more than 20 polling stations in Lahore on polling day on 18 February 2008 and took part in the delegation that met President Musharraf and the leaders of all the main political parties as well as with many other civil society groups. I and my colleagues concluded that the February election represented the will of the people in its achievement of political change but that unless, as a matter of urgency, the recommendations of the European Union and other international observers were taken forward, Pakistan’s democracy would find it hard to survive and develop beyond its current weak and unsustainable form.
For example, what is the justification in a democracy for limiting the pool of parliamentary candidates to only those who had bachelor degrees—2 per cent of the population—or who had qualified in madrassahs? That outlawed 95 per cent of the entire population of Pakistan from putting their name forward as candidates for election. That is clearly not democracy. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, were unable to vote. Many were constitutionally excluded, some—many hundreds of thousands—because they did not have the required national identification card. A system is now in operation that is strictly limiting, whereby the national identity card has to be of a certain type. If you cannot get it, you cannot vote.
Worse than that are the discriminatory practices against certain elements of society. Let me take the Ahmadi minority. They are not recognised as Muslims by the Pakistani Government. Although they are required to register on a separate voters’ register, they must declare that their faith is not a true faith. Naturally, the Ahmadi cannot bear to vote under those conditions nor, constitutionally, are they allowed to take jobs of merit and importance. The Kashmiris in Azad Jammu-Kashmir and the northern areas were also constitutionally excluded from voting, yet come 100 per cent under all Pakistani laws. That is indeed taxation without representation, which is not an acceptable state of affairs, especially in Balawaristan, where the people have been ruled by the military from Islamabad for nearly 60 years. There is no freedom of association in either place. For 50 to 60 years, not more than five people have been allowed to get together.
Of course there were some positive points about the election. The people came out to vote but, given that the electoral register had been manipulated, with an additional 25 million names put on at short notice with no one able to check because the electoral register was not published, by the time that lunch had arrived and I had visited 15 or 20 polling stations, perhaps a dozen people had voted in each, because the people had no idea whether they were on the electoral register.
Before the election, Her Majesty's Government asked the Pakistani Government to be clear about where the polling booths would be. Far from it. The Government chose to alter the places of many of the polling stations and did not signpost where they were. Literally millions of people were struggling to find out where the new polling stations were with no messages, no signposts, nothing. When they got there, they did not know whether they were on the list.
There were shortcomings in the voter registration process, unreliability in the electoral roll and significant numbers of people who could not vote because they did not hold the required national identification card. There are also credible reports of the police harassment of opposition party workers and agents and of the public broadcasters who could not live up to their responsibility of maintaining balance.
I also draw your Lordships’ attention to the underlying problems of the constitution. The constitution is profoundly undemocratic. It is punitive against those who are outside specified religious or ethnic boundaries. There is an Islamic court overruling, and a blasphemy law that states that whoever defiles a copy of the Holy Koran, or an extract thereof, uses derogatory remarks, and by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defies the holy name, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life.
This constitution is therefore exceedingly difficult for even the best of the judiciary to support. In a democracy, institutions are strengthened. I leave Her Majesty’s Government with this thought and this challenge; in Pakistan, democratic institutions are being progressively weakened, and while we are doubling our aid, making Pakistan the second largest recipient of our aid, how and where can we tell that we are going to make any difference at all? What do Her Majesty’s Government propose to do?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for providing us with this opportunity to discuss the political situation in Pakistan. Some of her comments make me wonder whether I know Pakistan well, because I am very much connected with it. I was born there and have a school with 350 children. We also have an organisation that builds schools and helps Pakistan. More than 1 million British citizens are of Pakistani origin.
Pakistan is a young nation; it is not a Westminster democracy. I saw from the Pakistani newspapers that the elections were not fair as they are in the United Kingdom, but all political parties have said that they were probably the fairest because General Musharraf’s party—the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party—was in charge but lost the elections. The Pakistan People’s Party got the highest vote, and Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-N came second, followed by other nationalists. It is therefore probably not fair to say that the elections were totally unfair and ridiculous.
Pakistan, as we know, has a population of 166 million and the highest population growth rate in the world. Its population is expected almost to double within 20 years. Pakistan ranks at almost the lowest level of the Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index—144th out of 158—along with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Tajikistan. Although the Government report an overall literacy rate of 48.7 per cent, many NGOs estimate it to be closer to 20 per cent of the total population. Both sources agree that literacy among women is half that among men. Thirty-two per cent of Pakistanis live below the official poverty line. Access to basic services such as primary healthcare and safe drinking water is denied to nearly half the population. About 38 per cent of children under five are malnourished.
In the past five years, the Government’s initiatives to improve health, education and the economy—the three major sectors for assessing the development or progress of a nation—have not worked. Youngsters in Pakistan are very bright and aware of their surroundings, but they have no guidance and no jobs and hate the West. This makes the grounds of Pakistan worse than Palestine and Chechnya. They perceive their Government as in bed with the West and a beneficiary of it, and see no advantage for themselves. They see American and NATO forces attacking Afghanistan and South Waziristan as an attack on their very survival.
The billions of dollars that have been given to the Pakistan Government over the past seven years have not really changed the lives of ordinary citizens; they have made no real improvement to education or their socio-economic status. What do the people of Pakistan see? They see more arms coming into the area and killing their own people, whether in Waziristan, Baluchistan or Afghanistan. I thank Her Majesty’s Government for the hundreds of millions of pounds that they have given for development in Pakistan, but has that made any difference to ordinary people in villages and in schools? Has it made a difference to building the institutions?
There are bigger questions, such as the national reconciliation order, which was passed by the Pakistan Parliament but was seen as being more for the rich, for those who had corruption charges against them and for those who are leaving presidential palaces and government buildings rather than as genuine reconciliation in Pakistan. What is needed is a genuine truth and reconciliation commission—a genuine centre for peace and dialogue where the Bughtis, the Mengals, the Murees, the Maulanas and the Khans can sit and where every citizen of Pakistan can feel respected and equal citizens of Pakistan. Izzat is a concept of honour; you will get results if you give it to the Pathans and the Baluchis.
Since the terrible events in the Red Mosque in Islamabad just over a year and a half ago, more than 1,200 have died in more than 90 tragic suicide attacks. I pay tribute to Benazir Bhutto, who was a victim of one of them. The Government of Pakistan should not have raided the mosque and madrassah, killed some people, thrown others into jail and then sent them back to their villages. They should have taken them out of that place and run a deradicalisation programme from which those young people could have gone into the communities and other madrassahs, recited from the Koran and the hadiths, said that what they were taught in the Red Mosque was wrong and said what they needed to do as citizens of Pakistan and as Muslims.
We missed opportunities. In Swat, for example, we saw radicalisation and Mullah Fazlullah and his people taking over the running of the area. However, do we really understand the difference between the Pathans, the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Everyone with a beard and a turban is classed as the probable terrorist who will attack us. Do we really understand the tribal code, the Pashtun code? Do we really understand the type of tribal system that they have always had? If we expect Pakistan or other countries in Africa or Asia, to have Westminster-style democracies, we are expecting a bit too much. We need to ensure that those Governments deal with poverty, inflation and extremism. They should deal with education, health, the economy and representing people.
More importantly, we need to make sure that Pakistan is not destabilised further. We have to ask the Americans not to continue bombing inside Pakistan, which will increase radicalisation. If they continue with this policy—and we have difficulty in controlling 20 million Afghans—what about the 160 million Pakistanis? Even sending the Pakistan Army is difficult.
On a point made by the noble Baroness in relation to the attacks on the Indian embassy and the Marriott hotel involving the ISI, I should like her to give some evidence in her final reply.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Nicholson for initiating this debate. As someone else in this Chamber from Pakistani origin, I recognised the picture that she painted, gloomy though it was. I congratulate her on bringing some of those serious issues to the attention of this House. I declare an interest as UK patron of the Pakistan Human Development Commission, which concerns itself with educational and health outcomes in the poorest rural areas of Pakistan, about which I shall say a thing or two.
There is no doubt that Pakistan is a troubled country. It is failing its population of 160 million in several ways. The extreme poverty in which people find themselves is bound to be exacerbated in the coming years by the rises in world commodity prices. Its human capital is lost through illiteracy and lack of education. At partition, it was estimated to have a literacy rate of 50 per cent. Let me remind the House that partition was 60 years ago, so there has been a good, long time. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, the estimate in Pakistan now is that it is between 20 per cent and 30 per cent. That figure will continue to fall because of the demographic population explosion and young people not having access to education. For its entire history, Pakistan has had a broken political system with the Government vacillating between military rule and extremely weak civilian rule. Finally, its ability to threaten the security of its neighbours and further beyond are evidenced in its record of nuclear proliferation and its export, willingly or not, of terrorism abroad.
Against that backdrop, I have some sympathy with the Government in their difficult task in determining a strategy for what to do. I shall restrict my remarks to where our interests lie in that country and what I therefore believe we should be doing to assist it in fulfilling the potential of its own people as well as being a partner in the region. For the very brief period that one can speak in this debate, it may be wise to stick to what might happen in the future, rather than to go over what has happened in the past.
First and foremost, we must recognise that Pakistan's progress back to stability must be seen as a transition rather than a transformation. Too many politicians in the United Kingdom have urged for the restoration of democracy as if the process of elections themselves were all; that is, the panacea that would fix everything. Democracy does not come through a vote alone. It is a slow process of building institutional structures; of educating the electorate to the choices that have to be made; and of cultivating a responsible media and political class. They are all lacking in Pakistan today. It has not had success in building these vital transitional structures, even where there has been greater stability during civilian rule. The idea that we look back to the halcyon days when an election had provided stability, peace and the flowering of democracy is historical inaccuracy.
Secondly, we in the West must be clear about the kind of government we wish to see there. I am all for pragmatism in difficult situations, but the number of conflicting signals the UK has sent since 9/11 has left our public, as well as the Pakistanis, confused about where we stand. In large part, that confusion has been caused by our conflating our legitimate concerns about Pakistan’s inability to contain international terrorism with the other equally important strategic interest, which is to help it develop institutions and deliver human development, in order that that as a goal will build up resilience against terrorists.
Where we say that we want to see a democratic, stable Pakistan we must back it with development assistance. I know that the Minister is bound to tell us that the UK, through DfID, will provide another £450 million in aid over the next three years. That amounts to less than £1 per person per year in Pakistan. I see that only as a drop in the ocean and I wonder whether the Government might be prevailed upon to engage more fully in supporting Pakistan through these more peaceable development measures.
Finally, on the kind of government that the United Kingdom and the West might wish to see in Pakistan, the Minister will no doubt be constrained by the niceties of public diplomacy to be as candid as I will be. There is much woolly thinking in pro-democracy circles; namely, that if you have democracy—that is, if you have an election—it does not matter what kind of government are elected. The thinking goes that, therefore, if Islamists are elected, that is tough luck and rather a shame, but that we will have to live with that because it is the will of the people. That is wrong thinking. Islamist parties do not deliver the freedoms, the accountability and the minimum fundamental human rights that are so essential to transitions in democracy and the continuation of democracy. We know that from the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, from Hamas and from countless examples where Islamists have taken power, not least the Taliban, although that was not through democratic measures. We see retrenchment from democracy, complete lack of accountability and egregious assaults on fundamental human rights.
Let us be clear that our preference in countries like Pakistan is to back secular-minded, rule-of-law respecting, genuine democrats in parties which belong to that kind of thinking. Those parties prepared to eschew the politics of sectarianism and religious fundamentalism are the partners we want to have. We are not happy with the outcome of any old election delivering any old kind of democracy that will be retrenched within months as we sit here and watch what happens.
My noble friend Lady Nicholson has commented on some of the events after the election and the lack of stability. The one point that I should like to make—I am looking at the clock—is that several proscribed terrorist groups have now set up office again. In my knowledge the leader of one of those groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba, openly said, “Let us come and get them. We may be proscribed, but now that the military has gone, we are going to set up shop”, and it is recruiting happily.
As far as our interests are concerned, religious fundamentalism is not what we are prepared to live with. Pakistan needs the support of the West and our own peace and security is predicated on its success in becoming a moderate, democratic partner with the region and beyond. That is what should be in the Government’s mind when they look at their strategy there.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Nicholson warmly on getting this important subject on the Order Paper on the first day after the Summer Recess. I very much welcome the opportunity to drag up some of the enormous problems she has identified that confront Pakistan. I shall not go into the election. It is a fact that we have to live with. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, that democratic elections are not everything. As my noble friend Lady Falkner said, democracy is a gradual process to build step by step towards organisations which can support a fully democratic system. Although my noble friend identified many of the defects in the elections—I shall turn to one or two of them later—we have to live with it and do our best to help the people of Pakistan to confront their problems.
As my noble friend rightly emphasised, probably the most extreme problem is the growing menace of violence, not only in the tribal areas where Islamabad has exercised a light touch that gives the jihadists a free rein, but increasingly in the cities, from the assassination a year ago of Benazir Bhutto through to the killing last month of dozens of people in the Marriott hotel, and a pitched battle between the security forces and terrorists at a hideout in Karachi where it was discovered that they had stored tons of sophisticated weapons and explosives. President Zardari has pledged to free Pakistan of violent militants, and this is a welcome sign of an intention to change. The replacement of 14 top generals, including the head of the ISI which has been accused of collaborating with terrorists in the past, indicates that he does mean business.
The existence of safe areas for Afghan terrorists across the border in the tribal areas and the North-West Frontier Province has been a growing concern over the years since the Taliban were thought to have been dealt with in the 2001 war. The conflict with jihadis in the north has led to the displacement of an estimated 700,000 people, some of whom now have to be looked after by the United Nations in camps originally designed for Afghan refugees. But have the Americans lost patience at just the wrong moment when, left to itself, Pakistan would have made a determined effort to root out the foreign terrorists who are also violating its sovereignty? If that was part of the President’s agenda, the use of missiles against the cells in Pakistan may have been premature. Every time there is an American air strike on Pakistani territories, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, it erodes any public support that might have existed otherwise for international co-operation in fighting terrorism. Have the Government a view on the strategy that should be adopted so that terrorists do not find a safe haven in the federally administered tribal areas, from which they and other extremists can also plan attacks on Islamabad or Karachi? Further, do they agree that the American air strikes may have been counterproductive in the sense described by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed?
One hopes that Mr Zardari’s rhetoric extends beyond those who perpetrate the atrocities to those who incite them and spread the heretical belief, as I think it is, that it is right to kill indiscriminately in the name of Islam. If that is the case, he would have the full support at least of Pakistan’s third largest political party, the MQM, which forthrightly condemns those who exploit hatred and prejudice against minorities, whether they be Shia, Ahmadi or Christian.
Some of the thousands of unregulated madrassas funded partly by oil money from the Gulf are spreading pernicious doctrines of hatred. If the president really means what he says, the Pakistan Government should enact a law for the registration of madrassas prohibiting the teaching of violence and sectarianism and the sale, which now goes on, of jihadi videos and literature. Mr Zardari needs to confront the religious right, the JUI, which only mustered 2.2 per cent of the vote in the 2008 elections but which had wielded a wholly disproportionate influence under Musharraf. That party controls the thousands of madrassas that are spreading the Deobandi variety of Islam which inspired the Taliban and holds that Muslims have a sacred right and obligation to go to any country and fight to protect Muslims under threat.
There is no law prohibiting incitement to religious hatred in Pakistan and extremists can say whatever they like about the Shia, Christians and particularly the Ahmadiyya Muslims mentioned by my noble friend. The Ahmadis are subject to repressive laws that disenfranchise them, making it impossible for them to get identity cards which are needed for access to public services, and encourage frequent prosecutions of their members, as in the case of the notorious blasphemy laws. They suffer regular discriminatory action, as in the case of 23 students who were arbitrarily expelled from the Punjabi medical college in Lahore shortly before they were due to take their exams. The Ahmadis suffer the brunt of attacks by extremist mullahs and others in an organisation known as Khatme-Nabuwwat. In an Urdu language programme broadcast on 7 September by Geo TV and distributed worldwide, including in the United Kingdom, offensive and derogatory remarks were made about the Ahmadis, and viewers were incited to kill them. One of the participants said that there was a need to “eliminate” the Ahmadis, while another two used the Arabic phrase “Wajib-ul-Qatl”, meaning “worthy of death”. Within the next 48 hours, two Ahmadi district presidents in the province of Sindh were assassinated.
The programme I have mentioned has been the subject of a complaint to Ofcom following an earlier one this year when it was ruled that Geo TV had breached the guidelines by airing a programme calling for Salman Rushdie to be murdered. As the Independent online says today, it raises the whole question of how much control Ofcom has over the content of foreign language broadcasts receivable here in Britain.
Turning to the question of aid, President Zardari has asked for a big increase in non-military aid to Pakistan, and it would be useful to know whether the Government are sympathetic to that request. I know that we have already announced an increase in aid, and indeed the noble Lord nodded his head when my noble friend mentioned it. However, would it be possible to say that we are prepared to help on the condition that, for example, Pakistan should repeal the blasphemy law and comply with other recommendations of substance made by the working group of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, which the Pakistani delegation wrongly said were not considered internationally accepted human rights?
One of the reasons violent extremism does well in Pakistan is the lack of education that has been mentioned by all noble Lords who have spoken, and particularly that of women. As Ahmed Rashid points out in his book, Descent into Chaos, which I hope very much that the Minister has read, the number of illiterates has doubled over the past half century. Only just over half of the population can read, and less than a third of women. Yet, as has been said, all the billions of dollars that Pakistan has received from the Americans since 9/11 has been squandered on the military. Now Mr Zardari has appealed to the international community to fund economic and social development, including education, a programme which according to Ahmed Rashid would have to extend to central Asia if it is not merely to shift the centre of gravity of the jihadists to Uzbekistan.
Mr Zardari regularly invokes the memory of his late wife, who had a great many friends in this country. One of the best tributes to her life and work would be to promote genuine as well as legal equality for women and to eliminate the inhuman practices of honour killing and the forcible marriage of underage girls, particularly those from religious minorities.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this very important issue so early in the Session. As my right honourable friend William Hague said last week in Birmingham, we on these Benches consider our progress in Afghanistan, which is intrinsically tied to our relations with Pakistan, the single most urgent focus in foreign affairs. I hope the Minister would agree with that. As one would expect, both the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, spoke with great authority about Pakistan. It is clear that they both love the country and know it very well. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to their important questions, as well as to those put by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
While the return of civilian government in Pakistan is to be welcomed, the instability, the violence and the increasing influence of religious extremists that has accompanied it is of deep concern. The bombing of the Marriott hotel on 20 September is an indication of just how vulnerable the current Government are to violent pressure. With such an uncertain footing in much of the country, any support that we can give the Pakistani Government will be critical to their success not only in establishing a secure democracy, but also in fighting terrorism both within Pakistan and its neighbours.
Last month, David Cameron went to Pakistan to make clear how important the relationship between the United Kingdom and Pakistan is to the Conservative Party. What meetings have Her Majesty’s Government had with their Pakistani counterparts on our two countries’ relationship in the recent weeks? With recent events causing some friction between Pakistan and the United States, it is more important than ever that our Government do not take their eye off the ball.
The support that the West offered former President Musharraf in return for his assistance against the Taliban is apparently to be doubled to £480 million by 2011. To give our allies aid to help fight our common enemies is, of course, a sensible course of action, but this aid must be used as promised by Pakistan. I understand £250 million is to go on education. Do Her Majesty’s Government have an intention to monitor this disbursement? We must ensure that this money does not find its way into the unregulated madrassahs, to become the breeding culture for religious fundamentalists devoted to destroying not only us and our allies in Pakistan but democracy in Pakistan.
What systems have the Government set up to track the aid given to Pakistan? There is not only the danger of funds being diverted to those who support terrorism but also the possibility that the money is contributing to the growing problem of corruption. There is no shortage of case studies from all over the world showing the damage that endemic corruption does to the reputation and effectiveness of national Governments. It would be very short-sighted for the Government to wink at the misallocation of funding, either from a lack of political will or from the misplaced hope that such corruption can be an effective method of bribing potentially disruptive elements into half-hearted compliance.
British aid could, if used correctly, be of enormous benefit to Pakistan. In the light of their assistance to India for its civil nuclear facilities, do Her Majesty’s Government have any plans to give similar support to Pakistan?
Does the Minister have real concerns about the financial position of the Pakistan Government given the enormous difficulties they must overcome in tackling militants on the Afghani border? Can he give the House any information on what we are doing to help President Zardari extend state control into those areas? The extremists finding safe havens in the autonomous tribal agencies are not only a thorn in the side of President Karzai’s Government in Kabul but prominent in the suicide attacks taking place in Pakistan.
Finally, I highlight the importance of helping Pakistan’s Government through action here on UK soil. We must do everything we can to prevent terrorism activity in this country hurting our allies abroad, just as we expect them to do the same there. Government policies that have damaged community cohesion—such as their extraordinary insistence, in the face of passionate opposition both inside and outside Parliament, on extending pre-charge detention to 42 days—are no way to promote the values and freedoms of a liberal democracy.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and hope that we will soon hear much more positive reports coming out of Pakistan.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for raising the issue of Pakistan. I note clearly her sense of foreboding and doubt about the conduct of the elections and the future of that country. As both the Prime Minister and, indeed, all of us in the UK Government recognise, Pakistan is a vital partner for the UK and fundamental to our own security. The personal ties that bind nearly 1 million British people to Pakistan mean that we must be committed and bound to Pakistan’s success and stability.
Let me immediately address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, when he cited William Hague as having said that Pakistan was a primary—if not the primary—concern of going forward. Frankly, policy-makers on both sides of the aisle, here and internationally, would broadly share that assessment. There is no more alarming situation than the prospect of Pakistan descending and deteriorating into the status of a failed state.
But it is important to recognise the resilience that the Pakistani people have shown over an extraordinarily turbulent 12-month period. They have seen a state of emergency, the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a deteriorating security situation, most recently the shocking attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, and equally things that make the heart beat faster, such as the transfer to civilian rule through democratic national and provincial elections in February and the appointment of a newly elected President in September. So despite completely acknowledging the noble Baroness’s points about the limits in practice of the franchise, the limits to the pool of candidates, the religious limitations and the constitutional limitations, I share with my noble friend Lord Ahmed the sense that we should think of how bleak things were before those elections. We should weigh those very proper criticisms of the elections—which certainly all have agreed would not get the seal of good housekeeping of being a Westminster-standard election—but nevertheless we need to bear in mind that those who were in charge of the country during the period of the elections allowed themselves to lose badly, and that those who had been banned, exiled and prosecuted won despite the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
So something worked—imperfectly, crudely and certainly not up to the impeccable standards that one might hope for over the long term, but going through some kind of democratic electoral process, even if a flawed one, allowed Pakistan to look forward and address the critical issues of the economy and security. It also gives the country an opportunity to build on that democratic transition and, we hope, to deliver the long-term peace and prosperity that the people of Pakistan, as well as all of us who are their friends, want to see. It means, though, that we must not lose our focus on building strong democratic institutions. We cannot but know that Pakistan is at a pivotal point and that its future could go either way.
President Zardari was elected on 6 September with some two-thirds of the combined legislative votes. That means that he now enjoys a strong mandate and leads a Government who came to power through the ballot box. He has committed himself and that Government to strengthening parliamentary democracy and to countering extremism, and we will give him and his Government full support in pursuit of those aims. With regard to the question from the noble Lord about the meetings we have had with the President, I assure him that since President Zardari’s election about a month ago, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have met him. We have made it clear to him that engaging with his new Government is a priority for us. We have also recognised that the new Government will need international support to tackle the serious challenges they face.
I take the mildly stated rebuke that at times it may have seemed as though support to Pakistan was limited to a US-UK axis. That is one reason why we have worked in recent weeks to create a broader Friends of Pakistan group. It was launched in New York during the opening of the UN General Assembly on 26 September. It brought together countries and multilateral organisations that are committed to Pakistan’s long-term development and want to help the Government tackle the serious development, security and economic problems they face. That inaugural meeting was attended by the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Turkey, along with the Chinese ambassador and representatives of the European Union and the United Nations, and was co-chaired by President Zardari and the Foreign Ministers of the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. We are trying to put in place broad support that can both deliver more balanced international community support to Pakistan and, we hope, mobilise resources to address the issues of poverty and the gaps in health and education that have been referred to.
We all recognise the formidable challenges that the Government face. Pakistan’s macroeconomic situation continues to deteriorate rapidly. It has been exacerbated by elevated world fuel and food prices, together with the political uncertainty that has led to growing balance-of-payments and fiscal deficits, along with rising inflation, the depreciation of the exchange rate and the downgrading of Pakistan’s credit rating. An intensive programme of economic reform supported by the IMF and other institutions is vital to avert a full economic crisis.
On the tribal belt, too, we applaud President Zardari’s recognition of the problems there and the recognition that the threat from extremism, reflected by the grim and tragic attack on the Marriott Hotel, needs to be tackled by a process that combines the extending of Pakistani military action into the tribal belt to deal with terrorist groups with an attention to political reconciliation and to development. It is that balanced approach, which the President has supported and promoted, that allows us to support him strongly in that.
With regard to the point about air strikes, there are obviously enormous security problems there, and it would be wrong to blame just the recent air strikes as somehow being the cause for terrorist attacks in Islamabad and elsewhere. The fact is that there have been some 30 terrorist attacks over the past month so. Tragically, this is not new—I wish I could say it were. That said, I think we all agree that it is much better that Pakistan itself, through its own military and its own democratic Government, takes responsibility for security, for development and for any actions within its own territory.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, and others raised the issue of development assistance. She is right that poverty in Pakistan remains substantial, with one in 10 children dying before their fifth birthday and more than half of the adult population still unable to read and write—indeed, the figure may be even higher, as the noble Baroness suggests. She has beaten me to it—we are doubling our development assistance over the next three years. We are focusing that on better health and education, to make government more effective and to make economic growth work for everybody. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that the controls are in place to make sure that those moneys are effectively spent and deliver the kind of reduction in poverty that we want to see.
There has already been a striking improvement in Pakistan’s development performance. It may surprise people to know that whatever the current difficulties, the number of people living in poverty has declined over the past five years from 35 per cent of the population to 22.5 per cent. The UK development assistance has helped save 200,000 children’s lives, stopped 800,000 children from becoming malnourished and increased from 53 per cent to 76 per cent the percentage of children being immunised. All this is because of something that is getting forgotten, given everything that has happened since. Whatever else one might criticise the previous Government for, they put in a sound economic management performance with a focus on poverty reduction under both the President and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
As we have all agreed tonight, Pakistan is at a crossroads. It needs all our support, not just the UK, the US, this House and others, but the international community more broadly. Above all, we must build on this democratic opening to build a kind of strong, accountable, legitimate Government who can steer Pakistan through the difficult months and years ahead. That is something that Pakistanis can only do for themselves but, to the extent that friends can help, the UK will be there for them.
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]: