Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. Either separately or together. You may feel that you would prefer to cooperate on this, but if you wish to do it separately, I would be delighted, whichever route you chose.
  (Mr Vandermeer) Can Sir Iain and I discuss how we would do it, and if we do it jointly, then we have the right to dissent?

  121. Of course. This is, to us, absolutely critical. You have unique experience in these areas.
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) You are too emphatic, Chairman.

  122. No, I am not having that. You have unique experience in dealing with this matter, and this matter is far more important than many people realise, because the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people could be at stake in these matters, and I really do think that when we produce our report, it has to be the right report, taking into account everything that really matters. We do not want to be, as it were, jumped into doing a speedy report because the Government clearly is keen to get this matter dealt with and introduce legislation. My own view is that I think we need to hasten slowly in order to achieve the right result. David, do you want to come in with further—
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) Forgive me Chairman, may I ask when you would like this?

  123. I turn to my Clerk—my own view is as soon as you can get it, but if it is 6, 8 weeks, I think, from our point of view, that would be fine, and if you needed longer, we are asking you to do something for us, so we are not in a position to dictate—
  (Mr Vandermeer) I certainly will endeavour to be as quick as possible. We are getting very close to a holiday season if we do not do it fairly sharply, but yes, I am more than happy to do it. I believe that most of our concerns and so forth have already been expressed, but I think it would be very helpful for us to crystallise it and see if—

  Chairman: Indeed, it would be very helpful to this Committee because, as I say, you take this whole issue very seriously indeed. Thank you very much for that, I am very grateful. John Burnett.

Mr Burnett

  124. Continuing Sir Nicholas's theme, very material consideration is, of course, the public confidence point. If the new proposals are to command the confidence of the public, the process will have to be open, impartial and independent. How do you think that can be achieved, and how do you think that, for example, local people, or the representatives of local people, can be brought into the process? Do you think Parliament should have Committee hearings in the locality of the application? What other aspects of the procedure do you think there should be engrafted on to preserve public confidence? Because I take the point that the existing system, which I do believe needs change, does largely command public confidence, and, obviously tangentially, we would think that the local MP—this is more a parliamentary point rather than for yourselves—should be ineligible to serve on the Committee. But I would particularly like to hear your response to the earlier point, keeping public confidence.
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) If either my Commission suggestion, and it was very much a sort of late night thought that I put on paper, but I adhere to it, I do believe that something of that kind could be set up to advise Parliament, or if a select committee were thought possible as a mechanism, a committee would have to make it clear that they were open to representations from members of the public and not merely from informed groups. By informed groups, I mean the CPRE and so on and so forth. And I think yes, Mr Burnett, I had not, until this moment, thought of it, I think that probably would mean that there would have to be some local hearings. Whether your committee system enables you to do that, I have no idea, or whether individual members of the Committee could go out and conduct local hearings, I have no idea. The Commission clearly could. We both did at our respective inquiries, and it has become a commonplace at major inquiries these days to do so. As to whether the local MP should be a member of the Committee, do you really ask our views?

  125. No, I would have thought that both of you are used to dealing with appeals, judicial review and so forth, and, presumably, you would call for the Committee to be as impartial as possible?
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) Of course it must.
  (Mr Vandermeer) On that last point, if I may say so, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for a local Member of a parliamentary committee of the House considering it. I do not think that is because I would distrust them. I am looking at the perception from the other point of view of other parties, and also, I think, a practical point. If you look at the Heathrow situation, I have forgotten how many now, I think it is in the first part of my report, but I had something like 12, 14 MPs give evidence. It follows from that that there are at least 12 constituencies who were thought to be suffering effects. What is going to happen, unless you have a committee of 20 and they are on it or what are those going to think where their Member happens to be on and the other 13 are not? Somebody is not going to be very happy about it. I think this is a practical problem. I think it is also fair to say I found the submissions of the MPs—and I am treading on very dangerous ground now—of varying values. There were some who came and simply seemed to reflect what may have been a political view that had been sought through the majority of their constituents or otherwise; there were some who came who sought to say, "We have a strong body of opinion saying this, and a strong body of opinion saying that", and left it there. One or two said, "We have a body of opinion this way and a body who have been that way, that is my duty to report. I now express my own view". We found that very helpful. Less helpful when they simply came along, as one or two of them did, and I certainly hesitate to go into detail, and gave the impression there was no opposition or no support, whatever side it was. That, perhaps, was not totally helpful, but I do believe that if you have got to the Select Committee stage, the Members could be very useful in informing the Committee about the views of those people who are affected, if it was done in a balanced way, which, in the large number of cases of MPs giving evidence, was the case at Terminal 5. I think that was very useful, but they certainly would not see them sitting on the committee.

Eric Joyce

  126. I think quite a few of these issues have already been dealt with actually, but I think to Sir Iain particularly, you have proposed that there should be a Commission with sufficient time and expertise which was appointed by the Secretary of State, essentially, but the Secretary of State would presumably be behind the project in the first place, so would there not be a conflict of interest? How would you get away from that conflict of interest?
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) The Secretary of State, I agree with you, being behind the project, as inevitably must be the case with almost any major national project has, to an extent, to divorce himself in deciding the first issues we have talked about, that is to say the national need for the project. If the legislation provides for something like a commission to be available to advise Parliament, it seemed to me that the Secretary of State would be the appropriate person, but I think I have also suggested, I must look back at my note, that the appointment of the commission should itself be subject to approval, which I thought would give it sufficient democratic validity. It also occurred to me that that would not take more than 20 minutes. I hope I am right about that.
  (Mr Vandermeer) Sir Nicholas, I wonder if you would forgive me in answering Mr Burnett. A moment ago I dealt with one point he asked, I did not deal with the other, and I would like to do so very briefly. The start of the question was whether it would be envisaged that members of the committee or whatever would have to themselves have evidence from local residents or go out locally. I think it very much depends. If you have a commission before Parliament makes its mind up, or if you have a slightly different route, an inspector perhaps, looking at the problems, then I would see it for him to go out and report to Parliament about local feeling. Maybe when you have the report, and Parliament then considers whether the problems identified are outweighed by their judgment of need and so forth, it would obviously be for Parliament to decide whether that could be done in the House, in a committee, or a committee advising the House, and I do see that if you could then say, "We have all the facts now, we are going to throw it to the Committee to see whether there is anything in this report"- I am not advocating this but they might possibly say, "Here is the report of the Inspector, the Select Committee are just going to have a look at it to see whether there is anything in that report that troubles them". They might not be happy with what he is saying in the sense of being confident about it on the implications of traffic or the implications of air noise, where the Committee might say, "We just want to investigate this a little bit more and have a couple of views from various people who could hone in on that bit that is troubling us", but I would not see the need for them to go public if they had taken the first route. If, of course, they adopt the process in the way that I understand to be intended at the moment and adopt the proposal in principle without considering all the details, it will be too late. I think there is no doubt that in issues as serious for people as airport provision—and, as I made the point earlier, the further you take it away from people, the more it becomes a problem in the public perception, whether it is efficient or otherwise is not a matter that I am commenting on.


  127. Or whether it does its job, which retains the public confidence.
  (Mr Vandermeer) Absolutely, oh yes, in that context, I entirely agree.

David Wright

  128. How long would you envisage that kind of commission approach taking, though, because in the public's mind, they will see that as a replication of the existing inquiry process?
  (Mr Vandermeer) Yes they would—I would hesitate to say replication, but nearly so, only not replication because it would be made plain to them that the function of it was for them to indicate why they thought that the problems existed and the weight of them, and what Parliament should take into account. Subject to that, otherwise a replication, yes, I accept. I would have thought that assuming we have got proper policies and we take advantage of the possibilities of having—because I touched upon it myself and Sir Iain has endorsed it—some of the matters dealt with in writing, unless the Commission or person holding the inquiry thinks that there is a problem that ought to be aired publicly, I would have thought one could get this into a very much more reasonable compass, and if we did Heathrow, with all the problems of people adding applications and removing highway proposals and so forth, in three years and ten months, I would be very distressed if we could not get it down to something between one year and 18 months.

Eric Joyce

  129. I presume that Sir Iain would be referring to—and I would defer to people with more experience in this place than me—yourself, Chairman—if there were membership of a commission where, put in front of Parliament to agree or disagree with, it would be an unwhipped decision, I would presume? I think that Sir Iain presumed that it would be unwhipped, which means that the Government of the day would not be telling its backbenchers what to vote for, because that would rather defeat the object, would it not? Would it be reasonable to assume that that would be the case?
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) Totally.


  130. We certainly took that evidence from the then planning minister, Lord Falconer, who indicated that he did not think it appropriate that the Government should exercise a whip on such matters. Can I, as it were, follow up what has been happening here, referring particularly to Sir Iain Glidewell, because you give an example of an independent body, the 1967 Roskill Commission on the third airport for London, and that was a Royal Commission which you said did a very very good job, although it is interesting to note that neither the majority nor the minority view of the Commission proved politically acceptable. I put this question to you: is there a danger that an independent commission may not be able to reach a clear view based on the available evidence, leaving Parliament—and that concerns us a great deal— with a less sound basis on which itself to take a decision?
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) If the Independent Commission consists of more than one person, that is inevitably the case, Chairman, there must be a risk of that. One hopes that it will not be the case. There was, of course, a very considerable split of view on the Roskill Commission. Professor Buchanan said, "No, it must not go in central England, it must go beside the sea." The majority disagreed with him, so Parliament did receive a very considerable majority view. The other trouble was that any site that was chosen in central England inevitably was in the constituency of some member of some considerable significance. Perhaps I should not say that. I seem to remember that Mr R A Butler, as he then was—
  (Mr Vandermeer) I actually appeared in that inquiry, which both demonstrates, perhaps, that I have not moved very far, or that I am getting older. It was a very efficiently run inquiry. It was, of course, a rather different type of inquiry than it is, but it touches upon the point made: it was an inquiry charged with considering a number of sites and reaching views, and it was very well ordered. But I would draw this distinction, and it is one of the problems I had: they were very well backed up, they had an enormous secretariat, they had 6 or 8 members, and we were not as liberally provided as them, but they were very well ordered. But they did, of course, have the duty to report, not merely whether there was a need, but they actually made judgments about where it should go. I do not think either Sir Iain or I necessarily are moving that far. Certainly I envisage that Parliament would have to consider in some way other sites if somebody brought them forward, but I would see the Commission or the Inspector acting as a reporter to Parliament, setting out what he identified as the problem, leaving it to Parliament to decide whether there are any particular aspects of that that they wanted to investigate further by whatever means they thought right.

  Chairman: Thank you. We are almost at a conclusion, but David Wright may have a couple of points to raise.

David Wright

  131. Very briefly. Would you envisage further consultation on that commission report before it reached Parliament?
  (Mr Vandermeer) I would see no reason for it. If it were, you would just be wasting your time.

  132. I think largely the point has been covered, Chairman. It would be interesting, I think, in terms of the report that you have kindly said you will prepare, whether you could perhaps give some thought as to where you would see stages of the process going in the House as well. I think that would be useful, whether you would see something going to the floor of the whole Chamber, or whether you would see it being dealt with in Committee. Clearly that is largely a matter for us, but a view would be helpful.
  (Mr Vandermeer) You are stretching our experience and knowledge a little, even though I did appear on the Channel Tunnel Bill and on the Maplin Bill.


  133. As my colleague, David Wright, has said, this is certainly something that you could include in the paper that you have very kindly agreed to prepare for us, but I think it is important that we do actually get, from those who have got considerable experience, their ideas, not only about how the current process could be—and you actually dramatically emphasised that the three years and ten months could perhaps have been reduced to 18 months, and that is a fantastic reduction in time, expenditure and speed in dealing with these matters. In addition, of course, how, from your understanding of Parliament—and both of you have that understanding—how Parliament could itself appropriately and properly deal with matters which, many years ago, were, as it were, taken away from Parliament because Parliament thought that it should be—a lot of people did—dealt with in a different way?
  (Mr Vandermeer) Sir Nicholas, may I ask you a question: I am more than happy, and I know Sir Iain is, to try to produce something for you. I am quite happy to try to do that without any further guidance from the Committee, but if you believe that there is any guidance you can give us, any particular points you think you would like us to address, I would be more than happy to receive those before we put pen to paper.

  Mr Burnett: It would be interesting to hear from you in your report on matters of what procedure, if we take this role, we should adopt by way of: are you going to suggest an advocate for Parliament? Are you going to suggest representation? What sort of levels of evidence should we see? Proofs of evidence? Just a few points on that procedural side would be helpful.

  Chairman: Before you answer, David Hamilton would like to come in as well.

David Hamilton

  134. The one point I would ask, if it were possible, on three or four separate occasions, you implied how it could be reduced, the length of time for an inquiry to take place. The emphasis, from my point of view, would be on that basis, because that, to me, is a major key issue. One other point, it might be for you to answer this question, Mr Chairman: one thing local councillors do not have is indemnity, and when you talked earlier on about potentially a committee that would have to take on a report, the one thing I recall is several councillors, over a period of years, have been called into Court on many occasions to go through the minutes, the record that was being kept, because when you are talking about major developments, you are talking about multi-million pound concerns. That is where I hope the QCs and lawyers and so on will come in because at the end of the day it is very very important from the developer's point of view. The question I have is, would MPs have the privilege that they have at the present time where they can say things in the House and not actually go to Court for it?
  (Mr Vandermeer) I think you must be protected.

  Chairman: It is called privilege. What members say in the House is covered by privilege; what they say in the House which is then used outside the House, as long as it is signed off by the Speaker, is also covered by privilege, but if they then say other things outside the House which may result in some form of litigation, they are not in fact covered by privilege. I believe that is the correct understanding.

David Wright

  135. That would be very important if members were to play any role at all in any kind of commission structure.
  (Mr Vandermeer) May I say straight away to Mr Burnett that this—whether I feel able to comment on the question of advocates and so forth may prove difficult, I will do my best to grapple with it, but I think there are two fundamental points that really do matter, and one is that Parliament has to recognise—and I am sure do recognise—that the kind of project we are talking about is something that is going to cause considerable public anxiety. It therefore is absolutely essential, in my view, that the public know that they have been properly heard in some form or another. In conjunction with that, it is a very similar point, it is, I think, very important that Parliament retains the confidence of the public so the public know—and do not get the kind of idea that many of them had when I started my inquiry—that the decisions had all been taken and that the inquiry was really a charade.


  136. I think, Mr Vandermeer, this Committee is very conscious of those two points. Although this may be slightly otiose, to what extent should Parliament use its present procedure established for private bills in determining the principle of a major infrastructure project? If you could just deal with that very briefly in a minute or two.
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) I believe the private bill procedure, which I probably do not know as well as Roy Vandermeer does, is not wholly apt. I think it is somewhat too formalised and I think this needs a more—sounds odd to say it—a less adversarial, but still detailed, scrutiny.
  (Mr Vandermeer) I would simply say I have done a number of private bills. I do not think they are totally apt. I am not sure about the formality, but I think that a different concept—you are very much arguing about the terms of clauses and bills and so forth, that actually does need a measure of formality. The other point I would make is that I genuinely do believe that, as one of the members said, the people promoting a large scheme want to make sure they promote it in the best possible fashion. That, inevitably, raises the question of whether you are going to accept the unacceptable or are you going to let the lawyers in? It is a problem, but I do think one ought to bear in mind that it is not one-sided. Certainly at Heathrow, I have found that the public, contrary to what has been said, I suspect by Lord Falconer, the public, believed that they had a fair say, and I think part of the reason I say that is that when we started, there was an immense swell of opposition and people like Friends of the Earth were wanting to be destructive. One or two things were said at the pre-inquiry meetings. At the end of the day, how much protest have you heard about the decision? How much challenge? That does not mean it was right, but I think that if you want to bring in changes you do not throw the baby out with the bath water.

  137. What you are saying is people at least felt they have a proper opportunity in having their say, ie they had confidence in the system?
  (Mr Vandermeer) They had confidence in that aspect of the system. Many of them thought it took too long, I am sure, but they were heard. And I would also add that there were one or two advocates there, particularly representing local authorities, who—and I take the example of that advocate representing the Hillingdon local authority who I suspect was paid, which, by many of the standards of earnings today, are pretty much a pittance, and carried virtually the whole case for the local authority and saved them a lot of money. The public benefited from his efforts considerably. They may not have seen it, but they benefited from his efforts. I think that one is hesitant as a lawyer, even if not a practising one, to start saying good things about lawyers, but I think that we have to be careful to retain confidence, and that does require, I think, some rigid kind of examination, whether it is by lawyers or otherwise.
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) I believe that is true also of the decision of the second runway at Manchester. I believe, bitterly opposed as it was, it has now broadly been accepted.


  138. I think that is the case, and I was quite closely involved, as you are well aware. On behalf of the Committee, can I thank Sir Iain Glidewell and Roy Vandermeer for the quite exceptional evidence that you have given to us today. Can I say this: John Burnett has whispered in my ear what an amazing evidence session this has been, how helpful it has been to the difficult inquiry that we are undertaking, and another colleague earlier passed me a note very much to the same effect. This has been extremely helpful. I thank you both very much indeed for coming and subjecting yourselves to questioning for the best part of an hour and three quarters. You have been very very helpful to the Committee.
  (Mr Vandermeer) I am most grateful to you, Chairman, and members of the Committee for the way you have entertained us.
  (Sir Iain Glidewell) May I say that, having thought about it, I do not think I could promise to let you have something jointly before early September. Would that be not too inconvenient? I am committed to producing another report on a totally different subject before the end of July.

  139. I was trying to give you as much guidance earlier when you asked over what period. If it is early September, Sir Iain, that is fine.
  (Mr Vandermeer) Sir Nicholas, if I can stick my neck out, if our report provokes you to want to see us again. I view it with some dread, but also some pleasure.

  Chairman: I am delighted you have suggested that because that might well be necessary. I am grateful to you. Thank you again.



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