Members present:

Mr Nicholas Winterton, in the Chair
Mr John Burnett
David Hamilton
Mr Iain Luke
Rosemary McKenna
Ms Meg Munn
Mr Desmond Swayne


LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON QC, a Member of the House of Lords, Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration, DTLR, examined.


  1. Can I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration at the DTLR to our meeting this afternoon. Lord Falconer, you are very welcome. I have advised my Committee of the very positive and constructive meeting that my clerk and I had with you at the end of last week and we are very grateful to you for coming before us today at the first session of our inquiry into major infrastructure projects and the way that Parliament can handle this matter. Of course, another Committee deals with other more political issues, we deal with the issue as to how the House can work with the Government's proposals and that we intend to do. Can I start from the Chair by putting the first two questions to you. Minister, could you very briefly for the benefit of the Committee summarise the Government's proposals as they relate to Parliament. Because we are going to deal with the matter on behalf of both the Lords and the Commons perhaps you could relate to Parliament as a whole. How do these fit in with the wider changes to the planning system which I know and we all know that you are also proposing?
  2. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you very much. Can I also endorse what you said about our very helpful and constructive meeting last week in relation to discussing these issues. Can I thank you for inviting me to take part in the inquiry. As far as the proposals are concerned, we believe that there are a very few major infrastructure projects, no more than one a year, although maybe in the year two might be going at the same time, which are of national strategic importance. We believe that these should be dealt with separately from the more ordinary planning application and what the red document, which is part of the Planning Green Paper documents, proposed was that that sort of major infrastructure project be dealt with whereby the Secretary of State would determine whether or not it was one of the designated major infrastructure projects. It would then be considered by Parliament who could either approve or not approve the project. That would be done by order or motion passed in both Houses of Parliament. If Parliament approved the proposal there would then be an inquiry in the locality which would discuss how the major infrastructure project was to be done, not whether. Upon advice having been received from the planning inspector by the Secretary of State, he would then decide finally whether or not the proposal went ahead. What underlies the proposal is that there are these very few important projects where it is important that the national Parliament have a view in relation to them but also that a process be adopted which balances the rights of the people affected to be heard against the need for a conclusion to be reached in principle as to whether or not they should go ahead. In the red document we indicate that it is for Parliament to decide what procedure it should adopt in relation to considering the proposals before the order or motion is debated in each House of Parliament. We suggest, and it is only a suggestion because we do not think it is for us to decide, that something like the Regulatory Reform order process might be a suitable process, but some of the responses we have had indicate that might not be the best sort of proposal because it might not be long enough in certain cases and also the Regulatory Reform proposals are for uncontentious proposals whereas some of these proposals would be contentious. What we are keen to do is to engage in a debate with the relevant authorities to try and work out what is the best sort of process, one which allows for Parliament to come to a proper decision about it but also one which allows people affected to be heard. We think it has got to be a process where Parliament feels able to take the decision and it has also got to be one that people do not think takes too long because one that lasts for nine or ten years, which is the sort of Terminal 5 process, is not one that would have credibility. Equally it is one that has got to engage with the area affected.

  3. During our questioning to you, Minister, we will be covering all of those areas. Can I put my second question to you. Ten years ago, the Transport and Works Act transferred such decision-making on planning matters from Parliament to the system of public inquiries. One of the reasons for this was there was the feeling both inside and outside Parliament that it was inappropriate for politicians rather than trained and independent inspectors to be taking such decisions. I am sure, Minister, you can understand that as well as anyone else. Why is the Government therefore now seeking to return some categories of planning decisions to Parliament and away from what I would describe as the trained and independent inspectors?
  4. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because we think there are those very, very few projects where it is appropriate that the national Parliament should decide them. The national Parliament has been deciding these sorts of projects in quite recent times and the obvious one is the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which is a major national infrastructure project that was approved through the process of the Hybrid Bill procedure. That took place during the 1990s. It involved Parliament in both Houses voting ultimately on the Bill after a Committee procedure had been gone through. It was in effect Parliament deciding whether or not the Channel Tunnel Rail Link should go ahead. I think that shows (a) that Parliament is able to make those decisions and (b) that there are a very few of those sorts of cases where Parliament should make the decision. I do not think it breaks with the process that the Transport and Works Act proposed because even the Transport and Works Act involves Parliament voting on the principle of major infrastructure projects.

  5. Before I pass on to John Burnett, and on a supplementary to my question to Iain Luke, do you think that even in principle, Minister, Parliament has the technical and specialist experience and expertise to make a dramatic decision on the sort of project that you have indicated you will seek to be using this procedure for?
  6. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, I do, but on the basis that Parliament must have the resources to take such advice and call such evidence as it regards as necessary and appropriate properly to inform itself of the issues in relation to the particular project.

    Mr Luke

  7. Just to look at some of the detail. You made the point about the national Parliament and we had a slight discussion beforehand and there have been some discussions to do with energy in the House in Adjournment Debates. Are there any instances, Minister, when this procedure could apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland?
  8. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This procedure is envisaged only to apply to England, it is not envisaged to apply to either Northern Ireland or Scotland. It is an English ----


  9. England and Wales?
  10. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) England and Wales, yes.

    Mr Luke

  11. It is the issue of major infrastructure projects but could that be a power plant or an energy plant as well?
  12. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Talking again about England and Wales it could be a power plant. One of the examples that I have given is Sizewell B which was a very major inquiry some years ago, it was in 1981, it took six years. That was a huge plant in East Anglia. I could envisage that would be one of the sorts of things that would be suitable for the major infrastructure project proposals.

  13. In principle the planning laws in Scotland would deal with any major infrastructure projects arising?
  14. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Planning is a devolved matter and therefore I think I would be wise to stay out of that.


  15. Can I just ask, because I do not know whether Iain is going to ask it but I am going to ask it, what about Crown developments such as large military projects which clearly should fall within the scope and responsibility of the UK Parliament rather than the Scottish Parliament?
  16. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) At the moment these proposals do not relate to Crown development at all, so this is only in respect of non-Crown development proposals.

  17. Oh. It appears in one of these post notes that I am reading. "The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Possible types of major infrastructure projects" and at the bottom it says "Crown developments such as large military projects".
  18. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Could I check that. At the moment we should proceed on the basis that it only relates to non-Crown developments in the first instance.

  19. And even, I have to say, Minister, in the very red document to which you have referred, item 14 on page 24 says "Major developments by or on behalf of the Crown judged to be of national significance" and that could of course be defence.
  20. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. The current position is that those Crown projects are not caught by normal planning law. I think the way that one should proceed at the moment is on the basis that these proposals that we are making apply to applications that would otherwise be caught by the normal planning procedures.

    Chairman: Thank you very much.

    David Hamilton

  21. I appreciate you allowing me in on this very point, Chairman. Crown land is reserved within the Westminster Parliament, not within the Scottish Parliament, and therefore is quite a big issue. In addition to that there is one other part if I could just expand a little on my colleague's comments. If, for example, we were going to build a big nuclear power station, another one, in Scotland that nuclear power comes under the Westminster remit.
  22. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  23. Planning applications normally come under the Scottish remit.
  24. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  25. We have had a debate already within the Westminster Parliament in relation to who would have the last say. The belief of many is that this would be the remit of the Westminster Parliament.
  26. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because it is Crown land or because it is nuclear?

    David Hamilton: Because it is nuclear power and it is also a reserved matter.


  27. We are well represented by Scots on this Committee, Minister.
  28. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Indeed. Can I make it clear that the proposals here that we are talking about are only how it would affect the planning system in England. If there are separate issues like Crown development or special rules in relation to nuclear power these proposals would not bite because they are only dealing with the planning law issues. I want to, as it were, steer away from those controversial areas and say what we are talking about is proposals for major infrastructure projects in England and Wales which would otherwise get caught by normal planning law.

    Mr Burnett

  29. There seems an apparent conflict between stages one and three in the process. Stage one is that it is considered by Parliament and approved by Parliament, then there is a public inquiry, which is two, and then three, once Parliament has approved it you are saying the Secretary of State can then abrogate it or confirm the planning. Could you just elaborate on that point because there does seem, superficially anyway, to be an apparent conflict because what Parliament decrees is what should happen?
  30. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you look at the document it envisages the possibility, which is regarded as a remote possibility, that after Parliament had approved it in principle, as a result of the planning inquiry it became apparent there was some insuperable obstacle to the scheme going ahead. So suppose, unbeknownst to anybody, the land was not appropriate and that became apparent in the planning inquiry, it would be wrong that Parliament's decision in principle to go ahead should fly in the face of the detailed inquiry by the planning inspector.

  31. Are you therefore saying at stage three the Secretary of State can only abrogate the consent in the light of evidence that has come out at the public inquiry?
  32. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That would normally be the case. I cannot rule out completely other circumstances because one can envisage unexpected events occurring in the world, for example, which might make it inappropriate to go ahead with a particular proposal. I do not want to speculate but you can all imagine circumstances, for example, where a particular mode of travel suddenly became totally unacceptable to everybody. That is an extraordinarily unusual thing to think of but I do not want to completely box in future ministers as to what the position might be.

  33. I have another question on the second question of our Chairman. You talked about Terminal 5 and I think all of us know a little about that, and our Chairman put to you, do you think Parliament has sufficient technical and specialist expertise to deal with these matters. The expertise that is required, and we will come on to public consultation later, for, say, a nuclear power station or Terminal 5 is phenomenal. I think there were something like 25 to 30 specialist teams of witnesses both for the proposal and against it. You then went on to say there must be sufficient resources to help Parliament. What do you envisage? Do you envisage some sort of cross-examination in public, cross-examination in Parliament?
  34. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, the point about does Parliament have the expertise to do it. Remember, the people who actually gave the advice as planning inspectors in all of these major planning inquiries were, dare I mention it, lawyers. So Roy Vandermeer QC is the Terminal 5 inquirer, Sir Iain Glidewell, High Court Judge, is the Terminal 4 inquirer, Sir Frank Layfield is the Sizewell B inquirer. These are people sitting and listening to material and then forming a view as to whether or not on the basis of that material it should go ahead. It is not being decided by, as it were, a nuclear physicist or a road economist. You may not think this is a fair way of describing it but in those cases it was a reasonable man deciding on the basis of the material he heard.

  35. What sort of parliamentary procedure do you envisage? Proofs of evidence, examination in chief, cross-examination? How do you expect Parliament actually to wrestle with this problem and these very, very difficult matters?
  36. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a matter for Parliament to decide what the appropriate procedure would be. I envisage a procedure which would be closer to a Select Committee type hearing than a Private Bills hearing. In Private Bills the promoter is represented by counsel, the objectors are represented by counsel, they call witnesses and cross-examine each other. I would envisage a procedure whereby the Committee decides what evidence it wants to hear, what advice it wants to get from experts, it uses its secretariat and/or experts to decide for it what the crucial issues are, and it basically develops whatever is the appropriate investigation it thinks will most assist it in reaching a conclusion by which it can assist the House.

  37. The person I have the greatest sympathy for within the House is the Member of Parliament in whose constituency the proposal is being advanced. You talk about assistance and support and so forth. In all likelihood that member is going to do his or her utmost to oppose the proposal. Take Terminal 5, for example. What sort of support would there be for that Member of Parliament and any other members that he or she could cajole into assisting him or her?
  38. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would be again a matter for Parliament to decide whether or not that Member of Parliament, or the group of Members of Parliament affected, should be on the Committee. I suspect it might be they would conclude they should not be on the Committee. That Member of Parliament or Members of Parliament would plainly have the opportunity to give evidence before the Committee as the Committee thought appropriate, but if you take Terminal 5 the actual material opposing Terminal 5 came from a whole range of bodies, some of them very well supported both in terms of manpower and in terms of money. So I think you would find there would be a whole range of bodies in something like Terminal 5 where the Committee could draw on their expertise to get a view about it. I would not envisage specific additional resources for the individual MP or MPs in whose constituency the project was.

    Ms Munn

  39. Can we move on to talk about this issue of where the boundaries lie in terms of mass of detail and the principle. You mentioned earlier in your introduction the difference between agreeing something in principle and agreeing the location. How would you see that working?
  40. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In some cases I suspect that the proposal which would come before Parliament would be one where there is only one place this particular thing could go, in which case Parliament would have to address it on that basis. In other cases, I suspect the issue would be, should there be additional runway capacity at a particular airport, and it would then be for Parliament to decide whether in principle that should occur and then let the public inquiry which followed decide precisely where the runway could go. I think it would depend on a case by case basis, but I do not envisage Parliament getting into the nitty-gritty detail of how many lanes should there be on the sliproad, for example, because surface transport might become relevant in an airport terminal inquiry. I do not envisage Parliament, as it were, trying to form a view between conflicting views about precisely how deep the foundations need to be, which is what the Terminal 5 inquiry had to deal with. The issue for Parliament should be, in principle should there be a fifth terminal at Heathrow; in principle should there be another airport in this particular part of the United Kingdom.

  41. There are examples where there is only one place for it or more or less only one place for it - for example, you could not have the Channel Tunnel in my constituency, or if you did it would be a very long tunnel - but where the principle really is about the location, how would you separate that out in terms of how far Parliament would go? I can see what you mean by the exact details of the specifics but how far would they go?
  42. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If somebody was saying in that location, you could never build a new runway, or in that location you could never build the particular structure you want, I think Parliament would have to form a view about whether that assertion was right or wrong. If the argument being advanced was the impossibility of doing it, it would have to look at it. Equally, if a particular place was specified as the place for a new airport, arguments which might be advanced to Parliament would be, "No, you have got the wrong place for the airport, it should not be in that bit of County X, it should be in that bit of County Y", and even though the proposal is for the airport in County X Parliament would have to look at what the alternatives were if that was a material consideration in determining whether in principle it had to go in County X. I think the critical point is that in most cases it is possible to identify what the issue of principle is. It is possible to separate the detailed issues, and what that principle issue would be in the individual case will depend, but it is usually able to be isolated.

  43. So Parliament would take the principle issue and the details would be for the local inquiry?
  44. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is right.


  45. Could I go back to one of the matters Mr Burnett raised. He talked about the three stages but having read this document and other papers, I do not think your proposals as they stand make any mention of a role for Parliament, Lords and Commons, in the first stage of the new process, that of formulating general policy decisions by the Government. Do you not think that Parliament should be involved perhaps through committee consideration of a draft policy position?
  46. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You are absolutely right in what you say. The paper does not envisage a particular parliamentary procedure for policy statements. The position currently is it is for the executive to produce policy statements, of course they can be debated in Parliament and Parliament can consider them through Select Committees, et cetera, but we are not envisaging changing that basic process in relation to the initial policy statement that might proceed the use of this application.

  47. This is clarifying the matter in our minds: so what you are saying is, you are not going to allow for what I would describe as a draft policy statement or position which could then be considered through some form of Select or other Committee of the House?
  48. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There might be a particular case where that was appropriate but, no, we are not envisaging that as being part of this process. We are envisaging the policy statement which would proceed a subsequent application under this procedure as being entirely separate, so there would be no special rules which would apply to that; it would be like any other policy statement that a Government made at a particular time, namely it would be for the Government of the day to decide how it was done, how it announced it to Parliament and what particular parliamentary process should be gone through. But assume no legislation was required, it would not normally be something which would require the approval of Parliament.

  49. In your opening statement you indicated this new procedure could be used perhaps once a year, or there might be two such processes going on at the same time, how much advance notice might there be given to such a proposal? What criteria will the Government use in deciding whether to designate a project? Will a decision to designate actually indicate Government approval of the project?
  50. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will vary, obviously, from time to time as to how much notice will be given, but I would expect there would be significant notice before Parliament got it. I cannot envisage that it would suddenly come very quickly to Parliament without much warning unless there were special circumstances, because it is unlikely that a project of the sort of importance we have been talking about would not be one which had not been planned and discussed for some considerable time before.

  51. It will not come out of the red, or I would say "out of the blue"?
  52. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would not have thought so. The examples we have given of Terminal 5, Terminal 4, Sizewell B, were all projects which were much discussed before the formal planning procedures were started. If it was designated a major infrastructure project by the Secretary of State, it is hard to imagine that would not indicate governmental support for the project. I cannot rule out it would not, it might be there was some project which had been so, as it were, hotly debated for so long that it might be appropriate for the Secretary of State to designate it a major infrastructure project in order to allow Parliament to have a debate about it and examine it in the way we envisage here, but I would have thought in most cases if the Secretary of State designated it a major infrastructure project within this procedure, that would indicate Government support.

    Rosemary McKenna

  53. I am a bit ambivalent about the whole suggestion because I have been involved in planning decisions for many years, and on the one hand the most contentious issue could be where to site a little playground, and on the other hand, at the other extreme, looking at the decisions about where to site an airport. What you are saying is that the role of this Committee is absolutely crucial to how we take the process forward because we could actually be helpful in deciding what would be the procedure within the House and how it is dealt with.
  54. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Very much so.

  55. We would take all of this on board and decide what was the best way to take it forward. I do not know that all the members - I do not mean here but in the House - would agree with that because they might not want to be involved in making that kind of major decision. So I think we would have to know an awful lot more about the whole thing before we reached decisions. One of my major concerns is, how can the public be assured that the process is independent and unbiased? I think whatever decision is reached, it must be completely open and transparent so the public can be reassured that it is.
  56. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Are you talking about the whole process from beginning to end?

  57. No, the process of the second stage, how the House of Commons would deal with the proposal.
  58. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think that the public would be only reassured that the process was fair and unbiased if, first of all, the process by which Parliament examined the proposal before votes in each House made people believe that all the arguments, both pro and anti - not every single one but all the major arguments - had been aired in front of the relevant Committee. Secondly, they would need to be sure that what the Committee said in response to that did represent an unbiased view of the arguments both ways. Thirdly, whether or not they viewed the whole process as being unbiased, would depend upon the standing of Parliament.

  59. The next part of that is the whipping process. People already believe, even if there is a free vote, the Government whips and Opposition whips are about. I have always believed that planning should be an unwhipped decision, no matter whether it is before the smallest parish council or Parliament. How can we demonstrate to people that is the case?
  60. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, I strongly agree with you that any of these proposals should be unwhipped. That is how it happens in local authorities where the planning committees sit, even though there are party members on the planning committees, even though the individual members of the party may know a particular scheme has the support of the local authority, nevertheless they are unwhipped, and throughout large parts of the country people have faith that the planning committee does approach it in an unbiased way. I think that people could easily, and I am almost certain they would, come to the same conclusion in relation to the way Parliament addressed these issues. I never heard people say - although I must say I was not concentrating very hard at the time - in relation to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, "That has just gone through because the Government of the day supported it." I understand the position to be that the votes on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link showed a massive majority in favour of it made up of all sides of the House, but there were also people who voted against it and they were not only people who lived in the particular vicinity of the proposal. I think from the local authority experience and from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link experience, it is possible to convince people that Parliament would address these issues on an unbiased basis. It is incredibly important that they do.

  61. I think that to be completely open and transparent the members of the Committee should have to declare any special interests in any area surrounding it, or any company involvement, et cetera, et cetera, if it was a Committee procedure with the members making the decisions. Do you agree?
  62. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Again, I would have thought yes in principle, because I can think of nothing more undermining than if a conflict of interest emerged for a member of the Committee after the Committee had given a report.

  63. And would it also apply to the decisions on the floor of the House?
  64. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

    Mr Luke

  65. Rosemary and I, from north of the border, share a common background although neither of us are lawyers because we have been involved in these sort of issues. Obviously the issue is making sure that members involved are not influenced and can take these decisions with balanced evidence in front of them.
  66. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  67. At the end of the day, how would the executive act to stop excessive lobbying? That is obviously an issue which goes on all the time in those circumstances.
  68. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You mean in local planning?

  69. Local planning. I have never been involved at this level, but I take it that if there were huge projects under way and I was sitting as a member of a committee people would try to influence my views by lobbying.
  70. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If it was made absolutely clear that the matter had to be addressed on the basis of the material put before the Committee. If it was made absolutely clear, as Rosemary suggested, that there would be absolutely rock-solid declarations of any conflict - and if there was any conflict, then I would have thought one could not then sit on the committee - I think it is possible for it to be made clear that these matters are matters dealt with on an unbiased basis. As I said in answer to Rosemary's questions, I think in the vast majority of planning authorities people do have confidence that they are addressed on an unbiased basis. I know that there are places where people say the contrary in particular places, but one of the things that you can say about our planning system, if you compare it with quite a lot of other planning systems, is that it has a high reputation for propriety. I see no reason why the process that we are proposing could not equally have the same reputation for propriety.


  71. Just so that there is no doubt, can I put this actual question. Should Members serving on a committee on a proposal be required to sign an undertaking that they have no personal or constituency interest in it, as is currently the case in fact on opposed bill committees? You implied just now and also earlier in an answer that you gave that if anyone did have such an interest, they would not serve on that committee.
  72. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I see it as very difficult for somebody with such an interest to serve on that committee, because it is difficult to see how they would be able to convince people that they approach it in a totally unbiased way. I am reluctant to say what the level of commitment needs to be or the steps that need to be taken in order to ensure that there is not such a conflict of interest. I think I should leave that to the Committee to decide what the level is. I think it is very important that it should be clear there is no conflict of interest.

    Mr Burnett

  73. I spotted a minute or two ago rather an inconsistency in the argument you were making about stage two and stage one, because these issues will be hugely controversial, will they not?
  74. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  75. If you get to the public inquiry stage and the issues have not been canvassed in great detail in phase one, the public are going to say, "Well Parliament's agreed it. It's a fait accompli. There's nothing we can do. We are hugely frustrated. We haven't really had a chance to be heard." That is why you said, I believe, that there should be significant evidence taken at the parliamentary stage, and I agree with you, but that slightly contradicts what you said earlier to us. I think you were rather optimistic earlier, because in reaching the decision in principle Parliament is going to have to do an enormous amount of work. It is crucial to get into considerable detail on material considerations such as noise, visual impact, employment and so on. As I say, these matters are very controversial. Would you like to go back a little onto the parliamentary stage and elaborate a little further on the extent of what you envisage Parliament going into? It will not be superficial matters. There will be considerable detail that Parliament has to go into.
  76. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will have to look into it with some degree of detail and depth, not going into all those details about how much wider the road should become to get the surface traffic. How long would I envisage the process taking? We have said we envisage this process taking a whole parliamentary session. This is not a week or two's inquiry; it would be spread out over a period of, say, October to July. It might well envisage taking evidence from experts in order to find out what the issues were. It would involve taking evidence from those who promoted the scheme and those who opposed it - not every single proponent and every single opponent, but a range of voices that the committee, in its judgement, felt reflected what the views were. I would envisage it being necessary for the committee to go down to the relevant site or sites to form a view on the basis of what it sees itself as the most suitable or otherwise of those sites, and it might well conclude that there should be a period of time when it actually takes evidence at or near the site. That would be a matter for the committee. It would be a process that would take some months. It is a process which would involve ultimately the committee, on the basis of that hearing, forming a view on the principle. I do not think for one moment that it is not a process that is not both manageable and one that would leave the parties involved feeling that a fair hearing had been given.

    Chairman: Thank you, Minister. David Hamilton wants to take up the question.

    David Hamilton

  77. Mr Chairman, I am trying to be helpful. One of things I am thinking of was Rosemary's comment about the children's playground and going forward. I can assure you, as someone who has sat on planning committees, they are the worst committees that any councillor has ever sat on, because it was so delicate and so passionate. It was one thing that was always passionate. I can remember things like playgrounds that took a year to go through planning processes. You are now talking about strategically some of the biggest projects that we might be involved in. Chairman, if you will allow me one point, I think it is very important to recognise that within local government there is a secondary remit. For example, if the council is involved in a direct line in everything that they do, then the planning remit is taken out of their hands and taken to an impartial party. It would normally be the Scottish Executive and before that it would be the Scottish Minister. Here we have a situation potentially - and maybe it is a problem that if you do not have that, you have to consider, because it was one thing that puzzled me and when I was reading the Red Book it puzzled me then too - that here we are as a Parliament where we may be taking a strategy decision on a major issue which can affect the country as a whole. Terminal 5 was one. Eurotunnel was definitely one that could be regarded as very important, especially for the South of England, England as a whole and, indeed, Great Britain. As the party who actually initiates the moves to try to achieve the goal, we are at that point and must also be impartial in the decision that we might have to take if it came back. If we go down this proposal, we are the initiators, but we may also be the people who ultimately make the decision on the detail of what goes forward. Where does the impartiality come in? That is the bit that is missing at any planning application. No matter what planning application you want to look at, national boundaries down to local, it works itself up. I am sorry to take so long, but the only thing I was thinking about was would it then be the case that the European dimension comes into operation? Somewhere in this strategic role that we play - because it would be a strategic role - has the Government sought legal advice as to whether the proposal might contravene human rights legislation or European environmental legislation? What advice has it received, if it has?
  78. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Stage one of your question is how can we be both the promoter of the scheme and also the judge that decides whether it goes ahead. That is the issue at the heart of our planning system, on which basically the courts have said that does not cause a legal problem, because in this country we have decided that planning should be done on a democratic basis rather than on a judicial basis, so instead of a judge deciding, it is the democratically elected bodies that decide. That is why it is possible for a local authority to promote a particular scheme, to have a majority in the local planning authority and then for that local planning authority committee to decide it should go ahead, because we have decided that it is a democratically based situation rather than one that is based upon the courts.

    Mr Burnett

  79. But there is always a right of appeal, is there not?
  80. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, there is a right of appeal, that is absolutely right, but only against refutable, not against grant, so the only person who has a right of appeal is the landowner, not the person who has been granted the right to do the application.

    David Hamilton

  81. If it is an issue which is directly affecting the council, then the issue should be taken out of the hands of the council, should it not?
  82. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not under our present system.

  83. Yes, it should.
  84. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Maybe in Scotland, but not in England.

    Rosemary McKenna

  85. It was in the Scotland Act.
  86. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) As to your first point, I understand entirely what you are saying, but what we say to that is that because we have a democratically based system we are saying that, as a matter of principle, it must be right that on those national issues where planning comes into play the national democratic body should decide, rather than simply the local one. That is the point of principle. On your second question about have we got advice on human rights and does it comply with the European requirement on the environmental impact assessment, yes, we do have advice on that. What I said to the Chairman when we met last week was that the Committee and the Department should share the advice that there is, so that there is a properly informed basis upon which these legal issues can be looked at, as it is very important that there should not be a question about the legality of all this. The advice is that it can be done in a legal way, but it does not involve any European structure coming in to overrule, or anything like that, what Parliament might decide. There would not be the ability to appeal to the European Court of Justice, as it were, in relation to any conclusion reached. Dare I say, not yet. That is not envisaged in our proposals.

    Mr Luke

  87. Taking the European Court and human rights out of the way, could there be a case where indeed Parliament itself breached its procedures and went against all the procedures that are put down, and that a citizen could challenge a decision taken by Parliament, in a court of law?
  88. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think there could be, because broadly normally what Parliament does can only be challenged in certain very limited circumstances. I do not think there could be. Perhaps I could write to the Chairman, to ensure that we are on the same wavelength in relation to that.


  89. Very quickly, before I go to Desmond Swayne, can I quote Professor Malcolm Grant. I am sure, Minister, that you will have seen his paper?
  90. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have.

  91. He first of all says that as to the Green Paper "it is remarkable how far-reaching are its proposals for reform." He then, a little further on in that paragraph, says: "The document sells an aspiration, and it tends more to rhetorical gusto than to intellectual depth. Much of the necessary detail is simply absent. The Government knows roughly where it wants to go, but it hasn't yet fashioned the route for getting there." Then he goes on in the next paragraph to say: "This is a very worrying omission. British planning law is almost wholly procedural. The legislation" as he sees it, "has no statement of objectives or purpose. Its function is to allocate power and to establish procedural rights in decision-making." Would you wish to comment on that, Minister?
  92. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Those comments are on the whole suite of documents, they are not just on this one. At the heart of his point is the point that the document did not adequately focus on the issue of what is a planning system for. I think he is right in that respect. We did refer in the introduction to what the planning system is for. The planning system is to promote sustainable development. I think he is right to say that in any legislation that we pass in relation to the planning system as a whole, we should make it absolutely clear what the overall purpose of planning is. I do not think that undermines the conclusions of the Planning Green Paper, but I think he is absolutely right to say that you have to have four-square on the face of the legislation what the overall purpose of planning is. I do not think any of the remarks that he made were specifically addressed to that, but he has said - taking up Iain's point - that you have to be very careful to make sure that you do comply with environmental impact requirements and human rights requirements when you fashion this particular procedure, and I am sure he is right about that.

  93. I think some of us are worried, and we ourselves have had separate papers in from a number of very distinguished organisations, let alone the 400-plus that you have already sent to us as part of the evidence. I have a list of them here. What we must not do is to take away from people who are affected by major strategic projects the right of proper representation, must we?
  94. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Exactly, yes.

  95. The problem is here, Minister, not just the detail of that, but actually whether or not that project should go ahead at all, is it not?
  96. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  97. What you are saying in terms of what we are considering this afternoon is that the Government will have decided that something should be done, and it will look to Parliament to agree it?
  98. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In principle, yes.

  99. In principle. But once that decision in principle is taken, there is no going back on the project, unless something comes up in the detail of the detailed inquiry?
  100. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Exactly, or some totally unforeseen event that I cannot even think of. Yes, that is right.

  101. So do you think that that is actually meeting all human rights matters?
  102. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think there has to be a process whereby those who are affected by the principle have an opportunity to have their point of view put before Parliament, which is the procedure that Parliament adopts. Separately, their individual interests on the how have to be dealt with in the public inquiry that follows. That combination - namely, a right to be heard here and their individual interests to be heard when the detail is addressed in the public inquiry - should satisfy the law.

    Chairman: I am grateful.

    Mr Swayne

  103. Minister, you mentioned Sir Iain Glidewell when you drew attention to various inquiries, including the Terminal 5 inquiry, in answer to Mr John Burnett. Sir Iain is on record as saying that he would be an enthusiast for these proposals, with one caveat that there was first a body that, before the proposals came to Parliament, examined them in detail and had the time and the expertise to do that. That body might be a commission such as the Royal Town Planning Institute has suggested, which then reports to Parliament. How do you react to that suggestion?
  104. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think these proposals only ever get to Parliament after a major promoter - Government or whoever - had thought that they were worth while. Ultimately the parliamentary process and the public inquiry that follows is, I think, adequate to examine the proposal. What Sir Iain is proposing, what you are picking up, is you are saying a commission, then the parliamentary process, then the public inquiry. I wonder if that just seems too much. I suspect it might do.

  105. It is a question, to an extent, of the adequacy with which the different interests that the sponsors and those who oppose the development will feel that they have been represented, is it not?
  106. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  107. How do you envisage a parliamentary process, without presumably some form of commission, addressing the issue of adequate representation of those who will be specially and particularly affected?
  108. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Again, it will be for the parliamentary committee to decide how it hears the evidence. Parliament I believe to be entirely capable of making sure that interests affected have an opportunity to put their point of view. It is the principle that is being addressed then. The special interests can then be dealt with in the public inquiry.

  109. I am not sure that I share your distinction between special interests and principle, but leaving that aside, in your earlier answers you seemed to hint that you would envisage more of a select committee type of investigation than a private bill procedure, did you not?
  110. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, I said that, I did indeed.

  111. The advantage of a private bill procedure is that those who will be affected do have a right to be heard, do they not?
  112. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  113. Many interest groups have already suggested that their principal fear is that they are going to lose their right at the critical stage, the stage on the principle of the issue, when it is going to be decided. How do you answer people like the Council for National Parks and so forth who say that there is a loss of their own right to be heard here?
  114. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The private bill procedure, as I said in answer to the Chairman, basically involves the process whereby all the parties have the right to be represented by counsel; every witness who is called, by whoever party, is then cross-examined by counsel for all the other parties. That is going to be, I would have thought, a wholly inappropriate procedure for parliament to be deciding on the issue "In principle should this go ahead?" In private bills what is happening is that the absolute detail of the project is being dealt with, undertakings have to be given where the committee is worried about, for example, the precise size of the window frames in a particular place. A semi-court process of the private bill procedure is wholly appropriate for that, but I do not think it is appropriate for the sort of principled issue that we are talking about here.


  115. Surely, Minister, private bills also deal with principle, do they not?
  116. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They do deal with principle, most certainly, but they also deal with detail. That is why the process is a much more -----

  117. So what you are definitely trying to do here is to try to separate principle from detail?
  118. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Very much so, and it is entirely appropriate when you are dealing with the absolute detail of an individual's home, level of compensation, precisely where the particular project is going to go, that he or she should be represented by lawyers and it should become a semi-court case, but I do not envisage this process being a semi-court case.

    Mr Swayne

  119. I am just not sure that the dichotomy that you draw between detail and principle is quite as dramatic as you make it. Having myself served on a private bill committee, first of all the committee, during the committee stage, decides the principle of the bill and then makes various caveats about amendments before it comes to report on the Floor of the House. Given my own experience of the range of interests that quite properly want to be represented in projects of the sort that you have described, if I take one example, let's say the ABP proposals to develop Dibden Bay -
  120. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a planning inquiry now.

    Mr Swayne: Absolutely, but would you envisage that sort of development as being one to which these procedures would apply?


  121. If you feel this might be prejudicing what is going on at the moment, I do not need to remind you, you can say so.
  122. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Dibden Bay is a very good example it seems to me. Assume - and I do not know whether it would or would not be a major national infrastructure project covered by this - the Committee over the period of a Parliamentary session would address the issue in principle having regard to the environmental impacts and the other broader impacts on road traffic, for example do we think there should be this major port development there? What you would not have to decide is what the precise level of traffic on the roads to Dibden Bay would be. What you would not have to decide is the precise number of flora and fauna that might be affected. You would have a range of what the possibilities would be and you would then make up your mind in the light of those issues. What is going on at Dibden Bay at the moment - and this is absolutely no criticism of the system - is that it is a planning inquiry that is expected to last well in excess of 12 months. The most detailed issues are being looked at on size, space, design, the precise number of flora, the precise number of fauna, the precise effect, traffic surveys have been done, and what is going on there is a very, very, very detailed court case in effect. That is not what one would envisage the Parliamentary procedure would involve. If one went down to Dibden Bay and saw what was going on there, one would see quite quickly the difference between a Parliamentary procedure and what is going on in Dibden Bay because one would see immediately that the principle could be addressed without reference necessarily to all of those details which have a great impact on how you implement but not the question of whether.

    Mr Swayne: Perhaps we should take up that suggestion.


  123. We are grateful to the Minister for that suggestion.
  124. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I put it very diffidently.

    Chairman: Subject to a very nice day it might take us away from Parliament! Could I come on to Iain Luke.

    David Hamilton: Where is Dibden Bay?

    Mr Luke

  125. In the PIU Report on the future of energy the point was made, going back to the nuclear issue, that there were no planning applications of any significance lodged now nor in the near future, but the case was made if it were to come forward and be successful it would have to have a degree of public support. My major worry is that by entrusting major planning decisions to Parliamentary committees sitting largely in Westminster that you are not likely to engage the public and obviously you are losing the public input in decision-making. I know you have said there should be visits. I do not know if that would be taking evidence on the ground rather than Westminster. My worry is the process - wherever Dibden Bay is - becomes distant in major issues from the public whom eventually it will affect.
  126. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a very interesting point but what underlies it is the proposition of whether Mr Roy Vandermeer or Sir Iain Glidewell or Sir Frank Layfield, QC and High Court judge, are better able to judge the question of public support than Parliament would be. One of the critical issues Parliament would have to address - and it would not just be the Committee, it would be a vote in both Houses of Parliament before the matter could go ahead - would be the issue is there adequate public support to justify this proposal going ahead, which is essentially a political with a small "p" issue. What the inquiries are doing is they are looking at is whether on the basis of planning law and practice and on the basis of the evidence one hears should this go ahead? There is obviously a critical issue there but there is also the wider political with the small "p" issue that you have identified - is this something that looked at overall the public thinks should go ahead? I think Parliament, if you have a democratic system of planning, is the body that should decide that in these few major infrastructure projects we are talking about.

    Chairman: Quite clearly the Minister is indicating that we should make more journeys from this place to take evidence on site. Lord Falconer, we are most grateful to you! John Burnett?

    Mr Burnett

  127. Before we go on to the next question I take Mr Swayne's argument, which I think is following on from mine, and I must put it on record, Minister, that I believe you are very optimistic about the matter of detail and principle because to get to the principle you will need to get through a lot of detail and, furthermore, the public will rightly insist on that because once Parliament has said yes or is minded to approve, that is a huge step forward in the development and the consent being given. I would just say that. Can I finish by saying that Sir Ian Glidewell, Roy Vandermeer and the other inspectors are eminent planners with a wealth of experience, with lifetimes of experience and, furthermore, they are full time on the inquiry. Members of Parliament, for reasons that are obvious, have to spread their time fairly widely.
  128. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. You are absolutely right to emphasise that this cannot be a superficial inquiry nor would I envisage an inquiry that lasted over a period (it would not be sitting all the time obviously) between October and July as a superficial inquiry. Remember what happens at these planning inquiries. It is in the promoters' interests all the time to say -

  129. --- I have taken part in them.
  130. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) So you will know that if the "whether" is an issue the worse the surface transport, the worse the noise, the worse the design is, the more there is a factor in the balance against. So, equally, the better the surface transport, the less bad the noise is, the better the design - It is always in everybody's interests in all of these inquiries to pile up the minuses or pluses depending on what side you are because the "whether" is the issue. If instead of the whether being the issue it was the how, then you would find much of the detail moved from the first stage to the second. I do not underestimate for one moment the difficulty of distinguishing between the two but it can be done and it is not right to say you could not have a properly detailed inquiry in a Parliamentary session.


  131. Could I try and focus and get this situation sorted out to our satisfaction. If Sir Iain Glidewell puts forward the proposal that there should be a Commission set up by the Secretary of State, as he does, to consider the matter of principle relating to a proposed major project to report to Parliament possibly within a predetermined timetable (and as Mr Swayne said, the Royal Town Planning Institute says that there should be an Major Project Evaluation Commission appointed by and reporting to Parliament, a slightly different proposal but coming at the end of the day to the same thing) would you, as a leading Minister in your Department responsible for planning be sympathetic to that? Would you be prepared to consider it?
  132. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Of course I would be prepared to consider it. These are very reputable individuals and bodies putting it forward. I just wonder is it not a bit too much to say you would have the Commission looking at it, and they would presumably have to go through some semi-judicial process, then you had Parliament looking at it which involved the committee stage and then the debate in both Houses of Parliament, and then a public inquiry. That feels to me to be too heavy a procedure. It feels to me that it would take too long and it could lead to too many possibly contradictory results. Of course we will consider the proposal but I wonder if there is added value in that.

    Mr Burnett

  133. I do not think there is much in this question because you have made it quite clear but perhaps you would like to put it on record. You do not believe now that Parliamentary scrutiny should take place within a 60-day period and you do not believe, as I understand it, that that should run concurrently with the public consultation as the Green Paper then suggested. You believe in three sequential stages. Could you give us your thoughts as to how long you envisage the Parliamentary procedure taking. One term?
  134. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One session. This Committee wrote and said to me that on one view the Parliamentary scrutiny would last four days - on one view - which is not what we remotely envisage. I envisage a process whereby Parliament at the outset is presented with the application and a proper summary or the detail of all of the objections and it then decides for itself what the right process for letting people come forward is and then what the process should be for investigating the issues. In a sense the Parliamentary session starts at a point where the issues are joined in that you have got the application and you have got the objections. Parliament must then decide how it hears evidence, lets those views be put, and investigates them, and that whole process after receipt of objection and support would take about a Parliamentary session. It might be shorter because it might be a much more simple issue but I cannot envisage that it would be that much simpler.

  135. And the timetable will be up to the Committee to decide?
  136. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Exactly, that is right.

    David Hamilton

  137. I will put on record the fact that I do not have a problem in relation to the detailed issues. At a simple level we are looking at an outlying planning issue where at some point the detail will have to be looked at by all the various groups that are involved in that process. I am quite cynical about professionals anyway because at the end of the day whenever a professional tells you one thing, you have got another who will tell you another. Ultimately the decision is going to be taken by people who are seen to be impartial. I come back to the point I made earlier on - impartiality is the bit that concerns me. There is also a second part that could come up and that is when within any local authority you have an issue, more and more organisations and indeed major companies are able to take on a local authority and you end up with a public inquiry and the local authority ends up paying for that inquiry. In some cases it can bankrupt the local authority and there is no money allocated for it. Do we have a bottomless pit in the scenario you have? In a major, major project I can see not just one MP involved, but several MPs involved because the project is so big within that location. The guidelines to individual Members of Parliament over that period will have to be very strict. They should not participate in the initial discussion if they want to argue later on down the line when they get to the detail. These issues are far more important from my point of view about what the role of local Members is going to be and, indeed, the cost of that and the impartiality of it. I am not too concerned about the detail at this stage because I believe that when you agree a principle all other things come from that. I accept the point you made at the very beginning that if something comes out in the detail which was not considered in the outline planning position then that would also change your position.
  138. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I go back to the point about impartiality. If you have got a system based upon the democratically elected representatives, then you are always going to have the problem about impartiality because the democratically elected representatives also in part form the government, so if the government is supporting something, just like the local authorities supporting a particular scheme, that is a problem we have always got, but I think we should stick with the democratically based planning system so you are never going to get away from that particular problem.

    Mr Luke

  139. There might be a new role for Scottish MPs south of the border!
  140. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You could be the determiners of English planning applications. The other issue about the bottomless pit, a lot of local authorities have said to me in England (I do not know what it is like in Scotland) that they are frequently - threatened is the wrong word advised that if they do not allow a particular planning application they might end up with a planning inquiry that will cost them lots and lots of money. That problem does not arise if Parliament is considering it. There is an issue about the resources of the committee or committees that would be considering these and although it is not a matter for me it is plain that the scheme could only work if the committees that consider it are sufficiently resourced to, for example, instruct or call experts as they see fit in order to advise them on particular issues. So there will be a resourcing issue but I do not think it will be a resourcing issue which gives rise to a bottomless pit of funding. It must be the case, however, that committees considering these issues have enough resources to properly inform themselves.

    Chairman: As a member of the Liaison Committee which would initially consider this matter, I can say they would clearly make very strong representations to the House of Commons' Commission which of course is responsible for providing the appropriate money for the activities of the House. I think we have heard what you say.

    David Hamilton

  141. Can I get clarification on the advice given to Members because I believe that will very important. In local planning applications, whether it be in England or Scotland or Wales, there is very, very strong legal advice given when a local Member is not necessarily directly involved in anything but it is in his or her location. In a situation where you look at a major project taking place, whatever that project is, you could have several Members. The scenario I am thinking about is if a Member gets involved initially in that potential development, does that then mitigate against a Member coming into here to challenge that?
  142. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Again, it would be a matter for Parliament. I would not envisage Members of Parliament in whose constituency or whose constituencies are affected by the particular proposals sitting on the Committee. I would envisage it being perfectly appropriate for that Member or those Members of Parliament to be as partisan as they wish to be in relation to pro or anti the proposals and to express their views to the Committee in relation to it if that is what they wished. Indeed, I would imagine it would be unlikely that the Committee would consider the thing without taking evidence from Members of Parliament affected by the proposals. There would be nothing improper about a Member of Parliament vigorously supporting or vigorously opposing it, whatever he deemed appropriate.


  143. I accept what you say in answer to this question, that a Member of Parliament who is opposed or in favour of a particular strategic project of importance, he or she would clearly get substantial information and assistance from outside bodies who were likewise taking a position for or against a project.
  144. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am saying that. I think David is going further. He is saying would it be improper - and I am saying no it would not - to have a strong view if you are the local constituency MP and, also, would the Parliamentary authorities make available to the Member of Parliament resources if there were an issue? I would have thought not but again it is a matter for Parliament.

    Chairman: I am not sure exactly what the position would be but my immediate instinct would be to say to the Committee that there are no additional monies available for an individual Member of Parliament to undertake a particular job relating to his or her constituency.

    David Hamilton: But the Member would be able to access any information from other sources?


  145. Indeed and there would be nothing unethical about a Member working closely with organisations who do have resources that would be opposed to or supporting a strategic project. Can I put one or two final questions to you, Lord Falconer, particularly about the powers of Parliament and amendability. Should Parliament be able to amend proposals or attach conditions to its approval of proposals put forward by government? For instance, that a project should only go ahead if the inspector in the subsequent public inquiry is satisfied as to some matter? If the answer to that question is no, on the grounds that the two Houses, the Lord and the Commons, might disagree and attach different conditions, would a Joint Committee be right to arrive at a common view to the solution? If Parliament is not able to amend proposals, does this not increase the risk (from the Government's point of view) that they will be rejected outright?
  146. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We had envisaged that the proposals would not be amendable nor had we envisaged that conditions would be attached because different Houses of Parliament could lead to approving different proposals and different conditions which could be contradictory, although it is quite hard to imagine how they could be, therefore we had thought neither amendable nor imposeable on conditions. The Joint Committee does not solve the problem of the debate on the floor of each House producing different conditions because ultimately the decision will have to be made by each House of Parliament not by the Committee. Does that lead to the risk of rejection being greater? Yes it does because it seems to me it would be open to the Committee or either House of Parliament to say we cannot be satisfied about this issue and therefore we reject it, which must be a possible conclusion that they would reach.

  147. A final question which I think is important and I hope my colleagues do - and I know one has another important engagement to go to - what is the Government's proposed timetable for legislation? Are you intending to bring in a Bill in the next Queen's Speech? How much detail will your Bill contain about the Parliamentary stage of the new procedures. That is very important to us.
  148. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Obviously I am not in a position to say when a Bill may be produced, that is a matter for the Government as a whole to decide and make an announcement about in the Queen's Speech, but we would wish a Bill covering planning issues to be brought forward as soon as it is possible to do so. If that Bill covered a major infrastructure project it would not set out what the Parliamentary procedure was save to the extent that it would say what the triggering event was. It would say the Secretary of State can designate a project as a MIPs project. It would then say what the effect of an order or motion being passed by both Houses of Parliament was. It would not say, "And this is the process that has got to be gone through by Parliament before any motion or order is passed", because we envisage that process would be a matter entirely for Parliament to determine itself.

  149. Can I say, Minister, on behalf of my Committee colleagues that this has been a most invigorating and stimulating evidence-taking session. Can I thank you for the directness and the transparency with which you have dealt with all our questions. If there is anything further we wish to take up with you we will write to you. If there is anything you feel you have not said to us you would like to say, either say it now or perhaps put it in writing to our Clerk.
  150. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The views of this Committee are obviously incredibly important in relation to how we proceed. From the conversation we had last week and from the conversation we have had now, it is plainly unlikely that the Committee would be in a position by the summer recess to set out in detail what it would propose for a Parliamentary procedure, but we have indicated that we would wish to make a policy statement by the summer recess as to where we were going in relation to all of the planning issues referred to in the Planning Green Paper. It is entirely a matter for the Committee but it would be of some assistance if in very broad terms the Committee were in a position to indicate, even on an interim basis, what it thought the right next stages were. I do not necessarily want you to answer that now but could I put that on the table as our timing in terms of policy statement so that you can make your dispositions accordingly.

  151. You make a very good point which has been heard by my Clerk and all members of the Committee who are here. Obviously we will share with you as far as we are able to do so how this inquiry that we are undertaking is proceeding. If there is any chance of an interim report obviously we will seek to produce one. If there is not, I hope to share the information that we are getting and the way that our discussions are going with you, as far as I am able do so with the permission of the Committee, as clearly to do that is to the advantage of Parliament because it is to the advantage of this country that we should improve and speed up our planning procedures.
  152. (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would envisage that we would come back to you if an announcement is imminent (which it will be before the summer recess) and say what we envisage saying for your comment. It is quite important that we act together in relation to it, not form the same view necessarily but keep each other informed about what we are doing.

  153. I am perfectly happy to take that on board and I am very grateful to you for the offer that you will keep us advised. Lord Falconer, thank you very much for coming before us and helping us so much with our inquiry. You have got us off to a very good start.

(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you very much indeed.