Town and Country Planning (Major Infrastructure Project Inquiries Procedure) (England) Rules 2002

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Although the matters he raises are obviously matters for debate, the instrument is in order. We are here to discuss it today, and we will proceed with it. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is an opportunity for a vote at the end of the sitting, and it is up to hon. Members to decide whether to reject the order at that stage.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. I accept your ruling, but what can we do to stop the Department bringing forward statutory instruments that are technically drafted incorrectly? I believe that the ruling sets a precedent. The Department will continue producing statutory instruments that are incorrectly drafted and that do not have the accompanying documents. I do not understand how we can perform our scrutiny role properly if it keeps on doing that. May I ask you to reconsider the matter?

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the debate is the result of a prayer brought forward by Liberal Democrat Members. Therefore, it is part of the scrutiny role. That is why we are here today.

Mr. Wilshire: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. I recall that you and I have been round this course once before, and it resulted in some difficulty. I wonder whether we might steer away from what happened on the previous occasion, when a certain degree of chaos broke out despite your admirable efforts to stop it. My point of order is to ask whether

Column Number: 012

you would clarify the details of the ruling that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is our spokesman. Are you saying that he is correct in saying that the document is wrong? If you are, we have an admission of a mistake and are debating an inaccurate document. How can we take a decision on a document that has been ruled to be inaccurate?

If, on the other hand, you are saying that the document is not inaccurate and that my hon. Friend is incorrect, I should be grateful if you would explain why he is incorrect. We believe that our point is valid. If the document is wrong, how can we consider it? It is not a matter of debate but of fact whether the document is right or wrong. To avoid the chaos of the previous occasion, would it not perhaps be sensible to allow a bit of informal discussion? We could reconvene on the basis of some private discussions as to whether the Government accept that this is a foul-up, as is all too often the case.

The Chairman: The matter as to whether the instrument is correct or incorrect is a debating point, not a matter for the Chair. I said that the instrument is in order, which it definitely is, and we will proceed with it today.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg. May I quote the Department's reply to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and ask you to consider your ruling further? The Department replied that the reference to paragraph (5) in rule 19(7) should have been to paragraph (6). It admitted that the statutory instrument is wrong and went on to state:

    ''However, the Department considers that there should be no practical problems arising from this.''

Of course there will be practical problems. If the Department has admitted that the statutory instrument is wrong, how can the Committee possibly discuss it this morning?

The Chairman: I repeat my advice that it is open to hon. Members to make that decision at the end of the hour and a half of discussion, when they can put the statutory instrument to the vote.

Mr. Brazier: On a point of order, Miss Begg. If I may ask a separate question, how would the matter be treated in the courts? I find it a little confusing that, were the Committee after debate to pass the statutory instrument in its present form, there is no provision as far as I know—you may be able to put me right—for changing the printing of an order after it has been passed by Parliament. We have the Department's admission that the order cannot go to the courts in its present form. Clearly, if a procedure were to be judicially reviewed, a court or, indeed, the inspector doing his job would not be able to interpret the instrument in its present shape. What will happen next, if the statutory instrument is passed? Would it be reprinted with the change in the numbers, for which there does not seem to be a precedent?

The Chairman: These are not matters for the Chair but for the courts. I am minded to proceed with the discussion. Obviously, the statutory instrument is important, as hon. Members have said. Time is

Column Number: 013

moving on, and I would prefer to move on to the discussion.

Mr. Mitchell: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg.

Mr. Wilshire: Further to that point of order, Miss Begg.

The Chairman: I will take a point of order from Mr. Mitchell, as I have not taken one from him before.

Mr. Mitchell: I am grateful, Miss Begg. Would you be minded to reconsider your view of the helpful point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold that a short adjournment for an informal discussion of the points raised might be helpful? During the debate in the other place, concern was expressed about whether the matter should be introduced by secondary legislation rather than primary legislation. Several Lords questioned why the legislation was being introduced as a statutory instrument and not a Bill. In view of that, would it not be helpful for an informal adjournment to take place so that point, and the point made by my hon. Friend, could be considered before we proceed?

The Chairman: There are two matters. The hon. Gentleman has the terminology. It is in the power of the Chair to suspend proceedings for a few minutes, but I am not minded to do so. There is nothing to prevent hon. Members from moving an adjournment motion, but that would end the sitting once the motion was put to the vote.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful. Again, you and I learned that bit of the rule book together on a previous occasion, Miss Begg. I am minded to use my rights under the Standing Orders. As I understand the situation—

The Chairman: I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as he is not a member of the Committee, he has no right to do so. It would have to be someone who is actually appointed to the Committee.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to you, Miss Begg. That is one bit that I clearly did not know, but I have now learned it. I suspect that those of my colleagues on the Committee might, depending on their mood, feel so minded when I have raised this further point of order. My second point of order concerned the reference in rule 19(7) to paragraph (5). My understanding of your answer was that you ruled that we must continue the debate, even though we know that there is a mistake. We cannot debate something that we know to be a mistake just because there is a ruling that rule 19(7) is accurate. It is quite impossible under those circumstances to discuss the sensible issue; we have to discuss the inaccurate one. Is that the situation?

The Chairman: I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that I have not so ruled. I think that he is trying to fly a few kites, but I want to move on with the discussion.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Clearly, if the Department had got the drafting right, we would not have wasted all this time in Committee. I hope that the Department will do better in future. I shall move on, because there is a great deal of ground to cover. I want to query who is entitled to appear at the pre-inquiry. I am little bit

Column Number: 014

suspicious about people being frozen out. If the Minister could turn to rule 6(7)(c):

    ''any person known at the date of the notice to be entitled to appear at the inquiry''—

Mr. Don Foster: On a point of order, Miss Begg. Given that the hon. Gentleman has referred earlier to matters being otiose and repetitious, is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to repeat the questions that I asked earlier?

The Chairman: That is not a matter for the Chair until I decide that he is trying to string things out.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If the hon. Gentleman asked the question, he did not do so in a sufficiently punchy manner to elicit a proper answer.

Mr. Foster: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: No. [Interruption.] I have been going for only two minutes after points of order. Let us get on, for God's sake. I would like to know from the Minister if there is any intention to restrict those who are entitled to appear at the pre-inquiry.

I turn to rule 6(9):

    ''The inspector may at any time hold such other meetings''.

I would like to know from the Minister whether those meetings will be fully publicised and whether all parties will be fully notified of them. In a democracy, to hold a meeting behind closed doors is a thoroughly bad thing.

I would like to move the Committee on to rule 8(3). I know that the hon. Member for Bath raised this point, but it is one of the most important points in the entire statutory instrument. It says that

    ''The inspector shall not vary the timetable mentioned in paragraph (2) without the approval of the Secretary of State.''

That seems to be very restrictive because at the start of a very large public inquiry neither the inspector nor anybody else knows what evidence might arise. If anybody has been to an inquiry, as I have, they will know that new evidence develops during its course because one piece of evidence often spawns another.

I should like to ask the Minister about the various people whom the inspector and the Secretary of State can appoint. As I understand it, they can appoint a technical adviser, an assessor and a mediator. There are different rules on when those people can be appointed, what rules they will operate under and whether their meetings can be publicised. That seems to be inconsistent.

There is also the possibility that the Secretary of State can appoint people who might affect the outcome of an inquiry in a political way. The technical adviser must be appointed under rules that the Secretary of State considers to be applicable. I dislike that sort of wording in any Government legislation. No doubt some of the material in the statutory instrument will be statutorily reviewed, but the Secretary of State is required to satisfy only on a subjective basis that an appointment is correct. I cannot see why the test should not be more objective.

Moving on, I should like to ask about cross-examination, which is covered in rule 17(7):

Column Number: 015

    ''The inspector may refuse to permit the cross-examination of persons giving evidence''

if that

    ''would have the effect that the timetable referred to in rule 8(2) could not be met.''

That is appalling because it is totally undemocratic that somebody giving evidence cannot do so in a full and frank way because they have to meet an arbitrary timetable laid down by the Secretary of State. It is disgraceful and smacks of central control in Stalinist Russia. On that basis alone, I hope that the Committee will vote against the statutory instrument.

As time is limited, I want to take the Committee on to a matter raised by the hon. Member for Bath about rule 20(1), which states:

    ''The Secretary of State shall, as soon as practicable, notify his decision on an application or appeal''.

In an earlier intervention, I mentioned that the Secretary of State took one and a half years on the T5 inquiry after, as hon. Members have said, a very full public inquiry that lasted four years.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 9 July 2002