FIRST SPECIAL REPORT
The Procedure Committee has agreed to
the following Special Report:
MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS:
PROPOSED NEW PARLIAMENTARY PROCEDURES
1. The Government proposes new parliamentary procedures
in respect of planning approval for major infrastructure projects.
At present such projects are subject to approval by a variety
of procedures: these include public planning inquiries, hybrid
bills, and draft orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992.
In December 2001 the Government published consultation papers
arguing that present procedures are "lengthy, unwieldy and
expensive for all concerned". They proposed that in future
the Secretary of State should have power to designate a major
infrastructure project as one to which a new, fast-track parliamentary
procedure applied. Examples of projects to which the new procedure
could apply include new airports and runways, ports, trunk road,
rail schemes, power stations, radioactive waste disposal, and
other forms of infrastructure, such as new reservoirs.
2. The Government proposes that there should be a
three-stage procedure: first, an up-to-date policy statement would
be issued, dealing with, for example, national airports policy;
second, an individual proposal would be put before Parliament,
which would be invited to approve the principle and location of
the project; thirdly, a public inquiry would consider the details
of the project. The public inquiry would have no power to overturn
the parliamentary decision on principle and location, though the
Secretary of State would have a reserve power to refuse to allow
the project to proceed.
3. The Government commented that "the precise
way in which Parliament scrutinised proposals would be for each
House to decide." We announced on 5 February 2002 that we
would conduct an inquiry into the Government's proposals, insofar
as they related to parliamentary procedures. We said that we would
consider whether the proposed procedures were desirable in principle,
and how they might work in practice. The Government's own consultation
period closed on 22 March. Some 16,000 responses to this consultation
were received, of which some 400 related to the proposed parliamentary
procedures. We asked for, and received, copies of these latter
responses. In addition, we have received a number of memoranda
in response to our own request for written evidence.
4. On 7 May we took oral evidence from Lord Falconer
of Thoroton, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Regeneration
at the Department of Local Government, Transport and the Regions.
On 19 June we took oral evidence from two former inspectors at
major planning inquiries: Sir Iain Glidewell and Mr Roy Vandermeer
QC, who presided over the inquiries into the fourth and fifth
terminals at Heathrow respectively. In addition, we collaborated
with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in arranging
a seminar at Westminster to discuss the Government's proposals
with interested parties; this was held on 24 May.
5. The relevant departmental select committee, the
Transport, Local Government and the Regions (TLR) Committee, has
conducted an inquiry into the Government's overall proposals to
reform the planning system. We understand that their Report is
expected to be published shortly, and that the TLR Committee may
comment on the proposed parliamentary procedures. We look forward
to the TLR Committee's Report.
6. The issues our inquiry is examining include the
- If the Government's proposals are adopted, how
can the public be assured that the parliamentary process is independent
and unbiased? Will votes be whipped? Will Members with a direct
personal or constituency interest take part in the decision-making?
- Do the proposals provide a desirable balance
between the rights of developers and those of objectors? Do they
satisfy the provisions of human rights legislation?
- Should Parliament be involved in the initial
process of formulating general policy statements?
- Is it right that Parliament should be invited
to take an irrevocable decision on the location of a project as
well as on the principle?
- Should the two Houses be able to attach conditions
to their approval of projects?
- How easy will it be to draw the boundary between
matters of detail and of principle?
- How realistic are the Government's timings?
- How can Parliament access the necessary specialist
and technical advice?
- What should be the respective involvements of
the two Houses?
- If a committee system of scrutiny is adopted,
what form of committee would be suitable? How will its members
- Will committee procedure follow the 'inquisitorial'
approach characteristic of select committees, or the quasi-judicial
'adversarial' approach found in private and hybrid bill committees?
Will interested parties have a right to appear, to be legally
represented or to challenge their opponents' evidence? Will they
have to demonstrate locus standi?
- Should the nature of any committee's recommendations
determine the level of subsequent scrutiny by the House?
- How often is the new procedure likely to be used?
7. It will be seen that the Government's proposals
for new parliamentary procedures raise major issues. The fundamental
question is whether the proposals, either in their original form
or subject to modification, succeed in reconciling the following
(i) the desirability of enabling decision-making
to proceed expeditiously and not to be subject to undue delay;
(ii) the need for fairness to all the parties
concerned, i.e. not only the promoters of a project but
those objecting to it or seeking its amendment, especially if
their own interests are directly and specially affected; and
(iii) the need for decisions to be based
on informed and expert knowledge.
8. Giving evidence to us on 7 May, Lord Falconer
said it would be helpful to the Government if the Procedure Committee
could indicate whether or not it supported the principle of new
parliamentary procedures, in time for the Government to take account
of the Committee's views in preparing a policy announcement to
be made in July, with a view to introducing legislation as soon
as possible thereafter.
9. We wish to make clear that we do not believe that
Lord Falconer's suggested timetable is feasible. The level of
public interest is very high and we wish to take a considerable
amount of further oral evidence. We note that the last time Parliament
was invited to consider changes of comparable magnitude to its
own procedures in relation to planning decisions, the whole process
took five years from the initial decision to set up a Joint Committee
through to Royal Assent to the Transport and Works Act 1992.
The issues raised by the Government's proposals are so important,
and complex, as to deserve extended and rigorous scrutiny by the
Committee, and this scrutiny is not likely to be completed until
10. This being so, it would in our view be unfortunate
if the Government were to proceed in the next Session of Parliament
with any legislation that is predicated on the assumption that
there will be new parliamentary procedures for taking decisions
on major infrastructure projects. We should emphasise that we
are not seeking in any way to be dilatory or obstructive on this
matter. We understand why the Government wishes to improve the
quality and speed of decision-making on major projects, and we
wish to be of assistance in determining the best way of achieving
this aim. However, given the sensitivity and the far-reaching
implications of the proposals, we believe that it is essential
that this Committee, acting on behalf of Parliament, should be
given the time to come to a settled view on this issue before
legislation is introduced.
1 Department for Transport, Local Government and the
Regions, Major Infrastructure Projects: Delivering a Fundamental
Change: New Parliamentary Procedures for Processing Major
Infrastructure Projects, December 2001, and Planning: Delivering
a Fundamental Change, December 2001. Back
In June 1986 the House resolved in principle to appoint a Joint
Committee on Private Bill Procedure. This was set up in January
1987 and reported in July 1988; a further two years followed before
the Government responded, and there was then a further interval
of 18 months before the Transport and Works Bill was introduced
in November 1991; the bill received royal assent in March 1992. Back