HC Deb 10 April 1989 vol 150 cc618-21
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang)

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 28, line 1, leave out 'subsection (2)' and insert 'subsections (2) and (2A)'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider Government amendments Nos. 48, 46, 97, 99 and 100.

Mr. Lang

We have put down these amendments to clause 33, which provides for consent to be obtained for the construction, extension or operation of generating stations. The proposed amendments will provide a degree of flexibility if, for example, we wish to exclude certain types of station from the consent required should the 50 MW threshold be lowered at any time in the future. The amendments will also enable certain types of works in connection with generating stations, or certain changes in operation, to be exempted from the consent requirement if the Secretary of State considers it more appropriate that they should be dealt with under normal planning procedures.

Amendment No. 46 refers to fees accompanying applications. We have decided that, in future, fees should be payable with such applications. No such power exists under present legislation, and I think that the House would agree that it has long been anomalous that the Department's costs have not been recoverable.

Amendments Nos. 97 and 99 relate to the deeming of the granting of hazardous substances consent. New paragraph (1A) parallels a provision to be inserted into the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and the Town and Country (Scotland) Act 1972 by part IV of the Housing and Planning Act 1986, which the Government intend to bring in force later this year.

Part IV of the 1986 Act will introduce new controls over hazardous substances. Under the provisions to be introduced by the Act in relation to statutory undertakers, a Minister will be able to deem to be granted hazardous substances consent where a hazardous substance will be present on a development for which his authorisation is required. This does not imply any diminution of scrutiny of any hazardous substance aspect of any application.

The purpose of the amendment is to simplify the procedures for those making applications under clause 33. Not all such applicants will be deemed to be statutory undertakers, and the relevant provision under part IV of the 1986 Act will not, therefore, be applicable in all cases. It is because of this that a free-standing provision in relation to deemed planning permission is already included in paragraph 7(1) of schedule 8. A similar free-standing provision is necessary to enable the Secretary of State to deem hazardous substances consent to be granted, where appropriate, in granting consent under clause 33.

The new paragraph requires the Secretary of State to consult the Health and Safety Commission before deeming a hazardous substances consent to be granted. This requirement is consistent with the parallel provision to be introduced under the Housing and Planning Act 1986.

Amendment No. 100 is a consolidation amendment, which also corrects an error in the original drafting.

Mr. Doran

I wish to raise some minor points of clarification.

As I understand it, amendment No. 48 will give the Secretary of State the power to order that certain power stations of the classes or descriptions that he will specify should not require his special consent. Under the terms of clause 33(2), power stations of under 50 MW generating capacity are already excluded, so I should like clarification of why that power is required. Does the Minister envisage that larger power stations—and if my memory serves me correctly, the 50 MW capacity can already be altered by order—would be excluded if they fell into a particular category?

In relation to amendment No. 97, the Opposition always get nervous when we feel that the Health and Safety Commission is being excluded or is not being given its proper place. Obviously I am conscious that the amendment would require it to be consulted, but in what circumstances would that be, and what change in the existing procedure is envisaged? My understanding is that at present the specific permission of the Health and Safety Commission—not just consultation—is required for the granting of a hazardous substance consent.

May I please have clarification on those two points?

Mr. Eadie

The Minister talked about fees having to be paid. He said that the House would probably be astonished to find that the Department's fees had never been recoverable. I wonder if he could tell us something about the circumstances, and about the sums that are likely to be involved.

Mr. Lang

I shall try to answer the three points that have been put to me.

As I explained in the context of amendment No. 48, we were anxious to have a degree of flexibility—for example, in case we might want to exclude certain types of stations from the consent requirement if we were to reduce the 50 MW threshold at any time in the future. It is also worth mentioning that the amendments would enable generating stations on offshore oil and gas installations which operate for the generators' own use to be exempted from the consent requirement. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), particularly with his constituency interest, will know that there are special provisions under the Offshore Installations Act which cover offshore platforms, but that is an example of the kind of thing that we might wish to exclude from the provisions here.

The hon. Member is concerned about the implications for the Health and Safety Commission. Let me reassure him that under part IV of the 1986 Act we are tightening up the controls over substances of this kind, such as chlorine, hydrogen and asbestos. The amendments bring the Bill into line with the thinking behind that Act. As I have mentioned, the Secretary of State would be required to consult the Health and Safety Commission before deeming a hazardous substances consent to be granted.

In respect of the point raised by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), it is difficult to be precise about the fees. They would tend to relate to the land involved in the application and would, therefore, form a very small proportion of the overall costs of any project in the context of the construction of a generating station. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is in line with our general policy that such costs should be recovered. The provision would bring the situation into line with the arrangements for other planning applications.

Mr. Eadie

I know that the hon. Gentleman has made a statement about fees and costs, but would he care to write to me, when he has had an opportunity to consider the matter, and tell me what the cost is likely to be? Ministers are bound to have some idea.

Mr. Lang

How long is a piece of string? Certainly I will write to the hon. Gentleman—I am keen to be helpful. I am not sure that there is much more that I will be able to say to him, but I shall try to give some hypothetical cases, which I hope will assist.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 48, in page 28, line 13, at end insert '(2A) The Secretary of State may by order direct that subsection (1) above shall not apply to generating stations of a particular class or description, either generally or for such purposes as may be specified in the order.'.—[Mr. Michael Spicer.]

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