HC Deb 21 June 1990 vol 174 c626W
Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson

To ask the Lord President of the Council if he has any plans to reform the private Bill procedure; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government have been examining this whole subject following the report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill procedure and the debates on that report held in the House, and in another place, last year. Subject to consultation, we propose to build on the thinking behind the report by establishing new procedures so that railway and light rapid transit works which at present have to be authorised by private Bill could in future be authorised by order. The legislation would also increase the use of orders for amending and extending harbour legislation so that in future very few harbour measures would be promoted by private Bills. These proposals would lead to a reduction of about 50 per cent. in the number of private Bills promoted each year. It is also proposed to legislate so that the order-making procedure could be extended at a later date to other works proposals which would otherwise require a private Bill.

The proposed procedures would involve a tiered approach so that minor matters might be dealt with locally; the majority would come within a ministerial order-making procedure with provision for a public inquiry; while for the most important projects after the inquiry and ministerial stages, the proposal would have to be approved by Parliament, but without further detailed examination. We would thus reduce the volume of private Bills significantly while ensuring that matters of genuinely national importance still came to Parliament for decision. No radical changes are planned for the separate and different system in Scotland—the private legislation procedure—which is generally satisfactory in the particular circumstances there.

Together with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for the Environment, I have today published a consultation paper which sets out our proposals in greater detail and invites comments on them. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House. The changes would involve primary legislation and in the light of consultation the Government will look for an early opportunity to bring this forward.

The procedure for those matters which would remain to be dealt with by private Bills will be reformed along the lines suggested by the Joint Committee and as broadly accepted by the Government in the debates on the report.

The Government believe that these proposals, taken as a whole, will provide a more appropriate way to deal with infrastructure projects in the modern age while protecting the interests of all those involved.

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