The Government comfortably survived a Labour backbench revolt on Wednesday over its plans to speed-up decision-making on major national infrastructure projects, including nuclear power stations and airports.
A rebel bid to ensure any decision taken by the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission had to be confirmed by the Secretary of State was rejected by 303 votes to 260, Government majority 43.
More than 60 Labour MPs had signed a Commons motion calling for a Minister to retain authority amid claims the new planning quango lacked democratic legitimacy.
The report stage of the Planning Bill was rescheduled to try to stave off a possible defeat on the issue and ministers were forced to offer a series of concessions to limit the scale of the revolt.
Concessions offered by ministers under the deal included an agreement to review the IPC after two years and to retain a role for ministers in plans which involve issues of national security.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears insisted the new system will speed up major decisions and avoid a repeat of the protracted seven-year planning process which delayed Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
Ms Blears insisted National Policy Statements (NPSs) would set out the country’s requirements for major infrastructure projects.
There would be a “national debate” with public and parliamentary involvement about an NPS, which would then provide a framework for the IPC to make decisions about individual projects.
This was “a far more transparent degree of accountability than leaving ministers to wait right until the end of the process and then seeking to intervene in a far less effective and transparent manner”.
She said ministers had also agreed to amend the Bill in the Lords to ensure that if the review “revealed problems, it can in future extend the grounds so that ministers can intervene to remove decisions from the IPC and take decisions themselves.
“This new amendment will ensure that if the system isn’t working ministers will have a safety valve to widen the basis on which they can take decisions in the future.”
But Labour’s John Grogan (Selby), leading the rebel call, warned that the Government’s amendments would cause “massive confusion” and uncertainty for business.
“There’s the question of democracy and ministerial accountability,” he said. “These are tough and very controversial decisions – all the more important that they have democratic legitimacy.”
A second Labour rebel amendment aiming to allow interested parties to make oral representations to the commission was rejected by 306 votes to 262, Government majority 44.