I move the amendment to amendment No. 47:
To add to the proposed new section the following:
"Such report and recommendation together with the transcript of evidence at any ordinary hearing, which may have been held, shall become as soon as may be a matter of public record at the headquarters of the Board. Copies of same shall be available upon 14 days' written notice at a charge of 50p."
The intention behind that amendment is that the public and the appellant and any other interested party should have from this board a statement which would indicate the reasons why they arrived at a certain decision. One part of my amendment suggests that this report, which is referred to and which is a necessary document before the board or the Minister can make a decision, is an absolutely essential requirement. Before the Minister at present—or the board in the future— can arrive at a decision on a planning appeal he must take into consideration the report of the inspector who attended the hearing, or who wrote the report, or who dealt with the application if it was not an oral hearing.
I am suggesting that when the board is established that report should be made available, and the recommendations contained in it should be made available, and also that the transcript of any evidence taken at an oral hearing should be made available. This has been an area of great contention. There have been court cases querying the transcripts of evidence which the Minister has taken into consideration in arriving at appeal decisions. The courts have directed, in certain cases, that the files in the planning section of the Department should be made available to those who brought the case before the court for their perusal so that they could satisfy themselves whether, in fact, the evidence given at the hearing was properly considered in the report put before the Minister and properly considered by him before arriving at a decision.
This will be an autonomous board. It has been called a faceless persons board. Anyway its accessibility to the public is nil. I should like the Minister to let us know whether he would favour this board being obliged to make these reports and recommendations and the transcripts of evidence available. If my amendment is going too far, if the Minister feels it is going too far and requiring too much, then I would put it to the Minister that the main point I am getting at is that we should have statements giving the reasons why the board arrived at certain decisions. At present the Minister makes decisions and he gives reasons. They are short, concise and fairly traditional now.
There is a set pattern of words used to meet groups of situations and they do not, in the main, relate to any specifics which were taken into consideration in the cases. They do in some cases but, generally speaking, a kind of formula of words has now been latched on to which is not very meaningful to any person trying to find out the real thinking behind the decision to grant or to refuse.
The court's decision which gives the public the right of access to these documents is establishing a new principle—possibly not a new principle as such, but it certainly is establishing a new precedent, in as much as this has only happened in recent years. These documents are not generally available otherwise. If the public are to obtain access to them, they must go to the expense of a court case and all that that involves. Rather than placing that obligation on the community, and its expense, if these documents are available, I believe the public are entitled to them. I do not see why they should be secret.
I believe—I have not any great evidence of this; I have not any knowledge of it—that the planning appeals system in Britain gives much greater background information regarding the decision arrived at than is given here. I would be anxious to achieve something better than what we have put up with up to now. We operated it. The Minister is operating it. I am suggesting that when this is handed over to a board we will be looking for reasons which will satisfy us to a much greater extent because of the facelessness of the board and the non-accessibility to them. If the board are to gain acceptance, I think they should be obliged to report to the community on the decisions they are arriving at.