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I beg to move,
That if the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill is carried over to the next Session of Parliament, the period on the expiry of which proceedings on the Bill shall lapse in pursuance of paragraph (10) of the Order of the House of 29th October 2002 shall be extended by the period of six months.
In explaining the need for a six-month extension, I shall return to some of the detail that I thought more appropriate to this debate than the one that we have just held. First, however, I shall give some background.
In paragraph 39 of its report, the Modernisation Committee recommended
"that, for the experimental period on carry-over, if a Bill is not completed or arrives from the Lords more than twelve months after its introduction, it should not be further proceeded with in the Commons unless a fresh programme motion, debatable for one and a half hours, had been passed."
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House indicated earlier, we do not anticipate that the Bill will have completed its passage through the other House by
I do not think that is the case according to the procedures of the House. I shall do all in my power, as will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to ensure that the March date is met rather than waiting until June.
Can the Minister tell us what has been happening since
"It is certainly still our intention to get that Bill approved and on the statute book as soon as we possibly can."—[Hansard, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 298.]
What has changed?
Clearly, given the motions that we are discussing, not a lot. It remains the case, none the less, that I would like the Bill to be dispatched from both Houses at the earliest possible opportunity.
With the indulgence of the House, may I explain the need for the six-month extension by reference to two things? First, as I promised, I shall go into more detail about the amendments and, secondly, I shall talk about the timetable that we envisage, although—heaven knows—as Mr. Forth suggests, any number of things can happen at any time.
Following the Chancellor's extraordinary announcement yesterday that we have to concrete over the south-east in order to get ready for the euro, is it not the case that the whole Bill will have to be rewritten to drive even more houses on to reluctant south-eastern councils? That is the true reason—
Mr. Redwood is right to put on record that the Chancellor's statement was extraordinary. Indeed, it was; it was historic. However, the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's comments do not gel terribly well with those made by his Opposition Front-Bench colleagues—they think that we are already concreting over the south, whatever the Chancellor said yesterday. The point is not helpful, and it is certain that the debate on Second Reading and in Committee will be of a far higher calibre than that intervention.
As I said, currently we have it in mind to table about 70 amendments on four themes: technical and concessionary provisions; Crown immunity; compulsory purchase; and urban development corporations. I shall take them in reverse order.
I suspect that, even though the Bill has a Welsh section, that suggestion is not appropriate, but I shall consider it with my colleagues in the Wales Office and get back to the hon. Gentleman about it.
All that we seek to do with our delivery mechanisms in relation to urban development corporations and the Thames gateway is to reconfigure the legislation so that the UDC is able to delegate to the lowest possible level in its areas of activity, rather than having a UDC area-wide focus. That will work very well with what we anticipate doing in terms of household and routine planning applications staying with the local planning authority and only the most strategic decisions going up to the UDC.
The Minister has told the House what new measures the Government intend to add to the Bill when it is re-committed, but will he tell the House whether the Government intend to make any change to those items that are already in the Bill?
With the greatest respect, I have already said, in the previous debate and now that the amendments relate to four areas, which is why we need the six-month extension—first, technical and concessionary changes to the existing Bill; secondly, Crown immunity; thirdly, compulsory purchase; and fourthly, UDCs. With the indulgence of the House, I shall take them in reverse order. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would keep up and listen.
I wish to ask for an assurance. When those of us who serve on the Select Committee went to Dartford eight or nine years ago, we were concerned that very little progress had been made in the first five years after the creation of the gateway in that part of it covered by Dartford. More recently, Dartford appears to have got its act together. Can the Minister assure us that the establishment of the UDC responsible for the Thames gateway will in no way slow down the building of extra housing in Dartford?
At the risk of my straying beyond the extension of the period for proceedings, my hon. Friend can have that absolute assurance. Thurrock and the east London elements of the gateway are the only two areas covered by the UDC, so it will not delay anything in Dartford. Indeed, much of north Kent has opted for the urban regeneration company and partnership model.
We envisage that such changes to the relevant part of the Bill will involve two clauses at most and, probably, just one. As Mr. Clifton-Brown has said in the previous debate and in Committee, there is much more still to do in relation to compulsory purchase. Sadly, we cannot do much more this side of the Law Commission report, as I said earlier, but we further tidy up compulsory purchase, having been afforded this opportunity to do so. We shall push forward the compulsory purchase elements of the Bill, with perhaps a further seven clauses. They may be substantive and complex, like those in relation to the UDC, but again, their scope will be fairly limited.
Crown immunity is another complex issue about which we have had much to-ing and fro-ing with Crown authorities in general, but we now have the opportunity to deal with it in the context of the Bill. The measures relating to it are probably the most complex of all the new material that we want to introduce and will probably account for something in the order of 15 changes. I give those rough figures in the context of some laxity as and when we reach consideration in Committee. I do not want anyone to hang me, saying, "You promised only 15 Crown immunity changes, and there are 16," or whatever the number is. So I give such figures just as a rough estimate, but there may be about 24 clauses on new material not discussed thus far.
The remaining 45-odd clauses to be introduced are either technical or involve concessions. Forty-five is a large number, but at least 24 or more—a good half of them—relate to the "its", the "developments", the apostrophes and the words "conclusory" and "satisfasciation", or whatever they were. Those absolutely technical amendments relate purely to such things and nothing more. So half of those 45 amendments simply relate to technical, tidying-up changes. Although they are of no substance at all, they are technically necessary.
I hope that the Minister is not implying that, simply because he, the Minister, or the Government designate clauses or amendments as technical or involving concessions, they need have no consideration or scrutiny in Committee. I hope that he would agree that even if he simply describes them as such, others might take a different view—but in any case, they too need scrutiny.
Absolutely. I do not disagree. That is one of the fundamental reasons why I am more than happy for the whole Bill to be recommitted. Many Government amendments to many clauses will go entirely unscathed, but I thought that it would be churlish, pedantic and, probably, an abuse of the House to say that we should not discuss them further, irrespective of whether they were discussed in the previous 12 sittings. The whole Bill will be recommitted as it is, and it will be entirely up to the Committee to decide whether the technical changes or those involving concessions, as I describe them purely for shorthand, are worthy of extensive scrutiny. So I fully concur with the right hon. Gentleman.
I wish to ask the Minister something for the sake of clarification. If I understood him correctly, he said that he would table 45 new clauses to deal with technical problems, including spelling errors. Did he mean 45 new clauses or 45 amendments?
Given that savage intervention in terms of Liberal Democrat scrutiny, I hope that the hon. Gentleman serves on the Committee that considers the Bill. Of course I meant amendments, not new clauses—so well spotted and congratulations.
As my Parliamentary Private Secretary says, he spotted that long before the hon. Gentleman. He was about 10 seconds ahead of him. "Yah-boo," is perhaps an appropriate response to the Liberal Democrats.
As I suggested earlier, the last element is made up of concessions—again, 20-odd clauses—but those who serve on the Standing Committee will know that they range from adding the words "the planning office development" to simply "development" in clause 15. As I said earlier on the revocation of local development orders, there was a useful debate in Committee about what happens when a local development order is revoked but planning or development was already ongoing when the curtain came down and the planning powers were restored. We shall consider that issue again, and will make some progress. The same will apply to lost payment charges and the notion of statements of development in principle against outline planning permission, about which there was also a robust debate and, as I said earlier, a good deal of confusion—not least my own—so we have looked at that too, because the professions have asked us to do so.
Some of the suggestions have come from stakeholders, but many have come from the hon. Member for Cotswold or others. Those changes will involve not new material, but concessions in that regard. However, I fully accept what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said: it is not for me to say what level of scrutiny or otherwise those amendments should receive, save for the caveat that I mentioned at the end of my previous speech.
In the previous debate, the Minister described himself as a former member of the dark brotherhood of the Government Whips Office. I was assured during the Division that in fact, he is an honorary life member. Can I ask him please to turn his back on his past? When he comes to discuss which parts of the Bill need most scrutiny, he should listen very carefully to his hon. Friend Andrew Bennett, who said in terms in the previous debate that it should be up to the Opposition parties, rather than the Government, to discuss what time should be allocated to which parts of the Bill. Will the Minister accept that as a general principle?
That leads me neatly to the caveat from the previous debate that I was about to repeat. I am more than happy and extremely relaxed about how much time in the eight sittings is afforded to which parts of the Bill. That is a matter for the House, the respective parties and the usual channels. The only caveat that I added was that it is appropriate that we work to secure a set amount of time in those eight sittings for the new business. Beyond that, I am very relaxed, so we can talk about such things further in the usual channels and in extensive consultation before consideration in Committee. I am more than happy to do that too, but such things depend on the issues' complexity.
In the context of the various degrees of novelty involved in all those issues, I will undertake to find out whether it is at all possible to introduce the 45 technical amendments at the earliest opportunity—I hope, before the House rises for the summer—so that hon. Members can at least consider them in some detail before we return after the recess.
I want to listen to what other hon. Members have to say, rather than going on at length myself, but I wish to make two further points. First, I repeat that those hon. Members who served on the Committee will understand that this was a bit of a Christmas tree Bill, like previous planning legislation, in the sense that a number of circulars, statutory instruments and regulations follow from its provisions. I will also undertake to make sure, as far as possible, that all of those are introduced by September and prior to the Bill being recommitted, which is important in the context of the six-month extension. In terms of the six-month extension, I would envisage tabling all the amendments that the Government need to dispatch to the recommitted Committee by September, although that is a matter of discussion with programme managers and the usual channels. Eight further sittings of the Committee are to take place in October.
I do not envisage that the remaining stages of the House's consideration will happen this side of the Queen's Speech, but as soon as possible afterwards—which is why the extension of the period for the proceedings is necessary. Subsequently, I hope that it will be committed to the other place for safe dispatch and I hope that it will receive Royal Assent by February or March. I hope that that sort of timetable, allowed by the extension of proceedings, permits sufficient time for hon. Members to explore amendments to the existing Bill and new materials. I repeat that I am more than happy to discuss those at length with the respective Front-Benchers. I reserve the right—this will probably get me into trouble—not to talk to Plaid Cymru Members about it, as none of them could be bothered to turn up for the 12 sittings on the existing Bill. I would prefer the Liberals—I might regret this, too—rather than the nationalists to take those two spots on the Committee. God knows, one Liberal is enough on a Committee, as everyone will agree.
I would agree gently with Mr. Tyler that one never leaves the brotherhood, and I am more than happy to be an honorary life member. As far as it is in my power, in discussion with the usual channels on my side and more generally, I foresee a limited Committee stage, with the caveat that some time will be secured at the start for new business. In that context, I commend the motion—it will be met with approbation and consensus, I am sure—to the House.
I advise right hon. and hon. Members that the terms of the motion are narrow, and while it would be appropriate to discuss the volume of the contents of such a Bill, it would not be appropriate to discuss the merits of those contents.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is helpful advice, for which I am sure that all Members are grateful. Can you confirm, however, that it would be in order to cover the points made by the Minister in his helpful opening speech, and that responses to or questions about those points would be appropriate and in order? I hope that you are able to confirm that within the constraints that you have set out.
I am grateful to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, on this second carry-over motion. We have already discussed the first carry-over motion, which allows 12 months for all proceedings on the Bill to be concluded. We are now adding to that a further six months. If the Bill has not completed all its legislative stages, including that in the other place, by
A little light has been cast in the previous debate, which is helpful, and the Minister has helpfully told us what is likely to be in the new Bill. To reiterate, the Bill has been subject to some of the greatest scrutiny that I can remember in the 11 years that I have been in Parliament. Four huge tomes of consultation were introduced as long ago as December 2001; the Bill was subject to its Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny last year—I remind the House of my quote in the previous motion—and it received no great approbation from that all-party Committee. The core part of my earlier quote was that 88 per cent. of respondents to that Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny did not support the replacement of local plans and unitary development plans with local development frameworks, and the abolition of county structure plans was supported by just 10 per cent. of respondents. Therefore, the Bill was highly contentious before it even went into Committee.
The Bill received its First Reading on
It is no wonder that this second motion is being brought before the House, as I do not see how we will get through the timetable that the Government have set us. As the Minister has just told us, the Government are going to include four major extra facets in the Bill: the technical amendments, the Crown immunity, the extra mechanism in the compulsory purchase section, which is highly technical, and changes relating to the urban development corporation. The Minister said that the Crown immunity and compulsory purchase elements—just two matters—would make up 25 amendments, and the remaining two would make up 45 amendments. Those are major technical amendments. Effectively, those amendments amount to almost as much as is currently contained in the Bill. We are being asked to consider all those, however, plus the whole of the existing Bill, in eight sittings, not 12, which the Government gave us previously. I have already told the House that less than a third of the existing Bill was scrutinised in Committee—30 clauses of 70 and only one schedule of seven—and some very important parts were never scrutinised. I am not surprised that the Government need a further six months.
The problem is that there is already uncertainty in the planning community in relation to these huge changes, which, as all the experts acknowledge, virtually amount to rewriting the planning system rather than modifying it, which we would have preferred. Providing this extra time is creating further uncertainty. As I pointed out time after time in Committee, if I were a planner working in a county council—knowing that my strategic planning role would be abolished by the Bill—and I received an offer from the private sector or elsewhere, given the uncertainty surrounding the whole system, I would be tempted to move into an alternative job. That would be disastrous for the planning system, which is already grossly understaffed in many authorities, such as mine in the south of England, which has great difficulty in recruiting people of sufficient technical merit. This Bill, with the timetable and carry-over, will cause great difficulty to our planning system.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The reason why I asked that question was that my hon. Friend had rightly said that people in planning offices might find other jobs. I merely wanted to point out that that would be exacerbated where there were other pressures, too. I think that that was at least ancillary to what was being said.
The principle of the Bill is laid out clearly by the Government, however, in the document that they have just produced, "Sustainable Communities: Delivering Through Planning—Progress Report". In a recent letter, which I quoted previously, the Minister said that one aspect of the Bill would be some amendments on sustainable communities. Unless those provisions are somehow buried within the four categories, it looks as though measures on sustainable communities have been dropped.
That simply refers to the urban development corporation amendments that are required to secure much of what we need for growth areas under the sustainable communities plan. May I also point out that if the order lapses by
I like the Minister's predictions because he is giving himself more hostages to fortune. He said illuminatingly that he does not expect any Government amendments to be tabled on Report. I suspect that those words will come back to haunt him in no uncertain manner, but we shall see what happens whether we have an extra six months or not—that will depend on whether the motion is passed.
The Government intend the Bill to address four principles but it is likely to address only one, irrespective of whether we have extra time. They say:
"We are simplifying the plan structure" but the Bill will not do that because they are introducing a new raft of provisions on regional planning. They say:
"We will ensure local plans will be in place more quickly" but that will be difficult to achieve. Given the complexity of a Bill containing provisions on local development frameworks, local development documents, local development plans and a raft of other documents, it is unlikely that such plans will be in place more quickly.
I agree with the following objective of the Bill:
"Teams of inspectors will be used for concurrent running of inquiries into major infrastructure projects, thereby saving time".
I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be teams of inspectors. There was criticism about the time that the Heathrow terminal 5 inquiry took, which I agreed with. From a national perspective, we need to speed up major infrastructure projects, which is a key aspect of the Bill.
The Government's fourth aim is to introduce
"reforms to development control processes intended to streamline the system, give greater certainty over development which may be permitted, and deal with abuses."
I am sure that that is their genuine aim, but the Bill will not achieve it. My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood made a point that we shall have to address in Committee. The Chancellor is clearly interested in the amount of building that will occur in the south-east but the Bill does not address properly that subject, which is one of the most crucial planning issues that we currently face. Irrespective of whether we have extra time, how will the Bill deliver the size of development that will be needed in the south-east, where will such development take place, and will we have the proper infrastructure to achieve that?
There will be uncertainty and the Minister must do all that he can to end the uncertainty experienced by businesses and the planning community. I hope that he will reconsider the time allowed in Committee because if the usual channels agreed to allow more time, we might be able to facilitate the Committee more sensibly so that its parliamentary scrutiny could be much better organised. Given that there will be 70 major amendments and new clauses and that all Opposition parties will table amendments, as we should, I do not understand how we will have sufficient time in Committee.
Are the Government so keen to get the Bill on the statute book that will they give it top priority after the Queen's Speech? I join my hon. Friend Sir Sydney Chapman in hoping that they will drop it altogether and come back with something more sensible—pigs might fly. I suspect that the Government will proceed with the Bill, but will the Minister reassure me that if the motion is passed—I strongly urge my hon. Friends to oppose it—Report and Third Reading will quickly follow the Committee stage? The planning and business communities would like such an assurance.
That point brings us on to the next problem. There are no similar carry-over provisions in the other place. Given the technical nature of the Bill, I would not be surprised if the other place wanted to subject it to considerable scrutiny. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, I hope that it will receive considerable scrutiny in the other place because that will be needed if we are so constrained in Committee that we can do only a quarter of the job, as happened before. I assure the House that I shall give every possible assistance to Members of the other place by pointing out the Bill's omissions and lacunae.
Will the Minister consider invoking the Parliament Act? There is considerable doubt about how it would operate following carry-over. That point is probably outside the remit of the motion but it is important given the Bill's timetable and the time at which it might reach the statute book. Many people are scratching their heads about today's proceedings and wondering why we have reached this position. The Government were in a dreadful hurry for the Bill to be given its Second Reading and to be considered in Committee, so I cannot understand what has happened since the end of January.
The Standing Order, which must be renewed in the next Session, might need to be examined. Given that we are almost at the end of this Session, there is no way in which the Bill's stages could be completed under the 12-month procedure—by
The Government hope that no amendments will be tabled on Report, so they will no doubt produce a timetable to allow only an hour or two on Report and an hour on Third Reading. I signal in advance that if the Government severely constrain scrutiny in Committee, we shall need plenty of time on Report, so I hope that they will not constrain the time allowed for it.
I hope that the Government will make progress on the Bill. People outside who will have to operate under its provisions want progress because uncertainty is bad for everyone. The Government should give the Bill momentum, produce some certainty and publish the amendments as soon as possible. I hope that at least some amendments will be published before the recess. It is only reasonable that we have time to examine them because several of the provisions that we must consider, especially those on compulsory purchase, will be highly technical. I should have declared an interest as a charted surveyor who has practised in planning. I know that compulsory purchase is highly technical and I have no doubt that I shall want to take technical advice on the amendments relating to it.
Will the Minister give us a little clarification on compulsory purchase? There was a rumour that the Law Commission was working on the nuts and bolts of compulsory purchase whereas the Bill deals only with the mechanism of compensation. The rumour was that the Government were thinking of introducing a separate compulsory purchase Bill to deal with the Law Commission's recommendations. Does the Minister intend to incorporate those into the Bill, which would make a further Bill less imminent?
As I suggested earlier, we will go further than we did in the existing Bill, but we cannot involve the Law Commission recommendations because the report will not be completed in time. We still anticipate the need for a fuller, more complex, compulsory purchase Bill to deal with the detail, as I think I said in Committee. The Bill under discussion will go further than the original Bill and tidy up aspects of planning and compulsory purchase before the report is published, but I anticipate that we will still need the second Bill.
But it was never the case that the Bill would be carried over. As I understood it, the huge rush to get the Bill through Committee was to get it on the statute book. The road to heaven is paved with good intentions. The Government may have had good intentions in the first place, but they have not been realised.
We need to consider carefully something that has not been discussed enough. We have concentrated on the new material that will be in the Bill, which is obviously important because it will probably double its size, but we have not focused on whether there will be sufficient time to deal with what the Minister calls technical amendments. Those are highly important. We mentioned them time and again in the context of many issues, with the support of some of the foremost experts on planning, and they need proper scrutiny.
There are a number of technical aspects, which I have touched on. Local development orders were barely discussed—if at all—in Committee. Concurrent planning applications, statement of development principles, outline planning permission, urban development corporations and simplified planning zones are all relevant. A raft of issues and technical subjects on compulsory purchase were not discussed in Committee because the timetable meant that the knives came down and the number of sittings was inadequate.
Incidentally, we voted against the programme of 12 sittings. I can assure the Minister here and now that unless I am given different instructions from those more senior than I am, we will vote against the Government if they offer only eight sittings because those, too, will not be adequate.
We have a huge amount of work to do. We must consider whether the scrutiny that their lordships will undoubtedly want to give the Bill will mean that it can get on the statute book by the date set out in the timetable. The Minister has improved on the motion. It gives a deadline of
I stick to the March deadline, but I mentioned it before I anticipated the idea of two Liberal Democrats serving on the Committee.
I am not sure whether that will double the number of amendments, but we shall see. It will probably treble or quadruple the amount of time taken up by Liberal Democrats. They have never knowingly undersold themselves when it comes to speaking. What could be said in one sentence takes the Liberal Democrats many sentences to say. However, no doubt you will rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I continue down that path.
The core question is whether and when the Bill will be on the statute book and whether the extra six months will be sufficient. Their lordships will not begin to consider when they will scrutinise the Bill until after the Queen's Speech. Perhaps the Minister is more clairvoyant than the Opposition because we do not know when the Queen's Speech will be. Last year it took place towards the middle of November. No doubt their lordships will want to take a week or two before considering their own parliamentary timetable. It is my guess that they cannot start to consider the Bill before Christmas.
The Minister is living by an unrealistic timetable if he really believes that the Bill will come back to the House and be on the statute book by March 2004. The timetable is unrealistic not just for March 2004, but for June 2004. I might be wrong, but if their lordships scrutinise it as they should and take their time, I would not be surprised if we need another six months, which might not be possible under the Standing Order. That would cause even more uncertainty in the business and planning communities.
To my mind, one big lacuna needs to be addressed. I hope that the Government will consider how we deal with PPG3, social housing and section 106 agreements. As I understand it, the Government are consulting on section 106 agreements with the idea of introducing a new statutory instrument or Bill to deal with section 106-type compensations. Hon. Members will recall that before the original Bill was scrutinised by the Standing Committee it contained unworkable tariff proposals. The Government listened to the Committee and dropped those, but so far the planning community and the wider community have no idea what, if anything, is to replace section 106 agreements.
I am sorry that I am beginning to get a little technical, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I know from when I practised planning law that it took longer to negotiate a section 106 agreement in a complex multifaceted development than it did to get planning permission. The Bill does nothing to deal with the section 106 issue. If the Government are not—
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gets more technical, perhaps I can remind him of the narrowness of the motion and the debate. He referred to six months. I was somewhat reassured by that and hope that we can concentrate on it.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That ruling is very helpful.
If we have an extra six months and do not produce an effective Bill because it fails to deal with section 106 agreements, we will not be doing the House, the planning community or the business community any favours. I simply flag it up as an issue for the Government. If they cannot deal with that in the Bill, I hope that they will address it expeditiously in another way.
We are totally opposed to carrying over the Bill even for 12 months. However, we dealt with that when we voted on the earlier motion. We are certainly opposed to giving it an extra six months. The Bill is bad. It should be scrapped. We should start again and modify the existing planning system rather than introduce a wholesale new planning system. If the Government will not do that, let us ensure, whatever the political aspects of the motion, that when the Bill reaches the statute book it is better than it is at the moment. With the greatest possible grace that I can muster, I must tell the Minister that we will not achieve that if he offers us only eight sittings in Committee, and the reputation of the House will be tarnished. I appeal to him: if nothing else is achieved today, for goodness' sake please give us more than eight sittings and we will do our best to ensure that the Bill is a better Bill when it emerges from Committee. We will oppose the motion, but we will also try to use the time wisely if the Government give us extra sittings.
Mr. Clifton-Brown referred to six months. I think he thought that that was going to be the length of his speech.
It is important to consider what has gone on so far and some of the consequences of giving the Bill extra time. As we heard, the original Bill contained 90 clauses, 64 of which were not debated in Committee. We have heard that the rush to get the Bill out of Committee in January, with nothing happening afterwards, was due to other commitments. In an earlier debate today, the Leader of the House mentioned the war. I am slightly confused, as I did not realise that the Under-Secretary played any role in running the war in Iraq—if he did, perhaps he should own up to it. Clearly, however, the Bill got stuck after January for no apparent reason. Several months down the line, the Government have suddenly come up with a series of excuses for needing more time.
We should remember that the Bill has been introduced to speed up the planning process. The Government, however, are proposing to do so by taking another year. If that is how they try to speed things up, I would hate to see them try to slow something down. However, the extra time will have serious consequences in, for example, social housing. In a debate on
"There is no target for new social housing in terms of our decent homes target, and there is no target in terms of the build for social housing—that is a matter for local plans, regional plans, and everything that will follow when Royal Assent is given to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill."—[Hansard, 10 April 2003; Vol. 403, c. 112WH.]
That means that there will be another 12 months before the Government have a strategy on social housing of any consequence. I am afraid that those areas suffering from a great lack of affordable housing will discover that the Government have done little to help them. The 12-month delay will certainly not help them at all.
I am concerned that the extra 12 months will take us very close to the July 2004 deadline by which the UK must comply with the strategic environmental assessment directive, which covers all planning strategies. I realise that some Conservative Members are not going to get excited about that because it is, after all, a European directive. In Committee, however, the Minister was dismissive about that point—he was sure that it would all be sorted out by then and there would not be any problems. However, we will get close to the deadline, and I would be grateful if he could give us an assurance that the changes that he will make to the Bill will comply with the directive.
In a previous debate, the Leader of the House said that there was an opportunity for the Bill to be improved by scrutiny. I am a little confused because, even though the Under-Secretary recently described himself as generously naive, in Committee he did not accept a single amendment.
I am concerned that the Government will approach the extra eight sittings, which seems rather a short time, with exactly the same attitude and not accept any amendments. If we do make pertinent points, perhaps they will have another eight sittings so that they can introduce their own amendments to incorporate such changes. Either that, or we will need a long Report stage. It has already been pointed out that there were a couple of spelling mistakes in the original Bill, but the Minister is about to introduce a further 25 clauses. He has assured us that there are no spelling mistakes left in the Bill, but can we be sure that there will not be any such mistakes in those 25 clauses? I tabled an amendment to change the two spelling mistakes, which amounted to only one sentence.
Yes, and rightly so.
Perhaps the longer period will permit greater reflection so that amendments can be drawn up more accurately in the first place. I hope that Members will be more succinct. In our previous debates, one Member mentioned Heathrow about 200 times, and it would not be desirable to repeat such behaviour. We welcome some aspects of the Bill, and the Government clearly need an opportunity to introduce change. On the face of it, the removal of Crown immunity is good, and it is also welcome that the Government are trying to sort out the mess of the stated development principles and outline planning permissions, especially as the Minister freely admitted—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The six-month extension allowed by the motion will permit the Government to make substantial changes. I thought that it might have been in order for me to touch on those changes, but clearly it is not. That is a shame, because others managed to do so. Unfortunately, the Government will not use those six months to include other matters in the Bill—but I clearly cannot touch on them either.
We shall oppose the motion for the reasons given by my hon. Friend Mr. Tyler in a previous debate. When the Standing Order was introduced to allow extra time and enable Bills to be carried over, it was intended not for the use that is being proposed today but for draft Bills that had been scrutinised in Committee. That has not happened with this Bill, despite what the hon. Member for Cotswold said about the amount of scrutiny. The Standing Order has not followed the route envisaged for it. The first time that the Government have had a chance to use it, they have corrupted what the House intended. That is a strong reason why Members should not support the motion, although I suspect that the Government will whip it through.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify something that we will not have enough time to discuss when we debate the next motion, which will simply be moved by one Member and opposed by another? If the Government offer eight sittings in Committee, will the Liberals vote against that programme motion?
Yes, we will. Some of those eight sessions, for reasons that I should have liked to explore but did not, will be far too short. I hope that we can have more time to discuss the Bill because at least half of it was not even touched on first time round, when there were 12 sittings. To be fair to the Minister, a few of the 64 clauses that were not touched on were brushed over rather than not discussed. There were some clauses that the Committee chose not to discuss but, even so, about half of the Bill was not discussed. At that time we had 12 sittings, so eight sittings will hardly be sufficient to debate another 24 new clauses, 45 new Government amendments and the remaining half of the Bill that we did not get through the first time. I can therefore confirm that we will vote against the programme motion when it arrives, and against the motion tonight.
I shall confine my remarks entirely to the time involved.
I declare an interest as a former Secretary of State, and as someone who writes and advises on planning, particularly that which relates to environmental matters. In the past, it was always thought proper to give the House plenty of time to debate planning Bills, not because they were necessarily party politically controversial but because the issues are technical, and what happens on the ground, so to speak, is often very different from what Parliament may have thought in its theoretical discussions. I start with a concern about the timetable originally presented to us, and about the fact that so much of the Bill has not been discussed.
There is a reason for that, and it is not a party political reason at all. There is no subject more important to individuals than how the technical details of planning permission affect them. If they go to their Member of Parliament and ask, "Why on earth did you pass that clause? Did you not see that it might have this effect?", it is extremely galling for us to have to admit that we, or our colleagues who served on the Committee, never reached the clause.
It is reasonable to suggest that as the Government propose to give themselves more time, they should do the House the courtesy of giving us enough time. Hon. Members in all parts of the House would agree that part of the quid pro quo for the Government using the new Standing Orders for the first time might be that they should ensure that we have enough time to discuss the issues, not because we want to trip the Government up or make party political points, but because the detailed examination of the issues by people who understand the subject from constituency or professional experience is helpful to the Government, and because it is not appropriate for the Government to rely on what may happen in another place.
That brings me to my second point. The idea that the other place will be happy to fit in with the way in which the Government have decided to arrange matters seems not entirely likely. The other place is not always as easily cajoled or corralled as the Minister suggests. It may be worth considering rather more carefully the interrelationship between the two Houses of Parliament in the circumstances with which we are faced.
That leads me to the third point. This is the first use of the provision, and I have a constitutional worry about the way in which it is being used. It is not for me to suggest the motives behind the pause. We had considerable discussion about the difficulty that the Minister had in combining his role in fighting the war in Iraq and in the planning Bill. We realise that. It is one of the mysterious elements that we have not yet entirely unwound, but we understand that there were all sorts of reasons why the Bill was not brought to fruition. However, I fear that none of them is the reason that the Government advanced for the change in the law.
When the Government advanced the not unreasonable proposition that there were sometimes circumstances in which the due process through the House meant that, in order to give enough time for discussion of a draft Bill, it might take longer than is circumscribed by our parliamentary Sessions, they suggested that it was only on rare occasions that the nature of a Bill and its proper discussion made the longer time scale sensible.
That is not the proposition before us today. We have had a most interesting dance, very fast for a very short time, and then the music stopped. We listened in vain: there was no sound at all. Just when we think that it might begin again, we are told that it will not begin until after this Session. Why? It is because the band is engaged elsewhere. That is the point—it is not because of anything to do with the motion, but because the Government want the time to do other things.
I realise that the Minister has been brilliant. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude, because he has fought a good battle with those who organise these matters, by saying, "If you are going to put me in the embarrassing position of having to explain to the House why we have to do this, I want some recompense. I want to put back into the Bill some provisions that you got me to take out of the Bill previously because you wanted it through quickly."
The timetabling of the Bill was already arranged by the Government to remove from it the bits that they thought would make it a long Bill. That was what the Minister was fighting for originally. Let us not think that the Government have suddenly invented the need to deal with Crown immunity or to extend the detailed arrangements for compulsory purchase. They tried to put those in the original Bill, but they were told that they could not do so by the powers that be—now a power that was, he having resigned over the war. That might be part of the war issue. Perhaps the former Leader of the House was the key figure in all this. The Government therefore dropped those clauses, because the Bill had to complete its passage quickly. There were to be a small number of meetings of the Committee, a short referral to the House of Lords, and then back to this place and the Bill would be through. That is what the Government were told.
That is not quite what happened, owing to some large lacunae—holes, we might say—in the middle. The Bill was held up while the Government thought about what to do. It was held up to such an extent that the powers that be told them that it would have to be held up further. Very cleverly, the Minister and his colleagues argued that if they were to be embarrassed in that way—the Minister is obviously embarrassed, as he is a decent man—they had to be able to say that the Government would put back into the Bill the provisions that they had taken out when matters were to be arranged differently. That is where we are now. Those aspects that I may not discuss, but which certainly contribute to the length of the Bill, will be put back in.
When those things are put back in, what will it mean in terms of time? I must refer to one substantive issue in order to speak about time—Crown immunity. I was the Secretary of State who started to try to get rid of Crown immunity, as it always seemed to me an outrage and scandal that a certain kind of operation was immune for no good reason. I discovered that the difficulty—in terms of time, this matter needs detailed discussion—was simply that, amidst all the things that do not need immunity, there are some that need some immunity. Therefore, trying to write that into a Bill is much more difficult and complex than anybody thought when starting out.
We know why that is the case. We already have a planning system that is, in a sense, pretty peculiar. When the IRA kindly put me on its list for the second time and a certain amount of protection was necessary, planning policy said that we had to advertise in the newspaper and supply pictures of the protection that was given. That did not seem a frightfully good idea, and my local authority kindly said that the pictures could be as blurred as I liked. That was very kind, but it does not feature in the Bill. The fact is that the provisions will be very complex and detailed, and some anecdotal information of that sort will be valuable in our discussions. It is not something to be missed.
I say to the Minister that the Crown immunity element—I am very pleased that he is going to introduce it and I am sure that it is necessary—has been a long time coming. That is not a criticism of him; it has taken a long time because it is very complicated. The time involved in discussing it in the House of Commons will therefore be very considerable, so I ask him to think again about the amount of time that he will provide for those discussions, simply because if he does not give proper time, I am afraid that we will get the Bill wrong.
There is no doubt that there is a growing feeling outside the House that the revising and detailed role of the House of Commons is being eroded. Many years ago, I argued with Enoch Powell—I was on the wrong side of the argument—about the effect of Select Committees. He argued that once we gave Members of Parliament other things to do that they thought were parliamentarily useful, we would cease to do here what we were here to do. I did not think that that would be so, but I was wrong. Although Enoch Powell was usually wrong, at least on that occasion he was right. He was right on that issue because he understood so well the nature of this House. Part of the nature of this House is the dull and boring business of trying to make our legislation as good as it can be, given that none of us can be expert in everything, and those who are experts in something are usually selected to serve on a Committee dealing with a subject about which they know nothing at all.
That is the nature of the House, but we get quite good at looking at the phrases that are used and seeing whether all the possibilities have been thought through. Governments sometimes become impatient with that process, but all the lessons have shown that impatience at that moment leads to a great deal of frustration afterwards and that it is better to be frustrated while the Bill is passing through the House, when there is time to discuss it properly, than to use the ability of a Government with a large majority to force matters and then find that the very clauses that have not been discussed give them problems thereafter.
It is that which concerns me about what is proposed today. I believe that this Government are giving themselves problems. Of course, I should say, "For goodness' sake, shove the Bill through and get all the trouble; we'll point it out and tell people who did it." However, in the end, planning is about people's futures. It is not all about great developers or huge housing estates; it is very often about individuals doing with their own land what they want to do, and the community saying that there must be a restriction. People therefore need the opportunity to feel that this House, in representing the community, individuals and the interests of our constituents, has looked at such matters in detail.
The Government are not giving us that opportunity. I am therefore not prepared to support them on this occasion, and I will wish to vote against them because they are not doing themselves justice. If ever an Opposition have a job, it is to remind the Government when they are failing themselves.
I have declared my interests in the register.
I rise to support my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown and my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, who made very powerful speeches against the six-month extension. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold said, the Opposition would be much happier with an entirely different sort of Bill producing a much better planning system than the one envisaged. Anyone who takes that view must vote against the extension of time, to kill the Bill, but my case is to the Minister. I think that he has been placed in an extremely difficult position by chopping and changing well above his rank in government and by indecision and lethargy alternating with brief bursts of speed and enthusiasm for the Bill. It is extraordinary that a measure that was thought so crucial in January as to be rushed through with improper consideration has been languishing ever since, and is still languishing and must await the next Session.
I therefore say to the Minister that he, too, should be against the motion and that at this eleventh hour he should cancel the idea of a six-month extension. He will have a miserable time trying to cobble together all the new clauses and amendments. He told us that he already thinks that he will need 69 new clauses and amendments to a 90-clause Bill. My guess is that we will end up with more than 90 Government amendments and new clauses before the process is finished, and that the Committee will be asked to consider, in a very short space of time within the six months, effectively a new Bill. Would it not be better if the Government admitted that today, went away and constructed a proper Bill based on the Government's common policy objectives—if it is possible to find any—then presented a new Bill in the normal way without the need for this strange procedure of a six-month extension? My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal powerfully made the case that the original Bill received insufficient scrutiny in Committee and that it is beyond belief that that could be made good in the eight short sittings that will be allocated within the six-month period, given that what is required is the proper scrutiny of a large number of very technical measures.
I make no secret of the fact that my constituents and I do not welcome the Bill because it means building over the south-east to an even greater extent than is already the case. That requires proper scrutiny and proper debate in this Chamber on a substantive motion—an honest motion, following the Chancellor's statement yesterday—followed by detailed and lengthy scrutiny in Committee to see whether the Government are changing the planning system and whether we can stop them doing so in an undemocratic direction. That is why I asked the Minister about the Chancellor's involvement. Had the Chancellor concentrated properly on the issue, he might have wanted to oppose the six-month extension. We heard only yesterday that he was impatient to revolutionise the planning system to meet his eight-month deadline for a reconsideration of the housing market prior to next year's Budget. Surely, given that the Bill is the "concreting over the south-east" measure that the Chancellor has in mind to try to get nearer to the euro, he must be arguing to the Minister that six months is too long to wait and that the Government should produce the amendments and new clauses now and drive them through. On those counts, there is a strange community of interest. Those of us who want to kill the Bill do not want the six-month extension, the Chancellor should want to end it to try to speed the whole process up, and the Minister would be well out of it because his patience has been sorely tested for a long time by all the chopping and changing and extreme changes of pace from high speed to dead stop.
It is, I believe, common practice in competitive soccer competitions that if no one has scored in normal time, extra time is played. I guess that that is in the Minister's mind. He thinks that if extra time is played, he will be able to score. Having listened to him this afternoon, however, it is clear that there is absolutely no chance of his being able to score for his political cause. The existing contents of the Bill are dynamite, and although his suggested new contents may have some good bits—for example, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, on Crown immunity—they will not change or improve the workings of the dreadful planning system inherent in the current draft of the Bill, which will lead to the concreting over of much-loved parts of the countryside. The Minister should not ask for extra time for this measure, because there is no chance of his scoring with it.
My final points relate to the general problem of democratic accountability in the House of Commons. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and many other right hon. and hon. Friends, I think that this place matters a great deal. There should be detailed scrutiny from all angles and perspectives, not on a party political basis, but on a practical working basis as hon. Members bring their skills and experiences to bear on legislation. I fear that six months and eight sittings represent far too short a time and far too puny a contribution to proper scrutiny and debate. Consequently, the measure will make bad legislation, and large elements of it will never have been debated properly in the Chamber or taken apart and put together again in Committee.
On such a crucial issue, which touches the heart of the lifestyles of all our constituents, we deserve much better. The Government say that they now believe in democracy and that they value our parliamentary system. They should show that by withdrawing the motion, apologising to the House, admitting that six months is not enough to improve the Bill, reconsidering, starting again and introducing a proper Bill when they have a sensible policy.
It is becoming obvious that the Under-Secretary and his colleagues are serial offenders. We are considering today's motions because they imposed a ludicrously tight timetable on the original Committee stage, thereby ensuring that the Bill could not be properly scrutinised. They allowed the measure to lapse and be delayed for several months, thus placing unnecessary and artificial time pressure on themselves and, subsequently, on the House and the parliamentary process.
The Under-Secretary made it clear that the timetable under the motion means that he will produce amendments in the period up to July and for the extraordinary sitting in September, and that he will then generously allow the Committee eight sittings in October to reconsider the entire Bill and the new clauses and amendments. He said that he did not envisage Report and Third Reading taking place until the new Session. He does not know when the new Session will begin; I venture to suggest that even you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, do not know that. However, we can guess that it will not start until well into November. If one takes into account the normal time for debating the Queen's Speech and so on, it is doubtful whether the Government will manage to conclude Report and Third Reading before Christmas, despite the extension of time that they are asking us to approve. It is therefore doubtful whether the measure will be sent to another place even in early January.
The Under-Secretary, having restricted the amount of time in Committee originally, and intending to do that again, has the gall and impudence to suggest that their Lordships will complete their considerations by March. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer pointed out, we all expect that the other place will want to examine the Bill with special care because we have been able to give it such scant attention. It is unacceptable and insulting for the Under-Secretary to expect their lordships to whiffle the Bill through to meet his artificial deadline.
What will happen if we have some ping-pong, to use our highly technical term for describing the shuttling of a Bill backwards and forwards between the two great Houses of Parliament? Has the Under-Secretary considered that? He appears to expect the whole thing to be wrapped up neatly in the six-month extension that he asks us to approve. Moreover, he has the gall to say that if that is not enough time, we shall have another extension.
In other words, the Under-Secretary claims that any constraint on the Government that may have existed in the past is now long gone. Governments are no longer subject to discipline and constraint, and such motions allow them to restrict Committee stage, dally, delay and mess things up because they can subsequently say, "We'll change the rules, adjust and demand more time." It would appear that one of the few checks on the Government when they introduce excessive or paltry legislation has sadly disappeared. Today's apparently innocuous and simple motion demonstrates that the Government acknowledge no discipline for themselves in the legislative process. That is not only sad but dangerous. Every time we are asked to approve such a motion, we take a further step along a dangerous path and inch further down a slippery slope. That is why I hope that we will resist this motion now, and that, one of these days, we will be able to bring the Government back to some sort of accountability to the House and the parliamentary process. If we do not, I hope that their Lordships will.
First, may I say that, if there was any gall or impudence—implied or otherwise—in what I said, it was unintended? If I thought that I or the Government could control those at the other end of this building, I would have said March and had done with it. March is my aspiration; June is the more realistic expectation. That is precisely why the measure refers to six months rather than three. I was not presuming there to be any control on my part or on that of the Government, or any control or direction of their lordships up the other end—far from it.
Some hon. Members went away from the core elements of the motion on the extension of the period for proceedings and introduced other elements, bemoaning their absence from the Bill. It is important to note that many of those elements were never intended to be in the Bill. In the very first speech that I made on Second Reading, which seems a long time ago, I said that we had a clear planning reform agenda and that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill was but part of that agenda. So, although the important points that hon. Members made on circular 6/98 on affordable housing, for example, and on section 106 and the whole vexed area of planning obligations, were all germane, those issues were never intended to be part of the Bill. Bemoaning their absence, with or without a further extension of time, therefore seems rather strange.
I know that the Opposition must have their fun, but I do not believe that this measure has left the reputation of the House tarnished or sullied in any way. I certainly agree with Mr. Clifton-Brown that uncertainty is a bad thing, which is why I am pleased to reiterate that I am more than happy to work with those on his Front Bench and the other Front Benches to ensure that many of the amendments that we need to introduce are tabled before the summer recess—certainly those on the technical elements and the concessions, for want of a better word, relating to material already discussed. If I can, I shall push that further into other areas, because I accept what has been said.
I bow to the experience of Mr. Gummer of the intricacies of Crown immunity. I would only hope that time, thought and the civil service have moved on, in terms of those complexities, in the 10 or so years since his time at the then Department of the Environment—the death of whose building I glory in, I must say. Marsham street now has a lovely big hole in it, which looks quite pleasant. What the Home Office will do with it is none of my business.
It is a little churlish to suggest that if we extend for six months, eight further sittings will not be enough. The Opposition do not yet know what their own load will be in terms of amendments and new clauses to the Bill, let alone the form, rather than just the number, of amendments that the Government will want to introduce. I would prefer people to wait and see what follows, and to make the necessary arrangements through the usual channels.
I have promised faithfully to be as generous as I possibly can—I thought that I was in that mood and character in Committee, but clearly I was not—both prior to the recommittal and subsequently in Standing Committee, should the Bill secure this motion to carry on, but some very strange arguments have been put forward. It was hard to follow the logic of Matthew Green, who spent some time bemoaning the lack of scrutiny up to this point in the Bill's progress, yet, when offered this motion to secure further scrutiny, seemed to suggest that it was an absolute parliamentary disgrace. He also said that he would vote against the motion proposing eight sittings. His logic was tortured, as was his speech, and I was delighted when Madam Deputy Speaker brought him to book. Despite his churlishness, however, I remain committed to bringing forward as much as possible in the interest of making legislation as good as it can be—a point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal—because I agree, on a non-partisan basis, that that is our task.
I must upbraid the right hon. Gentleman just a little. As I have said before, I did not suggest that the House of Lords should be cajoled or corralled into doing anything; I merely referred to a timetable to which I aspired. Moreover, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, I was not fighting in any war in Iraq. I did not consider that a very useful analogy, although I should add that it was first introduced by the hon. Member for Ludlow. The progress of the Bill depends not on my time but on the Government's time, and the use of that time by this Parliament. It was unnecessary, and not very respectful, to make comments about fighting in Iraq.
While the Government are allowing themselves an extra six months, they are only prepared to give the House an extra eight sessions in Standing Committee, which amounts to two weeks. Surely they could be more generous and allow more effective scrutiny.
This may sound churlish, but what the hon. Gentleman says rather implies that extra time means extra-detailed scrutiny. That does not necessarily follow.
As I have said before, although I am an ex-member of the brotherhood—Liberal Democrats assure me that I am an honorary life member, but I should have to check that—I am no longer part of the usual channels. This is a matter for the usual channels and not one for me. Nevertheless, I accept what has been said about uncertainty. I was a member of a planning committee for 11 years, largely under the yoke of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, and I know that planning is important at an individual level, before we start to deal with grandiose schemes, huge developments and major infrastructure projects. It must be afforded due scrutiny, and we must get everything right now that we have enough time to do so. However many sittings take place between now and the summer recess—and subsequently, if this motion and the next are passed—I will do all that I can to ensure that Opposition Members have sight of all the amendments as early as possible, and can speak about them in some detail if the Bill is indeed recommitted.
I will resist the exhortation of Mr. Redwood to vote against my own motion. I did not have to think about it for long. I suspect that the Chancellor will resist that exhortation as well. With or without the motion we are discussing, this is not about putting concrete over the south-east. The right hon. Gentleman condemned the existing planning system for doing that—a terrible rebuke to his right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who is largely responsible for most of the beneficial change in the planning framework over the past 20 years or so.
The Government have always believed in democracy; they are not recent converts, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham implied. We have said that this is not our ideal solution, but let me echo the words of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. Now that we have the opportunity afforded to us by the three motions, it is incumbent on all of us—because of the importance of planning, and to end the uncertainty mentioned by the hon. Member for Ludlow—to make the legislation as good as it can be. On a cross-party, consensual basis—I apologise to Mr. Forth for that—we can secure much better legislation and a far superior planning framework if this motion and the next are passed.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That if the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill is carried over to the next Session of Parliament, the period on the expiry of which proceedings on the Bill shall lapse in pursuance of paragraph (10) of the Order of the House of 29th October 2002 shall be extended by the period of six months.