New Clause 10 — Local Development Plan

Part of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 2:30 pm, 9th December 2003

I hesitate to force such an apology from my hon. Friend. Indeed, I see the new clause as a mechanism for asking the Government to rethink in time for the discussions in another place. My hon. Friend will no doubt agree that it is difficult for the Opposition to produce such a detailed clause. I am sure the Minister will make some such comment—I have made such comments myself from the Government Benches—and I know that one should not look towards them, but the officials will glow with pleasure at the fact that the Minister has reminded the House that without their help it is difficult to proceed.

I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will do that in the same elegant way as we have all tried to do it from time to time, but I hope he will not use that for an excuse. I hope he will undertake to look again at the fundamental concerns behind the new clause. I shall explain what I think them to be. First, as I said, one does not have the feeling that the Government have grasped the concept that the exercise should be holistic. That is where I agree with the hon. Member for Telford. Secondly, the Government have failed to define sustainability and put it at the heart of what they are trying to do in this part of the Bill.

Thirdly, I have a problem with the approach whereby the Government intend to deal with the matter in regulations. There is a real issue about the House's control. Someone came into my constituency surgery in Woodbridge recently complaining about a particular part of a Bill. She asked how any sane collection of people could pass that clause. I looked it up and I know why. We never discussed that clause, as we did not discuss almost two thirds of that Bill, because the Government made sure that we could not do so. We had to make a choice between proper discussion of part of it and no discussion of the rest, or improper discussion—if that is the word—of the whole Bill.

The emasculation of Parliament by procedure has been the mark of the Government. The same is true of the over-use of regulations. Of course it is true that in many cases regulations have to be made beyond the Bill, because of their detailed nature, but we do not have a satisfactory mechanism in the House for dealing with regulations. Many regulations are therefore not properly produced, and they affect the rights of the citizen. The Government should have given a much clearer indication of the nature of the regulations that they propose under this part.

The fourth reason why I hope the Government will think again is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold made about the complexity of this part of the Bill. The Minister goes round the country talking as though this part were as simple as the amendment that has been proposed by my hon. Friend. When the Minister talks about it, he does not explain how many documents, papers and so on must all come together. He has a simplistic and rather attractive way of presenting it. Those things should be in the Bill, and not merely be his explanation of what is in the Bill. The public would never understand it if he presented what is written in the Bill. They would be caught up in terminology such as "hereinafter" and "before him", and would begin to wonder whether they were supposed to have access to the system at all.

The Minister does not try to explain that. He explains, more or less, what my hon. Friend has proposed in his new clause. I hope the Minister will think again about his excellent speeches—not the ones that he makes in the House, but the ones that he makes in public, when he explains to ordinary people what he is trying to do—and ask himself whether he can put that into the Bill so that people will understand what it is about.

Fifthly, I hope the Minister will take notice of the timetable issue. When I was Secretary of State, one of our difficulties was that we did not have enough powers to insist that local authorities completed their plans. Some of them, of all political parties, were unbelievably long-winded about trying to do it, not because they were so busy consulting and listening to the public, but because they were so incompetent that they never got to the point at which they could do that. It needed the use of the law to get them to do it. For that reason, I commend to the Minister the concept of timetabling. We may have got it slightly wrong—perhaps we should have given an extension in some cases and shown more flexibility in others—but does he accept that if we do not have something more akin to a timetable, he will find it difficult to get out of some local authorities the work that he needs?