Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Order of 2nd June 2008 (Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2)) be varied as follows—
1. In the Table in paragraph 4 of the Order, for the entry relating to the second day of the proceedings on consideration there shall be substituted—
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
|New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to functions of the Infrastructure Planning Commission or the Secretary of State in relation to applications for orders granting development consent.||5.00 p.m.|
|New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Chapter 2 of Part 9, New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 11, and remaining proceedings on consideration.||7.00 p.m.|
2. In paragraph 5 of the Order, for 'the moment of interruption' substitute '8.00 p.m.'. —[Mr. Michael Foster.]
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I congratulate the whole team from the Department for Communities and Local Government on being in the Chamber, which shows how important the programme motion is. What they have done to those of us who wish to discuss in detail the Bill and its many important amendments is a scandal and abuse of process.
My hon. Friends will remember that we were against the previous programme motion, but I was not going to object when a simple timing change was proposed to reflect the movement of our second day on Report to a Wednesday. However, at 9 o'clock this morning—perhaps it was entirely my fault that I did not pick this up late last night—I received an indication that there was to be a change to both the timings and, more important, the order of discussion.
I was tempted to argue a couple of weeks ago that there was little common sense in the order of consideration originally proposed by Ministers because the Bill starts by dealing with the infrastructure planning commission. I welcome the fact that we are starting today by dealing with the commission. When I noticed that we were theoretically to have from 12.40 pm to 5 pm to discuss that controversial matter, I was delighted. Then, however, we discovered that there would be two statements today. Although those affected last year by the summer flooding and the loss of child benefit records have my full and total sympathy, I cannot believe that both statements needed to be made on a day when we are discussing one of the most undemocratic Bills to come before the House of Commons. Bringing forward statements when a Government are under pressure is a well-known technique for burying bad news. Some of that pressure might have reduced, but I am glad that there are still some Members of great principle. We hope that that principle will be debated fully in the short time left to us.
To give time to our discussion of the IPC, all other issues have been squashed into less than two hours. During that time, we will debate the community infrastructure levy, which dramatically changes the way in which developments are funded and conducted; the transfer from the semi-democratic regional assemblies to the totally undemocratic regional development agencies; and local member review bodies. We will consider issues affecting Wales and Scotland. We will also be debating the wide variety of issues raised by other hon. Members in Committee, and I am sure that they will also wish to express their outrage at this change in the programme motion. Obviously, I do not wish to take up too much time.
May I add my concerns to those of my hon. Friend? As I said on Second Reading, this is a skeletal Bill, and one with osteoporosis. There are so many questions, yet so few answers. I have tried to find the answers throughout the Committee stage, but without success.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are questions that we have been trying to pursue in Committee and on the first day of Report. We hoped that we would at least have a reasonable amount of time today to skim over some of the issues that remain unresolved. It is a sad reflection that the Government have to rely on the House of Lords to do the job that the Commons should be doing. Perhaps this is one last mew of protest about the abuse of the timetabling system, which calls into question whether the programming of Bills is the most effective way for the House of Commons to carry out the job of scrutiny that we are sent here to do by our electors. The programme motion has changed fundamentally, and the process has now been abused by time being taken up by two statements that could have been made on any other day. Serious issues will therefore have to be crammed into a very short space of time.
Does my hon. Friend not think that this timetable amounts almost to an abuse of the House's time? When it suits the Government to do so, they can produce a timetable that is protected against Government statements, over which the House has no control. This timetable does not protect the House in any way against Government statements, which can take up an inordinate amount of time and leave very little time for debate.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He has most eloquently made the point that I am hoping to convey. Having brought in this form of timetabling, the Government are now abusing it and cannot control it. It is an indication of how they have lost control of the business programme that the next Queen's Speech will be a month later than usual. This Bill is just one indication of why they cannot get their business through the House. It is an appalling, undemocratic Bill and, to get it through, they are abusing the processes of the House.
I do not want another interruption to my peroration—the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I was coming to an end. I will invite my hon. Friends to vote against the programme motion.
Mrs. Lait and I disagreed on some aspects of the Bill in Committee and on Report, but I agree with her that, having already discussed the problems relating to the programming of the Bill, we now find ourselves in the unusual position of having the timetable messed around with again. The maximum opportunity seems to have been taken to wrong-foot hon. Members who have been following the Bill closely and who might wish to know at what point today the various issues will be dealt with.
Time has been set aside to discuss important, controversial issues relating to the first group of amendments and the infrastructure planning commission, and I echo what the hon. Lady has said about the importance of having enough time for hon. Members on both sides of the House fully to air those issues. I suspect that, as in our previous discussions, there will not be unanimity on either side of the House. It is ridiculous that we will then have just a couple of hours in which to debate five further groups of amendments. That does not do justice to the range of topics that we are being asked to consider, particularly those that appear under the heading of "Existing planning regimes". A diverse set of issues has been raised, and I know that hon. Members—particularly Back-Bench Members—want to raise some very valuable points. However, it will be difficult for the House to give those issues the time that they clearly deserve. I therefore share the hon. Lady's concerns about how the programme motion has been pushed forward today.
I am a relatively new Member of the House, but I understand from older hands that things were not always done in this way, and that there used to be a great deal more time in which to consider matters such as these. I am used to the concept of programme motions, but, even in the three years that I have been here, I do not think that I have seen an example such as this, in which two quite restricting stabs have been made at ensuring that we do not have enough time to consider all the issues at hand. I very much regret the fact that this programme motion has been put before us today.
Having spent several days discussing these important issues in Committee, I am also disappointed that we have come to this point. I say that more in sorrow than in anger. I do not normally take part in debates about programming, because they can sometimes end up producing a load of synthetic anger. I remember the 1992 Parliament, when Labour Members were on this side of the House. Some of them were close to tears whenever anything was timetabled, on the rare occasions when that happened. I heard many impassioned, emotional speeches about the abuse of Parliament at that time. However, it is now routine for Parliament to be abused in that way, and that calls into question the way in which we make laws.
I was encouraged to hear Ministers saying, "We will take this away for consideration", because I thought that it might indicate some movement on important matters. But no, it was to buy off some rebels, as the Government saw them. Whatever the amendments are, we will not have time to go through them in detail today, but let us hope that we can at least touch on them. I have no doubt that they are fundamentally important.
This is one of the most important Bills in this Session. Planning impinges on all of us. Everyone gets exercised about planning in their locality, but the Bill will apparently take the local voice out of the system and ensure that an unelected, unaccountable quango will make the decisions instead—albeit, following the latest review, with a Minister riding alongside on his horse.
I am desperately unhappy about the Bill. Some of us who have been here for a while have seen changes to planning law, and I accept that changes are necessary because planning law evolves. If it did not evolve, we would be failing the people out there. However, to impose this kind of regime after such a truncated debate, and to expect us to sit by and allow the law to go through with such scant scrutiny, is an absolute disgrace. I shall certainly join the official Opposition and others in opposing the programme motion.
I am pleased to be able to follow someone whom I would like to call my hon. Friend Mr. Llwyd. He and I have served on many Committees over many years, and his words are always wise and should be respected. I hope that the Government will have listened carefully to what he has said, because he spent many hours serving loyally on the Bill's Committee, as did my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. However, the Bill that they were discussing in Committee is not the Bill that we are discussing today. It is a completely new Bill. I have no quarrel with the democratic process; if enough people in the House are against a particular proposal, the Government should table amendments. However, if the Opposition had come forward with the amendments that the Government have tabled today, they would have been accused of tabling wrecking amendments, so much would they have amended the Bill's original structure.
We have only two and three quarter hours in which to discuss more than 110 amendments to the first part of the Bill, which will result in the complete alteration of the functions and structure of the infrastructure planning commission. That is a major part of the Bill. The whole principle behind the Bill revolves around how the new commission will operate. The Committee had many sittings in which to discuss this subject, and to give us only two and three quarter hours seems to me to be an abuse of the House's time.
We shall then come to the rest of the Bill, which is huge, and has many important implications. Not many people have commented on that. The local review boards will be covered, as will the way in which appeals on minor planning applications will be treated. There will be no external appeal in future; the process will be covered by the local review boards. At the very least, we need time to discuss that matter. However, there are 104 amendments relating to the second part of our discussions today, and they will be discussed in less than two hours by the time that the preceding vote has taken place, which is a real abuse of the House's time.
When it suits the Government, they produce a timetable that protects the time from Government statements, but they have not done that today. They did it for the 42-day detention debate, and this is just as important a matter taken in the round, but they have not protected the time. If they were really generous, they would protect the time for this debate, but they have not done that, which will restrict the time we have available.
The Government are treating the House in a cavalier manner. If they were to allow the House proper time for discussion, they might end up with better legislation on the statute book. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy has said—I should call him my hon. Friend—it is wrong to leave the detailed scrutiny of a complicated Bill such as this solely to the other place. No doubt when amendments come back from the other place, we will have even less time to consider them.
I hope that the Government will think carefully about this matter, which smacks of their not knowing what they are doing. They are rushing around talking to all sorts of people, but they have no central idea on how to amend the planning system. Nobody argues that the planning system does not need amending—of course it does. Taking seven years to get the planning application for terminal 5 through was too long, and that situation hampers the economic development of this country, but I say in all sincerity to the Government that this is not the way to do it.
I rise with the aim of puncturing the cant that we have been listening to since the start of the debate. I admit that I was never reduced to tears on the Opposition Benches because of timetabling. I longed for timetabling in those miserable years when we found it so difficult to win elections.
I want to make two points. First, the official Opposition want to have it both ways. We have been told that the Bill is being railroaded through the House of Commons, yet at the same time the official Opposition maintain that the Government have lost their legislative programme. It may be possible to make one of those points, but it is rather difficult to make both of them.
Secondly, I reject the old-fashioned, mid-19th-century view of how the House of Commons should behave. I was pleased to hear that one of the charges against the Government is that they have been busy buying off opposition on the Government Benches. I suggest that that is the House of Commons working effectively, and the more effective we make the House of Commons, the better.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Field. I disagree with his first point but agree with his second. It is good to see the House of Commons working democratically when a Bill is delayed and revisions are made; it is bad when time is restricted for debate—in my view, it is because the Whips are concerned and want the least amount of time to show divisions in the governing party.
My hon. Friend is exaggerating to make his point. Fifty hours of debate would, of course, be ridiculous, but if we merely had the time taken by the two statements this afternoon, it would make a huge difference.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I was about to make that point. Why do the Government not have protected time for controversial issues and debates? Hon. Members have mentioned the limited time for discussion, but this situation also puts pressure on statements. When people want to get on to the next business, it is difficult to get every hon. Member in on an important statement. The more the Government timetable and reduce the amount of debate, the lower the Labour party goes in the polls.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Bone. I oppose the programme motion for one simple reason—this evening, incredibly important issues will either not be debated or be debated very briefly because of insufficient time, which was caused by the two statements this afternoon.
I want to raise some important issues in the discussion on the group of amendments relating to the community infrastructure levy. For example, Thames Valley police authority has approached me to press the Government on how the community infrastructure levy will increase police funding in the Thames valley area. At the moment, the Bill does not tell us how the police and emergency services will be funded in the future, when there will be great pressure on budgets due to growth in Reading and the Thames valley. The programme motion appears to have been designed to restrict or even stop debate on crucial local issues.
Mrs. Lait made many of the same points this afternoon that she made three weeks ago, when we debated the programme motion for the first day on Report, as did the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). They complained about the time for debate, but their complaints have eaten into the time available for that debate.
Those hon. Members also complained about the delay on Report, but at the same time they want Ministers to deal with hon. Members' concerns. From the outset—the White Paper onwards—we have done just that. We have listened hard at every stage to the case made by hon. Members from all parties on the Bill. We have also discussed in detail concerns expressed by local government, industry and environmental lobby groups. Where there is a strong case for change, we have been prepared to strengthen the Bill accordingly, which is what we are doing again today.
We scheduled the second day on Report for today rather than for two weeks ago because I wanted the important issues that we are debating this afternoon to be dealt with in this House, not in the other place, and to be decided by MPs, not peers. My reasons for framing and moving the programme motion are straightforward. I want to make sure that the House has the most time on the matters that concern hon. Members most, which is why the time available for the important first group of amendments runs until 5 o'clock, which has become even more important given the two important statements this afternoon.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at the programme motion. We have moved back the end of tonight's proceedings by a full hour to take account of the fact that we had two statements this afternoon. That is an unusual step for the Government to take, but we took it because the time available for debate in this House this afternoon is important.
A number of amendments have been tabled for this afternoon's debate, but as I told the House when we debated the programme motion on the first day on Report, we are dealing with complex legislation that has been closely scrutinised at every stage—there were four evidence sittings and 14 scrutiny sittings in Public Bill Committee. As I told the House on
I compliment the Minister on how the Public Bill Committee was conducted; he genuinely engaged in discussion. However, given the time constraints today, I bet that the Government could not possibly explain their own amendments—let alone anything else.
We have had these arguments about time constraints at each stage of the Bill. Sad to say, it is what we always hear from the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman was on the Committee, and he will remember that the Committee sittings finished early. He was here on the first day of Report, and he will remember that those proceedings also finished early. At each stage we have given not only thorough scrutiny to the provisions of this important Bill, but enough time for that to be done.
No, I will finish on this point. If we get on with debating the content of the Bill rather than the procedures for doing so, we will be able this afternoon to give the proper scrutiny that the House needs to give to these important provisions. That is what my motion is designed to do, and I commend it to the House.