Amendment made: 23, page 137, line 40, second column, at beginning insert-
|'Section 106(1)(b) and the preceding "or".'.|
-(Ms Rosie Winterton.)
Amendment made: 29, line 5, after 'authorities' insert
', their powers relating to insurance'.- (Ms Rosie Winterton.)
Queen's and Prince of Wales's consent signified .
Copy and paste this code on your website
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am aware that we do not have a great deal of time for Third Reading, but I would like to thank right hon. and hon. Members, especially those who participated in Committee, for their deep consideration of the clauses. The Bill has been carefully scrutinised in the House, in Committee and in the other place. I express my particular gratitude to the Minister for Housing, in whose capable hands the Bill started off before descending into mine. I also thank the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, who was briefly a member of our Public Bill Committee and who dealt admirably with the clauses on construction.
This is an important Bill with two key aims. It is about strengthening local democracy and giving people a stronger voice in their communities, and it empowers local authorities and partners to promote economic recovery and growth. In the difficult economic times that we have faced in recent months, the role of local authorities, playing an important economic part in their local economies, has come to the fore. I am sure that all hon. Members agree that in many instances local authorities can work with local partners to give support to individuals and local businesses. Local authorities have worked to get immediate help out there-I am thinking of the housing changes made by the Minister for Housing-and have helped in planning for the future by looking at skills provision and local economic needs. That is why I believe that the Bill is so important, particularly in respect of the role that local authorities can play in promoting local economic development. The Bill gives local authorities and regional development agencies powerful tools with which to promote economic recovery.
Other issues debated this evening stem from the review of sub-national economic development and regeneration, where the Minister for Housing again made such a vital contribution. Local authorities can work together to promote economic development in the regional context, which is incredibly important.
I repeat that Conservative Members want to dismantle many of the structures put in place to deliver real help during difficult economic times, which is the completely wrong approach. In my experience-not only as Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination, but as regional Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber-individuals and businesses appreciate the help given and want local authorities and regional development agencies, working with the new leaders board, to play a greater, not lesser, role.
I commend the Bill to the House. It has been well scrutinised and it makes some key changes, which we should all be pleased to welcome in respect of economic development and strengthening local democracy.
I want to record our thanks to all those who have devoted so many hours to debating the Bill, but it also falls to me to point out to the Secretary of State, who has kindly graced us with his presence for the final 10 minutes of the debate, that the Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination undoubtedly shouldered most of the load, and I commend her on that. However, although she announced to the House that she was thoroughly enjoying doing it-at length-I have to say that, at certain points, some of us found the experience less than enjoyable.
I particularly thank Lord Bates of Langbaurgh, who shouldered the load for us in another place, and my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) and for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), who led for us so admirably from the Front Bench on this lengthy Bill. I think it right also to record the contributions to the Committee stage of experienced former Ministers-my right hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry)-as well as the valuable role played by my hon. Friend Mr. Dunne.
It is disappointing that, as a result of lengthy discussions on earlier amendments, we failed to reach what is probably the most important clause in the Bill-the one that enables planning powers to reside in the hands of unelected and unaccountable officials in the regional development agencies. My strong objection to the Bill throughout has been that removing powers from the hands of democratically elected representatives and placing them in the hands of bureaucrats and quangos is fundamentally undemocratic and at odds with the very title of the Bill. If the Bill had any pretence of living up to its description as a local democracy Bill, it would scrap regional planning and return those powers to local government, where they truly belong.
However, it is not just the centralising nature of the Bill that is so at odds with public demand. The powers are being transferred to RDAs at a time when we are experiencing one of the worst recessions ever. We shall have to use every weapon in our arsenal in competing with other countries to pull ourselves out of recession. Is it not folly of the first order to divert RDAs from their original purpose of dealing with planning and house building at this time?
The Bill contains a rag-bag of measures. I think it right, in his absence, to record that it was Andrew Mackinlay who described it as nonsense. At least he put his money where his mouth was this evening by tabling an amendment that garnered considerable support. It might have brought a bit more sense to a Bill which is indeed, in large part, nonsense. So much of it is either duplication or plainly unnecessary. I must ask the Minister whether she understands that the things that she is pressing local authorities to do by means of statute are things that they have been doing for years as a matter of course. For example, the requirement to promote democracy is part of the essence of what a local authority does most of the time.
The Bill emerged to fill a vacuum in legislation after the "Communities in Control" Bill was quietly dropped by the Government. It bears all the hallmarks of legislation that has been scratched together in the absence of any real direction or leadership. It is a landmark in missed opportunities. People are crying out for their elected local representatives to have real power over decision making, but the Bill provides for the opposite. It is prescriptive where it should simply be permissive, and it codifies in tiny detail matters that are best left for councils to decide.
Where is the action to help people who are struggling to pay their council tax bills, and businesses that are struggling to stay afloat and facing an onslaught of tax increases? Where is the route map for getting more homes built? We want to stimulate house building, but nothing in the Bill will achieve that. In fact, the Bill does nothing to address any of the most pressing issues that people face. It shows more than ever the extent to which the Government have simply run out of road. When our country is crying out for bold and radical change, all Ministers offer is more of the same.
It is not the place of anyone in the House to predict the outcome of the next election. Nor should a new Government seek to scrap every piece of legislation put through the Commons by the previous one. None the less, we have made it crystal clear from the start that the Bill is fundamentally flawed. Therefore, today I am putting local authorities on notice that, if elected, we will take remedial action by scrapping large parts of the Bill and all the other bureaucratic burdens that write on to the statute book what local authorities already do in any event. We are also going to abolish the entire regional strategy chapter of the Bill. Whether we get that opportunity is a matter for the electorate and can never be taken for granted, but this Bill, almost more than any other, painfully demonstrates that the electorate need to be given the opportunity sooner rather than later.
I shall keep my remarks fairly brief. I have had the privilege, in the brief time that I have been in the House during this Parliament, to serve on a number of Public Bill Committees. On those occasions, I may not have agreed with what was happening when we reached Third Reading, but at least there was a feeling that something would change the world in some way.
We have reached Third Reading with this Bill. We have devoted a lot of time to debating it, and we have attempted to improve it and to give it some meaning. Even this evening, there have been a few last-ditch attempts to do that. What we have ended up with is nonsense, as Andrew Mackinlay has said. The Bill will not offer anything at all, when people need support. They need some of the control that central Government have put on local government-the previous Government as well as the current one-to be released to allow local authorities to come up with solutions that are appropriate to their areas.
The Bill does nothing appreciable to improve conditions so that local democracy can flourish. Many of those in the construction industry remain unhappy with the elements of the Bill on construction. The Bill's attempts to improve economic prosperity and its tinkering will not unlock the potential in the regions to develop an economy that will see us through into recovery. It is a huge missed opportunity.
I join in the Minister's tribute to all hon. Members, both in the House today and in Committee, for their contributions, but it is with a sense of genuine disappointment that I find us here on Third Reading discussing a Bill that offers nothing, for all the effort that has been put into dealing with it. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend Julia Goldsworthy has put into the Bill. I also thank Steve McAuley and Beth Warmington, who have put in a lot of work in doing research and conducting discussions.
A lot of people watching our debate will feel let down, particularly on the construction elements of the Bill. There was an opportunity to put the matter right, but that has not happened. With great sadness, I have to say that the Bill fails to achieve any of its objectives.
The Bill faces in absolutely the wrong direction. The core of the Bill is to give more powers to the regional development agencies, which are unaccountable bodies. It sets up leaders panels, heavily chaperoned by the Secretary of State, as was said in Committee, to manage the consultation process. The situation should be exactly the other way round-those powers should go to local government. Local government works well together. The multi-area agreements work and the leaders panels have something to be said for them, but they should be bidding for the powers that are presently vested in the regional bodies, along with private sector partners and the third sector, because they are ultimately accountable and those regional bodies are not.
If we take the combined effect of the Planning Act 2008, the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the powers given to the regional development agencies, there is a huge retreat from accountability with the Bill, which is very bad for democracy. The title of the Bill is a parody of what its impact will be in practice. Perhaps before the Government implement this, they should read Tristram Hunt's book "Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City" and contemplate how much they, and perhaps all of us, have at times contributed to its fall. It is about time that we engineered its rise again.