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I remind the Committee that a money resolution is connected to the Bill, and copies of it are available in the Room. Adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that we reach during an afternoon sitting. I ask hon. Members to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off. Hon. Members who find the heat excruciating may remove their jackets.
I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 30th January) meet—
(a) at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 30th January, and
(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 1st February;
(2) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 1st February.
I welcome you the Chair, Mr. Hood. I look forward to serving under your chairmanship for the first time on a Public Bill Committee. You have an established interest in housing, so perhaps you will keep a close eye on policy, as well as keeping a Chairman’s eye on proceedings. I welcome all other members of the Committee, particularly those who have already taken an interest in the subject, whether by speaking on Second Reading, tabling parliamentary questions or serving with distinction on the inquiry into the planning gain supplement undertaken by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government.
This brief paving Bill will ensure the regularity and propriety of Government expenditure, in line with parliamentary and Government accounting rules. It does not deal with the policy, nature or operation of the planning gain supplement; it is a merely functional Bill to authorise appropriate preparatory expenditure. As I explained on Second Reading, if the Government were to decide to introduce a supplement, we would announce it and legislate for it in the normal way, so there would be a substantial opportunity to debate and scrutinise such proposals.
Our debate ranged widely on Second Reading, as the hon. Member for Rayleigh recognised. Members of the Committee will notice that we do not propose a long Committee stage for this three-clause Bill. The general view of the Programming Sub-Committee was that the time allocated was more than sufficient.
I, too, welcome you, Mr. Hood, and other members of the Committee to our deliberations. I look forward to my debut serving under your chairmanship, as we examine this brief but nevertheless important paving Bill.
The programme motion has been discussed through the usual channels and in the Programming Sub-Committee, and it appears to allow sufficient time to debate a three-clause Bill. I should like to raise a procedural point, however, with regard to the status of Public Bill Committees, of which this is one of the first. I understand that the programme motion deals with the related issues, but I should like to make a point about the change from the Standing Committee procedure for examining Bills to Public Bill Committee procedure, which is now coming into operation.
The Chairman of Ways and Means recently wrote to all members of the Committee—including, I trust, yourself, Mr. Hood—to outline how the procedure is intended to operate henceforth. The main difference between an old Standing Committee and a Public Bill Committee is that the latter has additional powers to take evidence, which includes examining witnesses, before undertaking detailed scrutiny of the legislation and the explanatory memorandum.
A large number of organisations have expressed reservations about the planning gains supplement, which the Bill will facilitate, and the Minister will hear a few of those representations during our deliberations. The recent guidance from the Chairman of Ways and Means, which was forwarded to the Committee via the Committee Office scrutiny unit on 25 January, indicates that the new procedure for calling witnesses should apply to legislation that was introduced after Christmas 2006. I see several hon. Labour Members indicating assent; clearly, they too have read the guidelines.
The Bill was read the First time on 12 December, so it appears that we have missed the boat for calling witnesses in person. I appreciate that we are talking about a brand-new procedure that is bedding in. I welcome it in principle and have no complaint about our inability to call witnesses in respect of the Bill. The new procedure should produce better law by giving Members of Parliament a chance to hear from experts before debating changes to the legislation. In that sense, it is a good thing.
May I, through you, Mr. Hood, ask the Chairmen’s Panel to consider the suggestion that more should be done to promulgate the new procedure to the public? I suspect that many interested parties do not know that it has been introduced. It would be valuable for the Public Bill Committees that follow ours if more members of the public and interest groups knew that the procedure had been changed, so that people dealing with subsequent legislation have the chance to call witnesses—something that we, unfortunately, have not been able to do.
May I add my welcome to you, Mr. Hood? I do not think that I have served under your chairmanship before. As we discovered on Second Reading, the arguments on the Bill are primarily about big issues of principle, rather than on the detail of what is an extremely small Bill. However, I welcome the opportunity to discuss one or two points and to tease out in detail issues that we were unable to pursue on the Floor of the House.
I, too, welcome your chairmanship of the Committee on this important paving Bill, Mr. Hood. I do not want to delay proceedings, but it seems pertinent to take my mind back to the first Committee on which I sat as a newly elected Member of Parliament, just under 20 years ago, when we discussed the water privatisation paving Bill. That was before the time of programme motions, and we spent countless weeks discussing a paving measure. The important point is that we now have a new procedure; the hon. Member for Rayleigh spoke about the arrangements that relate to it.
Whether or not the Committee qualifies for the benefit of calling witnesses, while taking feedback to the relevant authorities, Mr. Hood, could you ask how the use of witnesses in Public Bill Committees will sit alongside the work of Select Committees? Select Committees, including the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, look in great detail at particular issues, including planning gain supplements. Can the recommendations of Select Committees and the Government’s responses to their reports be incorporated in some way into the new procedures for Public Bill Committees?
The hon. Lady will recall that I, too, served on the Environmental Audit Committee in the previous Parliament. In fact, we shared a number of inquiries. If it will assist her, as I understand the procedure, a Public Bill Committee can call witnesses as it sees fit, including the Chairman of a Select Committee that has produced a report that pertains to the Bill. For example, the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government and, before it, the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have produced reports that pertain to today’s proceedings. Does the hon. Lady agree that calling such witnesses could be valuable for a Public Bill Committee?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; it throws into focus the issues that the new Public Bill Committees will have to grapple with in the pursuit of evidence if they are to ensure that the House is producing new Acts of Parliament that are fit for purpose. We are at the start of a new way of looking at things. Although they might not be relevant to the Bill, such issues will be of interest to those who consider any subsequent Bill that is presented by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary.
Having served under your chairmanship on the European Scrutiny Committee for the past eight years, Mr. Hood, I continue to have the pleasure of doing so on this Committee. My point is to try to focus on the Bill, rather than on the wider issue of evidence taking. I brought a delegation down to meet the Minister when this concept was first discussed, so he knows that there is a great interest in the forthcoming Bill, and there is no doubt that local authorities in my area will want to put in written submissions and be heard if evidence is taken.
My understanding is that, if people want to write in evidence, they should focus on this Bill. I notice the Minister has tabled a motion saying that
“written evidence received shall be reported to the House for publication.”
Could the Minister clarify exactly the relevance of any evidence that might be given now and say what it would focus on? People might want to give evidence on the principle and the impact of the planning gain supplement process, which will be introduced in a second Bill.
I should also like clarification of whether the rules for this Bill—that written evidence can be submitted and will be tabled—are the same as those that will apply to the next Bill, which will be separate legislation to introduce the planning gain supplement, when people can make both written submissions and ask to be heard in oral evidence.
It has been a useful preliminary discussion. As the hon. Member for Twickenham quite rightly observes, the big arguments are about the principle of the planning gain supplement, rather than on the Bill, which is he rightly described as extremely narrow.
I did indeed meet my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, together with a delegation that was led very ably by Willie Dunn, West Lothian Council’s lead cabinet member on economic development. They clearly have interests in the wider design and principle of the planning gain supplement, rather than in the provisions of this narrow paving Bill. I can assure my hon. Friend that, if the Government decide to go ahead with a planning gain supplement, we will announce that decision and then move towards legislating for it, and there will be ample opportunity, as there has been to date, for all those interested in and concerned about its precise provisions to have their say, to consult and influence the final decisions that we take.
I hope that we will not repeat the experience of interminable discussions that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North had 20 years ago on the paving Bill for water privatisation. She makes an important point about Select Committee recommendations that are relevant to the concerns of a Public Bill Committee. I have not served with her on the Environmental Audit Committee, but I feel that I am familiar with its work and expertise, having appeared before it many times, and I look forward to doing so again tomorrow. The important point that she makes is one for the House to consider, as we move towards bedding down the new Public Bill process.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh and all the other members of the Committee should understand that the interest in a planning gain supplement is precisely as the hon. Member for Twickenham asserted: much less in the provisions of this paving Bill and much more in the feasibility, workability and desirability of a planning gain supplement.
Since Kate Barker first recommended that the Government look at a planning gain supplement in her report in March 2004, we have issued four consultation papers, published a summary of the responses to the main consultation, placed more than 700 responses to that consultation in the Library for public record. I have given evidence, together with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, to the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, and the Government have responded to the Select Committee’s very important and incisive inquiry into the planning gain supplement.
I think that hon. Members and others are much more interested in the substance of the proposal for a planning gain supplement than in this paving Bill. I hope that, as a Committee, we will be able to make that clear distinction in our deliberations and scrutiny of this one-page, three-clause Bill.
I think that it would be appropriate for me to respond to some of the comments made by hon. Members, because we are at the beginning of a new process. The Chairmen’s Panel will discuss the practical administration of that process; if it has to be tweaked and improved, I am sure that will happen.