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Planning (Provision of Affordable Housing)

Mr. Simon Hughes accordingly presented a Bill to permit local authorities to increase to 50 per cent. the proportion of housing in any development which is affordable to people in low paid employment or with equivalent incomes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 July, and to be printed [Bill 150].

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Orders of the Day

Local Government Bill [Lords] (Programme)

5.5 pm

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): I beg to move,

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The Bill was in Committee in the House of Commons for more than 40 hours and 16 sittings, following consideration in the other place involving four days for the Committee stage, two for Report and one for Third Reading.

Debate in Committee was conducted in good spirit. It was extremely constructive, and there was a general intention of improving the Bill, which I think was achieved. An informal timetable was agreed, and was used effectively, with no curtailment of debate on any point raised by the Opposition parties. There was no complaint from either side about insufficient time being allocated for debate. Indeed, we had the opportunity to sit more frequently if we needed to.

The time allocated for Report has been discussed through the usual channels. We tabled this motion with a view to ensuring that there was sufficient opportunity, within the overall time provided, to discuss all aspects of the Bill, to which amendments have been tabled by both sides. That approach has also been discussed through the usual channels. I therefore do not intend to take up any more of the time available in discussing how we should organise the business of considering the Bill, and propose that we proceed to do so as soon as possible.

I look forward to another constructive debate today.

5.6 pm

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I shall speak briefly.

It is true that the motion has been agreed by all the major parties, but I do not want the Minister to run away with the notion that we accept for a moment that six hours

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and 45 minutes is enough for us to discuss every clause in this not exactly short Bill--with the exception of that dealing with the section 28 issue, which will be dealt with tomorrow. It was in the spirit of trying to be helpful to the House, as always, that we agreed the motion.

As the Minister was good enough to concede, the Committee stage was conducted in good spirit. There were a few good jokes here and there, at least from our side. The Government, of course, lost almost every argument in Committee, but, sadly, none of the votes. The Minister was also good enough to confirm that we took a wholly constructive attitude. We supported the good things in the Bill and tried to make them better, and we opposed the bad. Above all, we tried to improve the Bill as a whole.

The Minister mentioned amendments, which, from her point of view, was bad salesmanship. A total of 438 Government-inspired amendments were tabled in the Lords, and, subsequently, nearly 400 more were tabled in the Commons Committee. At this late stage, the Government have tabled well over 100 new amendments--115, according to my arithmetic--again, to their own Bill. No wonder the Minister said on Second Reading that the Bill was not yet finished.

Things are going from bad to worse, as we shall see as the debates develop. Labour Back Benchers are queueing up to rubbish the Bill. The Government have been universally criticised over Cabinet secrecy. They face renewed defeats in the Lords on council structures and on section 28. Frankly, the Bill has turned into an embarrassing shambles. It is hardly surprising that the Minister was slow handclapped at the Local Government Association conference last week.

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