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Mr. Pound: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Building Research Establishment is working on precisely such objective criteria--whether out of prescience or anticipation of his making these remarks, I do not know--in order to address that issue? Would not that go some way towards satisfying his tortured, anarchic soul?
Mr. Forth: It may or may not. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to buy a pig in a poke, and I am not inclined to do so. Moreover, I will suspend my judgment on whether so-called experts at some institute or other--no matter how eminent--will be able to produce objective criteria to deal with matters such as privacy and amenity, to say nothing of light. The hon. Gentleman is obviously a more trusting soul than I am. We shall beat that out of him if he spends considerably more time in the House, as I hope he will. I simply flag up the point to show that the matter will not be as simple as hon. Members suggest.
Mr. Forth: Yes, and that is what I am afraid of. The hon. Lady says that such matters are already dealt with by planning officers so that is okay. I do not know how many constituency cases involving how planning officers handle such issues she deals with, but I deal with a lot. Although I always have a struggle with my conscience as to whether I should deal with them at all, I usually give in and try to help my constituents. To my mind, saying, "Don't worry folks, it will all be dealt with by these expert planning officers" is not a convincing argument.
Perhaps the planning officers in the hon. Lady's constituency or in her local authority area are so expert that they are proof against complaint and dissatisfaction. Perhaps her postbag is devoid of letters about local planning matters. All I can say is that I suspect that in Solihull, Buckingham, Ashford and Bromley and Chislehurst, to say nothing of Bath, the odd letter about such matters pops up in the odd postbag.
Mr. Forth: In an ideal world, yes. I have in mind the image of an ideal world in which there are no planning officers, no local authorities, almost no government and a lot of responsible, happy, free citizens living together in responsible relationships, but we have not quite got there yet. My task is to judge whether I believe that the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull moves us in that direction. Indeed, we all have to make such a judgment.
I want briefly to refer to certain proceedings. I have said that I believe that the front end of the process is in no way as simple as hon. Members suggest. Variation or withdrawal of remedial notices would also be involved and any appeals against remedial notices would be very important. It has been pointed out that the Secretary of State would not personally be involved in appeals. I am rather grateful for that, given the current incumbent of the post, although my hon. Friend has told us that he believes that the Secretary of State would probably appoint experienced inspectors to undertake the appeals process on his behalf.
The suggestion is helpful because it would bridge that gap, which worries me, between the localised initial stage of the process, which would ultimately be the responsibility of the local authority and its elected members, and the Secretary of State, who would be too remote to provide a degree of reassurance that the appeals process could be properly conducted. I accept my hon. Friend's assurance that the mechanism that he suggests would almost certainly fit the requirement, but we get back into difficulty in clause 8, which states:
I pass over determination or withdrawal of appeals. The enforcement of remedial notices of course raises another series of issues such as fines. Let us not imagine that the process would be pain free. If such matters sadly and regrettably became a point of bitter dispute between neighbours--one or two letters that I have received suggest that they can do so--the initial complaint, the likely appeal, the need for remedial notices and perhaps a degree of obstinacy that might not otherwise have been expected may all render the process a lot more difficult than might be imagined. We are being way over-optimistic if we are simply saying, "It is okay folks, we will put a new Act on the statute book and this will all be resolved fairly easily." I fear that the Bill may not produce the anticipated results.
The hon. Member for Bath used a phrase that those of us who are in the Chamber every Friday have come to recognise. He said that the Bill has the support of a large number of Members of all parties and of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Although he did not say so, I should not be surprised if it is supported by Members of all genders as well. The problem is that every time this Session
I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the real test is the attendance of Members of Parliament at the House of Commons. They must hold themselves ready to support a Bill by voting in the Lobby. Frankly, I am not otherwise impressed. I am not remotely impressed when I am told that so many Members have signed an early-day motion. I am not even impressed if I am told that all sorts of people have pledged their support. The pledge of support that matters in the legislative process is a Member of Parliament walking through the Lobby--showing support in the only way that counts.
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend always and rightly poses an exacting test for his parliamentary colleagues. Does he agree, however, even if one were rather less rigorous in one's demands and expectations and did not insist or expect that a Member should attend the Chamber for a debate on a Bill before deciding whether to support it, that it would not be unreasonable to ask how many of those who supported a Bill on Second Reading had read it?
I want to make two final observations. First, the Bill might be in an interesting position regarding the passage of time and the possible calling of an election should it be given a Second Reading and be considered in Committee. Let us bear it in mind that this Parliament has another 14 months to run. The Leader of the House, no less, verified that for us yesterday at business questions; in fact, she boasted about it. So, should the Prime Minister cut and run, either because he is disappointed by the Chancellor's Budget or because he is in a panic about foot and mouth or any other matter, the premature calling of an election would bring the private Member's Bill procedure to an abrupt and unfortunate end, and we should all remember whose fault that would be.
Secondly, were the Bill to be given a Second Reading, it would require considerable scrutiny in Committee and on Report. I deliberately have not dwelled at any length on the detailed provisions. As you know, it is not my practice to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I have highlighted examples that might create difficulty and I have mentioned, just in passing, some issues that might require further attention. I go no further than that. Some Members have suggested that the Bill deals with a small, narrow matter, but I believe that it deals with an important one. I think that it has the potential to go much wider in its effects than focusing on a specific problem.
With those brief comments, I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull well. He has chosen an interesting subject, given that he came so high in the private Members' Bill ballot. He has made good and proper use of the time available to him, and has judged the Bill well and interestingly. He must some time give me a little tutorial on how to write explanatory notes.