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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The Leader of the House has just explained why the Modernisation Committee provided for greater scrutiny of a Bill, but can he assure us that, following the statement yesterday and the point made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said,
Dr. Reid: It is true that the Chancellor referred yesterday to planning and the simplification of the planning process, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the discussions and amendments to the Bill, which cover Crown immunity and various other aspects, and the decision to allow for greater scrutiny were not connected with the decisions announced yesterday by the Chancellor. The decisions were taken in order to allow for greater scrutiny and to incorporate further amendments, and because of the pressure of business in general. Notwithstanding the fact that the entire planning process was referred to yesterday, and is a material factor in diminishing some of the obstacles to our entry to the euro, that is not directly related to the reasons why I am moving the carry-over motion today.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley): It is clear from the Order Paper that if the motion is agreed the Bill will return to Standing Committee. The difficulty faced by the previous Committee was that as a result of the lack of time allowed by the guillotine only a fractionperhaps about 25 per cent.of the Bill was covered. In the light of the proposed changes, will the time allowed in Standing Committee be sufficient to allow proper consideration of the Bill?
Dr. Reid: I hope that it will give a greater opportunity for scrutiny. I do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there was no leeway for amendment or discussion. The information that I haveof course, I was not a member of the Standing Committeesuggests that some 500 amendments were tabled and 210 were taken in respect of a Bill of about 70 clauses. That does not suggest that there was a complete absence of scrutiny or discussion of the amendments. Nevertheless, I hope that the point that he makes is correct and that there will be greater leeway for scrutiny when the Bill goes back to the Standing Committee.
Dr. Reid: That is all the more reason for the hon. Gentleman and I to be united in welcoming the fact that there will now be some more time for greater scrutiny of the Bill if it returns to the Standing Committee. Indeed, I hope that the Government's willingness to allow more time for scrutiny will be welcomed not only by him, but in all parts of the House.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The Bill was 90 clauses and seven schedules long. Will the Leader of the House tell us how many clauses and schedules were debated in Committee? Can he assure the House that when the Bill is recommitted to a Standing Committee, the Committee will not be subject to a guillotine?
Dr. Reid: I have no doubt that it is important, and I try to assimilate whatever information I can about Bills with which I have not been personally acquainted, but I cannot provide a direct answer to that question. As I said, I understand from the background information that I read before this debate that about 500 amendments were tabled to a 90-clause Bill. More than 200 amendments were selected and discussed, often in groups.
Matthew Green (Ludlow): I might be able to elucidate the matter a little. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is sitting next to the Leader of the House, stated in a written answer:
Dr. Reid: In view of those circumstances, there is an even greater reason why there should be at least a degree of unity, and agreement that the scrutiny offered by the carry-overan addition to any that has occurred until this stageshould be welcomed by all of us. I find it extraordinary that an alleged lack of scrutiny in the past should become the basis of an objection to extra scrutiny in future. I do not follow the logic of that position.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Given that if the Bill is recommitted to Committee it will contain extra provisions, especially on getting rid of Crown immunity and promoting the Government's sustainable communities agenda, may we have an assurance that not only the new clauses but the 64 clauses in the present Bill that were not considered previouslynot through filibusteringwill be considered in Committee?
Dr. Reid: As the hon. Gentleman knows, as a matter of formality we are recommitting the whole Bill, not parts of it. If he has misgivings or desires about how we conduct the extra time that will be available, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be only too willing to discuss that allocation of scrutiny time with Members on both Opposition Front Benches. I see that the hon. Member for Cotswold is nodding. I do not concede that there was inadequate scrutiny in the past, but, if there was, surely we should all welcome the fact that there will be additional scrutiny in future. [Interruption.] Perhaps not those of a more churlish spirit.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Given that the previous guillotine enabled only less than a third of this highly technical Bill to be debated, and that we still do not know precisely what new items the Government are going to put into it, will the Leader of the House tell us what the new items will be so that we can judge whether the provisional eight sittings that the Under-Secretary has proposed to me will be enough? We will have only four sittings on the five major new items that Government are to add to the Bill and four sittings to revisit at least half a dozen issues
Andrew Bennett: I am not enthusiastic about guillotines, but the blame for the lack of debating time for the Bill should lie firmly with Opposition Members. They knew what was in the Bill, and if they had been succinct and to the point they would have been able to cover the issues. They should take an example from Members in the other place, who are dealing with legislation very quickly and efficiently.
Dr. Reid: I am sure that my hon. Friend's robust and forensic criticism of the attitude and practices of those on the Opposition Front Bench is accurate, but I am trying to be more emollient, as is my wont on such occasions, by trying, whatever differences we have had in the past, to direct us towards a position of potential agreement. It is good that we now have more time for scrutiny. If hon. Members are concerned about using that extra time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will explain in some detail the measures that will to be added to the Bill, and he is willing to discuss with Members on both Front Benches how the time is allocated. We shall attempt to make up for whatever deficiencies there have been in the past, irrespective of which side of the House they arose from.
I had hopedadmittedly, it has proved to be a forlorn hope for the time beingthat the Government's willingness to allow a longer time for scrutiny of the Bill would be welcomed on both sides of the House. I hope that later the House will agree to recommit the Bill to Standing Committee, but it will be possible to give it more time in Committee only if hon. Members agree to our proposal to carry it over to the next Session.
There are various reasons for that proposal; I have not pretended that it is all to do with allocating extra time for scrutiny, although that is part of it. I have been open with the House, in the past, as well as today, about the pressures that we are under this Session, not least in view of the fact that we have made availablequite rightly; I make no complaint about ita significant amount of time to consider the situation, then the conflict, in Iraq. Although we have enough time to complete the passage of the Bill this Session, we believe that it would be beneficial to delay its departure to the other place. That will give us the opportunity to introduce to the House, rather than in the Lords, new provisions to end the Crown's immunity from planning control, subject to certain safeguards, thus implementing a long-standing cross-party commitment. I hope that the House will welcome that and accept that the motion is made in good faith.