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Mr. Forth: Huh!

Dr. Reid: The right hon. Gentleman contributes what I presume to be an Anglo-Saxon, rather than a Latinate, "Huh!" to demonstrate his scepticism about my remarks. I know, however, that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is always eager to try to reach a consensus on such matters, and I hope that the Opposition will engage constructively in the process of how we allocate the extra time.

We do not anticipate that the Bill will have completed its passage through the other House by 4 December, a year after its first introduction in the House. We have therefore also tabled an extension motion today to allow proceedings on the Bill to continue for up to a further six months.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Bill left Committee and was reported to the House on 28 January this year. What has happened to it in the intervening period? Surely it could have almost been on the statute book by now.

Dr. Reid: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the period since the end of January has been rather busy in the House.

Mr. Forth: No, it has not.

Dr. Reid: Well, it has included a war, among other things. It has been a busy time. I understand that the hon. Member for Cotswold may have found it inconvenient to wait for this important Bill—so have we. However, we are now in a position not only to make cross-party amendments but to give additional time to scrutinise it. I hope that that is some consolation. In practice, we hope that the Bill may achieve Royal Assent by the end of March.

In short, I ask the House to agree to the carry-over of the Bill and hope that it will accede to that request.

12.57 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on this important and unprecedented motion.

Today, we are witnessing the Government performing a sheepish and embarrassed U-turn over one of their flagship Bills of this parliamentary Session. It comes as no surprise that they hope to smother under the guise of complex parliamentary procedure the admission that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill was, from the start, a deeply flawed and poorly drafted measure. It strikes me as remarkable that for the past few months the Under-Secretary has been walking around with his fingers crossed, hoping that nobody notices that the Bill has been out of Committee since 28 January this year. For no fewer than 133 days, the Bill seemed to be reported missing somewhere in Whitehall. Rather as in the case of Lord Lucan, reports occasionally crept out of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister about its possible whereabouts, but there were

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no definitive sightings. We all asked ourselves whether the Government were so embarrassed about the Bill and the reaction to it from all manner of specialist and professional bodies that they planned quietly to shelve it, or whether it would be whipped through Parliament before the summer recess despite the fact that it was deeply flawed.

As long ago as December 2001, the Government produced three huge tomes of consultation papers, to which they received no fewer than 16,230 replies. As a result, they decided to submit the Bill to the pre-legislative scrutiny procedure and referred it to the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), the Committee produced its report in July 2002. It shows how flawed the Bill was from the start. Paragraph 5 of its conclusions states that the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions provided the Committee with an analysis of the responses to the consultation on the Green Papers, to which I referred. It showed that 88 per cent. of the respondents did not support the replacement of local plans, unitary development plans or the local development framework, and that only 10 per cent. of the 16,000-odd respondents supported the abolition of county structure plans.

Many organisations that responded, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which supported reform in principle, opposed many of the practical grounds. The former was critical of proposals for business planning zones and the latter criticised the plan to introduce tariffs. Paragraph 6 of the Select Committee report stated that the proposals amounted to a fundamental and radical reform of the planning system, but that it had been argued that the Government's objectives could be better met by reforming the existing system. Conservative Members say amen to that. We argued all along that it would be far better to reform the existing system than to rip up four or five decades of case law and planning law and start again, thus creating a paradise for lawyers.

Andrew Bennett: Will the hon. Gentleman also take the trouble to make the point that the Government listened to the Select Committee and made many consequent changes? Much of the organic change for which we have argued has been going on during the consideration of the Bill. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman referred to the Select Committee report, but he should update his comments by saying that the Government listened.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Government may have taken note of a small amount of the Select Committee's report, but they produced a deeply flawed Bill. It was rushed through in 12 half-day Committee sittings, which ended on 28 January. The guillotine was far too strict and we voted against it. The specialist magazine, Planning Weekly, was moved to comment:

That railroading made proper parliamentary scrutiny almost impossible. We should bear that in mind when we consider the extent to which the Bill's scrutiny was unsatisfactorily stunted.

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Hon. Members have already pointed out that the measure has 90 clauses and six schedules. By the end of consideration in Committee, 63 clauses and four schedules had not been debated. What a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny. In the Committee's sixth sitting, clauses 18 to 36 could not be debated, which meant that contentious issues, such as the preparation of local development documents and the plan for joint committees of county councils and local planning authorities—two of the measure's central planks—went undebated.

On 21 January, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) tabled an amendment to correct two glaring spelling mistakes. The Bill mentioned "complusory" purchase and used the peculiar new word "satisified". It would have been reasonable of the Under-Secretary to accept the amendment without debate. However, he asked the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it. It was put to the vote on my insistence and defeated. The Minister's only excuse for refusing to accept elementary amendments on spelling mistakes was:

At that stage, the Government were so determined not to consider any amendments that we were asked to let the Bill be reported to the House with spelling mistakes. If that is allowed, how can we do our job properly?

On 6 December 2002, when the Bill was published, the Government stated that they intended to have a new planning system up and running by the next year. Only two months ago, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), the Leader of the House described the Bill as "important, indeed urgent". A month ago, the Under-Secretary affirmed his desire to get the Bill

What have the Government been doing since January?

According to the Standing Order, only one Bill can be committed under the unprecedented carry-over procedure. It is almost as if the Bill is a test case. What a measure to choose—it has had such a bad start and such long consideration. As the Leader of the House said, the procedure is not unprecedented in that the Greater London Authority Act 1999 began with 277 clauses and reached Royal Assent with 425 clauses. However, the Bill has been moved to a late stage in the Session, and we do not know what the Government will include in it now that they could not incorporate initially.

The Under-Secretary told me the other day that he intended to tackle five items. First, he would correct the spelling mistakes that he previously refused to correct. Secondly, he would include the measly concessions that he made in Committee. Thirdly, he would consider further some of the issues that we raised in Committee, such as the statement of development principles, planning permission, urban development corporations and local development orders. However, we are told that we are likely to get only four sittings in which to examine those matters.

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Fourthly, the Under-Secretary said that he would include a provision to take account of the Law Commission's recommendations on the mechanics of compulsory purchase. To my mind, that is the only excuse of the four for wanting to extend scrutiny of the Bill. Fifthly, he said that he would introduce a new concept of eliminating Crown immunity in relation to planning for Departments. That would have an enormous effect in terms of bureaucracy, delay and expense. In a letter dated 5 June 2003, he stated that he would include a sixth category to implement the sustainable communities agenda.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us what exactly he will include in the Bill. There is no chance of properly scrutinising the six categories, let alone revisiting some of the issues that were not debated in Committee, in the eight sittings that he proposes.

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