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Sir Paul Beresford: Does my hon. Friend agree that—perhaps this is even more important than the points he has just made—we now have an opportunity to simplify the Bill? We have an opportunity to deal with what was being imposed on this country compared with Wales, but it is being missed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend played a sterling part in Committee. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet contributed greatly, unlike some Labour colleagues, who never spoke. I shall revert to that point later. My hon. Friend has made a good point. The provisions for Wales are a great deal simpler than those for England. Although we debated the incorporation of the provisions for Wales into the English system at length, the Government steadfastly refused to consider that. I hope that my hon. Friend is right and that the extra time that the unwelcome and unprecedented motion grants will give us a chance to revisit the matter.

Matthew Green: The hon. Gentleman suggested that he was not happy with ending Crown immunity. How does he square that with his opposition in Committee to the many powers that the Bill awarded the Secretary of State? Why does he want the Secretary of State to retain powers on Crown immunity? I am confused by a position that appears inconsistent.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman adopts the sneaky technique of misrepresenting me. I did not say that we opposed the abolition of Crown immunity. I want to see the Government's proposals and I shall subsequently decide whether to recommend them to my colleagues. Until we read them, it is impossible to make a judgment. That is why we need adequate time in Committee to debate them. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the measure is a centralising Bill par excellence. It gives the Secretary of State and the regions enormous powers. Both matters were subject to many amendments in Committee to try to make a bad Bill better.

We are debating something that is unprecedented. It is covered by the new Standing Order introduced in the House on 29 October 2002, which makes provision for a Bill to be carried over. As the Leader of the House has said, the Modernisation Committee's idea, when proposing the new Standing Order, was to ensure that

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Bills had proper scrutiny. I hope that introducing this motion, which the Government will presumably whip through on their side, will enable the Bill to have such proper scrutiny, because otherwise, those bodies out there will be equally dissatisfied. We have had a lot of representations, and I shall give the House one or two quotes from them. Simon Ricketts, a partner at S.J. Berwin, says:

Karen Cooksley, a partner at Masons, states:

We would have found it infinitely preferable to modify the existing system, but the Government were not satisfied with that. They are determined to tear up the existing system, to create huge powers for the Secretary of State, who will be able to control virtually the entire planning system, and to dictate to the regions what they must put in their regional spatial strategy. The regions will, in turn, dictate to the local authorities what is to be in their plans.

I have one final question for the Minister. A number of councils are currently considering their local plans. They have been ordered to adopt the new system in 2004, whether the legislation is in place or not. Under this new procedure, we are getting a year's extra scrutiny from when the Bill was first committed to the House on 4 December. If the next motion—which you will not permit me to talk about now, Mr. Speaker—is passed, we shall have a year and a half. That will take us to June 2004, at the latest, to get the Bill on to the statute book—if, indeed, the Government do not have to use the Parliament Act to get it through their lordships' House. The House of Lords will now undoubtedly give it huge scrutiny. How are local planning authorities to approach this matter if they do not know precisely what form the Bill will take, but have been told that they must carry out the consultation and start preparing their local plans? The local authorities need an answer to that question from the planning Minister.

This motion is unwelcome. We wish that it had not been introduced, and we believe that the Government's discipline in getting their legislative programme through the House is a shambles. If the Bill is carried over, the parliamentary procedure in the next Session will undoubtedly be made even more difficult, because it will be cluttered up with Bills from this Session. We will oppose this motion; it is a bad motion from a Government who are incapable of getting their legislative procedure through. This is a bad Bill, to boot, and we hope that we shall now have an opportunity to improve it in some small measure.

1.12 pm

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I welcome the procedure that the Government are going to adopt for carrying over Bills; it seems very sensible. I should like to make two points. The first is about the nature of Bills in the House and the way in which the Leader of the House will deal with Bills in the next few months. The second is specifically about this Bill.

As I understand it, there has been a tendency for the Government to want to keep Bills short. It has even been said that if a Bill gets too long, the Legislative

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Programme Committee of the Cabinet will not allow it into the timetable at all. I hope that the Government will give some thought to that matter. When I used to teach—admittedly, it was some time ago—the Education Act 1944 was almost the teachers' bible. In that one piece of legislation, we could see most of the provisions that we needed for our work. The tendency of the Government in recent years, however, has been to have lots and lots of legislation, and I simply make a plea to the Leader of the House that it might be better to get on to the statute book a big, comprehensive Bill that would last, rather than giving Departments pint-sized pieces of legislation on a regular basis.

I make this plea bearing in mind the Housing Bill that the Select Committee is about to look at. The amazing thing is that we have received a huge amount of evidence for the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill—that is very helpful—but almost 50 per cent. of it complains about things that are not in the Bill. When we spoke to Lord Rooker about that, he made it quite clear that if the Bill were to expand, it could well lose its legislative slot in the Queen's Speech. I would therefore like to ask the Leader of the House whether he will consider letting Departments have full and comprehensive Bills when they need them, rather than doling out a little bit each year. That would be much better.

Sir Sydney Chapman: The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting and constructive point, but let us suppose that the Bill, in whatever form it takes, eventually gets on to the statute book. Would not that be a good time for the Government to introduce a consolidation Bill that brought together in one piece of legislation all the matters relating to town and country planning, including the principal Act?

Andrew Bennett: There might well be arguments for a consolidation Bill, but I do not think that the House deals with them particularly well. I would repeat my plea for having a full Bill to start with. When I come to discuss the Bill itself, I shall make the point that adding on the provisions relating to compulsory purchase orders and other matters is a sensible move by the Government.

I want to make the small point that, in my view, the Opposition are whingeing far too much. It seems a little odd that the most important thing that they wanted to consider in Committee was the spelling mistakes. I should have thought that there were more important principles in the Bill. Being a bit dyslexic myself, I do not think that we should get too hung up on the spelling, but I shall leave that point aside. The Opposition should also consider how Parliament has been modernised. If we are to have pre-legislative scrutiny, and if the Select Committee is to do much of that work, the Opposition will have to consider using their time in Committee rather more efficiently.

Mr. Forth: We always appreciate helpful advice from the hon. Gentleman, based on his vast experience, but if he is saying that the Opposition must fit in with the time arbitrarily set by the Government, I am not sure that I agree with that as a parliamentary principle. Is he aware that, certainly in another place, the recent experience has been that pre-legislative scrutiny increases interest in a Bill, and increases the available level of knowledge and

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expertise about a Bill? It does not, therefore, reduce the amount of time or the necessity for scrutiny; rather, it tends to increase it. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of that?

Andrew Bennett: I understand those arguments, but I still believe that, as a result of pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government have to concentrate their mind on the issues that people outside are pressing. It might well be that the Opposition need to do that as well.

I do not like the idea of knives coming down in Committee. It seems perfectly reasonable to say that a Bill has to come out of Committee at a certain time, and that is what the House has traditionally done. It is then up to the Opposition to allocate the time within those constraints. If the Opposition want a sitting to go late into the night—although I understand that Ministers are not very sympathetic to this—I have no difficulty with that, so long as they are prepared to meet the deadline at the end of the proceedings. It is important, however, that they adapt their tactics to current procedures.

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