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Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is one of the most knowledgeable people in this House on planning and associated matters. He is not only a qualified architect, but a member of bodies such as the Royal Town Planning Institute. Does he agree with me that the Homes Bill, which ran out of time, constitutes a good precedent for what he has just said? It was not particularly good and contained controversial measures in respect of the seller's pack. The Government started
Sir Sydney Chapman: My hon. Friend has recorded the precept for what I believe should become a very good practice. There have been four months between consideration of the Bill in Committee and today's debate, with no consideration on Report. A lot has happened to me in that time. My hon. Friend kindly referred to my being a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute, but in fact I am now a retired fellow of that organisation. I ask the Government seriously to consider withdrawing the current Bill, even at this eleventh hour, and introducing a new one in the next Session.
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I wish to amplify the concern, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), about the uncertainty that carry-over of the Bill will give rise to among borough councils. In particular, I cite the example of my own Fareham borough council, whose existing local plan expires in 2006. In April, officials from the Government office for the south-east advised the council that it needed to use elements in the Bill before us to go through the process of drawing up what they said should be a local development framework, thereby mirroring the language in the Bill. They also highlighted the fact that various other elements of the Bill should be incorporated as part of the preparation of the LDF. They referred to the need for the regional spatial strategy, the potential of a sub-regional strategy for south Hampshire in informing LDF preparation, and the need for an accompanying statement of community involvement.
For some borough councils whose plans expire in 2006, the carry-over of this Bill raises the issue of what they should do next. Do they follow the guidance set out in previous planning legislation, or the guidance set out in the Bill? There is no guarantee that the Bill will be passed in its current form, or that these components will still be there when it becomes law. Councils throughout the country will be seeking an assurance from the Minister today on what action they should take. It is certainly the view of Fareham borough council that the Bill needs to be in force in March 2005the scheduled date for publication of the draft LDF for Fareham. Along with other borough councils, developers and residents, Fareham borough council is looking for certainty from this process. The carry-over of the Bill puts that certainty at risk, and the Government need to provide much greater explanation of their intentions for its future shape, particularly in the light of the Chancellor's comments during yesterday's statement on the euro.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): This debate justifies our very worst fears about the whole concept of carry-over, which, of course, was introduced under the ghastly rubric of modernisation. Some of us have come to despise that word, because it is reached for increasingly readily by those who want to diminish the effectiveness of this House of Commons with regard to the Government of the day.
In a peculiar way, this motion has managed to combine cock-up and conspiracy. We used to think that they were alternatives in the political lexicon, but this motion involves a combination of the two concepts. What started as a legislative cock-up has had to be translated by the Government into a conspiracy in order to try to persuade us that it is all supposed to be for the good, which it patently is not.
I want to refute in the clearest possible terms the reasons that the Leader of the House gave for this motion. He began by saying that there was enormous pressure of business; indeed, it was one of his main arguments. Any of us who spends time in this HouseI wish that all Members did so, but sadly they do not; these days only a proportion do sowill be all too well aware that the one thing that the Government have not experienced in the calendar year of 2003 is pressure of business.
Goodness knows, we seem to move effortlessly from one recess to another. Friday sittings, other than those for private Member's Bills, have been abolished. We now all rush to go home early every evening. So although the Government say that we have pressure of business and pressure of time, that is patently not the case. Even when we are here, we have an endless succession of undoubtedly importantand to many, undoubtedly welcomedebates on all sorts of subjects. Yes, there were debates on Iraq, as there should have been, and there were other debates as well. But pressure of business is the one thing that the Government do not have in this Parliament, particularly in this Session.
The Leader of the House then saidwith impertinence, if I may say sothat he wants to give greater opportunity for scrutiny. In an admirable opening speech for the official Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) pointed out that the very opposite is the case, and that generically and systematically, under the so-called modernisation process, the Government are determined arbitrarily and increasingly to restrict the amount of debate available to Members of ParliamentOpposition Members, and, indeed, Government Membersin properly scrutinising Bills.
That was added to by the impertinence of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), who said with complete insouciance and with an absolutely straight face that the Opposition's job is to fit their deliberations into the artificial straitjacket imposed by the Government. That may be welcome to modernisers, but it is certainly a new doctrine as far as I am concerned. Arising directly from this motion appears to be the idea that we should do things very differently from how we did them in the good old days, when the hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member of the then Opposition. The idea then was that the Opposition determined the timetable of legislation. Only when some 150 to 200 hours had been spent on major Billsthe hon. Gentleman will remember thisdid the Government reluctantly reach for the guillotine. Now we have the systematic use of the guillotine, viciously timetabling Bills from the outset.
Mr. Forth: I am assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold that there was such a request, and I would hope that he systematically asks for extra time in all Committees, in order to provide for more scrutiny. However, I am not going to get involved in a factual dispute; my hon. Friend will doubtless sort this out later with the Ministeroutside, in the traditional way.
My point is more fundamental. The Governmentin the shape of the Leader of the House and, doubtless, in a moment, the Ministerstand before us and arbitrarily restrict the time available for scrutiny in Committee. The Bill is then allowed to lapse and sit idle for months on end while the Government are twiddling their thumbs and offering any number of recesses. The Leader of the House then says that the motion is necessary and that the Bill has to be carried over into another Session because it has not been adequately scrutinised. We certainly agree with that. The Government claim that they are being generous and provide more time in a new Session. That amounts to, and has confirmed, the very worst of our fears about what the carry-over concept would produce.
We then heard the contribution of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). Liberal Democrats are known for many attributes, but I shall not go into many of them today. However, the hon. Gentleman rather touchingly displayed one that I have noticed in him beforea sort of generous naivety. He complained that when he signed up to all this modernisation nonsense, he thought that the Government would consult him about what would happen.
Mr. Forth: Just a moment, I have not finished yet. The hon. Gentleman then said, rather patheticallyI almost felt sorry for himthat he felt that he had not been properly consulted, that the Government seemed to be doing exactly what they pleased, and that he, a representative of the Liberal Democrats, had been cut out of the whole process. All I can say is that he and his hon. Friends started out believing, from 1997 onwards, that they were partners with the Government, but it has come to a pretty pass now, has it not? I shall now give him an opportunity to deny my accusation of naivety.
Mr. Tyler: I would never accuse the right hon. Gentleman of generosity, let alone naivety, but has he actually read the Modernisation Committee's report? If he had, he would know that his hon. Friends took exactly the same view as I did.