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Mr. Forth: Why does the hon. Gentleman think that I did not serve on that Committee? I have never regretted that decision for a moment—though I have no doubt that it does admirable work.

Mr. Tyler: Faint praise.

Mr. Forth: That will look okay in Hansard.

The chain of events are all closely and causally related, and they all come back time and again to the fundamental fact that the Government have been determined systematically to reduce the House's ability properly to scrutinise legislation. The Government also want to combine the restriction of time available in Committee with the flexibility to allow them to carry Bills over from one Session to another whenever they see fit. This is the first explicit example, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold pointed out in his opening speech, it has come about for the worst reasons. That is why we are compelled to resist the motion.

Sir Paul Beresford: My hon. Friend fails to mention the double-edged sword: the Leader of the House says that more time is available, but there is more to look into.

Mr. Forth: Yes, indeed. The facts are clear. Sadly, in respect of this large and important Bill, the Committee was able to scrutinise only a small proportion of its contents. That pattern is repeated time and again and ever more systematically. The reason for it is not filibustering by the Opposition. We do not need to filibuster. Goodness knows, some of us are perfectly capable of it from time to time, and I have made a modest contribution to it myself, so I know whereof I speak. However, we do not have to do it any more. All we have to do is the proper and responsible job of the official Opposition—attempting to scrutinise legislation, representing legitimate outside interests, looking for mistakes and errors and trying to improve legislation. Yet on almost every occasion, we run out of time because the Government have already taken a view at the beginning of every Bill about how much time it should take to consider it. According to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, the Chairman of the Select Committee, we the Opposition should fit ourselves into that Government time. That is not how I envisage the relationship between the House and the Government, or, indeed, the Opposition and the Government.

It is perfectly clear that the motion is before us for the wrong reasons. If we were to agree to it, we would be endorsing the views of the Leader of the House, which we most certainly do not. We would also be setting a precedent, whereby the Government could declare that carry-over is passing seamlessly into the proceedings of the House and can therefore legitimately be returned to time and again. That is not the case. We resist it strongly.

I shall now conclude in order to give the Minister the maximum possible time in this short debate, which I hope he will use to the full to answer the substantial questions put to him by my hon. Friends, by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, the eminent Chairman of the Select Committee, and by the hon. Member for North Cornwall.

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1.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): I start by thanking the Opposition for their magnanimity, which is very refreshing. I shall try to deal—if not by the tail of this debate, then at the start of the next one—with the issues that have been raised and to provide detail on the specific questions.

This is not by any means a deeply flawed and poorly drafted Bill. The Opposition can have their day on that, but it is not. When the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) talked about Lord Lucan being reported missing, I thought that he was referring to the Plaid Cymru contribution to the Standing Committee, which had 12 sittings without the Plaid Cymru Member once showing his face. That is a matter of some regret.

There has been a degree of confusion about whether pre-legislative scrutiny took place. In fact, what occurred—the White Paper, consultation and passing responses to the Select Committee—worked well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) suggested, it informed the Bill in many respects. The hon. Member for Cotswold traduces the consultation process, but the professions and everyone else applauded us for the whole process from Green Paper to the Bill and for many of the changes therein. I shall return to the transition period later.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) who, I freely admit, is the leading expert in the Chamber on planning in the professional sense, as he showed time and again in Committee. I recall that we had great fun on the Greater London Authority Bill, which went on for a considerable period. The notion of having a consolidation Bill at some stage is attractive, in view of the many changes made, but that is not a matter for me.

The hon. Member for Cotswold and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish made an important point about the transition. We originally expected commencement to come into force in spring 2004, with hoped-for Royal Assent by March 2004. If the subsequent motion is passed, we expect the new system to be up and running by June, so commencement should be but a couple of months delayed. Reasonable points were made about the problems of local planning authorities in the coming months or years in respect of transition. We cannot presume the will of Parliament, but if the motions are secured, we will write to local authorities in the next couple of weeks to set out clearly the detailed transitional arrangements for the new system.

Before I move on to the substance of the reasons why we need a roll-over, I want to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish that, far from slowing down the delivery mechanisms for the Thames gateway and sustainable communities, what we are doing will speed up the process and bind any number of partners in the public or private sector into the process. I shall return to that matter shortly or, if necessary, in the next debate. As an aside, I might mention that although my visit has been cancelled twice, and I have yet to get to the glory that is BedZED down in Sutton, I agree with my hon. Friend that building regulations are an appropriate way, among others, to secure ecologically and environmentally sound developments.

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I note the points made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), but as the Leader of the House said, this is an exception to the spirit of our Standing Orders relating to roll-overs.

I admire the consistency and honesty of the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I assume that he opposes this and the subsequent motion because he thinks that this is a horrible little Bill. That is a perfectly reasonable position, but I have to tell him that local government does not agree and certainly does not greet the £350 million planning delivery grant with dismay.

In answer to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet—although this is a matter for debate, which does not get us anywhere and is certainly not germane to the motion—let me be polite and say that the extent to which we dwelt, at length and ad nauseam, on terminal 5 at Heathrow in Committee could by some less than generous souls be called filibustering, at worst, or at best irrelevant. We had a tad too much of that in Committee. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the roll-over would mean that the whole Bill would be recommitted for decision, and the answer is yes. We could have been pernickety and said that only the clauses that will be affected by amendment and concession, and the new clauses, will be recommitted, but we have said that we will send the whole Bill back. The hon. Gentleman also asked whether any changes had been made to the substance of the Bill since the end of the Committee's consideration, and again the answer is yes.

I shall pass on the invitation from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to talk about the confluence of cock-up and conspiracy, but I admire his consistency. He is against timetabling and against modernisation in all its forms and glory, and that is a reasonable position.

I shall go into more detail on the substance on the next motion, as I explain why we need the extra six months, but the bulk of the amendments that we will table for the consideration of the reconvened Standing Committee will be technical amendments to the existing Bill—as the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said—including my final and grudging concession that "complusory" and "satisified" are not proper words. The Bill has been trawled for other spelling mistakes, and I promised a vicious attack on parliamentary counsel, but there were no others. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) who has done the House and the planning profession great service by recognising those two spelling mistakes.

Matthew Green: Will the Minister now concede that he should have accepted my amendments at the time?

Mr. McNulty: Absolutely not. Call me a purist, but there could have been 12 mistakes. Far be it from me to assume that the subsequent Government amendments would be accepted. It was far more appropriate that the hon. Gentleman showed us the way, and we have now gone through the Bill with a fine-toothed comb. As one might have anticipated from the Liberal Democrats, they have elevated pedantry to an art form. That is not a huge surprise.

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Most of the amendments to the Bill will be technical or tidying up ones, but I am more than happy to go through the detail with Opposition Front Benchers at a later stage.

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