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Mr. Davey: I wish to ask the Minister something for the sake of clarification. If I understood him correctly, he said that he would table 45 new clauses to deal with technical problems, including spelling errors. Did he mean 45 new clauses or 45 amendments?
Mr. McNulty: Given that savage intervention in terms of Liberal Democrat scrutiny, I hope that the hon. Gentleman serves on the Committee that considers the Bill. Of course I meant amendments, not new clausesso well spotted and congratulations.
Mr. McNulty: As my Parliamentary Private Secretary says, he spotted that long before the hon. Gentleman. He was about 10 seconds ahead of him. "Yah-boo," is perhaps an appropriate response to the Liberal Democrats.
As I suggested earlier, the last element is made up of concessionsagain, 20-odd clausesbut those who serve on the Standing Committee will know that they range from adding the words "the planning office development" to simply "development" in clause 15. As I said earlier on the revocation of local development orders, there was a useful debate in Committee about what happens when a local development order is revoked but planning or development was already ongoing when the curtain came down and the planning powers were restored. We shall consider that issue again, and will make some progress. The same will apply to lost payment charges and the notion of statements of development in principle against outline planning permission, about which there was also a robust debate and, as I said earlier, a good deal of confusionnot least my ownso we have looked at that too, because the professions have asked us to do so.
Some of the suggestions have come from stakeholders, but many have come from the hon. Member for Cotswold or others. Those changes will involve not new material, but concessions in that regard. However, I fully accept what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said: it is not for me to say what level of scrutiny or otherwise those amendments should receive, save for the caveat that I mentioned at the end of my previous speech.
Mr. Tyler : In the previous debate, the Minister described himself as a former member of the dark brotherhood of the Government Whips Office. I was assured during the Division that in fact, he is an honorary life member. Can I ask him please to turn his back on his past? When he comes to discuss which parts of the Bill need most scrutiny, he should listen very carefully to his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), who said in terms in the previous debate that it should be up to the Opposition parties, rather than the Government, to discuss what time should be allocated to which parts of the Bill. Will the Minister accept that as a general principle?
Mr. McNulty: That leads me neatly to the caveat from the previous debate that I was about to repeat. I am more than happy and extremely relaxed about how much time in the eight sittings is afforded to which parts of the Bill. That is a matter for the House, the respective parties and the usual channels. The only caveat that I added was that it is appropriate that we work to secure a set amount of time in those eight sittings for the new business. Beyond that, I am very relaxed, so we can talk about such things further in the usual channels and in extensive consultation before consideration in Committee. I am more than happy to do that too, but such things depend on the issues' complexity.
In the context of the various degrees of novelty involved in all those issues, I will undertake to find out whether it is at all possible to introduce the 45 technical amendments at the earliest opportunityI hope, before the House rises for the summerso that hon. Members can at least consider them in some detail before we return after the recess.
I want to listen to what other hon. Members have to say, rather than going on at length myself, but I wish to make two further points. First, I repeat that those hon. Members who served on the Committee will understand that this was a bit of a Christmas tree Bill, like previous planning legislation, in the sense that a number of circulars, statutory instruments and regulations follow from its provisions. I will also undertake to make sure, as far as possible, that all of those are introduced by September and prior to the Bill being recommitted, which is important in the context of the six-month extension. In terms of the six-month extension, I would envisage tabling all the amendments that the Government need to dispatch to the recommitted Committee by September, although that is a matter of discussion with programme managers and the usual channels. Eight further sittings of the Committee are to take place in October.
I do not envisage that the remaining stages of the House's consideration will happen this side of the Queen's Speech, but as soon as possible afterwardswhich is why the extension of the period for the proceedings is necessary. Subsequently, I hope that it will be committed to the other place for safe dispatch and I hope that it will receive Royal Assent by February or March. I hope that that sort of timetable, allowed by the extension of proceedings, permits sufficient time for hon. Members to explore amendments to the existing Bill and new materials. I repeat that I am more than happy to discuss those at length with the respective Front-Benchers. I reserve the rightthis will probably get me into troublenot to talk to Plaid Cymru
I would agree gently with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that one never leaves the brotherhood, and I am more than happy to be an honorary life member. As far as it is in my power, in discussion with the usual channels on my side and more generally, I foresee a limited Committee stage, with the caveat that some time will be secured at the start for new business. In that context, I commend the motionit will be met with approbation and consensus, I am sureto the House.
Madam Deputy Speaker: I advise right hon. and hon. Members that the terms of the motion are narrow, and while it would be appropriate to discuss the volume of the contents of such a Bill, it would not be appropriate to discuss the merits of those contents.
Mr. Forth: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is helpful advice, for which I am sure that all Members are grateful. Can you confirm, however, that it would be in order to cover the points made by the Minister in his helpful opening speech, and that responses to or questions about those points would be appropriate and in order? I hope that you are able to confirm that within the constraints that you have set out.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, on this second carry-over motion. We have already discussed the first carry-over motion, which allows 12 months for all proceedings on the Bill to be concluded. We are now adding to that a further six months. If the Bill has not completed all its legislative stages, including that in the other place, by 4 June, as the Bill had its First Reading in this House on 4 December 2002, an interesting question arises as to whether the Bill falls or whether the Government can bring forward a further motion giving themselves another six months. Greater experts than I am will have to answer that at some stage.
A little light has been cast in the previous debate, which is helpful, and the Minister has helpfully told us what is likely to be in the new Bill. To reiterate, the Bill has been subject to some of the greatest scrutiny that I can remember in the 11 years that I have been in Parliament. Four huge tomes of consultation were introduced as long ago as December 2001; the Bill was subject to its Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny last yearI remind the House of my quote in the previous motionand it received no great approbation from that all-party Committee. The core part of my earlier quote was that 88 per cent. of respondents to that
The Bill received its First Reading on 4 December 2002, as I have said, and according to my recollection, the Government were in a huge hurry to get the Bill on the statute book. From 4 December, they moved to getting it through 12 Committee sittings by 28 January. Since 28 January, we have heard nothing. The reason for that is nothing to do with external eventsthe Leader of the House referred to the war, and cited and prayed in aid every other excusebut because the Government have finally twigged. They would not listen to us in Committee, but they have listened to the outside experts who have begun to point out to them the huge number of flaws in the Bill.
It is no wonder that this second motion is being brought before the House, as I do not see how we will get through the timetable that the Government have set us. As the Minister has just told us, the Government are going to include four major extra facets in the Bill: the technical amendments, the Crown immunity, the extra mechanism in the compulsory purchase section, which is highly technical, and changes relating to the urban development corporation. The Minister said that the Crown immunity and compulsory purchase elementsjust two matterswould make up 25 amendments, and the remaining two would make up 45 amendments. Those are major technical amendments. Effectively, those amendments amount to almost as much as is currently contained in the Bill. We are being asked to consider all those, however, plus the whole of the existing Bill, in eight sittings, not 12, which the Government gave us previously. I have already told the House that less than a third of the existing Bill was scrutinised in Committee30 clauses of 70 and only one schedule of sevenand some very important parts were never scrutinised. I am not surprised that the Government need a further six months.
The problem is that there is already uncertainty in the planning community in relation to these huge changes, which, as all the experts acknowledge, virtually amount to rewriting the planning system rather than modifying it, which we would have preferred. Providing this extra time is creating further uncertainty. As I pointed out time after time in Committee, if I were a planner working in a county councilknowing that my strategic planning role would be abolished by the Billand I received an offer from the private sector or elsewhere, given the uncertainty surrounding the whole system, I would be tempted to move into an alternative job. That would be disastrous for the planning system, which is already grossly understaffed in many authorities, such as mine in the south of England, which has great difficulty in recruiting people of sufficient technical merit. This Bill, with the timetable and carry-over, will cause great difficulty to our planning system.