Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister's reply is helpful in that it clarifies the situation. However, it destroys part of the argument for delaying the Bill. As I understood it, one of the reasons for the delay was to give sufficient time to assimilate the Law Commission's recommendations. If that is not the case—

Mr. McNulty: It was never the case.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: But it was never the case that the Bill would be carried over. As I understood it, the huge rush to get the Bill through Committee was to get it on the statute book. The road to heaven is paved with good intentions. The Government may have had good intentions in the first place, but they have not been realised.

We need to consider carefully something that has not been discussed enough. We have concentrated on the new material that will be in the Bill, which is obviously important because it will probably double its size, but we have not focused on whether there will be sufficient time to deal with what the Minister calls technical amendments. Those are highly important. We mentioned them time and again in the context of many issues, with the support of some of the foremost experts on planning, and they need proper scrutiny.

There are a number of technical aspects, which I have touched on. Local development orders were barely discussed—if at all—in Committee. Concurrent planning applications, statement of development principles, outline planning permission, urban development corporations and simplified planning zones are all relevant. A raft of issues and technical subjects on compulsory purchase were not discussed in Committee because the timetable meant that the knives came down and the number of sittings was inadequate.

Incidentally, we voted against the programme of 12 sittings. I can assure the Minister here and now that unless I am given different instructions from those more senior than I am, we will vote against the Government if they offer only eight sittings because those, too, will not be adequate.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend can count on it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I now have instructions from the shadow Leader of the House, so I am in a better position to give a firm commitment that we will vote against the programming of the Committee.

We have a huge amount of work to do. We must consider whether the scrutiny that their lordships will undoubtedly want to give the Bill will mean that it can get on the statute book by the date set out in the timetable. The Minister has improved on the motion. It gives a deadline of 4 June 2004, but he anticipates it being on the statute book by March 2004. He is constraining their lordships even more.

Mr. McNulty: I stick to the March deadline, but I mentioned it before I anticipated the idea of two Liberal Democrats serving on the Committee.

10 Jun 2003 : Column 583

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am not sure whether that will double the number of amendments, but we shall see. It will probably treble or quadruple the amount of time taken up by Liberal Democrats. They have never knowingly undersold themselves when it comes to speaking. What could be said in one sentence takes the Liberal Democrats many sentences to say. However, no doubt you will rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I continue down that path.

The core question is whether and when the Bill will be on the statute book and whether the extra six months will be sufficient. Their lordships will not begin to consider when they will scrutinise the Bill until after the Queen's Speech. Perhaps the Minister is more clairvoyant than the Opposition because we do not know when the Queen's Speech will be. Last year it took place towards the middle of November. No doubt their lordships will want to take a week or two before considering their own parliamentary timetable. It is my guess that they cannot start to consider the Bill before Christmas.

The Minister is living by an unrealistic timetable if he really believes that the Bill will come back to the House and be on the statute book by March 2004. The timetable is unrealistic not just for March 2004, but for June 2004. I might be wrong, but if their lordships scrutinise it as they should and take their time, I would not be surprised if we need another six months, which might not be possible under the Standing Order. That would cause even more uncertainty in the business and planning communities.

To my mind, one big lacuna needs to be addressed. I hope that the Government will consider how we deal with PPG3, social housing and section 106 agreements. As I understand it, the Government are consulting on section 106 agreements with the idea of introducing a new statutory instrument or Bill to deal with section 106-type compensations. Hon. Members will recall that before the original Bill was scrutinised by the Standing Committee it contained unworkable tariff proposals. The Government listened to the Committee and dropped those, but so far the planning community and the wider community have no idea what, if anything, is to replace section 106 agreements.

I am sorry that I am beginning to get a little technical, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I know from when I practised planning law that it took longer to negotiate a section 106 agreement in a complex multifaceted development than it did to get planning permission. The Bill does nothing to deal with the section 106 issue. If the Government are not—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gets more technical, perhaps I can remind him of the narrowness of the motion and the debate. He referred to six months. I was somewhat reassured by that and hope that we can concentrate on it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That ruling is very helpful.

If we have an extra six months and do not produce an effective Bill because it fails to deal with section 106 agreements, we will not be doing the House, the planning community or the business community any favours. I simply flag it up as an issue for the

10 Jun 2003 : Column 584

Government. If they cannot deal with that in the Bill, I hope that they will address it expeditiously in another way.

We are totally opposed to carrying over the Bill even for 12 months. However, we dealt with that when we voted on the earlier motion. We are certainly opposed to giving it an extra six months. The Bill is bad. It should be scrapped. We should start again and modify the existing planning system rather than introduce a wholesale new planning system. If the Government will not do that, let us ensure, whatever the political aspects of the motion, that when the Bill reaches the statute book it is better than it is at the moment. With the greatest possible grace that I can muster, I must tell the Minister that we will not achieve that if he offers us only eight sittings in Committee, and the reputation of the House will be tarnished. I appeal to him: if nothing else is achieved today, for goodness' sake please give us more than eight sittings and we will do our best to ensure that the Bill is a better Bill when it emerges from Committee. We will oppose the motion, but we will also try to use the time wisely if the Government give us extra sittings.

3.9 pm

Matthew Green : The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred to six months. I think he thought that that was going to be the length of his speech.

It is important to consider what has gone on so far and some of the consequences of giving the Bill extra time. As we heard, the original Bill contained 90 clauses, 64 of which were not debated in Committee. We have heard that the rush to get the Bill out of Committee in January, with nothing happening afterwards, was due to other commitments. In an earlier debate today, the Leader of the House mentioned the war. I am slightly confused, as I did not realise that the Under-Secretary played any role in running the war in Iraq—if he did, perhaps he should own up to it. Clearly, however, the Bill got stuck after January for no apparent reason. Several months down the line, the Government have suddenly come up with a series of excuses for needing more time.

We should remember that the Bill has been introduced to speed up the planning process. The Government, however, are proposing to do so by taking another year. If that is how they try to speed things up, I would hate to see them try to slow something down. However, the extra time will have serious consequences in, for example, social housing. In a debate on 10 April, the Minister, replying to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), said:


That means that there will be another 12 months before the Government have a strategy on social housing of any consequence. I am afraid that those areas suffering from a great lack of affordable housing will discover that the Government have done little to help them. The 12-month delay will certainly not help them at all.

10 Jun 2003 : Column 585

I am concerned that the extra 12 months will take us very close to the July 2004 deadline by which the UK must comply with the strategic environmental assessment directive, which covers all planning strategies. I realise that some Conservative Members are not going to get excited about that because it is, after all, a European directive. In Committee, however, the Minister was dismissive about that point—he was sure that it would all be sorted out by then and there would not be any problems. However, we will get close to the deadline, and I would be grateful if he could give us an assurance that the changes that he will make to the Bill will comply with the directive.

In a previous debate, the Leader of the House said that there was an opportunity for the Bill to be improved by scrutiny. I am a little confused because, even though the Under-Secretary recently described himself as generously naive, in Committee he did not accept a single amendment.


Next Section

IndexHome Page