Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. McNulty: I accepted one.

Matthew Green: I believe that was a Government amendment—I stand corrected. We now know what a generous Minister does—he accepts his own amendments.

I am concerned that the Government will approach the extra eight sittings, which seems rather a short time, with exactly the same attitude and not accept any amendments. If we do make pertinent points, perhaps they will have another eight sittings so that they can introduce their own amendments to incorporate such changes. Either that, or we will need a long Report stage. It has already been pointed out that there were a couple of spelling mistakes in the original Bill, but the Minister is about to introduce a further 25 clauses. He has assured us that there are no spelling mistakes left in the Bill, but can we be sure that there will not be any such mistakes in those 25 clauses? I tabled an amendment to change the two spelling mistakes, which amounted to only one sentence.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some latitude, but he is now wandering very wide of the motion.

Matthew Green: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The extra month will allow more time for the consideration of amendments. That is worrying, given the standard of some amendments, such as the one in which the Conservatives managed to put Wales and London next to one another.

Tom Levitt : As I recall, we threw that one out.

Matthew Green: Yes, and rightly so.

Perhaps the longer period will permit greater reflection so that amendments can be drawn up more accurately in the first place. I hope that Members will be more succinct. In our previous debates, one Member mentioned Heathrow about 200 times, and it would not be desirable to repeat such behaviour. We welcome some aspects of the Bill, and the Government clearly

10 Jun 2003 : Column 586

need an opportunity to introduce change. On the face of it, the removal of Crown immunity is good, and it is also welcome that the Government are trying to sort out the mess of the stated development principles and outline planning permissions, especially as the Minister freely admitted—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I repeat once again that the merits of particular aspects of the Bill are not under discussion today?

Matthew Green: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The six-month extension allowed by the motion will permit the Government to make substantial changes. I thought that it might have been in order for me to touch on those changes, but clearly it is not. That is a shame, because others managed to do so. Unfortunately, the Government will not use those six months to include other matters in the Bill—but I clearly cannot touch on them either.

We shall oppose the motion for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) in a previous debate. When the Standing Order was introduced to allow extra time and enable Bills to be carried over, it was intended not for the use that is being proposed today but for draft Bills that had been scrutinised in Committee. That has not happened with this Bill, despite what the hon. Member for Cotswold said about the amount of scrutiny. The Standing Order has not followed the route envisaged for it. The first time that the Government have had a chance to use it, they have corrupted what the House intended. That is a strong reason why Members should not support the motion, although I suspect that the Government will whip it through.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify something that we will not have enough time to discuss when we debate the next motion, which will simply be moved by one Member and opposed by another? If the Government offer eight sittings in Committee, will the Liberals vote against that programme motion?

Matthew Green: Yes, we will. Some of those eight sessions, for reasons that I should have liked to explore but did not, will be far too short. I hope that we can have more time to discuss the Bill because at least half of it was not even touched on first time round, when there were 12 sittings. To be fair to the Minister, a few of the 64 clauses that were not touched on were brushed over rather than not discussed. There were some clauses that the Committee chose not to discuss but, even so, about half of the Bill was not discussed. At that time we had 12 sittings, so eight sittings will hardly be sufficient to debate another 24 new clauses, 45 new Government amendments and the remaining half of the Bill that we did not get through the first time. I can therefore confirm that we will vote against the programme motion when it arrives, and against the motion tonight.

3.19 pm

Mr. Gummer : I shall confine my remarks entirely to the time involved.

10 Jun 2003 : Column 587

I declare an interest as a former Secretary of State, and as someone who writes and advises on planning, particularly that which relates to environmental matters. In the past, it was always thought proper to give the House plenty of time to debate planning Bills, not because they were necessarily party politically controversial but because the issues are technical, and what happens on the ground, so to speak, is often very different from what Parliament may have thought in its theoretical discussions. I start with a concern about the timetable originally presented to us, and about the fact that so much of the Bill has not been discussed.

There is a reason for that, and it is not a party political reason at all. There is no subject more important to individuals than how the technical details of planning permission affect them. If they go to their Member of Parliament and ask, "Why on earth did you pass that clause? Did you not see that it might have this effect?", it is extremely galling for us to have to admit that we, or our colleagues who served on the Committee, never reached the clause.

It is reasonable to suggest that as the Government propose to give themselves more time, they should do the House the courtesy of giving us enough time. Hon. Members in all parts of the House would agree that part of the quid pro quo for the Government using the new Standing Orders for the first time might be that they should ensure that we have enough time to discuss the issues, not because we want to trip the Government up or make party political points, but because the detailed examination of the issues by people who understand the subject from constituency or professional experience is helpful to the Government, and because it is not appropriate for the Government to rely on what may happen in another place.

That brings me to my second point. The idea that the other place will be happy to fit in with the way in which the Government have decided to arrange matters seems not entirely likely. The other place is not always as easily cajoled or corralled as the Minister suggests. It may be worth considering rather more carefully the interrelationship between the two Houses of Parliament in the circumstances with which we are faced.

That leads me to the third point. This is the first use of the provision, and I have a constitutional worry about the way in which it is being used. It is not for me to suggest the motives behind the pause. We had considerable discussion about the difficulty that the Minister had in combining his role in fighting the war in Iraq and in the planning Bill. We realise that. It is one of the mysterious elements that we have not yet entirely unwound, but we understand that there were all sorts of reasons why the Bill was not brought to fruition. However, I fear that none of them is the reason that the Government advanced for the change in the law.

When the Government advanced the not unreasonable proposition that there were sometimes circumstances in which the due process through the House meant that, in order to give enough time for discussion of a draft Bill, it might take longer than is circumscribed by our parliamentary Sessions, they suggested that it was only on rare occasions that the nature of a Bill and its proper discussion made the longer time scale sensible.

10 Jun 2003 : Column 588

That is not the proposition before us today. We have had a most interesting dance, very fast for a very short time, and then the music stopped. We listened in vain: there was no sound at all. Just when we think that it might begin again, we are told that it will not begin until after this Session. Why? It is because the band is engaged elsewhere. That is the point—it is not because of anything to do with the motion, but because the Government want the time to do other things.

I realise that the Minister has been brilliant. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude, because he has fought a good battle with those who organise these matters, by saying, "If you are going to put me in the embarrassing position of having to explain to the House why we have to do this, I want some recompense. I want to put back into the Bill some provisions that you got me to take out of the Bill previously because you wanted it through quickly."

The timetabling of the Bill was already arranged by the Government to remove from it the bits that they thought would make it a long Bill. That was what the Minister was fighting for originally. Let us not think that the Government have suddenly invented the need to deal with Crown immunity or to extend the detailed arrangements for compulsory purchase. They tried to put those in the original Bill, but they were told that they could not do so by the powers that be—now a power that was, he having resigned over the war. That might be part of the war issue. Perhaps the former Leader of the House was the key figure in all this. The Government therefore dropped those clauses, because the Bill had to complete its passage quickly. There were to be a small number of meetings of the Committee, a short referral to the House of Lords, and then back to this place and the Bill would be through. That is what the Government were told.

That is not quite what happened, owing to some large lacunae—holes, we might say—in the middle. The Bill was held up while the Government thought about what to do. It was held up to such an extent that the powers that be told them that it would have to be held up further. Very cleverly, the Minister and his colleagues argued that if they were to be embarrassed in that way—the Minister is obviously embarrassed, as he is a decent man—they had to be able to say that the Government would put back into the Bill the provisions that they had taken out when matters were to be arranged differently. That is where we are now. Those aspects that I may not discuss, but which certainly contribute to the length of the Bill, will be put back in.

When those things are put back in, what will it mean in terms of time? I must refer to one substantive issue in order to speak about time—Crown immunity. I was the Secretary of State who started to try to get rid of Crown immunity, as it always seemed to me an outrage and scandal that a certain kind of operation was immune for no good reason. I discovered that the difficulty—in terms of time, this matter needs detailed discussion—was simply that, amidst all the things that do not need immunity, there are some that need some immunity. Therefore, trying to write that into a Bill is much more difficult and complex than anybody thought when starting out.

We know why that is the case. We already have a planning system that is, in a sense, pretty peculiar. When the IRA kindly put me on its list for the second time and

10 Jun 2003 : Column 589

a certain amount of protection was necessary, planning policy said that we had to advertise in the newspaper and supply pictures of the protection that was given. That did not seem a frightfully good idea, and my local authority kindly said that the pictures could be as blurred as I liked. That was very kind, but it does not feature in the Bill. The fact is that the provisions will be very complex and detailed, and some anecdotal information of that sort will be valuable in our discussions. It is not something to be missed.

I say to the Minister that the Crown immunity element—I am very pleased that he is going to introduce it and I am sure that it is necessary—has been a long time coming. That is not a criticism of him; it has taken a long time because it is very complicated. The time involved in discussing it in the House of Commons will therefore be very considerable, so I ask him to think again about the amount of time that he will provide for those discussions, simply because if he does not give proper time, I am afraid that we will get the Bill wrong.

There is no doubt that there is a growing feeling outside the House that the revising and detailed role of the House of Commons is being eroded. Many years ago, I argued with Enoch Powell—I was on the wrong side of the argument—about the effect of Select Committees. He argued that once we gave Members of Parliament other things to do that they thought were parliamentarily useful, we would cease to do here what we were here to do. I did not think that that would be so, but I was wrong. Although Enoch Powell was usually wrong, at least on that occasion he was right. He was right on that issue because he understood so well the nature of this House. Part of the nature of this House is the dull and boring business of trying to make our legislation as good as it can be, given that none of us can be expert in everything, and those who are experts in something are usually selected to serve on a Committee dealing with a subject about which they know nothing at all.

That is the nature of the House, but we get quite good at looking at the phrases that are used and seeing whether all the possibilities have been thought through. Governments sometimes become impatient with that process, but all the lessons have shown that impatience at that moment leads to a great deal of frustration afterwards and that it is better to be frustrated while the Bill is passing through the House, when there is time to discuss it properly, than to use the ability of a Government with a large majority to force matters and then find that the very clauses that have not been discussed give them problems thereafter.

It is that which concerns me about what is proposed today. I believe that this Government are giving themselves problems. Of course, I should say, "For goodness' sake, shove the Bill through and get all the trouble; we'll point it out and tell people who did it." However, in the end, planning is about people's futures. It is not all about great developers or huge housing estates; it is very often about individuals doing with their own land what they want to do, and the community saying that there must be a restriction. People therefore need the opportunity to feel that this House, in

10 Jun 2003 : Column 590

representing the community, individuals and the interests of our constituents, has looked at such matters in detail.

The Government are not giving us that opportunity. I am therefore not prepared to support them on this occasion, and I will wish to vote against them because they are not doing themselves justice. If ever an Opposition have a job, it is to remind the Government when they are failing themselves.

Next Section

IndexHome Page