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3.33 pm

Mr. Redwood : I have declared my interests in the register.

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who made very powerful speeches against the six-month extension. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold said, the Opposition would be much happier with an entirely different sort of Bill producing a much better planning system than the one envisaged. Anyone who takes that view must vote against the extension of time, to kill the Bill, but my case is to the Minister. I think that he has been placed in an extremely difficult position by chopping and changing well above his rank in government and by indecision and lethargy alternating with brief bursts of speed and enthusiasm for the Bill. It is extraordinary that a measure that was thought so crucial in January as to be rushed through with improper consideration has been languishing ever since, and is still languishing and must await the next Session.

I therefore say to the Minister that he, too, should be against the motion and that at this eleventh hour he should cancel the idea of a six-month extension. He will have a miserable time trying to cobble together all the new clauses and amendments. He told us that he already thinks that he will need 69 new clauses and amendments to a 90-clause Bill. My guess is that we will end up with more than 90 Government amendments and new clauses before the process is finished, and that the Committee will be asked to consider, in a very short space of time within the six months, effectively a new Bill. Would it not be better if the Government admitted that today, went away and constructed a proper Bill based on the Government's common policy objectives—if it is possible to find any—then presented a new Bill in the normal way without the need for this strange procedure of a six-month extension? My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal powerfully made the case that the original Bill received insufficient scrutiny in Committee and that it is beyond belief that that could be made good in the eight short sittings that will be allocated within the six-month period, given that what is required is the proper scrutiny of a large number of very technical measures.

I make no secret of the fact that my constituents and I do not welcome the Bill because it means building over the south-east to an even greater extent than is already the case. That requires proper scrutiny and proper debate in this Chamber on a substantive motion—an honest motion, following the Chancellor's statement yesterday—followed by detailed and lengthy scrutiny in Committee to see whether the Government are changing the planning system and whether we can stop them

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doing so in an undemocratic direction. That is why I asked the Minister about the Chancellor's involvement. Had the Chancellor concentrated properly on the issue, he might have wanted to oppose the six-month extension. We heard only yesterday that he was impatient to revolutionise the planning system to meet his eight-month deadline for a reconsideration of the housing market prior to next year's Budget. Surely, given that the Bill is the "concreting over the south-east" measure that the Chancellor has in mind to try to get nearer to the euro, he must be arguing to the Minister that six months is too long to wait and that the Government should produce the amendments and new clauses now and drive them through. On those counts, there is a strange community of interest. Those of us who want to kill the Bill do not want the six-month extension, the Chancellor should want to end it to try to speed the whole process up, and the Minister would be well out of it because his patience has been sorely tested for a long time by all the chopping and changing and extreme changes of pace from high speed to dead stop.

It is, I believe, common practice in competitive soccer competitions that if no one has scored in normal time, extra time is played. I guess that that is in the Minister's mind. He thinks that if extra time is played, he will be able to score. Having listened to him this afternoon, however, it is clear that there is absolutely no chance of his being able to score for his political cause. The existing contents of the Bill are dynamite, and although his suggested new contents may have some good bits—for example, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, on Crown immunity—they will not change or improve the workings of the dreadful planning system inherent in the current draft of the Bill, which will lead to the concreting over of much-loved parts of the countryside. The Minister should not ask for extra time for this measure, because there is no chance of his scoring with it.

My final points relate to the general problem of democratic accountability in the House of Commons. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and many other right hon. and hon. Friends, I think that this place matters a great deal. There should be detailed scrutiny from all angles and perspectives, not on a party political basis, but on a practical working basis as hon. Members bring their skills and experiences to bear on legislation. I fear that six months and eight sittings represent far too short a time and far too puny a contribution to proper scrutiny and debate. Consequently, the measure will make bad legislation, and large elements of it will never have been debated properly in the Chamber or taken apart and put together again in Committee.

On such a crucial issue, which touches the heart of the lifestyles of all our constituents, we deserve much better. The Government say that they now believe in democracy and that they value our parliamentary system. They should show that by withdrawing the motion, apologising to the House, admitting that six months is not enough to improve the Bill, reconsidering, starting again and introducing a proper Bill when they have a sensible policy.

3.40 pm

Mr. Forth : It is becoming obvious that the Under-Secretary and his colleagues are serial offenders. We are considering today's motions because they imposed a

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ludicrously tight timetable on the original Committee stage, thereby ensuring that the Bill could not be properly scrutinised. They allowed the measure to lapse and be delayed for several months, thus placing unnecessary and artificial time pressure on themselves and, subsequently, on the House and the parliamentary process.

The Under-Secretary made it clear that the timetable under the motion means that he will produce amendments in the period up to July and for the extraordinary sitting in September, and that he will then generously allow the Committee eight sittings in October to reconsider the entire Bill and the new clauses and amendments. He said that he did not envisage Report and Third Reading taking place until the new Session. He does not know when the new Session will begin; I venture to suggest that even you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, do not know that. However, we can guess that it will not start until well into November. If one takes into account the normal time for debating the Queen's Speech and so on, it is doubtful whether the Government will manage to conclude Report and Third Reading before Christmas, despite the extension of time that they are asking us to approve. It is therefore doubtful whether the measure will be sent to another place even in early January.

The Under-Secretary, having restricted the amount of time in Committee originally, and intending to do that again, has the gall and impudence to suggest that their Lordships will complete their considerations by March. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) pointed out, we all expect that the other place will want to examine the Bill with special care because we have been able to give it such scant attention. It is unacceptable and insulting for the Under-Secretary to expect their lordships to whiffle the Bill through to meet his artificial deadline.

What will happen if we have some ping-pong, to use our highly technical term for describing the shuttling of a Bill backwards and forwards between the two great Houses of Parliament? Has the Under-Secretary considered that? He appears to expect the whole thing to be wrapped up neatly in the six-month extension that he asks us to approve. Moreover, he has the gall to say that if that is not enough time, we shall have another extension.

In other words, the Under-Secretary claims that any constraint on the Government that may have existed in the past is now long gone. Governments are no longer subject to discipline and constraint, and such motions allow them to restrict Committee stage, dally, delay and mess things up because they can subsequently say, "We'll change the rules, adjust and demand more time." It would appear that one of the few checks on the Government when they introduce excessive or paltry legislation has sadly disappeared. Today's apparently innocuous and simple motion demonstrates that the Government acknowledge no discipline for themselves in the legislative process. That is not only sad but dangerous. Every time we are asked to approve such a motion, we take a further step along a dangerous path and inch further down a slippery slope. That is why I hope that we will resist this motion now, and that, one

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of these days, we will be able to bring the Government back to some sort of accountability to the House and the parliamentary process. If we do not, I hope that their Lordships will.

3.44 pm

Mr. McNulty: First, may I say that, if there was any gall or impudence—implied or otherwise—in what I said, it was unintended? If I thought that I or the Government could control those at the other end of this building, I would have said March and had done with it. March is my aspiration; June is the more realistic expectation. That is precisely why the measure refers to six months rather than three. I was not presuming there to be any control on my part or on that of the Government, or any control or direction of their lordships up the other end—far from it.

Some hon. Members went away from the core elements of the motion on the extension of the period for proceedings and introduced other elements, bemoaning their absence from the Bill. It is important to note that many of those elements were never intended to be in the Bill. In the very first speech that I made on Second Reading, which seems a long time ago, I said that we had a clear planning reform agenda and that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill was but part of that agenda. So, although the important points that hon. Members made on circular 6/98 on affordable housing, for example, and on section 106 and the whole vexed area of planning obligations, were all germane, those issues were never intended to be part of the Bill. Bemoaning their absence, with or without a further extension of time, therefore seems rather strange.

I know that the Opposition must have their fun, but I do not believe that this measure has left the reputation of the House tarnished or sullied in any way. I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that uncertainty is a bad thing, which is why I am pleased to reiterate that I am more than happy to work with those on his Front Bench and the other Front Benches to ensure that many of the amendments that we need to introduce are tabled before the summer recess—certainly those on the technical elements and the concessions, for want of a better word, relating to material already discussed. If I can, I shall push that further into other areas, because I accept what has been said.

I bow to the experience of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) of the intricacies of Crown immunity. I would only hope that time, thought and the civil service have moved on, in terms of those complexities, in the 10 or so years since his time at the then Department of the Environment—the death of whose building I glory in, I must say. Marsham street now has a lovely big hole in it, which looks quite pleasant. What the Home Office will do with it is none of my business.

It is a little churlish to suggest that if we extend for six months, eight further sittings will not be enough. The Opposition do not yet know what their own load will be in terms of amendments and new clauses to the Bill, let alone the form, rather than just the number, of amendments that the Government will want to

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introduce. I would prefer people to wait and see what follows, and to make the necessary arrangements through the usual channels.

I have promised faithfully to be as generous as I possibly can—I thought that I was in that mood and character in Committee, but clearly I was not—both prior to the recommittal and subsequently in Standing Committee, should the Bill secure this motion to carry on, but some very strange arguments have been put forward. It was hard to follow the logic of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), who spent some time bemoaning the lack of scrutiny up to this point in the Bill's progress, yet, when offered this motion to secure further scrutiny, seemed to suggest that it was an absolute parliamentary disgrace. He also said that he would vote against the motion proposing eight sittings. His logic was tortured, as was his speech, and I was delighted when Madam Deputy Speaker brought him to book. Despite his churlishness, however, I remain committed to bringing forward as much as possible in the interest of making legislation as good as it can be—a point made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal—because I agree, on a non-partisan basis, that that is our task.

I must upbraid the right hon. Gentleman just a little. As I have said before, I did not suggest that the House of Lords should be cajoled or corralled into doing anything; I merely referred to a timetable to which I aspired. Moreover, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, I was not fighting in any war in Iraq. I did not consider that a very useful analogy, although I should add that it was first introduced by the hon. Member for Ludlow. The progress of the Bill depends not on my time but on the Government's time, and the use of that time by this Parliament. It was unnecessary, and not very respectful, to make comments about fighting in Iraq.

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