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Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill (ReCommittal)

4.8 pm

Mr. McNulty: I beg to move,

I thank the House for the enthusiasm with which it supported the carry-over motion and the extension of the period for proceedings motion. The logical consequence of passing them is that the Bill now be re-committed to a Standing Committee. We can debate the point, but the relevant Standing Committee could be either the existing one or a new one: it does not matter too much, because in either case, it can be adjusted appropriately by the Committee of Selection. The Bill will be recommitted to a Standing Committee firmly in the context that I have outlined. First, I will endeavour to ensure that by September—long before the Bill is recommitted to the Standing Committee, should that be the wish of the House—all the statutory instruments, circulars and other germane elements are published. As hon. Members will recall, in the initial stages of the Bill, the regulations were published, but we have lost track of that simultaneous unfolding of the appropriate regulations and statutory instruments. I will endeavour to ensure that they are all in place before recommittal.

Secondly, I will seek to ensure that as many as possible of the Government's new amendments—including all those that would make technical changes to the existing Bill and the concessions that the Government agreed to make—will be tabled and published before the House rises in the summer. Thirdly, I will also endeavour to publish the amendments on other issues—compulsory purchase, Crown immunity and urban development corporations—at the earliest opportunity. If I can, I will do so before the House rises, but if not, by September at the latest, to facilitate hon. Members who wish to prepare for their role in Committee.

I hope that the House will accept unanimously the recommittal to a Standing Committee. Whether one was for or against the two previous motions, it must follow that the Bill should be recommitted to a Standing Committee for further scrutiny. It will be a matter for debate between the usual channels whether that is for four sittings, as I would prefer, or eight or even 12. However, no one who has listened to the fair debates that we have had on the two previous motions could do anything but fully support the recommittal of the Bill to Standing Committee so it can be afforded further scrutiny. I commend the motion to the House.

4.12 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown : I contend to the Minister that as I have cajoled and pleaded with him in the debate on the previous two motions, the Bill should be recommitted to Standing Committee without any guillotine—let alone the measly and inadequate eight sittings that the Minister is prepared to offer us—I should, and will, urge my colleagues to oppose the motion. [Interruption.] The Minister told me off the record that there would be eight sittings. I pleaded with him to give us more sittings, but I have had no indication from him that he will grant that request. Therefore, I have no alternative but to urge my colleagues to vote against the motion.

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The Minister has already told us that 70 major new clauses and amendments will be tabled, to a Bill that was originally 90 clauses long. In other words, the amendments and new clauses will probably double the size of the Bill. The original 12 sittings were not enough, so we cannot possibly give the Bill proper scrutiny in only eight sittings.

Standing Orders say that the Bill should be recommitted

I have taken advice from the Clerks and they say that that should be so, all other things being equal. By golly, I hope that we do not have the same Standing Committee. I do not wish to do anybody an injustice, but from a quick scrutiny of the Hansard of the Committee proceedings, it appears that four Labour Members—the hon. Members for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), for Harwich (Mr. Henderson) and for High Peak (Tom Levitt)—and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), a Welsh nationalist, said nothing or almost nothing. I hope that all members of the Standing Committee will make a full and proper contribution.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): Does my hon. Friend consider that, if what we read about a cull of junior Ministers in an imminent reshuffle is true, it is possible that half of the junior Ministers who were on the Committee will not be there if the Committee is reformed?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend makes his own point. However, I am sure that there will be plenty of applicants.

Mr. McNulty: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I shall give way to the Minister, but I have only 10 minutes in which to speak, so I shall not give way to anyone else.

Mr. McNulty: I want to make two quick points. First, Parliamentary Private Secretaries traditionally do not speak in Committee, and at least two of the hon. Members to whom the hon. Gentleman referred held that office. Secondly, it is very unkind of the hon. Gentleman to besmirch the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) for not saying anything. The hon. Gentleman was not there, so how could he say anything?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I apologise to the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt). He was indeed the PPS.

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Ian Stewart (Eccles): What about the rest of them?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The rest of them had every opportunity to speak.

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Henderson) was also a PPS on the Committee.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am now informed that the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Henderson) was a PPS on the Committee, but there was no excuse for the rest of the Committee members not taking a proper part in the proceedings.

Why should the Committee not be guillotined? That is the real issue for consideration this evening. We are dealing with unprecedented parliamentary procedure. The motions passed earlier allow the Government to carry the Bill over into the next Session. That is unprecedented. Surely, if the Government are going to recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee, that Committee should not be guillotined and should have every opportunity to carry out line-by-line scrutiny. There will be a huge number of new clauses and amendments—70-odd—and no doubt there will be goodness knows how many new schedules as well. However, the existing Bill is highly flawed and needs extensive scrutiny. It is a bad Bill, and it needs lots of amendment, so that the people of this country get the planning system that they want.

Matthew Green : I just want to confirm that Liberal Democrat Members will join the Conservatives in the Lobby to oppose the proposal, as we believe that eight sittings will be insufficient to scrutinise the changes to the Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Of course we need to scrutinise the Bill properly, and the hon. Gentleman is right. My prime concern is that the House is beginning to get a reputation for passing unsatisfactory legislation because insufficient time for scrutiny is being allowed in Committee or on Report. I do not seem to be anywhere near getting a commitment from the Minister that there will be no guillotine on the Committee, and so the Opposition have no alternative but to oppose the motion.

I want to raise another point. What happens if the Government recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee and then have other ideas for additional things that they want to include? What is to prevent them from coming to the House and asking for a further recommittal motion? This is a very bad way to go about Government business. This Bill received a huge amount of public consultation. Three huge documents were produced, starting as long ago as December 2001, and there have been 16,500 responses. There was also pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committee, yet the Government still managed to publish a bad Bill before it went into Committee. The guillotine meant that Committee scrutiny was inadequate, as was the Bill that emerged.

There used to be certainty in the planning system before this Bill, for example in connection with obtaining outline planning permission. Now, there is confusion about the new concept of the statement of

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development principles. Many developers have said that they expect difficulty in getting funding for large developments if that sort of nonsense remains in the Bill.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Nothing would give me greater pleasure, but I have only 10 minutes to debate this motion. If my hon. Friend will allow, I shall make progress.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: With difficulty.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Through the previous motion, the Government have given themselves six extra months on the Bill, but they are proposing to allow only eight extra Committee sittings. That means that two weeks will be spent in Standing Committee, out of six months. That is an extraordinary state of affairs, especially with a highly technical Bill such as this, about which there has been a huge amount of representation and interest from outside bodies. There is now uncertainty about the planning system, and the Government's wholesale amendment of the Bill is like starting from scratch. The measure needs a lot of scrutiny and if it does not receive the scrutiny properly due to it in Committee, an enormous amount of case law will ensue. I predict that that will happen anyway; it will be a lawyers' paradise, as many experts have already told us.

This is a poor way to run Government business. Surely, the Government should set out their programme in the Queen's Speech in the normal way and then decide which Bills are more important so that they can be dealt with properly in the parliamentary Session. Only in exceptional circumstances should a Bill be carried over in this way. Such a procedure should certainly not apply to a Bill as technical as this one, which has received such a large amount of pre-legislative scrutiny. Such a Bill should not be a candidate for carry-over. The only candidates for carry-over should be Bills to which the House, for one reason or another, has not had time to give proper scrutiny. That is not the case for this Bill; the Government simply want to introduce a raft of extra proposals.

When we debated the previous motions, the technical nature of the additional material proposed was made clear—for example, on Crown immunity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) probably has more experience of such matters than any other Member. He has already given us a clue about the difficulty of abolishing Crown immunity for Departments. What will happen in national emergencies? What about the Ministry of Defence? We shall have to deal with all those matters in considerable detail.

We shall also have to deal in considerable detail with the technical merits of compulsory purchase. It will be extremely difficult to deal with 70 new clauses or amendments in the time available, so, in the strongest possible terms, I urge my colleagues to vote against the motion. It is a bad principle and a bad precedent.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 74 (Re-committal of bill):—

The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 168.

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