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Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Reid, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Secretary Clarke, Mr. Paul Boateng and Mr. Peter Hain, presented a Bill to make provision about housing conditions; to regulate houses in multiple occupation and certain other residential accommodation; to make provision for home information packs in connection with the sale of residential properties; to make provision about secure tenants and the right to buy; to make other provision about housing; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 11].
1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order (Consideration and Third Reading) shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed in two days.
3. Proceedings on Consideration on the first day shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption.
4. Proceedings on Consideration on the second day shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement on that day.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill on the second day.
6. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the following order: New Clauses standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown, remaining New Clauses, remaining proceedings on the Bill.
Anxious as I am to make progress on the substantive rather than the procedural aspects of the debate, I should respond to the observations that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made last week in his point of order, in which he complained about lack of notice on the amendments relating to planning contributions. The hon. Gentleman acts as though this is a dark plot to spring the amendments on him, but it is the end of a process that began back in December 2001, when we consulted on four options for reforming planning obligations. Our preferred option was the tariff. In July last year, having received and considered more than 500 responses to that consultation, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced that although the objectives of the tariff proposal were widely welcomed by a majority of respondents, many could be delivered without legislative change.
Work continued on the issues, especially in the light of the many representations that we continued to receive. We continued to explore how to offer developers and local authorities a straightforward way in which to shorten the time taken on negotiations. The proposals are a development of our earlier consultation about the tariffthey are nothing new; and they are optional, not mandatory.
I announced our proposals in a written statement to the House and published the consultation document on 6 November. In both I explained that we intended to take enabling powers in the Bill. I made a particular point of ensuring that the Opposition were in immediate receipt of the consultation document. If the hon. Member for Cotswold and his Liberal Democrat counterpart, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), happened to miss my statement and the consultation document, perhaps they had a chance to read about it in their daily newspapers. The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Times covered my announcement extensively, explaining that we intended to legislate, what we intended to legislate for, and that the detail of the proposals would be subject to further discussion. I do not know what the weekend reading matter of the hon. Member for Cotswold might be, but I am sure that, as a chartered surveyor, he takes the opportunity to catch up with specialist publications such as Property Week, Estates Gazette, Regeneration and Renewal and Housing Today, all of which made it clear that we intended, as I said on 6 November, to take enabling powers in the Bill.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Of course, I read all those publications avidly, because I try to get into them as often as possible. However, what the Minister says is a travesty. Although we knew in principle that the new clauses were on the way, until we saw them in detail there was no possibility of our being able to table counter-amendments. The Minister sat on the matter for a month and tabled the amendments just two daysnot even two full daysbefore all amendments had to be in or end up being starred and therefore unable to be debated. That is a manipulation of parliamentary procedure and a sloppy way of carrying on.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Although I do not have an entire ministerial team behind me, I was up very late into the night drafting amendments to try to ensure that the Minister and Government did not get away with it.
Keith Hill: I do not want to take away from the assiduousness of the hon. Gentleman, but his amendments' redolence of the midnight oil means that, unfortunately, I shall have to reject quite a lot of them.
The consultation document invited views on the general principles of reform. It was clear that we intended to legislate by making provision for a new optional planning charge that will give developers a choice between the current negotiated approach and the alternative of paying a predetermined fixed amount. I want to make it clear that we will publish the results of the consultation and our response to the points raised, as well as more detail on the form that the regulations will take, in order to inform the debates in the other place during January.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): The Minister will be aware that, in July last year, the Select Committee condemned most of the draft planning Bill, including the part dealing with tariffs. Considering that it did so on the basis of what had been said by the many people who came before it, and of the many memorandums that it received, would it not be more appropriate for such a delicate issue to be delayedor at least for the relevant part of the Report stage of the Bill to be put offuntil the results of the consultation are in and have been seriously considered by the Government?
Keith Hill: I do not think so. Our earlier consultation received precisely 505 representations on this subject. The broad outlines of the issue have been sufficiently adumbrated up and down the country, although of course we continue to discuss the matter with interested parties. In the circumstances, and in the light of the fact that these are enabling measures which will be subject to further detailed consideration in consultation, guidance and regulation, we feel that this is the right moment to introduce them.
We intend to issue a second, more detailed consultation document in spring 2004, which will be a draft circular setting out firmer and more detailed proposals. After that second consultation period, we will publish a new, revised circular to replace circular 1/97. I accept that we have shortened the consultation period to nine weeks from the 12 weeks that we usually allow. In this case, the period is shorter because we are looking for broad views on the general principles. As I have said, a further consultation document will set out our proposals in detail, and we expect to consult for longer at that time. In a nutshell, we have decided that we want to take advantage of this rare legislative opportunity to introduce the optional planning charge. Planning Bills are not introduced frequently, and the opportunity might not arise again for years.
I hope that these explanations will satisfy the House, and the hon. Member for Cotswold in particular. As I have said, the Bill has already enjoyed a lengthy Committee stage, in which there has been ample opportunity for the Opposition to scrutinise all its aspects. Moreover, it is precisely because we recognise that we are bringing new material to it, in the form of three new clauses and four amendments, that we are proposing this motion to increase even further the time available for debate. The programme motion tabled in the name of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the House provides that we consider the new material first. It is therefore entirely in the hands of the Opposition to decide how long we need to consider this new material. There will be no knives.
The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and I eagerly anticipate an interesting day and a half of debate, and I hope that we can now move quickly to address the substance of the Bill without any excessive expenditure of energy on procedural wrangles.