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3.53 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Thank you for allowing me to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister is skating on pretty thin ice, considering the chronology of the Bill. I shall go through that in some detail, so that anyone listening to this debate or reading the report of it later can see the mismanagement of Government business that the Bill exemplifies par excellence. The programme motion provides that we shall finish our proceedings at the moment of interruption today, giving us just six and a half hours. Tomorrow, we shall have just two hours on further consideration, giving us a total of eight and a half hours. Points of order and the ministerial statement have taken up half an hour, so we will have in effect only eight hours to debate 23 new clauses and 78 amendments, most of which—certainly the substantive ones—are Government new clauses and amendments. These amendments are very technical and extremely important to the development industry.

What a way to carry on! I apologise for my point of order last Thursday, which was marginally incorrect. The Bill started its Second Reading on 17 December 2002, which is almost a year ago. The Government rushed it through Second Reading and Committee on a timetable of 12 sittings between 9 and 28 January, which meant that on the first go at this in Standing Committee only 30 clauses out of 90 and only 1 schedule out of six were discussed.

The Government were not content with rushing the Bill through at that huge pace. The whole thing went to sleep until June, when they introduced an unprecedented recommittal motion to recommit it to Standing Committee. That took place, and despite the fact that we had argued strongly for 12 sittings we were given only eight. Even on the second go, only 29 clauses out of 90 were discussed, and four schedules out of six were not even debated.

Despite the fact that the Government have had two goes at this legislation in Standing Committee, there are still huge chunks of the original Bill that have never been discussed. On top of that, during the second Standing

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Committee stage, the Government introduced two new huge portions, which I estimate add about 20 clauses to the existing 90 on important matters to do with Crown immunity and compulsory purchase.

No sooner had that second Committee finished and while the ink was hardly dry, the Government announced that they wanted to add another huge bit on to the section 106 procedure—the alternative procedure that the Minister has outlined—in the highly complex clauses 1, 2 and 3. Yet we are being allowed only one and a half days for debate on Report—in fact, not even one and a half days. That is totally inadequate. I suspect that at the end of Report stage huge chunks of the original Bill will not have been discussed, and neither will the other new clauses and amendments. I draw hon. Members' attention to the new list of amendments. There are 40 pages of amendments, which include 23 new clauses and 78 amendments. That shows the huge interest of a large number of Members who want to discuss various aspects of the Bill, yet we have this timetable motion. At the very least, we should have two days for Report.

There is no reason at all why we need to finish at 10 o'clock today. There is no reason why discussion of the Bill should not go on after the moment of interruption. That would allow Back Benchers to present the new clauses that they have tabled and to raise all the issues that pertain to the Bill.

I must express our serious reservations about what we will discuss today. The Government say that they had a consultation document way back in December and that they had 505 responses. That consultation paper led the Government to conclude that the tariff system was unworkable, yet for some extraordinary reason they have decided to bring it back in these new clauses. Not only is that an extraordinary way to go about things, given that we thought this whole tariff idea had been dropped, but the Government are bringing it back in the middle of their new consultation, which does not end until 8 January. Many experts wonder whether it is possible to subject this whole procedure to judicial review. The Government have introduced clauses not only in the middle of the consultation but at a time when the Treasury-sponsored Barker report is still not available in full. I thank the Minister for acceding to part of my request by ensuring that some of the responses are available on the website. However, we still have not seen the full Barker report, which touches on this matter.

The new clauses are both wide in scope and vague. I have no doubt that the other place will want to give this whole Bill huge scrutiny. It is reprehensible to bring forward these new clauses in such a vague form and in such a hurry.

There is no reason why these matters could not have been specified in the Queen's Speech, and subject to a separate Bill.

We all rely on the planning system in this country, but the Government have ripped up the present system and made the new system even more complicated. Once we have added to that the further complication that will be raised in today's debate, the system will probably be unable to cope.

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These are important matters that touch on all our lives, and not least on the country's economic development, but the timetable only allows us about eight and a half hours in which to discuss them. This is a monstrous travesty of parliamentary procedure.

4 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly.The Minister knows how deeply some of the issues in the Bill concern us in Sutton Coldfield and it worries me that insufficient time has been allocated to them. The Minister was good enough to reply to a late night Adjournment debate about some of those issues in the summer, within minutes of taking up his post. He will therefore know that planning decisions and the way in which they are made is one of the most important issues.

I am particularly concerned about two matters that the motion may prevent us from discussing. The first is misuse of brown land. I have always suspected that the Minister feels some sympathy for us in Sutton Coldfield where that is concerned. Under current legislation, developers can wilfully misinterpret the definition of brown land. They can knock down large houses with large, mature gardens—I gave the Minister a specific example last summer—and replace two or three of them with enormous blocks of flats. They can increase density in areas where that is wholly inappropriate. I suggested to the Minister that he might like to undertake a journey from Sutton Coldfield to Birmingham, as en route he would see what both he and I would consider proper and legitimate brown-land development. But I fear that the wilful misinterpretation that I have described cannot be discussed adequately in our debates.

The second issue is that of appeals. Under current legislation, a developer whose application is turned down by a planning committee can appeal if he can persuade the appeal authorities that he has been denied the opportunity of proceeding with his development. The problem is that when a developer is given permission under the current legislation—even when the planners would have preferred not to give permission, but the planning department believes that it must do so under the legislation—my constituents have no right of appeal.

When the matter was discussed at length in Committee, the Government's response was that it was an extremely difficult issue, that they would think about it, but that they had no plans to act. If more time were available today, we might have had an opportunity to consider ways of redressing the balance more in favour of our constituents and less to the advantage of developers. It might, for instance, have been possible to argue that when a large number of local people object to a decision in favour of a developer—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman can advance these arguments at a later stage. We are discussing the programme motion, which is very tightly and strictly drawn.

Mr. Mitchell: I am most grateful for that guidance, Mr. Speaker, and I am about to bring my remarks to a conclusion. If this programme motion were more extensive—if it gave us greater opportunity to raise such

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points—the very important issues of appeals, and of the current injustice affecting my constituents and the developers, could be addressed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend will be aware that I argued very hard in Committee for our amendment on this issue. Indeed, I tabled new clause 9, which would have achieved precisely what his constituents are asking him to achieve, but because of the constraints of the timetable motion that we are discussing it will not even be discussed. That is yet another example of why the timetable motion is inadequate.

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes the point extremely well. The timetable motion is so tightly drawn that his excellent new clause, which I fully support, cannot be discussed. That is a cause of dismay to my constituents, who will of course hold the Government absolutely to account for not enabling my hon. Friend's new clause to be debated.

I draw my remarks to a close by making one final point. I have yet to decide whether to vote in favour of, or against, the programme motion, so I shall listen with great care to the Minister's response. He has been most helpful. He has agreed to visit my constituency and to take tea with me and others to discuss these very matters, and I look forward to that occasion. There is no more important issue in Sutton Coldfield than this one, and the question of whether I shall support the programme motion will depend on the Minister's response.

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