Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4.8 pm

Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): I am relieved to hear that the Minister is so worried about losing votes these days that he is offering to take tea with Conservative Members to ensure that they vote with him on programme motions. Unlike Conservative Front Benchers, I shall not express indignation. The Bill spent a long time in Committee—some 55½ hours, as the Minister said—and virtually all its substantive elements were covered at one time or another.

If we had considered the Bill on Report immediately after last January, I, too, would have argued against the programme motion, because the way in which business was conducted in Committee at that time was appalling. The Bill was simply pushed through and there was no real attempt to have a debate. However, the new Ministers have taken a completely different, much more welcome and open approach during our recent Committee proceedings. There were no knives, and we were able to deal with all the substantive business with which the Government and the Opposition wanted to deal. Again, there are no knives in this programme motion—

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he just said? In view of what I said about the number of clauses and schedules that were not discussed in either Committee, his observation that we were able to deal with all the Government's and the Opposition's business is simply not true.

Matthew Green: I will clarify what I said. Because of talks conducted through the usual channels, we were

8 Dec 2003 : Column 790

able to move up the order those elements that we considered most important so that we could discuss them. That is a very agreeable and sensible way forward. Frankly, many clauses would not have detained the Committee because they were minor or required no amending; indeed, no one indicated that they wanted to speak against them.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The hon. Gentleman may be aware of amendment No. 26, which is on today's amendment paper but was not reached in Committee, even though it deals with a very important issue. That clearly demonstrates that we were unable to move everything up the agenda. Indeed, it is quite impossible to move some things up the agenda without moving others down it— even the hon. Gentleman must recognise that. Some planning authorities are very concerned that they will get their consultation process on the local development framework under way, only to find that they have to go through it again.

Matthew Green: The hon. Gentleman may have a point in respect of a particular amendment, but we were able in Committee to discuss many of the new clauses and amendments tabled by both Opposition parties, and to deal with the Government's new clauses.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I understand that the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is making a reasonable case, but—notwithstanding the fair point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown)—does he think it reasonable that there will be very little time to debate the measures added on Wednesday regarding section 106? These are matters of fundamental importance; surely they concern him just as much as they concern us.

Matthew Green: I understand that there would have been one day for Report but for the introduction of the section 106 measures, which has resulted in the addition of another half-day. Once again, that is reasonable. This is a complex and detailed Bill, but it is not one of high politics. It is a Bill best dealt with in Committee. I am sure that, in the other place, their lordships will pore over it and table many amendments. It is a different sort of Bill from those concerned with foundation hospitals and tuition fees.

The Government's recent handling of the Bill has been satisfactory; they have placed no knives and allowed us to move around the order. I should like to see such an approach used with other Bills—compared with others Bills that I have experienced during the past year, I find the Government's approach to be satisfactory. I hope that we will get through the business. I suspect that whether we do or not will depend largely on the length of speeches from Conservative Members, the factor that probably had the largest impact in Committee.

The Liberal Democrats will not be opposing the motion, which we believe gives sufficient time to deal with the major salient points. We would have liked some proposals to be selected, but they were ruled out by the Clerks. With that proviso, we are happy to support the motion.

8 Dec 2003 : Column 791

4.11 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I shall detain the House for as short a time as possible, and I can do so particularly because I agree almost entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has said. It is worth referring back to the original Bill, which had its Second Reading almost exactly a year ago. We were told by Ministers—not the same Ministers who are on the Front Bench now—that this was an important, fast-track Bill that needed to be on the statute book as quickly as possible. It was rushed through Committee—only 26 out of 90 clauses and only three out of six schedules were examined. Last June, we heard that instead of bringing the Bill to the Floor for Report, the Government were going to send it back into Committee, which was a unique experience in my time in the House since 1970. I note that the Bill now has 117 clauses and nine schedules.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Green). There is not enough time to consider the new clauses and those clauses that were not examined at all during last year's Committee stage. The Government are represented by two courteous, fair and considerate Ministers, and I do not blame them. However, rather than deciding to bring the Bill back to Committee with the intention of adding new clauses on planning contributions, the Government managers should have let the original Bill proceed normally last June. Then, after consulting on planning contributions, they should have proposed a second planning Bill, suitably named, either later in this Session or in the next one.

I do not believe that fewer than six hours today and two or three hours tomorrow—depending on how long we spend on Third Reading—is sufficient time to deal properly with 117 clauses and nine schedules.

The Government's latest topical spin phrase is "the big conversation". I say to them that what we badly need in this House is more conversation and more scrutiny of Bills, so that the other place does not have to work overtime to deal with all those matters that cannot be considered tonight.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is making a cogent case. He has not only architectural but planning and other professional experience, so he knows a great deal about these matters. Does he, with his long experience in this House, agree that the Report stage of any Bill is the only opportunity for those Members who were not members of the Committee to table amendments and new clauses, so the effect of this timetable will be to squeeze out many of those Members?

Sir Sydney Chapman: I entirely agree, and that was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell).

Returning to what the hon. Member for Ludlow said, it may be that on some clauses there are no party political divisions. I do not know that, but I suspect that in general terms there are no such divisions. However, whether or not any of the clauses are non-contentious and will not divide the parties, they all concern matters that are important to many outside organisations.

8 Dec 2003 : Column 792

Planning affects each and every one of us. It is a sensitive issue and we really should have had much more time to deal with these important matters.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: My hon. Friend has put his finger on precisely the point. There may not be a political divide, but he has made it clear that 64 of the 90 clauses were not discussed in Committee—that is a phenomenal figure. Many outside professional bodies, in which people earn their living and have a great expertise in these matters, need to see in Hansard what the effect of the clauses will be. They need us to ventilate the issues in the House, and the fact that we are unable to do so today is a retrograde step. The business managers should think again.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I entirely agree, and while I am on that winning streak I shall resume my seat.

4.16 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): I wish to express my concern that the programme motion may not allow us to come to new clause 17, tabled by my Front-Bench colleagues. I raise the matter because it is of great concern to my constituents, and it would provide a remedy for the unauthorised development of land by Gypsies and travellers. I have seven such sites in my constituency and feeling is running extremely high among my constituents on this issue. I find it surprising that the Government have not seen fit to deal with the matter in the Bill or to table an amendment, and I am extremely concerned that the time allotted to us today may not allow us to reach this vital new clause.

The new clause would allow the enforcement of stop notices, preventing the continuing development of sites. At present, people who develop sites illegally are able to play the appeals system until the site is fully developed. I can think of nothing more calculated to cause disharmony between the settled community and the travelling community than such a state of affairs. It is a matter of great regret that the programme motion will very likely not allow us to reach new clause 17, and I am extremely concerned that the Government have not seen fit to propose measures on this subject.

Next Section

IndexHome Page