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Matthew Green: The right hon. Gentleman will know that last week the Audit Commission's report made it clear that, regardless of political control, council tax has been forced up by the council tax system, with the biggest effect resulting from the central Government grant. The report makes it clear that external forces are responsible, so I do not accept that rises are dependent on party control.
Mr. Gummer: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I was saying. In Suffolk, we have consistently asked the Liberals to stand up and say that it is the Government's fault. We have told them to stand up and attack the Government. We have told them that we do not expect them to support the Labour party any more because of the damage done to the county. However, as usual, the Liberals have sycophantically supported the Government, as they always do and always will. They are the other Labour party.
Mr. Gummer: They always rise to the bait, which is a great joy. I rarely make a speech on local government in which I do not manage to get almost every Liberal who has bothered to turn up for the debate to intervene. I have one more to tempt today, but in the meantime I shall give way to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross).
Richard Younger-Ross: How does the right hon. Gentleman answer the point that in Devon the councillors who run the county are a coalition not only of Tories and Liberal Democrats but of Labour and independent councillors? In Devon, the Tory party is tied to the Labour party as well, so what he has just said about the Liberal Democrats surely applies to his own party.
Mr. Gummer: Not at all, because the Conservatives in Devon have made it perfectly clear that they oppose the Labour Government and want to get rid of them. They also want to get rid of the need to associate themselves with the Liberals, which must be a very unpleasant experience for them. I very much commend them on putting the county's interests above the unpleasantness of being close to the Liberals.
I shall move on, because I have not been able to tempt the third Liberal in the Chamber to speakI shall have to be a little more extreme to get the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to intervene. There is a serious problem with the Bill. I wish that the Minister had been much more radical, as many things should have been covered in the Bill, including sustainability, energy saving and the way in which building regulations should develop. The Government ought to be legislating on many of those things, as they are important. The Bill is truncated, and does not include many things that we have been pressing for on an all-party basis. I am
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of county councils, does he not think that almost all their responsibilities, including transport, highways, archives and education have a critical bearing on the planning system? If those councils are excluded from the fundamental plan-making part of that system, I do not see how it will work.
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important matter, which I have raised myself. The difficulty is that the Government may say, "Yes, that is perfectly true, but we do not need to say so." However, if it is true, it cannot do any harm to say so. There must be a reason why the Government do not want to say so, and I believe that it is their antagonism towards county councils. They do not like them because they are old. The Government have got a thing about anything that has gone on for a long time and is working. They usually stop such things working by changing them when that is not necessary, leaving us with a much worse situationvide the House of Lords. However, we do not want to get into that now.
Sir Sydney Chapman: I did not know why the Government did not like me very much, but now I realise that it is because I am old. In fairness to the Minister, as my right hon. Friend knows, there is reference in the Bill to sustainable development, but it is confined to clause 38. As I argued in Committee, the Bill mentions sustainable development, but it does not even define what it is. Given my right hon. Friend's vast experience as a former Secretary of State for the Environment, does he not think that sustainable development needs much greater attention in the Bill? The opening clause in the relevant part of the Bill should begin with a definition of sustainable development.
Mr. Gummer: I need to be careful, lest you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should feel that I am straying from the amendment that we are discussing. One of my criticisms of my hon. Friend's amendment is that it does not make clear that very point. Perhaps I know why sustainable development is not defined. If they define it, the Government have to admit that so far they have spoken a great deal about it, but done little. The trouble is not that they need joined-up government. They need joined-down government: there ought to be a connection between the mouth and the action. There needs to be more done and less spoken. I hoped that the Bill and this part of the Bill would deliver so many of the things about which the Government have rightly spoken. For five or six years I have tried hard to be non-party political and bipartisan on the subject of the environment, but it is increasingly difficult to continue, because there is no delivery in that regard. Although I am sometimes less than utterly polite about Liberals, on this occasion I think they would agree that we need more action. In the context of local development plans, I
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I am wondering whether the disparity between action and words on the part of the Government in relation to the environment was due to the fact that the environment itself was mostly old.
Matthew Green: On sustainability and new clause 19, the Government would argue that they have left the matter open so that they can deal with it through regulations because it is such a difficult subject to deal with. I understand that one of their own consultations came up with 50 different components of sustainability, including happiness. The right hon. Gentleman is right. The Government should have written some definition of sustainability into the Bill, leaving themselves the ability to add to it later through regulations, because the argument is evolvingwe are at a different place now from where we were 10 years ago as regards sustainability.
Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman is right, particularly in his last point. The Prime Minister said that sustainability was at the heart of the Labour party programme. The heart of the Bill is the part that we are seeking to amend, and sustainability should be included in that. For that, it must be defined. It is better to have a poor definition that gives at least some indication than merely to use words with no definition and to tell the House that everything will be done by regulation afterwards. I shall say something in a moment about regulation, with particular reference to the new clause.
Mr. Gummer: I hesitate to force such an apology from my hon. Friend. Indeed, I see the new clause as a mechanism for asking the Government to rethink in time for the discussions in another place. My hon. Friend will no doubt agree that it is difficult for the Opposition to produce such a detailed clause. I am sure the Minister will make some such commentI have made such comments myself from the Government Benchesand I know that one should not look towards them, but the officials will glow with pleasure at the fact that the Minister has reminded the House that without their help it is difficult to proceed.
I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will do that in the same elegant way as we have all tried to do it from time to time, but I hope he will not use that for an excuse. I hope he will undertake to look again at the fundamental concerns behind the new clause. I shall explain what I think them to be. First, as I said, one does not have the feeling that the Government have grasped the concept that the exercise should be holistic. That is where I agree with the hon. Member for Telford. Secondly, the Government have failed to define sustainability and put it at the heart of what they are trying to do in this part of the Bill.
Thirdly, I have a problem with the approach whereby the Government intend to deal with the matter in regulations. There is a real issue about the House's control. Someone came into my constituency surgery in Woodbridge recently complaining about a particular part of a Bill. She asked how any sane collection of people could pass that clause. I looked it up and I know why. We never discussed that clause, as we did not discuss almost two thirds of that Bill, because the Government made sure that we could not do so. We had to make a choice between proper discussion of part of it and no discussion of the rest, or improper discussionif that is the wordof the whole Bill.
The emasculation of Parliament by procedure has been the mark of the Government. The same is true of the over-use of regulations. Of course it is true that in many cases regulations have to be made beyond the Bill, because of their detailed nature, but we do not have a satisfactory mechanism in the House for dealing with regulations. Many regulations are therefore not properly produced, and they affect the rights of the citizen. The Government should have given a much clearer indication of the nature of the regulations that they propose under this part.
The fourth reason why I hope the Government will think again is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold made about the complexity of this part of the Bill. The Minister goes round the country talking as though this part were as simple as the amendment that has been proposed by my hon. Friend. When the Minister talks about it, he does not explain how many documents, papers and so on must all come together. He has a simplistic and rather attractive way of presenting it. Those things should be in the Bill, and not merely be his explanation of what is in the Bill. The public would never understand it if he presented what is written in the Bill. They would be caught up in terminology such as "hereinafter" and "before him", and would begin to wonder whether they were supposed to have access to the system at all.
The Minister does not try to explain that. He explains, more or less, what my hon. Friend has proposed in his new clause. I hope the Minister will think again about his excellent speechesnot the ones that he makes in the House, but the ones that he makes in public, when he explains to ordinary people what he is trying to doand ask himself whether he can put that into the Bill so that people will understand what it is about.
Fifthly, I hope the Minister will take notice of the timetable issue. When I was Secretary of State, one of our difficulties was that we did not have enough powers to insist that local authorities completed their plans. Some of them, of all political parties, were unbelievably long-winded about trying to do it, not because they were