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It is important to remember that we are not here just because the Bill is radical. The principle behind it has massive popular support and there is a real drive to find solutions to the problems that we have discussed today. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who participated in public meetings were probably as surprised as me by the turnout at those meetings and the range of people who attended—they certainly were not the usual suspects. Although the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) does not like me using that phrase, I think that everyone understands
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what I am trying to say. There is such an appetite because there is engagement, which we have not seen on local area agreements, and an understanding that the Bill will cast light on not only the workings of government, but the spending of both local and central Government.

The Bill is also important because people are disillusioned. When people discuss parish plans, or work at a more local level, they are frustrated that even when there is a willingness to recognise problems, there is often a block because there is no mechanism to bring about the changes that are wanted. My constituency has seen how extreme such disillusionment can get because the Cornish National Liberation Army is threatening serious action against second home owners and, slightly bizarrely, celebrity chefs. However, there is a serious point because part of the drive behind such behaviour might be the feeling that there is no other way to voice such discontent.

I thank everyone who has facilitated the progress of the Bill, and I am sure that it will be considered with a similar approach in another place. I look forward to its completing its passage.

1.26 pm

Mr. Drew: I congratulate the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). In the years to come, I am sure that the Bill will be cited in politics textbooks as an example of how a new Member can change the law. He deserves every credit, as does the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy), my co-sponsor. We have got to know each other rather well.

I thank the Minister and his team. It was helpful that we were able to resolve problems in a friendly manner. Politics is about not only the cut and thrust of debate, but getting things done. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes. While that seemed to take a long time, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we now have a good Bill.

I thank the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who has been the meat in the sandwich on more than one occasion. I now understand what a PPS does. She is obviously going to go places; I told her yesterday that she had every prospect of real promotion. After dealing with us, the job of prisons Minister might be an easier role. She spent an awful lot of time trying to make the Bill happen.

Like others, I pay tribute to the Local Works campaign. The campaign has come from without to within. We sometimes like to think of ourselves as the fount of all knowledge and those who create all the ideas, but the Bill has genuinely come from the grass roots. Local Works and the New Economics Foundation have pointed out why we need to get hold of ghost-town Britain. It is to their credit that they have worked towards the Bill for such a long time and I am immensely humbled to have been part of the process.

1.29 pm

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): “Sustainable Communities” is not only the name of the Bill, but one of the great imperatives of British politics
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in 2007. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) said, the Bill provides a framework for people who want to underpin and nurture sustainable communities. It also provides an encouraging signpost for people who might be disillusioned about whether we in Westminster are able to influence the things that they care about. More importantly, they wonder whether it is worth getting involved with their local community. The Bill is the answer to all those people who say, “Is it really worth my while? Should we bother?” because it will provide a reason and a vehicle for them to get involved and help shape their community.

In my constituency, the Bill will be particularly welcomed by the traders and residents of Little Common, who are fighting inappropriate development and planning applications. They will be able to feel a sense of real ownership of the development of their local community, where they want to preserve village life. It will also be welcomed by the people who are fighting for the post office in Staple Cross and other post offices that are under threat across my constituency. The Bill will reinforce their belief and hope that they can have a real say.

I am particularly pleased that the Bill will go through the House today because I was a co-sponsor of its previous incarnation in the last Parliament. The way in which its provisions have been taken forward by those directly concerned with the Bill before us is a great credit to Members of all parties—to the Minister, the Government and all the Opposition parties. We can all be very proud of the way in which the House of Commons has responded to the great enthusiasm and demand that there is for the Bill in the country, proud of the sensible way in which it was scrutinised in Committee and proud of the way in which Members have picked their way through a complex and at times vague piece of legislation. We have ended up with a Bill that is robust, that reflects public concerns and that will, I hope, address them. The whole process started with Local Works, which deserves huge credit for making the Bill a reality. I am very pleased to be associated with the Bill today.

1.31 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I was happy to be a member of the Committee on the Bill—

Mr. Drew: It was because you have got a beard.

Jeremy Corbyn: I think that the main reason why I was chosen to sit on the Committee was because I have a beard. Speaking as someone who is not in any way a usual suspect—I am just a normal activist—I consider the Bill to be extremely welcome. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) on getting it through the House. Perhaps he could inform the House why it is that new Members come up high in the private Member’s Bill ballot and old lags like me never come anywhere in it. A Privy Council inquiry should be held into why bearded Members do not get high places in the private Member’s Bill ballot. [Laughter.] It is a serious point; there is evidence to prove it.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) because he has done a fantastic job in supporting the Bill and has campaigned for many years
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on the issue of local sustainable communities. I also thank the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) for the work that she has done. It is a useful piece of legislation, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud pointed out, the best legislation does not start in the unseen reaches of the civil service; it starts outside in campaigns to improve community life around the country, and that is where the Bill comes from.

I think back to a public meeting that we held in support of the Bill three years ago in Archway in my constituency. I was invited to come and speak at it, and I thought, “A public meeting on sustainable communities—how many people will be there?” but 350 people turned up. That is absolutely amazing. It was not that they necessarily wanted to talk about the details of a Bill; they wanted to find out why they had so little power over the future of local shops, particularly those around Junction road, over the future of big planning decisions that would affect them, and over housing developments, given that we desperately need social housing.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the strongest defenders of the village high street are the residents of villages in cities? The situation is similar in my constituency, where the community living around one of the nicest village high streets in London has been agitating partly in support of the Bill and partly in support of its high street. Those people look to the Bill to help them to revitalise their high street and to defend what they have, namely a high street that has all the shops that are required in a high street, including a post office.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I strongly agree with his remarks. As a former chair of a borough planning committee in London, I look back to the days when there were considerable powers for local planning to decide what range of shops were to be available in a particular street. That is an important power, because if three or four key shops are lost, such as local grocers or bakers, gradually the whole place deteriorates because people cannot do all their shopping there. Such sustainability is important.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, I am proud to represent an inner-city community. Inner-city communities are very complicated. The Bill applies just as much to them as it does to rural areas. It is important to ensure that there is a good range of shops, that all the linguistic requirements of the local community are met and encouraged to be met, and above all that local shopping is inclusive and sustainable.

Yesterday morning I had a good meeting with the new town centre manager who is dealing with the Finsbury Park area. I was discussing with her the importance of a Bill like this in improving her possibilities of ensuring that we maintain a sustainable local business community, a sustainable local community and improved local housing opportunities in order to enhance the whole area. As a former chair of a planning committee in Haringey and chair of area improvement committees, and having seen rehabilitation committees in operation, I think the Bill is a good step forward.

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Local communities are what it is about. A good local community, good local shopping, good local facilities, good transport and good housing bind communities together, cut crime, cut racism and increase understanding. That is what I see the Bill as having achieved. The work of Ron Bailey and others who have campaigned for that over many years ought to be recorded with thanks by all of us in the House today.

1.36 pm

Philip Davies: Following your earlier comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rise to congratulate briefly all those who have been involved in the Bill from the start to the point that we have now reached, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood. It is a tremendous achievement for him to have got his private Member’s Bill so far, having been in the House for just two years. I entered Parliament at the same time as he did, and I would not get any Bill anywhere near this stage. The way my hon. Friend has conducted himself throughout the passage of the Bill shows that he has a bright future ahead of him in this place.

I pay tribute also to the Minister for the constructive way in which he has engaged in the debate on the Bill and offered reassurance to those of us who raised our concerns. The Bill may not be perfect, but it is very good. I am delighted that we have not made the perfect the enemy of the very good. The Bill will give great hope and encouragement to people in my constituency and make them feel that they can make a real difference to the decision making that affects their lives and their local community. On their behalf I pass on my heartfelt thanks to everybody who has been involved, especially my hon. Friend.

1.38 pm

Lynda Waltho: I add my congratulations both to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) and to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). The way in which the Bill has been dealt with shows Parliament working at its best across the parties and with the support of the vast majority of local community groups.

The Bill will not necessarily allow people to solve the problem of global warming, but it will allow them to add their own local efforts and to make decisions that involve them and make a difference locally. That is extremely important. I have been assured that the Bill cannot be used as a nimby’s charter. That was a possibility in the early stages, when there was less information available.

Congratulations have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who has elevated the role of PPS and shown us all what can be achieved. As a flatmate of hers, I can say that she has been working on the Bill 100 per cent. of her time, and the rest of us who share the flat are grateful that has got this far. I offer congratulations and thanks to all concerned.

1.39 pm

Mr. Rogerson: As a member of the Committee, I want to add to the record my thanks to all those involved in the passage of the Bill. Whether they are
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bearded or unbearded, they have all made a great contribution, and we are delighted to have reached this point.

As other hon. Members have said, the Bill comes from outside this place, despite the efforts of those hon. Members who have ably advanced the case for its introduction. That is a good example how the Bill will work—ideas will come from local communities about how best to solve problems. We have established that the problems will be different in each area, and it would be ludicrous to require a national Government solution to each of them and to expect the Government to legislate. All of us have local issues that we want to see resolved in our constituencies, and we could spend a very long time asking the Government, of whichever complexion, to get around to addressing them. The facility to enable local communities to come up with and effect solutions is a huge change.

I want to highlight the issue of the proliferation of second homes in my constituency, which I raised in Committee. At that stage, the Minister felt that the Bill would offer us in Cornwall the opportunity to propose the solutions to deal with that problem and to maintain sustainable communities. I know that, for example, areas where studentification is taking place also feel that this is an opportunity for them to come up with local solutions. They want to welcome everybody, but they want to ensure that there is a balance in the community and that local services can be maintained.

Ultimately, the Bill allows local communities to see where they are—that is akin to the parish plan process, which we have discussed—to analyse where public money is being spent and to come up with solutions, which may involve some changes to the provision of local functions in order to deliver plans to deal with their problems. The Bill is highly significant, and it has a great deal of support out in the country. It will be welcomed, and we have done a very good thing today in taking it forward. I look forward to seeing it emerge from another place, perhaps improved even further. It will allow us to show the country that we have listened and acted to create and sustain communities, which are so important to us.

1.42 pm

Richard Younger-Ross: I add my congratulations to all those who have participated. I will not list them, except for the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who has done a stunning job in introducing the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the Bill is just the beginning and that the process needs to go further. I hope that the Government will consider the point that the Bill is the start of a process.

For 40 years, we have witnessed the strange death of rural Britain and of the British high street. The Bill is significant because it will enable the resurrection of those high streets and those communities. It is very important.

1.43 pm

Mr. Letwin: I echo the many congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). As we noted in Committee, any Bill that
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brings me and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) to the same side of a debate is remarkable. [ Interruption. ] Speaking as a Privy Councillor, I hope that Her Majesty will not commission a report on the question why bearded Members fail in the ballot.

In thanking the Minister for his co-operation, I want to make one point. Although we took considerable comfort from his remarks about the transfer of functions, we want carefully to examine precisely what he said when we read Hansard. We also want to investigate whether the intent of new clause 6(4)(b) is fully captured by his new clause 1(3). If not, I hope that we can hold discussions with either him or his successor as the Bill proceeds to another place, because it is, I hope, clear that we have a policy agreement about our objective in that all-important part of the Bill.

1.44 pm

Mr. Woolas: I will speak briefly because I am conscious of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who has silently overshadowed my considerations in the past few weeks. I am aware of his capacity for examining Bills in detail and I do not want to eat into his time.

I have already congratulated and thanked people involved in the Bill and, like the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), I do not wish to spend too much time on repeating that. However, I particularly want to mention my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown). When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put this Bill into my in-tray, my inclination was to stitch together a deal. My hon. Friend has embroidered a deal and created a Bill that is workable, makes sense and meets the policy intentions of its sponsors.

I am also grateful to the right hon. Member for West Dorset. It is significant that he is at the Dispatch Box, because he is responsible for policy development. As politicians, we are moving firmly into a world where localism is one of the key points in public debate. That has not always been the case but, as I said at the Local Government Association meeting, Ministers and shadow Ministers now line up to prove their localist agendas. My difficulty is to ensure that we move together in consensus, particularly with the LGA, while at the same time maintaining a political advantage over the right hon. Gentleman, which is very difficult because of his intelligence and articulacy.

Before the Bill went into Committee, I did some research and read David Butler’s excellent book, “Failure in British Government: The Politics of the Poll Tax”. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said that things go disastrously wrong when there is consensus, but they can also go disastrously wrong when there is not consensus. The book gives an account of the celebratory party at the house of the then Local Government Minister, William Waldegrave, present at which was the young No. 10 policy adviser, a certain Mr. Oliver Letwin. I say that to tease him, but I acknowledge the thought that he has given to policy development in this area and the assistance that he has given to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd).

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Let me finally thank one other one other person—my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. He was the author of the policy idea—ridiculed when it was first proposed—of sustainability for our communities. That phrase was part of the departmental logo for many years. I know that we all wish him a speedy recovery.

It is right that the Bill has had a long gestation period. I acknowledge the work of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy), and Sue Doughty before her, and of other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew).

In the past 40 years, three Members have passed private Members’ Bills of significant substance through this House. The first was Sidney Silverman, whose Bill led to the abolition of capital punishment in this country, and the second was the right hon. David Steel, whose Bill led to this country’s abortion laws. Many other Members have got private Members’ Bills through—indeed, I got one through in 1997. It took me about 10 minutes because it was a handout Bill and nobody noticed it. The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood has had to spend months getting his Bill through.

I genuinely believe that the Bill will change the relationships in British politics. I do not think that it will achieve everything that the promoter and sponsors claim for it, but it will change the relationships. Although it will not grab the headlines as much as Sidney Silverman’s Bill or David Steel’s, it will contribute enormously to British politics, and I am proud to be the Minister who helped it through Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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