Previous Section Index Home Page

2 Jun 2008 : Column 498

Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

First day
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings

    New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Parts 3 and 4, New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 7, New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 8, and New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to correction of errors in development consent decisions or changes to, or revocation of, orders granting development consent.

    7.30 p.m.

    New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 2.

    The moment of interruption.

Second day

    New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Chapter 2 of Part 9, and New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 11.

    7.00 p.m.

    New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to functions of the Infrastructure Planning Commission or the Secretary of State in relation to applications for orders granting development consent, and remaining proceedings on consideration.

    One hour before the moment of


3.32 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): It is a pleasure to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson). It is sad, however, that the first business of the House that he will see is a programme motion under which the Government seek to hide from the demands of democracy.

The programme motion is a fig leaf to cover the embarrassment of the huge number of new clauses, new schedules and amendments—28 new clauses, six new schedules and 218 amendments. I acknowledge that some result from work we did in Committee and subsequent discussions, but after 10 years I would have thought that the Government had enough experience to get a Bill substantially right the first time. Many of the proposals are substantial and we need time to explore them. The groupings on the development consent regime are doubtless fascinating; they demand
2 Jun 2008 : Column 499
exploration and provoke many questions. However, they should have been introduced in Committee and not on Report, when we have little time to explore their effect or decide whether they improve the Bill.

More importantly, the programme motion has been used to hide matters of fundamental principle. The Bill is profoundly undemocratic because it denies Parliament a substantive vote on national planning statements. Those statements, which we support in principle, cover the replacement of our crumbling infrastructure, whose effect we experienced with last week’s near power blackout, and with the Prime Minister’s conversion to more nuclear power stations. Where was he when the subject was kicked into the long grass by his predecessor—disappearing like Macavity? If such difficult decisions are to be made acceptable to the British public, we believe that Parliament should decide, not the Government. The debate on that takes place later this evening, as does the debate on climate change, which is also high up the political agenda. I hope that those debates will attract many participants, but it is a scandal, given how few Government Back Benchers are present, that such crucial issues are being consigned to the equivalent of the graveyard slot.

Next week, the even more important issue of the unelected and undemocratic infrastructure planning commission will also be consigned to the graveyard slot. Perhaps that is not unconnected with early-day motions 603 to 606, all of which were tabled by Government Back Benchers, and with amendments from the very same people, who have consistently and honourably opposed this dilution of democratic rights throughout the progress of the Bill.

The programme motion is designed to allow the Government to hide from the British public and from their responsibility to take the tough decisions that they were elected to take. On those grounds, we will vote against it.

3.35 pm

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I had some disagreements with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) in Committee, but on this occasion I agree with her. Although some of the large number of Government amendments that we are being asked to consider are responses to the issues raised in Committee, as she said, they will take up a great deal of time that may have been of value to hon. Members who did not have the opportunity to serve on the Committee, but who want to debate some of the substantive issues. They include environmental concerns, which a number of organisations have raised, how national statements will address such concerns and, crucially, the scrutiny of those statements by this place and perhaps the other place.

Although it was good of the Minister to take the opportunity to explain to Opposition Front Benchers the Government’s intention in respect of some provisions, Members who want to pay due attention to the important matters contained in the Bill—this is their first and indeed only opportunity to do so in detail—will want greater time to do so. In fact, the restrictions placed on some of those key discussions by
2 Jun 2008 : Column 500
the large amount of time that we shall be spending on other issues will be a disadvantage to hon. Members who wish to contribute. Therefore, I concur with the hon. Lady that the programme motion unfortunately does not do justice to the subject at hand.

3.37 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I rise to support the opposition to the programme motion. It is another travesty of democracy that we should be expected to be allocated time on a range of sensitive and important constitutional matters about how something as crucial as planning should be decided. It may be that there are provisions for which the time allocated by Ministers is too great. However, there will undoubtedly be occasions on which the issue is so important that many more Members would like to join in and to have the opportunity to be here, if only a more sensible time had been chosen for considering such matters.

I urge Ministers to think again, even now. It may be that we can consider the Bill in the total amount of time that they have made available, but they should allow the House to decide how that time is best spent and how the priorities should be reflected in that debate. Often, when we give people greater freedom, they show greater responsibility, and we get a better quality of debate that concentrates more on the issues that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) powerfully made the case that the Bill will set up an unelected quango to make extremely important decisions, whereas I and many of my constituents believe that there should be a stronger democratic input. I would add that many of my constituents feel that there should be more influence from the locality, not less. They do not feel that their local views are properly considered under the current process, because there is so much centralising, railroading and regional, overarching influence. The situation will be even worse if we have an unelected national quango making important decisions and forcing consequential decisions on local authorities once the main decision has been taken. We need proper time to debate safeguards and guarantees for local empowerment and influence over such decisions.

I am not one who wishes to stop every new development, and I certainly am not one who thinks that we need to resist all the important infrastructure and energy projects that this country is crying out for. The reason why such projects have been delayed in the past decade is not so much the planning system, but the Government, who have singularly failed to have a positive energy or transport policy. They have singularly failed to provide a framework in which the private sector can operate, or to make public funding available for public projects, so that that infrastructure can be put in place. They have wasted 11 years, and now come forward with this fig leaf of a Bill, saying that it was the planning system that was wrong. Eleven years into a Labour Government—somewhere near their end, we hope—they have decided that they can reform the planning permission system to try to accelerate the projects that they have prevented by chopping and changing, dithering and delaying and going to endless consultation on all the infrastructure issues to do with energy and transport.

2 Jun 2008 : Column 501

I also wish to condemn the guillotine because the Bill contains a taxation measure that will provide the opportunity, through secondary regulation, to set up levies on development projects. I shall not go into whether that is good or bad, as I hope that we will have time to discuss that properly within the limits of the timetable motion, but such a tax measure is surely of some importance. It therefore deserves prime-time debate and as much time as the House thinks necessary to consider the whys and wherefores of the matter. It might restrict, defer or delay development, and we need the opportunity to probe, test and examine that case.

Above all, we need enough time to show that we are sick and tired of local communities being overridden by national and regional planners. We are sick and tired of mock consultations that go on for too long and do not take local opinion seriously. The Opposition do not want more delay, and we would welcome any sensible measure that reduced how long it takes to make important planning decisions, but the system has to understand the power and passion of local feeling and must find a way of coming to just decisions having taken those feelings seriously. The system proposed in the Bill would not do that, and it is a further democratic travesty that it is going to be railroaded through on a guillotine that will not leave enough time to debate some of the most sensitive issues and that might allow too much time for other issues.

I ask the Government to think again, please. They are so unpopular because they have damaged our Parliament and undermined our democracy. Do they really want to stand arraigned again today for a further body blow against our democracy? This is an attack on the right of our local communities to be heard on planning and an attack on the right of this House to examine serious measures for more public spending, more quangos and more taxation. The Government are in the dock, and they will be even more unpopular if they insist on driving the measure through.

3.42 pm

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is absolutely right. Indeed, the contributions of all those who have spoken in this short debate have been very appropriate. He referred particularly to the importance of people having a say locally about important strategic decisions that will impact on the communities in which they live. If we take that away by setting up an undemocratic bureaucracy, how will we ensure that local people have a real say?

My real purpose for rising is to say that what is happening today—putting through a programme motion that allows only two days’ debate on a very important Bill—is an abuse of this House. I say to the Minister for Local Government, for whom I have considerable affection—he and I have met on several occasions regarding local issues and have found common ground—that he must surely accept that a Bill that will take away from Members of the House the opportunity to represent the interests of their constituents and the areas that they represent is a serious blow to democracy.

The purpose of Back Benchers is to hold the Government of the day to account and to scrutinise properly the legislation that they put before the House
2 Jun 2008 : Column 502
and for which they seek the House’s approval. If there is inadequate time in which to do scrutinise it, that cannot be right as it does not permit this House to do what it is here to do.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, I hope that even at this late stage the Government will review this timetable motion. It is not too late. If they value democracy, and if they are prepared to listen to people, they will know that the Bill is unpopular. It is even being opposed by some Labour Members, as well as by the Opposition parties whose duty it is to oppose it.

In recent years, I have taken a huge interest in the processes of the House and in our ability to do the job that we are here to do—namely, to scrutinise legislation and to hold the Government of the day to account. This is not the way to encourage people to have confidence in the House, and it is certainly not the way to encourage them to vote. The Government say that they want people to vote and to be involved, and they claim to support localism. The contents of the programme motion and much of the Bill certainly do not illustrate that.

I ask the Minister to think again and to respond to the genuine concerns of the Opposition. Some of the opposition to the Bill is coming from those on his own side of the House. We want this place to be respected. We want people out there to have confidence in the integrity of the House of Commons and in its ability to do the job that Members are here to do. I appreciate the difference between Front Benchers and Back Benchers. I have been here on the Back Benches for 37 years— [ Interruption. ] Not long enough? It is an important role, and I ask the Minister and the Government of the day to respect that fact.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the inordinate amount of Government amendments that have appeared on Report means that the Bill is barely recognisable compared with the one that went into Committee? This cannot be a good way for Parliament to conduct its business.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: In another role, I have made the observation that the Government of the day—not only Labour Governments, but my own party in government—have from time to time brought forward massive tranches of new clauses, new schedules and amendments to Bills. On many occasions, that has been done on Report. In the past, it was probably tolerated because there was no programme motion relating to remaining stages or Report. Now, we have programme motions that greatly limit the time that the House has to debate important strategic legislation.

This is important legislation. It will introduce a significant change to the way in which we deal with planning matters, which will impact on the people of this country. We have already heard mention of the number of new clauses and amendments that are being introduced on Report, when we have very limited time to discuss them. I must ask the Minister sincerely—perhaps he will think about this in the early hours of the morning—to consider whether this is the proper way to deal with legislation. Or are the Government simply determined to get their legislation through at all costs, however it is done and however democratic it is? Surely we deserve better from this Government.

2 Jun 2008 : Column 503
3.48 pm

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): It is not my intention to detain the House by using rhetorical flourishes like those that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). I simply want to say to my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government that he will be aware of the tremendous amount of concern among Back-Bench Labour Members about key aspects of the Bill, not least those relating to the role, status and powers of the infrastructure planning commission and to the mechanisms for public engagement in planning inquiries on major infrastructure projects. It should therefore come as no surprise to him that there is tremendous concern among Members—many of whom he has met to discuss these issues on a number of occasions—that these matters are to be compressed into a two-hour period next Monday night, which will itself be further truncated by any votes on the preceding group of amendments. I therefore hope that he understands why a number of my hon. Friends and I will be unable to support him in the Lobby when the House divides on this motion.

3.49 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I support what has just been said. Frankly, I am astonished at the programme motion. Having served on the Public Bill Committee, I am beginning to wonder what on earth was the point of doing so. According to my mathematics, 110 Government amendments, 20 Government new clauses and several new schedules have been tabled. Really, that is a travesty of the whole process.

If we are talking about modernisation, as we often are, we should consider the fact that we now have a procedure whereby we take evidence from the public—the pre-legislative procedure. Typically, the Government take no notice whatever of what is said to them in the consultation process. It is a fig leaf. It is demeaning to the Government, as they will see if they think about it, and demeaning to every Member of the House that we are being pushed to deal with such an important Bill in the matter of minutes that the Government have deigned to allow for debate. It is absolutely atrocious.

Mr. Redwood: I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, who has given his time to this absurd procedure. Will he confirm that in Committee Ministers gave no ground on any sensible proposal suggested from the Opposition side, showing that they are not really engaged and that they do not care?

Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. In some instances, when matters were being pushed, there was support from local government organisations, planning organisations, professional bodies—everybody outside who really knows about the subject. Nevertheless, everything was refused. During the Committee process, I felt— [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head. One minor comma here or there was changed, but nothing much more.

To say that the Government were going to engage in the process is absolutely untrue. It calls into question
2 Jun 2008 : Column 504
the Public Bill Committee process if we cannot have reasonable debates and the Government responding properly to points that have been raised—not simply by Members, but by experts who brief Members. That is the important point. They are the people out there who will have to deal with these matters.

We are dealing with such things as new taxation procedure and the IPC, which appears to be highly undemocratic, and the Bill is important and rather drastic, so for the Government to come back and give us only minutes to deal with it is unacceptable. I for one will vote with the Opposition on this matter.

Next Section Index Home Page