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Schedule 16

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 22 May 1990

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Provisions Of The Planning Acts Referred To In Sections 314 To 319

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 310, line 24, leave out `(5)' and insert `(8)'.— [The Solicitor-General.]

Schedule 16, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 17 agreed to.

Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

8.52 pm

I am attempting gently to demonstrate that much of our legislation goes through in this fashion, virtually on the nod. As I make that statement I see the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), shaking his head in dissent. He shakes his head and he is welcome to it. I would not want to be seen wearing it.

There are a number of points in the Bill that are worthy of consideration. I put it to the Solicitor-General that this is not a satisfactory way of dealing with the Bill, even though it is a consolidation measure. It should not pass without any attempt being made to raise some issues. He was at one point courting disaster by treating the points that we raised in an offhand and laid back fashion, although that seems to be the style in his Department.

I remind him that, had we persisted, we could have been voting all through the night on the amendments that were before the Committee. I hope that he will remember that when he brushes us aside, as he will, no doubt, do again in the future. He must also remember that there is infinite possibility for retribution to be heaped upon his balding pate by irate Back-Benchers who may feel that they have not been treated with the courtesy and seriousness that their points warrant.

8.54 pm

I raised in Committee some points of concern to me arising out of this legislation and the answers I received were unhelpful. I was told that a provision was being deleted to facilitate ease of passage for the measure through the House of Lords. That was not a satisfactory answer to a legitimate question and—

Order. We have dealt with the Committee stage. We are now on Third Reading and the hon. Member must address his remarks to that. I repeat that we are dealing with a consolidation measure. The only question in order on a Bill such as this is whether consolidation should or should not take place.

I am not happy that consolidation should take place, for the reasons I outlined in Committee. I fear that the Bill may incur a greater charge on the public purse in the long run. I wish that I were able to debate many aspects of the Bill, because we in this country do not have a particularly democratic planning system. Under our system, local authorities consult on a planning application, make a decision—appropriate or otherwise, based on that local consultation—and then the power to impose that decision is taken from them either by the process of calling in by the Secretary of State, referred to in clause 44 of the Bill, or by the applicant, a developer—

Order. I fear that the hon. Member is not taking notice of the advice that I have been giving him. He is now attempting to discuss the merits. That is an abuse of our procedures when we are dealing with a consolidation measure. He must bring himself in order, otherwise I shall he obliged to ask him to resume his seat.

I am in some difficulty because I wanted to talk about the lack of democracy in our planning procedures. You are telling me, correctly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that because this is a consolidation measure, only narrow issues may be raised. That being so, may I ask you to advise me of the matters that can be raised, remembering that I have serious concerns to express about planning procedures and the effect they are having, with wealthy developers trying to destroy part of my constituency?

I hope that when the Solicitor-General replies he will bear in mind the remarks I made about many people's anxieties about the need for proper consultation and the right of local authorities and local people to have a real say in planning decisions, rather than those decisions being made over their heads by a cabal involving powerful commercial interests lobbying for their planning proposals, and the Secretary of State overriding the decisions made, after careful consideration, by local authorities.

8.58 pm

I hope that the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will acquit me of discourtesy if I gave short but accurate answers to their technical questions on highly technical amendments.

What we are debating is a process of immensely careful consolidation which, if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West had had the time—I am sure that he will wish to take the time later tonight—to study, he would have realised that, in preparing the consolidation, the House had had the benefit of a report from the Law Commission which contained a number of recommendations of a minor and clarificatory nature for amending the existing legislation.

Those amendments appear in the Bills. We are dealing with four Bills tonight, all of which were referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills &c. during their passage through another place. The Committee reported that the recommendations of the Law Commission were necessary and produced a satisfactory consolidation of the law. The four Bills, taken together, amount to a single consolidation.

The hon. Members for Newham, North-West and for Islington, North have said that many aspects of planning deserve discussion in the House. However you, M r. Deputy Speaker, have explained that we are not permitted to go into the merits or wider aspects of consolidation measures. I am sure that the House will agree that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the parliamentary draftsmen and to all those who have played their part in the earlier stages of the Bill's passage, and in the Committees of this House and another place, in helping to get this measure right.

I shall give way briefly to the hon. Gentleman as a matter of courtesy, but then I shall conclude.

Now that the Solicitor-General has explained the derivation of the Bill—I understand that it is a consolidation measure and incorporates many other pieces of legislation—surely he is aware that there is much concern about the balance of power in planning matters and planning decisions. Is this Bill to form a definitive town and country planning Act for a long time to come, or do the Government have something in mind to address the real and rapidly growing concerns of people throughout the country about the way in which planning decisions are made, often irrespective of the wishes of small local communities, and these days much more in favour of big commercial interests? I am sure that many hon. Members of all parties echo that legitimate concern.

I know that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the proper carrying out of planning procedures is very much in the Government's mind. Although one must not anticipate future legislative programmes, this matter may turn out to be more in mind than the hon. Gentleman realises.

If the hon. Gentleman had been here for earlier debates, or if he were to look at the statute book, he would realise that all the Acts that are now being consolidated have been given time to pass through both Houses during Conservative Administrations, although they span a period going back to 1971, which covers some Labour Administrations. Town and country planning is extremely important, and I am glad that legislation relating to it is being given the time for consolidation now—

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the 1947 Act, but that is not one of the Acts that is being consolidated today.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.