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Commons Chamber

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 10 June 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked

Sierra Leone

1.

If he will make a statement on Sierra Leone. [117938]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

The UK has made a significant political, military and financial investment to end the conflict in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has now enjoyed over a year of peace under a democratically elected Government. The UK has a long-term commitment to Sierra Leone, and will continue to support the Government as they make the reforms that will ensure a sustainable peace.

Two key elements in that long-term stability are the prosecution of war criminals and preventing conflict in adjoining countries from destabilising Sierra Leone. In view of that, will the Minister tell the House what practical steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to bring President Taylor to justice? Secondly, what steps are they taking to secure a regional solution to the problems of the area?

We have taken the lead in establishing the special court, and committed some £6.6 million to that effect. The court and the prosecutor are entirely independent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the indictment that was recently laid down in respect of Charles Taylor. The prosecutor makes his own decisions, but we are urging that Charles Taylor should give himself up to the authorities, and that others in the region should support that move.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) rightly made the connection with the situation in Liberia, because we know that Sierra Leone's problems have almost always been imported from that country. Even more important than the indictment of Mr. Taylor—although that would be a good thing—is the peace process in Liberia. Will my hon. Friend tell the House what practical steps the British Government are taking to drive through that process, which is a necessary precondition to long-term peace in the region?

My hon. Friend's analysis is absolutely right. We need to push forward the peace process in Liberia, and we are certainly pushing to that effect. The pressure to achieve that will have been enhanced by United Nations Security Council resolution 1478, adopted on 6 May, which renewed the arms embargo and the travel ban aimed at those breaking the arms embargo, and dealt with the issue of rough diamonds. From 7 July, the sanctions will also apply to timber, the revenue from which is used to purchase arms. That pressure, allied with our constant urging of the Liberian authorities to engage in a peace process, represents the right way forward.

Cyprus

2.

If he will make a statement on the present situation in Cyprus. [117939]

10.

If he will make a statement on the current situation in Cyprus. [117948]

I welcome the partial easing of restrictions on freedom of movement across the green line, and the European Commission's trade and aid package for the Turkish Cypriots. I hope that they will lead to a comprehensive settlement based on the UN plan, which remains vital.

I note that reply, but my hon. Friend will be aware of the dramatic changes that have taken place in northern Cyprus in recent weeks. For the first time since the events of 1974, we are hearing the voice of the Turkish Cypriot community, which is clearly saying that it wants to end the isolation and to be part of the Cyprus that goes into the European Union next year. Against that background, what are the Government doing to re-engage the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the Republic of Cyprus, President Papadopoulos, with a view to reconvening the talks in the genuine hope that, at long last, we shall see the people of Cyprus, be they Greek or Turkish, living and working together? Just what are we doing?

Those aspirations are shared by the whole House. Out of the population of 680,000 Greek Cypriots, 270,000 have crossed into the north, and 120,000 of the 180,000 Turkish Cypriots have crossed into the south. Never before have we seen such people power voting with its feet for a united Cyprus. The Government have repeatedly urged the Cypriot Government and the other players in the region—the Turkish and Greek Governments—to take up Kofi Annan's plan, which is on the table and represents the best way forward. We want the authorities on the island and in the relevant countries to help to unite Cyprus and to bring a united Cyprus into the European Union next May.

I, too, welcome the opening of the green line, but of course this is only the beginning, not the end, in terms of finding a solution. We must keep up the momentum of bringing the parties together. What action is my hon. Friend taking to build confidence between the two communities on the island, and, more importantly, what is he doing to engage the Turkish Government to ensure that they play their full part in bringing together the two communities and restarting the negotiations?

I believe that there is confidence between the two communities. Where the breakdown exists is, perhaps, between their political leaders. My hon. Friend is right to focus on Ankara, where the Turkish Government, Parliament and military have an historic responsibility to press Mr. Denktash to reach an agreement within the Annan proposals and then allow a united Cyprus to enter the European Union—and one of its top officials will indeed be a Turkish-speaking representative if the Annan plans are adopted. I think that it is in Turkey's interests for the EU to contain a member state one of whose senior representatives in the European Council of Ministers will be speaking Turkish.

Further to the points made by the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Edmonton (Mr. Love), will the Minister confirm that there are increasing signs that neither the Turkish Cypriots nor the Turkish settlers are prepared to see a divided island remain when Cyprus joins the EU? Will he use his good offices to stress to the Turkish Government that this is the best time to start playing a more positive role in the solving of the problem, especially if Turkey wants to join the EU?

I strongly agree. It has been a great pleasure to see Turkish Cypriots waving the blue and yellow EU flag and, along with those in the rest of Europe—with one political exception, perhaps—voting yes to the EU. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that it is for the Turkish Government to engage. We think that they have taken positive steps, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I continue to urge them to move further so that a united Cyprus can enter the EU by May next year.

Now that Lord Hannay's remit has expired, may I take this opportunity to thank him, on behalf of the Conservatives, for his efforts to resolve the intractable problems of Cyprus? Following the unfortunate recent collapse of the talks, will the Minister join me in welcoming the unilateral proposals of the Republic of Cyprus for moves including freer movement of goods, persons and vehicles and the relaxation of employment restrictions for Turkish Cypriots? Will he applaud the Cypriot Government for continuing to seek a positive resolution of the problem?

I think that the proposals, some 16 of them, advanced by the Cypriot Government, are a move in the right direction. The main stumbling block remains the position of Mr. Denktash, which must be dealt with through direct communication with him. We believe that, again, the Turkish Government, Parliament and military have a key role to play.

Let me record the House's thanks to Lord Hannay. He has been a remarkable servant of Britain in many ways, and has done a great service in trying to bring the two sides together to secure a final deal allowing a united Cyprus to enter the EU.

Given the announcement of the termination of Lord Hannay's service as special representative, what assurance can my hon. Friend give about specific measures that the British Government will take to recognise their special responsibilities as a senior member of the UN and of the Commonwealth and a guarantor of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus? What, specifically, will the British Government do about replacing Lord Hannay?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the triple role that Britain plays as a permanent member of the Security Council. It is under the aegis of the UN that a solution to the Cyprus problem must be found. Britain is obviously also a member of the EU, and is looking forward greatly to Cyprus becoming a partner.

I believe that things must now be done at Government level. We need to engage with our partners, especially, as I have said, the Turkish Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will meet the Turkish Foreign Minister here in London shortly, and we will continue to press all parties—particularly the Turkish Government, Parliament and military—to accept their responsibilities. We firmly believe that the signals from Ankara can unblock the path to a solution under the Annan package, which gives a fair deal to both communities on the island.

Zimbabwe

3.

What action the Government are taking to bring about the restoration of human rights in Zimbabwe. [117940]

5.

What recent discussions he has had with the Governments of (a) South Africa and (b) Nigeria on Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. [117942]

The situation in Zimbabwe is very serious. We have been in regular discussion about it with Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki, and with South African Foreign Minister Zuma.

Last week President Mugabe's security forces sought to crush opposition protests, and again arrested opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. They have now also arrested the secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Welshman Ncube. Responsibility for the present state of Zimbabwe lies squarely with its present Government. It is they who are responsible for the abuses of human rights, the collapsing economy and the threat of starvation to millions of people. The plight of the white community is bad, but that of the black community is even worse.

Together with the rest of the international community, we will continue to provide humanitarian relief, to sustain Mr. Mugabe's international isolation and to highlight his abuses of fundamental human rights. We will continue to work with international partners—the European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth—in the region.

In that connection, the House will wish to know that, with our active support, the board of governors of the International Monetary Fund decided on Friday 6 June to suspend Zimbabwe's voting and administration rights in the IMF. It is an indication of how critical Zimbabwe's economic and political situation is that that is the first time that such a measure has been taken by the IMF against a country that is not at civil war.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. The whole country, and, indeed, the world, are aware of the ever worsening human rights position in Zimbabwe. There is not just torture and imprisonments but deaths, verified by more regular reports—the latest by Statewatch today. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider two specific things. First, will he make an additional effort with his Commonwealth colleagues to prevail on the President of South Africa to make it absolutely clear that the view in Africa, as here, is that that activity on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe cannot and should not continue? If South Africa and the neighbours of Zimbabwe were to say that in terms, there might be a chance of some movement and response by the Government in Harare.

Secondly, given the welcome announcement last week—

Thank God, Mr. Speaker.

We are engaged in very constructive discussions with President Mbeki and Foreign Minister Zuma of South Africa. Our Prime Minister met President Mbeki last week in Evian, and I met both the President and the Foreign Minister two weeks before that. The South Africans are well aware of the gravity of the position. Indeed, in a joint communique from Foreign Minister Zuma and me, both countries underlined that
"the longer the problems in Zimbabwe remain unresolved, the more entrenched poverty will become."

The arrest of Welshman Ncube today, and the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai is on trial for his life, are very serious. Why is it that the IMF has been able to act, the French have acted in the Congo, yet we have done nothing?

The IMF has, as I have just reported to the House, acted with our full and active support.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is South Africa that has to give a strong voice, and that Thabo Mbeki must recognise that this is not the time to repay Mugabe for the support he may have given to the African National Congress in the past? Now is the time to say to Mugabe that what is going on in his country cannot be accepted. ZANU-PF supporters in Zimbabwe must also be clear and condemn what is being done in their name if we are to see an end to the atrocities and tragedies.

I entirely understand how my hon. Friend feels about the matter. I know from my discussions in South Africa, and from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's discussions with President Mbeki, that the South Africans are well aware of the very serious damage that is being done not just to Zimbabwe but to the whole region of southern Africa.

Since the Foreign Secretary stood beside South African Foreign Minister Zuma on 14 May and meekly endorsed her policy of quiet diplomacy and dialogue in relation to Mugabe, does he know how many people in Zimbabwe have been murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beaten and politically prosecuted? In the past week alone, more than 800 people have been arrested, 400 treated for injuries and 10 hospitalised; three are on the critical list, two have been murdered, and the leader of the opposition and his deputy have been arrested and charged with treason. All that we have had from the Foreign Secretary today is more gestures and more platitudes. When will he finally accept that quiet diplomacy and dialogue are nothing more than a cover for appeasement, that they encourage Mugabe to ratchet up his oppression and that they are a shameful betrayal of the suffering people of Zimbabwe?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's frustration and anger, which we all feel. What we have done is to secure sanctions by the Commonwealth, sanctions by the European Union, sanctions by the International Monetary Fund and the increasing international isolation of Zimbabwe, which is exactly what I thought the right hon. Gentleman had demanded in the past. What would be devastating for the people of Zimbabwe, however, would be to imply, by that kind of rant, that there are things that we could do, but we are holding back from them. The only thing that the right hon. Gentleman missed out from his rant was the obvious conclusion, expressed by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), that we ought to be taking military action. However, the right hon. Gentleman has himself said to me that he rules out military action. So next time he comes to the Dispatch Box, instead of ranting let him say exactly what he would do in this situation.

We need to ask why, when we were so ready to take effective action against the abuse of human rights and against ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans, we are apparently paralysed in the face of similar atrocities in Zimbabwe. For a start, when will the EU's targeted travel ban and freezing of assets be extended to the families of Mugabe's henchmen—not least to their children studying in England—and to the shameful business men who bankroll Mugabe? And when will the Foreign Secretary go to the United Nations Security Council to seek a resolution to internationalise the crisis in Zimbabwe and put observers on the ground? In short, when will he stop walking by on the other side?

I will go to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution when I believe that we will win a resolution. What would be a disaster—no doubt under the right hon. Gentleman's diplomacy it would already have happened—is for us to go to the Security Council with the certain prospect that such a resolution would be [HON. MEMBERS: "Flush them out!"] They say, "Flush them out," but I am not in the business of providing gratuitous victories for President Mugabe, as the right hon. Gentleman evidently is.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's reference to action in the Balkans, frankly, that shows up the vacuity of his position. He continually implies that we should take action similar to that taken in the Balkans. The only difference between the action that we took in the Balkans and that which we are taking in Zimbabwe is that in the former, yes, we were able to take military action. He knows very well that a military option is simply not possible in Zimbabwe. More to the point, he wrote to me on 24 October, saying:
"I have not called for military action in Zimbabwe."
I rest my case.

Iraq

4.

If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on ensuring that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are independently verified. [117941]

We recognise the need for credible, independent validation of any discoveries by the coalition. Dr. Blix noted last week that UNMOVIC remains ready to resume work in Iraq as an independent verifier, or to conduct long-term monitoring, should the Security Council so decide. United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 explicitly tasks the Security Council with reviewing the inspectors' mandates. This work will be undertaken in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, as the security situation in Iraq stabilises, the work of the 1,400-strong Iraq survey group of coalition forces will get under way.

Given that the position of the coalition, and of Her Majesty's Ministers in particular, depends almost entirely on the credibility of assertions that have been made about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and given that, to put it mildly, that credibility is still very much in question, does the Foreign Secretary accept that it is essential that an element of the verification process should be independent and be seen to be independent, that the process should not be subject to any editorial steering by any other party, and that it should begin as soon as possible?

I do not accept the first part of the hon. Gentleman's claim. The simple truth of the matter is that if anybody still needs convincing about the holding of weapons of mass destruction by the Iraq regime before military action was taken, they need only read the very extensive reports of UNMOVIC and its predecessor UNSCOM, which set out in forensic detail the holdings of Iraq and its failure to explain what had happened to them. That point was made by Dr. Blix in his valedictory report to the Security Council just last week.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I accept that if there are further—I emphasise the word further—finds of evidence they need to be independently verified.

Will my right hon. Friend impress on our US allies that the early unrestricted return of both UN inspection agencies would help in reasserting the authority of the UN and establishing international credibility, and, if weapons of mass destruction do exist, could speed the urgent task of preventing them from spreading via the black market to terrorists? Subsequently, both agencies could play a vital role across the world in implementing the G8's non-proliferation proposals.

As a result of military action the security situation in Iraq has changed totally, and the big threat that—as accepted by the international community—it posed while Saddam remained in power, has now been removed. As for the future of UNMOVIC, operative paragraph 11, which was agreed unanimously by the Security Council, required the UK and the USA to keep the Security Council informed of our activities in respect of Iraq's meeting its disarmament obligations, so that it would revisit in due course the mandates of UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency. That remains the position of Her Majesty's Government.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when the matter will be revisited, and what action he intends to take to ensure that that is done fairly quickly? That is important, because it will bring international legitimacy to whatever the findings may be.

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact timetable, but I can say that now that the security situation in Iraq is stabilising—that is the first priority of the coalition forces—the 1,400-strong Iraq survey group is getting going. It should be allowed to do its work. In tandem with that, discussions with the US and other international allies about the future role of UNMOVIC are continuing.

As my right hon. Friend suggests, the security position in Iraq is one of the reasons why the inspectors have been unable to go back into the country. However, is it sensible for the Coalition Provisional Authority to have disbanded the Iraqi army, discharging 500,000 men without any rehabilitation or retraining, and to have allowed them to keep their armaments when they are on the streets without any alternative employment, at the same time as calling for a weapons amnesty? Is such action not likely to destabilise the security situation in Iraq and make it less possible for the inspectors to return?

I accept the burden of my hon. Friend's question—that a difficult balance has to be achieved between the necessary de-Ba'athification process and the need to maintain security and ensure the continuation of some of Iraq's institutions. I am not saying that all the decisions taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority have been correct, but I can tell my hon. Friend that we are in constant discussion with our US colleagues—at Government-to-Government level and within the CPA in Baghdad—about how to achieve the most appropriate balance in order to get Iraq going again at the same time as reducing internal security threats.

The thing about verification is that the weapons have to be found first, but the new Secretary of State for International Development has said that looking for them is no longer a high priority. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it does remain a high priority, because the trust that we placed in the Government—and in particular, in the Prime Minister—now appears to have been abused by deceitful spin, all sorts of embellished arguments and by "sexed-up" propaganda? Does not independent verification also require an independent assessment of what we were told existed? For the sake of the Government's tarnished credibility, will the Foreign Secretary now confirm unequivocally that Alastair Campbell will be required by the Prime Minister to appear before any Committee of the House that may be investigating weapons of mass destruction?

The appearance of members of the Prime Minister's staff before Select Committees is a matter for the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "And the House."] Ultimately for the House, of course, but initially for the Prime Minister, who will clarify the matter. I recall that the hon. Gentleman made a fine speech on 18 March, summing up the resolution that was agreed overwhelmingly by the House. On that occasion he was unequivocal in his support for the military action on the basis of the evidence then available—[Interruption.] It does the Opposition no good to try to change the terms on which they backed the Government. The basis on which we took the decisions still applies today, and the hon. Gentleman knows that very well.

Did the Foreign Secretary hear Dr. Blix, in the course of his thoughtful reflections, refer to the difficulties of Iraqi pride, and the way in which weapons would have deteriorated over the years? In the light of the forged Niger documents, and what Paul Wolfowitz has now said about weapons of mass destruction, is not it the case that—with the best will in the world—nobody will believe us unless there is an independent investigation?

I do not accept that and I refer, yet again, to the clearest possible evidence, published by Dr. Blix himself, of the unanswered disarmament questions—173 pages of them—which was made available to the Security Council on 7 March. My hon. Friend has always been remarkably charitable towards the former Saddam regime, but to try to explain their lying, conniving, abuse of human rights and refusal to co-operate fully with the inspectors on the basis of hurt pride is, frankly, testing the credulity of all of us.

Last week the Prime Minister dismissed comments from the Opposition about weapons of mass destruction on the basis that the war in Iraq was justified because the people of Iraq had been relieved of a dreadful dictator. Nobody can deny that they have been relieved of that pressure, but will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the legal basis for the military action was the issue of weapons of mass destruction and UN resolution 1441, and that simply invading a country to relieve it of an oppressor is not legal under international law?

The legal basis for the military action was clearly set out in the Attorney-General's advice, a summary of which was made available to the House, and a longer letter that explained the background to his decision was also published by me in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The reason why we took military action was agreed by the House in a lengthy resolution, which was essentially a paraphrase of resolution 1441, which set out that Iraq posed a threat

"to international peace and security"
because of its
"proliferation of weapons of mass destruction",
its unlawful missile systems, and its defiance of the United Nations and a host of Security Council resolutions. It was for those reasons—that Iraq was already in material breach and, under resolution 1441, in further material breach—that the House rightly decided that that country had to "face serious consequences": military action. That was what the House agreed, and it was successfully undertaken.

Are any Iraqis coming forward with details of where weapons of mass destruction might be found? Some might be motivated by money, members of the Ba'ath party might want to do deals to protect their future, and others who were opposed to the regime might have ideological reasons, so one would expect that information to be forthcoming from Iraqi sources.

As the Iraq survey group gets going—it has only just started, for reasons that I have explained, including the need to stabilise the security situation—I am sure that many scientists will come forward for interview. However, the House would, rightly, be the first to complain if people were not able to give free and unfettered evidence in such interviews.

Human Rights

6.

What steps are taken to co-ordinate foreign policy with other member states of the European Union on human rights. [117943]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

By working with our EU partners, the UK is better able to promote human rights than we are by working alone. The EU this year has secured UN resolutions on Iraq, North Korea, Turkmenistan, the Congo and Burma, at the Commission on Human Rights. The EU holds regular dialogues with third countries, it promotes human rights globally and it has made respect for human rights a key condition for EU membership.

The Attorney-General and others have given robust assurances that UK law will not be undermined by the European constitution, but what use are those assurances when the charter of fundamental rights is to be interpreted by judges of the European Court? The former Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), once said, memorably, that the charter had no more legal standing than the Beano. However, the opposite is true, and the result will be cataclysmic. In those circumstances, is it not right to put the European constitution to the British people for a vote? I suspect that they might prefer the British tradition exemplified by Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids to the Euro-imperialism of President Giscard.

We welcome the declaration, in the charter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, of the basic rights, freedoms and principles common to all European citizens. However, we have consistently made it clear that we cannot support a form of treaty incorporation that would enlarge EU competence. The hon. Gentleman makes a specific call for a referendum, but that would carry more credibility if the previous Conservative Government had called for a referendum over the far more fundamental changes to the workings of the European Union that flowed from the Single European Act and Maastricht.

My hon. Friend has given a number of examples of welcome developments on human rights in the EU, such as those in connection with Iran and China. But does he agree that the human rights profile should be higher? For example, none of the clauses in the relevant agreements with third countries in respect of human rights have been activated. Is there not also a need to have personnel with serious human rights experience—such as those from non-govermental organisations—in the EU's key foreign policy structures?

My right hon. Friend is right that we in the EU must constantly seek to do more, although I must point out that the articles to which he refers were activated in the specific case of Zimbabwe. We pushed for that strongly, and very much welcome it. However, there is no doubt that there are further matters that we need to push and press, and we shall do so.

When co-ordinating foreign policy on human rights, will the Minister take account of the human rights of the nine UK subjects held in Guantanamo Bay? Will he seek to achieve a common EU position that holds that those nine UK subjects should either be charged or released, and that their present detention is both illegal and intolerable?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the Foreign Office has sought reassurances about the health and welfare of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay on a number of occasions. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear consistently, the situation is difficult and unusual and it cannot go on for ever. We are pressing on the matter.

Eu Constitution

7.

If he will visit Nottingham, North to discuss the EU constitution; and if he will make a statement. [117944]

9.

If he will make a statement on the latest draft of the constitutional treaty from the Convention on the Future of Europe. [117946]

At the Thessaloniki European Council next week Valéry Giscard d'Estaing will present his final report on the Convention on the Future of Europe. The convention will be followed by an intergovernmental conference, where decisions will be taken by unanimity.

I can inform my hon. Friend that I visited Nottingham on 27 February to discuss Europe. I plan to do so again as part of a series of visits to 100 UK cities and towns to get over the truth about Europe and dispel the propaganda myth.

That greatest of Britons, Tom Paine, once said:

"A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government: and government without a constitution is power without a right."
Does my hon. Friend accept that there can be no short cuts to winning people's consent, either to the euro or to a new constitution that will influence this country? While he is about it, will my hon. Friend tell the House how successful he has been in his pan-European search for a poet who can rewrite some of the Euro-babble that Giscard uses in his first draft into an inspirational text—something a little more inspiring than a sheepmeat directive?

We should render unto poets that which poets can do and render unto the responsibility of good government that which we have to do.

My hon. Friend is both right and wrong. He is right to quote Tom Paine, but he may recall that a number of countries have managed quite well without the need for a written constitution. At the end of a conference of 25 sovereign and independent nation states, we shall have a constitutional treaty that we shall bring back to the House of Commons to debate line by line. Thereafter, I know that my hon. Friend and I will continue to argue the case for being in Europe and helping to run Europe—unlike the Opposition, who want to isolate us from Europe and many of whom want us to withdraw altogether.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) just referred to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as a Euro-imperialist, but is not the truth that, despite being French, the president of the Convention has actually produced a remarkably un-French document? Bearing in mind the Chancellor's announcement yesterday that he hopes to take Britain into the euro—eventually—is it not all the more important that we ensure that future amendments to the constitutional treaty do not include proposals for tax harmonisation?

On the latter point, my hon. Friend is right. He is right, too, to note that Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has been widely criticised by Euro-federalists, by a number of small countries which think that he has given far too much power to the role of the nation state. The president of the Convention has also been criticised by the Opposition—so between the Euro-federalists who think he is doing a bad job and the fanatical anti-Europeans in the Conservative party who think he is doing a bad job, perhaps he is getting something right.

As we have no written constitution in this country, is there not an unanswerable case for putting a written constitution to the people of this country?

We are already fully signed up to the constitutional treaties that make the rules that allow us to make the European Union work. That is what will be brought back to the House. Yesterday, I heard the hon. Gentleman constantly make the point that it is this Parliament that should decide the affairs of our British people, not the Daily Mail with its populist plebiscites. That is why I look forward to bringing back the constitutional treaty for the House to debate and examine line by line.

The Prime Minister has said that there will be no referendum on the EU constitution because it is not constitutionally significant. Can the Minister explain how on earth the introduction of a constitution in a constitutional treaty is not constitutionally significant? Why do not the Government have the courage of their convictions and promise a referendum so that people can actually decide—or are they scared that "rogue elements" in the electorate might seek to undermine them?

The people actually have decided, consecutively, on Europe—whether in 1975 or thereafter, when generally one party has put forward a position in a general election of isolation or withdrawal from Europe and one party has said, "Let us go more strongly into Europe." In the 1980s, the former was the Labour party and we lost again and again. Today, it is the Conservative party—the Opposition—and if they maintain their hostility to Europe and their calls for isolation from Europe and insist that the Daily Mail decide the future of our European policy, they will remain on the Opposition Benches for years, if not decades, to come.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there was a wonderful result in Poland at the weekend. Does he agree that the likely enlargement of the EU to 25 member states next year makes it essential that we have a streamlined constitution to meet the needs not only of the present but of the future?

I am glad to welcome from the Government Benches the remarkable yes vote delivered by the Polish people on Sunday and I am sorry that we have heard no expression of support from the Opposition for that yes to Europe. To quote the Polish ambassador in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph:

"As a member of the EU, Poland will strengthen, not lose, her sovereignty."
He went on to say that
"the authorities of my country have not planned for a referendum on the EU constitution and it is not required by our law".
For once, we might follow the example of Poland and say yes to Europe and drop this populist plebiscite nonsense that is shaped only by those who want a no vote to Europe and to isolate Britain still further from Europe.

Middle East

8.

If he will make a statement on the road map for peace between Israel and Palestine. [117945]

We welcome the commencement by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel of the road map and also the personal engagement of President Bush in its implementation. President Bush, Arab leaders and the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, met at Sharm el Sheikh on 3 June. There the Arab leaders made clear their commitment to a negotiated solution and their determination to work for that, including by preventing support from reaching terrorist groups.

President Bush, the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers and King Abdullah of Jordan met the next day, 4 June, at Aqaba. There Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his commitment to a contiguous Palestinian state, saying that it was not in Israel's interest to govern the Palestinians, and he undertook to remove settlement outposts. Prime Minister Abbas undertook to work to end the armed intifada and to act against incitement and violence.

In that connection, I know that the House will wish to condemn the actions of those in groups—such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Brigades—who claimed responsibility for the serious attacks and killings at the Erez crossing on Sunday and who are, by those actions, actively seeking to destroy the peace process and the men of peace in the Palestinian Authority.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his answer. In the light of the actions that he mentions that took place at the weekend, and the rejection by Hamas and others of Abu Mazen's best efforts to achieve peace through the road map, does not the Foreign Secretary recognise the problems faced by the Israeli Government in trying to introduce further concessions, with a backdrop of that violence and the rejection of peaceful methods by Hamas and others?

I recognise indeed the very significant problems faced by the Government of Israel, and I applaud the stand that Prime Minister Sharon is now taking, against a lot of opposition, not least from within his own party. At the same time, I greatly applaud the statesmanship shown by the Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and the simple fact is that neither side—nor indeed the international community—can any longer allow the agenda for peace to be disrupted and undermined by the men of violence. If we had allowed that in Northern Ireland, we would never have had a peace process. We must not allow that in respect of this much worse conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

I am sure that we all wish the road map well, and I condemn those who are obstructing the process. It is clearly still a very dangerous place and, in that context, I wonder whether I might be allowed to raise the case of my constituent Mr. Tahseen Chaudhry, a fourth-year medical student at Birmingham university, who appears to be have been arrested by the Israeli authorities on or about 20 May, then apparently released on 4 June, but re-arrested by the Jordanian authorities. The family are naturally extremely anxious to know what has happened to that young man. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to make contact with the Jordanian authorities to find out whether they are holding my constituent? Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether British officials will be given access to him? If the Jordanian authorities have any plan to charge him with any offence, can we know what that offence is; and, if not, should he not be released?

I fully understand my hon. Friend's great concern about the fate of the two men involved in the case to which he refers. My understanding is that they were initially arrested by the Israelis, then handed over and taken into custody by the Jordanians. We have been in touch today with the Jordanian authorities, and they have confirmed to our embassy in Amman this morning that both men should be released very soon.

May I join the Foreign Secretary in his condemnation of those in terrorist groups who seek to undermine the process established by the road map? As one who has been critical of Mr. Sharon and his Government in the past, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the symbolism of the dismantling of a number of settler outposts, even though they are relatively minor and, in some cases, uninhabited? Does the Foreign Secretary agree, however, that more than symbolism will be required to meet the full requirements of international law in so far as that relates to settlements? Can he tell us what mechanisms, in his judgment, will be available to the Quartet to ensure that that objective is achieved?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his opening remarks, as the simple truth is that the leaders on both sides, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon, are showing great courage, including personal courage, in the face of intense and potentially violent opposition from within their own areas. We need to do all that we can to support such statesmen, who are taking such risks to secure a wider peace. Yes, of course there must be more than simply symbolism, but in such a theatre of conflict we should not underestimate the power of symbols, and a start is now being made to remove some of those symbols and shibboleths. Of course, that must be followed by further and tangible action on the ground, which is why the Quartet are not static but are continually in contact to monitor progress and to ensure that that takes place.

We know that, as part of the road map, the American Administration have identified an individual who will stay and work on the road map. Who else will be involved in the road map process? Who is the EU representative? Who will be the United Nations representative? Who will be the Russian representative? What will be their role in helping to take forward the road map?

It is an indication of the high priority that President Bush has given the implementation of this peace plan that he has appointed his own National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to be directly responsible for its implementation. Others will work under Condoleezza Rice in the region. The United Nations representative Ls Terje Roed-Larsen, and a change is currently taking place in terms of the EU representative, because the existing representative has just retired. Active consideration is being given to a replacement for that individual, but the fact that there is currently a vacancy in no sense indicates a lack of determination by all European Union Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers to play our active part in pushing forward the peace process in the middle east.

The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right when he says that we need to support Prime Minister Abbas in the courageous steps that he has taken. He will have seen the seriously unhelpful comments from President Arafat. What do the Quartet propose to do with President Arafat? How do they propose to get round Arafat, who is once again proving to be an obstacle to peace in the middle east?

One of the contributions that the United Kingdom made earlier this year was actively to encourage the reform process within the Palestinian Authority through two sets of meetings held in London in January and February, so that the Palestinians reformed themselves with a new constitution that established a Prime Minister who could be an active and reliable interlocutor for the Israelis and for the international community. Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, that is perhaps one of the most important contributions that we could have made to the peace process.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is easy to be cynical about peace? Does he recall those voices in the media who said that the road map would never be published and never be implemented, and that Britain and America would never give it their full backing? Does he agree that the terrorists will defeat the peacemakers every time, and that the key is to encourage the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab neighbours to work together to dismantle the organisations of terror that are trying to break the road map at the moment?

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. In particular, there was a high level of cynicism, which I always thought was completely misplaced, about whether President Bush was committed to this exercise. He has shown not only by his words but by his deeds that he regards it as his highest foreign policy priority.

Death Penalty (United States)

11.

What recent representations he has made to the US Government regarding British citizens facing the death penalty in the United States. [117949]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

In the last year, Ministers and officials have made representations to the United States Government on behalf of three British nationals charged with death penalty-eligible offences and one facing execution. The three facing charges have now been told that they will not face the death penalty. The British national awaiting execution was executed on 4 February.

The Minister will acknowledge that Britain is a leading member of the Council of Europe and that its 45 members have abolished the death penalty. Britain has also engaged in dialogue with the United States where there is considerable unease about miscarriages of justice relating to people on death row. There is particular concern about Scots-born Kenny Richey who has spent 16 years on death row although there is disputed evidence in the case against him. Additionally, nine British citizens and three minors in Guantanamo Bay face at least the possibility of trial by a military court and the death penalty, which would be executed without the right of appeal. That would be contrary to any human rights legislation that the Government and this country have ever supported. Does the Minister accept that the situation is a major obstacle to good relations between Europe and the United States?

We clearly have a fundamental disagreement with the United States on the death penalty. Our overriding objective is to avoid the execution of any British nationals. We will express our opposition to the death penalty and its use on a British national at whatever stage and level is judged appropriate after the moment when the imposition of a death penalty on a British national becomes a possibility. We do not differentiate among types of British nationals when making those representations.

I confirm that we have been closely involved with the case of Mr. Richey, who recently became a British national and now has dual UK-US nationality. In line with our policy, we have been making representations both on his case and on the hon. Gentleman's points about Guantanamo Bay. We always make it clear that if there is any possibility that a death penalty might be considered, we will make representations. I repeat that we do not differentiate among those who are charged.

When the British visited my constituent Feroz Abbasi in Guantanamo Bay, he said nothing for an entire hour. What assessment has the Foreign Office made of my constituent's mental health, especially given that he is housed in a cage that is 2 m by 2 m, gets only 15 minutes exercise twice a week compared with the hour norm by internal standards and is deprived of much of his family mail? When will there be a proper assessment and support for his human rights, and when will he be charged or else returned to Britain to his family home in Croydon?

We continue to hold discussions with the United States on resolving the issue of Mr. Abassi and other detainees in Guantanamo Bay. We have made it clear that we expect international standards on the way in which individuals are detained to be applied, especially if they are British nationals. We have also made it clear that the matter has dragged on for a long time and that it is time for the United States to find a way of bringing matters to a conclusion and resolving the anomalous situation faced by the Guantanamo detainees.

Will my hon. Friend tell us the United States' reply to those representations? There is great concern about not only British citizens, but EU citizens and all people who are held in Guantanamo Bay in conditions that seem to defy the Geneva conventions and international norms. It is just not good enough. If we are the great ally of the United States and it listens to us carefully about such things, surely it should have something more positive to say about those representations, especially given that press reports this week suggest that the United States has just constructed an execution chamber at Guantanamo Bay.

Our discussions with the United States have been extensive, especially during recent weeks and months. We hope that it will find a way to take the matter forward but the issue is very difficult. I am speaking not only about the nine British detainees in Guantanamo Bay but about the generality of people who are detained there when I say that productive and useful intelligence information is still being received from detainees. However, we have made it clear that we hope that the United States will be able to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

North Korea

12.

If he will make a statement on bilateral relations with North Korea. [117950]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Bill Rammell)

The UK established diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea in December 2000 and opened an embassy in Pyongyang in July 2001. We believe that this provides a useful channel of communication to impress directly on the DPRK regime that it has to desist from developing nuclear weapons and must re-engage with the international community through multilateral dialogue.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that although engaging in any constructive dialogue with North Korea is extremely difficult, it is vital in the interests of regional and global security to keep the channels of communication open? Will he join me in welcoming the recent statements by China and Russia and the G8 summit on North Korea's nuclear ambitions? What role is the UK playing in developing and supporting the international partnership of North Korea's closest neighbours?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is certainly the case that pursuing diplomatic negotiations with the DPRK regime is a challenging task to undertake. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we do so and we remain engaged with all the key international partners. That is certainly the case in respect of China and Russia, and I have had detailed discussions about the issue with my counterparts in those countries.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the initiative of the Chinese Government in calling for and hosting the recent trilateral talks in Beijing. That was a very helpful and positive step forward. Additionally, we remain engaged and in contact with South Korea and Japan. It is crucial that North Korea comes back to the negotiating table and agrees to give up its nuclear weapons programme so that we can move forward.

Point Of Order

12.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What is your policy on moving Question Time along? I know that it is difficult, but we only reached Question 12 today, despite the fact that several questions were grouped. Members spend a lot of time preparing questions for the Order Paper and the ballot. How do you think that you can move things along so that we can perhaps get to Question 15 or even further?

I know that the hon. Gentleman's question was next on the Order Paper. I do try to move things along. In fact, I have had some success, because in the past we have had fewer Foreign Office questions than we had today—so things are improving.

Consumer Protection (Unsolicited E-Mails)

12.32 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the prevention of unsolicited commercial e-mail; to amend the Consumer Protection (Direct Selling) Regulations 2000; and for connected purposes.
Unsolicited commercial e-mails are a pestilential nuisance that threaten terminally to swamp and suffocate the world e-mail system, which is probably the biggest improvement in communications that the world has experienced since the invention of the telephone. Spam is now a multiplying giant parasite that threatens to destroy its host.

One hon. Member told me that when he returned from a Select Committee visit abroad his inbox was jammed with 600 e-mails—a common experience for hon. Members. Another hon. Member told me that he is so exasperated with the deluge of junk that he receives that he is threatening to change his URL to tryanothermp.com. The only person I have ever known who claims to have benefited from spam is a gentleman who says that he bought every offer he received to enhance his maleness and now has a male appendage that is 43 m long. That neatly illustrates the preposterous and ridiculous claims made by spammers to enliven our love lives or to give us brides from Nigeria.

There is a much more sinister side to spam, however. A large number of spam messages are from companies offering medicinal drugs. We know that even under this country's strict rules about 2,000 people a year die from the use of prescribed drugs.

However, the drugs offered by spammers are not on prescription and are offered without any rules or regulations whatsoever. Most odious of all are the pornographic e-mails. It is estimated that three out of 10 unsolicited e-mails are pornographic. They are sent out on an entirely random basis, so are received by vulnerable people and children, and the images that they present are often distressing and damaging.

Spammers keep up their deception, lies and dissembling, and are constantly disguising their methods to get through filtering systems. The Member who received 600 e-mails, for example, has an efficient filtering system. The great danger is that the advantages that we gain as parliamentarians from e-mail might be destroyed if we had a filtering system that destroyed the legitimate vigorously expressed messages that we occasionally receive from our constituents. E-mail is a great boon for those of us who serve on international bodies such as the Council of Europe, as we can complete work in a short time—a matter of an hour—by sending reports abroad to be edited, corrected and commented on; previously, that would have taken many weeks.

Our open, universal system is already in danger of collapse. China has now virtually cut itself off from the world system. There is now another great wall of China—an electronic one—that keeps e-mails out because of the problems that have been experienced there. New Scientist reported last week that one of its journalists sent an e-mail to Texas and had it returned with the message:
"Your IP address is from a blacklisted country. Disconnecting."
The blacklisted country was the United Kingdom, so the system is imploding.

What can we do? Our role is to legislate—that is all that we can do. Twenty American states, eight European countries and the EU have passed much legislation. Heroic work has been done by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), and my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes, North-East (Brian White) and for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt), who have campaigned against spam and are organising a spam summit on 1 July.

The purpose of my Bill is to make sure that we act in solidarity with states and countries that are trying to make sending unsolicited e-mail a prosecutable offence. There has been optimism about achieving that goal because of the successful action taken against junk faxes, which have now literally dried up. As for spamming, the rogue country in the free world is the United States of America. One individual there recently equipped his house to send a billion e-mails a day. He knows that if he gets one response for every 1 million e-mails sent he is still in profit. Unfortunately, we are up against the belief in America that free trade should be unfettered and
"red in tooth and claw".
In this case, however, that means the freedom of pornographers in their thousands to pollute the internet and the freedom of thousands of criminals to try to rob us. Action must therefore be universal and concerted.

The Bill seeks to amend consumer protection legislation to prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial e-mail, making it a criminal offence unless the consent of the recipient has been gained. That has already been done in Denmark and Austria. The main message, however, is that we must ensure that people who receive such e-mail are aware of the best way to discourage such e-mails being sent to them in future. There are measures that ordinary e-mail users can take—never make a list of e-mail addresses; never respond to spam at all and, in particular, to spam e-mail that instructs people to reply with the word "remove", as that is used by those who prowl the internet to gather new addresses; and never sign up to sites that promise to remove one's name, because the racket is that those names are used to confirm that there is someone at the other end.

Finally, I pay tribute to Steve Linford who, in many ways, has been conducting a successful one-man campaign against spam, but is now in despair. Although he has been adept at spotting spammers' new moves and devices, he said last week that the menace could bring the e-mail system juddering to a halt.

He thinks it may have only six months left. He says:
"The e-mail system is on the edge of meltdown."
Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Paul Flynn, Tony Lloyd, Mr. Win Griffiths, Michael Fabricant, David Taylor, Brian White, Mr. Andrew Dismore and Mr. Huw Edwards.

Consumer Protection (Unsolicited E-Mails)

Paul Flynn accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the prevention of unsolicited commercial e-mail; to amend the Consumer Protection (Direct Selling) Regulations 2000; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 119].

Planning And Compulsory Purchase Bill (Carry-Over)

12.41 pm

I beg to move,

That if at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament proceedings on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.
The carry-over of a public Bill is not unprecedented. The House agreed to carry over the Financial Services and Markets Bill on 25 October 1999. As I understand it, that Bill was a highly detailed and complex measure, which was significantly improved by the extra time provided for scrutiny, but this is the first time a carry-over motion has been moved under the procedure approved by the House last October.

In its second report of last Session, the Modernisation Committee recommended that Standing Orders be amended to permit carry-over of a Bill by resolution of the House for an experimental period, but that no Bill should be carried over for more than one extra Session. The Committee argued in paragraph 38:
"If we are serious about providing for better scrutiny then we most adopt a longer time perspective which permits more time and more thorough scrutiny. That can only come from the wider use of carry-over."

The Leader of the House has just explained why the Modernisation Committee provided for greater scrutiny of a Bill, but can he assure us that, following the statement yesterday and the point made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said,

"Because Britain has experienced difficulty in balancing supply and demand in housing, we propose to build further and extend the reforms already announced in respect of planning"—[Official Report, 9 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 411.],
we are not getting a new Bill—a rewriting of the Bill—partly because the Government have changed their mind? The Chancellor seemed to imply that yesterday.

It is true that the Chancellor referred yesterday to planning and the simplification of the planning process, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the discussions and amendments to the Bill, which cover Crown immunity and various other aspects, and the decision to allow for greater scrutiny were not connected with the decisions announced yesterday by the Chancellor. The decisions were taken in order to allow for greater scrutiny and to incorporate further amendments, and because of the pressure of business in general. Notwithstanding the fact that the entire planning process was referred to yesterday, and is a material factor in diminishing some of the obstacles to our entry to the euro, that is not directly related to the reasons why I am moving the carry-over motion today.

I finished my quote thus:
"If we are serious about providing for better scrutiny, we must adopt a longer time perspective that permits more time and more thorough scrutiny. That can come only from the wider use of carry-over."
Some Opposition Members objected to that. It was not my comment, but a continuation of the direct quote from paragraph 38 of the Modernisation Committee's second report of the previous Session.

It is clear from the Order Paper that if the motion is agreed the Bill will return to Standing Committee. The difficulty faced by the previous Committee was that as a result of the lack of time allowed by the guillotine only a fraction—perhaps about 25 per cent.—of the Bill was covered. In the light of the proposed changes, will the time allowed in Standing Committee be sufficient to allow proper consideration of the Bill?

I hope that it will give a greater opportunity for scrutiny. I do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there was no leeway for amendment or discussion. The information that I have—of course, I was not a member of the Standing Committee—suggests that some 500 amendments were tabled and 210 were taken in respect of a Bill of about 70 clauses. That does not suggest that there was a complete absence of scrutiny or discussion of the amendments. Nevertheless, I hope that the point that he makes is correct and that there will be greater leeway for scrutiny when the Bill goes back to the Standing Committee.

Many of the amendments were dealt with under the guillotine. On the basis of a quick finger count, I hope that those amendments were not included in the total.

That is all the more reason for the hon. Gentleman and I to be united in welcoming the fact that there will now be some more time for greater scrutiny of the Bill if it returns to the Standing Committee. Indeed, I hope that the Government's willingness to allow more time for scrutiny will be welcomed not only by him, but in all parts of the House.

The Bill was 90 clauses and seven schedules long. Will the Leader of the House tell us how many clauses and schedules were debated in Committee? Can he assure the House that when the Bill is recommitted to a Standing Committee, the Committee will not be subject to a guillotine?

On the first question, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman off the top of my head how many provisions were debated, although I can write to him.

I have no doubt that it is important, and I try to assimilate whatever information I can about Bills with which I have not been personally acquainted, but I cannot provide a direct answer to that question. As I said, I understand from the background information that I read before this debate that about 500 amendments were tabled to a 90-clause Bill. More than 200 amendments were selected and discussed, often in groups.

Of course, there is continual time pressure and continual pressure on the Government in terms not only of the legislation, but of the degree of our accountability. Throughout the past six months, the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and his colleagues have been at the forefront in asking us to be accountable to this House on the question of Iraq in particular, and we have done that. It is not possible to guarantee in advance that we will not use the guillotine on any of the amendments, but, whatever complaints hon. Members have had in the past, it is plainly the case that there will now be more scrutiny than there would have been before I came to the Dispatch Box to announce the carry-over.

I might be able to elucidate the matter a little. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who is sitting next to the Leader of the House, stated in a written answer:

"Of the 90 clauses in the Bill, 22 were fully debated, four were partly debated and 64 were not debated."—[Official Report, 5 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 348W.]
A massive 64 clauses were not debated.

In view of those circumstances, there is an even greater reason why there should be at least a degree of unity, and agreement that the scrutiny offered by the carry-over—an addition to any that has occurred until this stage—should be welcomed by all of us. I find it extraordinary that an alleged lack of scrutiny in the past should become the basis of an objection to extra scrutiny in future. I do not follow the logic of that position.

Given that if the Bill is recommitted to Committee it will contain extra provisions, especially on getting rid of Crown immunity and promoting the Government's sustainable communities agenda, may we have an assurance that not only the new clauses but the 64 clauses in the present Bill that were not considered previously—not through filibustering—will be considered in Committee?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, as a matter of formality we are recommitting the whole Bill, not parts of it. If he has misgivings or desires about how we conduct the extra time that will be available, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be only too willing to discuss that allocation of scrutiny time with Members on both Opposition Front Benches. I see that the hon. Member for Cotswold is nodding. I do not concede that there was inadequate scrutiny in the past, but, if there was, surely we should all welcome the fact that there will be additional scrutiny in future. (Interruption.] Perhaps not those of a more churlish spirit.

Given that the previous guillotine enabled only less than a third of this highly technical Bill to be debated, and that we still do not know precisely what new items the Government are going to put into it, will the Leader of the House tell us what the new items will be so that we can judge whether the provisional eight sittings that the Under-Secretary has proposed to me will be enough? We will have only four sittings on the five major new items that Government are to add to the Bill and four sittings to revisit at least half a dozen issues that we raised in relation to the previous Bill. The Government are already building up a problem for themselves as regards the new recommittal Committee.

We are always willing to take the advice of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, and we will try to defuse any problems that he thinks are building up.

Yes, as soon as I have finished responding to the hon. Member for Cotswold. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will outline some of the issues in more detail when he speaks.

I am not enthusiastic about guillotines, but the blame for the lack of debating time for the Bill should lie firmly with Opposition Members. They knew what was in the Bill, and if they had been succinct and to the point they would have been able to cover the issues. They should take an example from Members in the other place, who are dealing with legislation very quickly and efficiently.

I am sure that my hon. Friend's robust and forensic criticism of the attitude and practices of those on the Opposition Front Bench is accurate, but I am trying to be more emollient, as is my wont on such occasions, by trying, whatever differences we have had in the past, to direct us towards a position of potential agreement. It is good that we now have more time for scrutiny. If hon. Members are concerned about using that extra time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will explain in some detail the measures that will to be added to the Bill, and he is willing to discuss with Members on both Front Benches how the time is allocated. We shall attempt to make up for whatever deficiencies there have been in the past, irrespective of which side of the House they arose from.

I had hoped—admittedly, it has proved to be a forlorn hope for the time being—that the Government's willingness to allow a longer time for scrutiny of the Bill would be welcomed on both sides of the House. I hope that later the House will agree to recommit the Bill to Standing Committee, but it will be possible to give it more time in Committee only if hon. Members agree to our proposal to carry it over to the next Session.

There are various reasons for that proposal; I have not pretended that it is all to do with allocating extra time for scrutiny, although that is part of it. I have been open with the House, in the past, as well as today, about the pressures that we are under this Session, not least in view of the fact that we have made available—quite rightly; I make no complaint about it—a significant amount of time to consider the situation, then the conflict, in Iraq. Although we have enough time to complete the passage of the Bill this Session, we believe that it would be beneficial to delay its departure to the other place. That will give us the opportunity to introduce to the House, rather than in the Lords, new provisions to end the Crown's immunity from planning control, subject to certain safeguards, thus implementing a long-standing cross-party commitment. I hope that the House will welcome that and accept that the motion is made in good faith.

We will discuss later how the additional time in Committee can best be used. That will be a matter not for diktat, but for negotiation through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman contributes what I presume to be an Anglo-Saxon, rather than a Latinate. "Huh!" to demonstrate his scepticism about my remarks. I know, however, that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is always eager to try to reach a consensus on such matters, and I hope that the Opposition will engage constructively in the process of how we allocate the extra time.

We do not anticipate that the Bill will have completed its passage through the other House by 4 December, a year after its first introduction in the House. We have therefore also tabled an extension motion today to allow proceedings on the Bill to continue for up to a further six months.

The Bill left Committee and was reported to the House on 28 January this year. What has happened to it in the intervening period? Surely it could have almost been on the statute book by now.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the period since the end of January has been rather busy in the House.

Well, it has included a war, among other things. It has been a busy time. I understand that the hon. Member for Cotswold may have found it inconvenient to wait for this important Bill—so have we. However, we are now in a position not only to make cross-party amendments but to give additional time to scrutinise it. I hope that that is some consolation. In practice, we hope that the Bill may achieve Royal Assent by the end of March.

In short, I ask the House to agree to the carry-over of the Bill and hope that it will accede to that request.

12.57 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on this important and unprecedented motion.

Today, we are witnessing the Government performing a sheepish and embarrassed U-turn over one of their flagship Bills of this parliamentary Session. It comes as no surprise that they hope to smother under the guise of complex parliamentary procedure the admission that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill was, from the start, a deeply flawed and poorly drafted measure. It strikes me as remarkable that for the past few months the Under-Secretary has been walking around with his fingers crossed, hoping that nobody notices that the Bill has been out of Committee since 28 January this year. For no fewer than 133 days, the Bill seemed to be reported missing somewhere in Whitehall. Rather as in the case of Lord Lucan, reports occasionally crept out of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister about its possible whereabouts, but there were no definitive sightings. We all asked ourselves whether the Government were so embarrassed about the Bill and the reaction to it from all manner of specialist and professional bodies that they planned quietly to shelve it, or whether it would be whipped through Parliament before the summer recess despite the fact that it was deeply flawed.

As long ago as December 2001, the Government produced three huge tomes of consultation papers, to which they received no fewer than 16,230 replies. As a result, they decided to submit the Bill to the pre-legislative scrutiny procedure and referred it to the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Under the excellent chairmanship of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), the Committee produced its report in July 2002. It shows how flawed the Bill was from the start. Paragraph 5 of its conclusions states that the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions provided the Committee with an analysis of the responses to the consultation on the Green Papers, to which I referred. It showed that 88 per cent. of the respondents did not support the replacement of local plans, unitary development plans or the local development framework, and that only 10 per cent. of the 16,000-odd respondents supported the abolition of county structure plans.

Many organisations that responded, such as the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which supported reform in principle, opposed many of the practical grounds. The former was critical of proposals for business planning zones and the latter criticised the plan to introduce tariffs. Paragraph 6 of the Select Committee report stated that the proposals amounted to a fundamental and radical reform of the planning system, but that it had been argued that the Government's objectives could be better met by reforming the existing system. Conservative Members say amen to that. We argued all along that it would be far better to reform the existing system than to rip up four or five decades of case law and planning law and start again, thus creating a paradise for lawyers.

Will the hon. Gentleman also take the trouble to make the point that the Government listened to the Select Committee and made many consequent changes? Much of the organic change for which we have argued has been going on during the consideration of the Bill. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman referred to the Select Committee report, but he should update his comments by saying that the Government listened.

The Government may have taken note of a small amount of the Select Committee's report, but they produced a deeply flawed Bill. It was rushed through in 12 half-day Committee sittings, which ended on 28 January. The guillotine was far too strict and we voted against it. The specialist magazine, Planning Weekly, was moved to comment:

"The Government is not fast-tracking the legislation so much as actively railroading it through."
That railroading made proper parliamentary scrutiny almost impossible. We should bear that in mind when we consider the extent to which the Bill's scrutiny was unsatisfactorily stunted.

Hon. Members have already pointed out that the measure has 90 clauses and six schedules. By the end of consideration in Committee, 63 clauses and four schedules had not been debated. What a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny. In the Committee's sixth sitting, clauses 18 to 36 could not be debated, which meant that contentious issues, such as the preparation of local development documents and the plan for joint committees of county councils and local planning authorities—two of the measure's central planks—went undebated.

On 21 January, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) tabled an amendment to correct two glaring spelling mistakes. The Bill mentioned "complusory" purchase and used the peculiar new word "satisified". It would have been reasonable of the Under-Secretary to accept the amendment without debate. However, he asked the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it. It was put to the vote on my insistence and defeated. The Minister's only excuse for refusing to accept elementary amendments on spelling mistakes was:
"I do not have confidence that there are only two errors … I undertake that my counsel will go through the Bill to find all the typos".—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 21 January 2003; c. 299.]
At that stage, the Government were so determined not to consider any amendments that we were asked to let the Bill be reported to the House with spelling mistakes. If that is allowed, how can we do our job properly?

On 6 December 2002, when the Bill was published, the Government stated that they intended to have a new planning system up and running by the next year. Only two months ago, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), the Leader of the House described the Bill as "important, indeed urgent". A month ago, the Under-Secretary affirmed his desire to get the Bill
"approved and on the statute book as soon as we possibly can."—[Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 298.]
What have the Government been doing since January?

According to the Standing Order, only one Bill can be committed under the unprecedented carry-over procedure. It is almost as if the Bill is a test case. What a measure to choose—it has had such a bad start and such long consideration. As the Leader of the House said, the procedure is not unprecedented in that the Greater London Authority Act 1999 began with 277 clauses and reached Royal Assent with 425 clauses. However, the Bill has been moved to a late stage in the Session, and we do not know what the Government will include in it now that they could not incorporate initially.

The Under-Secretary told me the other day that he intended to tackle five items. First, he would correct the spelling mistakes that he previously refused to correct. Secondly, he would include the measly concessions that he made in Committee. Thirdly, he would consider further some of the issues that we raised in Committee, such as the statement of development principles, planning permission, urban development corporations and local development orders. However, we are told that we are likely to get only four sittings in which to examine those matters.

Fourthly, the Under-Secretary said that he would include a provision to take account of the Law Commission's recommendations on the mechanics of compulsory purchase. To my mind, that is the only excuse of the four for wanting to extend scrutiny of the Bill. Fifthly, he said that he would introduce a new concept of eliminating Crown immunity in relation to planning for Departments. That would have an enormous effect in terms of bureaucracy, delay and expense. In a letter dated 5 June 2003, he stated that he would include a sixth category to implement the sustainable communities agenda.

Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us what exactly he will include in the Bill. There is no chance of properly scrutinising the six categories, let alone revisiting some of the issues that were not debated in Committee, in the eight sittings that he proposes.

Does my hon. Friend agree that—perhaps this is even more important than the points he has just made—we now have an opportunity to simplify the Bill? We have an opportunity to deal with what was being imposed on this country compared with Wales, but it is being missed.

My hon. Friend played a sterling part in Committee. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet contributed greatly, unlike some Labour colleagues, who never spoke. I shall revert to that point later. My hon. Friend has made a good point. The provisions for Wales are a great deal simpler than those for England. Although we debated the incorporation of the provisions for Wales into the English system at length, the Government steadfastly refused to consider that. I hope that my hon. Friend is right and that the extra time that the unwelcome and unprecedented motion grants will give us a chance to revisit the matter.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that he was not happy with ending Crown immunity. How does he square that with his opposition in Committee to the many powers that the Bill awarded the Secretary of State? Why does he want the Secretary of State to retain powers on Crown immunity? I am confused by a position that appears inconsistent.

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman adopts the sneaky technique of misrepresenting me. I did not say that we opposed the abolition of Crown immunity. I want to see the Government's proposals and I shall subsequently decide whether to recommend them to my colleagues. Until we read them, it is impossible to make a judgment. That is why we need adequate time in Committee to debate them. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the measure is a centralising Bill par excellence. It gives the Secretary of State and the regions enormous powers. Both matters were subject to many amendments in Committee to try to make a bad Bill better.

We are debating something that is unprecedented. It is covered by the new Standing Order introduced in the House on 29 October 2002, which makes provision for a Bill to be carried over. As the Leader of the House has said, the Modernisation Committee's idea, when proposing the new Standing Order, was to ensure that Bills had proper scrutiny. I hope that introducing this motion, which the Government will presumably whip through on their side, will enable the Bill to have such proper scrutiny, because otherwise, those bodies out there will be equally dissatisfied. We have had a lot of representations, and I shall give the House one or two quotes from them. Simon Ricketts, a partner at S.J. Berwin, says:
"The planning bill will make the system more complex and will not achieve the government's aims for a faster, fairer planning system."
Karen Cooksley, a partner at Masons, states:
"The planning bill will keep lawyers busy for years."
We would have found it infinitely preferable to modify the existing system, but the Government were not satisfied with that. They are determined to tear up the existing system, to create huge powers for the Secretary of State, who will be able to control virtually the entire planning system, and to dictate to the regions what they must put in their regional spatial strategy. The regions will, in turn, dictate to the local authorities what is to be in their plans.

I have one final question for the Minister. A number of councils are currently considering their local plans. They have been ordered to adopt the new system in 2004, whether the legislation is in place or not. Under this new procedure, we are getting a year's extra scrutiny from when the Bill was first committed to the House on 4 December. If the next motion—which you will not permit me to talk about now, Mr. Speaker—is passed, we shall have a year and a half. That will take us to June 2004, at the latest, to get the Bill on to the statute book—if, indeed, the Government do not have to use the Parliament Act to get it through their lordships' House. The House of Lords will now undoubtedly give it huge scrutiny. How are local planning authorities to approach this matter if they do not know precisely what form the Bill will take, but have been told that they must carry out the consultation and start preparing their local plans? The local authorities need an answer to that question from the planning Minister.

This motion is unwelcome. We wish that it had not been introduced, and we believe that the Government's discipline in getting their legislative programme through the House is a shambles. If the Bill is carried over, the parliamentary procedure in the next Session will undoubtedly be made even more difficult, because it will be cluttered up with Bills from this Session. We will oppose this motion; it is a bad motion from a Government who are incapable of getting their legislative procedure through. This is a bad Bill, to boot, and we hope that we shall now have an opportunity to improve it in some small measure.

1.12 pm

I welcome the procedure that the Government are going to adopt for carrying over Bills; it seems very sensible. I should like to make two points. The first is about the nature of Bills in the House and the way in which the Leader of the House will deal with Bills in the next few months. The second is specifically about this Bill.

As I understand it, there has been a tendency for the Government to want to keep Bills short. It has even been said that if a Bill gets too long, the Legislative Programme Committee of the Cabinet will not allow it into the timetable at all. I hope that the Government will give some thought to that matter. When I used to teach—admittedly, it was some time ago—the Education Act 1944 was almost the teachers' bible. In that one piece of legislation, we could see most of the provisions that we needed for our work. The tendency of the Government in recent years, however, has been to have lots and lots of legislation, and I simply make a plea to the Leader of the House that it might be better to get on to the statute book a big, comprehensive Bill that would last, rather than giving Departments pint-sized pieces of legislation on a regular basis.

I make this plea bearing in mind the Housing Bill that the Select Committee is about to look at. The amazing thing is that we have received a huge amount of evidence for the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill—that is very helpful—but almost 50 per cent. of it complains about things that are not in the Bill. When we spoke to Lord Rooker about that, he made it quite clear that if the Bill were to expand, it could well lose its legislative slot in the Queen's Speech. I would therefore like to ask the Leader of the House whether he will consider letting Departments have full and comprehensive Bills when they need them, rather than doling out a little bit each year. That would be much better.

The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting and constructive point, but let us suppose that the Bill, in whatever form it takes, eventually gets on to the statute book. Would not that be a good time for the Government to introduce a consolidation Bill that brought together in one piece of legislation all the matters relating to town and country planning, including the principal Act?

There might well be arguments for a consolidation Bill, but I do not think that the House deals with them particularly well. I would repeat my plea for having a full Bill to start with. When I come to discuss the Bill itself, I shall make the point that adding on the provisions relating to compulsory purchase orders and other matters is a sensible move by the Government.

I want to make the small point that, in my view, the Opposition are whingeing far too much. It seems a little odd that the most important thing that they wanted to consider in Committee was the spelling mistakes. I should have thought that there were more important principles in the Bill. Being a bit dyslexic myself, I do not think that we should get too hung up on the spelling, but I shall leave that point aside. The Opposition should also consider how Parliament has been modernised. If we are to have pre-legislative scrutiny, and if the Select Committee is to do much of that work, the Opposition will have to consider using their time in Committee rather more efficiently.

We always appreciate helpful advice from the hon. Gentleman, based on his vast experience, but if he is saying that the Opposition must fit in with the time arbitrarily set by the Government, I am not sure that I agree with that as a parliamentary principle. Is he aware that, certainly in another place, the recent experience has been that pre-legislative scrutiny increases interest in a Bill, and increases the available level of knowledge and expertise about a Bill? It does not, therefore, reduce the amount of time or the necessity for scrutiny; rather, it tends to increase it. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of that?

I understand those arguments, but I still believe that, as a result of pre-legislative scrutiny, the Government have to concentrate their mind on the issues that people outside are pressing. It might well be that the Opposition need to do that as well.

I do not like the idea of knives coming down in Committee. It seems perfectly reasonable to say that a Bill has to come out of Committee at a certain time, and that is what the House has traditionally done. It is then up to the Opposition to allocate the time within those constraints. If the Opposition want a sitting to go late into the night—although I understand that Ministers are not very sympathetic to this—I have no difficulty with that, so long as they are prepared to meet the deadline at the end of the proceedings. It is important, however, that they adapt their tactics to current procedures.

The hon. Gentleman has made a point about knives. He will be aware that knives have been involved on at least four occasions in relation to this Bill, and on no occasion was the Government Whip prepared to go beyond 7 o'clock, despite the fact that we were prepared to do so. We do not agree with guillotines at all, but if the Government were to give the Opposition the freedom that the hon. Gentleman describes, within a constrained number of sittings, by extending the sitting time and removing the knives, there would be some purport in his criticism.

I accept that; it seems to me that there has been a lack of negotiation. Personally, I would not start with the guillotines; I would simply start with the Government setting a deadline for the proceedings and hoping that the desired result could be achieved by negotiation. I have to say, however, that, having been in the House for quite a long time, and having filibustered in Committee on many occasions, I believe that the way in which Bills were scrutinised in the past was often not particularly helpful—

I accept that, Mr. Speaker. I shall turn to the Bill itself.

I welcome the extra bits that the Government will put into the Bill, but I want to press the Minister on the question of delay. When the Select Committee was rather more enthusiastic for organic change, rather than a big bang of legislation, there was a worry that there would be a hiatus for local authorities in the interim while moving from the old system to the new. I think that such a hiatus is beginning to develop.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that this process will not delay the implementation of the Bill. The dates envisaged were some time after the Government expected Royal Assent to be given, and I hope that they will be kept to.

Will we have the extra planners we were promised? The legislative change will not work without more planners, and more effective planners. We were pleased when the Government made concessions on section 106 money, but many people outside are confused and concerned, and I hope the Minister can tell us exactly what is happening. I also hope that we can have a bit more information about the provisions relating to compulsory purchase orders, and an assurance that what the Chancellor talked about yesterday will not be slipped into the Bill: that would be very unfortunate.

I plead with the Minister to ensure that any new development body for the Thames gateway will not slow the process down. The Select Committee noted that in Dartford, for instance, people who had been working very slowly for nearly 10 years had now got their act together.

When trying to create sustainable communities, the Government should look again at the building regulations. This morning, with the Select Committee, I visited BedZED, a Peabody Trust development. That showed me how much progress could be made in the building of sustainable housing. I hope that building control regulations will keep up to date with the best of what is proposed.

I am glad that we are going to spend a bit more time on the Bill. Perhaps the Leader of the House will consider applying the same principle to the draft housing Bill. Finally, let me plead with the Opposition not to go on whingeing, about guillotines, but to find ways in which they can work effectively within the new restrictions.

1.22 pm

I am glad of the opportunity to speak. As the Leader of the House said, although there are precedents for carry-over, we are using a new procedure for the first time. My colleagues and I are far from happy about the way in which that procedure is being imposed on us.

I have experienced the benefit—I hope it is a benefit—of working with the Modernisation Committee on some of these issues since its inception. Neither the Leader of the House nor his Conservative shadow, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), have experienced that benefit, let alone others who are speaking today. I therefore want to refer to points made by the Leader of the House earlier, and to what lies behind the process.

The Modernisation Committee has always seen this as a deliberate, careful trade-off. The Opposition parties would have a bigger role in deciding the business of the House, while the Government would have more certainty about the way in which its business might be pursued. In particular, we might together try to improve the product that emerges from the legislative sausage machine. I am sorry to produce another analogy immediately, but that would enable us to avoid the "London bus" syndrome of having to consider all the big Bills arriving seriatim during the parliamentary year without devoting proper scrutiny to some important parts of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) hopes to deal with points relating specifically to the Bill if he is able to speak on the next motion. I want to return to what was said by the Leader of the House in his introduction. He referred to a motion put to the House on 29 October last year, and to one of the Select Committee's recommendations which was the subject of the debate that followed. What he did not mention was recommendation (i), which stated:
"We recommend that there should be collective consultations with other parties in the House on the broad shape of the legislative year, those Bills intended to be published in draft, those Bills intended to be carried over and which Bills are expected to be introduced in the Commons, including discussion on the likely dates of recesses and related matters such as Friday sittings and Opposition days".
That was part of the trade-off.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) was right to point out that implicit in the Modernisation Committee's proposals was the fact that the Government would know the date when Bills would leave Committee, but that within a Committee it should be largely left to the Opposition parties to decide where the knives should fall and how much time should be spent on individual sections. That is all part of the proposal put to the House on 29 October.

Lest there be any doubt about that recommendation, the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), made crystal clear what the procedure was intended to be. He said:
"we have committed ourselves to consultation with other parties in the House—both the official Opposition and the other parties—on the broad shape of the legislative year, including consultation on which Bills might be introduced in draft, what the broad order of Bills coming before the House might be, whether a Bill begins in the Lords or in the Commons, and which Bills might prove to be appropriate for carry-over. That is wide-ranging consultation—much wider than any collective consultation that has previously been attempted in this House—and I hope that it will assist in developing consensus on the shape of the parliamentary year."—[Official Report, 29 October 2002; Vol. 391, c. 696.]
There has been one such meeting—a meeting between the then Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, a representative of the minority parties and me. There have, however, been no further collective consultations on these issues. The context of the motion we are discussing has therefore been blown to smithereens. There has been no discussion, and no agreement, on the broad context of carry-over and the legislative year. That means that the agreement made not just in the Modernisation Committee but in the House on 29 October is not being followed this afternoon, and my colleagues and I are very concerned.

We do not think it acceptable to deal with these matters piecemeal. There must of course be a specific motion for a specific Bill—that is what the House agreed to—but we face the possibility that over the next few weeks we will have to deal with other stand-alone motions on other carry-over issues without the appropriate consultation that was agreed to, and to which the Government were previously committed.

I do not dismiss some of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Normally, at the time of Second Reading or thereabouts, we would want to give prolonged advance indication of the Bills that we wanted to carry over. That has not happened in this case. I hope that we shall not need to resort regularly to the method we are having to employ today.

I hear what the Leader of the House says and I know that he speaks with great sincerity, but I wonder whether we shall not be faced with yet more carry-over proposals between now and the end of the Session—in which case his words may come to haunt him.

Two other important safeguards were built into the trade-off that was recommended to, and accepted by, the House. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has already mentioned one: that programming in Committee should be left to the initiative of members of that Committee, in particular Opposition members, so that they could identify the most important issues, and decide on the allocation of time and where the knives should fall, in a programming sub-committee.

The other safeguard is equally important. In the proposals put to the House on 29 October, there was a deliberate link with pre-legislative scrutiny. It was said that that was one way of ensuring that the time of both Houses was put to good use. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish and his Committee did some good work on pre-legislative scrutiny, but let me put this to the Leader of the House. We now know that a lot of new material will come before the House and its Standing Committee. Will the Select Committee be given an opportunity to carry out more pre-legislative scrutiny?

Some of these issues are extremely significant. If the link is between pre-legislative scrutiny and carry-over, the full exercise must be undertaken rather than the Committee's being left to try and work its way through new material in a way that has been described as haphazard—which is putting it pretty mildly. We should note in passing that the other place has built into its agreement to any carry-over the explicit promise that pre-legislative scrutiny will have occurred.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that paragraph (3) of the Standing Order of 29 October 2002 says:

"A carry-over motion shall not be made in respect of more than one bill",
so only one Bill can be carried over under the procedure. Does he agree that this Bill, having had huge pre-legislative scrutiny, is an inappropriate candidate for that? A Bill that had not had pre-legislative scrutiny should have been carried over. I hope that the Modernisation Committee will look carefully at that aspect when the order has to be renewed after this Session.

I stand to be corrected but the order simply says that there has to be a motion for each carry-over. That does not mean that there will not be any more motions between now and the end of the Session.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, strictly speaking, there was not pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill? My Select Committee looked at the Government's White Paper and at what the Government were proposing. There were changes when the Bill was published but strictly speaking, pre-legislative scrutiny did not happen.

I accept the point. Strictly speaking, the hon. Gentleman is right. Pre-legislative scrutiny implies a draft Bill coming before a Committee and then going through the normal legislative process.

In case there is any confusion, may I confirm that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Standing Order is correct? It is one carry-over per motion, not one per Session.

The reason that I am so concerned that we look at the principles is that it is the first time that this particular procedure has been followed. It is extremely important to get it right. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for endorsing my interpretation.

As I have said, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow will catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair in the subsequent debate to deal with details of the Bill. I and my colleagues believe that there is an opportunity and a need for carry-over in certain circumstances to avoid the confusion that we have often had when there has been a great bunch-up of legislation at the end of the sessional programme. We believe that there are great opportunities for developing consensus across the House on the handling of our business. That will benefit not only hon. Members but those whom we represent, who are clearly looking for a better product than we have been able to produce in recent years. However, we require full consent and endorsement, and full implementation not just of the letter of the recommendations put to the House on 29 October but of the spirit.

As I say, I hope that the Leader of the House will revisit the full report of the Modernisation Committee and the full assurances given by his predecessor to the House on 29 October, not only so that we can have positive assurances about what the Bill will do, and what will be done in the coming Session to improve its evident inadequacies, but so that we can have cross-party agreement about the way in which our business is handled in the House. There is much room for improvement.

1.33 pm

When the Bill disappeared off the face of the earth, or at least I thought that it had, there was considerable relief. I thought that finally, despite the Minister's protestations, he had bowed to the people sitting behind him. The Bill was a mistake. Sadly, it has reappeared today. My second, hopeful choice is that there will be major changes to the Bill, taking some notice of the opposition: I mean not just the Opposition in the House but that outside. However, it does not sound as if that will be the story. It looks as though new bits will be added and that a complex and difficult Bill will be made several times worse.

Apart from the Ministers by those who were heavily whipped, the Bill as it relates to England has been accepted as centralising and extremely bureaucratic. It is slowing planning and planning procedures. It is yet another blow to local government. As its Chairman has mentioned, the Select Committee essentially condemned it. He said that we favoured organic change—I think that that was the phrase. That is a delicate way of putting it. Perhaps his memory is a little like Nelson's eyesight, conveniently. The Bill was shredded by many of those who reacted to the Select Committee's request for information and consideration, and by many of those who protested when it received a Second Reading and went on to the Committee stage.

What perhaps intrigued me most was that, when the Select Committee was looking at the Bill during the inquiry, one morning, the planning Minister from the Welsh Assembly arrived and made it clear that, from her point of view, essentially, the planning procedures as they stood worked. A few minor changes around the edges here and there were mentioned but a total shake-up was not called for. After that lady finished speaking to the Select Committee, the Minister from the other place spoke. He was typically dramatic. Anyone who knows him would anticipate that from him. There was much arm waving. Adjectives were used heavily. He said that the Bill was going to sweep away all before it.

Many of us had anticipated that, because we had seen that Minister in the Back-Bench local government committee. He told those interested, who included many ex-planning Ministers, that the Bill was the best thing since sliced bread, it was going to rejuvenate everything and that he understood planning now because he had been planning Minister for six weeks. At the very best, there were wry smiles and many wishes of good luck. When the Bill was introduced, an awful situation was landed upon us. My reason for opposing the motion is that there is an opportunity for the Bill to disappear for a total rethink and for Ministers to recognise that dogmatically to push ahead with it is to go against the clear thinking and reaction of local government, which will have to implement it.

Local government planners are dismayed. The House Builders Federation and the builders themselves are dismayed. The Council for the Protection of Rural England is dismayed. Quietly, many of the Minister's Back Benchers are dismayed. Ministers in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have been notoriously bent on centralisation. Similar warnings were given on the best value Bill, the Local Government Bill, the funding formula and other measures but they have been ignored. Interestingly, if one looks at those previous Bills, many of the predictions are slowly being recognised by Ministers. Those of us who are protesting today and who will vote against the motion are asking Ministers to recognise that they have made a mistake, that there is some genuine and thoughtful opposition and to take the opportunity to forget the Bill and to come back again with something infinitely more sensible that will speed up planning procedures rather than delay them.

1.37 pm

I can, I hope, be reasonably brief because much of what I was going to say has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). Certain facts about the Bill are beyond dispute. In Committee, we had only 12 short sittings. A sitting lasted not more than two and a half hours. Only 24 of the 90 clauses were considered; of the other 66, 64 at least were not considered at all. I think that it is beyond dispute—I hope that the Minister will back me up on this—that there was no filibustering. It is a great pity that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) was not on the Committee. Because of his vast experience in these matters, he would have been a considerable help to the Committee. He would have seen that there was no filibustering. The only disruption, if my memory serves me correctly, was when we had to adjourn the Committee to vote on the Floor of the House. That time was taken off the two and a half hours.

In case there is any misunderstanding, I have been an advocate of every Bill being timetabled ever since I first came to the House in 1970. My quarrel with the Government is that, with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, as with so many others they have introduced, there has been totally inadequate time to consider the provisions in Committee. The Bill is important as well as controversial. During the all too short Committee stage, the Government indicated that they had second thoughts and would look again at certain important issues.

I want to make my point by asking some short, direct questions, and when the Minister sums up, I hope that he can give the House the answers. If the Bill is to be recommitted, will it be possible to consider all the provisions? If not, will not only the new provisions introduced, but the 66 clauses that were not adequately discussed—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is debating the recommital, rather than the carry-over. Perhaps he could address his remarks to the motion.

I beg both your pardon and the House's pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker; perhaps I got a little confused by the three separate motions that we are considering this afternoon. However, the Government are clearly going to add provisions to the Bill, and I want to know whether they are going to change any of the existing ones in the light of the discussions that have taken place.

The best course of action that the Government should take, and indeed could take, is to withdraw the current Bill and publish a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny by either the Select Committee or even a Special Standing Committee. Given that there are probably only eight or nine weeks of this Session to go, they should introduce the revised Bill in the new Session, subject to what is said about the draft version. I am sure that that would be the best way to proceed on what is a very important and controversial Bill.

My hon. Friend is one of the most knowledgeable people in this House on planning and associated matters. He is not only a qualified architect, but a member of bodies such as the Royal Town Planning Institute. Does he agree with me that the Homes Bill, which ran out of tame, constitutes a good precedent for what he has just said? It was not particularly good and contained controversial measures in respect of the seller's pack. The Government started from scratch and brought it back as a new and much better Bill—the Homelessness Bill—in the next Session. Should that not be a precedent for this Bill?

My hon. Friend has recorded the precept for what I believe should become a very good practice. There have been four months between consideration of the Bill in Committee and today's debate, with no consideration on Report. A lot has happened to me in that time. My hon. Friend kindly referred to my being a fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute, but in fact I am now a retired fellow of that organisation. I ask the Government seriously to consider withdrawing the current Bill, even at this eleventh hour, and introducing a new one in the next Session.

1.43 pm

I wish to amplify the concern, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), about the uncertainty that carry-over of the Bill will give rise to among borough councils. In particular, I cite the example of my own Fareham borough council, whose existing local plan expires in 2006. In April, officials from the Government office for the south-east advised the council that it needed to use elements in the Bill before us to go through the process of drawing up what they said should be a local development framework, thereby mirroring the language in the Bill. They also highlighted the fact that various other elements of the Bill should be incorporated as part of the preparation of the LDF. They referred to the need for the regional spatial strategy, the potential of a sub-regional strategy for south Hampshire in informing LDF preparation, and the need for an accompanying statement of community involvement.

For some borough councils whose plans expire in 2006, the carry-over of this Bill raises the issue of what they should do next. Do they follow the guidance set out in previous planning legislation, or the guidance set out in the Bill? There is no guarantee that the Bill will be passed in its current form, or that these components will still be there when it becomes law. Councils throughout the country will be seeking an assurance from the Minister today on what action they should take. It is certainly the view of Fareham borough council that the Bill needs to be in force in March 2005—the scheduled date for publication of the draft LDF for Fareham. Along with other borough councils, developers and residents, Fareham borough council is looking for certainty from this process. The carry-over of the Bill puts that certainty at risk, and the Government need to provide much greater explanation of their intentions for its future shape, particularly in the light of the Chancellor's comments during yesterday's statement on the euro.

1.45 pm

This debate justifies our very worst fears about the whole concept of carry-over, which, of course, was introduced under the ghastly rubric of modernisation. Some of us have come to despise that word, because it is reached for increasingly readily by those who want to diminish the effectiveness of this House of Commons with regard to the Government of the day.

In a peculiar way, this motion has managed to combine cock-up and conspiracy. We used to think that they were alternatives in the political lexicon, but this motion involves a combination of the two concepts. What started as a legislative cock-up has had to be translated by the Government into a conspiracy in order to try to persuade us that it is all supposed to be for the good, which it patently is not.

I want to refute in the clearest possible terms the reasons that the Leader of the House gave for this motion. He began by saying that there was enormous pressure of business; indeed, it was one of his main arguments. Any of us who spends time in this House—I wish that all Members did so, but sadly they do not; these days only a proportion do so—will be all too well aware that the one thing that the Government have not experienced in the calendar year of 2003 is pressure of business.

Goodness knows, we seem to move effortlessly from one recess to another. Friday sittings, other than those for private Member's Bills, have been abolished. We now all rush to go home early every evening. So although the Government say that we have pressure of business and pressure of time, that is patently not the case. Even when we are here, we have an endless succession of undoubtedly important—and to many, undoubtedly welcome—debates on all sorts of subjects. Yes, there were debates on Iraq, as there should have been, and there were other debates as well. But pressure of business is the one thing that the Government do not have in this Parliament, particularly in this Session.

The Leader of the House then said—with impertinence, if I may say so—that he wants to give greater opportunity for scrutiny. In an admirable opening speech for the official Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) pointed out that the very opposite is the case, and that generically and systematically, under the so-called modernisation process, the Government are determined arbitrarily and increasingly to restrict the amount of debate available to Members of Parliament—Opposition Members, and, indeed, Government Members—in properly scrutinising Bills.

That was added to by the impertinence of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), who said with complete insouciance and with an absolutely straight face that the Opposition's job is to fit their deliberations into the artificial straitjacket imposed by the Government. That may be welcome to modernisers, but it is certainly a new doctrine as far as I am concerned. Arising directly from this motion appears to be the idea that we should do things very differently from how we did them in the good old days, when the hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member of the then Opposition. The idea then was that the Opposition determined the timetable of legislation. Only when some 150 to 200 hours had been spent on major Bills—the hon. Gentleman will remember this—did the Government reluctantly reach for the guillotine. Now we have the systematic use of the guillotine, viciously timetabling Bills from the outset.

I have some sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but if that is the case why was there no request from the Conservatives to extend sittings in Committee beyond 7 o'clock, given that some sittings could have been so extended if the Committee had wished?

I am assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold that there was such a request, and I would hope that he systematically asks for extra time in all Committees, in order to provide for more scrutiny. However, I am not going to get involved in a factual dispute; my hon. Friend will doubtless sort this out later with the Minister—outside, in the traditional way.

My point is more fundamental. The Government—in the shape of the Leader of the House and, doubtless, in a moment, the Minister—stand before us and arbitrarily restrict the time available for scrutiny in Committee. The Bill is then allowed to lapse and sit idle for months on end while the Government are twiddling their thumbs and offering any number of recesses. The Leader of the House then says that the motion is necessary and that the Bill has to be carried over into another Session because it has not been adequately scrutinised. We certainly agree with that. The Government claim that they are being generous and provide more time in a new Session. That amounts to, and has confirmed, the very worst of our fears about what the carry-over concept would produce.

We then heard the contribution of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). Liberal Democrats are known for many attributes, but I shall not go into many of them today. However, the hon. Gentleman rather touchingly displayed one that I have noticed in him before—a sort of generous naivety. He complained that when he signed up to all this modernisation nonsense, he thought that the Government would consult him about what would happen.

Just a moment, I have not finished yet. The hon. Gentleman then said, rather pathetically—I almost felt sorry for him—that he felt that he had not been properly consulted, that the Government seemed to be doing exactly what they pleased, and that he, a representative of the Liberal Democrats, had been cut out of the whole process. All I can say is that he and his hon. Friends started out believing, from 1997 onwards, that they were partners with the Government, but it has come to a pretty pass now, has it not? I shall now give him an opportunity to deny my accusation of naivety.

I would never accuse the right hon. Gentleman of generosity, let alone naivety, but has he actually read the Modernisation Committee's report? If he had, he would know that his hon. Friends took exactly the same view as I did.

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that I did not serve on that Committee? I have never regretted that decision for a moment—though I have no doubt that it does admirable work.

That will look okay in Hansard.

The chain of events are all closely and causally related, and they all come back time and again to the fundamental fact that the Government have been determined systematically to reduce the House's ability properly to scrutinise legislation. The Government also want to combine the restriction of time available in Committee with the flexibility to allow them to carry Bills over from one Session to another whenever they see fit. This is the first explicit example, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold pointed out in his opening speech, it has come about for the worst reasons. That is why we are compelled to resist the motion.

My hon. Friend fails to mention the double-edged sword: the Leader of the House says that more time is available, but there is more to look into.

Yes, indeed. The facts are clear. Sadly, in respect of this large and important Bill, the Committee was able to scrutinise only a small proportion of its contents. That pattern is repeated time and again and ever more systematically. The reason for it is not filibustering by the Opposition. We do not need to filibuster. Goodness knows, some of us are perfectly capable of it from time to time, and I have made a modest contribution to it myself, so I know whereof I speak. However, we do not have to do it any more. All we have to do is the proper and responsible job of the official Opposition—attempting to scrutinise legislation, representing legitimate outside interests, looking for mistakes and errors and trying to improve legislation. Yet on almost every occasion, we run out of time because the Government have already taken a view at the beginning of every Bill about how much time it should take to consider it. According to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, the Chairman of the Select Committee, we the Opposition should fit ourselves into that Government time. That is not how I envisage the relationship between the House and the Government, or, indeed, the Opposition and the Government.

It is perfectly clear that the motion is before us for the wrong reasons. If we were to agree to it, we would be endorsing the views of the Leader of the House, which we most certainly do not. We would also be setting a precedent, whereby the Government could declare that carry-over is passing seamlessly into the proceedings of the House and can therefore legitimately be returned to time and again. That is not the case. We resist it strongly.

I shall now conclude in order to give the Minister the maximum possible time in this short debate, which I hope he will use to the full to answer the substantial questions put to him by my hon. Friends, by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, the eminent Chairman of the Select Committee, and by the hon. Member for North Cornwall.

1.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
(Mr. Tony McNulty)

I start by thanking the Opposition for their magnanimity, which is very refreshing. I shall try to deal—if not by the tail of this debate, then at the start of the next one—with the issues that have been raised and to provide detail on the specific questions.

This is not by any means a deeply flawed and poorly drafted Bill. The Opposition can have their day on that, but it is not. When the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) talked about Lord Lucan being reported missing, I thought that he was referring to the Plaid Cymru contribution to the Standing Committee, which had 12 sittings without the Plaid Cymru Member once showing his face. That is a matter of some regret.

There has been a degree of confusion about whether pre-legislative scrutiny took place. In fact, what occurred—the White Paper, consultation and passing responses to the Select Committee—worked well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) suggested, it informed the Bill in many respects. The hon. Member for Cotswold traduces the consultation process, but the professions and everyone else applauded us for the whole process from Green Paper to the Bill and for many of the changes therein. I shall return to the transition period later.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) who, I freely admit, is the leading expert in the Chamber on planning in the professional sense, as he showed time and again in Committee. I recall that we had great fun on the Greater London Authority Bill, which went on for a considerable period. The notion of having a consolidation Bill at some stage is attractive, in view of the many changes made, but that is not a matter for me.

The hon. Member for Cotswold and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish made an important point about the transition. We originally expected commencement to come into force in spring 2004, with hoped-for Royal Assent by March 2004. If the subsequent motion is passed, we expect the new system to be up and running by June, so commencement should be but a couple of months delayed. Reasonable points were made about the problems of local planning authorities in the coming months or years in respect of transition. We cannot presume the will of Parliament, but if the motions are secured, we will write to local authorities in the next couple of weeks to set out clearly the detailed transitional arrangements for the new system.

Before I move on to the substance of the reasons why we need a roll-over, I want to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish that, far from slowing down the delivery mechanisms for the Thames gateway and sustainable communities, what we are doing will speed up the process and bind any number of partners in the public or private sector into the process. I shall return to that matter shortly or, if necessary, in the next debate. As an aside, I might mention that although my visit has been cancelled twice, and I have yet to get to the glory that is BedZED down in Sutton, I agree with my hon. Friend that building regulations are an appropriate way, among others, to secure ecologically and environmentally sound developments.

I note the points made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), but as the Leader of the House said, this is an exception to the spirit of our Standing Orders relating to roll-overs.

I admire the consistency and honesty of the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I assume that he opposes this and the subsequent motion because he thinks that this is a horrible little Bill. That is a perfectly reasonable position, but I have to tell him that local government does not agree and certainly does not greet the £350 million planning delivery grant with dismay.

In answer to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet—although this is a matter for debate, which does not get us anywhere and is certainly not germane to the motion—let me be polite and say that the extent to which we dwelt, at length and ad nauseam, on terminal 5 at Heathrow in Committee could by some less than generous souls be called filibustering, at worst, or at best irrelevant. We had a tad too much of that in Committee. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the roll-over would mean that the whole Bill would be recommitted for decision, and the answer is yes. We could have been pernickety and said that only the clauses that will be affected by amendment and concession, and the new clauses, will be recommitted, but we have said that we will send the whole Bill back. The hon. Gentleman also asked whether any changes had been made to the substance of the Bill since the end of the Committee's consideration, and again the answer is yes.

I shall pass on the invitation from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to talk about the confluence of cock-up and conspiracy, but I admire his consistency. He is against timetabling and against modernisation in all its forms and glory, and that is a reasonable position.

I shall go into more detail on the substance on the next motion, as I explain why we need the extra six months, but the bulk of the amendments that we will table for the consideration of the reconvened Standing Committee will be technical amendments to the existing Bill—as the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said—including my final and grudging concession that "complusory" and "satisified" are not proper words. The Bill has been trawled for other spelling mistakes, and I promised a vicious attack on parliamentary counsel, but there were no others. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) who has done the House and the planning profession great service by recognising those two spelling mistakes.

Will the Minister now concede that he should have accepted my amendments at the time?

Absolutely not. Call me a purist, but there could have been 12 mistakes. Far be it from me to assume that the subsequent Government amendments would be accepted. It was far more appropriate that the hon. Gentleman showed us the way, and we have now gone through the Bill with a fine-toothed comb. As one might have anticipated from the Liberal Democrats, they have elevated pedantry to an art form. That is not a huge surprise.

Most of the amendments to the Bill will be technical or tidying up ones, but I am more than happy to go through the detail with Opposition Front Benchers at a later stage.

If the motions are passed, can the Minister tell the House when the new revised Bill will be printed?

I shall come to that point in a moment. About a third of the amendments will be technical or drafting. A further third will be as a consequence of some of the concessions that I said that we would look at, such as the issue of local development orders that lift planning restrictions in a particular area. When the local development order was lifted, the question was at what point the restrictions would be reimposed if parts of the zone were at various stages of development and building. The hon. Member for Mole Valley and others made that point. In the context of the joint system that may or may not be in place between statement and development principle, and outline planning permission, there was some confusion, not least in my mind, and some concern was expressed by the professions. We will consider that issue. We will also consider the period of consent, the loss payment changes in compulsory purchase cases and other issues. I would be happy to talk through those changes with hon. Members.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, to some extent the delay has allowed us to consider Crown immunity in detail. We have wanted to legislate on that issue for some time, and it has been in our manifesto since 1994. A dozen or 15 clauses will be added on that subject, and some six or seven further will tidy up—at the behest not least of the hon. Member for Cotswold—the compulsory purchase element of the Bill. We will perform all the tidying up that can be done this side of the Law Commission reporting. There will also be one, or at most two, new clauses on unitary development corporations and what they can do to be far more responsive to local authorities.

I would envisage that all that hangs on the Bill—such as guidance, circulars and statutory instruments—will be presented in draft form for consideration early after we return from the recess, and certainly well before the Bill is recommitted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) raised an important point. If the Government's intention is to recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee as soon as we return in September, it is important that the Bill be published before we start the recess, so that we can table amendments.

I am not sure when the Bill will be printed, but I will find out and pass the information to the hon. Gentleman. I will ensure that the Bill is printed in good time, because I accept his point. I would envisage that the statutory instruments and other elements will be published by September and that all the necessary Government amendments will be tabled then, to allow time for consideration. [Interruption.] Yes, we are. We are sitting for two weeks in September, because of modernisation. I envisage that the recommittal of the Bill will happen in October, so that there will be plenty of time. I am more than happy to meet Opposition Front Benchers in September or before the end of the recess to give further details.

The Committee will consider technical amendments and Government concessions, compulsory purchase orders, unitary development corporations and Crown immunity. That is four elements, rather than six, as the hon. Member for Cotswold suggested. It is in the Government's interest that the new elements, which will constitute about a third of the overall package of elements for consideration—[Interruption.] I have been passed a piece of paper and it has thrown me entirely. I apologise.

It is in our interests to secure the new elements in Committee, but it is not for me to talk about the consideration of proceedings motion. I used to be a member of the dark brotherhood, but I am no longer involved in the usual channels. However, in this case, I would argue for a less rigorous approach than the way in which the traditional 12 sessions were carved up the first time. My only caveat would be that the Government should secure discussion of the newer elements, after which we would be fairly relaxed. We can also discuss that point.

The main question is whether the Bill will be much better after a further eight sessions of scrutiny and some Government amendments. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Will the planning process be better for the carry-over being passed? Again, the answer is yes. When the Bill comes back to the Floor of the House on Report, after recommittal and Committee stage, I hope that it will be as clean as possible and that we will have no Government amendments, let alone whole screeds of them. Obviously, however, I cannot guarantee that. That must be a consequence of significant further scrutiny in Committee.

I freely accept that I am generously naive. Generosity may be difficult for me, but I can do naiveté quite well.

At the end of the process of carry-over and productive scrutiny, the Bill in all its glory will be far stronger, as will the planning system. If the Opposition join me in that scrutiny, I will welcome that. I should love to be able to say that the 12 weeks that we spent in Committee were terrific fun, but they were not. It was reassuring that Plaid Cymru Members did not bother to turn up at all. I should be interested to be a fly on the wall when they use the usual channels to ask for representation for nationalists in the eight sittings that will be held but, again, I am pleased to say that that is not a matter for me.

The order is an exception to the normal interpretation of Standing Orders in respect of carry-over, but it will mean that an important piece of legislation will receive greater scrutiny by the House. As a consequence the Bill will be far better—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [29 October 2002].

The House divided: Ayes 279, Noes 162.

Division No. 221]

[2.11 pm

AYES

Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Edwards, Huw
Alexander, DouglasEfford, Clive
Allen, GrahamEllman, Mrs Louise
Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryEtherington, Bill
Atherton, Ms CandyFarrelly, Paul
Atkins, CharlotteFitzpatrick, Jim
Austin, JohnFitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Bailey, AdrianFlynn, Paul (Newport W)
Barnes, HarryFollett, Barbara
Battle, JohnFoster, rh Derek
Beckett, rh MargaretFoster, Michael (Worcester)
Begg, Miss AnneFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings
& Rye)
Bell, Stuart
Bennett, AndrewFoulkes, rh George
Benton, Joe (Bootle)Francis, Dr. Hywel
Berry, RogerGapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Best, HaroldGardiner, Barry
Betts, CliveGerrard, Neil
Blackman, LizGilroy, Linda
Blears, Ms HazelGodsiff, Roger
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bryant, ChrisGrogan, John
Buck, Ms KarenHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Burden, RichardHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Burgon, ColinHamilton, David (Midlothian)
Burnham, AndyHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cairns, DavidHanson, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &
Rhymney)
Casale, Roger
Caton, MartinHealey, John
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Challen, ColinHepburn, Stephen
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Heppell, John
Chaytor, DavidHermon, Lady
Clapham, MichaelHesford, Stephen
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh
Pentlands)
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Margaret
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Clelland, DavidHoon, rh Geoffrey
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Hope, Phil (Corby)
Coffey, Ms AnnHowarth, George (Knowsley N &
Sefton E)
Coleman, Iain
Colman, TonyHowells, Dr. Kim
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Beverley (Stretford &
Urmston)
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Corston, JeanHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cox, Tom (Tooting)Humble, Mrs Joan
Cranston, RossHurst, Alan (Braintree)
Crausby, DavidHutton, rh John
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)Iddon, Dr. Brian
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)Irranca-Davies, Huw
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &
Highgate)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, TamJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jamieson, David
Davidson, IanJenkins, Brian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dawson, HiltonJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dean, Mrs JanetJones, Kevan (N Durham)
Denham, rh JohnJowell, rh Tessa
Dhanda, ParmjitJoyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Dismore, AndrewKaufman, rh Gerald
Dobson, rh FrankKeeble, Ms Sally
Donohoe, Brian H.Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Drew, David (Stroud)Kemp, Fraser
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Khabra, Piara S.
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Kidney, David

Kilfoyle, PeterRooney, Terry
King, Andy (Rugby)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)Ruane, Chris
Kumar, Dr. AshokRuddock, Joan
Ladyman, Dr. StephenRyan, Joan (Enfield N)
Lammy, DavidSalter, Martin
Lawrence, Mrs JackieSarwar, Mohammad
Lazarowicz, MarkSavidge, Malcolm
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)Sawford, Phil
Linton, MartinSedgemore, Brian
Love, AndrewShaw, Jonathan
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)Sheridan, Jim
McAvoy, ThomasSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McCabe, StephenSmith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
McCafferty, ChrisSmith, Geraldine (Morecambe &
Lunesdale)
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, SiobhainSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
MacDonald, CalumSoley, Clive
McDonnell, JohnSouthworth, Helen
McGuire, Mrs AnneSpellar, rh John
McIsaac, ShonaSquire, Rachel
McKechin, AnnStarkey, Dr. Phyllis
McKenna, RosemarySteinberg, Gerry
Mackinlay, AndrewStevenson, George
McNamara, KevinStewart, David (Inverness E &
Lochaber)
McNulty, Tony
McWilliam, JohnStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mahmood, KhalidStinchcombe, Paul
Mallaber, JudyStoate Dr Howard
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)Stringer, Graham
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)Sutcliffe Gerry
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Tami Mark (Alyn)
Marshall, David (Glasgow
Shettleston)
Taylor Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor David (NW Leics)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Taylor Dr Richard (Wyre F)
Marshall-Andrews, RobertThomas Gareth (Harrow W)
Martlew, EricTimms, Stephen
Meacher, rh MichaelTipping, Paddy
Merron, GillianTodd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Milburn rh AlanTouhig, Don (Islwyn)
Miller, AndrewTrickett, Jon
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)Truswell, paul
Moffatt, LauraTurner Dennis (Wolverhton SE)
Mole, ChrisTurner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton
Kemptown)
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moran, MargaretTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Morgan, JulieTwing, Stephen (Enfield)
Morley, ElliotVaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Mountford, Kali
Munn, Ms MegVis, Dr. Rudi
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Walley, Ms Joan
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)Ward, Claire
Naysmith, Dr. DougWareing, Robert N.
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Watts, David
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)White, Brian
O'Hara, EdwardWhitehead, Dr. Alan
Olner BillWicks, Malcolm
Organ, DianaWilliams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Owen, AlbertWilliams, Betty (Conwy)
Perham, LindaWilson, Brian
Picking, AnneWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster
C)
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Pollard, KerryWood, Mike (Batley)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)Woodward, Shaun
Pound, StephenWoolas, Phil
Prescott, rh JohnWorthington, Tony
Primarolo, rh DawnWright, Anthony D. (Gt
Yarmouth)
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, JamesWright, David (Telford)
Quinn, LawrieWyatt, Derek
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &
Bellshill)

Mr. Nick Ainger and

Mr. Ivor Caplin

NOES

Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Horam, John (Orpington)
Allan, RichardHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Jack, rh Michael
Baldry, TonyJenkin, Bernard
Barker, GregoryJohnson, Boris (Henley)
Baron, John (Billericay)Keetch, Paul
Barrett, JohnKirkbride, Miss Julie
Bellingham, HenryKirkwood, Sir Archy
Beresford, Sir PaulKnight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Blunt, CrispinLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Boswell, TimLansley, Andrew
Brady, GrahamLaws, David (Yeovil)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Brazier, JulianLilley, rh Peter
Browning, Mrs AngelaLlwyd, Elfyn
Bruce, MalcolmLoughton, Tim
Burnett, JohnLuff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Burns, SimonMackay, rh Andrew
Burstow, PaulMaclean, rh David
Burt, AlistairMcLoughlin, Patrick
Butterfill, JohnMalins, Humfrey
Cable, Dr. VincentMaples, John
Calton, Mrs PatsyMarsden, Paul (Shrewsbury &
Atcham)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Carmichael, AlistairMaude, rh Francis
Cash, WilliamMawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping
Barnet)
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Chope, ChristopherMitchell, Andrew (Sutton
Coldfield)
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyMoore, Michael
Collins, TimMoss, Malcolm
Cormack, Sir PatrickMurrison, Dr. Andrew
Cotter, BrianOaten, Mark (Winchester)
Cran, James (Beverley)O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Curry, rh DavidÖpik, Lembit
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Osborne, George (Tatton)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &
Howden)
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Djanogly, JonathanPaterson, Owen
Dodds, NigelPickles, Eric
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.Price, Adam (E Carmarthen &
Dinefwr)
Doughty, Sue
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)Randall, John
Duncan Smith, rh lainRedwood, rh John
Evans, NigelRendel, David
Ewing, AnnabelleRobathan, Andrew
Fabricant, MichaelRobertson, Angus (Moray)
Fallon, MichaelRobertson, Hugh (Faversham &
M-Kent)
Field, Mark (Cities of London &
Westminster)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Flight, HowardRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Forth, rh EricRoe, Mrs Marion
Foster, Don (Bath)Ruffley, David
Fox, Dr. LiamRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Francois, MarkSalmond, Alex
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)Sanders, Adrian
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)Sayeed, Jonathan
Gidley, SandraSelous, Andrew
Goodman, PaulShepherd, Richard
Grayling, ChrisSimpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns &
Kincardine)
Greenway, John
Grieve, DominicSoames, Nicholas
Gummer, rh JohnSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Hammond, PhilipSpicer, Sir Michael
Harvey, NickSpink, Bob (Castle Point)
Hawkins, NickSpring, Richard
Hayes, John (S Holland)Stanley, rh Sir John
Heath, DavidStreeter, Gary
Heathcoat-Amory, rh DavidStunell, Andrew
Hendry, CharlesSyms, Robert
Hogg, rh DouglasTaylor, John (Solihull)
Holmes, PaulTaylor, Matthew (Truro)

Taylor, Sir TeddyWilliams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Thurso, JohnWillis, Phil
Tredinnick, DavidWilshire, David
Trimble, rh DavidWinterton, Ann (Congleton)
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)Wishart, Pete
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Viggers, PeterYoung, rh Sir George
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael

Tellers for the Noes:

Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann

Mr. Mark Hoban and

Wiggin, Bill

Angela Watkinson

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That if at the conclusion of this Session of Parliament proceedings on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill have not been completed, they shall be resumed in the next Session.

Planning And Compulsory Purchase Bill (Extension Of Period For Proceedings)

2.25 pm

I beg to move,

That if the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill is carried over to the next Session of Parliament, the period on the expiry of which proceedings on the Bill shall lapse in pursuance of paragraph (10) of the Order of the House of 29th October 2002 shall be extended by the period of six months.
In explaining the need for a six-month extension, I shall return to some of the detail that I thought more appropriate to this debate than the one that we have just held. First, however, I shall give some background.

In paragraph 39 of its report, the Modernisation Committee recommended
"that, for the experimental period on carry-over, if a Bill is not completed or arrives from the Lords more than twelve months after its introduction, it should not be further proceeded with in the Commons unless a fresh programme motion, debatable for one and a half hours, had been passed."
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House indicated earlier, we do not anticipate that the Bill will have completed its passage through the other House by 4 December—its one-year anniversary, the year after its introduction. We are, therefore, asking the House to agree to an extension motion to allow proceedings on the Bill to continue for up to a further six months, until 4 June 2004, although, as I mentioned earlier, in practice we hope that the Bill will achieve Royal Assent by the end of March.

If by some ghastly mistake or accident the Bill had not completed its passage by the six months now being set down, is the Minister able to say whether it would fall?

I do not think that is the case according to the procedures of the House. I shall do all in my power, as will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to ensure that the March date is met rather than waiting until June.

Can the Minister tell us what has been happening since 14 May and his announcement today of this rather prolonged timetable? I asked him if he could tell us when the House would consider the Bill on Report. He replied:

"It is certainly still our intention to get that Bill approved and on the statute book as soon as we possibly can."—[Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 298.]
What has changed?

Clearly, given the motions that we are discussing, not a lot. It remains the case, none the less, that I would like the Bill to be dispatched from both Houses at the earliest possible opportunity.

With the indulgence of the House, may I explain the need for the six-month extension by reference to two things? First, as I promised, I shall go into more detail about the amendments and, secondly, I shall talk about the timetable that we envisage, although—heaven knows—as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggests, any number of things can happen at any time.

Following the Chancellor's extraordinary announcement yesterday that we have to concrete over the south-east in order to get ready for the euro, is it not the case that the whole Bill will have to be rewritten to drive even more houses on to reluctant south-eastern councils? That is the true reason—

Order. That is not the subject of the motion under discussion.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is right to put on record that the Chancellor's statement was extraordinary. Indeed, it was; it was historic. However, the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's comments do not gel terribly well with those made by his Opposition Front-Bench colleagues—they think that we are already concreting over the south, whatever the Chancellor said yesterday. The point is not helpful, and it is certain that the debate on Second Reading and in Committee will be of a far higher calibre than that intervention.

As I said, currently we have it in mind to table about 70 amendments on four themes: technical and concessionary provisions; Crown immunity; compulsory purchase; and urban development corporations. I shall take them in reverse order.

Is there any scope in the Bill to devolve planning decisions on energy production to the Welsh Assembly? I am not sure whether that is possible; I ask for the sake of clarification.

I suspect that, even though the Bill has a Welsh section, that suggestion is not appropriate, but I shall consider it with my colleagues in the Wales Office and get back to the hon. Gentleman about it.

All that we seek to do with our delivery mechanisms in relation to urban development corporations and the Thames gateway is to reconfigure the legislation so that the UDC is able to delegate to the lowest possible level in its areas of activity, rather than having a UDC area-wide focus. That will work very well with what we anticipate doing in terms of household and routine planning applications staying with the local planning authority and only the most strategic decisions going up to the UDC.

The Minister has told the House what new measures the Government intend to add to the Bill when it is re-committed, but will he tell the House whether the Government intend to make any change to those items that are already in the Bill?

With the greatest respect, I have already said, in the previous debate and now that the amendments relate to four areas, which is why we need the six-month extension—first, technical and concessionary changes to the existing Bill; secondly, Crown immunity; thirdly, compulsory purchase; and fourthly, UDCs. With the indulgence of the House, I shall take them in reverse order. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would keep up and listen.

I wish to ask for an assurance. When those of us who serve on the Select Committee went to Dartford eight or nine years ago, we were concerned that very little progress had been made in the first five years after the creation of the gateway in that part of it covered by Dartford. More recently, Dartford appears to have got its act together. Can the Minister assure us that the establishment of the UDC responsible for the Thames gateway will in no way slow down the building of extra housing in Dartford?

At the risk of my straying beyond the extension of the period for proceedings, my hon. Friend can have that absolute assurance. Thurrock and the east London elements of the gateway are the only two areas covered by the UDC, so it will not delay anything in Dartford. Indeed, much of north Kent has opted for the urban regeneration company and partnership model.

We envisage that such changes to the relevant part of the Bill will involve two clauses at most and, probably, just one. As the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has said in the previous debate and in Committee, there is much more still to do in relation to compulsory purchase. Sadly, we cannot do much more this side of the Law Commission report, as I said earlier, but we further tidy up compulsory purchase, having been afforded this opportunity to do so. We shall push forward the compulsory purchase elements of the Bill, with perhaps a further seven clauses. They may be substantive and complex, like those in relation to the UDC, but again, their scope will be fairly limited.

Crown immunity is another complex issue about which we have had much to-ing and fro-ing with Crown authorities in general, but we now have the opportunity to deal with it in the context of the Bill. The measures relating to it are probably the most complex of all the new material that we want to introduce and will probably account for something in the order of 15 changes. I give those rough figures in the context of some laxity as and when we reach consideration in Committee. I do not want anyone to hang me, saying, "You promised only 15 Crown immunity changes, and there are 16," or whatever the number is. So I give such figures just as a rough estimate, but there may be about 24 clauses on new material not discussed thus far.

The remaining 45-odd clauses to be introduced are either technical or involve concessions. Forty-five is a large number, but at least 24 or more—a good half of them—relate to the "its", the "developments", the apostrophes and the words "conclusory" and "satisfasciation", or whatever they were. Those absolutely technical amendments relate purely to such things and nothing more. So half of those 45 amendments simply relate to technical, tidying-up changes. Although they are of no substance at all, they are technically necessary.

I hope that the Minister is not implying that, simply because he, the Minister, or the Government designate clauses or amendments as technical or involving concessions, they need have no consideration or scrutiny in Committee. I hope that he would agree that even if he simply describes them as such, others might take a different view—but in any case, they too need scrutiny.

Absolutely. I do not disagree. That is one of the fundamental reasons why I am more than happy for the whole Bill to be recommitted. Many Government amendments to many clauses will go entirely unscathed, but I thought that it would be churlish, pedantic and, probably, an abuse of the House to say that we should not discuss them further, irrespective of whether they were discussed in the previous 12 sittings. The whole Bill will be recommitted as it is, and it will be entirely up to the Committee to decide whether the technical changes or those involving concessions, as I describe them purely for shorthand, are worthy of extensive scrutiny. So I fully concur with the right hon. Gentleman.

I wish to ask the Minister something for the sake of clarification. If I understood him correctly, he said that he would table 45 new clauses to deal with technical problems, including spelling errors. Did he mean 45 new clauses or 45 amendments?

Given that savage intervention in terms of Liberal Democrat scrutiny, I hope that the hon. Gentleman serves on the Committee that considers the Bill. Of course I meant amendments, not new clauses—so well spotted and congratulations.

As my Parliamentary Private Secretary says, he spotted that long before the hon. Gentleman. He was about 10 seconds ahead of him. "Yah-boo," is perhaps an appropriate response to the Liberal Democrats.

As I suggested earlier, the last element is made up of concessions—again, 20-odd clauses—but those who serve on the Standing Committee will know that they range from adding the words "the planning office development" to simply "development" in clause 15. As I said earlier on the revocation of local development orders, there was a useful debate in Committee about what happens when a local development order is revoked but planning or development was already ongoing when the curtain came down and the planning powers were restored. We shall consider that issue again, and will make some progress. The same will apply to lost payment charges and the notion of statements of development in principle against outline planning permission, about which there was also a robust debate and, as I said earlier, a good deal of confusion—not least my own—so we have looked at that too, because the professions have asked us to do so.

Some of the suggestions have come from stakeholders, but many have come from the hon. Member for Cotswold or others. Those changes will involve not new material, but concessions in that regard. However, I fully accept what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said: it is not for me to say what level of scrutiny or otherwise those amendments should receive, save for the caveat that I mentioned at the end of my previous speech.

In the previous debate, the Minister described himself as a former member of the dark brotherhood of the Government Whips Office. I was assured during the Division that in fact, he is an honorary life member. Can I ask him please to turn his back on his past? When he comes to discuss which parts of the Bill need most scrutiny, he should listen very carefully to his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett), who said in terms in the previous debate that it should be up to the Opposition parties, rather than the Government, to discuss what time should be allocated to which parts of the Bill. Will the Minister accept that as a general principle?

That leads me neatly to the caveat from the previous debate that I was about to repeat. I am more than happy and extremely relaxed about how much time in the eight sittings is afforded to which parts of the Bill. That is a matter for the House, the respective parties and the usual channels. The only caveat that I added was that it is appropriate that we work to secure a set amount of time in those eight sittings for the new business. Beyond that, I am very relaxed, so we can talk about such things further in the usual channels and in extensive consultation before consideration in Committee. I am more than happy to do that too, but such things depend on the issues' complexity.

In the context of the various degrees of novelty involved in all those issues, I will undertake to find out whether it is at all possible to introduce the 45 technical amendments at the earliest opportunity—I hope, before the House rises for the summer—so that hon. Members can at least consider them in some detail before we return after the recess.

I want to listen to what other hon. Members have to say, rather than going on at length myself, but I wish to make two further points. First, I repeat that those hon. Members who served on the Committee will understand that this was a bit of a Christmas tree Bill, like previous planning legislation, in the sense that a number of circulars, statutory instruments and regulations follow from its provisions. I will also undertake to make sure, as far as possible, that all of those are introduced by September and prior to the Bill being recommitted, which is important in the context of the six-month extension. In terms of the six-month extension, I would envisage tabling all the amendments that the Government need to dispatch to the recommitted Committee by September, although that is a matter of discussion with programme managers and the usual channels. Eight further sittings of the Committee are to take place in October.

I do not envisage that the remaining stages of the House's consideration will happen this side of the Queen's Speech, but as soon as possible afterwards—which is why the extension of the period for the proceedings is necessary. Subsequently, I hope that it will be committed to the other place for safe dispatch and I hope that it will receive Royal Assent by February or March. I hope that that sort of timetable, allowed by the extension of proceedings, permits sufficient time for hon. Members to explore amendments to the existing Bill and new materials. I repeat that I am more than happy to discuss those at length with the respective Front-Benchers. I reserve the right—this will probably get me into trouble—not to talk to Plaid Cymru Members about it, as none of them could be bothered to turn up for the 12 sittings on the existing Bill. I would prefer the Liberals—I might regret this, too—rather than the nationalists to take those two spots on the Committee. God knows, one Liberal is enough on a Committee, as everyone will agree.

I would agree gently with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that one never leaves the brotherhood, and I am more than happy to be an honorary life member. As far as it is in my power, in discussion with the usual channels on my side and more generally, I foresee a limited Committee stage, with the caveat that some time will be secured at the start for new business. In that context, I commend the motion—it will be met with approbation and consensus, I am sure—to the House.

I advise right hon. and hon. Members that the terms of the motion are narrow, and while it would be appropriate to discuss the volume of the contents of such a Bill, it would not be appropriate to discuss the merits of those contents.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is helpful advice, for which I am sure that all Members are grateful. Can you confirm, however, that it would be in order to cover the points made by the Minister in his helpful opening speech, and that responses to or questions about those points would be appropriate and in order? I hope that you are able to confirm that within the constraints that you have set out.

I can reply to the right hon. Gentleman that as long as those remarks are somewhat restrained, that would be appropriate.

2.43 pm

I am grateful to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, on this second carry-over motion. We have already discussed the first carry-over motion, which allows 12 months for all proceedings on the Bill to be concluded. We are now adding to that a further six months. If the Bill has not completed all its legislative stages, including that in the other place, by 4 June, as the Bill had its First Reading in this House on 4 December 2002, an interesting question arises as to whether the Bill falls or whether the Government can bring forward a further motion giving themselves another six months. Greater experts than I am will have to answer that at some stage.

A little light has been cast in the previous debate, which is helpful, and the Minister has helpfully told us what is likely to be in the new Bill. To reiterate, the Bill has been subject to some of the greatest scrutiny that I can remember in the 11 years that I have been in Parliament. Four huge tomes of consultation were introduced as long ago as December 2001; the Bill was subject to its Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny last year—I remind the House of my quote in the previous motion—and it received no great approbation from that all-party Committee. The core part of my earlier quote was that 88 per cent. of respondents to that Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny did not support the replacement of local plans and unitary development plans with local development frameworks, and the abolition of county structure plans was supported by just 10 per cent. of respondents. Therefore, the Bill was highly contentious before it even went into Committee.

The Bill received its First Reading on 4 December 2002, as I have said, and according to my recollection, the Government were in a huge hurry to get the Bill on the statute book. From 4 December, they moved to getting it through 12 Committee sittings by 28 January. Since 28 January, we have heard nothing. The reason for that is nothing to do with external events—the Leader of the House referred to the war, and cited and prayed in aid every other excuse—but because the Government have finally twigged. They would not listen to us in Committee, but they have listened to the outside experts who have begun to point out to them the huge number of flaws in the Bill.

It is no wonder that this second motion is being brought before the House, as I do not see how we will get through the timetable that the Government have set us. As the Minister has just told us, the Government are going to include four major extra facets in the Bill: the technical amendments, the Crown immunity, the extra mechanism in the compulsory purchase section, which is highly technical, and changes relating to the urban development corporation. The Minister said that the Crown immunity and compulsory purchase elements—just two matters—would make up 25 amendments, and the remaining two would make up 45 amendments. Those are major technical amendments. Effectively, those amendments amount to almost as much as is currently contained in the Bill. We are being asked to consider all those, however, plus the whole of the existing Bill, in eight sittings, not 12, which the Government gave us previously. I have already told the House that less than a third of the existing Bill was scrutinised in Committee—30 clauses of 70 and only one schedule of seven—and some very important parts were never scrutinised. I am not surprised that the Government need a further six months.

The problem is that there is already uncertainty in the planning community in relation to these huge changes, which, as all the experts acknowledge, virtually amount to rewriting the planning system rather than modifying it, which we would have preferred. Providing this extra time is creating further uncertainty. As I pointed out time after time in Committee, if I were a planner working in a county council—knowing that my strategic planning role would be abolished by the Bill—and I received an offer from the private sector or elsewhere, given the uncertainty surrounding the whole system, I would be tempted to move into an alternative job. That would be disastrous for the planning system, which is already grossly understaffed in many authorities, such as mine in the south of England, which has great difficulty in recruiting people of sufficient technical merit. This Bill, with the timetable and carry-over, will cause great difficulty to our planning system.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is even worse in the counties, which feel that they may be abolished under the Government's plan for regional government—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The reason why I asked that question was that my hon. Friend had rightly said that people in planning offices might find other jobs. I merely wanted to point out that that would be exacerbated where there were other pressures, too. I think that that was at least ancillary to what was being said.