Skip to main content

Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 10th December 2007 (Planning Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows—

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.

3. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.

4. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the table.

First day


Time for conclusion of proceedings

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

7.30 p.m.

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

The moment of interruption.

Second day

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

7.00 p.m.

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

One hour before the moment of


5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.—[John Healey.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker.

I used to take part in debates such as this with the late and much-lamented right hon. Eric Forth. He railed against these timetable motions, which this Government invented when they came to office in 1997. I have not spoken in one of these debates lately, until this one. I am speaking—I have been driven to do so—because the motion is such a travesty of democracy, for two reasons. Some of the matters that I shall discuss have been alluded to by my hon. Friends.

First, my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who spoke for the Welsh nationalists, as well as the Minister for Local Government and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who are sitting on the Treasury Bench, spent 18 sittings in Committee, taking evidence during three and subjecting the Bill to so-called line-by-line examination in the remaining 15. So, one wonders what on earth they have been doing since the now Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced in a written statement on 9 October 2007—some eight months ago—that the Bill was to be introduced to the House.

Why have Ministers had to come forward today with 215 amendments, 28 new clauses and six new schedules? What on earth have they and their Department been doing? It is a complete travesty and a complete insult to the House to introduce a Bill so inadequately written that it has to be subjected to such major amendment. Indeed, it is an insult to the members of the Committee who debated the Bill line by line and are now having to debate a completely different Bill.

The second reason why I am moved to speak on the timetable motion is the fact that we are elected to represent our constituents and to produce good law. We are not elected to take away their rights. Their rights include the right to have their say in the planning process and the appeal process, and the right to be heard. The Bill will not only affect those involved in the planning process; property owners will be affected by the compulsory purchase provisions, as will become clear when we discuss the second group of amendments and new clauses. I hope that the Minister will consider ordinary citizens’ right to have their say, not just during the proceedings of the infrastructure planning commission, to which one of the major groups of amendments refers, but on national policy statements and compulsory acquisition. If the Government railroad the Bill through in its present form, the citizens of this country will rue the day that they ever did it.

I was involved in the first planning Bill, whose Committee stage had to be reconvened because the Government had got it so badly wrong the first time. An entirely new Committee had to be formed to deal with that Bill. I wonder whether the Government will now end up in the courts time after time, dealing with complaints from ordinary citizens whose rights have been taken away and who have not been given an opportunity to be heard.

Will my hon. Friend support my suggestion to the Procedure Committee that it should examine the way in which programme motions are working and conduct a full review of the procedure, leading to an important report?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Committee should examine not just programme motions, but the way in which the House does its business. If a Committee is to include a pre-legislative scrutiny element—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going too far. It is fine if he sticks to the subject of the programme motion, but he should not allow his speech to become any wider.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The House will need to examine its procedures, including those applying to programme motions. The programme motion relating to this Bill does not allow adequate time for what the Government are asking us to do, given the number of amendments, new clauses and new schedules that they have tabled.

I did not intend to speak, but I shall say a few words.

When the late Douglas Jay stated all those years ago that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, he was roundly and rightly derided by those who held to the philosophy that we share on these Benches, but at least he said it in an age when Parliament stood for something. When Bills were put before the House of Commons in that Parliament of 1945, and in every Parliament until that of 1997, they were discussed properly and adequately. Sometimes Governments resorted to guillotine motions, but each had to be introduced at the Dispatch Box and discussed not for 45 minutes but in a full debate, generally finishing at 10 pm and always lasting for at least three hours. When a Conservative Government were in power between 1979 and 1997, a number of us felt that we were going too far with guillotine motions, and on occasion some of us voted against them. Nevertheless, those motions specified an allocation of time that was generous in the extreme compared with what we have today.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that no Committee of the House would consider a guillotine motion until it had sat for 100 hours?

I was going to make that very point. I thank my hon. Friend for making it for me. Yes, guillotine motions were not introduced— either by dear Michael Foot when he was Leader of the House and dealt with five in a day, or by any member of my party—unless the Committee stage had almost ground to a halt because of the amount of time allotted to the Bill in question. The guillotine motion had to be justified, had to be advocated and had to be defended, and it was voted on. We now have the automatic programme motion, which represents, in effect, the emasculation of this place.

I sometimes wonder what is the point of this place. If I did not, deep down in my bones, believe in it, I would think “I have had enough”. I stay here only because I want to see the day when Parliament is once again able to behave as a civilised Parliament in a civilised nation. It is utterly disgraceful.

I have a fond personal regard for the Minister, a decent man who is being made to do a very indecent thing today—to defend the indefensible. No one who truly believes in parliamentary democracy or that it is our duty critically to examine and scrutinise measures brought before us by the Government of the day can possibly defend what is now being done. It would be bad enough if this were just an ordinary Report stage, because the time given is not great, but as a number of colleagues have mentioned, this is effectively a new Bill, rewritten by the amendments listed on the Order Paper. Most of those amendments will not be discussed at all, although some will be referred to. I support strongly the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that the Procedure Committee should look at the issue of programming.

I make one final point, to support the brave words of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell). I know what it is like, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, to speak out and vote against the Government of the day who in general measure one supports. It is not easy. But the fact that the hon. Gentleman, briefly and eloquently, said that he and a number of his colleagues could not support the motion ought to make the Minister realise that he has gone too far.

The Bill makes radical changes to our planning system and takes power away from the people, rather than giving it to them—something the Prime Minister is always harping on about. It takes power away, this very afternoon, from Parliament; again, the Prime Minister is always taking about that. The Bill makes utter nonsense of all his protestations to be a doughty defender of democracy and the champion of this place. The Prime Minister has taken away power from this place and continues to do so. He is taking away power from the people in the country, who have the right to have a true say in the planning process. It is a shoddy bit of work. It is a bad day for Parliament and the Government should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Pages 2375 to 2473 of today’s Order Paper contain the amendments and new clauses that the Government are proposing. The Government are yet again trying to push through a measure that is controversial. They are determined, at every opportunity, to restrict debate on controversial matters. The Government do not get it. They should want to debate controversial measures rather than push them through. That is why they are failing and not communicating with the public.

In the last week that the House sat, we debated the Second Reading of what we might call the “Yes Minister” Bill. The debate lasted two hours and 44 minutes. There were three Conservative Back-Bench speakers, none from the Government and none from the Liberal Democrats. That left unused more than three hours that could have been used for debate. It seems that whenever something is not controversial, there is plenty of time to debate it, but there is no time to debate controversial things. The Lisbon treaty is another example. The Government brought in a measure to restrict the amount of time that we could debate an issue in Committee.

I urge the Government to think again. If they really want to communicate with the British public and put their ideas forward—if they really have a vision for Britain—let us debate that and not hide behind programming motions.

My reasons for moving this motion were straightforward. I had hoped that they would be welcomed in the interest of good debate, not least by some of those who are clearly coming to these issues for the first time, because we will largely be able to settle the points of concern once we reach the debate. It is true that the Bill is wide-ranging and important, which is why we have, unusually, provided two full days for the Report stage.

We had some vigorous debates in Committee. We reached a number of areas of shared ground and, if my memory serves me correctly, we finished the Committee stage early. The Government have reflected on a number of the points made in Committee and tabled amendments for consideration on Report accordingly. I have examined where the interest of the Committee lay and where the balance of interests is likely to lie on Report, and I have tried to allocate the time accordingly. It is true that we have tabled a substantial number of amendments for consideration on Report. Many of those are technical, many are minor in nature and many try to clarify points put to us in Committee and by some who have been interested in advising members of the Committee and Members of this House as the Bill progresses.

The Minister is trying to sound reasonable, but he could prove that he is reasonable by allowing the House to decide how much time it needed on each set of amendments and new clauses. Why will he not do that? The Opposition are behaving honourably and seriously—they do not want to filibuster, although that would be against the rules anyway; they want to consider the issues, including the ones that matter most. Will he give us that opportunity?

I have lived through this Bill since its start, including all the Committee sittings and evidence sessions, and I am trying to explain to the House that I made a judgment when allocating the time. I wanted to ensure that as much time as possible was given to covering those areas that are likely to be of most interest, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that.

The Minister is a cerebral man, and he has obviously done a great deal of reflecting on the Committee’s deliberations in order to produce so many amendments. Why is he curbing the House’s time for reflection so much?

I am hardly curbing the House’s time; I am ensuring that for more than two full days—particularly if we are able to get beyond this programme motion debate—we can debate the issues at stake on the Order Paper. Let me be clear that we have not sought to make fundamental changes to the scope or nature of the Bill; we have attempted to refine it, particularly in light of points made in Committee. This is far from being a new Bill, as some have tried to argue, although there are some areas of important amendment, not least those that we will consider tonight, which are about this House’s ability to scrutinise strongly the new proposed national policy statements. Contrary to what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) said, we want Members to give due attention to these provisions, and contrary to what the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has argued, this programme motion is designed to help and not hide debate on the main issues.

I respect the fact that there are Members of this House who speak fiercely on the point of principle on any programme motion, whatever the subject, but we have departed from the usual by giving two days to this consideration. We have spread the consideration over the full two days and we have allocated the time to where the debate and the interest is likely to be greatest. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put:—