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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 speakingI have been driven to do sobecause 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 2007some eight months agothat 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.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: 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?
Mr. Clifton-Brown: 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
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.
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.
Sir Patrick Cormack: 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 partyunless 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 todayto 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 themsomething 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.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):
Pages 2375 to 2473 of todays 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 forwardif they really have a vision for Britainlet us debate that and not hide behind programming motions.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey): 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.
Mr. Redwood: 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 seriouslythey 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.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister is a cerebral man, and he has obviously done a great deal of reflecting on the Committees deliberations in order to produce so many amendments. Why is he curbing the Houses time for reflection so much?
John Healey: I am hardly curbing the Houses time; I am ensuring that for more than two full daysparticularly if we are able to get beyond this programme motion debatewe 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 Houses 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.
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