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Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) was not out of order in presenting his Bill. However, now that the text has become available, it is necessary to see whether the private Bill Standing Orders should apply to it. That will be the task of the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills, to whom the Bill is today being referred. If those Standing Orders do apply, the Bill will be a hybrid Bill. I am afraid that the hon. Lady is not able under the Standing Orders to make representations directly to the examiners, but if the Bill makes further progress, she will, of course, be able to contribute to the debate.
As to prior consultation with the hon. Lady, notice was given of the introduction of the Bill in the usual way. The House's rules do not require anything further, but it would certainly have been in accordance with the established courtesies of the House if the hon. Gentleman had given notice of his intention to the hon. Lady.
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): On a point of order, Sir Alan. It is appropriate to draw to your attention to the fact that we are witnessing today a historic breach of the conventions of the House, in that the timetable motion limits the flexibility of the Opposition in today's debate. May I quote briefly from "Parliament: Functions, Practice and Procedures" by J. A. Griffith, emeritus professor of public law, Michael Ryle, a former Clerk of Committees in the House of Commons, and Mr. Wheeler-Booth, Clerk Assistant in the House of Lords? It says, on page 253:
All the clauses on the aggregates levy--clauses 16 to 49--are being taken on the Floor of the House, and all the serious clauses on that tax come at the beginning of the group of clauses, so have to be finished by 7 pm. The matter has not been left to the Opposition. If there were no 7 pm deadline, it would be easy to address those serious matters within the time scale. Perhaps this is a matter for the Procedure Committee to revisit, because the procedures and conventions of the House have been quite dramatically flouted today.
The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The hon. Gentleman will understand that this is not a matter on which the Chair can rule, as it is determined by other means. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to make his point, but it now seems to be a matter of his approaching the Chairman of the Procedure Committee if he would like the matter to be examined further.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Further to that point of order, Sir Alan. I wish to associate the Liberal Democrats with the request made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). Is it possible for you to consult the Government Whips to see whether they would be prepared to reconsider their position, given the strong feeling throughout the Opposition parties that there should be a chance for other issues to be debated during the Committee of the whole House ?
'(2A) Prior to the commencement date, the Treasury shall publish a scheme of rebates to those persons charged with the levy proportionate to the environmental protection measures employed by that person in the process of commercial exploitation of aggregate, and such a scheme shall have effect on the commencement date.'.
The points of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) are relevant to the debate. A new clause has been tabled that is of direct relevance to the amendment, and common sense would suggest that they should be debated together, but the decision of the business managers means that we cannot discuss the new clause. We are discussing, at best, half the matter under consideration, and there will have to be a further debate in Committee covering very much the same issues; a debate from which, sadly--or perhaps not sadly--I will be excluded, as I will not be serving on the Committee.
The amendment is crucial in terms of understanding the Government's intentions towards the aggregates levy, the effect on the industry and the way in which the House would wish it to proceed. I represent an area where quarrying is a major industry. It does not employ huge numbers of people, but it is significant. The Mendips--particularly the east Mendips--contain some of the most concentrated areas of production in the national limestone industry, so this matter impacts substantially on my constituents.
Living, as I do, in the east Mendips area--not a million miles away from quarries from which some of the largest movements of material in Europe take place every day--I am aware of the pressures on the industry. There are strong reasons for providing the best possible environmental protection for the local areas in the context of national aggregates production. However, there are also strong reasons for recognising that this is an important industry which employs a great number of people locally, if not nationally, and is essential to our national well-being, as it produces--literally--the building blocks of our built environment and infrastructure.
Getting the balance right is important; I struggled with that for 12 years as a member of the minerals planning authority of Somerset county council, when we were dealing with the matter daily. We dealt with new applications and, in the case of interim development orders, with permissions that should have expired. We tried to reconcile the interests of the local community with those of the industry, and came to a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. In the past 15 years we have made substantial progress in finding ways to accommodate the industry, which has responded to the pressures that have been put on it. The industry has sometimes resisted those pressures, but it has also recognised a wider community interest.
As Ministers will know, the aggregates levy has been much discussed with the industry, and it was no great surprise that provision for the levy formed part of the Bill, because it had been announced in earlier statements.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): The hon. Gentleman said that the issue had been much discussed with the industry, but that suggests that the Government listened to what was said. The proposals have not been altered in any way, and my experience of being involved in at least one discussion suggests that the Government have a closed mind on them.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman pre-empts what I was about to say. Although much discussion has taken place, and the industry--to its credit--has gone a long way towards meeting some of the Government's objectives, its proposals have effectively been rejected and a statutory levy will be applied, irrespective of whether it will do the job that the Government, local communities and, for that matter, the industry, recognise needs to be done. We need to improve local environmental standards and procedures to achieve the best possible result, and that is the issue at the heart of the amendment.
The voluntary proposals suggested represented a good deal for both the Government and the industry. Unfortunately, those proposals were not universally approved within the industry, because--perhaps inevitably--some did not wish to improve their working practices. However, some have already done a good job and were prepared to take on the challenge set by the Government, and to establish a sensible relationship. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is continuing discussions with the industry and recognises the moves that have been made, but sadly, that view is not shared by the Treasury, which is why we have a largely unchanged proposal that includes a half promise that, at some stage in the future, a rebate scheme will be introduced. In the meantime, the Government will apply the tax irrespective of the consequences for the industry and for local communities.