HC Deb 17 December 2002 vol 396 cc729-807

[Relevant documents: Thirteenth Report from the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Session 2001–02, on The Planning Green Paper, HC 476-I, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 5625; Planning, Competitiveness and Productivity: Memoranda submitted to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 114-II; and Memorandum on Planning, Competitiveness and Productivity: Research commissioned from Roger Tym and Partners by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 114-III.]

Order for Second Reading read.

5.31 pm
The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On 18 July, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced to the House the need for a step change in the Government's policies for building successful, thriving and inclusive communities in all regions. He will publish a communities plan in the new year setting out the way in which we will develop our policy. We will set our policy on improving housing in an overall context of creating and maintaining sustainable communities. Every action in the plan will be underpinned by that objective. To create and maintain sustainable communities successfully, we need to work together at all levels to improve local economies; promote safety and stability; provide good-quality public services; build a skills base; and engage with our communities.

Any plan needs to be set against our wider agenda of strengthening local and regional government, community engagement, community cohesion and social inclusion. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill currently being considered by the House gives regions, if their people so choose, a distinct political voice and a real say over decisions that matter to them. For the first time, regions will have responsibility for taking greater control over things that matter to people—economic development, regeneration, planning, housing, transport, health, culture and the environment.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

That Bill will give regional authorities dramatic powers. Should they not be left with county councils in areas that have not voted for a regional assembly?

Mrs. Roche

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the regional planning body includes many directly elected members or local councillors who, of course, are directly accountable to their electorate. He also knows that many Conservative councillors are strong members of those regional chambers. During my time at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and, before that, at the Cabinet Office, I have had the pleasure of meeting many Conservative councillors who are engaged with such bodies and make a strong contribution to them. I am not sure that they would recognise the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McLoughlin


Mrs. Roche

No, I must make progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. I am sure that he will seek to catch Madam Deputy Speaker's eye later.

The Local Government Bill, which is also before the House, offers new flexibility and extends the freedoms available to local government. It will free successful councils to innovate and make real improvements in local services and the quality of life in their communities. A reformed planning system is a key tool in delivering sustainable communities. That is the purpose of the Bill.

Planning is critical to the delivery of new housing, the transport infrastructure, hospitals and schools. It is critical to ensure that we make the best use of our land, increasing development on brownfield sites and protecting and enhancing our green belt and valuable countryside.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

If transport is so important to planning, why do the Government's proposals leave the responsibility for transport with county councils, not with the regional authorities?

Mrs. Roche

We already have regional planning guidance. We have an unnecessary layer, the county structure plans, which in the main replicate what is done at national and regional level. Of course, there is a part to be played by the counties and others in transport plans, but we envisage that where people would like elected regional assemblies, those should have powers in transport matters.

As I said, it is critical that we make the best use of our land and protect valuable countryside.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Can the hon. Lady clarify whether the compulsory purchase powers in the Bill will enable councils to deal with the problem where companies such as Property Spy buy up greenbelt land, sell off little fragments at inflated prices claiming that it could be developed some day, allow it to become derelict and an eyesore, and thereby hope to hasten development? Can compulsory purchase powers be used to cope with that problem?

Mrs. Roche

I shall come to that aspect, but the Bill does not deal with all aspects of compulsory purchase. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a great interest in that topic. The Bill already contains some 90 clauses, but that does not mean that it is the end of the process on planning. We have limited our objectives to a number of key compulsory planning issues. I shall deal with compulsory purchase a little later.

The current planning system has served the country well, but it needs reform to support the new agenda. Anyone looking at the record over past decades will recognise that all Governments have failed to address the problems of the planning system. Too many councils fall short of the targets for handling planning applications. Too many local plans are out of date and no longer reflect the realities that many communities face.

We set out our proposals for reform in the planning Green Paper last year. We received more than 16,000 responses—one of the biggest responses to consultation on record—which amply demonstrates the importance of the planning system. There was certainly a consensus about the need for change. All of us as constituency Members have experience of planning issues and know how important they are to our local communities.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

My hon. Friend mentioned the consultation papers published by the Government over the past few years. The responses to the papers mention planning gain as an important issue. Why have the Government not taken the opportunity to clarify the rules on planning gain in the Bill?

Mrs. Roche

I understand my hon. Friend's point, which is extremely important. I have seen in my constituency and elsewhere and heard from councillors of various parties how helpful planning gain under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is. I can assure him that revised guidance will be used. I hope that that will satisfy him.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

The Minister referred to our experience of the planning system as constituency Members. How does she recommend that we explain to our constituents the new proposals for local development, which include a local development framework, local development schemes, local development documents, development plan documents, action plans and statements of community involvement? Does she think that that system will be easier to explain than the current one?

Mrs. Roche

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman—in my legal days, that opening was usually the polite way of being slightly rude, but of course, I would have no intention of doing any such thing in this honourable House—if he looks closely at the Bill and the Green Paper, he will see that, in talking about a local development framework, we are referring not only to the documents that will form part of that framework, but to the process of involving local communities. We may explore that matter further in Committee, but I think that he will find that it is simpler than he has suggested.

We have listened to the concerns that have been expressed. In July, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set out our response to the consultation in our paper on sustainable communities, "Delivering through Planning". We continue to listen. As with any legislation, the Bill will not be the last word on the matter. However, while we continue to listen, our objectives for the Bill are straightforward. We want to make the system fairer, faster and more predictable and to bring to planning clarity, certainty and more strategic direction.

Of course, the reform agenda is not only about legislation. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced in July an extra £350 million for the planning system over the next three years. Some £50 million will be released in the next financial year.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I welcome the additional £350 million, but my understanding is that it will not be ring-fenced. If that is the case, surely it is wrong, because we want to give specific direction and resources to planning authorities so that decisions can be made more efficiently.

Mrs. Roche

Ring-fencing has been the subject of lively discussion, but we think that planning is about local democracy and trusting local authorities.

We will set out for the House the full details of how the new grant will operate. The extra money will go to the authorities that demonstrate their commitment to high-quality planning. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the main elements of the grant in his pre-Budget report. It will incentivise improved performance by local planning authorities and reward authorities in proportion to the extent of their performance improvement. Some of it will be used to strengthen regional planning and support delivery of existing housing targets.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way of strengthening the process is to put more resources into parish and town councils? In rural areas, one of the ways in which we can build consensus is by developing a capacity for local people to feel genuinely involved in the planning process. There is no better way of doing that than through parish and town councils.

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill takes nothing away from the existing rights of parish councils. One issue that we are exploring is how, by working with other organisations, we can improve the quality of planning decisions at officer level and also in respect of councils and representatives. Although not necessarily a part of today's discussion, it is an important aspect of the planning system.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend speak about strengthening local authorities' powers to make better quality and speedier decisions. One of the great frustrations of urban authorities, particularly those with universities based in them, is their inability to secure sustainable communities in the face of huge increases in property acquisitions and conversions to houses in multiple occupation. Will it be possible, under the powers set out in the Bill, for local authorities to set ceilings on their areas' capacity to deal with that overloading of property conversions for letting, which hinders the survival of sustainable communities?

Mrs. Roche

I understand the important point that my hon. Friend makes. It is not a precise point for this legislation, but it is certainly important for my colleagues involved in that aspect of the Department's work.

As I was saying in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), we will issue new guidance on how planning obligations will work to make the section 106 planning obligations system more transparent and simple.

This is not just about setting targets for local authorities and asking them to do better. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will lead the way in setting itself challenging targets for handling Secretary of State cases. We shall continue to review planning policy statements to make them clearer and more succinct. I think that that will be appreciated by all hon. Members.

Successful planning reform also depends on a change in planning culture. I add to the point made earlier about our needing to improve the education and training, and raise the skills and morale, of both planners and councillors. We also need to look at ways of spreading best practice and providing help and guidance to local authorities. Whatever the differences of opinion across the House about the approach to the planning system and planning reform, we all agree that planning is vital to our communities. Therefore, we all subscribe to raising standards and spreading best practice for both planning officials and councillors.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)

Does my hon. Friend agree that education for local authority councillors is important also in this regard: they should focus not just on the narrow, local planning aspects of the decisions that they take, but on the wider regional and even national issues involved?

Mrs. Roche

I absolutely agree, which is why we shall continue to work closely with local government associations and others to ensure that this is not a one-off approach, but one that continues throughout the process.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Roche

I want to make progress.

Mr. Steen

I think that the Minister is making excellent progress and I hope that my question will help.

My concern with the Bill is about local democracy. On smaller district councils, the cabinet system has already excluded an awful lot of councillors. I fear that the Bill will alienate councillors and separate them from officials. Officials will get much more power and become more involved in planning decisions at the expense of local democracy and the councillors. Will the Minister confirm that that is not the case?

Mrs. Roche

It is not the case. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, and he makes a valid point, but let me try to reassure him. The Bill does not stipulate what decisions must be taken by officials or councillors. The hon. Gentleman is understandably confused about best practice targets, whereby routine and uncontroversial planning decisions can be taken by skilled planning officials, freeing councillors to deal with important matters such as controversial planning decisions, of which there are many in our constituencies.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

In my constituency, councillors of all parties and the public believe that the planning process does not reflect their concerns and needs. Councillors feel that they cannot throw out applications, typically those for building high-value flats, because the planning rules do not give them grounds to do that even though the local infrastructure is significantly overloaded. Can the Minister give any hope that the Bill will help with that?

Mrs. Roche

I understand the concern, which applies in areas such as mine. Clearly, officials understand the planning system and the guidance. It is therefore important that the messages from our discussions of the planning process in the past year stress the importance of continuing education for councillors so that they have confidence that they are making the right decisions. [Interruption.] Before the hon. Gentleman gets to his feet again, I believe that some officials do not always have confidence in their decisions. Sometimes the guidance is interpreted differently and consequently different decisions are made. That is why it is important to spread best practice.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Does the Minister agree that if the new system is to be successful, local people must feel that they own it? Although clause 17 provides for some community involvement, there is no provision for such involvement in drawing up the regional spatial strategies that will inform the contents of the local development documents. Community involvement is thus circumvented.

Mrs. Roche

The Secretary of State must give approval, and would want to ensure that decisions took account of all relevant matters. There is a distinction between the regional spatial strategy, which is a strategic document, and the local development framework, which covers what happens on the ground in a practical way.

The Bill simplifies the plan-led process by abolishing the middle tier of planning that exists in some areas. The new system will have two linked levels of planning: regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks. The latter will consist of a set of local development documents, which each authority will be required to prepare. Together, the documents will replace local plans and unitary development plans. They will set out development proposals and have a clear map so that everyone knows what goes where.

Each authority will prepare a local development scheme, which will list the local development documents.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I welcome the Government's change of heart to require local authorities to produce a plan for their areas. That will provide much greater certainty for prospective developers, and people who live in a community and want to know what will happen to the land next door. It is a welcome change for which I thank my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Roche

I should probably thank my hon. Friend, who was a key advocate of that change. I understand his reasons completely. People were anxious to ensure a clear map and the ability to understand what is happening in an area. Maps will be introduced in secondary legislation. Again, I thank him for his contribution.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Roche

I must make some progress.

Counties will be consultees on regional plans and continue to be responsible for transport, waste and minerals plans. Regions can use them as agents on sub-regional planning, and, when agreed, the Bill will enable counties to work with districts on local plans. As I said previously, the role of parishes is unchanged. Greater emphasis will be placed on local community participation. Local planning authorities will have to prepare statements of community involvement, which will set out how they will consult local communities on devising local development documents and significant planning applications.

The Bill provides for making grants. Under those provisions, we shall make grants to organisations such as Planning Aid. That will allow them to develop a greater role in targeting communities that traditionally do not get involved in the planning system, especially groups in deprived areas or those representing the socially excluded. I emphasise the importance of those provisions; we all know Planning Aid's valuable contribution.

Alan Simpson

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Roche

No, I must make some progress.

The Bill will introduce a statutory purpose for planning. We want a planning system that supports and promotes sustainable development. The Bill imposes a duty on those with plan-making functions under parts 1 and 2 to exercise them with a view to contributing to achieving sustainable development.

Sustainable development does not mean no development, but sustaining high, stable economic growth and employment, social progress, effective protection of the environment and prudent use of resources. The Bill also grants new powers for local planning authorities to introduce local permitted development rights in local development orders.

Mr. Steen

Now that the Minister has made some progress, will she give way?

Mrs. Roche

No, I must make a little more. I have an eye to the time, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

Developers will be able to request a statement of development principles. The Bill contains new provisions to speed up the planning process for applicants and introduces greater clarity. It will also stamp out abuses of the system by preventing repeat and twin-track applications.

The Bill reduces the time required for planning permission from five to three years and abolishes automatic renewal. Developers will therefore no longer be able to sit on planning permission for years without starting work. Many hon. Members are genuinely worried about that.

As I said earlier, the onus is not only on local authorities; we are serious about improving the planning system

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

I heartily welcome my hon. Friend's comments about developers sitting on planning consents. However, what about developers who put down foundations and thus perpetually prolong planning permission, at great expense to local communities, which would like developments to be demolished or completed?

Mrs. Roche

I understand my hon. Friend's point. That is the precise reason for the way in which the Bill is drafted.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful for the Minister's generosity. Sustainable development has become a buzzword for the Liberal Democrats. Whenever they are asked a question, they reply, "sustainable development." Does the Minister realise that building programmes in many areas happen so fast and are so great that the infrastructure cannot cope with the new demands on it? Does the Bill define sustainable development so as to prevent building in constituencies such as mine, where the current infrastructure means that the rural area cannot sustain the number of people who move in?

Mrs. Roche

Much as I hate to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, I would not give the phrase "sustainable development" to one party. We would all buy into the concept because it is about getting the balance right in the planning process. Of course, business would like a speedier process, but it is right for local communities to have a direct say, and for their voices to be heard. If I may seek to reassure him, that is why the Bill seeks to strike such a balance.

The Bill will speed up the processing of major infrastructure projects by introducing new inquiry rules to allow inspectors to make better use of inquiry time while ensuring that everyone can adequately express their views and by putting in place new procedures to allow a team of inspectors to operate an inquiry.

Mr. Love

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Roche

Yes, for the final time.

Mr. Love

I give my hon. Friend extra thanks for giving way on this point. Concern has been expressed that many groups that want to make representations to inquiries form new groups to make more representations, thus further slowing the process. Has she taken that into account in trying to limit the time that inquiries take?

Mrs. Roche

Again, the question is one of balance. The consultation on the Green Paper involved a great deal of consideration of major infrastructure projects. Of course everybody wants to hear from the local community and, in particular, local community groups, but such things cannot be allowed to drag on for ever and ever when much-needed projects are being considered. The new procedures will allow the team of inspectors in, which strikes the right balance.

The Bill will also introduce provisions to set up business planning zones, which will be planned in the regional strategic interest, but designated by individual local authorities. They will be areas in which high-quality development is fast-tracked to help to create jobs where they are needed most. The zones will not be a free-for-all, but will adhere to strict approval criteria set out in guidance and be subject to an environmental impact assessment.

The Bill will introduce a duty for statutory consultees to respond to a consultation request within a specified time and report on their performance in meeting their targets. It will also reform the development plan system in Wales, where a single-tier local government system and a uniform pattern of unitary development plans were introduced by the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994.

The basic pattern of development plans in Wales is to be retained. Local development plans will be simpler and more concise than unitary development plans. Procedures will be simplified and community participation improved. Provision is also made for the National Assembly for Wales to prepare and publish a national spatial plan for Wales.

Where it is necessary to use compulsory purchase to assemble land for regeneration and large-scale projects, the implementation of proposals in the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on 18 July should help to speed the process. We intend to achieve that by making the basis on which local authorities can exercise their powers clearer and more positive while also improving compensation by introducing additional loss payments.

The Bill sets out a reformed planning system for the 21st century that will help us to live in sustainable communities; a reformed system that will be faster and fairer; and a reformed system that will help us to meet the challenges of the future, deal with the problems of the present and protect the heritage of the past. I commend it to the House.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

6.3 pm

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

I beg to move,

That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill because it fails to set out a planning framework; it introduces the concept of regional spatial strategies, taking power away from local authorities, particularly county councils; it creates an unclear mechanism of local development documents, principles, frameworks and strategies; it fails adequately to specify how the public will be involved in the consultation on these documents; it provides for the concept of the correction of errors, which would encourage poor decision- making; it abolishes outline planning permission, thus failing to provide applicants for planning permission with certainty; it fails to clarify the position on planning gains and obligations; and it does not adequately deal with the public expenditure implications of the revised compensation payments. It is always a great pleasure to follow the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women, who dealt with the House most courteously. At times, I felt as though we were already in Committee, such was her willingness to give way and to answer technical points. However, I have to say that her description of the Bill is not one that I recognise. I have read it and the explanatory notes.

Keith Vaz

The hon. Gentleman has read the wrong Bill.

Mr. Pickles

Almost certainly I did. I read the Bill that is before the House, not the one that the Minister talked about.

This could have been a great Bill that we would all be proud of and that addressed the stress in the system. It could have achieved quicker, more devolved local decisions. Instead of addressing the problems, the Government have chosen to politicise the planning process by dragging in a more remote regional authority, thereby breaking the link with decisions made by local people, which have been such an important feature of the past 50 years.

At one time, I thought that we were being treated to the Christmas carol concert of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and that we were being given a turn—a parody of a Bill whereby a party with a large majority could push any measure through the Chamber without the Chamber objecting. If that were the case, the Bill would come awfully close to being such a measure. Despite what the Government wish, most areas of the country will not vote for a regional assembly, so deciding to build a planning system around a nonexistent assembly seems perverse to me.

To build a planning system in the certain knowledge that the south-east of England—this country's economic motor—will not have an elected assembly seems both wilful and contemptuous of local opinion. The planning system relies on three basic principles: the speed at which decisions are made, the quality of those decisions, and public acceptance of the decision-making process. In that process, there is often a tension between speed and the other two principles. That is where the problem lies.

The Bill's tone is overwhelmingly centralising. It will take power from local people, stifle local democracy and dramatically increase the power of the Secretary of State. The Government set out on this process of reforming the planning system with the declared aim of making it quicker and less bureaucratic, increasing certainty and enhancing business and public involvement.

Mr. Betts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles

Of course. It is always a pleasure to hear from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Betts

Perhaps we are both reading slightly different Bills. The hon. Gentleman talks about centralisation, but has he read the sections on community involvement and the requirements on planning authorities to produce that? Does he not welcome them?

Mr. Pickles

I shall come to that. I am not saying that we cannot amend the Bill in Committee or that it cannot be improved, but I do have to say that the hon. Gentleman, perhaps due to his experience in Sheffield, is looking at the legislation through rose-coloured spectacles. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman, like me, is getting on in years and has to use glasses for reading. We congratulate him on his important victory—the Government are to allow local authorities to put together some plans, which is a very good thing—but he should not let that cloud his judgment on the rest of the Bill.

Mr. Steen

Does my hon. Friend agree that "community" has become another buzz word? If it means anything, it tends to be the local authority such as the parish, district or town council, but it does not mean the whole community. There is no way of consulting the community. Does he agree that the problem with the Bill and constantly harping on about the community is that there is no vehicle for consulting the community? It is lovely to say, "The community is going to be consulted." We all feel much more comfortable when we hear that, but it will not happen.

Mr. Pickles

I am sure that we can all agree that any consultation of the community must be sustainable. To answer my hon. Friend, part of the problem and the real trick for achieving success lies in getting involved in the strategic stage of the consultation process. So often, as he will recognise, consultation takes place in planning and other authorities when the process has been decided; it allows those who were involved to be told that they have done a marvellous job. The real trick of making a consultation work, if it can be made to work, is to get in at a strategic stage. That will be difficult to achieve, and I am sure that my hon. Friend, with all his experience, recognises that.

The Government set out to reform the planning system with the declared aim of making the process quicker and less bureaucratic, thus increasing certainty and enhancing business and public involvement. The explanatory notes declare that the measures in the Bill are broadly deregulatory and will simplify the planning process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill fails to achieve what it sets out to do. It imposes further regulation, greatly complicates the planning system and is likely to slow down the planning process rather than speed it up.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey)

The hon. Gentleman talks about the speed of the planning process. Does he accept that the unitary development planning process that was introduced by the previous Conservative Government took almost 10 years to unfold in Leeds? How can he possibly stand there and criticise the present Government for trying to speed up the process when the system that the Conservative Government introduced was so sadly lacking?

Mr. Pickles

The hon. Gentleman must understand that these criticisms are made in the context of a loving relationship.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

We never knew.

Mr. Pickles

It is a side of me that my right hon. Friend has never noticed.

I am merely trying to improve the process, and I shall show how the Bill will slow it down. The most important aspect is that it will remove the democratic checks and balances from the planning mechanism, downgrade the role of local people and drastically enhance the power of Whitehall and the Secretary of State.

An intelligent, thoughtful planning process is likely to help to resolve the crisis in affordable housing, and increase the amount of house building on brownfield sites.

Peter Bradley

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has referred to affordable housing. What increase in the availability of affordable housing, especially in rural communities, would be achieved by the extension of the right to buy to housing association properties, as championed by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)?

Mr. Pickles

The hon. Gentleman is welcome to take part in our consultation exercise. He will have seen that we propose a clear exemption for rural authorities with populations of 3,000. I see no problem. No doubt he will now feel ready to endorse the right to buy to ensure that people have a right to own their own houses. That seems to me to be of considerable importance.

It is worth remembering that, according to last year's Green Paper, 90 per cent. of planning applications are eventually accepted. Therefore, we are dealing with the controversy that surrounds 10 per cent. of applications. The Bill can only properly be described as an opportunity lost. It is not aimed at achieving a balanced planning system, but rather at fitting in with the Government's regionalist agenda. It was interesting that the Minister referred to that at the beginning of her speech. A sizeable portion of the Bill is aimed at steamrollering the English regions into a regional decision-making process, whether the region likes it or not.

The introduction of regional spatial strategies in the Bill is the clearest indication yet of the Government's desire to bypass county councils and other longstanding democratic bodies in favour of their regionalist pipedream. Regional spatial strategies remove a key democratic input into the planning process. The Bill severely erodes democratic control over future planning developments. It is difficult to understand why the Government insist on a planning mechanism that provides no direct democratic means for people to express their concerns over planning decisions that affect their county or region. The proposed system lacks accountability and openness. Surely that will have only one result: increased public disenchantment with the planning system and a diminution of the legitimacy of planning. That can only mean poorer, more unpopular decisions at the end of the process.

The Government see regional assemblies as the solution to the democratic gap in the planning Bill. That is highly presumptuous. The Government promised to give the people, via referendums, a say on whether or not they have an assembly, yet they impose a planning Bill that removes democratic accountability in the planning system unless people say yes in a referendum.

If people do not vote for regional assemblies, whom will the Secretary of State designate for planning purposes? That is not clear in the Bill. Will it be the regional development agencies, whose performance varies enormously around the country, the Government offices under the control of unelected officials, or chambers, which are almost non-existent in certain areas? It would be helpful if the Minister who replies to the debate could make that clear.

Mr. Drew

Labour Members may be confused. For good or ill, regional planning conferences have long had a role in the planning process. There may have been problems, because they could be in conflict with the counties or the districts. What is the hon. Gentleman's view on the future of regional planning conferences? He seems to be against the Government's regional drift. Does he think that regional planning conferences could be got rid of?

Mr. Pickles

Regional planning conferences do not exist in every part of the country. The hon. Gentleman must understand that the engine for those conferences is the county council block. The county councils will be diminished by this process, and all their experience will disappear. The regional planning conferences are sometimes too restrictive. They prevent planning on matters in which adjoining authorities have a mutual interest but which do not fit into a particular structure in the region.

It is our contention that the Bill is anti-democratic, and that the counties, rather than arbitrary regions, are a better level at which to make strategic and structural planning decisions. County councils have a clearer view of the real needs of their local area, and their grasp of the important strategic detail is superior to that of large-scale regional authorities. County councils allow for accountability and represent an area with which local people can readily identify. They also have a longstanding pool of expertise in planning and local knowledge, which will be squandered and frittered away by this legislation.

Despite that, the role of county councils under the new arrangements is unclear. I heard what the Minister said, but it is unclear. Although county councils will still have control over minerals, waste, development and transport, according to the explanatory notes they will only be able to participate in the drawing up of local development plans. It is not clear how that is to be achieved and what their responsibility will be. I hope that it will be made clear in the Minister's winding-up speech, and if not, in Committee.

Are the Government prepared to make it clear whether and how county councils will be involved in the process, especially in the drawing up of local development plans? How can they be drawn up without properly considered waste, minerals and transport strategies?

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying, almost in the same breath, that county councils are both local community authorities and strategic, semi-regional authorities. I am not sure that he can have it both ways. Which one does he plump for?

Mr. Pickles

That is their strength, and it is why they are a good unit. The hon. Gentleman makes my point. County councils represent real people in real communities. They can link up if there is commonality of interest. That is why what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are seeking to do is such a travesty. The Bill rips power away from local people and diminishes accountability.

Mr. Love

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles

Why the heck not? Let us go for it.

Mr. Love

I have been at meetings when members of the previous Conservative Government have confirmed that they seriously considered the abolition of the planning powers of county councils. Would the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that?

Mr. Pickles

I can certainly say that I have never been in the same room as the hon. Gentleman when such views were expressed.

The Secretary of State is to be given virtual carte blanche to do as he wishes—he becomes a grand vizier of planning law. The tone of the Bill is set in part 1, which deals with regional functions. The Secretary of State will have enormous powers. Regional planning guidance issued by him forms part of the regional spatial strategy. The system effectively gives him prescriptive power of central control. He can control a regional spatial strategy that in turn controls a local development plan, which must comply with the regional plan. He even has powers to intervene in the creation of a local development scheme, and to revoke it altogether. He has powers to direct a local authority to withdraw, or to revise, its local development plan. He also has powers to order local authorities, against their wishes, to produce joint local development plans. Under the proposals for simplified planning zones and business improvement zones in the Local Government Bill, he can dictate policy against the wishes of local people.

Mr. Edward Davey

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, under the current planning system bequeathed to us by the previous Conservative Government, the Secretary of State has huge powers to call in almost any aspect—if not every aspect—of planning applications. Is it now Conservative policy to reverse that, and to reduce the powers of the Secretary of State within the planning system?

Mr. Pickles

The hon. Gentleman must understand that the planning system has been in existence in a proper, recognisable form for 50 years. As recently as five years ago, the relevant standard legal textbooks consisted of three volumes, but because of the continuous process of issuing new directives, there are now some 10 volumes. There is of course a point in the Secretary of State's being involved, but a balance must be struck between local communities and power at the centre. All that we are seeking to do is to redress that balance. We are trying not to remove the Secretary of State from the process, but to return to a proper balance. After all, the current planning system is part of the post-war consensus whereby people had trust in the system. My concern is that if we give too much power to the Secretary of State, people will lose confidence in the system.

The proposals for major infrastructure projects, which were expanded on in a statutory instrument earlier this year, give the Secretary of State enormous powers to set timetables for inquiries, to reject evidence and to appoint inspectors. One aim of the planning process review was to enhance the involvement of local people, but this Bill fails to achieve that. Instead, it raises the powers of the Secretary of State by several notches. The planning system will become overwhelmingly top-down. The Secretary of State will have an omnipresent role in the planning process.

This legislation also clearly fails in its declared aim of speeding up and simplifying the planning system. In fact, the Government may actually have achieved the impossible by making this highly bureaucratic system a smidgen more bureaucratic. Let us consider the example of the document on local development, which the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) mentioned earlier. The Bill is in a huge muddle about the overlap between a local development framework and a local development plan. Added to this confusion is the remarkable cocktail of local development orders, local development principles and provision for the Secretary of State to set fees and charges for a range of planning functions. The result can only be a more complex and expensive planning system, with several more layers and tiers than existed before the Bill came into being.

The Government may come eternally to regret their explanation of clause 37, which deals with the development plan. The explanatory notes state: Clause 37 defines the development plan by reference to the simplified hierarchy of plans and documents created by this Bill. This is anything but a simplified system. The Minister mentioned Wales at the end of her speech, but in Wales there is no question of tiers. A much more simplified and less complicated system exists there in respect of documentation, and I hope that we will be offered an explanation of why what is good enough for Wales is not good enough for England.

This confusion and bureaucracy expands beyond local development plans and infects the rest of the Bill. Under the terms of clause 38, in drawing up the regional spatial strategy and local development plans a sustainable development plan must be drawn up in parallel. That is in addition to the homelessness plan that local authorities are obliged to produce under the Bill on homelessness, and to the housing plan contained in the Local Government Bill. Is it not possible that local authorities could simply collapse under the burden of these well-meaning but bureaucratic plans? How will this great bucket of plans complement each other and mesh together? The Bill totally fails in its desire to increase certainty in planning for business.

Statements of development principles are proposed as a replacement for outline planning permission, but the latter is a far stronger legal entity than the proposed new system. Companies often use the certainty provided by outline planning permission to raise funds for ventures, and to plan for the medium or long term. This legal certainty will be lost under the proposed changes, causing delay and perhaps making planning, finance raising and job creation more difficult for business. It is hard to see what statements of development principles add to the planning process, other than providing yet another target for judicial review. They do not provide a developer with a proper equivalent to, or any promise of, planning permission. The Green Paper seemed to suggest that the new system would run in tandem with the old outline planning permission, so that any major problems could be ironed out, but there is no mention of that in the Bill. Can the Minister clarify the transitional arrangements?

Because the Minister concerned is the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), and because it is getting close to Christmas, I have tried to find an aspect of the Bill about which I could say something nice. I hit upon the idea of compulsory purchase, but unfortunately part 7, which deals with that, is not as welcome as it might first appear. We welcome compensation for landowners whose land is acquired, but the basic loss payment will be subject to a maximum amount, and in July the Deputy Prime Minister stated that property owners will be paid "hope value" for any possible planning gain. As a result, owners of some larger properties will actually be paid less than they are entitled to. Far from being more generous, the Bill is actually confiscatory. That is especially evident when we consider that the payment of compensation to property owners could take up to seven years. There is a great deal of justified complaint that current compulsory purchase claims take years to be settled.

Mr. Davey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles

In a moment.

An interesting feature of this Bill is what is not included in it. No mention is made of third party right of appeal. Is the Minister prepared to rethink this omission, particularly in circumstances where a local authority gives planning permission for its own land? I have talked about the three principles involved, and the issue is one of acceptability. For a local authority to grant itself permission, and for those affected to have no redress, looks wrong and feels wrong.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I hope that I can catch the hon. Gentleman on clause 43, on which the Minister did not amplify sufficiently. On omissions, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and the official record will show tomorrow that neither the Minister nor—until now—the hon. Gentleman has referred to planning enforcement. One of the big problems is that, unless dilatory local authorities can pursue planning enforcement with vigour—in fact, they are tardy—all this great machinery will come to nought, particularly for the small person, whose visual and aural amenity will be trespassed by selfish people who ignore planning law, and who are not chased by local authorities.

Mr. Pickles

The hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine share a border, and although we do not represent the same authorities, we share some of the same problems. Sometimes, because we say a certain thing, we think that action has been taken and the matter has been dealt with. The extra £350 million has been welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), but planning officers are needed to put that money to use. Local authority planning departments are grossly overstaffed. Planning officers who are properly trained soon find themselves in the private sector. Enforcement actions do not take place because local authorities are being squeezed by the Government and decide to put their money somewhere else. Often, frustrated constituents tell me that nothing has happened even though the local authority was supposed to take enforcement action. Even when such actions are taken, they can be appealed. The Bill could have dealt with that problem and speeded up the enforcement process.

Mr. Edward Davey

I think that I agree with the hon. Gentleman about third party right of appeal, although he needs to clarify the little that he said. I also agree with him about enforcement, but he said that the Government's proposed limit on compulsory purchase could be too low. Does he not realise that any limit that was even a little higher would make many regeneration projects prohibitively expensive?

Mr. Pickles

I shall answer that point in a second, but first I must apologise to the House. In my gross excitement about planning, I may have suggested that local authority planning departments were overstaffed. In fact, I know that I did, as my boss, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), has just ticked me off. What I meant to say—what was in the Pickles mind—was that planning offices were understaffed. I apologise if I have inadvertently misled hon. Members about the state of local authorities which, I repeat, are understaffed.

Andrew Mackinlay

Especially when it comes to enforcement officers.

Mr. Pickles

As the hon. Gentleman says, especially when it comes to enforcement officers.

One problem with the compulsory purchase process is the long time spent haggling over prices. No one suggests that people should be paid above the market price, but the Bill makes it possible for them to be paid less than that price. If we are to learn from the way in which compulsory purchase operates elsewhere, we must be able to pick up how that problem is dealt with.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) mentioned major infrastructure projects. I understand that he has strong feelings about what happened at Heathrow. It is important that the Government clearly indicate whether they support major infrastructure projects. A big test will be coming soon, in respect of the decisions about extra runways in the south-east.

Andrew Mackinlay

I hope that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who will reply to the debate, will make matters clearer. The guidance notes do not make it clear that there will be a planning inquiry in the traditional form when an inspector is appointed under clause 43. It might be implicit, but that provision is not made explicit in either the Bill or the accompanying explanatory notes. I want to safeguard the rights of the individual—the cussed, awkward, bloody-minded individual. It was people like that who fought the big battalions, such as the British Airports Authority, during the Heathrow terminal 5 inquiry, and they will wish to do the same again. We need an undertaking that they will not be squeezed out, and that there will always be a proper inquiry in connection with clause 43.

Mr. Pickles

My understanding is that the Secretary of State will direct the procedure. However, I am sure that the Under-Secretary will answer that point when he replies to the debate.

I have forgotten the name of the inspector in the terminal 5 inquiry, for which I apologise, but I have read his evidence to the Select Committee. I thought that the reasons given for the delay were telling. It was not secured by bloody-minded individuals so much as caused by the system. The lack of direction caused delays for all sorts of reasons.

Dr. Whitehead

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the proximity of Christmas. He stated that local authorities' planning departments were understaffed, so will he confirm, in the spirit of goodwill, that he favours the appointment of large numbers of additional officers? Is that official Opposition policy? Does he have information to offer the House about the costing that the policy wonks will no doubt have done on the policy?

Mr. Pickles

I have written to Santa Claus, but sadly I did not ask for any additional planning officers. My substantive point is that remuneration levels for appropriately qualified people in the private sector are high, and that that adds to the difficulties faced by local authority planning departments. A person qualified in town and country planning is likely to make significantly more money in the private sector than in the local authority sector. However, I am sure that the Government Whips will be awfully pleased with that question. The hon. Gentleman may get a prize after Christmas.

Peter Bradley


Mr. Steen


Mr. Pickles

The time has come for us to move on.

Mr. Steen

I am most grateful for that. I know when my time has come, and I want to ask my hon. Friend about compensation. Some other European countries have been able to make speedy progress with major infrastructure projects because they are willing to pay compensation at above market values. I disagree with my hon. Friend in that I believe that paying compensation at above the market value would speed up major infrastructure projects, as they would not be delayed by people haggling over small sums. Does he agree that that is an attractive approach that the Opposition should consider carefully?

Mr. Pickles

There is some truth in what my hon. Friend says. We should aim to ensure that the normal, generous market value is paid, but my point is that there should be no artificial ceiling that could prevent the process from going forward.

This Bill is a wasted opportunity, and that is tragic. The UK needs a modern and effective planning system so that it can compete in the 21st century. The Government are right that the planning system needs fundamental reform, but the proposed system is too slow, uncertain and bureaucratic. It does not allow enough input from business or the public.

The proposed changes will, if anything, make matters worse. The new system is more complex and top-down than what it replaces, and it offers less room for public participation. We cannot afford to get this reform wrong. Mistakes now could have damaging consequences for this country for years to come. The reforms need to be thoughtful, balanced and intelligent. They should increase the legitimacy of the planning process and enhance its effectiveness. The Bill clearly fails to do that.

The Minister, when she opened the debate, used her Department's favourite buzz words when she said that the Bill would be a "step change" for planning. I agree: the Bill does represent a significant step change for planning—it is a step change towards chaos and muddle, and it is a step change backwards. I urge the Government to reconsider the Bill.

6.39 pm
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I suspect that when the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) reads his speech, he will conclude that much more of it should have taken the form of footnotes rather than actually being delivered. He complained, for instance, that my hon. Friend the Minister had not made much reference to the Bill, but he did not seem to refer to it much himself. Worse, he did not seem to recognise the country in which I think we live—a country in which regional effort is becoming important.

When the Housing, Planning and Local Government Committee took evidence yesterday, we discussed land in Warrington. The use of that land, for housing or for industrial development, has a direct effect on regeneration in Liverpool and east Manchester. Unless we are prepared to accept that there is now a regional dimension in this country, we will find ourselves in real difficulty. In the case of an awful lot of planning issues, we must look at the region.

The best part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was, in fact, his reference to an earlier intervention. We should pay tribute to the 1945 Labour Government who established the town and country planning system, which is one of the jewels in our crown. For more than 50 years it worked pretty well, although there was a slight hiccup when Nicholas Ridley wanted to tear it all up. That led to some of the worst out-of-town planning, and one or two other bits went wrong. Nevertheless, we need only look at national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and historic towns to see that our planning system has protected them from developments that might have ruined them—although they might also have made someone a quick short-term profit.

The planning system also protects many people who might otherwise have to live close to areas that are unattractive, whether because of local industry or because of leisure activities. We should remind people that it has served the country well. We should also remind them that we live on a small island with a large population, where difficult planning decisions will always have to be made.

One thing that worries me about the Bill is that it results from a myth. Unfortunately, when Lord Falconer joined the Department 15 months ago, he almost swallowed that myth hook, line and sinker. The myth, produced particularly by the Confederation of British Industry, is that our planning system makes us uncompetitive. That is nonsense. Lord Falconer should have learnt a lesson that many Ministers need to learn. Departments that can do things can often do them without legislation; it is those who cannot run their own Departments who say, "A Bill will enable us to put off the delivery of results until we have got the legislation through the House." It is to the credit of the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Rooker and other Ministers that they listened to criticism at the time of the Green Paper, and have modified the Bill significantly. Moreover, the Department has recognised that many improvements in planning can be brought about through resources and administration rather than a big change in the legislation.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport)

Is the hon. Gentleman categorically disagreeing with the Minister, who said that a step change was required and would be secured? He just said that no big change was needed.

Andrew Bennett

I do not mind if we claim that it is a step change if that makes people behave in a slightly different way, but I firmly believe that the legislation is not all that necessary. What is important is the administrative change that has been promised. I do not think that we should complain that the Government have backed away from their Green Paper and come up with a much more realistic approach; indeed, they should be given credit for that. We should be proud of the fact that they published a Green Paper and then listened to the responses, including those of the Select Committee. I think that as a result we have better legislation, and I hope that better administrative action from the Department will follow.

Let me deal briefly with the myth about the planning system. When the Select Committee was considering the Green Paper, the director general of the CBI told us very firmly that, according to survey after survey, the planning system was destroying our competitiveness. When we asked for evidence, he could not provide it. During this morning's sitting, the best another CBI representative could do was tell us that the CBI had asked MORI to conduct a further survey, which had shown that the planning system was a problem. When we asked how important the problem was, we were told that it ranked 13th out of 15.

Let us be clear about this. Our planning system does not limit productivity. For one thing, many companies never use it; levels of investment are much more important to them. The planning system does not make a huge difference to our effectiveness.

I think that the culture change, rather than the step change, is important. We need to ensure that planning departments are enablers rather than disablers—that they work hard, from the start of a planning application or, indeed, before the application is made—to ensure that the proposal is in the interests of both developer and local community. That comes down to the question of resources. When we had an exchange in the Select Committee about whether the extra money would be ring-fenced, I thought Lord Rooker was pretty good: he said that it would not be ring-fenced, but that he could guarantee that it would be spent on planning. If that can be achieved, full marks.

There are some problems, however. It is important for the money to be spent, but it can be spent only if there are people with the necessary skills. Sadly we have run down the number of planners in the country, and we have also run down respect for them. I hope that during the Bill's passage the Government will tell us more about how we are to secure more planners. To an extent, we must consider the way in which geography is taught in schools and the fact that some pupils are pushed into making a choice at 15. Far more should be encouraged to continue with geography, which can enable them subsequently to work in the earth sciences or in planning departments. I fear that, in that regard, the national curriculum is too prescriptive.

Mr. Llwyd

Does the hon. Gentleman know of research recently carried out in Scotland? I think that it is something to do with Edinburgh university. When all the planning students in a certain year were asked about their hopes, not one said that he or she hoped to work in a planning department.

Andrew Bennett

That is worrying. We need to give planning back its status. Nowadays everyone criticises planners rather than recognising their important role.

We need more resources and we need more planners, but it is also important for the planners to think in terms of enabling. The Select Committee took evidence from the City of London corporation, which is pretty well resourced, about its attempts to get its planners to talk to developers at an early stage and show them how they can deal with the regulations and the planning process. Many more local authorities should do that, especially when it comes to building control. Some of the criticism of the planning system is not about the allocation of particular sites, but about the nitty-gritty: how can extractor fans be installed so that they do not disturb local people, for instance, and how can it be ensured that in summer, when doors are left open, people on an estate do not suffer from the noise?

Mr. Drew

When people try to find out what decisions are being made, they are often frustrated by the absence of contemporaneous reports of meetings with developers. That means that people requiring information receive it only when a development is under way.

Andrew Bennett

May I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at the evidence that we took this morning, particularly the Minister's response on this issue about how far one can get greater transparency at the beginning of the process? To a certain extent, the Minister understood the problem, and was coming up with part of the solution.

Alan Simpson

In relation to his point about enhancing the role of planning officers and the authority that they carry with them, has my hon. Friend's Committee considered the points being made by the police? They are talking about not just where one puts the fans, but the role of planning officers in designing out crime. The point has been made that the Bill would be strengthened if planning processors were required to address section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which the Government introduced and which the police are saying has made an enormous difference to communities and to commercial interests in designing out the costs of crime at an early stage in the planning process.

Andrew Bennett

I accept that point. It is a question of bringing to bear on the planning process all the resources of the local authority—the police, planners and others—so that we get good developments that do not create problems but set out to solve them.

I have talked about the problems of training and I should like to press the Minister on compulsory purchase orders. The parts of the Bill dealing with CPOs are some of the most welcome. Part of the problem is that local authorities got out of the habit of using CPOs and now find them cumbersome. Some of those who worked for local authorities during the 1960s and knocked out a CPO almost every day would say that the legislation has not changed much, but that lack of familiarity is the problem. The problem that has been put to me by local authorities is that, often, one does not want to have to go right through the CPO process. They want to persuade people to settle so that they can buy them out without having to go through that process. The problem for some local authorities is that they put together a back-to-back deal so that the land is immediately passed on to a developer. If local authorities hold the land for only 24 hours, they can stand the interest charges, but if they buy six or nine months in advance of the CPO, they have a problem with the financing. I hope that we will look at the law relating to CPOs and at some of the issues about financing.

In the Select Committee this morning, the Minister gave us the valuable assurance that the regulations will be available before the Bill goes into Committee. That will make scrutiny much easier. I hope that at some point the Minister will explain the transition. One of my reservations about having legislation involves the transition. The present system can be cumbersome, but people understand it, and in three or four years we will have the new system that people will have got used to. Between those stages there is the transition and we do not want a hiatus so that obtaining planning permission is more difficult during the next couple of years.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for giving way. I do not agree with everything that he has said, but his speech has been thoughtful and well considered and he does seem to be asking for greater certainty in the planning system. Will he comment on clause 40, which abolishes outline planning permission and introduces a statement of development principles instead? That would be a far less certain procedure and would not give businesses the ability to plan their developments with certainty.

Andrew Bennett

One cannot say categorically yes or no to that. We will have to see how things evolve. That is very much in the area of guidance. If the Government produce clear guidance, such problems may be solved.

I was about to give a firm thank you from my constituents to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister for turning down the development at Audenshaw, Waterside park, formerly Kingswater park. Having a business park beside the motorway would encourage people to drive around the motorway to work. I also thank him for his decision to turn down the proposal for a large IKEA store in Stockport, which would generate traffic. We should use the planning system to reduce the need for travel. Our society is far too fragmented and people are encouraged to do a great deal of travelling. For most people, spending time in a traffic jam on a motorway is not attractive.

It is important that the planning system works quickly. I hope that the Government will guarantee to set an example from the top and that Ministers will reach decisions quickly, setting that example for local authorities and the planning system. We should remember that our planning system was a jewel in the crown and, with this legislation, we should ensure that it continues to sparkle.

6.56 pm
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

My hon. Friends the Members for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) and for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) may not agree with the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) about IKEA, but I congratulate him on his speech and on his Select Committee's report on the planning Green Paper. I believe that the report influenced the Government's thinking and was the main factor in encouraging them to change their mind about some of the Green Paper's more distasteful aspects, such as its proposals on national planning decisions for major infrastructure projects. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) served on the Select Committee and has told me about the hon. Gentleman's good leadership.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about staff in planning departments. Staffing is probably the major weakness of the planning system, and he was right to dwell on it. I am sure that he is aware that undergraduate courses on planning are increasingly unpopular. The Government must work to reverse that decline. I am sure that he is aware of some research that was conducted by the Department that used to have responsibility for planning, which showed that, on average, planning departments across the country were short of four or five staff. That represents a huge national shortage. The research also dealt with issues such as the failure of local authorities to enforce some aspects of the planning system, which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) mentioned. We need those staff so that such work can be done. The Government's announcement last July of £350 million was a welcome first step towards rectifying the core problem.

Sir Sydney Chapman

As I understood the Minister, she said that the money would not be ring-fenced. The memorandum says that it will go to local planning authorities that manage to deliver an efficient planning service, but surely it is a question of the chicken and the egg. Local planning authorities need part of that extra allocation to improve their performance, and, if they succeed, by all means, give them bonuses.

Mr. Davey

I agree about the chicken and egg, but I do not agree about ring-fencing. There is too much ring-fencing in local government finance and the Government are right to resist that temptation.

Only the Minister will realise what a great thrill it is for me to speak on Second Reading of this Bill. I last debated with her when she was a Treasury Minister dealing with a Finance Bill. It is a particular pleasure for me to debate planning with her.

Mr. Pickles

What a smooth talking young lad.

Mr. Davey

The hon. Gentleman suggests that I am a smooth talker, but I will let the Minister make that decision.

During the run-up to the Bill, the Government's thinking on planning has undergone many changes. At times, they appeared to be unsure about what they wanted to do about planning, and contradiction and confusion is reflected in the Bill. The Government talk about decentralising planning powers, but the proposed regional structures, which would give the Secretary of State extra powers, do not appear to decentralise a thing; if anything, they will cement the centralisation of the existing system.

The explanatory notes and all the rhetoric before the debate suggested that the Bill would speed up the planning system, but many aspects of the local development plans, to which the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) referred and which will doubtless be debated not only tonight but in Committee, will slow up the system and make it far more inefficient.

Those failures spring from the Government's lack of vision on planning. Sometimes, the Government are almost apologetic about the planning system, and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish came close to suggesting as much. We should be proud of our planning system;it has a great role. It was the 1909 Liberal Government who first legislated for a planning system—an important move to ensure that development produced benefits for society. After the second world war, the Labour Government introduced important planning legislation, which developed the system and bequeathed us our current procedures.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

If the hon. Gentleman studies his history carefully, he will find that Disraeli was the first to propose the establishment of a planning system and to set up slum clearance programmes.

Mr. Davey

I do not really want to follow the hon. Gentleman into a historical debate; there is a big difference between slum clearance and actual planning policies.

The problem is that the vision that the Labour Government showed in their Town and Country Planning Act 1947 is not reflected in the Bill. The present Government are torn between their new Labour instincts to suck up to business and the reality experienced by Ministers, who understand how the planning system works in their constituencies and the tension in reconciling community interests. The Government do not know how to deal with that dilemma, so they have tried to split the difference and this unsatisfactory Bill is the result.

We welcome some aspects of the Bill, such as, its provisions that contain the germ of ideas that will give us a real vision for planning. It will be interesting to hear the Select Committee's views on such provisions. For example, clause 38 would make sustainable development a key test in planning decisions, which is welcome. However, although the Minister explained what she meant by "sustainable development", there is no such explanation in the Bill, and that could cause problems. The Government should have been braver and set out clearly what they meant by that welcome provision.

Clause 17 provides for a statement of "community involvement". That, too, is welcome as far as it goes, but it is vague and I shall develop that point later in my speech.

Andrew Bennett

If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about sustainable development, what definition would he table as an amendment?

Mr. Davey

As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Town and Country Planning Association has proposed an amendment that would give such a definition. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green), who will serve on the Standing Committee, may table it.

We welcome other changes proposed in the Bill. There is already some agreement about compulsory purchase powers and about the extra flexibility in development controls. We especially welcome the proposals for Wales. As a result of the Bill, Wales will have a much better system than England, although we might ask whether the National Assembly for Wales should not already have the power to debate such legislation, rather than it being debated in this place. However, we shall let that point pass—at least Wales will get a better deal than England.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)

People in Wales welcome the Bill—although, as my hon. Friend pointed out, many of its regulation-making powers should have been devolved to the Assembly. The proposed spatial strategies will allow Wales to take a much more strategic approach to issues such as renewable energy and wind farm development.

Mr. Davey

My hon. Friend is right. I hope that the Assembly will seize the opportunity to create a much better planning system in Wales.

Our major problem with the Bill is the centralising tendency that underpins it. As has been pointed out, we already have a centralised system, although when I challenged the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar on that point he was not quite prepared to admit that it was the fault of previous Conservative Governments, who bequeathed us that system. However, the Labour Government have achieved what seemed almost impossible—they have made the system even more centralised. Instead of passing powers—such as those in the current transport and works framework—from Parliament down to regional planning bodies, or to the future regional assemblies, they have taken powers back from county councils, thus increasing centralization.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The reasoned amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues states that the House declines to give the Bill a Second Reading because it gives extra powers to unelected and unaccountable regional bodies". I thought that the Liberal party was all in favour of regionalism and regional bodies. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his party's policy?

Mr. Davey

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to do so. We believe in elected regional assemblies. When we have accountable, elected regional assemblies, that will be the right time to give them real planning powers.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

But we are debating the Bill now.

Mr. Davey

My criticism of the Bill—if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument—is that it would give some planning powers to unelected regional planning bodies, which would, in effect, be quangos. We oppose that. To centralise is bad enough, but to centralise power in unelected, unaccountable bodies is unacceptable. That is one of our reasons for opposing the Bill.

To be fair to the Government, we could say that the Bill and other measures, such as the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, are merely preparatory and that they precede regional devolution across England. We might be that generous if the Government were truly pushing ahead with regional devolution, but the caution and timidity with which they are approaching that key constitutional change mean that we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt. As the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar pointed out, under the Government's framework it may be years or even decades—perhaps never—before some regions have elected assemblies, yet the new planning bodies or quangos would take powers from county councils up to the centre, and that cannot be right.

We oppose not merely the centralisation proposed in the Bill but the way in which it is being pushed through. County councils will simply be agents of the regional bodies.

Our other major criticism of the Bill is that it will do the reverse of what the Government claim. It will not speed up the planning process. If the Government had gone for genuine decentralisation, they would have removed many of the Secretary of State's powers to intervene in each and every planning application; removing that upper tier of intervention and interference would be the best way of speeding up the planning process. However, the Bill proposes a set of local development frameworks, schemes, documents, statements of community involvement and optional action plans that together will not produce a simpler system or a speedier process.

The Government are the only people who seem to think that streamlining something means adding to it. The current system of unitary development plans and local plans is not perfect, as I am sure Members on both sides of the House will agree, but it has improved as it has gone along. A much better approach to reform would have been to build on those improvements rather than to tear up the system.

The current system passes an important test—my weekly advice surgery test. Constituents bring a lot of issues to our advice surgeries, many of which relate to Departments, the Government's tax and benefit systems and so on. It is often very difficult to give constituents the answers that they want to hear, and I have to refer them to other bodies. I am delighted to say that Members of Parliament do not have a central role in planning, but at least we can explain how the system works and where the constituent can obtain redress. I fear that that will become impossible under the plethora of new plans, schemes, documents, statements and so on. That is a backward step.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Has the Liberal party considered community involvement? In an intervention on the Minister I stated that the Bill provides for community involvement in drawing up local development documents, but not in drawing up regional spatial strategies, which will, in effect, inform local development documents. That will circumvent any community involvement. Has the hon. Gentleman considered how community involvement may be improved in drawing up regional spatial strategies?

Mr. Davey

I have indeed. Liberal Democrats want elected regional assemblies so that elected representatives can help to provide that community involvement. As a regional planning tier has existed for some time, it is incumbent on the hon. Gentleman and his party, who oppose regional assemblies, to say how they would involve communities in regional planning.

The proposals on the local development process are many and complex. When one reads clause 37(6), one might think that things will be a little easier than I have led the House to believe because it says that only the development plan documents will be used to determine planning applications. That seems a lot simpler than the plethora of schemes and frameworks that I have mentioned, but the problem is that under another part of the Bill a local authority can decide what constitutes a development plan document.

Clause 17 refers to the statement of community involvement as if it were a development plan document", as though the local authority does not have the power to determine that issue anyway, so there are many contradictions and much confusion in the new process that the Government propose. It is supposed to be clear, but I am afraid that it has the clarity of the mud bath.

I do not agree with many of the CBI's comments on the Bill, but it has touched on something in its briefing for today's debate when it says: This framework will be too multi-layered and complex and will increase the workload of local authorities. It is not obvious to us that the proposals will provide the clarity and simplicity that business needs. That is absolutely right; the planning system needs to be relatively transparent not just for business but for members of the public. If it is not clear and Members of Parliament are not easily able to explain it at their surgeries, we lose the current system's element of accountability, which is so important. I fear that that complexity will get even worse by the time the courts get their mitts on the Bill. If the Government's intention is not obvious to us in Parliament as we debate it, I am sure that the judges will have quite a lot to say about it.

Mr. Llwyd

The judges are normally guided by what we think.

Mr. Davey

The hon. Gentleman is indeed right, but the judges will have a problem because of the contradictions and confusion in the Bill.

With local development, we have change for its own sake. Rather than building on something that could be improved and enhanced, the Government have decided to tear things up. That is a mistake not only because of the resulting lack of simplicity, but because there will be many transitional costs. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish touched on the point that high transitional costs are involved in moving from one planning system to another. A proper cost-benefit analysis would show that the benefits of the system, even according to the Government's own terms, would not outweigh the cost of the transition.

Another contentious issue is whether the Bill is business friendly. We can look at the CBI briefing and those of other business organisations and take our pick, but some of us are concerned about the core proposal on business planning zones—they are called simplified planning zones in the Bill—which is supposed to make the Bill business-friendly. Two arguments relate to simplified planning zones. People who share my concerns believe that they could result in the planning system being pushed aside, resulting in poor design quality, a lack of accountability and thus bad planning. If that argument proves correct, those zones will clearly be a bad thing. Other people argue that, in fact, the proposals will make little difference.

The legal framework for simplified planning zones already exists in planning legislation and all that the clauses on those zones will do is slightly change the process in respect of regional planning bodies. I hope that the Minister will say whether she thinks that simplified planning zones will make a difference; many people's final judgment on the Bill will depend on her answer.

Andrew Mackinlay

May I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing caution? I represent the port of Tilbury—indeed, my constituency home is by the port—and, in essence, it is already a simplified planning zone. By and large, it is not subject to normal development controls, but, of course, it has residential neighbours, and developments in port technology have often caused problems with noise and light pollution. We need to be careful not to create problems for future generations; what may be a superficially attractive scheme to help business could present other people with problems in the future.

Mr. Davey

The hon. Gentleman is right. My worry is that the thinking behind the Bill comes from the Treasury, not the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps that is why the measure had been cut slightly by the time it had reached that office. A few months ago, the Chancellor was very keen to respond to the business community's argument that the planning system was a real drag on competitiveness and productivity, and a few soundbites and press releases came from Great George street. The proposals look like a sop to the Chancellor. If they are as effective as some Ministers claim, that will be a worry and the hon. Gentleman will be right in what he says.

My final major criticism of the Bill relates to community involvement. At the start of my remarks, I said that clause 17 might prove to be a welcome development, but the problem is that it is difficult to tell whether that is so from that clause, the explanatory notes and all the other related documents that the Government have issued. The Government have phrased community development in a very non-prescriptive way. That may be a good idea, because such involvement needs to reflect the communities in different parts of the country and one size clearly will not fit all of them.

Not being over-prescriptive is perhaps the right approach, but the danger in not providing clarity is that the power might become a damp squib and community involvement in planning might become superficial rather than profound. I hope that the Government will either be more specific in their guidance on community involvement or accept amendments to clause 17.

Mr. Drew

I have some reservations, but the danger is that we try to pretend that we can legislate in an all-embracing way. Some of the work done in rural areas in respect of village appraisals and village design statements speaks volumes for what communities can do. I would never pretend that we can legislate to make every community do that, but surely that is how we should take this forward.

Mr. Davey

I am interested to hear about the good practice in the hon. Gentleman's area. I have seen examples of good practice in other areas, and he is right to say that we cannot be over-prescriptive, which was my point. Perhaps we can be prescriptive, however, about what will be some of the features of good community involvement—for example, in relation to information provision and the advice that might be available to members of the public or to applicants, to make sure that there are clear standards by which to judge whether planning authorities and applicants have involved the community. Perhaps we could go one stage further—this would be controversial—by making it a statutory requirement, before applications are put to a planning authority, that developers have engaged in some early community consultation. That might promote good practice within the private sector, as there is certainly a need for that.

There are many aspects of the Bill that I have not been able to cover in my short remarks. I hope that I have made it clear to the House that the Liberal Democrats are concerned about the centralisation and complexity in the Bill and its lack of clear vision for the planning system. What we need is a planning system that is more accountable and that has sustainability built even more firmly into its foundations. Through such features, we can have a truly efficient planning system.

7.21 pm
David Wright (Telford)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. I get more letters about planning applications than anything else, as I am sure many other hon. Members do. That is a sign that local people do not understand the planning system as it operates in this country, contrary to what some Opposition Members have suggested. Many people think that their MP has a veto over planning applications, and often we have to point them in the right direction in planning terms.

The Bill is particularly welcome because it sits alongside a raft of proposed legislation to make regeneration effective and give local people the opportunity to influence change in their neighbourhoods. Contrary to the comments of some Opposition Members, the Bill has had a broad welcome from several quarters, including the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Mr. Mike Haslam, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, has said: The bill gives the planning system the power and new measures to achieve sustainable development and to influence private and public investment. It places planning and people at the heart of decisions about the futures of our towns, cities and rural areas". I endorse those comments because I believe that the planning process is at the heart of regeneration.

I am conscious that many Members want to speak, so I shall try to be relatively brief. I want to focus on four key areas: regional planning structures; local planning arrangements; development control matters; and compulsory purchase issues.

First, on regional planning, the Bill envisages the replacement of regional planning guidance with regional spatial strategies. That is more than just a change in name: there will be a change in style with more focus on the spatial form of the region and a move away from a policy-based document. It is important that the new strategies give spatial expression to, among other issues, regional transport and economic and environmental plans. All that is to be welcomed. In one sense, it repairs the damage inflicted on strategic planning throughout the 1980s by the Conservative party. In another sense, it is a new, modern planning agenda that reflects best practice across the whole European Community.

As we have heard, the new strategies will be led by a regional planning body, and, in the interim period, the regional assembly. I accept some of the criticism that that interim arrangement, prior to the establishment of an elected structure, takes away some democratic accountability in relation to county councils. There is a danger that the larger planning authorities will continue to drive the regional spatial strategy and base their decisions on what is best for their authorities rather than for the region as a whole. However, that is what happens now through the current regional planning structure. The counties often fail to engage fully in the regional planning process, which is a significant weakness across the country.

It is important that the regional planning body has the appropriate level of staffing to prepare the regional strategy statement, and that the skills and views of the counties are taken fully into account. I accept that there is a danger that the proper functioning of sub-regional planning will become too dependent on regional government and the subsequent local government reforms. However, the system is not working well at present. In relation to housing target figures in particular, across many county areas, there is no coherence between what is being planned in metropolitan areas and what county councils are delivering on the ground, especially in large rural counties. We must understand that there is interdependence between housing target figures in metropolitan areas and large towns and what is being provided in rural areas.

We need to ensure that sub-regional planning is given a dedicated role within regional planning to deal with important issues such as housing. Of course, the more quickly we can move to a comprehensive structure of regional government, the better. A key issue in the development of regional spatial strategies will be the interrelationship with regional development agencies, which has not been covered in much detail this evening. It would help if that could be more clearly defined in the Bill, which is light on comments about the role of regional development agencies, particularly in relation to economic development and transport.

Secondly, on local planning arrangements, local plans, unitary development plans and structure plans are to be replaced by local development schemes, and every local planning authority must prepare a local development scheme that will set out what local development documents the authority will produce and a time scale for publication. I hope that that will enhance local priority setting and enable local planning authorities to focus on trying to build character into the urban form in many of our towns and cities—something that is very much absent in the current unitary development planning framework.

Each development plan document will be subject to independent examination, with the emphasis on testing the overall soundness of the plan. The process is intended to be less formal, and that is welcome. Regulations will need to make it clear what role, if any, legal representatives will be able to play in any examination process. In general, anything that helps to engage local people through more informal debate on planning issues will make the planning system more accessible and user-friendly.

I particularly welcome clause 26, which requires authorities that are currently incredibly slow to produce their development plans in good time. It is not acceptable that 10 to 15 per cent. of authorities still do not have effective unitary development plan structures some years after the relevant legislation came into effect. That means that developers in many areas cannot plan effectively, and local communities cannot interact with their local authority in understanding how the planning regime is going to work in their area.

The Bill contains a statutory duty for all development plans to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. That is an important and welcome statement, and I join the Liberal Democrat spokesman in calling on the Government to define their objectives on sustainable development more clearly. I would like some comments not only about design matters and enhancing the quality of the urban form but about sustainability in rural communities, especially in relation to providing affordable housing for people in need in those environments.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the Bill requires simplified planning zones to have environmental impact assessments, which will undoubtedly require details of design to be submitted, yet, for all other planning, it does not require design details to be given before the application is submitted? Does not he think that that is an inconsistency?

David Wright

No, because I imagine—I certainly hope—that when local planning authorities look at the contents of their local scheme and their local development framework, they will take on board those issues. When responding to applicants, they will be able to say clearly what they expect in terms of design and quality. I do not, therefore, see a problem in that regard. In fact, the process enhances the current arrangement.

My third point relates to development control, the key issue in which is certainty for applicants. The proposed statement of development principles is a major step forward. Many local planning authorities need to be much more open in dealing with applicants and they should give better professional advice. At the moment, many authorities do not meet applicants about submitted applications and the first thing that the applicant hears is when the authority says yes or no to the application. That is not acceptable.

I strongly welcome the Government's change of mind on major projects of national or regional importance. The Bill's proposals offer a much better solution. I was on the Procedure Committee, which recently began an investigation into the major infrastructure project process, and it concluded that the Government's previous proposal would not have been effective and would have bogged the House down with an enormous amount of work on planning matters. The proposal in the Bill is a good compromise.

Finally, I should like to discuss compulsory purchase. Land assembly issues and land assembly for regeneration are incredibly important. The present system is cumbersome and many of the skills that have been used over the years in compulsory purchase cases have been lost. In the 1980s, the then Government's view was that the market could deal with most regeneration issues and authorities were encouraged not to use compulsory purchase powers but to try to let the market dictate the system. Unfortunately, as we have seen in many areas, that does not work. We need the effective and smooth power of compulsory purchase to deliver major regeneration projects. We have failed, in many senses, on that agenda in the past and I would like to think that the Bill will start to put some of the problems right.

The Bill will enhance the power of local planning authorities to obtain land by compulsory purchase by widening the definition of the objectives that compulsory purchase must achieve. There is now a need to prove that the project will contribute to the economic, social or environmental well-being of an area, and that must remain a feature of the compulsory purchase process. As we have heard, the Bill will introduce a fairer compensation scheme, covering a wider range of owners and occupiers. There is a need to ensure that the benefits of compulsory purchase orders are fully understood at the local level and that capital resources are available to enable authorities to take positive action. Flexibility for local authorities will be critical.

I hope that, over the next three years, some of the Government's resources for investing in skills in planning will go into enhancing the skills needed to implement compulsory purchase orders and that that will link across into wider regeneration activity. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on that when he winds up.

7.32 pm
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright). The Bill's purpose is put plainly and simply in the explanatory notes. It is designed to speed up the planning system". My view is that the planning system can be speeded up by making relatively few amendments to the existing legislation.

I share a certain disappointment that the Bill does not contain a clearer and stronger statement on the purpose of planning. The public perceive planning to be a negative instrument when, as someone said earlier, it should enable people to get the right development in the right place at the right time. I commend the Town and Country Planning Association's definition, which states: The purpose of planning is to help ensure that suitable land is available for development in ways that accord with economic, social and environmental goals and that such development is consistent with the principles of sustainable development.

I am also slightly disappointed that there is no definition of sustainable development in the Bill. I know that it is difficult to come up with one, as I am chairman of the 44-nation Council of Europe committee on sustainable development. I offered a prize at the world summit in Johannesburg recently to the person who could give the simplest and shortest definition of sustainable development. I was speaking globally, but I got the definition down to eight words. It is "conserving finite resources of Earth for future generations". However, a more homely definition of sustainable development—exactly what the Government are trying to achieve—could appear in the Bill.

It may be appropriate to declare what I might best describe as a reverse financial interest. I have been a member and fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute for 40 years. Unfortunately, the requirements of continuing professional development have caught up with me, and I have been advised that it might be a good thing if I applied for retired membership status. That would save me a considerable amount of money, but I thought of sending the institute 28 years of Hansard to try to show what I have been doing and the interest that I have continued to take in town and country planning issues. None the less, I declare a possible interest as a member of the institute.

The detail of these 90 clauses and six schedules is, of course, best left to discussion in Committee. I want to speak about a few of the broad themes of what the Bill seeks to do. I share the anxieties about the rather radical changes and the introduction of regional functions, with the regional spatial strategy and the regional planning bodies. I share the criticism that my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made. The Bill puts the cart before the horse. It should not apply unless and until regional assemblies have been set up and are directly elected. In that sense, there is a democratic deficit in the Bill.

I also regret the severe curtailment of the present powers of county councils. Even the powers that will remain underline that there will be yet another layer of bureaucracy in the town and country planning system. I read the Bill in a way similar to that of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). It will hugely increase the powers given to the Secretary of State and lead to their centralisation.

The hon. Gentleman understands the current position in London. The Mayor has been given certain powers to call in particular applications. I will not go into detail, but they are not necessarily the largest applications. However, the Mayor has been given considerable powers. Once an application is submitted to the local planning authority—in London, it will be one of the London boroughs—it has to be referred to the Mayor, who has the power to direct the local planning authority to turn the application down. If he does that and the application is turned down, the applicant can quite properly appeal to the Secretary of State. If the applicant does not appeal, or the Mayor does not intervene on what he considers to be a good application, the Secretary of State can still call in that application. Precisely that has happened in my constituency. I ask the Government to reconsider. The powers for the regions should not be implemented unless and until directly elected regional assemblies—irrespective of our view of them—are set up.

I welcome the fact that the Government have dropped the idea mentioned in the Green Paper that Parliament might decide on major planning cases and infrastructure projects. A local public inquiry is essential. The problem occurs when that process takes as long as it did for Sizewell B and Heathrow terminal 5. That was the Government's fault and not that of the system.

I agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). Clause 43 deals with major infrastructure projects. When major infrastructure projects are of national or regional importance, the Secretary of State will be able to call them in and he must appoint an inspector to consider the application. New subsection 76A(6) under clause 43(6) adds: The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision as to the procedure to be applied in considering an application under this section". I want the Bill to stipulate that there should be a local public inquiry in such situations. I find it inconceivable that there might not be and I hope that the Government take that on board.

Local development frameworks, by which I mean local development schemes and documents, will replace the local plan system, which includes structure plans, unitary development plans and local plans. I agree that there will be confusion and complication. Although I fully accept that the Government want to streamline the process, the proposal will have the opposite effect. Of course I welcome clause 22, which allows modifications to be made to draft unitary development plans and other plans without having to repeat consultations and reopen inquiries.

I am worried about the business planning zones and must caution the Government on them. Simplified planning zones already exist and in the old days, we had enterprise zones. We do not need the new scheme. Instead, we should use the existing simplified planning zone technique. It might be right not to require an outline planning permission if a development is proposed in an area where the land use is in conformity with the proposal. That could apply to many other areas. However, we need to continue the general principle of requiring outline planning applications because they give certainty and assurance to the planning process.

I read the comments in the White Paper on speeding up decisions. It proposes that 65 per cent. of minor commercial and industrial applications, and 80 per cent. of other minor applications, should be determined within eight weeks, but why not 100 per cent.? I do not think that 65 and 80 per cent. are appropriate figures. One way to speed up the planning process for minor, not major, applications is to deem them granted if a determination is not made in eight weeks.

On the rights of third parties, I hold what must be defined as the publicly unpopular view. Third parties have rights when the Secretary of State calls in an application for a public local inquiry and they can give evidence before the decision is made. I recognise that, at the other end of the scale, local planning authorities consult on other applications, although whether they do that adequately is a matter of subjective judgment. I fear that if the rights of third parties are expanded, the whole system will grind to a halt.

Mr. Llwyd

I am listening carefully. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in the Republic of Ireland, a gateway gets rid of the chaff to leave only the wheat? Genuine complaints go forward and there is no delay. If it is possible that a bad neighbour will impinge on an individual, it is right for that individual to have redress.

Sir Sydney Chapman

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman nicely anticipates what I am about to say. For certain applications and to a limited extent, a case can be made to enhance the rights of third parties, but if the gateway is too wide, the whole system will grind to a halt.

Peter Bradley

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his position on the eight-week rule? He suggested that it might accelerate the process if an applicant is deemed to have consent after eight weeks. Is he advocating that as part of the planning process? If so, what consequences would that have for the rights of third parties?

Sir Sydney Chapman

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I am not saying that that principle should apply throughout. All I am saying is that there should be a back-up for some relatively minor cases. For example, if a decision is not given within eight weeks, deemed consent might be considered appropriate. I hope, however, that on simpler and minor applications eight weeks will not be needed. The planning officer should ring up the applicant and say, "We've got this. It is in conformity with land use. You've got the right density, which we approve of. We are just a bit worried about vehicular access to the site or housing estate and think that it should be pushed 20 ft along the road." Such problems could be dealt with over the telephone, modified on the plan submitted and stamped by the local planning officer. In those minor cases in which planning officers are allowed to make a decision, it could be given within a week. We want to encourage that approach.

On section 106 agreements—I suppose the section number will have to change if the Bill is accepted—I welcome what the Minister said about the need for transparency. Frankly, many section 106 agreements are uncertain. They consume time and are anything but transparent. Indeed—I choose my words carefully—some of them could be seen to border on perceived corruption because the impression is given that people can get what they want provided that they give a certain amount of money. That unsatisfactory arrangement should be changed.

I welcome the power not to accept repeat applications and twin-track applications. People can use and abuse the system. They go through the process. As soon as they are turned down, they appeal and put in another minor variant. I would welcome the time for appealing against refusals being cut from six to three months. I think that that is proposed, although I am not sure whether it is in the Bill. I very much welcome the ability of the local planning authority to expand permitted development rights.

We have moved a long way on compulsory purchase and I have a suggestion that may help us move a bit further. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which was great in many respects, had one fault: it was deeply unfair to people whose land was confiscated in compulsory purchase orders. I say confiscated because they did not get anything like the full market value of their land. All they received was an imagined piece of a £400 million pot. Over the years, we have gradually moved to the market value, although many people do not think that the amount set by district valuers is enough. There is a case not for 100 per cent. compensation, but for 110 per cent. compensation provided the owner agrees within a specific period. That would provide an incentive, and it would be possible to get the land and to carry out the development. That would be especially useful when we need to widen roads or construct new ones.

Dr. Whitehead

That sounds remarkably like giving someone money for doing what one wants. I thought that the hon. Gentleman rejected that principle.

Sir Sydney Chapman

If we give 110 per cent., we are not giving people more than they deserve. It is not a case simply of buying the land, but of accepting that they have to move, which causes expenses. I accept that the Bill deals with loss of payments, but still think that, for the Government and the taxpayer, my proposal is good value for money, as the land would be obtained earlier—the longer it takes to get the land, the more it costs to carry out the development.

Peter Bradley

That is an interesting idea, but will it not have the opposite effect to that desired by the hon. Gentleman? Compulsory purchase comes into play only when the private or public promoter of a scheme has failed to negotiate the acquisition of land with the owner. He is providing the landowner with an incentive not to deal with the applicant but to hold on to the promise of getting 110 per cent. of the value that could be obtained much earlier and more constructively through negotiation.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I am not proposing that such a scheme be implemented in every case. I do not have time to develop this argument, but there are cases in which putting in an early, favourable offer with a time limit will help people to achieve what they want. The present method provides every incentive to delay and hang on.

I doubt whether the Bill, as drafted, will speed up planning. It is possible, but not probable. There is no doubt that the Secretary of State will be given many more and greater powers. I am concerned about county councils' loss of statutory powers, and believe that local development frameworks are unnecessarily complicated. Decision making could become more remote and local people would have less say if the Bill goes through unamended. To return to my central point, while the Bill is good in parts, its approach is wrong, and the Government should have sought to amend the principal measure—the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. I therefore feel obliged to support the reasoned amendment tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

7.52 pm
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

I shall speak briefly about county planning functions and the Bill's proposals to change them.

I was interested to hear Opposition Members mount a thorough defence of county councils. That has not always been the Conservatives' position. The previous Government, I recall, instructed the Banham commission to assume that county councils would be abolished in the early stages of its deliberations on local authority structure. Indeed, one hon. Member who is in the Chamber today was a commissioner and succeeded in abolishing Berkshire, of which he may be proud. Such a development is at odds with the thorough historical defence mounted by some hon. Members today.

Counties' function in planning is mainly to produce structure plans which, unlike local plans, do not relate directly to communities—they are general devices that sketch out broad areas of use, defend areas like the strategic gap in Hampshire, show where population growth may occur, and so on. The Conservative defence of county councils, which, as I mentioned, is relatively new, is not based on that function but, bizarrely, on the idea that counties are bastions of communities. In the debate on the Loyal Address, the king of the Tories over the water, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), called them "organic communities". They are lots of things, but they are not organic communities. If we take a look at local authorities in the round, we could say that counties are providers of generic and strategic services. They do not have a specific community function, but plan and co-ordinate county land use, mineral extraction, waste disposal and so on. Some of those functions, as hon. Members have said, will be retained by counties in the Bill.

District councils have a clear community function in the proper sense of the word. The Bill makes community input a requirement for local plans in the shape of the new local development frameworks, which must include a statement of community involvement, as set out in clause 17. The process of community involvement is pitched at the right level, as communities will be able to make more decisions that affect their daily lives through the local development framework than has hitherto been the case. They will have input in the planning of their streets, their neighbourhood and the local shopping centre. Moreover, that input will have to be demonstrated by the local authority before the local development plan is finalised.

Contrary to claims by Opposition spokesmen, that is in line with recent pronouncements of the current Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who made a speech about returning power to local government, quite improbably on the occasion of the Nicholas Ridley memorial lecture. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) said, as a Minister in the Thatcher Government, Nicholas Ridley was probably more responsible for damaging and disabling local government, and its representative, community and, significantly, planning functions, than any other Minister in living memory. However, I will let that pass.

The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green did not equivocate or attempt to pretend that counties were local communities or even organic communities. He said, among other things, that we need more responsibility exercised at a local level … I don't just mean by that giving back more powers to local government … I mean enabling people to take power themselves … it's what I call community government". I would have thought that Opposition Members would be in favour of the provisions on local development frameworks, but apparently they are not—I guess that relates to their hang-up with counties and their defence. They do not want county functions that relate to communities passed to communities nor, on the other hand, do they want functions that relate to strategic planning and regional co-ordination passed to regions. They want to keep things just as they are.

If we step back and look impartially at the logic of the counties' function as the unit of strategic planning, we must ask why we should plan strategically on that basis. The only answer, frankly, is that we plan like that because that is how it has always been. I do not mean that that is how it has been since counties were established as elected bodies in their current form at the end of the 19th century, or even since the modern planning system came into being. I really do mean that that is how it has always been. If we look at a historical atlas, a remarkable fact emerges—counties have always had roughly the boundaries that they now have. A time traveller departing the earth in 1390 and returning today would have no idea that he had landed back in the same country until his eyes lit upon a map of the English counties, after which he would be certain that he had.

That may be good news for cultural integrity—counties are certainly a deep cultural implantation in the English psyche, as the polling during the local government review of the early 1990s demonstrated. However, I wonder whether a structure whose boundaries have withstood the black death, the depopulation of mediaeval centres of industry, the enclosures, the industrial revolution, the rise of urban ribbon development and the suburbs, has the best boundaries on which to base strategic planning considerations for the next 100 years. Planning strategically at regional level therefore makes sense, as it allows a structure plan to look at the deployment of land use overall; how uses cohabit with each other; how transportation systems work; and how urban, semi-urban and rural areas may be mutually defended to come into their own. Over time, Opposition Members' objection that regions are not democratically accountable—whereas counties, whatever their flawed planning function, are—is likely to be overcome as regions establish elected assemblies and as regional spatial strategies come under their purview.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the people of Southampton, let alone Hampshire, are likely to vote to join the regional assembly of the south-east? If he does not, is he happy that the regional spatial plan will be prepared by some unelected regional body that will dictate to his own unitary authority exactly what it must have in its local development document?

Dr. Whitehead

I have said in the House and on previous occasions that, in my view, we are engaged in a process. We recently had a Bill before the House paving the way for people to take a decision on whether they wish, at this stage or later, to have a democratically elected regional assembly looking after the regional strategic interests that I described. My personal view is that the process whereby that transition will be completed will be much shorter than some hon. Members currently believe. The process will speed up, as has happened in other countries of Europe, as people come to see why an elected regional assembly is useful and advantageous to their region.

My personal view, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is that whether that will finally result in a body covering exactly the boundaries of the south-east region and having full regional accountability is a matter for further discussion, but the principle that democratically elected regional assemblies will come to England over a relatively short period can certainly be argued. [Interruption.] The answer is that we are engaged in a process, as I have just told the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). Opposition Members ought to understand the difference between something that is static and something that is a process. Their failure to understand that may explain why they are in the position that they are in.

It is imperative for regional planning to be sustainable, as hon. Members from all parties have said this evening. We in the House have rightly committed ourselves to targets for emission reductions to combat climate change, targets for biodiversity, indicators on the quality of life, the establishment of targets for the proportion of housing to be built on brownfield sites, and so on. All these are important targets and indicators, and their achievement or failure will depend to a great extent on our use of land.

If we agree to a free-for-all on urban ribbon development, if we go back to the days of the aforesaid Nicholas Ridley and rubber-stamp out-of-town shopping developments, if we agree to massive house building on greenfield sites, or if we develop settlements that increase commuting time and car use, those indicators and targets will fall by the wayside. Strategic land use planning and planning for strategic economic development must be co-located with sustainability. In this respect, I am not sure that we have made a brilliant start.

I read the first published economic development plans for each of the new regional development agencies some while ago, and also the regional policy guidance that then ran alongside them. Without exception, the stated ambition of each of the regions was at that point to drive the region to perform economically at 'above the national average'". We could suggest kindly that that sounds rather similar to statements made by premiership football managers at the beginning of each season that their ambition this year is "a place in Europe"—an ambition which, for many of them, rapidly becomes obviously unachievable, although this season, remarkably, not in the case of Southampton football club.

A series of RDAs aiming to perform economically at above the national average is bound to conflict with regional planning guidance and, if the Bill is agreed by the House, with regional spatial strategies, if the latter are to unfold in line with the imperatives of sustainability in land use planning. The fact that clause 38(2) states that the regional spatial strategy should be undertaken with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development will not resolve the problem entirely. In the legislation setting up the RDAs, it was stated that one of the five primary purposes of each RDA was to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom where it is relevant to its area to do so". To date, the potential conflict of outcome between what an RDA does, and what regional planning requires, remains unresolved.

We need better to define the term "sustainability" in the Bill. We need to make sure that that clause is substantially strengthened if a logical and progressive new system of planning, which I heartily endorse, is to become meaningful in terms of the needs of sustainable planning in England.

8.5 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

An article about the Bill in the Financial Times on 25 November stated that 60 per cent. of local authority planners believed that the Bill would be a failure, and that it would fail to speed up applications as the Treasury wants, according to the PPS Group, the consultation specialists who conducted the survey of 129 planning officers across the country. Stephen Byfleld, of PPS, said: 'The government has promoted the new bill as the way to streamline the planning system. Our research shows that the people who actually make the decisions—planning officers—believe the precise opposite will happen. The system"— [Interruption.] I am quoting, not necessarily expressing my own view. I shall develop the idea presently, if hon. Members will bear with me. The article continues: The system is in fact about to become still more cumbersome, time consuming and, therefore, expensive. Those were the views of 129 planning officers—not necessarily mine, as I said. I am starting with the blackest part of my remarks.

It is my belief, since I have been in this place, that there is a certain ambivalence towards local government at Westminster. Over the past two decades, more than 120 Acts have been passed, gradually scraping away local government powers. There is a distrust of local democracy here, despite lip service being paid—we have heard it this evening, and we will hear more later this evening, I am sure. The bottom line is that this place does not want local government to become over-mighty. That is a bad thing.

If we are serious about local democracy and empowerment, surely we should do more than merely pay lip service to that notion. The apparent readiness to find fault with local government is not confined to this place. Recently, Margaret Curran, the Minister for Social Justice in the Scottish Executive, put all the blame for planning shortcomings squarely on the shoulders of local government and no one else.

In the Welsh context, clauses 56 and 59 deal with the necessity for local development plans. That is a good idea. We should have local development plans that are overseen, in this case by the National Assembly. One hopes, of course, that the National Assembly will not play the role of big brother, as Westminster has done with local government. Hitherto, that has not been the case, and the hope is that it will not happen. On the face of it, the proposal is acceptable, provided that it is not shorthand for the Assembly and, in England, the Department, usurping the planning functions of local government.

After all, the thrust of the Bill is to speed up the planning system. There has already been a move to involve Whitehall in too many planning matters—for example, the larger wind power schemes need the approval of the Department of Trade and Industry, over the head of the National Assembly. With that caveat, it is right that there should be an input from the Department, and in the Welsh context from the Assembly.

Ceredigion council in central Wales recently came up with the idea that it needed 6,500 new homes. The research basis for that figure is non-existent. It was arrived at on the whim of a group of independent councillors. There is, sadly, no proof of local need. No methodology has been applied. The idea is being driven by independents on the council, some of whom stand to gain considerably from it. The figure of 6,500 homes seems to have been plucked out of the air. The driving force behind it is questionable. The independent councillors are adamant about the issue, and I might add that they are strongly supported by the Liberal Democrat councillors. At stake is the potential for extreme dilution of the Welsh language and culture because of the building of houses for which there exists no proven local need. The result would be a further influx of people who can pay higher prices, ensuring that the housing market spirals even further out of the reach of local youngsters. That stark scenario is a current one and I welcome the fact that the National Assembly for Wales will have a pivotal role in preventing such abuse from recurring.

I welcome the spatial plans as, in the Welsh context, the National Assembly for Wales will be doing the work. I think that the proposal is sensible and, in England, it is a step towards true regional economic planning. The same is equally, if not more blatantly so in Wales. Several hon. Members have pointed out that planning might be working slightly better in Wales than in England. I am very pleased to hear that. It proves that we can do some things right. Indeed, I hope that before long we will also legislate well in Wales, although that is a debate for another day—or perhaps I should say other days.

What will be expected of planning authorities in their local development plans, which are dealt with in clause 56? I hope very much that the authorities will consider in their plans health impact assessments and the Welsh language impact. Those are bread-and-butter issues in Wales and I hope that they will be dealt with in due course by being included in the Bill. Furthermore, I hope that it will be made clear that the plans should have due regard to housing strategy and mineral development strategy, which should be linked. Indeed, the National Assembly has recently done some very good work in that regard.

I continue to be dismayed by the fact that local authorities do not as a matter of course undertake audits to survey local housing needs, concentrating on affordable housing. That was a strong recommendation of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs back in 1995 or 1996, but unfortunately precious little has been done, despite the fact that the need for social and affordable housing is even greater now than it was at that time.

The idea of limiting the duration of planning permissions from five to three years is good and I welcome it unreservedly, but I regret that the Government did not bite the bullet fully and provide a time limit within which the development has to be completed or referred back to the planning authority so an explanation can be given as to why an extension is being sought. Hon. Members will know that far too many developers use land as a resource and pension policy. In so doing, they skew natural and proper development in any area. Development can mean as little as a few pegs in the ground. In dealing with development, Sweet and Maxwell's "Encyclopaedia of Planning" refers to any work of construction in the course of erecting a building". It seems to me that simply marking out a plot is enough.

If the House will bear with me, I should like to cite one example. Aberdyfi in the south of my constituency is a small and fascinating maritime village with a year-round population of approximately 400 to 500. In the 1960s, a developer decided to submit an application for 200 houses on Copper hill above the village. There was no local need for the houses at that time and there is no such need now, but the mere fact that those permissions have existed for more than 30 years without a single plot being built upon has created terrible problems for small-scale local developers who have an eye on building affordable and social housing and on the local need. The obvious problem is that whenever a developer applies for planning permission in the locality, it is deemed that housing numbers are sufficient, but the parcel of 200 houses up on the hill has yet to be developed. Of course, if it is ever developed, it will result in the ruination of the wonderful little village of Aberdyfi.

The irksome aspect of that situation is that it has caused a planning blight in about a third of my constituency, as people cannot build a few houses to meet the local need because of a development that was allowed previously. I think that we should grasp that nettle. In saying that, I am sure that I speak for hon. Members and other people who have encountered the same problem. I believe that the situation that I have described is wrong and skews the planning system altogether. I do not think that land should be used a resource for investment for the future if that is to the detriment of those who need places to live in the foreseeable future.

Peter Bradley

The hon. Gentleman is reading from my script and, I am sure, that of many other hon. Members. Is he aware that his local authority would have the power to extinguish the planning consent that existed on the site to which he referred for 40 years, but in exercising it, would have to pay compensation at market value for houses that had never been built in that time? Does that not underline the importance of ensuring that those on the Front Bench, whom I am sure are listening very closely to this exchange, consider the Bill and find some way of accommodating the view that he advanced, which I support?

Mr. Llwyd

Yes, I was aware of that point. I am by no means a know-all, but I am aware of the issue, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why: in the Caernarfon constituency, the same thing happened in a little village called Morfa Bychan—Hansard is going to have a fun day today—outside Porthmadog, where the council opted to do just what he described. However, the process cost millions of pounds. As we well know, money is not in huge supply in local government. I appreciate the point that he makes and sincerely hope on behalf of not only my constituents, but all our constituents, that the matter is readdressed in Committee.

I read with interest the references to community consultation, which are welcome as far as they go. How is it intended that that consultation will take place? In other words, what will be the proposed avenues for dialogue? I welcome the idea, but how will it work? Anybody can see that the community council will have a role, but there will be other aspects and I would be grateful if the Minister could enlighten me about them.

Another matter that has concerned people in Wales is second homes. Concern is felt not only in Wales, but in Cumbria, Cornwall, the Cotswolds and anywhere else that anybody would like to name within reasonable commuter distances of towns and so on. The problem with properties that are used as second homes is that they undermine the viability of villages. I can speak of a village called Rhyd in my constituency, where only one or two local families are left all year round and the village shop and post office have gone. [Interruption.] I shall, no doubt, assist Hansard in due course; I promise to do so. The point is that the local shop has been undermined and the post office and village pub, church, chapel and school have all gone. The infrastructure has completely disappeared.

We need to consider how to tackle that problem, which affects many areas throughout the UK, but is of particular moment in Wales. Very often, the areas where it happens most are the economically inactive ones—rural areas where there are houses to be bought and some people can afford to buy them, while youngsters cannot necessarily do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) last year introduced the Housing (Wales) Bill in an attempt to deal with that problem among others, including homes in multiple occupation. One of the notions that struck us was a use classes order. We could consider introducing such an order and the question whether a property that is not occupied all year round should be deemed to be in a different use class from that of a full-time residential property. That might be one way forward.

I went to see Ministers about that issue before the White Paper was published. No names, no pack drill, but one Minister in particular was fully on board that it should happen. He said that he would put the matter in train, but unfortunately when the paper hit the Cabinet table, or a table slightly above his, the matter was stamped on and mysteriously disappeared. We were left with the odd and soppy suggestion of doubling the council tax. That does not go far when one is dealing with economic inequity and when the people buying the properties have more money to spend than the locals.

Peter Bradley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Rural Housing Trust, an extremely respectable and authoritative organisation in this field, believes that the receipts from the doubling of council tax could meet the shortfall in the funding of affordable housing? That would make a significant contribution to addressing the needs and problems to which he referred.

Mr. Llwyd

I have no doubt that the doubling of council tax will be beneficial, but it will not crack the problem. Perhaps I was wrong to call it a sop, because it is more than that. Clearly, however, it is not the absolute answer.

Interestingly, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs said eight years ago that it would like a quota of, for example, 10 per cent. development allowed in any given community, and that that should be decided locally. If only 10 per cent. were allowed in a locality, that would, I hope, assist sustainable communities. However, that is a debate for another day. I am pleased to see that I have struck a chord with Labour Members. The subject can no doubt be revisited in Committee.

I wish to make two quick points. It is important to have a third party right of appeal because of potential bad neighbour applications. There should be a gateway to sift out the wheat from the chaff, and genuine grievances should be heard. Indeed, I am beginning to think that this may have a human rights aspect. I commend to hon. Members the way in which the model works in Ireland. It is a good model that does not create delay, and it is worthy of examination.

We have all got terribly worked up this evening about how good compulsory purchase will be. I wonder where the money will come from to effect compulsory purchase; my local authority can hardly pay for social services, let alone compulsory purchase. Of course there are resource implications, but in principle, the idea is good and should be welcomed.

There are some good aspects to the Bill, but many things need correcting. I hope that I am wrong in thinking that the dead hand of Westminster and over-centralisation are in the background. I hope that the Bill will be improved in Committee.

8.22 pm
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Had the Government proposed today a Bill that embodied the suggestions in their Green Paper, I would have been making a very different speech. I would have attacked the idea that we could have a planning system without plans and a local development framework that would at best have been described as woolly, with no opportunities for the public to engage in its formulation. I would have said that the infrastructure project proposals were unworkable, and that plans for tariffs or taxes were at best only half considered. However, the Government listened to the objections and concerns that the Select Committee and others raised, and made fundamental alterations. They should be given credit for that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) said earlier, we should be proud of the planning system in this country. When it was born in 1947, it was a radical measure. Its fundamental principle was that the legal right to develop should not rest with the owner of the property. Effectively, it transferred the power of development from the individual to the community. Labour Members should have great regard to that and always make sure that we comply with it when considering changes to the planning system.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Exclusion, who introduced the debate, spoke about a step change. In reality, the Government should be saying that they are taking a small number of steps, mainly in the right direction, along the lines recommended by the Select Committee.

Some criticisms have been made of the local development framework. When I first read the legislation, with its framework, documents and plans, it appeared a little confusing and not quite thought through. The proposals for Wales are slightly simpler and easier to understand. In response to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), I can say that the other day I spoke to the chief planner in Sheffield, Les Sturch, who was quite content that the proposals were workable and could deliver in time the ideas, procedures and throughput that the Government seek.

I particularly welcome the fact that we are to have public inquiries and community consultation and involvement in the local development framework. As I told my hon. Friend the Minister earlier, the requirement to have maps is important because it provides a degree of certainty and understanding to the community about what is intended in the area. Most of the development in Sheffield in the past 10 years has taken place in my constituency. People come to my surgeries asking me to stop development on fields next to their homes. I tell them that something called the unitary development plan for the whole city shows the acceptable development on any piece of land. They complain that they did not know about that, and I answer that the whole city was consulted at some point. They argue that they did not live in their house at that time, and I say that, had they gone to the local library or town hall before buying their house, they could have seen a copy of the plan and the likely development on the land.

People then begin to understand that there is a degree of fairness. They may not like the fact that houses will be built, but they at least understand that the system is fair. At that point, it is convenient for the local Member of Parliament to say that he can do nothing about the matter, but that consultation took place in the past. The measure gives certainty to the community because people can know what is likely to be built on land near their home and developers can know whether planning permission is likely to be accepted in principle.

Clearly, any system can be reformed. I welcome the changes to stop serial repeat applications and to reduce the life of planning permission from five years to three. If I heard the Minister correctly earlier—this is an important point of clarification—she said that in future planning permission would not automatically be granted again once the expiry date had passed. That is important because, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said, many permissions hang round for years and years, and they cause a perverse form of planning blight. If people know that once the planning permission has expired, it will not automatically be renewed, the system will become more certain, and I would certainly welcome that.

I wish to pick up an important issue that was referred to earlier: enforcement. It is not in the Bill, but if local authority decisions are to be carried through, enforcement is necessary. Developers will always try to get a bit more out of the scheme than they are entitled to.

The Mosborough village action group is an active body in my constituency whose members take a great interest in planning matters. They said that they knew that planning officers would always fundamentally be engaged in considering new applications and had no time to look for breaches in developers' conditions. However, as interested members of the community, the group could do that.

In neighbourhood watch, interested members of the community help their local police officers and are recognised for the role that they fulfil. Why could not we develop planning watch, so that interested members of the community could be formally recognised, have a direct link to planning officers, receive some formal training and thus play an important role in enhancing enforcement? That would help to ensure that developers did not get away with breaching conditions. It is an interesting idea. I accept that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary may not be able to respond officially to it tonight, but perhaps he could consider it. Involving the community positively and engaging it with the planning process could have great benefits.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

A simpler method might be to ask the building control officers to do the final check on whether a building had been constructed according to the requirements of the planning application. Building control officers are there at the end of the process.

Mr. Betts

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Undersecretary would like to respond to that. It is right to involve more people in the enforcement process. People who are involved in the community, interested in such matters and who often walk around on site could be engaged slightly more formally. My idea has merit.

I want to deal with two criticisms of the current system that have been exposed to some extent. First, it is alleged to be slow. Secondly, it is alleged to be anti-business and anti-competition. The system is sometimes slow, but evidence to the Housing, Planning and Local Government Committee showed that resources and lack of staff have been a major problem. I am delighted by the Government's commitment to the extra £350 million. It is right not to ring-fence the money; it should be up to local authorities to determine their priorities. However, they should be held to account for the way in which they deal with planning applications.

It is often said that urban authorities' unitary development plans are adopted when they are due for revision. Clearly that is nonsense, but the responsibility ultimately lies with Ministers. If we set up a system—unitary development plans now or local development frameworks in future—that requires local authorities to act, Ministers must set out time scales and spell out clearly the consequences of not complying with them. There are currently no sanctions against a local authority that does not want to adopt a set of local plans. That must be examined if we are serious about the matter.

Mr. Truswell

My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of placing the responsibility on local authorities, but should not the Government bear some responsibility? Many delays in finalising unitary development plans fall between holding the public inquiries and inspectors furnishing local authorities with their reports.

Mr. Betts

That is a fair point. If there is a requirement on local authorities, perhaps the Government should also set themselves a clear timetable so that they can be judged against it.

Do we always want speedy decisions? We certainly want the right decisions. Speeding up the process can sometimes lead to decisions that are not in the best interests of the whole community. Sometimes the problem lies with the quality of the applications, which cannot be determined because the developer gives insufficient or incorrect details. The responsibility does not always lie with the planners. We must accept that although better public consultation will slow down the process, it may mean that the decision is ultimately better.

I welcome the Government's commitment to community involvement by providing for each local authority to devise a statement of their method of operating the policy. I hope that we have seen the last of the notice on the lamp post as the only method of telling or consulting the public about a planning application. However, speed for its own sake can be wrong. An element of caution is therefore desirable.

Let us consider the second allegation that the planning system is anti-business. We heard much rhetoric, but it was accompanied by little evidence. I am not happy about the simplified planning zones. I do not know what they are supposed to achieve. I hope that one or two will be dotted around the country, shown to be ineffective, and thus the idea, like that of enterprise zones, will go away, enabling local authorities to get on with the proper planning job that they are supposed to do. Sheffield asks Ministers for many things, but please do not give us a simplified planning zone; send it somewhere else if it must exist.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does the hon. Gentleman know that simplified planning zones already exist under the Planning and Compensation Act 1991, and that since that time, only 20 have been designated? Given the enhanced threshold of an environmental impact assessment that the Bill requires, is it likely that many more will be designated?

Mr. Betts

Either an explosion of uncontrolled development, which would be wrong, could happen, or nothing much will occur because there are few benefits. I hope that the latter is the case, and that the zones are simply someone's idea of a sop to appease the Confederation of British Industry, which is wrong about such issues and cannot substantiate its comments with evidence.

The planning process gives certainty not only to communities but to business. Someone who invests in a high-quality business park or office development does not want a scrap yard next door. The Select Committee visited Sheffield and saw the regeneration of the city centre. Alison Nimmo, who heads Sheffield 1, said that the reason for retailers' interest in developing the town centre was that they knew that the local authority, backed by the Government, would use its planning powers to stop out-of-town shopping developments. It is as simple as that. Such certainty is important to business as well.

The only bit of evidence that I could see was from the Competition Commission, which managed to hold an inquiry and conclude that the lack of competition among British food retailers was due to the restrictions on their developing out-of-town shopping centres, which were put in place through PPG6. I find that bizarre, because I did not notice a great deal of competition springing up when we had a free-for-all on out-of-town shopping developments or new firms moving in to ask for developments to be created.

The Competition Commission has spoken about trying to create more competition by encouraging more out-of-town shopping developments, but if that were to work it would set up competition only for those with cars to get them there. There would be no competition, and no shops in many cases, for the poor in our deprived communities.

I refer to what has just happened in Darnall, which is one of the poorest parts of my constituency. Incorrectly and in contradiction of PPG6 in my view, the neighbouring authority, Rotherham, renewed a planning application for an out-of-town food superstore, which was taken up by Morrisons. Surprise, surprise, 12 months after the decision was agreed, Morrisons decided to close its Darnall store, which effectively removed the heart from the shopping centre.

Worse still, I understand that Morrisons is refusing to sell its store to another interested retailer that wants to buy it up. It is therefore depriving my constituents, many of whom are elderly, on low incomes and without a car, of a supermarket in which to do their food shopping. In view of such proposals, I am much more content with a planning system that looks after community interests than one that mistakenly tries to develop such competition. The certainty given to British business by the planning system is worthwhile indeed in terms of competition and something that we should protect.

There are many good things and many things that I agree with in the Bill. I am happy to support it in total, although there are issues that we must consider in more detail, as they need to be subjected to further scrutiny. In general, I give the Bill my strong support.

8.36 pm
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

I want to develop a theme that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who is not in his place. He referred to the role of county councils, although the House will perhaps not be surprised if I do not follow exactly the same line of argument.

We might all agree that a key question for decision making in a democracy is the level at which decisions should be taken, so I want to address planning in general and the Bill in particular in the light of that question, although I have no doubt as to the answer that most of my constituents in Wycombe would give: ideally, decisions should be taken locally and as close to local communities as possible. They should be taken wherever possible by institutions with a claim on the loyalties and affections of those governed by them, which, in short, have legitimacy.

The hon. Gentleman said that the counties have a deep cultural resonance in the English psyche. He is right about that, which is why my hon. Friends and I think that he is wrong in the rest of his argument. The background against which the Bill is set is not one where decisions are always, or even usually, made locally. Indeed, the trend in Britain since the war, under Governments of both parties, has been for more and more decisions to be made in Westminster and Whitehall—a process that has accelerated under this Government. That, of course, applies to planning as well as to many other examples.

Local representatives in the High Wycombe and Marlow area from many political parties, not just my own, have told me that they believe that there is now no effective local control over important elements of the planning system, especially in relation to house building. They feel that Westminster and Whitehall are creating a damaging spiral in the south-east whereby development is approved from the centre, thus encouraging a further movement of people to the southeast from other regions, thus creating further housing demand, thus bringing about in turn more development approved in the south-east from the centre. So, a vital question for them and for my constituents is the degree to which the Bill will make planning more local and accountable.

There are good aspects to the Bill. Few Bills, perhaps, are entirely bad. I welcome, for example, the Government's intention to eliminate repeat applications and twin-tracking—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member- for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman). However, the main argument of Opposition Members is that the thrust of the Bill is to make planning less local, less accountable and less democratic.

One of the principal intentions of the Bill is to dynamite the present planning architecture and replace it with a new structure, at the apex of which will be the new regional assemblies. That may be adequate where there is real demand for a regional assembly, such as in the north-east—although there is scope for argument about that—but what about areas such as the southeast, where even Ministers concede there is little demand for a regional assembly? The Bill proposes to take power away from directly elected representatives and to give it to people who are not directly accountable to voters, if at all.

Buckinghamshire county council argues that, if the Bill as presently drafted becomes an Act, county councils will have no statutory powers relating to strategic or sub-regional planning; regional planning bodies will decide whether it is desirable for county councils to have a function at regional or sub-regional level, which means that the regional planning bodies may decide in a particular instance that it is not desirable; and district councils may agree to the involvement of county councils in the production of local development documents through the establishment of a joint committee. Therefore, district councils may not agree in a particular instance that county councils should be involved in the production of local development documents.

Buckinghamshire county council also argues that county councils need to have planning powers to fulfil their duty to secure the social, economic and environmental well-being of their areas. County councils throughout England are putting similar arguments. My hon. Friends and I support them. That is the democratic deficit that has been alluded to by many speakers in the debate—not just Conservative Members, but Liberal Democrats. Without a statutory planning duty in the Bill, county councils will be unable to maintain a strategic planning function and a skills base, which will be to the detriment of the regional spatial strategy and local development documents. If the remit of county council planning experts is merely to advise other bodies, to assist them and to provide them with technical expertise, county councils are unlikely, given the pressure on them from education and social services, to retain that expertise unless they have a statutory role in the planning system.

The Minister will be aware that Buckinghamshire county council's view is supported by the Local Government Association, the Civic Trust, the Planning Officers Society, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, to which reference was made earlier. Even the Minister would have to concede that that is a formidable list.

Under the Bill, county councils in areas such as the south-east are to be squeezed between elected district councils and groups that are not directly accountable to voters at regional level—or quangos, to use the word used by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). District councils are also unhappy about the tensions that will result. Wycombe district council has said: Without a fully resourced sub-regional component, the gap between the local district level and the regional level is too remote … The Bill should therefore more clearly set out the extent to which county councils must be engaged in spatial planning at the regional and especially the sub-regional level. The Government's intention was to simplify planning. However, the Bill may make planning more complex by setting no fewer than four levels of government against each other—regional government, the new sub-regional level, county councils and district councils. Two of those tiers of government seem to have little or no legitimacy in the eyes of local voters, and it has not escaped the House's notice that the Bill increases the already considerable powers available to the Secretary of State.

Despite all this, I want to end on a positive note by quoting with approval a Minister. At the recent Local Government Association conference, Lord Rooker said: The Bill is not our last word. We will listen to what's said and will be prepared to seek a consensus. On the basis of tonight's debate and the points made by Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members, the Minister must surely be aware that there is no consensus whatever for dynamiting the current planning architecture in which elected county councillors play a crucial part, and replacing it with a system presided over in large tracts of the country—and certainly in the south-east—by those who are less accountable to local voters, if they are accountable at all, and who therefore have less, or no, democratic legitimacy. If Ministers are truly seeking consensus during the Bill's passage, they will achieve it only by reconfirming the statutory planning duties of county councils, rather than by seeking to strip them away. Until and unless they do, I and other Opposition Members will continue to oppose the Bill.

8.46 pm
Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Given the number of Members who wish to speak, I shall try to keep my remarks brief. I do not necessarily share the views of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) about counties, but during consideration of the Bill some clarification of the new relationships will be necessary.

I start from the premise that the current planning system is unfair, inaccessible and unpredictable. I do not mind the idea of dynamiting the system, because people are genuinely distressed by it and feel that it needs radical change. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was undoubtedly radical and pushed things forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) made it clear that it put in place the community basis of individual demand. It was right to do so at that time, and we need to reinforce that principle. The regional level makes increasing sense to people, and I see no reason why we should not enforce that through the planning system.

I want to devote my remarks to the rural dimension. As chairman of the Labour rural group of MPs—I followed my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley)—I know that we must recognise the importance of the rural dimension. We must face up to the fact that there is a crisis in housing provision in rural areas. We must do something about it and learn how to move matters forward quickly. With that in mind, the rural group held a recent seminar at which virtually all the main players in the delivery of rural housing were present, including the Countryside Alliance. Those present were able to display the degree of consensus that exists. They emphasised the importance of planning to the system; along with transport, planning is undoubtedly the major issue in terms of changing rural life for the better. The belief was expressed that parish and town councils have an important part to play, that there is a need to streamline the decision-making process, that we must get more low-cost housing into our villages and market towns, and that we need to recognise the interrelationship of urban and rural areas. However, the difference is that planning in rural areas requires greater sensitivity and a recognition of the scale of the changes. It was also noted that there is much good practice, but that, unfortunately, a lot of it is not being disseminated throughout the system, so something must be done to improve matters. It is in those terms that I shall consider this Bill: does it move forward the rural debate, and, if so, how will that be achieved?

Urban and rural areas have much in common. Pleasingly, we have a rural agenda, but we need to consider how to bring about brownfield development and the delivery of sequential tests in rural Britain, just as they must be delivered in urban Britain. In the time remaining, I shall briefly consider the Bill's provisions and how they can be delivered in the rural domain.

I start with the debate about counties and regions. I may not come to bury counties, but I certainly do not come to revive them. There is much to be said for unitary government, which makes sense if we are to form regional assemblies in due course. We already have the economic drive of the RDAs, and that must be enforced through the planning system. We should be honest and open and say that it makes a lot of sense to assimilate policies on minerals and waste to the regional dimension.

Peter Bradley

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the things that attracted people to vote for the establishment of unitary authorities, such as the Telford and Wrekin authority in my constituency, was the fact that such authorities would be closer to the community and more responsive in their decision-making processes? By the same token, people felt that shire hall was far too remote from their interests.

Mr. Drew

That is the point. We are trying to keep in place archaic institutions that bear little resemblance to what people want in local democracy. Structure plans are a thing of the past. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, and he will know that we in Gloucestershire have not had much success with structure plans. The last one had to be rewritten by the inspector because what it proposed was so bad. That is our experience locally, and other areas may have gone through something similar.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful to my constituency neighbour for giving way. Does he think that the people of Stroud will consider the planning process more or less democratic, given that under the Bill a regional body in Bristol, Taunton or Exeter will determine the regional spatial strategy? That will inform what has to be put into the local development framework plan prepared by his local authority.

Mr. Drew

I was going to say that I believe that we must make the process more democratic. I am interested not in a top-down process, but in a bottom-up one. There will be evolution, but it must allow public participation. As I shall make clear, the emphasis should be placed on parish and town councils.

Mr. Truswell

Does my hon. Friend agree that an important part of the democratic deficit is not so much the removal of county council involvement but the fact that communities and individuals do not have the right to challenge strategic plans at that level?

Mr. Drew

If my hon. Friend is referring to third party rights of appeal, I am at one with him. A weakness of the Bill is that the Government have not grasped the nettle and taken the opportunity to introduce a proper framework for third party appeals.

Town councils and, in rural areas, parish councils have a crucial role to play in public participation. Giving them greater capacity will mean that they will have the chance to plan how they want their communities to develop. Responsibility will follow if we are able to give them the necessary powers, and I look forward to doing that with this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) spoke about third party rights of appeal. I should like such rights to be enshrined in the Bill. In that respect, I disagree with the Government. There would have to be clear checks and balances on the operation of such appeals, but the Labour party embraced the proposal for years in opposition. We supported its inherent fairness and justice, and it is sad that certain people have been able to persuade a Labour Government not to adopt. We should resist that persuasion and do the decent thing. We should see how the planning system could be made fairer by allowing people who feel that they have been treated unfairly by it a right to put across their point of view.

I very much welcome the fact that repeat applications will not be allowed, and the reduction, from five years to three, in the period for which a planning permission remains valid. I am concerned about how the permitted development rights will operate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will say something about that. If we are to give local authorities more powers according to those rights, I want to know exactly how they will operate. Let me also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe that I am not sure how the business planning zones will work. I am not sure that they are not a gimmick rather than a measure that could make a real difference.

As important as the Bill will be the tremendous funding boost. We all accept that the main problem is a failure to change the mindset of those involved in the planning process owing to underfunding, which may lead to a lack of planning officers or, indeed, stymie people dealing with applications. I hope that using the new funds appropriately will lead to what my hon. Friend described as a step change.

I am still not sure what will emerge from the changes in the section 106 agreements, and I think that in Committee we must tease out ways of improving the situation. I agree with the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) that there are ways in which it could be seen as a form of corruption. We should also think carefully about poverty and social exclusion. I hope that in Committee we can make clear how the less privileged can have better access to the planning process.

8.56 pm
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Let me begin with an apology. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and I could not hear the opening speeches because we were in the Standing Committee considering the Communications Bill. Not least for that reason, I shall be brief. I shall also try to confine myself to personal observations arising from my involvement in planning, as they are unlikely to duplicate what has already been said and are relevant to one of the main issues.

There is clearly a theoretical argument to be had about the desirability of regional spatial strategies supplanting the county structure plan as a mechanism for securing strategic planning, but in this context I would prefer not to deal with the theory. We can discuss elsewhere the likelihood or otherwise of the establishment of regional assemblies. I think their establishment extremely unlikely in the east of England, certainly, and I therefore believe that the current democratic deficit and lack of accountability in regional planning is likely to persist for a long time. What is more relevant to this Bill, however—as opposed to the Regional Assemblies (Preparation) Bill—is the question of whether regional spatial strategies will deliver, in practice, speedier and more effective plans. I do not think that they will.

During the last few years, I have participated in public examination of RPG6 relating to East Anglia. Last month, I spent three days taking part in a public examination of the Cambridgeshire structure plan, which is pursuant to RPG6. One of the perversities of the present situation is demonstrated by what was happening during the four weeks in which I—along with many others—considered the plan. The East of England local government conference, which for our present purposes is the planning body, is moving towards the establishment of RPG14, which it thinks may well be one of the first regional spatial strategies produced under the new legislation. During our consideration, the conference produced a document purporting to be a pre-consultation draft document relating to that regional spatial strategy for the east of England—which was quite separate from the preceding RPG6, although intended to carry forward some of its principles. On the face of it, the consultation draft for the regional spatial strategy was not seeking to cut across the county structure plan, which will set the framework for Cambridgeshire for the next 14 years. It said that the sub-regional strategy for the Cambridge sub-region would be as reflected in RPG6 and as determined in the county structure plan. Even the regional spatial strategy is more or less saying that the county structure plan is the right place for that to happen. Of course, that plan will not be there in the future.

At the same moment, the regional spatial strategy was contemplating scenarios that cut across all that. For example, the local government conference had gone to consultants based in Birmingham—it must have been somewhere outside the region as they did not seem to know much about Cambridgeshire—in order to produce scenarios on how large numbers of new houses could be accommodated in the east of England. One of those scenarios was for a large new settlement on the scale of Milton Keynes. One of the areas of search identified for that was south of Cambridge and in my constituency. People in my constituency, including me, might well conclude that the regional spatial strategy did not understand the nature of what was already happening in terms of a sub-regional strategy for the Cambridge area. At the same time, South Cambridgeshire, which is the district authority responsible for that area, did not even have a representative on the regional planning conference. The distance between those who are affected by this major issue and the body concerned is so enormous as to make it quite unreasonable.

One of the principal arguments behind the proposal for a large new city is the proposition that there should be east-west rail links and that Norwich, Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Oxford should all be linked. Fine, let them all be linked, but the Strategic Rail Authority is pretty clear that the line will not travel along that route and will not go anywhere near the area of search. The pieces of the jigsaw are not being linked together. The regional planning body is transparently so divorced from understanding the nature of how these issues interact in the Cambridge sub-region that it is difficult to see how the regional spatial strategy will ever be anything more than a process by which all the strategies—the waste strategy, the transport strategy, the cultural strategy and the economic strategy—are reflected in the document, with the balances, in practice, being struck somewhere else.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) said that this is a dynamic process and that we have to think about how it all works. I agree that it is a dynamic process. Conservative Members are not simply saying that county structure plans are the be-all and end-all because, clearly, there will be sub-regional strategies, such as the one around Cambridge, that ought to include contributions from other local authorities such as Essex, Hertfordshire and even Bedfordshire and Suffolk. All those authorities can be involved. The idea that it will be done by the regional spatial strategy is utterly misleading. It is clear that, in practice, it would be better to work on a reform that is geared to the development of county structure plans in a manner that is able to take account of cross-border issues and to link related strategies. That would be better than trying to work through the regional spatial strategy, the effect of which would be to create a bureaucratic process that would be divorced from reality, subsequent to which sub-regional documents would have to be drawn up that, perhaps on different boundaries, would be akin to county structure plans in the manner in which they tried to integrate the various strategies.

9.4 pm

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

I welcome this long overdue reform of the planning system. Before entering the House, I spent years as an adviser to some major developers, advising on their community relations and promoting some significant schemes up and down the country. My job was to help them to ensure that communities were consulted and that, as far as possible, their support for major schemes was secured. I know that the most important issue for the developer and the community alike was certainty. Major development drives economic and, to some extent, social progress. However, many schemes that could have made a significant contribution to the local, regional and national economy stalled because, during the prolonged decision-making process, the market changed, the scheme was no longer viable and the developer had to go back to the drawing board.

I welcome any move away from the adversarial approach to planning and development towards a more co-operative system in which the developer, the planning authority, elected members and local communities can together secure certainty. Communities that support a scheme need to know whether it will generate jobs from which they can benefit. If they oppose a scheme, they will want to know whether it will have negative impacts—for example, on the value of their homes.

Communities want certainty about how and when decisions will be made and about their right to information—a point made earlier in the debate. They want the right to participate in and inform the decision-making process. I welcome changes that will improve consultation and participation and, in so doing, remove the blight suffered by communities where development is not welcome and accelerate the benefits where it is.

We need to go beyond simply changing the system: we also need to change the culture. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)—the name of whose constituency set me the double challenge, first of remembering it and, secondly, of being able to pronounce it; I think that I made a reasonable fist of it—mentioned the survey undertaken by the PPS Group that found that planning officers opposed change and thought that the Bill was unnecessary and unwieldy. I wager that whenever members of any profession are consulted about any change to their working practices they come to the same conclusions. Talented, highly skilled and motivated as many planning officers are, and however committed they are to their communities, they need to change their culture. We need to help them to do that. Planners need to get out more. They need to lift their eyes to a further horizon—whatever that means. When I wrote it in my notes I thought that it was a striking phrase.

Planners should raise their game. Planning should be entrepreneurial as well as regulatory. Too often, we encounter planning as development control that has forgotten that it can play a creative role in our communities. Planners should not merely prevent or control development but look out for opportunities to improve housing provision, generate employment and enhance local services. They should improve the environment as well as conserving it.

Planning is a potent engine for social change. When I was a member—

Mr. Drew

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Peter Bradley

I can give way only briefly as I am anxious that other Members have the chance to speak.

Mr. Drew

There is no better example of the points that my hon. Friend was making than when planners are faced with the redundant barn syndrome. They always want to turn down proposals to develop such buildings instead of seeing them as enabling employment or proper housing in rural areas. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Peter Bradley

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to deal with that point in a moment.

I was about to give an example from my experience as a member of Westminster city council during the heady days of Shirley Porter's regime. The Conservatives on the council certainly understood the importance of planning. In promoting their scandalous and illegitimate homes-for-votes scam, they achieved more through the planning system than they ever did through manipulating housing provision and selling off council flats through the designated sales policy.

Major developments such as Bishopsbridge in Paddington and Westminster hospital, just around the corner in the ward that I represented, did not provide even one unit of social housing, yet such projects could have met acknowledged need in our community. I do not cite those examples to make either a rhetorical or a political point, but there are huge opportunities, especially in commercial centres such as Westminster and the City of London. A force for something that was ultimately unlawful can also be a force for good. We need to return to the concept of planning as a creative engine of social change.

Let me cite another example of my experience as a member of Westminster city council's planning committee. A plausible policy was adopted to resist the development of tall buildings around the royal parks. Most people would accept that that is a very sensible policy, but I think that it is a counsel of despair. We should tell architects that we value sensitive landscape as a precious resource but then challenge them to come up with excellent architecture that will overcome our objections.

We should challenge planners, architects and developers to extend themselves, meet local needs, devise original schemes and design buildings whose architecture we can be proud of and which will be landmarks for years to come. We should not simply say to them, "I'm sorry mate, but don't even bother to put in a planning application for this site because it won't be accepted."

I commend the emphasis in the Bill on the rights, interests, needs and participation of communities. I have concerns about rural development, not because I am against it—far from it. I favour development in and for rural communities. The Government have rightly supported parish councils, and £16 million has already been distributed by the Countryside Agency's vital villages programme to develop parish plans. The Government are committed to sustainability, but my plea is that the planning system must help more and hinder less. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made that point in his intervention.

The biggest complaint that I get from those in the rural part of my constituency—particularly from farmers, as we are urging them to diversify within and beyond agriculture—is that when they go to the planning department with a proposal to develop a redundant farm building or change its use, the planning officer says, "I am sorry; our controls are very strict, so don't waste time and money on a planning application."

Some businesses that started in farm buildings, have succeeded and are now ready to expand, creating jobs and investment to the benefit of the local community, have their plans stalled before they even get off the drawing board. That problem should not be underestimated. We have to encourage planners in rural settings to understand that, yes, the landscape must be protected, but not always at the expense of the people who live in it.

I want to touch on an important flaw in the Government's policy on the provision of housing for rural communities. The sequential test is fine in principle, but, in practice, it drives young people from their villages into market towns or, worse still, into the nearest urban centre. It does not arrest that migration from which rural communities have suffered for decades; it drives people further away.

Earlier today, hon. Members talked about the need for housing needs surveys, and I fully support that principle. Every district council should be required to undertake a housing needs survey, and those surveys may well be supported by the parish council and village community groups because their village needs affordable housing to sustain community life, despite the fact that it has to be built on green fields or in the green belt.

When young people are driven away from their villages—some go through choice and some because they cannot find jobs, but many go because they cannot find affordable housing—the village shop is undermined because there are no customers, the school is undermined because there are no children to go to it and the pub begins a downward spiral towards closure. People are not there to use those facilities. If we provide homes and jobs where they are needed, we begin to reverse that process and, incidentally, we reduce the dependence on public and private transport.

My plea is that we look at where housing is needed. Let us not drive people to the nearest market town just because that is where the railway station or the motorway connection is. That has a role to play, and we should stimulate economic development in market towns, but not at the expense of the village communities, where people need to live and often have a right to choose to live.

I am very pleased about the reduction in the life of planning consents from five years to three, and about the bar on repeat applications. We should, however, consider the need to abbreviate the life of planning consents when work has begun on them. That problem is far more widespread than may be recognised, and we need to plug that loophole. We talked about certainty, and people need to know what, if anything, will happen on a site in their neighbourhood. That is an anomaly, and I hope that Ministers have heard the comments of hon. Members and will act to plug that loophole as the Bill progresses.

9.16 pm
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham)

I apologise to both Front-Bench spokesmen for not being present for the opening speeches because of duties elsewhere in the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) mentioned.

Planning is a major issue in my constituency. It has been a running theme in my postbag since I was elected, and it was one of the key themes in the general election in June last year. It is a major issue because of the way in which Fareham has grown over the last 20 to 30 years: what was once strawberry fields and market gardens is now densely populated housing, particularly in the west of the constituency where I live.

When I talk to local people about their planning concerns, they do not focus on somebody's extension or putting dormer windows in roofs. Their concerns focus on the density and scale of housing development in an area that is already densely populated. Many local people were given heart by the words of the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) in introducing the Green Paper just over a year ago, when he said: This is a radical change in the way we look at planning. Instead of being led by plans we will be led by people. We want a planning system in which the values of the whole community are allowed to prosper and develop. He went on to say: This is a new community-focused approach. It underlines our commitment to giving people a real voice in deciding the future of where they live". Those are sentiments that many people in all communities share. People in my community, when asked whom they would prefer to take planning decisions, said that they would prefer county and borough councillors to take those decisions, not regional bodies, and certainly not the Secretary of State.

It appears from the Bill that the voice of local communities will be strong. We have already heard about the requirement for a statement of community involvement. That sends out a powerful signal to people that they should participate in the planning process. In reality, however, I fear that their voice will not be heard fully. Because of the way in which the planning structure has been changed—with the abandonment of county structure plans and the insertion of regional structure plans—their voice will be diminished. In evidence to the Select Committee in relation to the structure of the plans that will be in place, the County Councils Network said: The system of Regional Planning Guidance—Structure Plan—Local Plan will be replaced by Regional Spatial Strategy—Sub-regional Plan—Local Development Framework—Action Plan. Many more layers of plans are being put in place and they will serve to reduce, not strengthen the voice of local people.

The abolition of the county structure plan and the end of a statutory role for county councils in the development of plans is a great loss, as I do not believe that any regional body set up to give guidance on the spatial plans will in any way represent the needs of constituencies such as Fareham. Any regional body in the south-east, whether elected or unelected, will be dominated by the representatives of the large conurbations—places such as Portsmouth, Southampton or Brighton. The voices of people in constituencies such as Fareham will not be heard loudly enough in the regional bodies. However, those voices are heard very loudly in the county council, where Fareham has six councillors to represent local people. The councillors can express people's views and concerns about how planning has developed in Hampshire and how development should take place.

Hampshire county council provides an ideal forum for the creation of its own sub-regional strategies. It met the representatives of local councils recently and identified two needs for sub-regional policies in Hampshire. One was in the south of Hampshire, where Fareham is, and the other was in the north, where the county felt that it could work well within the existing structures with Surrey and with unitary authorities in what was Berkshire. There is a framework for local people to feel involved and for sub-regional strategies centred on existing planning structures.

Mr. Love

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's contribution, which has focused on the needs of local people. However, does he recognise the regional and, in many cases, national dimension, especially in relation to housing? If we do not build houses, we will have house price inflation and rising homelessness. We have to find a balance that reduces homelessness and house price inflation, but allows people to live in sustainable communities.

Mr. Hoban

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that many people raise when talking about housing in the south-east. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) mentioned it. When we build more houses, all that seems to happen is that more people migrate from the north-east, where I came from, and the north-west to the south. That is not sustainable. Rather than sucking economic development and prosperity out of those regions and into the south-east, we should try to ensure that those regions prosper. By continuing to predict housing growth over the next 10 to 15 years, we will create a situation in which more people will come to the south-east and more houses will need to be built. Because the prosperity is in the south-east, more people will still want to move here.

I have yet to be convinced that regional guidance, housing targets and housing development work. They do not take sufficiently into account the needs of local communities. If we place more emphasis on regional planning, the housing development that the regional planning bodies believe is needed will be pushed into the areas that are not well represented on them.

Compulsory purchase is another aspect of the Bill, and I wish to raise an issue that relates to my constituency. I refer to the way in which land for compulsory purchase is valued. There is a ransom strip in my constituency that is holding up a major road that could improve the lives of many people in the area. That land is not currently scheduled for development, but its owners have said that, if it is subject to a compulsory purchase order, they will fight to make sure that the land value that they receive reflects not its current worth as agricultural land but what it might be worth if it is used for development. The Government need to introduce more certainty into how land values are calculated for compulsory purchase orders, so that they can prevent landowners from holding communities to ransom by extracting too high a price for their land even if it is not scheduled for development. I am disappointed that the Bill does not move the system any closer to clarifying how we should value that land.

The right hon. Member for Tyneside, North said that we needed to give people a real voice in deciding the future of where they live. The proposals in the Bill will diminish the voices of local communities in deciding their future. It is right that we should oppose it.

9.24 pm
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey)

I shall truncate my comments drastically, having been robbed of time by my colleagues, and try not to impinge too much on the time left for Front-Bench spokesmen.

When I first read the Bill, I tried to put myself in the position of my constituents who are interested in and affected by planning matters. I asked myself a few simple questions. First, is the process in the Bill more intelligible than the present system? The answer is probably that it is just as impenetrable unless there is a determined effort to achieve the contrary. Secondly, does it give my constituents further rights to assert their interests? Again, probably not. Thirdly, does it improve their ability to challenge planning applications and permissions that they believe will damage their communities? The answer to that is a firm no.

I regret the absence of even an attempt to provide a qualified third party right of appeal. However, it is interesting to hear the Conservative party's sudden conversion to that when it did not lift a finger to do anything about it in its 18 years in government. I welcomed the comments of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles). They seemed to be an unequivocal apology for the planning system that his Government inflicted on communities, like those that I serve in Leeds.

Unless drastic changes are made to the planning process, I regret that it may continue to exist in its present form. The problem is that it militates against public involvement, as does the impenetrable jargon, which we could refer to as planning-speak. Perhaps planners and Ministers should be encouraged to take courses run by the Plain English Campaign or involve that excellent organisation when they draw up documents. I am sure that Chrissie Maher and her colleagues would receive that challenge with some relish and, I have to say, planners deserve it.

My fear about the local development scheme is that it replaces the maze of the unitary development plan with a labyrinth of various documents. It will take a real Theseus, or his female equivalent, to find his way in or out of the labyrinth, with or without a ball of twine. Several references have been made to the simplicity of the Welsh model, and Ministers should take that on board.

On the statements of community involvement, will the Secretary of State lay down minimum standards or will it be a moveable feast? Can Ministers be more specific about what they want the SCIs to include as a minimum? Part of the problem is that SCIs will be drawn up in conjunction with the rest of the documents in the local development scheme. Although it does not exactly put the cart before the horse, it does put the horse in the cart. If we are talking about generating true, real and dynamic community involvement, surely we need to set the ground rules at the outset rather than as part of the overall process. There is a lovely juxtaposition in subsections (3) and (4) of clause 18. They say: In preparing the other local development documents the authority must also comply with their statement of community involvement… But subsection (3) does not apply at any time before the authority have adopted their statement of community involvement. That demonstrates my point.

It also appears that the SCIs do not have a clear status. That indeterminate status means that they will not have the same force as the development plan. Instead, they will be seen very much as guidance. Part of the problem with that is that guidance is much easier to circumvent than something that is laid down in the development plan.

I have other concerns, which I shall list quickly. I agree with many of the comments on local development orders, statements of development principles and simplified planning zones. Each of those, in their own way, appears to militate against community involvement in, and understanding of, planning processes.

I shall use the short time left to concentrate on the third party right of appeal. It is clearly unsustainable to argue that local authorities are always right when they grant planning permission, but sometimes wrong when they do not. In the past, Ministers have said that it is difficult to define applications where a right of appeal may operate. What about local authorities giving themselves planning permission? What about permission being granted for a clear departure from a structure plan? What about where an environmental impact assessment is required as part of the process? The need for a right of appeal in such cases is clear enough—I do not buy the argument that it is difficult to define exactly where a qualified right of appeal may exist.

It is simply not enough to suggest that people have redress through a judicial review, as that is expensive and tests only the process, not a decision. I appreciate that much of what I am concentrating on in the few remaining moments is negative, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister accepts that that is born from the frustration of grappling with the planning system on behalf of my constituents for over 20 years and the disappointment that, on the face of it, the Bill does little to make that task easier. However, I still live in hope. We must ensure that the process is engaging and properly publicised. It is important to the public and their need to become involved is crucial. The planning process must have a welcome mat at the door, rather than the combination lock or guard dogs that are sometimes there. If, through regulation or guidance, Ministers can reinvigorate the planning process so that community involvement is a fact rather than something achieved in passing, they still stand a chance of bringing a smile to my face.


Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am grateful for the chance to participate in this important debate on whether the House agrees the Bill's Second Reading.

This has been a good-tempered debate. Even if attendance in the House is rather thin at the moment, it is worth putting on the record the fact that this will be the last Tuesday on which we will have 10 o'clock vote. Let us hope that modernisation produces a better attendance in the Chamber, as that will be to everyone's advantage. I congratulate, in no particular order, my hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on their excellent speeches and pertinent comments.

Much has been said about the Bill, and it is worth looking at what outside bodies have said about it. For example, the Council for the Protection of Rural England said: This is an unacceptable and unworkable centralisation of strategic planning. The Government wants to take powers from elected county councils and unitary authorities for itself and for remote, unelected regional bodies. The Law Society believes that this Bill is a missed opportunity to improve the efficiency of the land use planning system to deliver quicker decision making while preserving the rights and ability of individual members of the public to contribute to that process. The CBI says: As the bill stands we don't believe that these proposals will produce a system that better serves the needs of the economy and society. Even Friends of the Earth says: The planning system cannot survive an ill-considered reform package which fails to deal with the central issue of fairness and equity. The planning system must have simplicity of structure, and clarity of purpose reflected in comprehensive policy.

Andrew Bennett

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Certainly, in a second, because the hon. Gentleman gave way to me.

It is a remarkable achievement that bodies as diverse as the CBI and Friends of the Earth can condemn the Bill. It is remarkable that the Government have been able to introduce it under those circumstances.

Andrew Bennett

With which of the criticisms that the hon. Gentleman cited does he agree?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I agree with all of them, otherwise I would not have cited them. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's contribution because, under his chairmanship, the Select Committee did the House a huge service in taking a huge amount of evidence. However, reading his speech, in parenthesis he appears to say that there is nothing wrong with the present planning system that could not be cured by a little amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe was right: why dismantle the entire present planning structure and architecture, and replace it with something that is unproven and which, as all those outside bodies said, at best will be much more lengthy, and at worst may not work? We must consider carefully what the Bill will bring about. There is no doubt that it will introduce more complexity, more delay, less democratic accountability and more centralised direction. I shall enlarge on all those themes in due course.

A number of hon. Members said that the system is not at fault; it needs to be administered by proper professional officers. I declare my interest as a fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I know that planning officers, many of whom are in my profession, think that they are undervalued. They certainly think that they are underpaid, compared with the private sector. Until we value them and pay them properly, we will not get planning officers of calibre, whom we will certainly need under the new, more complex system introduced by the Bill.

The Bill introduces the regional planning body and the regional spatial strategies. The Secretary of State will have huge powers over those new unelected regional bodies. He will have to nominate a regional body long before any elected regional assembly comes about, if that ever happens. The Bill centralises the planning system into the hands of the Secretary of State, and huge powers he has. The Local Government Association says of the regional planning body: The Secretary of State can decide if an examination in public into a draft RSS"— that is, regional spatial strategy— is required and appoint an inspector who will report their findings to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has additional powers to direct an RPB"— that is, regional planning body— to prepare a draft revision of the RSS. Where the RPB fails to act in accordance with such a direction, the Secretary of State may prepare a draft revision or revoke all or parts of an RSS. The Secretary of State has powers to remove recognition from the RPBs and prepare his own RSS for a region. If that is not a more complicated and more centralising system, I do not know what is, but it does not end there.

Not only does the Secretary of State have huge powers to prepare the regional spatial strategy and supervise it; the regional spatial strategy can then inform and dictate the local development framework and document. By that mechanism the Secretary of State is aggregating to himself huge centralising powers under the Bill.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Henry VIII.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

What the Secretary of State does not aggregate to himself through the Bill, he aggregates to himself through order-making powers, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) made clear.

Mr. Edward Davey

I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), but can he tell the House how centralisation under the Bill differs from the centralisation that the Conservatives bequeathed to the country?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The hon. Gentleman has not been listening, or he is deaf, or he is incapable of understanding. I have just read that out to him. I shall give him a little advice. Before he goes into Committee, he had better go through the Bill with somebody who knows what it is all about, then he might understand it a little better. He had better do a bit of boning up.

There are many aspects of the Bill that I want to cover in the short time available. Apart from the powers over the regional spatial strategy and local development documents, the Secretary of State has powers to order joint development documents to be prepared. He has powers of correction of errors. That is an appalling principle to introduce into a Bill. The power of correction of errors allows for sloppy decision making and drafting. Under the old system, if the Secretary of State or any civil servant got a document wrong, it went to the court. That is the system that we ought to adopt. If the House allows for the correction of errors in primary legislation, we are going down a very slippery slope.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Will my hon. Friend tell the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) that where we aspired to be Henry VII, the Labour Government have exceeded Henry VIII?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

It is an unfortunate trend, as my hon. Friend says, that every piece of legislation brought in by the Government introduces yet more and yet wider order-making powers into primary legislation. The House is adopting a very bad principle, and we are adopting it with a vengeance in the Bill tonight.

One could say a lot of things about the Bill. I am very sceptical about the community involvement that it introduces. It is all very well having a statement of community involvement at the level of the local development framework, but there is no such statement at the regional spatial strategy level. Of course, the regional spatial strategy element will dictate to every local authority what it is to put in its local plan. I am very sceptical about that. In Committee, I shall table an amendment seeking to ensure that the regional spatial planning body has some form of community involvement.

Some very good speeches have been made, and not only from the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke very cogently about the system that operates in Wales. I submit to the Minister, as a constructive point, my belief that the system that the Bill introduces in Wales is much simpler than that which it introduces in England. I cannot understand why one Bill introduces two systems, one of which is much better than the other.

Like other hon. Members, I should like to comment on simplified planning zones. As I said in an intervention, the concept of such zones has been around since the introduction of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. I told the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) that only 20 such zones had been designated since that Act took effect, but I was wrong. In fact, only 10 have been designated. I must tell him that if the environmental impact statement in the Bill is applied to such zones, there will probably be even fewer in future, as the hurdle will be so high that it will be very difficult for anyone to overcome it. We will need in Committee to consider very carefully the powers that apply in relation to the zones.

The Opposition can welcome some parts of the Bill. I welcome the streamlining on listed buildings and conservation areas, some of the powers for dealing with simultaneous applications and the speeding up of the decision process with regard to the provision of eight weeks within which a local authority must determine a decision. If it does not do so, the applicant can appeal and the matter can go to the Secretary of State for determination.

As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe—

Mr. Betts


Mr. Clifton-Brown

I was just coming to the hon. Gentleman, so I shall briefly comment on his speech.

One of the most cogent things that he said was that what is wrong with the current planning system is the time that it takes to draw up the local development and structural plans. In his case, as there is a unitary authority, there will be a unitary development plan. He was absolutely right about that problem, although it could be put right within the current system. I welcome some of the powers in the Bill to streamline and speed up some of the planning process. Without a proper plan, it is very difficult for local planning officers to make the correct decisions.

Mr. Betts

Having listened earlier to the arguments of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) about the need for significant reform of the planning system, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to explain to the House precisely what the great reforms that the Opposition would like to see amount to, as his hon. Friend did not do so?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

We would certainly take out of the Bill altogether the whole section relating to regional spatial strategies. We do not believe in regional assemblies, which are a denigration of democracy and take power away from local people. We want the decision-making process to be taken as close to local people as possible. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy gave the game away: in the past 20 years, 120 Bills have been introduced that have taken powers away from local authorities. We want local authorities to be more accountable and want the Bill to make the planning process faster, more accountable and based on good decisions. We want local people to feel that they have some ownership of the Bill and we want the democratic deficit to be rectified. We want people to have a stake in their planning process. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe gave the game away by saying that local people could look at their local unitary plan, but under the new system they will have to go to Leeds, York, Bradford or somewhere else to do so. How will his local people like that?

When Labour Members were challenged, their concerns emerged. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) did not want his local plan to be dealt with somewhere in Berkshire and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) did not want his plan to be dealt with somewhere in Exeter. I put it to the Government that the whole regional strategy will fail and the Bill will be a mess, because if the regional strategy fails, regional planning will be in the hands of unelected officials. How can they be accountable to local people? Local people will feel alienated from the process, and the turnout at local elections will further decrease.

If the Government want to introduce a system that is fairer and more accountable, they must put more power in the hands of local authorities—even the few that are left. They must not concentrate power in the hands of the Secretary of State, but ensure that people can understand what is going on in their local planning system. The Bill will do exactly the opposite.

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

May I simply say to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that I hope the volume is turned down somewhat in Committee, otherwise we shall be concerned about his health?

Let me start with some of the basic facts that stand behind the debate. Cascading a policy change through the current hierarchy can take well over a decade. The unitary development plan regime was introduced in 1990, and there are still any number of local authorities without a plan under that system. I am afraid that less than 10 per cent. of local authorities meet all the performance targets for handling planning applications.

One theme that ran through much of what hon. Members have said this evening is absolutely right, and I said it this morning in the Select Committee: we must achieve, hopefully on a non-partisan basis, a balance between the development control framework and land use policy that the country needs, and the mixture of the concerns about economic development and sustainable communities and the very real concerns that exist in communities that, after all, have to live with the consequences of the planning system.

We have made it clear elsewhere and I emphasise that the Bill is part of the planning reform agenda. However, it is not the entire agenda. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear, we have a huge agenda to deliver "sustainable communities"—that is everybody's phrase, not just the Liberal Democrats', although they hijack everything that moves. A reformed planning system must be a key part of our strategy for sustainable communities, and the Bill is part of it.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McNulty

No. [Interruption.] Let me say purely and simply that my hon. Friend has just got here. He has not been here for the entire day and it is not entirely courteous to seek to intervene in those circumstances.

My hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) and for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) spoke at length about welcoming the planning and development grant and about seeking to engage all the professional bodies in order to "skill up", as the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) said, the professions in the area. They also spoke about seeking to change entirely the planning culture. We are working closely with the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a range of other bodies to do precisely that, above and beyond simply the planning development grant.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I accept all that the Minister has said and I welcome what he said in that respect, but does he appreciate that the extra resources must go to the planning authorities to allow them to improve their performance, and that therefore the money must be given up front, rather than as a reward if they manage to meet certain targets? It is a very important point.

Mr. McNulty

As the hon. Gentleman will discover when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister makes his communities plan statement in January, the full details will not be a million miles away from what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

As I said, the Liberal Democrats seek to hijack everything, but it is historical revisionism writ large to compare some tiddly little 1907 town planning Act—

Mr. Edward Davey

It is 1909.

Mr. McNulty

I apologise. The Housing, Town Planning etc. Act 1909 cannot be compared with the glory that is the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. As the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) said, that Act was part of a broad, cross-party post-war consensus.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish seemed to assume that, this morning, when we were in the Select Committee, I said that every single aspect of secondary legislation would be published in draft before the Bill even goes into Committee. If I did, it was an error on my part. As I have said, we shall try to ensure that as much as possible is published as the Committee unfolds and as the Bill proceeds through both Houses, but absolutely not before the Committee's first sitting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) made a thoughtful contribution on the Bill's rural dimension and some useful points about the supposed sanctity of county structure plans. I also accept his point that local development orders can be explored further.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) made some interesting points about the Welsh dimension and elements of the Irish planning system's gateway process, about which I know. Although it is not as rosy-tinted as he suggests, it is worth exploring.

Devolution, with which we have no problem, is the reason for the Welsh differences. I almost believed that the hon. Member for Cotswold wanted to get rid of county councils tomorrow because of his great appreciation of the Welsh system, which is rooted in an all-unitary local government structure. It is therefore far easier to apply the spatial strategy there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright), like others, welcomed the changes to the original suggestions for major infrastructure projects and the compulsory purchase order processes.

As a near neighbour, I respect the expertise of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, who made a thoughtful and reflective speech, which was nevertheless often wrong in emphasis. We will not yet have to change the thrust of section 106 because we shall do that in the new year via a circular rather than through the Bill.

I know that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has a range of interests in the subject because we had a delightful Adjournment debate on various aspects of the Cambridgeshire green belt. I hope that we can explore that far more in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) delivered an excellent treatise on the substantive logic behind the shift from counties up to regions and down to localities.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Belts) that there is no automatic right to extensive planning permissions after extant consents run out. I will watch with interest as people develop the notion of planning watch wardens running around doing the job of enforcement officers. Perhaps the idea should be explored.

I would be remiss if I did not at least comment on the Loyal Opposition's amendment, especially some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, who opened the debate on their behalf. He described my hon. Friend the Minister's opening comments as an ODPM Christmas carol; the amendment resembles a bad Christmas record such as "Mistletoe and Wine".

The amendment suggests that the Bill fails to set out a planning framework", when that is precisely what it does. It continues by claiming that it introduces the concept of regional spatial strategies". The Bill does not do that. The Greater London Authority Act 1999—I had the pleasure of serving on the Committee that considered it for the best part of three months—introduces that concept.

The amendment also claims that the Bill creates an unclear mechanism of local development documents, principles, frameworks and strategies". I point out in passing that much of that has to do with the pleasure of parliamentary counsel. However, the amendment simply refers to a portfolio of specific documents. I do not know how anyone who knows anything about the planning system could make the sort of comments that the hon. Member for Cotswold made.

The amendment gets better when it states that the Bill provides for the concept of the correction of errors". Perhaps the lacuna goes back to 1947, but if the Secretary of State or an inspector in his name currently makes a mistake in a decision letter and writes that 29 Acacia avenue rather than 27 Acacia avenue will be bulldozed, the might of the British state can do nothing about it short of going to court to get the decision changed. The contents of the decision letter prevail in the law, which dates from a long time ago.

Mr. Clifton-Brown


Mr. McNulty

That is by the by. To say that the Bill introduces the concept of correcting errors into the planning system is, with the best will in the world, bonkers. Constructing a principled position around that in a winding-up speech does not work.

The amendment goes on to say that the Bill abolishes outline planning permission". It does not.

The amendment also says that the Bill fails to clarify the position on planning gains and obligations". It was never intended to do that. We made it clear before the Bill's publication that that was not going to happen in terms of legislation. We can sort it out in another context.

A range of Opposition Members told us that all this is about Henry VIII rather than Henry VII or whatever else. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) asked the hon. Member for Cotswold how the Bill gives one extra jot of centralising power to the Secretary of State compared with what prevailed under the 1990 or 1991 position. The answer is that the Bill will give the Secretary of State no additional powers—absolutely none. What prevailed under the RPG-UDP regime will still prevail in terms of RSS-LDF.

We have been told that all this is terribly anti-democratic, but regional planning bodies will be accountable to their regions. Local authority members, who will form the majority, will be accountable to their electorates, but it is right and proper that other representatives should be on the regional planning bodies and accountable to their organisations.

Under the current arrangements, RPBs receive funding through contributions from local authorities in their region. Subject to parliamentary approval of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, we shall directly fund the RPBs from April 2003 to the tune of £6 million. We are at least considering whether we can make additional funds available through the planning delivery grant.

To return to what I said to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, we fully appreciate that capacity building inside local authorities must be the thrust of the £350 million for the planning delivery grant. What I said about the education programme and everything else that we are trying to do with the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors goes beyond that. It goes right back to schools and is part of the process of substantive cultural change and the reskilling of what I fully accept has been a denigrated profession over the past 20 years.

With the best will in the world and the greatest respect to architects, it cannot be appropriate that our education system produces one town planner for every 20 architects. That is not exactly what the market needs.

Andrew Mackinlay

I asked the Minister to address clause 34 and the new proposals for the inspector in relation to major infrastructure works. Can we have an assurance that there will be no diminution of the planning inquiry structure and that the appointment of an inspector will not bypass or diminish what is, in practice, well-trodden ground? Will the rights of the individual—the small person—to lodge an objection against the big battalions such as BAA be protected?

Mr. McNulty

I think my hon. Friend will find that he means clause 43 rather than clause 34. He can have that assurance absolutely, and more. The process will be far speedier and far more responsive. Running a series of concurrent inquiries under a team of inspectors rather than under one inspector will make it far more efficient than anything that has gone before.

We were told that there is some sort of conspiracy and that there is something fundamentally wrong with the compulsory purchase order provisions, but this is what will prevail: landowners will get the market value of their property plus the cost of the CPO process plus the new loss payment. They will not get the new loss payment and nothing else.

There are those who suggest that the local authorities somehow corrupt the planning process by utilising it for their own planning permissions. There is a clear position on that, which will remain as it is now: no member of the applicant committee can serve on the planning committee to make such a decision. If the application is outside the existing development plan, it is automatically referred to the Secretary of State rather than there being any debate about it. There is no change at all in terms of the Bill.

There are huge challenges for our planning system, and we on this side of the House are rising to them. I hope that we have a far better discussion in Committee than we are having now. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 321.

Division No. 30] [9:59 am
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Goodman, Paul
Allan, Richard Grayling, Chris
Amess, David Green, Damian (Ashford)
Arbuthnot, rh James Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Greenway, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Grieve, Dominic
Bacon, Richard Gummer, rh John
Barker, Gregory Hague, rh William
Baron, John (Billericay) Hammond, Philip
Barrett, John Hancock, Mike
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Harvey, Nick
Beith, rh A. J. Hawkins, Nick
Bellingham, Henry Hayes, John (S Holland)
Beresford, Sir Paul Heald, Oliver
Blunt, Crispin Heath, David
Boswell, Tim Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hendry, Charles
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey) Hermon, Lady
Hogg, rh Douglas
Brady, Graham Holmes, Paul
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Horam, John (Orpington)
Brazier, Julian Howard, rh Michael
Breed, Colin Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Browning, Mrs Angela Hunter, Andrew
Bruce, Malcolm Jack, rh Michael
Burnett, John Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Burns, Simon Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Burnside, David Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Burt, Alistair Kirkwood, Archy
Butterfill, John Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Cable, Dr. Vincent Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Calton, Mrs Patsy Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Carmichael, Alistair Lamb, Norman
Cash, William Lansley, Andrew
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Laws, David (Yeovil)
Leigh, Edward
Chidgey, David Letwin, rh Oliver
Chope, Christopher Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Clappison, James Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lidington, David
Collins, Tim Lilley, rh Peter
Cormack, Sir Patrick Loughton, Tim
Cotter, Brian Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Cran, James (Beverley) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Curry, rh David MacKay, rh Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Maclean, rh David
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden) McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Djanogly, Jonathan Maples, John
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Mates, Michael
Dorrell, rh Stephen Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Doughty, Sue May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan Smith, rh Iain Mercer, Patrick
Evans, Nigel Moss, Malcolm
Fabricant, Michael Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Fallon, Michael O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster) Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Öpik, Lembit
Flight, Howard Osborne, George (Tatton)
Flook, Adrian Page, Richard
Forth, rh Eric Paice, James
Foster, Don (Bath) Paisley, Rev. Ian
Fox, Dr. Liam Paterson, Owen
Francois, Mark Pickles, Eric
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Portillo, rh Michael
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Randall, John
Gidley, Sandra Redwood, rh John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) Stunell, Andrew
Rendel, David Swayne, Desmond
Robathan, Andrew Syms, Robert
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Roe, Mrs Marion Tredinnick, David
Rosindell, Andrew Truner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Ruffley, David Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Tyrie, Andrew
Sanders, Adrian Waterson, Nigel
Selous, Andrew Watkinson, Angela
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian Whittingdale, John
Shepherd, Richard Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Simmonds, Mark Wilkinson, John
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S) Wilshire, David
Soames, Nicholas Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Spicer, Sir Michael Young, rh Sir George
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Younger-Ross, Richard
Spring, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John Tellers for the Ayes:
Steen, Anthony Mr. Mark Hoban and
Streeter, Gary Mrs. Cheryl Gillan
Abbott, Ms Diane Caton, Martin
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Challen, Colin
Alexander, Douglas Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Allen, Graham Chaytor, David
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Clapham, Michael
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bailey, Adrian Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Barnes, Harry Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, John Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bayley, Hugh Clelland, David
Beckett, rh Margaret Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Begg, Miss Anne Coaker, Vernon
Bennett, Andrew Coffey, Ms Ann
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Cohen, Harry
Berry, Roger Coleman, Iain
Best, Harold Colman, Tony
Betts, Clive Connarty, Michael
Blackman, Liz Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Blears, Ms Hazel Corbyn, Jeremy
Boateng, rh Paul Corston, Jean
Borrow, David Cousins, Jim
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Cox, Tom (Tooting)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cranston, hon. Ross
Bradshaw, Ben Crausby, David
Brennan, Kevin Cruddas, Jon
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Bryant, Chris Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Buck, Ms Karen Dalyell, Tam
Burden, Richard Darling, rh Alistair
Burnham, Andy Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Byers, rh Stephen Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Caborn, rh Richard Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Cairns, David Dawson, Hilton
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dean, Mrs Janet
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Denham, rh John
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dismore, Andrew
Caplin, Ivor Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Casale, Roger Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H. Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Doran, Frank Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Drew, David (Stroud) Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Khabra, Piara S.
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kidney, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kilfoyle, Peter
Edwards, Huw King, Andy (Rugby)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Etherington, Bill Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Farrelly, Paul Lammy, David
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Fisher, Mark Lazarowicz, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lepper, David
Flint, Caroline Leslie, Christopher
Flynn, Paul (Newport W) Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Follett, Barbara Linton, Martin
Foster, rh Derek Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Llwyd, Elfyn
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye) Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Foulkes, rh George Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
Francis, Dr. Hywel McAvoy, Thomas
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S) McCabe, Stephen
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S) McCafferty, Chris
Gerrard, Neil McCartney, rh Ian
Gibson, Dr. Ian McDonagh, Siobhain
Gilroy, Linda MacDonald, Calum
Godsiff, Roger McDonnell, John
Goggins, Paul McFall, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McKechin, Ann
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McKenna, Rosemary
Grogan, John Mackinlay, Andrew
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McNamara, Kevin
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McNulty, Tony
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) MacShane, Denis
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Mactaggart, Fiona
Hanson, David McWalter, Tony
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) McWilliam, John
Healey, John Mahon, Mrs Alice
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Mallaber, Judy
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mandelson, rh Peter
Hendrick, Mark Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Hepburn, Stephen Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Heppell, John Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hinchliffe, David Martlew, Eric
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey Merron, Gillian
Hopkins, Kelvin Michael, rh Alun
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E) Milburn, rh Alan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E) Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hoyle, Lindsay Mole, Chris
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston) Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Morris, rh Estelle
Humble, Mrs Joan Mountford, Kali
Hutton, rh John Mudie, George
Iddon, Dr. Brian Mullin, Chris
Illsley, Eric Munn, Ms Meg
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jamieson, David O'Hara, Edward
Jenkins, Brian Olner, Bill
Johnson, Alan (Hull W) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Organ, Diana
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham) Palmer, Dr. Nick
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak) Perham, Linda
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin Stevenson, George
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Stinchcombe, Paul
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Pound, Stephen Stringer, Graham
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Prescott, rh John Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Purchase, Ken Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Purnell, James Timms, Stephen
Quin, rh Joyce Tipping, Paddy
Quinn, Lawrie Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N) Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Raynsford, rh Nick Trickett, Jon
Reed, Andy (Loughborough) Truswell, Paul
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rooney, Terry Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Roy, Frank (Motherwell) Vis, Dr. Rudi
Ruane, Chris Ward, Claire
Ruddock, Joan Wareing, Robert N.
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester) Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N) White, Brian
Salter, Martin Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Savidge, Malcolm Wicks, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Sedgemore, Brian Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Shaw, Jonathan Winnick, David
Sheridan, Jim Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha Wood, Mike (Batley)
Skinner, Dennis Woolas, Phil
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury) Worthington, Tony
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wright, David (Telford)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen Tellers for the Noes:
Spellar, rh John Mr. Nick Ainger and
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. Jim Murphy

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):-

The House divided: Ayes 320, Noes 182.

Division No. 31] [10:14 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bayley, Hugh
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Beckett, rh Margaret
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Begg, Miss Anne
Alexander, Douglas Benn, Hilary
Allen, Graham Bennett, Andrew
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Betts, Clive
Atherton, Ms Candy Blackman, Liz
Bailey, Adrian Blears, Ms Hazel
Barnes, Harry Boateng, rh Paul
Barron, rh Kevin Borrow, David
Battle, John Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bradshaw, Ben Flint, Caroline
Brennan, Kevin Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Bryant, Chris Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard Foulkes, rh George
Burnham, Andy Francis, Dr. Hywel
Byers, rh Stephen Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Caborn, rh Richard George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Cairns, David Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Gibson, Dr. Ian
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gilroy, Linda
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Godsiff, Roger
Caplin, Ivor Goggins, Paul
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caton, Martin Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Challen, Colin Grogan, John
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Chaytor, David Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clapham, Michael Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hanson, David
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Healey, John
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hepburn, Stephen
Clelland, David Heppell, John
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V) Hesford, Stephen
Coaker, Vernon Heyes, David
Coffey, Ms Ann Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Cohen, Harry Hinchliffe, David
Coleman, Iain Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Colman, Tony Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Connarty, Michael Hopkins, Kelvin
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston) Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Lindsay
Cox, Tom (Tooting) Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Cranston, hon. Ross
Crausby, David Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cruddas, Jon Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland) Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Illsley, Eric
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, rh Alistair Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jamieson, David
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Jenkins, Brian
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Denham, rh John Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dobson, rh Frank Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Donohoe, Brian H. Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Doran, Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Drew, David (Stroud) Khabra, Piara S.
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kidney, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kilfoyle, Peter
Edwards, Huw King, Andy (Rugby)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Etherington, Bill Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Farrelly, Paul Lammy, David
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Fisher, Mark Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David Purchase, Ken
Leslie, Christopher Purnell, James
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Quin, rh Joyce
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen Quinn, Lawrie
Linton, Martin Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Raynsford, rh Nick
Llwyd, Elfyn Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Love, Andrew Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin) Roche, Mrs Barbara
McAvoy, Thomas Rooney, Terry
McCabe, Stephen Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McCafferty, Chris Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
McCartney, rh Ian Ruane, Chris
McDonagh, Siobhain Ruddock, Joan
MacDonald, Calum Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
McDonnell, John
McFall, John Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
McIsaac, Shona Savidge, Malcolm
McKechin, Ann Sawford, Phil
McKenna, Rosemary Sedgemore, Brian
Mackinlay, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan
McNamara, Kevin Sheridan, Jim
McNulty, Tony Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
MacShane, Denis Singh, Marsha
Mactaggart, Fiona Skinner, Dennis
McWalter, Tony Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, rh Peter Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Soley, Clive
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston) Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Steinberg, Gerry
Martlew, Eric Stevenson, George
Meale, Alan (Mansfield) Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun Stinchcombe, Paul
Milburn, rh Alan Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Miller, Andrew Stringer, Graham
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mole, Chris Sutcliffe, Gerry
Moonie, Dr. Lewis Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Moran, Margaret Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Morris, rh Estelle Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mountford, Kali Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Mudie, George Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Mullin, Chris Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Munn, Ms Meg Timms, Stephen
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Tipping, Paddy
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
O'Hara, Edward Trickett, Jon
Olner, Bill Truswell, Paul
O'Neill, Martin Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Organ, Diana Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Palmer, Dr. Nick Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Perham, Linda Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Picking, Anne Vis, Dr. Rudi
Pickthall, Colin Ward, Claire
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Wareing, Robert N.
Pollard, Kerry Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Watts, David
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) White, Brian
Pound, Stephen Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Prescott, rh John Winnick, David
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woolas, Phil Wright, David (Telford)
Worthington, Tony Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Tellers for the Ayes:
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth) Mr. Nick Ainger and
Mr. Jim Murphy
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Goodman, Paul
Allan, Richard Grayling, Chris
Amess, David Green, Damian (Ashford)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Greenway, John
Bacon, Richard Grieve, Dominic
Barker, Gregory Gummer, rh John
Baron, John (Billericay) Hague, rh William
Barrett, John Hammond, Philip
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Hancock, Mike
Beith, rh A. J. Harvey, Nick
Bellingham, Henry Hawkins, Nick
Beresford, Sir Paul Hayes, John (S Holland)
Blunt, Crispin Heald, Oliver
Boswell, Tim Heath, David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey) Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Brady, Graham Hogg, rh Douglas
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Holmes, Paul
Brazier, Julian Horam, John (Orpington)
Breed, Colin Howard, rh Michael
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Browning, Mrs Angela Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Bruce, Malcolm Hunter, Andrew
Burnett, John Jack, rh Michael
Burns, Simon Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Burnside, David Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Burt, Alistair Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Butterfill, John Kirkwood, Archy
Cable, Dr. Vincent Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Calton, Mrs Patsy Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Carmichael, Alistair Lamb, Norman
Cash, William Lansley, Andrew
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Laws, David (Yeovil)
Leigh, Edward
Chidgey, David Letwin, rh Oliver
Chope, Christopher Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Clappison, James Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lidington, David
Collins, Tim Lilley, rh Peter
Cormack, Sir Patrick Loughton, Tim
Cotter, Brian Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Cran, James (Beverley) McIntosh, Miss Anne
Curry, rh David MacKay, rh Andrew
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Maclean, rh David
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden) McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Djanogly, Jonathan Maples, John
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Mates, Michael
Dorrell, rh Stephen Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Doughty, Sue May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan Smith, rh Iain Mercer, Patrick
Evans, Nigel Moss, Malcolm
Fabricant, Michael Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Fallon, Michael O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster) Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Öpik, Lembit
Flight, Howard Osborne, George (Tatton)
Flook, Adrian Page, Richard
Forth, rh Eric Paice, James
Foster, Don (Bath) Paisley, Rev. Ian
Fox, Dr. Liam Paterson, Owen
Francois, Mark Pickles, Eric
Gale, Roger (N Thanet) Portillo, rh Michael
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis) Randall, John
Gidley, Sandra Redwood, rh John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) Swayne, Desmond
Rendel, David Syms, Robert
Robathan, Andrew Taylor, John (Solihull)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford) Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Tredinnick, David
Roe, Mrs Marion Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Rosindell, Andrew Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Ruffley, David Tyrie, Andrew
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Waterson, Nigel
Sanders, Adrian Watkinson, Angela
Selous, Andrew Whittingdale, John
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Shepherd, Richard Wiggin, Bill
Simmonds, Mark Wilkinson, John
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S) Wilshire, David
Soames, Nicholas Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Young, rh Sir George
Spring, Richard Younger-Ross, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony Tellers for the Noes:
Streeter, Gary Mr. Mark Hoban and
Stunell, Andrew Mrs. Cheryl Gillan

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.