A new quango, a new tax and little debate – the government still does not get it

Yesterday the government was busily destroying democracy again. They decided to take their bullying, hectoring stance into the realm of planning, setting up a super-quango to make the decisions about big projects, and introducing yet another tax by the back door of secondary legislation under a general permissive power in the Planning legislation.

The Bill had already been through Committee, where none of the Opposition amendments had been accepted, despite strong support for them from local government and professional opinion. The Bill was represented to us with almost 100 pages of print on the Order paper full of government amendments and New Clauses, as they effectively sought to rewrite the Bill at the last moment during its Commons stages. Colleagues asked why they had bothered to sit on the Committee, when their views had been outvoted, only to discover the government wished to make big changes at a later date.

The government, as always, introduced a timetable or guillotine motion. These are now accepted, partly because there are so many newer MPs in the House who do not realise how much less democratic this system is than the old system where the House had as much time as it needed to deal with each clause and issue. Only if the Committee considering a bill took, say, 50 hours on the first clause, and showed no signs of wanting to make progress, did a government Minister then come to the main Chamber and ask for a timetable to be imposed. Even then, it was more likely to be an overall limit on time, than the present detailed timetable telling us how much time we could spend on each group of proposed changes. Yesterday the issues most likely to attract Labour rebels were given limited time, often at inconvenient times of the session.

The guillotine was imposed on a Bill which takes away powers from elected local and national government and gives to a quango, and takes away powers from people and Councils and gives to central government. Under it the Secretary of State can decide on national planning policy statements which require development of a certain type and scale in a specified location whatever local people and their Councillors may think. The Infrastructure Planning Commission has wide-ranging powers to make decisions regardless of local opinion and its democratic expression.

Why do the government think we need this centralising bullying measure? Mainly because they have failed to come up with the plans, permits and projects necessary for this country’s energy and transport requirements over the last eleven years and are now in panic mode that they have run out of time to put through large schemes in the normal way. They must be dreading that the lights could go out for want of power, or the country grinding to a final halt in massive gridlock.

I agree that some planning decisions for large projects in the UK have taken too long in the past, and would like to see some of them determined in a shorter time. This does not mean we need a new super-quango to do so; nor need it mean ignoring all local opinion and proper consideration of the issues. The best way to expedite decisions about necessary but unwanted big projects is to allow or require proper compensation to anyone whose amenity and home value is damaged by the development. Where there does need to be a national decision about growing or creating a new national asset – like London airport – Ministers should lead the debate, listen to the options, and ensure that their final decision includes proper treatment of those who will be adversely affected. That surely is what Ministers are for.

Hidden away at the end of the Bill are the proposals for a so-called “Community Infrastructure Levy”. There are few details in the legislation. The full force of this measure will only become clear when the government publishes the regulations which will tell us who can charge what. The Bill does show that this could be a new national as well as a local tax, as the Secretary of State ranks alongside councils, the London Mayor and Welsh Ministers as someone who is a “Charging authority”.

This is no way to introduce yet another Labour tax. Such a tax is worthy of its own Bill and proper examination. Parliament should know how much and how often the tax will be charged before it has to decide the principle of whether we want it. Yesterday was another bad day for democracy. It all goes to show that Mr Brown’s pledge to restore power to Parliament was so much spin and bluster.

If Labour still thinks we need more taxes and more quangos they still do not get it. We have been force-fed on quangos and higher taxes for eleven years, and have had enough of both.

For the speech on the Planning Bill made by John in the House yesterday, go to the Debates section of this website.


  1. Puzzled from Middle
    June 3, 2008

    So having picked inappropriate sites for their new "eco-towns" and failed to convince local politicians (and therefore the planning authorities) that these towns were a good idea, we now have the government introducing legislation that will them to override local wishes and democracy. This will presumably also apply to othe 'grand projects' e.g. the Western Isles windfarm, which are opposed by residents and local authorities.

    Now I can understand how after nearly 11 years of inaction over the UK's energy policy the government may need such powers to fast-track planning approval for new nuclear power stations. Indeed there might be reasonable justification that such consents are of strategic national importance – in which case why not specifically target them in the legislation. However given the position we are now at in the electoral cycle, they do not have a hope of getting much underway before the next General Election.

    This latest action seems to be part of a trend to further marginalise our increasingly expensive local councils – for example with these measures in place and once the local authority has created a joint waste authority why do we need local councils?

  2. haddock
    June 3, 2008

    I watched some of the debate, if it could be called such, on TV. There were 16 people in the chamber , they were talking about the Parliament Act and the need to nobble the Lords so that they could do as they please. Only 16 members could be arsed to be there, I suspect some of those were instructed to be there, or had to be there……. and MPs wonder why they are despised by the populace.
    Want more money ?, try doing the job first, and be seen doing the job, and we might agree to more pay.

  3. Letters From A Tory
    June 3, 2008

    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Yet another addition to the list of Labour stealth taxes that they keep hidden from the public eye. Their contempt for discussion and debate in Parliament is also depressing.

  4. Stuart Fairney
    June 3, 2008

    Part of the problem is the absolute sterility of public debate on this issue. I work in the house building industry and in over ten years of proposals involving scores of schemes and endless planning committees I've never yet encountered anything but knee-jerk, vocal and frankly pointless opposition. Every last one has been brownfield and in line with local planning policies. Yet still the "no new homes in " lobby appear. (Paradoxically, these are the very same people to complain about how their kids can't afford to live locally, they apparently see no conection).

    So it is not surprising that the government is taking this away from local democracy, since the record of local councils on planning in the past decade has been a total disaster. Be it clueless councillors or indolent, incompetent, obstructive, green-fanatic officers, no-one in local authorities can look back on their record with pride. That said, the guillotine shows that Nu-Labour see parliamant as an inconvenience and to have vague ill-defined talk of new taxes is legislation at its worst.

  5. Neil Craig
    June 3, 2008

    In theory I agree with you about paying compensation for having a big project next door. In practice that may just lead to people ramping up their indignation as appears to be the case with people who have to move because of airport extension, who are already well compensated. On the other hand where there is a real choice of location, as in nuclear plants, the French, by giving lower electricity prices to neighbours of new plants, get local villages clamouring for them. I suspect this would work for a nuclear dump in Britain.

    You are right that the government are "now in panic mode that they have run out of time to put through large schemes in the normal way. They must be dreading that the lights could go out for want of power, or the country grind to a final halt in massive gridlock". However it is a justified panic (& the Tories were barely better over the last 11 or indeed 28 years in supporting nuclear) & if this bill is going to go some way to cutting the 6 years of paperwork previously suggested before starting the 3 1/2 year project of actually building reactors then not before time.

  6. Susan
    June 3, 2008

    I suspect there will be many more 'bad days for democracy' before this self-serving shower of contemptibles is shown the door at the next GE. They will make it as difficult as possible for the next Conservative government to undo the damage they have wrought over the past eleven years – they know they are on the way out and so have nothing to lose.

    If you read the online media and blogs you will see that the British people are choking on regulation and taxation. My sincere hope is that by inflicting such damage on the country, and on England in particular, they ensure their concept of socialist authoritarianism is consigned to a bleak footnote in history, together with the Fabians, Common Purpose et al.

  7. Mark Wadsworth
    June 3, 2008

    "The best way to expedite decisions about necessary but unwanted big projects is to allow or require proper compensation to anyone whose amenity and home value is damaged by the development."

    Broadly agreed, but that's the point of Land Value Tax.

    1. 'Good infrastructure' raises property values overall (e.g. better transport links, flood defences) but of course will impact negatively on some people (in the shadow of a motorway flyover, whose view over the sea is spoiled).

    2. The trade-off is quite simple – would there be a net increase in LVT receipts? Some would pay more for higher amenity, the losers would automatically be compensated for the fall in value.

    3. The next question is, would that net increase (assuming there would be one) be enough to pay for the new railway, new road, flood barrier etc. If yes, the project gets built, if not, then not.

    4. Those who benefit would pay, those who lose get automatic compensation. Depending on how big the project is, the same logic applies to local councils deciding whether to sell off a bit of land or use it for a local park as it does to the national government deciding whether to widen the M1 to four lanes each way.

    Reply: That is why such taxes are unfair. Someone can have an alleged benefit on their land value and be forced to pay tax, even though the benefit is not a benefit to them. It could force certain businesses to close if land values rose too much, and could end up throwing people out of their homes.

  8. Mark Wadsworth
    June 3, 2008

    But all taxation is extracting money by force, is it not?

    If it is broadly agreed that e.g. strengthening the Thames Barrier is a good thing, should some people who own property in the potential flood zone (but who benefit from the new barrier) be allowed to opt out of paying for the cost of it, even though they benefit from e.g. lower insurance bills and higher resale value? LVT is not about 'alleged value', it is about actual market value.

    If the people who benefit don't have to pay, why should anybody else? I personally hate the idea of paying extra income tax so that central government on a whim (usually in the interest of buying votes) can build stuff anywhere in the country they like, OTOH, I have little objection to paying more LVT for stuff that benefits me (or at least enhances the resale value of my house) where I live.

    Under general free market principles, if the value (in this case the benefit) exceeds the cost (i.e. the tax) then the project should go ahead. Else not.

  9. mikestallard
    June 3, 2008

    Let's be positive and go back to the eco towns.
    But first, I read the speech – good stuff! It is good to see that one MP is speaking up for commonsense.
    We need the eco towns for just two reasons: unlimited Immigration and the EU trying to shift power to the regions (where the idea comes from) away from nationalities.
    When, on July 1st, the French gain the presidency, one of their (many) plans seems to be to stop unlimited immigration. This includes repatriation and strengthening border controls. It also includes accepting only people who speak the native language on their passports. (Open Europe today). So is there a glimmer of hope here that immigration will be controlled?
    (Para left out)But about the eco towns, regional government taking over from national and the coming dependence on French Nuclear Power – sorry – not a prayer.
    PS It was Mrs Thatcher who wanted nuclear power, on ecological grounds, to offset the total dependence on coal fired power stations. Remember Arthur Scargill?

  10. […] to decide on major planning applications to an unelected quanqo. Conservative MP John Redwood has a must-read post on his blog about the debate and 63 Labour MPs have expressed their […]

  11. Adrian Peirson
    June 3, 2008

    Surely the Money people earn is for them to decide how to spend and distribute.

    We are being farmed.

    As for the Next General election, there is a very real prospect that there may not be another General Election, Why else would they ( Our Establishment and the EU ) have set up the Civil Contingencies Bill.

  12. Adrian Peirson
    June 3, 2008

    £100 Billion on Quangos and Non Jobs.

    £30 Billion Net to the EU.

    We could EASILY Survive the economic Meltdown,
    Simply scrap the Quango's
    Get us out of the EU.

    As a One off, Wipe off all Mortgage Debt, let people have their Own homes.

  13. ken white
    June 3, 2008

    This is the most vindictive, traitorous and destrctive government in living memory if not ever.They have parallel agenders one they have for the public and one they implement by stelf behind the scences. Its a pitty it has taken 11 years for the British public to begin to realise how destructive this government has been.

  14. Matthew Reynolds
    June 3, 2008

    I get it ! The Labour regime is composed of stupid people that believe their own propaganda and who are so out of touch & incompetent that they deserve to lose the next general election . Fewer QUANGO’s & less tax is a way to prosperity !

    1. mikestallard
      July 28, 2008

      I do hope that you re not being sarcastic………
      Because what you say is simple, common sense.

  15. Matthew Reynolds
    June 3, 2008

    I get it ! The Labour regime is composed of stupid people that believe their own propaganda and who are so out of touch & incompetent that they deserve to lose the next general election . Fewer QUANGO’s & less tax is a way to prosperity !

  16. Mark Wadsworth
    June 4, 2008

    Adrian, exactly, that's £130 bn shaved off gummint spending without the loss of a single teacher, copper or nurse.

    Our blog-host made exactly this point a few days ago, I paraphrase "cutting spending would be quite easy because there is so much waste". So why do the Tories allow Nulab to get away with the outrageous claim that if they scrapped IHT (yield, a modest £4 bn or so) that 40,000 nurses' jobs would be lost?

    "4,000 quango jobs. more like" would have been a suitable riposte.

    That's not a rhetorical question, by the way. I'd love to know.

  17. iphone games music
    July 19, 2008

    Nice blog, i have added it to my favourites, greetings

  18. ken white
    July 27, 2008

    In 1997 just after the blair/brown axis was elected an elated Tony Blair said give us ten years and you won't recognise Britain,Labour has been true to their word I don't recognise this place as Britain any more I don't even feel British, I'm justsomeone who lives here.They now govern by decree,this latest new quango is part of their scorched earth policy to cause as much desruction as possible before they are ousted.Unfortunately the damage is so bad it will not be possible to reverse it,the Britain that was once Britain has gone for ever the full consequences hav,nt worked their way through yet, tho the signs of the place it will become are beginning to show themselves more and more every day. Thanks Tony and Gorden. I'm just getting on with the job I'm just getting on with the job I'm just getting on with the job I'm just getting on with the job

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