Planning Bill speech

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

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

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

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