‘…I believe it is now right in the interests of good and open government and public debate that each year the Prime Minister makes a summer statement to this House so that initial thinking, previously private, can now be the subject of widespread and informed public consultation’. Gordon Brown in a statement to the Commons
Traditionally, the Government announces its legislative programme each year in the Queen's Speech which takes place in November. On 11 July 2007 Gordon Brown broke with this tradition and published a draft legislative programme – The Governance of Britain – The Government's Draft Legislative Programme. The reason given for this move is stated to be in the interests of greater transparency; to enable both Parliament and the public to have advance notice of the legislation the Government is proposing in the forthcoming session and to avoid the current situation of ‘piecemeal’ unofficial leaking of the programme.
The Government has been at pains to point out that this new approach is not meant to undermine the Queen's Speech but to make the Government more open, transparent and accountable. The Government will retain the right to change the Programme should new priorities arise. Once the Programme is issued, it will be up to Parliament to consider how it wishes to deal with it; either a debate prior to the summer recess in the Commons (and Lords) or in select committees. Members of the public can comment on the Programme although it is not entirely clear how their comments will be dealt with.
The Government also proposes to continue to publish as many draft Bills as possible for pre-legislative scrutiny. At the moment it has indicated that it is considering publishing bills in draft concerning the marine environment and heritage protection amongst others. A list of draft Bills will be published by the Leader of the Commons in November.
The Programme contains brief details of 23 Bills. From a planners’ perspective, the following are of particular interest:
- Climate Change Bill – a draft of this Bill was published in March 2007 for consultation which closed on 12 June 2007. The Bill sets out the framework for the UK to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of 60% by 2050 and 26-32% by 2020;
- Energy Bill – the aim of this Bill is to help the UK to secure supplies of energy, tackle climate change and reduce fuel poverty;
- Housing and Regeneration Bill – this Bill will set out a number of measures to support the delivery of housing supply including the creation of a new homes agency; reform of social housing regulation and establishment of eco towns;
- Local Transport Bill – this Bill aims to assist local authorities in tackling road congestion by a range of measures including developing proposals for local road pricing schemes. A draft of the Bill was published in May 2007 for public consultation and Parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny. The consultation period closes on 7 September 2007;
- Planning Reform Bill – this Bill will take forward the proposals in the Planning White Paper issued in May 2007 (Planning for a Sustainable Future) on a new unified consents regime for major infrastructure projects, including the establishment of an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission to grant authorisation for a project; the content of and consultation on national infrastructure policy statements; and statutory requirements on developers to undertake consultation before submitting applications. In addition the Bill will include changes to the process for preparing local development plan documents and allow for local authorities to decide minor planning application appeals, as proposed in the Planning White Paper;
- Planning Gain Supplement Bill (PGS) – to provide for the introduction of a levy to capture a portion of the land value uplift arising from the grant of planning permission. The PGS has been subject to a number of consultation papers, most recently in December 2006. There is, however, still no certainty over whether the PGS will be introduced. The PGS Bill has only been ‘provisionally’ included and will be deferred if prior to the Pre Budget Report, ‘a better way is identified of ensuring local communities receive significantly more of the benefit of planning gain to invest in necessary infrastructure including transport – and it is demonstrated that these are a better alternative’ (See the separate article in this Bulletin on the Housing Green Paper). This does not rule out the PGS altogether but does demonstrate that the Government may be having second thoughts about introducing it.
The draft Programme is an unusual but welcome step in introducing more transparency into the legislative process. This, together with the Government's aim of introducing more draft Bills for consultation, creates a more open system, although this will inevitably result in the reduction of the political impact of the Queen's Speech.