This Bill has had a long and tedious passage through this House. The National Coalition's 14-point programme contained a pledge to set up independent machinery to deal with planning appeals. Accordingly, the present Bill was one of the first introduced in this House after the Government took office in March, 1973. Drafting, naturally, took some considerable time but the Bill was ready for circulation early in 1974.
This is history, I suppose, but when I spoke on the Second Stage of the Bill in March, 1974, I gave an assurance that I would be prepared to give full and objective consideration to any reasonable amendments which Deputies might wish to put forward on Committee Stage. In fact, arising from the Second Stage debate, I myself took the initiative and put down a considerable number of Committee Stage amendments to meet points which had been raised by Deputies. Other Members of the House on both sides also put down numerous amendments with the result that, when Committee Stage began in November, 1974, we were faced with a total of about 140 amendments.
The Committee Stage debate took 11 days and was completed last July. I readily concede that some useful work was done during that debate but I must say that the tactics adopted by some Deputies opposite did not help. A number of very reasonable people sat in all the time but there were some people who did not help at all. May be I would call it a bit of filibustering.
For Report Stage, I again put down a considerable number of amendments designed to meet points raised by Deputies at the earlier Stage. I think I can say, therefore, without fear of contradiction, that my attitude towards the views expressed by Deputies on all sides has been reasonable and that I have fully lived up to the pledge I gave on Second Stage.
The primary importance of the Bill itself is, of course, the new machinery it will provide for the determination of planning appeals. The provisions in this regard are widely known and have received a fairly general welcome not only in this House, but from various individuals and interested groups. What may not be so widely appreciated is the fact that the Bill contains a very large number of other amendments of the 1963 Act. This is a complex Act which has worked reasonably well—I would not say very well—but, naturally, experience of its operation has shown a need for improvement in various respects.
Many such improvements are provided for in this Bill. There are, for example, the new and stronger provisions for enforcement such as the warning notice procedure, the provision for High Court intervention and the higher penalties. There are also important provisions designed to limit the life of planning permissions and to facilitate the variation of development plans and the making of new plans. There are a number of changes designed to assist in control of air and water pollution. Of course, there are the very important and desirable provisions about conflicts of interests. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the Bill's provisions —or even of its main provisions— but it is, I think, sufficient to demonstrate the importance of the Bill and, if implemented effectively, the contribution it can make to better planning in our cities, towns and rural areas will be great.
I would like to thank the Deputies opposite for their approval to the Bill. We have not agreed on all matters but today's debate particularly showed how matters can be discussed in a calm and reasonable way and how the points of view of both sides can be taken into consideration. Again in the main, on Committee Stage a lot of very useful work was done. I freely admit that suggestions made from the Opposition did improve the Bill. I believe that is the object of discussing Bills in Parliament, and if it gets the same consideration in the other House we will have an excellent measure when it is finally enacted.
The sooner this Bill becomes law the better. The responsibility for planning appeals is not something which any of us wants to have for a long time. It causes a great deal of criticism outside, ill-informed in most cases. People do not seem to understand that Ministers do not take decisions out of cussedness. Very detailed reports are made available to them and it is on the basis of those reports that they take their decisions. They have to take criticism, and I suppose that is one of the things associated with being Minister for Local Government. However, the responsibility will now pass on to a new planning board. I hope the decisions of the planning board will be accepted by people outside in a rather more gracious way than some of the decisions which had to be taken by me and by my predecessors over the years. Again I thank the Deputies for the manner in which they have dealt with the various Stages of the Bill.