HC Deb 01 July 1943 vol 390 cc1855-85

Order for Second Reading read.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Mr. Noel-Baker)

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

In doing so, I would express the hope, which may be academic, though I trust not, that the Bill will receive the general approval of the House. I am bold enough to hope that I shall be able to show my hon. Friends who have an Amendment on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill, that they too would do well to support it. It may save time if I say a few words in explanation of the Bill. I will make them as brief as I can, because I believe that the general provisions both of the original Act and of this Bill are well known and understood.

Under the Ribbon Development Act, 1935, by Sections 1 and 2, highway authorities—that is to say, county councils, borough councils and urban district councils—were given power to refuse to allow development within 220 feet of the middle of roads which were classified in 1935 and which have been classified since then and of certain other roads which were brought under the terms of the Act at the special request of these highway authorities. That provision has, in the view of my hon. Friends who have put down the Amendment, not been as effective as they could have desired. Indeed, since 1935 there has been more ribbon development in the country than the Government hoped, and than, I think, the House hoped, there would have been. I do not want to go into an explanation of why that has come about. I do not think it is because the highway authorities have shown any reluctance to operate the Act in the spirit which Parliament intended. There have been financial difficulties. Very often questions of compensation arise and the highway authorities certainly have not the financial resources to permit them to insist on the developments being prevented. Unfortunately, as I think, Parliament did not then, and has not since, made provision for assisting the highway authorities in such circumstances.

In any case, those who have to operate the Act have been in the greatest difficulty since the war began. The Act gives them no power to grant leave for develop- ment within 220 feet of the middle of the road on condition or subject to the term that it shall be demolished at the end of the war. They have been constantly faced by demands from people who want to develop within these strips along the roadside for purposes connected with the promotion of the war effort. Everybody knows that along these roads there were in many cases factories already built before the Act of 1935 was passed. It was not suggested that those factories should be pulled down. It is now frequently desired, in the interests of the war effort, that such factories should be extended. Sometimes it is desirable that new access to those factories should be allowed, a new road made from the main road to the factory itself, a new factory put up, or hutments provided for housing workers. Every time such a proposal arises the authority is faced with the question, "Shall we refuse the development, and thereby impede the war effort, perhaps seriously, or shall we grant the development, knowing that we have no power to make it temporary, and thereby accept the fact that the development will be a defacement of the road and a potential cause of obstruction on the roads, perhaps for a generation to come?"

A number of authorities have tried to give temporary consents. They have made an arrangement with the developer that the building, the fence, the road, or whatever it may be, shall be taken down again at the end of the war. It is extremely doubtful whether they have any power to do that, and I think, indeed, that the right view is that the Courts would not uphold them if they tried to exercise the right to demolish after the war, but would, on the contrary, uphold the developer if he claimed that his building should remain. Very often the authorities are faced with a greater difficulty than that. The developer begins without asking consent. He is under pressure from an important Government Department, which wants production. The wheels go round: is the authority to stop them? Sometimes the developer asks the authority for permission; the authority refuses, and the developer goes on all the same. Sometimes the developer goes ahead without asking at all. I will read a letter which my Ministry received from the Secretary of the County Councils Association last August: The attention of the War Emergency Committee of the County Councils Association has been drawn to cases in which private firms engaged on war work have erected buildings or laid out means of access on land subject to restrictions under the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935. Sometimes the consent of the county council, as highway authority, is sought, but on other occasions the provisions of the Act are completely ignored, and in both cases the council are placed in an extremely difficult position. On the one hand, they are liable, if the works are such as would normally be sanctioned and powers conferred by Section II of the Act are exercised, to a charge of hindering vital production. On the other hand, if no action is taken, the offence is condoned. In any case the authority must be in a difficult position. Sometimes, as I have said, it has granted a temporary consent, which is ultra vires; sometimes it has refused, and the man has gone on. Sometimes it has refused, and has been charged with holding up the war effort. We cannot assume, as many of those who take a strong view about ribbon development are inclined to assume, that it is wrong to allow the development to go on. If may be a vital war requirement. I have particulars of a case, raised by, I think, the Worcestershire County Council, concerning a factory making aeroplane parts, where everything was suitable, the transport ready, the raw materials there, and other processes close by. If consent were refused it would set back production very much. On the other hand, if consent were given the county council must accept criticism for allowing a defacement which has no term, which, as I have said, may last for a generation. Many representations have been made to my Ministry from a number of county councils, as well as from the County Councils Association, and to our divisional road engineers, who have to administer the matter. This Bill is an attempt to get rid of that difficulty by allowing in effect, although it is not quite the form, a temporary consent.

Clause 1, Sub-section (4) deals with past cases in which councils have endeavoured to give a temporary consent, by providing that such consent shall be regarded as if it had been given under the terms of this Measure and that the right of demolition shall be there when the end of the war comes. It deals with future cases by saying that the highway authorities can give temporary consent and retain the right to go to court and ask for demolition at the end of the war. Under this Measure they would then win, and the builing would come down. Clause 2 is to meet a doubt which has arisen, not iu practice but in Departmental discussions, about the meaning of Clause it of the original Act. Under that Clause, appeal can be made to a court of sumary jurisdiction. Everybody assumed that it was within the power of the Court to determine only whether there has been violation of the Act of 1935, and not what executive action should be taken and whether demolition should be proceeded with or not. The executive action was assumed to remain in the hands of the highway authority. The House will agree, I think, that that, as a matter of administration, is eminently right. The point has not yet risen in practice, but it has now been suggested that perhaps the court, under the original Act, would have to decide both the point of legality and what executive action should be taken as a result of the legal decision. Clause 2 of this Bill is, in form, an amendment of the original Act. In reality, it is, I think, only a clarification of it, and I hope that the House will accept it as such and agree that it is right and proper.

I come to the Amendment which has been put down by my hon. Friends. I have no grievance against them for putting it down; on the contrary, I am very grateful to them. It deals with important points which ought to be cleared up, and I hope that I shall be able to clarify them to the satisfaction of my hon. Friends. They know that my feeling about the evils of ribbon development is quite as strong as theirs, and I assure them that my Ministry accepts the view that ribbon development as such is most undesirable, and that we should make our Measures to prevent it as effective as we can. In the Amendment three points are raised. The first is, should this be done at all by the Ministry of War Transport: why is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport introducing this Bill, and not the Minister of Town and Country Planning? The answer is that the original Act was my Ministry's Act, that this is an Amendment of my Ministry's Act, for purposes that my Ministry has to administer under the legislation which now exists. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning has been consulted at every stage and is in full agreement with the course we are taking.

But, whatever is done about Town and Country Planning, my Ministry must retain an interest in the planning of roads. There was a planning authority in 1935 in the Ministry of Health, and there were local planning authorities around the country. Why was the 1935 Bill brought in by the Ministry of Transport, and why was it administered, not by the planning authorities in the country but by the highway authorities? It was because the points with which the Bill dealt were of importance to the movement of traffic. We have not yet made any pronouncement about post-war traffic policy, but it is a commonplace among those who are interested that traffic on the roads is going to extend greatly when the war is over. We shall have to have big road developments of one kind and another in the course of two or three decades following the war, and perhaps more quickly than that. If roads are built up by ribbon development obviously at once they become much less effective as arterial through roads for motor traffic. Similarly, if there is a right of access and anybody can come into the road at any point, again that creates a very grave danger of accidents on the road. Therefore, both in the discharge of its duty to facilitate the movement of traffic and to promote safety on the roads, my Ministry must be concerned with planning in the sense of the allocation of the road and in respect of what is done on the surface alongside when the road is built.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary for a plain answer to this question? No one disputes that the Ministry of War Transport must be concerned about ribbon development, but is it the intention that the responsibility for the administration of ribbon development legislation shall remain permanently in the hands of his Department?

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is a question which it is not very easy for me to answer at short notice—the full powers of the Minister of Town and Country Planning and all he is going to do have not yet been determined—but I can say that I think my Ministry will have to retain responsibility, and in this question of planning and administration, I do not see how the thing could be administered really without the intervention of the Divisional Road Engineers who act for my Noble Friend throughout the country. In one way or another that must happen, but I would recall to my hon. Friend that there have been, as I have already said, planning authorities since 1935. They work in the closest possible harmony with the highway authorities. We have, I suppose, altogether hundreds of appeals under the Ribbon Development Act and under the Town and Country Planning Act, some of which come in the first instance to my Minister and some in the first instance to the Minister of Health. On no occasion has there ever been a difference of opinion either locally between the planning authority and the highway authority or between my Minister and the Minister of Health. Therefore, I hope that the House will see that, whatever may be the powers and competence of my Ministry in the matter in future, it will work with the planning authority in the future as it has done in the past. I hope my hon. Friends will see that, in introducing this Bill from the Ministry of War Transport, I am not doing anything improper or which encroaches upon the sphere of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning or anything indeed that could have been done better in some other way.

I come, secondly, to the objection in the Motion that it reduces the safeguards against ribbon development now while the war is on. With great respect, I think that that is not the practical effect. If I have explained the Bill properly—as I hope I have—I should have made it plain that when the highway authorities are faced with this dilemma, "Shall we impede the war effort or shall we allow what in normal times we should regard as undesirable development?" they are very often forced to make a decision to allow development and that development is then carried out. We hope under this Bill we shall not only get rid of the buildings put up in a false, temporary sense—a temporary sense given ultra vires—but we shall also get rid of buildings which will be put up from now onwards to which consent in any case would be given but which would be permanent unless this Bill were passed.

I come, thirdly, to the objection that there is no guarantee in the Bill that buildings put up or other obstructions allowed will be demolished or removed after the war is over. My hon. Friends might argue with great force that, if there is a factory giving employment or if there is a building with a high rateable value, it might be very difficult for a highway authority to overcome the public opinion of the district and to remove that building. I do not believe that there is a danger that highway authorities will fail to exercise their rights when the war is over if now they give a temporary consent. Let the House observe that if a consent is given under this Bill, it will be by authorities who take their duties under the Act of 1935, or will under this Bill when it becomes an Act, so seriously that they have actually refused the permanent consent. No doubt in the first place the developer will ask for permanent consent, and that will be refused. The authority who has to make the decision after the war will have made it perfectly plain that it regards this as undesirable as a permanent feature and therefore will have to disavow itself after the war is over if it allows a building to remain. Secondly, I would say in this respect that the experience of the working of the 1935 Act does not indicate that we need expect such an attitude from these authorities. Those who have greatest experience in the matter—and my advisers are all unanimous on this point—feel that there is really no doubt that the authorities will insist on cleaning up afterwards whatever defacement has been temporarily allowed. I have spoken of our road policy. I believe development to be essential. We shall certainly bring great pressure to secure the removal of obstructions which have been temporarily allowed by my Ministry, and I feel absolutely confident that the Minister of Town and Country Planning will do the same. I hope, therefore, that there is no real danger in the third objection which appears in the Amendment of my hon. Friends.

I will end by summarising the effect of the Bill as follows: We shall, I hope, enable these authorities, who are now in a very difficult position, to escape the dilemma with which they are faced. We shall ensure that we shall get rid of the obstructions and buildings they have allowed under conditions which are not valid in a court of law. We shall ensure that any new obstructions to which consent would not in any case be given shall disappear, and we shall harmonise the present war interests of the nation with the long-term interests when there will be proper planning and development. I hope that with this explanation the House will accept the Bill and that my hon. Friends will agree that it will achieve the purpose that they have in view, for indeed it is to achieve that purpose that we have brought the Bill in.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport which affects the responsibilities of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, reduces for the duration of the war the safeguards against ribbon development which has proved dangerous to life, obstructive to traffic, burdensome to the ratepayers and destructive of amenities; and provides no adequate guarantee that such ribbon development will be removed after the war. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for the very full explanation he has given of the reasons which have induced the Government to introduce this Bill. I need hardly say that, if in the view of my hon. Friends and myself the case is fully made out that legislation of this kind is necessary to promote the war effort, we shall not push our opposition to any unreasonable extent. I am glad that my hon. Friend admits that the points that we have raised are of some substance, and I propose to deal with them briefly one after the other. I am rather concerned that the Ministry of War Transport is obviously intending to retain after the war the responsibility for the administration of legislation against ribbon development.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I did not mean to say that. I said that we must have an interest in that concern and must cooperate with whatever Ministry is doing it.

Mr. Molson

I am very glad indeed to hear that. It is obvious that the Ministry of Transport must always be concerned with anything which is going to promote the development of the roads and their administration on lines which would be beneficial to traffic. But my hon. Friend emphasised the point that when the original Bill was passed in 1935 it was the Ministry of Transport that was made responsible for its administration and not the local authorities, which at that time were the only bodies in the country directly concerned with planning. The whole matter has now undergone a great change, because under the new legislation it is intended that planning of the country shall be on a national scale. I cannot understand how it is possible for the Minister of Town and Country Planning to discharge his responsibilities unless he also is going to be the Minister primarily responsible for ribbon development. It is obvious that in all matters affecting transport he would act in the closest touch with the Minister of Transport, but ribbon development is just as much a matter of concern to those who are concerned with the location of industry, with housing, and with the preservation of amenities as with the conveyance of traffic on the roads. Therefore, my hon. Friends and I thought it only right to take this first opportunity of making it plain that in our view the Minister of Town and Country Planning will be unreasonably handicapped in the discharge of his responsibility unless he becomes the Minister primarily responsible, although no doubt in all matters he will act in the closest touch and in accordance with the views of the Minister of Transport.

It is a little curious that it should only be necessary at the end of the fourth year of the war for this legislation to be introduced, and in order to justify that we are now told that in many respects the local highway authorities have found themselves obliged to enter into arrangements with those who wish to undertake ribbon development, which was not in accordance with the powers which they had under existing legislation and which would therefore be unenforceable. It is never entirely satisfactory to be told that the purpose of a Bill before the House is merely to regularise irregularities committed in the past. In the third place, I want to ask whether my hon. Friend is fully satisfied that ribbon development is really necessary for the war effort. The whole of the cause of ribbon development in the past has been that from the point of view of certain individuals and certain interests ribbon development has been the line of least resistance. If that was so in peace-time, it is obviously equally so in war-time. Unless a case can be made out that it would be almost impossible to provide factories or camps, or housing, or whatever it may be, away from the roads, we ought not even in war-time lightheartedly to legalise ribbon development.

In the fourth place, I would ask what likelihood there is that these buildings are going to be removed at the end of the war. My hon. Friend, in justifying this Bill, said that there were cases where factories were being extended and other cases where new factories were being built. It is quite true, as I understand it, that under this Bill, when the war comes to an end—that is, when an Order in Council states that the war has come to an end—it would then be possible for the highway authority to call upon the persons who have erected these factories to demolish them. It is, however, a very usual thing for us to be asked in this House to legislate and for something to appear all right in the Bill, and then when one comes to look at it one realises that in fact it would be impossible to give effect to it. If it is indeed the case that large, expensive factories of a permanent character are now being built along the sides of the roads, is it really the case that the people who are erecting these factories are fully aware of the fact that at the end of the war they will be required to demolish these comparatively new and costly buildings?

Shall we not then be confronted perhaps with some new Bill and be asked to take the view that those who have erected new and valuable factories during the war should not be required after the war to demolish them? I feel that if there had been in this Bill some special provisions providing that only temporary buildings should be erected, the outlook for the future would be much less disquieting than it is. I am not fully satisfied with the explanations that have been given. I feel that the House is being asked under cover of some alleged war necessity to depart from the policy which it adopted in 1935, and I am not greatly impressed by one of the arguments put forward that the Act of 1935 had not worked very well. Even if the Act of 1935 did not go as far as it should have done, that seems no adequate ground for driving a coach and four through what protection the Act of 1935 did give.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The point of my observation was that I thought it could not be laid to the charge of the highway authorities that more direct results have not been obtained from the Act of 1935. They have not shown a lack of willingness to operate the Act.

Mr. Molson

I hope the Government will at any rate be prepared to consider with an open mind any Amendments which my hon. Friends or myself may put down at a later stage in order to make certain that this Bill will not result in the permanence of more ribbon development.

Major York (Ripon)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I would like very briefly to emphasise what my hon. Friend has said on two points. The first point is that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the powers which the Minister exercised would be exercised in close consultation with the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I do not feel that that is in itself a sufficient guarantee. The Minister of Town and Country Planning is at the present time, we hope, working out the major key outlines of a plan for the whole country. I feel that it is his responsibility and not the responsibility of the Minister of War Transport. Roads and other matters connected with communication should be dealt with directly by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. As my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) said, the location of industry is the direct concern of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. If I understood correctly the remark of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, he said that the actual location of roads was really his responsibility. That is not a view which I and my hon. Friends can accept.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I did not mean to say that. I said the Minister of War Transport must have an interest in it and must obviously participate in any decision about the location of roads.

Major York

I am glad to have that correction. It does mean that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has to plan the roads and, acting on advice from the Minister of War Transport, to plan egress and exits from those roads. The Parliamentary Secretary skated too lightly over the subject of what can be undone after the war. We all know of many buildings of a temporary, war-time character which were built in the last war and which are still standing and still being used to-day. We all know that if bad planning is put in force at the present time, that bad planning will be the most difficult thing of all to get rid of when the Minister of Town and Country Planning comes to work out his real solution after the war. The Parliamentary Secretary did say that the authorities would insist upon clearing up, the mess. But can they insist if the people of the locality ask that these factories and housing estates and hutments should remain for a time?

Again, aerodromes are covering many parts of the country, and each aerodrome has its huts by the roadside. How can we ensure under this Bill that highway authorities can get rid of them? What is done is done, and the Minister will have great difficulty in clearing up what is done. As I see it, under this Bill he is going to allow certain buildings to go up which may be outside the scope of the interim development plan which the local planning authority have already got in view. If I have got this wrong, I shall be glad to stand corrected. Perhaps the Minister of Town and Country Planning will explain that matter later. The assurances given by the Parliamentary Secretary are not entirely satisfactory, and I hope that the opinions which are expressed in this Debate will show that there is in the House a general view that the Minister is doing something which may cause very great difficulties in the post-war period.

Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)

I object to this Bill for different reasons from those advanced by the hon. Member opposite. My objection is very much increased by the statement that the Bill, is introduced with the complete consent of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. This Bill reveals an appalling prospect. Why not repeal the Ribbon Development Act? That would be a much simpler and much cleaner job. That Act has been a failure in operation. It has not prevented ribbon development. It has driven development back 7o yards from the middle of the road—which often is only 5o yards from the edges of the road—which means that the landlord has been deprived of 5o yards of his land. It has sometimes made the landlord put in a bit of carriage way where otherwise he would have put an entrance to each house. The Parliamentary Secretary has himself said that on many occasions local authorities were unable to prevent undesirable development because they could not afford to finance the compensation. Why not then repeal the Act and admit its complete failure? After all, no development is physically possible to-day unless a Ministry—not always the same Ministry, but some Ministry or other—has given the necessary facilities so that material and labour are available for building. Either the War Office or the Admiralty or one or other of our Ministries must have sanctioned any development before it can take place. There cannot be a development at this moment which is the private venture of an individual. The very fact that the development becomes physically possible means that some Ministry has decided that this development is important for the war effort. This thing having been decided by a Ministry, it now has to go to a sub-committee of the county council—the highway authority usually is a sub-committee of the county council—which has to sit in judgment on the War Office and Admiralty.

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is the system set up by the Act of 1935, which we are not proposing to change.

Sir R. Acland

Yes, but I say, Why not take the simple course of repealing the Ribbon Development Act in toto? When a Ministry has sanctioned the material for a structural development, it means that a Ministry concerned in the war effort thinks it important. That really means that as far as planning and development are concerned we are going back to the conditions prevalent in the days before the war. It means that you are afraid of making a clean job of it by repealing the Act of 1935 and that you are contemplating coming to the end of this war without having put through any comprehensive scheme to lift the whole business of planning and development of our towns and countryside and transport out of the whole sordid struggle between private enterprise, Ministries, local authorities, planning authorities, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, local ratepayers' associations, societies for the preservation of rural Britain, and the rest of the organisations in which this whole subject was tied up and entangled before the war. If you are to lift it right out of that level and put it on the level at which the planning and development of our country is in the hands of the men who think only of the public interest and not of private landlords, then you have to make this tinker- ing amendment. But if you are to do anything in a big way and you are to make up your minds that landowners are not to be allowed to profit out of the development of our country by either holding up or pressing forward something in their own interests and not in the interests of the community, I do not see why you do not repeal the Ribbon Development Act straight out.

The point has been made: Is there any likelihood of buildings permitted by this Bill being removed after the war? I entirely agree with the last speaker that if we go on as we are, if private individuals are to be allowed to argue, "I spent my money on extending my factory. Are you now intending to force me to pull it down?" there is not the slightest prospect of any factory development which is permitted under this Bill being removed when the war is over. But if anyone is getting worried about a little point like that, it seems to me that he is not thinking in terms of replanning and rebuilding this country. When I have spoken at Manchester about post-war needs and have said that nine-tenths of that city ought to be pulled down, it has proved one of the most popular things one could say in a speech about post-war reconstruction. The same can be said in Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow Of those places and in other large cities.

Mr. Molson

The hon. Member's threat to knock these towns down has not enabled him to win any by-elections in them.

Sir R. Acland

In some country constituencies we are a little more fortunate, but there is quite as much work to be done in some villages as there is in the heart of Manchester. If you are thinking of the problem on that scale, that something like nine-tenths of our industrial cities want pulling down, why bother about a factory here and there which has been allowed to encroach on roads? There will be much more to bother about if you are really intending to replan this country. The Minister of War Transport and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning ought to know better, for this Bill reveals a deplorable attitude towards planning for the future. Why anyone should have thought it necessary at this time to come along with this little niggling amendment to an Act which has been a failure instead of saying, "Let us repeal the Ribbon Development Act," I cannot understand. I cannot seriously hope that this Bill will be passed.

Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)

I would not have intervened in this discussion had it not been for the concluding remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary, because I have looked upon the Ribbon Development Act, 1935, as a most inadequate Act of Parliament. Therefore, I support my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), although probably not only for the reasons he has given. At the time when the 1935 Bill was passed we had not taken a sufficiently broad view of the position. What has happened? We have spent many millions of pounds on what are known as arterial roads, which were intended to ease motor traffic from more congested areas. They have not succeeded, because expansion of motor vehicle traffic between 1925 and the commencement of this war has been so great that the increase has gone on to the arterial, and the roads that existed prior to the passing of that Bill are still as heavily congested. I feel I am justified in suggesting that the Ministry of War Transport should review the present position. While I do not think that in submitting this Bill to make an adequate amendment of the Act of 1935 the Ministry have on this occasion been as absent of vision as they were in 1935, what they should say to the House is, "We want motor highways." In 1935, when I wrote a book on the rebuilding of Britain, I advocated that the whole country should be replanned so far as main arterial roads were concerned and that that should form the skeleton into which future development should take place.

Mr. Montague (Islington, West)

Leave us a few country lanes.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

We are in the same position regarding the development of highways as we were seven years ago, and while the Minister may not be able to do it on this Bill, I would ask for an assurance that the Department will give considerations to proposals for motor highways on which no development will be allowed and to which no approaches will be allowed. I can see that another branch of the Department which has to do with railways will throw up their hands in horror at this suggestion, but if we are to have an orderly, planned Britain when the war is over, then railways, highways and airways must synchronise through the whole system of transport. The Ministry should give consideration to the question of presenting to the House a comprehensive scheme for motor highways which will be under their jurisdiction while the rest of the skeleton is left under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I think I ought to intervene to explain one or two points which otherwise might trouble my hon. Friends who have put their names to an Amendment prompted by sentiments with which, I need hardly say, I have the greatest sympathy. I do riot think that even the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) himself has been ruder on the subject of ribbon development than I have been in this House for many years, and if this Bill were a Bill for the encouragement of such development, I can assure him that my name would never appear in support of it, nor would my right hon. Friend the Minister have agreed to it. The fact is that there are two codes affecting development and two lots of consents that have to be obtained, the consent under the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, a consent which concerns highway authorities and the Ministry of War Transport, and consent under the Town and Country Planning legislation. The hon. Member for Barnstaple may be right in thinking that in the future, under a comprehensive code, we may be able to abolish or mitigate the difficulty of overlapping codes of that kind, but the immediate question is how to set in order the practical problem that has arisen in the administration of the Ribbon Development Act. That is a matter which has been dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, who will, if necessary, speak again, by leave of the House, to deal with any points that may arise. The sole object of my intervention is to try to reassure my hon. Friends who have taken such great interest in town and country planning legislation, and who are very anxious that a matter, about which they rightly feel such concern, shall not be prejudiced by any new Bill which is introduced into this House.

If I can keep in Order in doing so—and I think I can—I want to remind them of the provisions of another Bill now before Parliament which have some bearing on this problem. Under that Bill, which has passed through this House, we have taken power as a Planning Ministry to give temporary consents under town and country planning legislation. That is very much what is being done mutatis mutandis under the other code by the present Bill. We have also taken very stringent powers under another Clause of that Bill, Clause 5, for the removal of undesirable development which takes place after the passing of the Act otherwise than in accordance with interim development consents. Therefore, the main fear in my hon. Friends' minds, namely, that for the removal after the war of new buildings that may be erected hereafter they may be dependent on the wish of the highway authority, is not well grounded. When the legislation we have introduced has become law the Ministry will have power to deal with any such new development which is not in accordance with the consent of the planning authority. I believe that in this very complicated legislation that point may possibly have escaped the notice of some of my hon. Friends, and to that extent what I have said may be reassuring. The matter is one of great complexity, but at present, while the Minister of War Transport and my Ministry act in the closest consultation in these matters, it still remains necessary that consent under each of these separate codes has to be given even where the highway authority and the planning authority are the same authority, as happens, for example, in county boroughs. We are taking power both to give temporary consents and to remove development which is not in accordance with the planning consent which has been given. My hon. Friend by this Bill is seeking to do something very similar, mutatis mutandis, in the code which his Ministry has to administer.

On the merits of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, it is obviously not right that I should intervene. That is a matter for my hon. Friend. The sole object of my intervention is to explain, as far as possible, that my hon. Friends, for whose motives and vigilance I am grateful, need have no such fear as has been expressed in one or two of the speeches that have been made. It would have been possible under planning legislation to stop all ribbon development everywhere. I need not say that that has not happened. Under the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act it is possible to stop some ribbon development. Nevertheless, that Act has certain advantages. There are Treasury grants which it attracts and there are, and always have been, cogent reasons against the simple transfer of the powers under that Act from the Ministry of War Transport to my Ministry. But I want to make it absolutely clear that this Bill, and the fact that my Ministry is backing it, does not imply for a moment that we mean to compromise at all in dealing with the evil of ribbon development. On the contrary, that evil can scarcely be exaggerated. I once said in this House that, while buildings of poor design were bad, and buildings in the wrong place were bad, worst of all was the ingenious method by which we had combined those two evils in ribbon development, whereby we have been destroying the beauty of England, not slowly or gradually, but as by a raging pestilence. There is nothing to be said for it. This Bill does not mean that the Government take any other view. The case for it is that which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport has made. In administering his code this Bill is required. It does not in any way prejudice the code that we administer. It would be wrong for me to adumbrate future legislation, but, as regards the present legislation, there is no objection to it on the grounds adumbrated in the Amendment and there is no reason in the opinion of my right hon. Friend for any hesitation in giving it a Second Reading.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I think if anyone doubted whether the Amendment was worth while, his doubt will have been removed by the speech to which we have just listened. It is surely of the utmost importance that we should be reassured at this time that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning is immensely interested in this problem and is indeed in earnest in the determination to deal with the evils of ribbon development, and is throughout animated by the whole outlook to which such generous expression has been given in the Parliamentary Secretary's concluding words. But I think we may ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to give expression in the terms of this Bill to the assurance that we have just had. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning sought to allay our anxieties as to the possible failure of local authorities to get rid of undesirable buildings when the war emergency is passed by telling us that there is legislation before Parliament, which has passed beyond the control of the House, which will give the Ministry power to deal with these cases, but we are not justified in assuming that a measure which has passed beyond our power will ever become law. It is conceivable that it may be modified or may disappear. We may never hear any more about it. The least we should do, surely, is to see that in this Bill there is provision for similar power to be secured for the Ministry.

Mr. Henry Strauss

I think the hon. Member will find that the Bill which he says has passed beyond the power of the House will necessarily come back to the House and will, in fact, become law, I should say as an intelligent guess, at an earlier elate than the Bill we are now considering.

Mr. Harvey

I am glad to know that, but we are not supposed to know what goes, on in another place. We might rightly have assumed that another place might decide very differently. But at least, when there are so many otiose words in Bills which have to be considered, it ought not to be considered otiose to emphasise the importance which the House places on this issue by securing in the text of the Bill that the Minister of Town and Country Planning, in conjunction with the Minister of War Transport, should have power to deal with this grave abuse. On all sides anxiety has been expressed as to the need for drastic and far-sighted action. Both town and country have been spoilt. We think of the medieval town, with its walls and its beautiful approach, and contrast it with the town of to-day. The town is made hideous by ribbon development and the long approach of factory and slum before you get to the more worthy civic buildings, and at the same time the country is defiled. Parliament ought to make it clear that at every stage, whenever we have the opportunity of dealing with even one aspect of the problem, we are determined to do our utmost to save the countryside from defilement and to preserve what we can of what is left of the beauty of the towns.

Mr. Reakes (Wallasey)

I rise to support the Bill. I have been convinced by the admirable statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. I believe he is quite honest in his objection to the fears arising out of the failure of the Ribbon Development Bill to preserve our countryside. But, assuming that we followed the suggestion of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) and got rid of the Ribbon Development Bill, that would make no difference whatever. The Government would still be faced with Government Departments and private concerns building war factories, and we should also find that they would inevitably be built in close proximity to arterial roads. No one would dream of doing otherwise. Therefore it is Hobson's choice. We have to put up with the erection of these structures because there is no alternative. We are bound to agree to it in order to make sure that we get 100 per cent, war effort. It is the worst possible thing for anyone to be able to put up a structure in defiance of the local authority. It has been done probably for the most laudable reason, because production is so urgent. So that I think the Bill is very wise because it does away with big concerns, whether Government concerns or private companies, putting up structures in defiance of local authority. It is far better to give them temporary permission to do so than to leave matters as they are.

I do not believe we are going to find it so difficult to get these structures demolished at the end of the war. I have faith in the Town and Country Planning Bill that it will take notice of the feeling of the House that we axe nearly all agreed in removing these structures in the shortest possible time. The county authorities will have power to deal with these things. There are such things as Parliamentary Bills promoted by municipal county boroughs and other authorities to get rid of unauthorised erections and unsightly structures, and there are many avenues by which we can get back to a beautified countryside in the post-war period. It is altogether wrong to obstruct the Bill by dragging in matters which are not germane to the issue, I am satisfied that it is the right and proper thing to agree to the Bill, if only to make it impossible in the future for anyone to put up a factory in defiance of a Government Department or local authority. The Bill regularises the thing, and it is a war-time Measure. If it was going to be a thing for all time, I should hotly oppose it, but we must be reasonable and help the Department in the matter. I am a little confused as to why this matter was not brought forward by the Town and Country Planning Department rather than the Ministry of Transport. However, it is a matter of importance and I hope the Bill will have the desired effect.

Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)

Like the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey), I feel that the House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) for bringing forward this Amendment, which has given us an opportunity of discussing the relations between the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Town and Country Planning in the control and planning of our road system. I am not so critical of the Bill as my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment. The speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning has to a large extent disposed of the apprehensions which he felt that the result of the Bill would be to interfere with the requirements of planning for which my hon. Friend is responsible. It is, of course, a complete safeguard that planning control will be required for any form of development which may take place whether in areas adjacent to trunk roads or not. I would remind the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) who was very critical of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act of a fact which he appears to overlook, namely, that this Act was passed in 1935. At that time there were large areas which were not subject to any planning control at all. That is not the situation at present. Before long, when legislation which was initiated recently becomes law, the whole area of the country will become subject to planning control. The consent of the planning authorities will then be required, in the way in which the Parliamentary Secretary has described, for any form of development whether in areas adjoining trunk roads or anywhere else.

To that extent the planning importance of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act has been exhausted. Its importance to-day is not as a piece of planning legislation but rather as a piece of transport legislation. One of the objects of the Act of 1935, which ought not to be overlooked, was to prevent interference with main traffic which resulted from numerous points of access to the main roads. I do not feel, as some hon. Members apparently do, any great apprehension that the buildings which have been erected or which are to be erected along the main roads for the purposes of the war will not be removed if it is desirable to remove them either under planning powers or under the powers of this Bill. These buildings will not interfere with planning very much. If a factory is already sited within the prescribed distance from the centre of a trunk road considerations of planning and the amenities of the countryside have presumably already been taken into account. The factory is already part of the planned area of the district. The only question is whether it should have unrestricted access to the road. If the Parliamentary Secretary were to follow the course suggested by the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple and repeal the whole Act the result would be to put the various Government Departments responsible for sanctioning the erection of these buildings in precisely the same difficulties in which the local authorities now are, that is to say, they would not be able to give a temporary consent, but would be compelled either to stop the erection of the building altogether or allow complete unrestricted access to the roads. That the advantage which this Bill seeks to give the local authorities is that it will make it possible for the time being for them to allow persons who desire to do so to have temporary access to the road upon the condition that when the period of emergency is over the temporary access can be stopped up.

There is one aspect of this matter to which the House clearly attaches importance. The House wants to know what is to be the future relationship between the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of War Transport with regard to the planning of the post-war road system. That is a question about which the House feels a good deal of concern and I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, although he was careful to point out that his Department must have an interest both in the planning and in the administration of post-war roads, did not apparently claim that the planning of the post-war road system should be undertaken by his Department. I cannot see how the Minister of Town and Country Planning is to discharge his functions of making proper plans for the different areas in which, I suppose, the country is to be divided unless he is given full power to plan the siting of the post-war road system. Whatever the conditions may be after the war, one thing at least is plain, that the method of road planning which was followed before the war will not serve the purposes of the post-war world.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member, in arguing about the post-war world, is going rather beyond this Bill.

Mr. Hutchinson

I will endeavour not to go beyond what is proper for consideration under this Bill. I hope that I shall not transgress your Ruling by saying that unless the Minister of Town and Country Planning is given full powers to plan for the main road communications of the country I cannot see how he is to discharge his planning functions in an adequate manner.

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary referred to Clause 2 of this Bill because it is a part of the Bill which has hitherto escaped attention during this Debate. I do not agree with him that the position which is sought to be established by this Clause is as satisfactory as he would have us suppose. Section 11 of the orginal Act was, as he said, not altogether satisfactory. It provided that if a person established access to a main road contrary to the restrictions imposed by the local authority the local authority might do one of two things. They might prosecute that person, and if they succeeded in getting a conviction they might re-establish the status quo as it was before the improper access was made; or, if they chose, they might serve notice upon the person that they intended to close the access or to remove the building and so re-establish the status quo and within 28 days that person, if he was aggrieved, then had the right to go to a court of summary jurisdiction and make an appeal. Under that procedure, if the local authority stopped up the access and served a notice it was open to the court of summary jurisdiction to decide not only whether the access infringed the restriction, but the wider question of whether access should have been restricted at all, Therefore, there was a general appeal against the decision of the local authority not to permit the access

That was an important right. It is always a desirable thing that when an administrative authority has power to make certain decisions which affect the rights of individuals very materially there should be some right of appeal against their decision. That right existed under Section 11. By this Amendment my hon. Friend proposes to take it away. But in any event an appeal against the local authority's decision to a court of summary jurisdiction is not a desirable form of appeal. I accordingly invite the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the whole position under Section 11 of the principal Act from these two points of view—first, whether there ought not to be some right of appeal against the decision of the local authority to refuse a night of access in an individual case; and, secondly, whether it is desirable that an appeal of that sort should go to a court of summary jurisdiction. Such a court is not a tribunal which is well suited to determine appeals from an administrative authority. If the appeal went to the Minister that would be more satisfactory.

I recognise that this matter is bound up with the right of local authorities to prosecute a person who opens an improper access, but I would ask my hon. Friend to consider whether it is really necessary to make that a criminal matter, or whether it would not be sufficient if the local authorities had the right to close up the access or to remove the offending building and recover the cost of doing so as a civil debt. There has been a tendency in modern legislation to make all sorts of trivial things into criminal offences. It is a bad tendency and one which we ought to check. What we desire to do is to ensure that if an access has been improperly opened or a building improperly erected that access cats be closed or that building removed without the necessity of having to go to the police court in order to impose a small and often completely ineffective fine. I invite my hon. Friend not merely to amend Section II but to take back the whole Section and see whether he cannot produce one which is more suitable to his purpose.

I think that this is really a useful Bill, and that the criticisms which have been directed against it have not much substance when they are examined. For these reasons I hope the House will give it a Second Reading; but I also hope that my hon. Friend who will be concerned with this matter in the future will give very serious consideration to the major question, about which we are all concerned, of whose is to be the responsibility for road planning in the future.

Mr. Goldie (Warrington)

I only entered the Chamber while the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) was making his emphatic protest against this proposed Bill. I personally pay such sincere regard to anything, the hon. Baronet should oppose in or out of the House that I should like to associate myself with his protest, but on rather different grounds. I am in favour of the Bill, but out of respect to the hon. Baronet, having arrived only in the course of his protest, I felt it my duty to ask myself what this Bill was about, and having read with some care and some little legal knowledge the four sheets placed in my hands, I can only say that I have never had placed before me in all the years I have been in this House a more absolutely unintelligible document. Everybody who has been here for years knows that to every Government Department a full stop is anathema. Looking at Sub-section (1), I say it is absolutely impossible for any practising lawyer, let alone my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is such a loss to the Temple at the present moment, to say what on earth that Sub-section means unless he is prepared, which is rather difficult, to consult a huge law library. What is even worse, in Sub-section (4) we find these words: The highway authority shall not be deemed to have given their consent under the said Sections one or two, but the provisions of the last foregoing Sub-section shall apply in relation to the building, excavation, means of access, or works in like manner as if a notice under Sub-section (1) or Sub-section (2) of this Section had been served by that authority with respect to the building, excavation, means of access, or works, in respect of which the application was made. Think of the unfortunate practising barrister in the Temple who has to construe that. I have protested against this sort of thing before and shall continue to protest on every single occasion. Why cannot we have the Sub-sections put in a Schedule, so that a man will know what he is dealing with? My hon. and learned Friend said this was a matter of complexity, and I agree with him absolutely that it is a matter of the greatest possible complexity.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

I am glad to support the Amendment. I feel that the Bill is incorrectly named "Restriction of Ribbon Development." It ought to be "Encouragement of Ribbon Development." If the Measure had been restricted to buildings already erected up to the time of the passage of the Bill, one could have understood the reasons for its introduction, but when it proposes to give authority to all and sundry who may desire to engage in ribbon development to do so up to the end of the war, in defiance of the desires of local authorities, we are undoubtedly encouraging contractors and others to proceed upon lines which are contrary to the public interest. It has not been stated how the guarantee for the demolition of buildings later is to be honoured. Probably there will be many cases in which the proprietors of the new buildings will be incapable, for financial or other reasons, of fulfilling their obligations to demolish them at the end of the war, and then which authority is to supply the funds to do so? Is that burden to fall upon the local authority or not? Speaking with some knowledge of municipal activities, I say that local authorities ought to be protected in this respect. Is it really necessary in the interests of the war effort that further encouragement should be given to ribbon development? There is an abundance of evidence that it is not necessary. Those in authority have an abundance of power to declare where buildings shall be erected, and is it necessary to offend the sound principle of the prevention of ribbon building by giving it encouragement by this Measure? From the point of view of the liabilities created by those who violate this principle, I say that we had better reconsider this Measure and bring to an end at the earliest moment any extension of ribbon development.

Mr. Noel-Baker

With your leave, Mr. Speaker, and the leave of the House I should like to say a few words in answer to some of the things which have been said. As was remarked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) in his very judicious speech, most of the points of difficulty which have been raised in the Debate were removed, I think, by the lucid explanations given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and I hope those who felt anxiety under the three headings of the Amendment will feel that his speech, if not mine, has removed their doubts and that they will be able to support the Bill. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) complained just now, if I understood him, of the drafting of the Bill and complained in particular that we did not print in a Schedule the Sub-sections to which reference is made at the end of Sub-section (4) of Clause I. Those Sub-sections do not appear in a Schedule to the Bill because they appear in the Bill itself. They are, in fact, the first two Sub-sections of the Clause of which he was speaking.

Mr. Goldie

I am so sorry. I admit I made a mistake. What I really was thinking of was Section 11 of the principal Act. I am sorry I made the mistake.

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is a different point. I was about to deal with the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford about Section it of the original Act and Clause 2 of this Bill. I certainly will give the fullest consideration to all he said about that, and perhaps he can discuss it further in Committee. If he can suggest any useful Amendment, we will look at it in a benevolent spirit. I was not sure that he gave a complete account of the effect of Section 11. In fact, there is an appeal under Section ii of the original Act to my Minister in exactly the circumstances in which he desired there should be such an appeal. If a highway authority refuses a demand for access those interested in the development for which the demand is refused can appeal to my Minister. We have had such appeals and I have had to deal with a good many of them myself. The only circumstances in which there is a reference to a court of summary jurisdiction is when it is claimed that the developer has violated the decision of the highway authority or the provisions of the Act by going ahead with development without reference to the highway authority and without having proper consent.

Mr. Hutchinson

I understood the Minister to say there was a right of appeal to his Minister under Section tr. I do not understand that that is so.

Mr. Noel-Baker

No, I am sorry, it is under Section 7. If my hon. and learned Friend cares to bring up the point in Committee, we will look at it again in the light of his observations, as we shall find them in Hansard. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who moved the Amendment in what I thought was a very temperate and helpful speech, said that any Minister who came to the House and explained that he wanted to validate acts which had been committed in the past which were of doubtful legal validity was in an unfortunate position. That is so, and if under Clause I, Sub-section (4) we were trying to put right things we had done ourselves I should feel that my Ministry would come in for some legitimate criticism. But that is not the situation. It is the highway authorities who administer this thing. People come to them saying, "We must, in the interests of the war, do this and that," for example, make an extension of our factory. The highway authorities have wanted to apply the Act of 1935 in the spirit as well as in the letter and they have replied, "We do not want you to do it, it is bad planning, but we will agree to it in order to promote the war effort if you will agree to pull down the extension at the end of the war." The point of putting in Subsection (4) of Clause I is that that arrangement may not be upheld in the court at the end of the war, and we want to make sure that it will be upheld, and that they will have the right to pull the building down. I hope that explains why that Sub-section is there and I hope the House will think it is a satisfactory explanation.

For the rest, some hon. Members have said that this Bill is not big enough or ambitious enough and have complained that it does not create a new planning system for dealing with road development. Of course it does not. I agree that it is most important that the House should consider who is to plan the road system, and how it is to be done, and all that is now under consideration. The House will recognise that there cannot yet be a final and definite decision, because it is only a short time since the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was set up, and in my Ministry we have been' so busy operating the machinery of war that we have not really got clown to the problems of postwar reconsfruction, we have not got to the point at which we can see a complete system of what we want to do. I should, however, like to assure all my hon. Friends that we do think it of the highest importance that the machinery for planning roads should be completely coordinated with the general planning of the country as a whole; if there were any divorce between the two, or conflict of powers or conflict of interests, it would be disastrous; and I think that within a measurable time the Government will be able to tell the House what is proposes to do.

Secondly, and this is a similar complaint, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) complained that the Bill did not deal with the whole road problem, and that I had not talked about the creation of motorways and taken the powers required to make motorways to which none but vehicles of certain classes should have access. I agree with a great deal of what he said about motorways and with what he thinks about road development; but in the Bill we are dealing with the very limited and narrow problem of the dilemma which has faced highway authorities as a result of their operation of the Act of 1935. At the right time we shall have a lot to say about all these transport problems and the development of the highways, but now is not the time.

The next substantive point is the real anxiety of hon. Members as to whether buildings and developments allowed under the Bill will come down at the end of the war. I would ask them to consider a counter question, which is: If they were highway authorities, would they feel that they were justified in refusing the requisitions which are made for developments within 220 feet of the road? I do not believe they would. I do not believe that, with the urgency of war production, they could possibly commit themselves to such a proposition. It very often happens that great economies in transport, materials, and labour, which are in very short supply, can be effected if you put a structure next to one which already exists, or use an existing wall or already existing transport. I do not think that my hon. Friends will answer my question with a definite "Yes." That being so it means that those authorities are in the dilemma which I have already described in the course of to-day's Debate.

We want to give the authorities a way out. We believe that if, under the pressure to which they are now subjected to permit developments which promote the war effort, they have hesitated and have refused to give consent which means permanent defacement, we think they may be relied upon at the end of the war to go to court and say that demolition must take place. That demolition, I understand, would be at the expense of the man who put up the building.

The hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) said he hoped we should put something in the Bill to show that our Ministry, or the Government as a whole, recognised the need for discretion in respect of planning for the country after the war. We recognise the great purpose embodied in the Town and Country Planning Act which Parliament recently passed, and we are prepared to put that into the terms of the Bill. If he will suggest a form of words, I shall be very ready to look at it. I am ready to look at any Amendment which would promote the purposes of the Bill. If the hon. Member will put an Amendment forward, I can promise very sympathetic consideration, although I can enter into no commitment beforehand.

I would end by assuring the House that, from the narrow transport point of view, my Ministry must desire to restrict ribbon development as much as possible. If it is a social or planning evil, it is also a transport evil of a serious kind, and it must be against our ministerial interest, as it always has been. If Parliament had given my Ministry greater powers, those powers would have been used in a bolder manner. I would say to the hon. Member for the English Universities that I hope and believe that my Ministry also shares the view of this House that the beauty and the amenities of England have been debauched for long enough and that the time has come when measures must be taken to bring that debauchery to an end.

Mr. Molson

My hon. Friends and I are quite reassured by the speeches which have been made by the two Ministers, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day.—[Captain McEwen.]