HC Deb 15 July 1943 vol 391 cc393-401
The Chairman

Mr. Bossom.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

On a point of Order. Would it be possible for you, Major Milner, to indicate at this stage what Amendments you propose to call?

The Chairman

That is not usual or indeed always possible. But I do not think the hon. Member need be under any apprehension as to whether his Amendment will be called or not on this occasion.

Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)

I beg to move, in page 2, line at the end, to insert: If the highway authority is not the same as the interim development authority, it shall obtain the approval of the town and country planning authority for the district before serving any such notice as aforesaid; and if it is desired to undertake any further building, excavation, means of access or works between the passing of this Act and the cessation of hostilities, it shall obtain the approval of the town and country planning authority for the district before serving any such notice as aforesaid. This Amendment is not designed to make any addition to this Bill, but has been put down by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) with a desire that what was indicated to us on Second Reading by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport should be put into the Bill. The Clause as it now stands does not cover the actual words used by my hon. Friend on that occasion, and it does not seem very desirable that where the highway authority is not the same as the interim development authority, the approval should be obtained of the town and country planning board. That is as far as work is concerned which has already been approved of, but this should also apply to all work between now and the termination of the war. As I have said, the Amendment does not add any thing new to the Bill, but merely includes the condition laid down by the Parliamentary Secretary in the previous Debate and we hope that he will find himself able to accept it.

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

I hope that my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment in the light of the explanation which I am about to give. I did not mean to say, on Second Reading, anything which would imply that one authority, the highway authority, should be made subordinate to the planning authority, and I think it would, in substance, be unfortunate if we were now to introduce a new principle and make it so. As I said on the Second Reading, there have been planning authorities in the past. They have not been started for the first time by the Town and Country Planning Bill. The Ministry of Health used to be the central national planning authority, and, as my hon. Friend knows better than I do, there were lots of local planning authorities. Under Sections 7 and 8 of the principal Act of 1935, which, by this Bill, we are amending, those authorities have had to consult together before any consent to development is given, and I think that, perhaps, that is the point which my hon. Friend has missed. Under the principal Act, neither the highway authority, if the request was made to it, nor the planning authority, if the request was made to it, could give its consent before it had consulted the other. We have had hundreds of cases in which these matters have been in dispute. Lots of appeals have come up and, as I said on the Second Reading, there has never been one case in which the planning and the highways authorities, local or national, have disagreed. They have always acted in the closest co-operation. I have no reason to think that things will change. I hope, therefore, we shall not seek to introduce the new principle of giving one authority a power of veto over the other.

In the second place, I should be sorry to introduce any such new principle in this Bill. This Bill is limited to a narrow purpose, and I do not want to make any major change in the principal legislation which we can avoid. I think this would be a major change.

Thirdly, I think it would not be right in substance. The point which has to be decided, if, under this Bill, temporary consent to development is given, is whether one public interest overrides another public interest—whether the public interest in the construction of a factory for the war effort overrides the public interest in the speed and safety of traffic or in the amenities of the town or country plan. On that, with all respect to the planning authority, I do not think it is any better qualified to judge than the highway authority; and if the highway authority were in any doubt, my Ministry of course would be consulted, and if planning interests were involved, we should consult the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. We have, I should add, consulted together upon this Amendment and there is full agreement between us about it. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning is here and can also speak on this matter if my hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment desires it. Both he and his right hon. Friend the Minister are in full agreement with us in hoping that the hon. Member will not persist in his Amendment.

Mr. Bossom

Will my hon. Friend say what would be the case if there was disagreement. It was not the intention of my hon. Friend and myself in this Amendment to stop the building of anything during the war, but to ensure that any works undertaken can be removed at the end of the war, That is the point raised in the Amendment, and I think it would be desirable before my hon. Friend leaves this matter, to give us some assurance that, if there is disagreement this proposal will be observed, and not only observed but carried out at the end of the war.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I do not think that arises. I do not believe that we are going to disagree on any of these questions. We have a major interest, from our own point of view of transport, in seeing that ribbon development is prevented, and that undesirable development, whatever it may be, is removed. I have a further proposal on the Order Paper about that, and I hope that my hon. Friend will see that his point is really met by the consultation which I have already indicated.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

I am rather disappointed at the attitude of the Minister. If other Departments follow his example, we shall have the case that the building committee of the local authority, shall not necessarily be subordinate to the planning committee. Obviously, if we are to build up this bright new Britain about which we are talking, somebody will have to be in charge and if you have diverse authorities you will not get right decisions. No doubt, my right hon. Friend will be reading in a few days time, if he has not yet had an opportunity of doing so, that remarkable document on the planning of London which was presented on Tuesday last to the London County Council. One has only to look at that to realise that the fundamental decision that will have to be taken will be a decision with regard to the future routes of roads. That decision cannot be taken by the highway people. It will have to be taken by the planning people with the advice of the highway people and the highway people must be subordinate. Naturally the Minister who is interested in the highways does not want to be subordinate. That is just another form of what is called the defence of vested interests—the vested interests in every case being, of course, somebody else's interest and not one's own. I really think that the hon. Gentleman's announcement is, in principle, very reactionary and I hope the Government are going to have a better approach to all these planning problems than that which has been shown to-day.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I beg to move, in page 2, line 46, at the end, to insert: Provided that where any such consent as aforesaid was given subject to conditions other than conditions with respect to the subsequent removal of the building, excavation, means of access or works, those conditions may be enforced under the said section eleven notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this subsection. (5) If, after the expiration of the present war period, the Minister is satisfied that there has been unreasonable delay in the exercise by any highway authority of their powers under the said section eleven in relation to any building, excavation, means of access or works in respect of which a notice has been served under subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section, or to which the provisions of subsection (3) of this section apply as if such a notice had been served, and that the exercise of those powers is required in the interests of the amenities of the locality or of well planned development, he may give directions requiring them to exercise those powers, and any such directions may be enforced by mandamus. I hope this Amendment will go far to meet the doubts which were expressed about the Bill on the Second Reading. I hope that, in particular, it will enable my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) to decide not to press the Amendment which he has on the Paper, because I think it attains his purpose, perhaps in an even more effective manner than his own proposal. My Amendment consists of two parts. First, a proviso which we add at the end of Sub-section (4) of Clause 1, on page 2, line 46, in which we fill a gap which I am afraid we missed when we originally proposed the Bill. When consent has been given, it may have been given on certain conditions which would not be maintained under Clause 1, Sub-section (4), as it now stands. A consent may he given, for example, on condition that a certain type of building is put up, that the access to the building is only by a hand gate, that there must be a service road, that there must he an adequate parking place, if it is a restaurant or cafe, so that the main highway shall not be blocked by vehicles parking or waiting there. It is obviously desirable that such conditions should be maintained. We do not want them to fall. Therefore I hope the Committee will agree to that proviso.

Secondly, the more important part of my Amendment is that which gives my Minister power after the end of the emergency period to call upon a highway authority to take proceedings to demolish a building, if it has failed to do so within a reasonable time. On the Second Reading, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major York) urged with great force, as I thought, that while of course we could say that authorities would insist on clearing away a factory, nevertheless that might be difficult, as there might be great local pressure in favour of allowing it to remain. The hon. Member for the English Universities said that he thought it was very desirable indeed that we should have power to insist that this should be done, My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning did point out that, under legislation which is about to become law, his Ministry would have power to remove undesirable buildings which were in contravention of planning schemes which had been made after the Bill became an Act. That, however, in our view, does not entirely close a possible gap. It might not cover buildings already up under temporary consents which are, in our view, of doubtful validity in law at the present time, and which we desire to validate by Clause Sub-section (4). For that and other reasons we want to do what the hon. Member for the English Universities proposed on Second Reading.

In the Amendment which we have put down we have, as he asked us to, inserted words to show that we do care in our Ministry for good planning and the preservation of beauty and decency in our towns and country. Therefore we are asking that the Minister shall have the right to insist that a highway authority shall demolish, if in fact in what we regard as a reasonable time it has not done so, and if we have a case for demolition which is really good.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

Does this new proviso include the removal of advertisement hoardings, because many people consider that unfortunate as many other eyesores may be along the side of a road, such hoardings are the most unfortunate and distressing of such eyesores?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I do not think a consent for advertisement hoardings arises at all under this Bill. Certainly I hope and believe that no highway authority, even if it came within their discretion under the Act or the Bill, would ever consent to an advertisement hoarding if it were likely to obstruct traffic. I am glad to think that nothing in this Bill affects the powers which my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning will have. I do not think we can deal with it in this Bill.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for this very valuable Amendment to the Bill. I think it makes clear the very important principle that the Government are to continue to have regard to amenities in the way which I am sure the whole Committee desires, and I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman takes power for his Department, if necessary, even to make use of mandamus to compel any reluctant authority to do its duty. I very warmly welcome it, but, if I may be permitted, at a later stage very briefly I would explain why I still think it is desirable to have the Amendment standing in my name, which is rather wider in its scope.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I should like to express what is, I think, the gratitude of a number of Members to the Government for having put down this Amendment. When we moved the reasoned rejection of the Bill on the occasion of the Second Reading it was to try to bring home to the Government the extreme reluctance with which we would see any legislation even in war-time which appeared to be reducing in any way legislative safeguards against ribbon development. We felt that there was a great danger that what was being erected in war-time solely for the more efficient conduct of the war might remain after the war as a permanent eyesore on the countryside and also an encumbrance to traffic. I feel that the Government have made a response to the appeals that were made from all parts of the House, and I would like to say how very much we appreciate the fact that the Minister has put down this Amendment, which should have the effect of preventing buildings necessary in war-time from remaining as an encumbrance after the war.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I hope that our purpose throughout has been the same on both sides. As I said on Second Reading, I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has done to help to improve the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Harvey

I beg to move, in page 3, line 9, at the end, to add: (6) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to authorise any highway authority at the conclusion of the present war period to refrain from taking action under section eleven of the principal Act in respect of any contravention of that Act. The object of this Amendment is to make it perfectly clear that this Bill is to provide no excuse of any kind for any highway authority to fail to do what would have been its duty to do were the Bill not to become law. I think it is very important that that principle should be safeguarded, and safeguarded in the clearest terms, as it would be by this Amendment. I hope the Minister will not regard it as otiose, even though he has made a very important concession in the proviso to which the Committee has just agreed. That proviso has, however, a certain limiting effect. If the Ministry were omniscient—and no Ministry can be omniscient—no case would escape their notice, but if by accident some case escapes the notice of the Ministry, and a local authority is slack, buildings may continue to remain which ought not to remain, undesirable means of access may continue to remain, people may stream on to the high road, endangering lives and interfering with traffic, and amenities may be injured. That, I am sure, is not the desire of the Minister, it is not the desire of any enlightened authority, but it might occur in the case of a slack or unenlightened authority, a case of so small a building as perhaps could escape the notice, for the time being, of the Ministry, not through any wilful neglect by the Ministry. I think it is desirable that no case of that kind should occur and that it should be made clear in the Bill that it is the intention of the Committee that the rights and duties of the authorities should be fully preserved in this respect and in no way interfered with by the passing of this Bill. Since I put this Amendment on the Order Paper I have been informed that the Motor Legislation Committee, representing the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Association and other influential bodies interested in motor transport, warmly supports the Amendment. That Committee is very concerned about the danger of road accidents owing to these undesirable buildings and means of access to the roads continuing to remain, and it is also interested in the preservation of amenities. I think that the views of that important Committee should be seriously considered. I hope that, in spite of the very important proviso which has just been agreed to, the Parliamentary Secretary will not be unwilling to accept this Amendment also.

Mr. Bossom

I beg formally to support the Amendment.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I agree with my hon. Friend that no Ministry is omniscient and that to err is human. On the other hand, in this particular matter we shall not be without advice from outside the ranks of our own officials. Among our own officials we have the divisional road engineers, whose job is constantly to survey everything which is happening on the roads, and who will have all these points very much in the forefront of their minds, when the time comes for the demolition of ob- structions and buildings which have been allowed. Besides that, we shall have the advantage of advice from outside friends, the National Trust and the Society for the Preservation of Rural England and many other organisations who are active in these matters, and who, I am sure, will not leave us in peace, if we are going wrong. My hon. Friend said that he had just learned that his Amendment had the support of the Motor Legislation Committee. I do not know whether their support was given before they had seen the Amendment which I had put down. I think that that may be so. I hope that, in spite of what he said, my hon. Friend is not going to insist on his Amendment. There are objections to it. His proposal is at best a pointer to the authorities as to what they should do. It does not add in the slightest degree to their powers, and it does not alter in the slightest degree the existing situation under the Bill as it stands, except as a moral precept. Moral precepts are all right, but they are rather dangerous in an Act of Parliament, especially when they are alongside a very real power, like that which we are taking and which we can exercise by mandamus. If you put in words which do not have any legal effect, they may raise doubts in the mind of a court about other things. If my hon. Friend desires it, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning will add to what I have said, but he is in full agreement with me that our Amendment is better, and that my hon. Friend's Amendment, if I may say so with respect, will do more harm than good.

Mr. Harvey

The last thing in my mind was that my Amendment should raise doubts. It was intended to remove doubts. I still think that there may be doubts under the Clause as it has already been amended, but I do not wish to raise any difficulties to the progress of the Bill, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.