§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS in the Chair.]
§ CLAUSEI—(Application of planning resolutions to land not already subject to planning schemes or resolutions.)
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
I beg to move, in page 1, to leave out lines 15 to 21.
Under the existing law as contained in Section 10 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, provision is made in regard to the interim development of land within an area to which a resolution to adopt a planning scheme applied and that Section gives some but not sufficient control to the planning authorities in regard to developments that may take place prior to the actual making of a planning scheme. The defect in the Section is that a person can still develop land notwithstanding the planning authority's refusal of consent if he is prepared to risk the inclusion in the scheme as eventually made of a provision depriving him of compensation in respect of the building which has been erected contrary to the development. It is suggested that no serious hardship is experienced by landowners by reason of the interim control of development given by Section 1o, as all decisions of the planning authority may be the subject of an appeal to the Ministry of Health. The purpose of this Clause 1 (1) of the Bill is to bring those parts of the country which are not already the subject of a town planning.resolution within the scope of the interim development control, and it provides that areas in which a town planning resolution is not already in force shall be deemed to be subject to such a resolution, that is,that it shall be deemed to have been duly passed by the local authority for the district in which the land is situated.These words, of course, mean the local authority by virtue of the provisions of the Act, namely, as respects the City of London the Common Council of that City, as respects the County of London the 1431 London County Council, and elsewhere the councils of county boroughs and county districts. The expression "county districts" means urban rural districts and non-county boroughs. We put this Amendment forward largely on behalf of the Urban District Councils Association, whose view is that interim development control should be exercised by the local authority as defined and that it should not be open to the Minister to make an order transferring the responsibility to another local authority or to a county council or to a joint committee. There is no provision in the Act of 1932 for a compulsory transfer of this kind. There are provisions for voluntary transfer, and* it is difficult to see why the Minister should wish that different provisions should be applicable to the interim control which is exercisable under the Bill.
Under Section 2 (2) of the Act, the council of a county district may at any time by agreement relinquish in favour of the county council any of their powers or duties under the Act. There have been many cases of relinquishment of this kind. Under Section 3 two or more local authorities may appoint a joint committee for the purpose of acting jointly in the preparation or adoption of a scheme, and they may delegate to that committee any powers under the Act other than the power of borrowing money or levying a rate. Again, under Section 4, the Minister, where it appears to be expedient that two or more local authorities should act jointly in the preparation or adoption of a scheme, may, at the request of one or more of them, by order provide for the continuance of a joint committee for that purpose. We propose largely that those things should be continued. We feel that in this proviso you are taking away the voluntary association of various councils with the desired object in View. It cannot be said to be in the nature of a default power, as the local authority could not be said to be in default merely because Clause i operates in regard to land which has not already been the subject of a standing resolution. If it should be suggested that the proviso is only operative where there is something in the nature of default, the answer is that these powers are already contained in Section 36 of the Act of 1932. The omission of the proviso has already been proposed to the Minister by the Urban District Councils Association. The 1432 Ministry, while not replying to the Urban District Councils Association, has sent a letter to another association, and if that were made applicable generally, it would be accepted. The Ministry wrote:As you are aware planning powers in respect of areas which have already been planned have in some cases been relinquished under Section 2 (2) and 3 (1) of the Act of 1932 to the county council or delegated to a joint committee, and in others are being exercised by a neighbouring authority. In such cases it may be convenient that a new area coming under planning for the first time under the provisions of the sub-section should also be planned by the county council or the joint committee or other authority as the case may be. The only object of the proviso is to enable the Minister by order to give a direction accordingly.If such an assurance embodied in those words could be put into the Bill, the Urban District Councils Association would be satisfied, but without it the proviso is wide enough to permit of an Order being made by the Minister transferring the power to an entirely different local authority in respect of a part of the district, although in the rest of the district the existing powers are being discharged by the local authority itself. While I am ready to admit that present conditions may warrant any great interference with the Minister having new powers, we should endeavour to get as much local agreement as possible. I therefore move this Amendment and ask the Minister for some assurance on the matter.
Mr. Man (Peckham)
I hope that the Minister will not be carried away by the eloquence of my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment. If I have any criticism of the words which my hon. Friend desires to delete, it is that they are of too limited a character. They apply only to areas or parts of areas where no resolution has been passed, and the Minister has to exercise his power before the expiration of the three months from the passing of the Bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman wish to discuss, with this Amendment, the Amendment which stands in his name, in page 1, line 15, after "may" to insert:after consultation with the local authority for the district in which the land proposed to be specified is situated.or would he wish to discuss it separately? It might be convenient if we discussed both together.
§ Mr. Silkin
I think that would be convenient. The real criticism of town planning areas at the present time is that they are far too small. I had hoped that in this Bill my right hon. Friend would have done something about the reorganisation of local government, at any rate from a town planning point of view. If he were not able to do that—and possibly it is asking a great deal to reorganise local government in a town planning measure—I would have liked him to take far greater powers to amalgamate areas or to substitute areas one for another for town planning purposes than he has done. May I quote the example of the Metropolitan traffic area? In that area there are 117 town planning authorities. One can well imagine the kind of patchwork of planning which one could expect if each authority were to prepare a scheme for itself based entirely on its own needs, or what it regards as its own needs, regardless of conditions outside. I regard this proviso as the bare minimum which the Minister ought to be empowered to carryout. If I may refer to my Amendment, before the Minister brushed any local authority on one side he ought at least, as a matter of courtesy, consult it and give reasons why in his view it would be better for some other local authority to carry out its functions. I do not object to the principle. All I suggest is that the Minister, as I am sure my right hon. Friend would wish to do, should pay the local authority the courtesy of consulting it before he takes any action.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
The proviso to Sub-section (1) has certainly been drawn in very wide terms and it has aroused among planning authorities a certain amount of apprehension. I understand that my right hon. Friend's purpose is to exercise the powers which the proviso gives him only in those cases where there has already been a relinquishment of planning powers either to a joint committee or to a county council. The apprehensions which the proviso has aroused 'in certain quarters would be allayed if my right hon. Friend could assure us that it is his intention to exercise the powers which the proviso gives him in that way and not to use them for the purpose of transferring the interim development powers to a new authority in cases where there has not been any relinquishment to a joint committee or a county council.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
Let me first allay any suspicions that may naturally enough arise from the words of the proviso that it is the Minister's intention to exercise his powers by transferring to strange authorities powers which normally ought to reside in the locality. If the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) will look at Sub-section (1) he will see that the notional resolution which is necessary to bring the whole of the country under a planning resolution is deemed to have been duly passed by the local authority for the district in which the land is situated. As he told us correctly, under the 1932 Act there have been changes from the position where each local authority planned its own land. There have been reliramishments, there have been joint committees, and so on. It may happen that when Clause 1 becomes operative a small section hitherto not subject to a resolution, situated it may be in the very middle of the area which has joined up for joint action, will, if we have not the proviso, be its own authority for planning. It would be undesirable within an area of that character to have a division of planning functions-between one large body which has voluntarily come together or is the result of a voluntary relinquishment and another authority holding a small place in the middle of the area; and that there should be no powers on the part of the Minister to tidy up the position and make an effective planning body governing the whole of the land in question.
It is for that purpose and no other that the proviso exists. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance on that matter. It is necessary in the case of those areas brought under a notional resolution to tidy them up and to secure that there is one authority which will function in an efficient manner for the whole area. I do not anticipate that the areas which are now brought for the first time under planning will feel any reluctance at the proviso. If I were suddenly confronted as an administrator of local government with the task which would be imposed on me, I would welcome inclusion in an area which is already provided with planning powers, and I anticipate no trouble in this provision being accepted. I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) that it would be 1435 wrong for the Minister of Town and Country Planning to make these alterations in authorities without the fullest consultation with the authorities concerned. It is not only a question of courtesy, although that is involved. I hope that courtesy will always be a feature of our administration in this country and that those who take upon themselves the burden of public affairs, whether locally or at the centre, will always treat each other with the greatest amount of respect.
Apart from that, there is involved a sound administrative point. A Minister of Town and County Planning who attempted to carve up areas without consultation would not only be extremely discourteous but very foolish, because he would be depriving himself of that local knowledge which is essential if planning is to be effective and popular. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment for this reason. Consultation is a piece of administration and a Minister would be foolish if he did not indulge in it to the full, but the place to check errors in administration is Parliament where the Minister is subject to scrutiny by his fellow members. It is one thing for the. Minister to be obliged to consult by rules of good administration and Parliamentary criticism, and it is another thing for him to be subjected on the matter of consultation to the jurisdiction of the law courts. If we alter the Statute and put these words into it, it opens the door for people to ask: "Did you actually consult before you made the Order?" Possibly years after, when a local authority in good faith has made orders affecting property rights, some cantankerous individual might come along and say that everybody had not been consulted to the full and, therefore, the Order was ultra vires.I am not anxious to avoid the fact of consultation, but I want to avoid cluttering up the Statute Book with possible rocks of offence for the future. The word "consultation" itself is extremely vague in its import. We know what it means, but what degree of consultation is necessary for it to be effective in the words of the Statute? If a Minister likes to be high-handed it could be the most perfunctory consultation, and that would be no safeguard. Nothing but good administration can secure that. I give the assurance, on the one hand, to 1436 the hon. Member for Barnsley, of what the proviso is intended to accomplish, and on the other, to the hon. Member for Peckham that the fullest consultation will be necessary and will be carried out. I hope, therefore, that they will not think it necessary to press their Amendments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall have pleasure in withdrawing my Amendment, but I would like to tell my right hon. Friend that the 1932 Act is full of references to consultation, and I hope he will have a look at it.
The hon. Gentleman did not actually propose his Amendment. Perhaps he will formally move it, so that it can be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Silkin
I beg to move, in page line 15, after "may," to insert:after consultation with the local authority for the district in which the land proposed to be specified is situated.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, at the end, to add:(3) There shall be set aside around all towns and cities of fifty thousand or more inhabitants a strip of land approximately five miles wide to form a green belt and, within three months of the passing of this Act, this shall be considered as subject to planning resolution and no new development or building schemes shall be planned for future construction within this space without the consent of the Minister.This is rather a drastic Amendment, but I would point out that all the land in this Island of ours can be administered at the Minister's discretion three months after the passing of this Measure under an interim development Order. The position as to the use of land is rather vague, and I think it is most desirable that the use of the land be more definite, and this Amendment sets out that areas five miles wide around towns and cities with a population of 50,000 and over should be reserved as a green belt. The Minister may wish to vary the width to four or six miles, but I have thought it right to bring the matter forward in order that local authorities should have some knowledge of where 1437 they can undertake developments. Both the Ministry of Health and the former Minister of Works and Planning have called upon local authorities to plan boldly, but it will be difficult to plan boldly until they are sure how land can be used. Local authorities must prepare plans for future housing estates, for factories and for development generally, but until the Government have given a definite lead they cannot know whether or not their proposed developments will be located in some future green belt, and if that should prove to be the case all their work will have been wasted. This situation is very important from a practical point of view.
More than the questions of law, it is the question of the physical working of the principle that has disturbed me. Our future housing, health and happiness are to a large extent involved, for if plans are not ready when the war ends, the great pressure there will be for houses will make it necessary for us to go ahead under possibly ill-considered arrangements. Green belts, which are advocated, as I think the Minister will agree, by all planning authorities, affect the congestion of our cities and towns. They prevent the improper use of good agricultural land, and they introduce possibilities of control, instead of leaving the lay-out to the merry whims or nebulous chance of land speculators or poorly-advised authorities. In its concluding words the Amendment leaves this matter very largely in the discretion of the Minister, but gives him the opportunity of allowing the growth of communities where possible and permits the extension or the introduction of industry in desirable cases. It will also allow him to define the appropriate size of built-up areas and will certainly stop ribbon development without his consent and I am sure we have had enough of our rural areas spoilt by ribbon development.
Without this Amendment local authoritise may plan their affairs in a very inconsiderate and unfair manner, without regard to any long-term planning ideas of the Minister. We have to face the fact, and this to my mind is most important, that the planning, the making of the drawings, the letting of the contracts, the carrying out of much administrative work will not take less than about 18 months. We have all seen in the papers to-day that General Smuts has said the war will end 1438 suddenly, even though the end may not come in a very short time and we shall certainly not get a warning, and if the principle of the green belt, which has been advocated by every authority on the subject is to be introduced, now is the time to do it, so that local authorities may have the opportunity to deal not only with their legal problems but with their physical problems. They will want to get some guidance. If the Minister will accept this Amendment, it will undoubtedly lighten the work of his Ministry, which is going to be tremendous, but this Amendment goes to the root of one of the great uncertainties of the national position and is an essential step in town and country planning.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)
Can the hon. Member explain how he would make a green belt between Stockport and Manchester, where there are only zoo yards between the one town and the other?
§ Mr. Bossom
I think that is a very justifiable question. Obviously it would be totally impossible, and I should think that my hon. and gallant Friend, in putting his question, knew that it would be impossible. It was a very amusing suggestion on his part under the circumstances.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I would ask the hon. Member to give a fuller explanation of his Amendment. It seems to lay upon the Government the obligation to see that there must be a green belt round every town of a certain population. Is that to involve the pulling down of houses on a vast scale? It would be quite impossible in a great area of the Black Country to carry out any policy of this kind. It would be very desirable, but there are no green belts now in the neighbourhood of many large towns. At the same time this Amendment calls upon the Minister to preserve such belts. I really cannot understand how it would work out. Does the hon. Gentleman mean that this should be done in so far as it may be practicable? The words of his Amendment say that it must be done everywhere.
§ Mr. Bossom
In an old country like ours it is obvious the principle of green belts could be only done where it is possible and practicable. As I said in my opening remarks, the Amendment is rather a drastic one, but I hope the 1439 Minister will accept the principle of it, and introduce any words which may be necessary to make it workable. My desire is to get the principle of having green belts where possible introduced into the Bill, so that local authorities can go ahead with their physical planning work for many of them are now much disturbed by the absence of this information.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I support very strongly the principle of this Amendment. I think the objection raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) in no way touches the principle of the Amendment. It would be very unfortunate if, because one cannot ensure a green belt around certain towns in the Black Country or between Manchester and Stockport, the Minister did not take powers to see that a green belt is provided in the large number of other cases where it would be quite practicable. Therefore, I hope the Minister will accept the principle of the Amendment and redraft it in words which are suitable. Because things are so dismal and miserable in the Black Country, we ought not to fail to make provision for the future where that can be done.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I am sorry that I have not been able to take much part in these proceedings on planning, but the principle raised by this Amendment is one that has been in my mind a great deal, as it must have been in the minds of most thoughtful people who are looking forward to the proper development and planning of this country. As the Commission which sat before the war discovered, all experience shows that there may be unexpected and rapid developments of population in different parts of the country, without any arrangements having been made for preserving the amenities of those areas and for maintaining those natural surroundings which are even more desirable than the things one learns in school. I think it is very necessary that the Minister should give his attention to the question of ensuring that there are green belts around certain areas. Anyone who has noticed the developments which are taking place during the war knows that industry springs up in quite unexpected places, and unless the principle of the green belt is adopted we may find ourselves in a very parlous condition.
1440 There is another very important reason why I am interested in this proposal. It seems to suggest a limitation on the population in certain areas, a limitation of the size of towns, and I feel that in a country like ours that matter deserves serious attention. As a people who believe in democracy and in the development of the individual's personality, we suffer from the danger of communities growing to a size at which the communal sense is lost. That is an outstanding problem in this country and one of the great dangers which we run. It has been pointed out—and London provides a particular example of it—that in many places one lives alongside one's neighbours without ever getting to know them. In the shelters a communal sense developed. People gathered together there and learned to know who their neighbours were. I have known many families who have had to come from the North to the South of England. I was never one who was against transference, because I have felt that the change from one locality to another enlarges one's outlook and education, but men, and women too, have often said to me when speaking of life in the outskirts of London: "We get better wages, it is a better living and there are other advantages, but we do not know anybody; there is no social life for us here." That is a psychological consideration which should not be overlooked. There is a very subtle danger to this country there. While it is very necessary to have a green belt round large areas of population in order to provide the amenities which are necessary—for I feel that trees and landscape are far more important than books in the general development of one's mental outlook—it is also important that some attention should be given to the limitation, in a rough and ready way, of the size of the population in these areas, in order that we may redevelop the communal sense upon which our real British character is based.
§ Mr. Jewson (Great Yarmouth)
I do not know whether the Amendment in its present form can be accepted, for the reasons which have been pointed out, but if not I hope the Minister will at least do something about this very important matter. As the hon. Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson) has said, it is of the greatest importance that people should not live in such large communities that they lose their community sense, and it is 1441 also of great importance, especially to the children, to have ready access to what are commonly known as the green belts. In my native city 5o or 60 years ago there was a delightful green belt accessible within easy walking distance to all the children in the city, but since that time I have seen buildings cover more and more of those green spaces until to-day the distances that have to be travelled in order to reach the countrified surroundings are very great and put them out of reach of a great many of the children. For that reason I support very strongly the principle which lies behind the Amendment, and I hope that if the Minister cannot accept it in its present form, he will at any rate do something which will help us to realise the ideal.
§ Mr. Hannah (Bilston)
Nearly 300 years ago Sir Christopher Wren proposed something of this sort for London, but his ideas were entirely neglected. I wonder how many of us now regret the treatment of Wren. No one feels it was a good thing that he was not allowed to carry out that plan. Very few large towns exist around which some green fields cannot be found. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has pointed out that there are big places in the Black Country where no green belts can easily be provided, but I do not think there is a town, even in the Black Country, where there are no fields within five miles. Very likely between Wolverhampton and Dudley there is comparatively small scope for leaving still unbuilt upon such agricultural land as exists, but there is some, even there. In the area of Sedgley, where I happen to live, there are still green fields and farms, and it is half-way between those towns. North of Wolverhampton and West of Dudley there are beautiful stretches of country, a bit spoiled perhaps, still not absolutely ruined by modem industrialism. Round West Bromwich, and Eastward at any rate, there is similar country. It is of vast importance that we should preserve our heritage and make provision for preventing gradual ribbon development and the spread of ugly industrial building, unplanned, over the countryside. As a piece of English literature the Amendment, it is possible, might be improved upon, but in its spirit and ideas it is perfectly admirable. I ask the Minister to give it that sympathetic and friendly consideration for which he is so justly famous in this House and beyond.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
I support in full every word that has been said on behalf of this Amendment. I would give the Minister every power he desires in order to prevent our countryside being spoiled by the monstrosities which have been built up along our highroads, but the question I would put to him is, Is this Amendment necessary? Has he not already the power? The Bill states that all land not already the subject of a scheme in force shall be the subject of a scheme. The Minister can exercise his power. I want to give him these powers, but I should like his assurance as to whether he will have these powers already by the terms of the Bill.
§ Major York (Ripon)
I am heartily in agreement with what my hon. Friends have said on this subject, but my hon. Friend who has just sat down has brought up a point upon which I also would like an assurance from the Minister. Although it would appear from the Clauses generally that the Minister has the power to regulate a matter of this kind, I do not see how he can insist upon local authorities doing the work which has been suggested without taking upon himself some central authority. That is the point which he knows very well is disturbing many of us, namely, the relationship between the central authority which is to be the directing force and the local authorities who are to carry out the work. There is a word of warning to be said on the Amendment. I agree that the wording is perhaps not right, but we must not come to regard green belts as public parks. In those green belts are to be performed acts of cultivation which cannot be properly performed if the townspeople are continuously trespassing upon and looking about various fields full of corn, and so on. Those fields may also contain stock, and in particular T.T. milk herds. The warning ought to be given in regard to this idea of a five-mile belt that the belt cannot be regarded as a playground of the towns on either side. A further warning is that we ought not to try to make concentric ring around towns the limitations which may be imposed by an Amendment of this sort, otherwise there would be one ring after another till the town, instead of being limited, would be extended still further.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I have seldom found myself so entirely in agreement 1443 with the course of a discussion as I have upon this Amendment. The Committee is unanimously in support of the spirit which prompted my hon. Friend to put his Amendment down. There was a great deal in what was said by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), that it is sheer destruction of communal life to allow unregulated expansion all over England of vast communities of shapeless form, and that every effort ought to be made, by good town and country planning, to secure that the community sense is maintained which is one of the priceless possessions of the ordinary man and his friends and neighbours. The loneliness of vast cities is a very grievous matter. Access to the countryside is of importance not only for children but for grown up people to enable them to get away from the cities and disport themselves in the beautiful countryside.
If we were writing on a completely clean slate in this matter, which we by no means are, it would be a desideratum in every ideal urban community that a man could get out of it into the country without undue expenditure of time and money when he wanted to go there. That by no means says that cities and. towns cannot themselves be objects of beauty, refinement and dignity, as they certainly can be and as we shall endeavour to make them. The old saying is true of the Amendment as was said about many other things: "The spirit maketh alive, but the letter killeth." To adopt my hon. Friend's Amendment in the form in which he has drafted it would lay it open to the animadversions passed upon it by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower). We are not writing on a clean slate, and to adopt the Amendment and so make statutory a proposal of this kind, would be impossible. My hon. Friend's mistake—I suggest it to him with affection—is in trying to put a plan into the Bill. We ought to concentrate upon getting the machinery for good planning right. That is properly a matter for the Bill. If you try to put into the Bill a plan for all England and Wales, you will find cases here and there to which the plan is inapplicable. I would like to assure those who have asked me the question, that we have in 1444 the Bill ample powers to secure the great object which we all have at heart. The mover of the Amendment suggested that the green belt should be the subject of a planning resolution. This is possible under the Bill, as are his further suggestions that no development should take place without the Minister's consent and that no development should be allowed in a planning scheme except with the Minister's consent. Under the present law the Minister's approval to a planning scheme is required, and this object can be achieved.
There are one or two other points. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major York), who asked about the relationship between central and local planners, I would point out that there is an invaluable link, which I hope to strengthen and make more perfect as a matter of administration, in the regional planning officers who are situated in various parts of the country and who are in close personal touch with local planning officers and committees of local authorities who deal with this matter. I hope they will be very powerful in helping to secure consistently good planning throughout the country. There must be a lot left to local authorities, because local authorities know their own problems. We hope to secure that harmonious working of local enthusiasm and initiative with the central direction in the way I have suggested. I hope that what I have said will satisfy my hon. Friend that I am entirely in sympathy with the motives which prompted him to put down the Amendment. For technical reasons—I put it no higher—the Amendment cannot be accepted.
§ Sir E. Shepperson
Is it not a fact that very often the local authority are the guilty people in the production of ribbon development? They do it because they do not want the expense of making roads, and so they IAA their council houses on the main road. Will the Minister take power in the Bill to stop local authorities from destroying the countryside?
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
Yes, Sir, I am taking that power. I am aware of some deplorable instances in which the local authorities have been bad offenders, and I will take power in the matter in future.
§ Mr. Bossom
I was glad to hear the Minister speak so sympathetically of my 1445 Amendment. I beg of him to give advice to the local planning authorities throughout the country, if he cannot go further than that, and to ask them to arrange where possible to apply the principle of the green belt so as to make possible the many things which have been advocated during the discussion on the Amendment. He should not forget that the desire to get ahead is being interrupted, and he should realise that until the green belt principle is substantially approved local authorities will not know where to put their housing development and matters of that sort. I am glad of the Minister's assurance that he will help in this and the country's requirements in this matter, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, at the end, to add:(3) Any local authority required by the Ministry to prepare a scheme shall also prepare a schedule of buildings of architectural and historical merit which are deemed to be worthy of preservation.We have been discussing means of preserving one of our national heritages, our green fields. I wish to discuss the possibility of preserving another, namely. buildings, many of them constructed in a bygone age, of architectural or historical value. The Amendment is very small, and I fear it will not go far towards achieving the result which many of us want: But as it is small I hope the Minister will be able to accept it. Under the principal Act local authorities have been empowered to prepare schedules of buildings which are deemed to he worthy of preservation. Such schedules do not in fact ensure that the buildings will be preserved. They merely ensure that there shall be a list which can be referred to, and that the local authority itself, by the very preparation of the schedule, shall be cognisant of every individual building in its district worthy of preservation. I understand that the new Bill, when it becomes law, will refer in the main to local authorities which I think I might call backward in so far as they have not previously prepared schemes of their own. It cannot be assumed that those authorities which have been backward before will, in fact, prepare schedules simply because they are asked to do so. I would submit that 1446 they must be told it is their duty to prepare schedules such as have been prepared by the L.C.C. and many other local authorities. I would ask the Minister, if he cannot accept this precise form of words, whether he will not do something which will compel all local authorities to prepare these schedules in the same way as some have already prepared them, so that we may at least know what buildings there are in the land worthy of preservation, whether or not we do preserve them.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I feel a good deal of sympathy with this Amendment. If I thought that what my hon. Friend proposes was likely to accomplish the object he has in view, I should press upon my right hon. Friend that this Amendment should be adopted. But, on the contrary, I think that the effect of what my hon. Friend proposes would be the direct opposite of what he anticipates. What will happen will be this, that the local authority would prepare a schedule of buildings of architectural and historical interest—and, of course, local authorities are likely to take different views of what sort of buildings ought to be included in a schedule of that nature—but the moment the schedule had been prepared, it would be regarded as a licence to demolish every other building in the district.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
When proposals are made for re-development which will involve the demolition of buildings to which people in the neighbourhood have come to attach importance because perhaps of their historical associations or their architectural interest, this schedule, in which they have not been included, will be invoked as an argument that they possess no historical or architectural interest at all. 1 see my hon. Friend is laughing at that suggestion, but I would remind him that that is exactly what has happened in places where these schedules have already been prepared by the local authorities. It is much wiser for the planning authority not to prepare, any schedule in advance but to deal with each application for re-development as it is made to them, and as it arises and, when they deal with the application, to consider whether the buildings it is proposed to demolish possess historical or architectural merit which would justify their 1447 preservation. I warn him that if a list is prepared beforehand it will in a great many cases be used as an argument against those persons who desire to preserve buildings of the kind which he has in mind.
§ Mr. Harvey
I think we are indebted to my hon. Friend who has put down this Amendment for raising a matter of very great importance which I am sure is near to the heart of the Minister. If he is not able to accept this particular Amendment, I hope we may be clear that the object of the Amendment is one which he has very much in view. We are far behind France in our arrangements for the preservation of ancient and historical buildings. The classification in French law of first, second or third class monuments of historic importance, with corresponding obligations for the State, the Department, and the minor local authority for their maintenance and repair, is one I should gladly see adopted in this country. This Amendment does not go more than a very little way in the direction of preserving buildings of architectural value and historic interest.
I feel sure that the danger my hon. and learned Friend opposite anticipates is hardly likely to arise. There has not come about a general destruction in France of buildings which are not classified, while there is a careful preservation even of buildings of comparatively minor interest, and an obligation is put upon the local authority to do it. That may come in this country later, but I think we need at this particular stage provision made for a survey of those buildings, whether in the form of this Amendment or in some other way. In many cases quite a small building could be preserved which would otherwise go, the ancient cottage, for example, dating back perhaps to the 15th century or earlier. I can think of one such falling into decay with no one taking an interest in it, and actually disappearing little by little. If we had a classification of this kind, the attention of local antiquaries would in some cases be called to small buildings which have escaped their notice, and you would have the county architectural and archaeological societies interesting themselves in the preservation of such buildings. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will see his way to meet the object which the Mover of this Amendment had 1448 in view in putting down these words on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Silkin
My hon. Friend, in moving this Amendment, has raised a very interesting and important point. It is unfortunately the fact that while permission is generally required to put up a building, no permission is required of anybody to pull down a building. Consequently, we have lost a considerable number of important buildings which have an architectural value or an historical interest, merely because the owner of such building thought it would suit him financially to pull it down. I think some action ought to be taken to deal with that possibility in the future. Under Section 17 of the principal Act the local authority may make an Order regarding any particular building. They are under no obligation to make an Order but may make an Order, and in that event the building may not be demolished without the consent of the local authority. I would like something of that sort extended in the present Bill. I am not sure that the words meet the case, because the mere making of a survey does not seem to me to be carrying the matter very much further. I think that local authorities should be required to make an Order in respect of any buildings they regard as being of architectural value or of historical interest, and those buildings, after consultation with the owner, should be properly safeguarded. I attach importance to consultation with the owner. At the present time in London surveys are being made on behalf of various Churches regarding the buildings which in their view should be preserved after the war. It happens that there are many churches of architectural value and of historical interest which are of no importance as churches, and the ecclesiastical authorities are anxious not to be burdened with the cost of maintaining them purely as museum pieces. That does give rise to a problem, and if the local authority made an Order that those buildings were not to be demolished, it would put upon the owner the burden of maintaining something which is of no importance or interest to him.
§ Mr. Silkin
There are many churches which are very beautiful but have no congregations at all. It is therefore important that the owner should be consulted in 1449 those cases, and it should not be entirely for the local authority to order that the building should be preserved or maintained at the cost of the owner without any consultation with him. Subject to that, I think the present law needs to be strengthened. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurance that, perhaps in another place before this Bill is parted with, some Amendment will be introduced which will more effectively deal with the present situation.
§ Mr. Hannah
It is a great pleasure to support my hon. Friend and neighbour in the representation of a Black Country constituency, who incidentally bears what is perhaps the most honoured of all names in English archaeology. It is rather more the spirit than the letter in this case which I should like to support. It is extremely important that such a list should be made. I am not perfectly certain that the local authority is always the best body to make it. I have lively recollections of the Royal Burgh of Edinburgh having torn down some of the most important archeological and historical buildings in that city for no good reason at all. I am still extremely sore about my defeat over Taylors' Hall.
I do not think there is so much difficulty about churches and castles—buildings of obvious importance that go back for centuries. About cottages there is far more difficulty. Some of the ancient cottages to which my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) referred to are damp and difficult to bring up to modern standards. I think it can generally be done if there is an honest desire. It must be done. Some of our by-laws about old cottages are obviously out of date and absurd. My attention was drawn in Cambridge a few years ago to the fact that one of the finest chambers in that University, the famous Long Gallery at St. John's College, which forms the Combination Room, could be destroyed under our ridiculous laws as not being sanitary because the distance between the oak floor and the moulded plaster ceiling is not sufficient! It is perfectly ridiculous to condemn old buildings simply because the height of their rooms is not according to modern ideas, but cottages to be lived in must be made sanitary. I want very strongly indeed to support the spirit of this Amendment. We do want a far better arrangement to preserve ancient buildings than we have.
1450 I am not so awfully certain that the bouquets handed to France are entirely deserved. In the city of Caen they shaved off the chancel of a medieval church for a road improvement in a way that seemed to me to be extraordinarily unnecessary. We are not by any means good at preserving our own buildings. This war has, unfortunately, destroyed a great many, and that seems to me to make it more urgently necessary than it would be otherwise that every old building we have should be preserved.
Personally, I would rather these lists were made by His Majesty's Inspectors of Ancient Monuments, in whom I have the very utmost confidence, than by the local authorities. But the really important thing is that the lists should be made, and that we should not merely rely on the inventories of really important buildings, that county by county are now being compiled by the Office of Works. We desire lists of small buildings—it may be that they do not go further back than the Regency—which really have architectural interest of such a character that the country would be very definitely poorer by their destruction.
§ Mr. Mander
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) that perhaps the local authorities are not the best persons to compile a list of this kind. The experience of a great many of us has shown that familiarity often breeds contempt, and that local councillors and others who walk by a building every day are quite incapable of appreciating its historical value and arc not much concerned if an attempt is made to pull it down. I think you want the intervention of people with a specialised, or wider, outlook, such as the Ancient Monuments Board or representatives of the Royal Fine Art Commission, who would be in a position to look at these buildings from the national point of view which they represent. I am anxious to hear what the Minister has to say on this subject. It is one of great importance, which should be dealt with in whatever is the most suitable manner. I am inclined to think that my hon. Friend's suggestion is not perhaps the best that could be devised.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
I want to associate myself with this Amendment. The old Office of Works had considerable experience in preserving historical monu 1451 ments, and from that experience the Ministry should be able to get a very good idea of the number of historical monuments that we have up and down the country. One of the most shocking experiences one can have when passing through some of our towns or villages is to see something which, when you know really what it is and how it came into being, you want to treat it with reverence, and then to see it suddenly flanked with a glaring red headline, "Woolworth's Stores," or something of that kind. It gives one hope of a future civilisation if one finds that there is a realisation of the need for the preservation of those links in our life which are concrete evidence of what our forefathers did for the love of God—because all great art is that, and nothing else.
I am not sure that we should follow the example of France. I remember being over there on two occasions and seeing those marvellous Gothic figures on the facade of Chartres Cathedral. When I touched them, I found, to my horror, that they were coming away as dust in my hands. I immediately reported this to the Ministry of Fine Arts in Paris, and had an interview there afterwards. They asked—would you believe it?—if I would make a report on the subject, and on what steps might be taken to preserve one of the greatest facades known to man. What did I find on making my inquiry? That such was their sense of proportion and reverence for this thing, which belongs not to France but to mankind, that they had put an aerodrome behind the Cathedral and an engineering shop nearby, thus inflicting the atmosphere which was destroying that delicate facade. It would be true to say that in certain ways the French are concerned about historical buildings, but there was a lapse in French minds when their reverence for things religious lapsed also. Anything which was regarded as religious tended to be disdained. I would suggest that the Minister himself, with that alertness which I know is innate in his character, and probably with some assistance from his Parliamentary Secretary, who is also alert in these matters, might compile a list of things which want preservation.
When I am asked whether local authorities should decide which historical monuments should be preserved, I think of Criccieth. Go down to Criccieth, and you 1452 will find a very ugly cottage, where some Member of this House lived. Both his memory and that house, I think, should be extinguished, but you will find the people there want them to be preserved. I also want to speak of a matter near to my own constituency. We have there Croxted Abbey. One of the greatest blasphemies in England is that we have allowed a main road to be constructed right through the nave and what used to be the chancel, right through the centre of this old structure. I want the Minister to put a stop to that in no uncertain fashion. Then we have another spot known as Abbey Hulton. The local authority, with that precise and almost uncanny tenderness for things artistic, stuck on it one of those marvellous creations called a corporation housing estate, and when they found the spot where the original altar stood they covered in the whole of it with asphalt, to make it a playground. I hope we shall not be too keen to give local authorities custodianship over local monuments or sites. I would rather plead that the Minister should have the courage to get on with the preservation of these structures through his Department and through the experience of the old Office of Works.
§ Mr. Jewson
I sincerely hope that this proposed schedule will be prepared, but I doubt whether the local authorities are the best people to prepare it. They are only too prone to regard the exact width of a road as being far more important than the preservation of an ancient or beautiful building. That has been my experience in several unfortunate cases. I think that the weak spot in this Amendment is the word "deemed." Who is going to deem buildings to be worthy of preservation? Some authority has to do it, and I do not think that the local authorities are the best qualified. I hope that we shall have some higher authority to decide. However, I hope that in some appropriate form the idea behind this Amendment will be put into the Bill.
§ Major Heilgers (Bury St. Edmunds)
I rise to say, in general, that I desire to give my support to the Amendment; but there is one caveat that I should like to lodge, in regard to cottages. I was brought to my feet by something that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah). He said that he would like to see old cottages preserved, as well as historical buildings. Delight 1453 ful as it is, from the aesthetic point of view, to see the old cottages and villages we have in this country, it is hardly fair to the inhabitants of those cottages to expect them to live in them, unless they are repaired under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act.
That may be done under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. But if you go into some of these old cottages, and see the condition in which the inhabitants and their forefathers for generations past have lived, you will agree that it is up to the Government to see that nobody continues to live in that sort of a house. Having made that protest, I give general support to the Amendment.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)
I think the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) has initiated a most useful discussion, particularly as many of the things that have been said in the course of it are also germane to Amendments which will come later. Nearly every Member who has spoken has expressed the hope that the Government will accept the spirit behind this Amendment. That, I have no hesitation in saying, we are doing. Perhaps I may incur slightly less suspicion in making that statement than a Minister sometimes incurs, because I have served on the Executive Committee of the National Trust and of the Georgian Group for a very much longer period than I have been a Minister in this House. I hope my own sympathy with this cause will not be suspect. Many Members have indicated that the problem is not so simple as might at first sight appear. I am not suggesting for a moment that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment thought it was a simple problem.
Doubt has been expressed in certain quarters on the question whether the local authority itself is the most suitable body to prepare a list of this kind. There are, as the Committee will be aware, such organisations as the National Buildings Record, and other outside organisations that are concerning themselves very much with this question. However, I think there is more in the desire of the mover of the Amendment than that, and 1454 more that deserves our respect. I agree in part with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for 1lford (Mr. Hutchinson) that there is always the risk in compiling a list of things of merit that some people will assume that things not included in the list have no merit. Nevertheless, I think it is the duty of the planning authority to concern itself with ascertaining what are the buildings of architectural and historical merit in its area. I do not think it right that we should put this Amendment—or another to the same effect, because this has certain technical defects—into the Statute, because there are many things which it is the duty of the local authority to do in making a survey. We shall certainly impress upon them the importance of this subject—and, indeed, on that subject the opinion of this Committee has been unanimous—but if we selected one particular duty of an authority in making a survey, and put that into the Statute, that might cast doubt on the question whether certain other things which we say are their duty are really so important as we say they are. I would much rather leave it to be a matter for administrative action than put it into the Statute in this form. Indeed, if we found it necessary to make a regulation making the preparation of a schedule obligatory, we have sufficient power under the principal Act to make such a regulation.
One hon. Member mentioned the Ancient Monuments Acts, and in dealing with this whole problem—and I agree that further control to achieve the object which we all have at heart will be necessary-careful collaboration with those responsible for the administration of the Ancient Monuments Acts will be necessary. The Ancient Monuments Acts do not completely cover the field. That was one of the reasons for the enactment of Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act; 1932, to secure the preservation of these buildings. I think further action is necessary, but I do not believe that the Amendment is the way to achieve our purpose.
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) drew attention very rightly to what is the essence of the problem, that a person can pull down a fine building without any permission, and he went on to say that owners frequently did this on financial grounds. That may be true. I am afraid it is also true that local autho 1455 rities sometimes do these demolitions because they wrongly think them to be improvements, and when we are mentioning the one case we should not be blind to the other. I think that that covers the points raised by various Members in the Debate. I would suggest to my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment—and I should have to criticise it on technical grounds—that he has achieved his object by moving it and obtaining the unanimous opinion of this Committee in favour of 'the idea that lies behind it, a unanimous opinion which my right hon. Friend and I very much welcome. I would ask him whether in these circumstances he now sees fit to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Dugdale
In view of the hon. Member's assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Silkin
I want to say one or two things about Clause r, and, in particular, I would like to give my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary the opportunity of repairing some omissions he made on the occasion of his speech on the Second Reading, when, possibly owing to the temptation to score debating points against my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), he did not leave himself with sufficient time to deal with other equally important matters. I asked him then, realising the importance of bringing the whole of the country within the scope of town planning interim schemes, why it was that, in fact, local authorities were not deemed to be covered by resolutions until after three months from the passing of the Bill. He did not give the reason, but I presumed there must be a very good reason for that delay. Secondly, and possibly this may be one of the reasons for the delay, we are dealing with local authorities which have not so far seen fit to pass resolutions, and presumably therefore they will have no conception of how their area is to be developed. Is it the purpose of the three months to give them time to look around in order that they may gather their thoughts and be in a position to deal with applications to develop in some orderly manner? I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he proposes to 1456 give such local authorities any assistance or directions. If the purpose of the three months is what I imagine it to be, I respectfully suggest that even that period is not very long to enable a local authority, which has not previously been thinking very much about planning or planning a specific area, to get busy and to give some kind of standards by which they may measure applications to the Government. Unless they get considerable help from the Ministry, I imagine that they will not be in a position to discharge their duties very effectively.
The next point I want to mention is something which I mentioned to my right hon. Friend privately, and it is the application of this Clause to London. The effect of the Clause in London would be to bring into the scheme only land be- ' longing to the several Inns of Court, the Inner and Middle Temples, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn. The whole of the rest of London is already covered by resolution. I take it that the effect of this Clause would be that these various Inns would become subject to town planning control by the London County Council. The whole of these areas, including the Inner and Middle Temples, are out of the administrative county of London, and no part of them is within the City. I personally feel that the London County Council is quite competent to deal with the redevelopment of the Inns of Court. The Benchers of the various Inns will be fully consulted, and I feel that they will not suffer at the hands of the London County Council, which will be the town planning authority. Therefore, if my interpretation of Clause 1 is what I think it is, I would welcome the Inns of Court coming within the jurisdiction of the London County Council. I thought it right to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the point, as I do not want this jurisdiction to come to the London County Council without all parties being fully conscious of the state of affairs.
I want to say a few words about the considerable distrust which is presently shown by hon. Members here, including, in part, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, against local authorities. They are considered to be unfit to carry out this thing or that particular duty. They cannot be trusted to prepare lists of historic buildings and so on. If that is the feeling of hon. Members, how can local authori 1457 ties be entrusted to carry out these vast town planning schemes which are being imposed upon them, and which everyone in this country hopes they will discharge? We, in this country get the local authorities as well as the Government that we deserve. I respectfully submit that in the past the defects of local authorities, their blindness to beauty and their inefficiency in town planning, have been but a reflection of the blindness of people of this country. A local authority is no less a regarder of beauty than the ordinary member of the public. If you asked the ordinary member of the public to contribute sixpence towards the maintenance of a building of beauty, he would hesitate very much, and the local authority merely, reflects that view. But I believe that there is growing up a consciousness of the preservation of the countryside and beauty which is reflected in local authorities to-day. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H: Strauss) has suffered in the past from the action of local authorities, and so have we all, but I believe that local authorities to-day reflect faithfully and truly the opinion of to-day, and I hope very much that they can be trusted to carry out the enormous tasks which it will be necessary for them to carry out after the war.
§ Mr. Jewson
I want to raise one point which I raised on the Second Reading and to ask for an assurance, if we pass Clause r as it stands, that there shall not be delay in dealing with the very urgent building problems with which we shall be faced immediately on the conclusion of the war. Reading the Clause, it seems to subject all land not already under a scheme to an imaginary scheme, but it does not suggest how the scheme is to be brought into being in the immediate future. I am wondering how a man who wants to build urgently needed cottages on land which is not, in fact, subject to an existing scheme but which is now going to be deemed to be subject to a non-existent scheme, is to get leave to carry on with his building. Who is going to tell him whether or not this building conforms to a scheme; which, as I have already said, is non-existent? I should like more information on that point.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I would like to say a few words in reply to the observations which have fallen from both hon. Members. The hon. Member for Peckham 1458 (Mr. Silkin) is right in diagnosing the reason for the three months' period. About 250 local authorities are affected altogether by this resolution, which is deemed to have been passed by them, and they have in the past taken no planning action at all, so that they are devoid of staff and experience in the matter. The figure looks very formidable, but it is not so formidable if one analyses the position, because a number of the smaller authorities will, under the proviso to Clause r, find themselves taken in and co-operating with the larger existing authorities. Still, there will remain a few hard cases which will have to be met and given a chance to supply themselves with a proper staff for the purpose. There will certainly be decisions, and the regional planning officers in the various districts will give them all the help they can in putting their house in order to meet this new obligation which is upon them.
The other question my hon. Friend raised was that of the Inns of Court. I think he is right in his view that Clause r of the Bill applies to them, and we shall have to think about that in the future. There is no doubt at all that the Inns of Court are in rather a special position in that the use to which their buildings are put is not likely to change. In the past they Were excluded from schemes on the idea that they were static and no development was likely to take place in them, but alas, the war has changed that situation entirely and no doubt great reconstruction will be necessary in these ancient and beautiful buildings. All I would say at the moment is that there is power, if necessary, to deal with the matter by-revoking the provisions of the scheme and under the Bill one could possibly ask that the obligations of interim development concerning the Temple should be referred to the Minister. I put these things forward not as having made up my mind. It may not be necessary to deal with them at all, but if the difficulty to which my hon. Friend alluded arises, he can be sure that there are ways of easing it. I agree with what he said about local authorities. If you take any category of human beings, you can always abuse it as a category. Even politicians as a category have not been immune from that sort of abuse in the past from the general public. If there are a few such local authorities— 1459 and they vary as human beings do—it is true to say that the great services which they render far outweigh the defects which may exist. Therefore, from my point of view it is very necessary that local enthusiasm and knowledge should form the basis of good town and country planning. He was right in saying that the carelessness, if it has been so, in the past over many aspects of planning by local authorities was but a reflection of their constituents' views, and indeed, the same is true of Parliament in the past.
Our neglect of this aspect in the past has been entirely the reflection of the general view of the people of this country. I can assure the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Jewson) that this Clause in no way delays the provision of housing, when it becomes possible. It will keep step with any easement of the position with regard to materials and labour, which is the real stumbling block at the present moment. He can give assent to this Clause on that understanding, and I hope the Committee will now agree that it should stand part of the Bill.
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.