§ Order read for consideration of Lords Amendments.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Silkin)
I beg to move, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."
It may be for the convenience of the House if I endeavour to put this formidable document, setting out the Lords Amendments, in its proper perspective. If any hon. Member has endeavoured to count the number of Lords Amendments, he will have found that there are 310. Of these, 221 are purely drafting, and I would undertake that if we had had a further week or two, the Parliamentary draftsmen could probably have produced another 221; it is always possible to improve on drafting, because it is a process 798 that never ends. There are 34 Amendments proposed by the Government to remedy defects, or otherwise to improve the Bill, which are also in the nature of drafting. Therefore, of the 310 Amendments, 255 are either drafting, or are in the nature of drafting Amendments. That leaves us with 55 Amendments of substance. These are all Amendments which have been moved by Members of the Opposition in the Lords and accepted by the Government, or moved by the Government to meet points raised by the Opposition in the Commons or Lords, and also points raised by Members on this side of the House. There are seven Amendments which I propose to ask the House to reject. Two of these are purely consequential, and one is a proposal which, I think, will commend itself to the House as being an improvement on the Lords Amendments.
That leaves us with four points of principle. I thought it right to put it to the House, that in spite of this formidable list, there are really only four points of principle upon which we have to make up our minds, out of these 310 Amendments. It is, of course, open to the House to agree or disagree with them. Incidentally, I was interested and surprised to find that the Opposition are themselves disagreeing with the Lords in a number of respects because they want to go rather further. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the four points of disagreement. To those who have been Members of the Standing Committee, or who took an interest in the Report stage, they will be old friends, and some of us may be glad to come back to them once more—I hope for the last time. The first is the question of dead ripe land, on which we had long discussions. The Lords seek to define dead ripe land in much wider terms than I am able to agree to, and we shall no doubt have a discussion on that.
The next is the question of the application of the Bill to minerals. There was no dispute in the Lords as to the applicability of minerals to the Bill; there was no suggestion that minerals should be taken right out. The real issue is how minerals, assuming that they are included, should be dealt with, and in my view the Lords have dealt with them rather more generously than they should be. The next is the question of charity land. This is a matter about which most of us have some sympathy— 799 certainly with certain types of charities. During the passage of the Bill through the Lords, considerable improvements were made by the Government, and the definition of charity land to be excluded from the operations of the Bill was substantially widened. Nevertheless, the Lords take the view that it ought to be still further widened, and that is an issue which this House will have to determine. Finally, there is our old friend the question of arbitration in respect of development charges. That again is a matter upon which there has been a good deal of discussion, and it will tax everyone's ingenuity to find anything fresh to say on the subject. The Lords take the view that there ought to be arbitration, but I still think there should not, and this again is a matter upon which there will have to be a debate and a decision.
I have said that there are some 55 Amendments which have been initiated by the Opposition in the Lords, or have been put down by the Government to meet the views put forward by Members of the Lords or Commons. If I mention one or two, the House will see that they are of a substantial and important character. We have, I believe, improved our method in dealing with designated land so as to remove the major alleged hardships. I know it does not satisfy hon. Members opposite entirely, but at any rate they will give us credit for having gone a long way towards endeavouring to meet this difficulty. If we have not satisfied hon. Members opposite, we did at any rate satisfy the noble Lords. We have restored Clause 34 agreements, about which we had a lot of talk. I was very much impressed with what was said on the subject, and they are now back in the Bill. We have dealt with the principles of compensation on revocation and compulsory purchase, and have included consequential losses in the compensation.
The Lords have given this Bill a very careful and close scrutiny. Hon. Members may say that they have done a job which we ought to have done. I would remind hon. Members that the Lords took 35 hours to scrutinise this Bill on Committee and Report, while it may surprise them to know that we spent 82 hours on Committee and Report. I do not propose to draw any inference from that, but I think the inference is obvious. I do not sup- 800 pose that the House will wish to debate each of these Amendments separately. As I say, the large majority are drafting, but a number of them do stand together. I hope that this short and, I trust, non-controversial explanation, may be of some help to the House in considering this formidable document.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
The Minister has accurately described the list of Amendments which is before us a formidable document, and the fact that 310 Amendments were thought necessary after the Bill had left this House speaks for itself. The right hon. Gentleman compared the times taken in the other place and here in scrutinising this Bill, and seemed to think that the lesson to be drawn from that comparison was the obvious one which should leap to everyone's mind. There are certain things which could be said about that if we were discussing that point. I noticed myself in following the proceedings in another place, that the Ministerial speeches there were much shorter than they were here. There is something to be said in favour of the work we did here because, after getting the Bill in an extremely shapeless form it was roughed out before it got to their Lordships. Therefore, I do not think that any moral can be drawn from these time comparisons, except that their Lordships have carried out, as the Minister has said, an admirable task of revision. There is no doubt that the Bill emerges from their Lordships' scrutiny very much better than it was when it went to them.
The Minister, however, must feel some uneasiness about its final form because he has said that it would be possible to make another 221 Amendments to it. That is not a great advertisement for its perfection, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's diagnosis of the Bill as it is now before us. The important point is that out of this great mass of Amendments, the points of controversy which remain, although important, are relatively few as compared with the mass of Amendments which have been made to the Bill. Had we been going through the Amendments seriatim I should have liked to take the opportunity, at appropriate moments, of drawing attention to improvements which have been made here and there, and expressing our sincere appreciation to 801 the Minister and his advisers for the consideration they gave to arguments that were advanced in favour of Amendments which were not made here, but were made later in another place. I hope that that general acknowledgment, both of the work of the other place and the Minister's consideration, will be taken in lieu of the acknowledgments seriatim which I would make if we were considering these Amendments at length.
The points which remain for discussion are indicated on the Order Paper, and I myself would have no objection, Mr. Speaker, to any method of putting the Amendments that commends itself to you, so as to lessen the strain on the voices of those who have to put the Amendments to the House while relying, as we can, with perfect confidence, on the Chair to safeguard the position of those Amendments about which notice has been given. With these words, I concur with the right hon. Gentleman in moving that we should now consider the Lords' Amendments.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I would like to congratulate the Minister on having made a definite and not too long statement as to why certain Amendments should not be accepted. I have never heard any Minister put forward such a clear reason. He said that he had no doubt whatever that there were another 221 drafting Amendments which it would be possible to make, which means that there are at least 221 flaws which will remain in this Bill when it becomes an Act.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am sorry if I let my sense of humour get the better of me on that point. What I said was meant to be humorous, and not serious.
§ Mr. Williams
I accept the Minister's apology, but he has treated as a humorous and not a serious matter something which affects a vast number of people. Whether his sense of humour was exaggerated or not, the right hon. Gentleman did admit that there was a vast number of drafting Amendments that might be made. This makes clear to the ordinary public outside, especially those in the West Country, the disadvantages of passing legislation about which there will be a great number of disputes. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for telling the country so 802 clearly that his Bill has been badly drafted from beginning to end, and that we have not had enough time for its consideration.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think I should announce to the House, in view of what the Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) have said, that I propose to call Amendments which are drafting, or of that nature, in groups. I will endeavour to put them so that if any Member wishes to call attention to a point, he will have the opportunity of doing so. Perhaps I should also say now that a great number of these Amendments affect Privilege, and that I think it would be a waste of time if I said each time, in the appropriate case, that the necessary entry would be made in the Journals. I therefore give notice that if any Amendment affects Privilege an entry will be made in the Journals.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Lords Amendments considered accordingly.