HC Deb 13 May 1947 vol 437 cc1334-9

(1) Immediately after a development plan has been approved or made or amended by the Minister under this Part of this Act, the local planning authority shall publish in such manner as may be prescribed by regulations under this Act a notice stating that the plan has been approved, made, or amended, as the case may be, and naming a place where a copy of the plan or of the plan, as amended, may be seen at all reasonable hours, and shall serve a like notice on any person by whom an objection or representation was duly made to the proposed plan or amendment, and who has sent to the authority a request in writing to serve him with the notice required by this subsection, specifying an address for service, and on such other persons if any, as may be required by general or special directions given by Minister

(2) If any person aggrieved by the plan or by the amendment, as the case may be, desires to question the validity thereof or of any provision contained therein on the ground that it is not within the powers of this Act. or on the ground that any requirement of this Act or any regulation made thereunder has not been complied with in relation to the approval or making of the plan, or as the case may he, in relation to the making of the amendment. he may, within six weeks from the date on which the notice required by the last foregoing subsection is first published, make an application to the High Court. and on any such application the Court—

  1. (a) may by interim order suspend the operation of the plan or amendment, as the case may be, or of any provision contained therein either generally or in so far as it affects any property of the applicant, until the final determination of the proceedings: and
  2. (b) if satisfied that the plan or amendment, or any provision contained therein, is not within the powers of this Act, or that the interests of the applicant have been substantially prejudiced by a failure to comply with any such requirement as aforesaid, may quash the plan or amendment or any provision contained therein either generally or in so far as it affects any property of the applicant.

(3) Subject to the provisions of the last foregoing subsection, a development plan or an amendment of a development plan shall not, either before or after it has been approved or made, be questioned in any legal proceedings whatsoever, and shall become operative on the date on which the notice required by this Section is first published.

(4) Except by leave of the Court of Appeal, no appeal shall lie to the House of Lords from a decision of the Court of Appeal under this Section.—[Mr. Silkin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Silkin

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

The purpose of this Clause is to limit the vulnerability of development plans to challenge in the courts, and it does so in two ways. First, it limits the grounds upon which a plan or a modification of a plan may be challenged, and, second, it lays down that the only grounds on which it can be challenged are that the plan is ultra vires, or that the requirements of the Statute or the regulations made under Clause 9 have not been complied with. It also limits to six weeks the period within which the challenge in the courts may be made. This Clause is in common form. Similar provisions have been applied to almost every modern Act in respect of compulsory purchase orders, the latest of them being Section 16 of the New Towns Act. Without some such provision as this, development plans would still be challengeable in the courts within a period of six months, which would have the effect of holding up redevelopment very seriously.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I do not propose to object to the Second Reading of this Clause; it is, as the Minister says, in common form, and has appeared in other Statutes, its first appearance being I think in Section 16 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944.

Mr. Silkin

The New Towns Act.

Mr. Morrison

There were similar provisions in the other one, but without prejudice to the Amendments which I hope to move to extend its scope, my hon. Friends on this side agree to its Second Reading.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in line 13, after "be," to insert: or by an order of the Minister or of the Central Land Board under this Act. All the Amendments in my name to the new Clause can be taken together, because apart from the first, they are purely consequential. As the Minister has said, it has been common form to include in Acts concerning the compulsory acquisition of land provisions of the character we have just read a Second time, and the reason for that is that unless some limitation is placed upon the query in the courts on points of law, it is possible, or might theoretically be possible, for years after the transactions have been completed and all sorts of persons have changed their positions in life in accordance with what has been done—as they believe, legally—to have the matter reopened by a litigious person, and all those rights placed in jeopardy. When we were dealing with this Bill in Committee we put down an Amendment, framed in terms almost identical to those of this new Clause, which applied the same provisions to acts not only of a local planning authority in its development plans, but acts and orders of the Minister and of the Board, to try and make sure that they should have the right to be protected against undue litigious interference, while at the same time the subject should have reasonable access to the courts in case either the Minister or the Central Land Board acted ultra vires to the Bill.

5.15 p.m.

I think it would be very difficult for the Minister to act ultra vires on this Bill, because the vires are so extremely wide that it would take seven-league boots to step outside the limits the Minister has set for himself, but he or his successor might make even such a stride, and in that case the subject should have the right to challenge his orders in the courts. The case is even stronger with regard to the Central Land Board, because it is a body which is not yet in being, it has not learnt the limits of its statutory authority by actual experience, and it is possible that when it gets into its stride its enthusiasm over-zeal or ignorance of its legal powers may bring it into conflict with the law of the land as expressed in this Bill and in other Acts of Parliament. In such a case the proposition is that the subject should have the same limited, but effective, right of appeal to the courts against the orders of the Minister or the Board for being ultra vires on the Bill, as is given by the Clause we have just read a Second time with respect to development plans and orders. The only ground on which that appeal could be made is that the Minister or the Board is going outside what this House has authorised them to do, and I think the House should make it possible for the subject to invoke the law of the land should that happen.

Mr. Silkin

I have no violent objection to this Amendment, but I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman himself has really considered its implications. This Amendment does not confer upon the subject the right of access to the courts, he already has that; if the Minister or the Central Land Board does anything which is ultra vires—difficult as that may be, as the right hon. Gentleman explained—the subject has already the right to go to the courts. But instead of having that right which he can exercise within six months, this Amendment would limit him to six weeks. Also, instead of the wider grounds upon which he might go to the courts, he would be limited. Therefore, in so far as it would make the administration of the Bill easier, less uncertain and less vulnerable—and vulnerable for a shorter period—I would have no objection to the Amendment. My only objection is to its language. I am not quite certain as to what are the orders of the Minister, because a great many orders of the Minister are already covered by the terms of the New Clause, and I am not sure what other orders the Central Land Board might make. There is an element of uncertainty about the language of the Amendment, but I am quite prepared to accept its principle if the right hon. Gentleman really presses me, and to give an undertaking that something of this sort will be included at a later stage.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

With the leave of the House, may I say that I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said? Perhaps I may also be permitted to remark that the chief purpose for which this Amendment was set down was to ensure that, in our hurried scamper through this Bill owing to the operation of the Guillotine, there were not concealed in its interstices some provisions which did debar the subject from getting his right of access to the courts. The Amendment which we put down for the Committee stage we were not able to consider, so the matter was not ventilated until the present stage of the Bill. In view of the assurance that the matter is already covered, and because I have no desire to prolong the proceedings, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Clause be added to the Bill"

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

This Amendment—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. Member cannot speak upon the Amendment now.

Mr. Gallacher

I am speaking now on the Clause, and I want to draw the attention of the Minister to a particular matter. The new Clause proposes to give an opportunity for recourse to the High Court, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is a possibility of the High Court being used in order to hold up all sorts of plans. It would be very undesirable that people who feel aggrieved at a plan, or an amendment to a plan, put forward by the planning authority, should be able to go to the High Court and delay the proceeding. I ask the Minister to keep that point in mind and not to make any concession which will put outside this House the decision as to the fate of an Order. It is this House which should decide whether the Minister's Order is to be carried out.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

I prefer the new Clause in its original form, but not for the reason given by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I am glad that the Minister has resisted the suggestion to alter it.

Mr. C. Williams

We have heard the representative of the Communist Party urge the Minister to limit the already very small right of the citizen to go to the High Court. That shows the extreme power which the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has over the Front Bench opposite. It is extremely difficult to be certain that we are not limiting the rights of the subject. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) is a fairly astute reader of the Bill, but I must confess, especially after the speech made by the Minister, that I am not sure whether we may not be further limiting the power of the subject to appeal against oppressive Orders which may be made, for example, under this Bill. I do not know whether the Clause can be amended, but I do not welcome it. We should do all we can to make it easier for the subject to appeal against arbitrary decisions of the Executive.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.