HC Deb 23 January 1951 vol 483 cc43-73

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is a general conversation going on, and that is not the business of the House. The business of the House is to hear the Minister move the Second Reading of this Bill.

3.43 p.m.

The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Dalton)

I beg to move "That the Bill be read a Second time." This is a short and simple Bill and I do not think it will light any hot fires of controversy. All that may come later, but not this afternoon. Its aim is simply stated: to correct two errors in drafting, which experience and legal advice have revealed, in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. The Bill is keenly desired by the local authorities regardless of party, and regardless of whether they are urban or rural, and I hope that the House will consent to give it a Second Reading.

The first matter relates to planning permission in respect of war-damaged properties. The enemy air action was not an unmixed curse to us because, here and there, it largely cleared ground which had long been in need of comprehensive re-development. It had been supposed until recently that planning authorities would be able to intervene to prevent the restoration of war-damaged buildings to the exact shape in which they stood previously if, in the view of the local planning authority, such restoration ran counter to their re-development plans. There is no doubt that since 1943, up to 1947, under the Act of 1943 they possessed that power, and it was the intention of all of us that this power should be continued in the 1947 Act. However, we are advised by our legal advisers that in fact that is not so, and that as the 1947 Act stands, planning permission is not required in order to restore a war-damaged building to its pre-war condition so long as any part of that building remains standing, even a few bricks. Obviously this is nonsensical, and it is to prevent this nonsensical result that Clause 1 is drafted.

The second matter relates to the period within which a planning authority can take action against unauthorised development or against any breach of any condition which may have been imposed by the planning authority when the development was authorised. Here again the 1947 Act is defective according to the advice which we have received from the Law Officers of the Crown. In this case I am afraid it was due to a too amiable acceptance of a somewhat plausible-looking Amendment moved in another place—which has its moral.

We are all agreed here that there must be some limit to the period during which an unauthorised developer is left at risk, as it is put. That is to say, there must be some period beyond which the law will not be invoked against him, even if he has broken the law by undertaking an unauthorised development. That is common ground and common justice. Unfortunately the period of four years set in the 1947 Act dates, not as was originally stated in the first draft of that Bill from the date of the breach of planning permission or of any condition attached thereto, but from four years from the date of permission being given.

Therefore, in certain cases, planning permissions are unenforceable under Section 23 of the Act. If, as often happens, a planning permission is given subject to a reasonable condition that a certain use should be discontinued at the end of 10 years, this becomes unenforceable because, as the law now stands, at the end of four years from the planning permission, all power passes away from the planning authority. Therefore we propose to restore the law to what it was before one of my noble Friends so rashly accepted the Amendment in another place, and to what all plain people thought ought to be the law in this matter, namely, that the period of four years shall run from the date of any breach of the condition and not from the date of the permission itself. That deals with Clause 2.

Clause 3 provides that Clause 1 shall apply to Scotland. It is not necessary to provide that Clause 2 should apply to Scotland because the Scottish representative of the Government in another place was more cautious and did not fall into this pit. Clause 4 provides the short Title, and so forth. This is a very simple Bill, and I hope that the House will agree to the Second Reading.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Assheton (Blackburn, West)

The whole House will have noted with interest the recent administrative changes proposed by His Majesty's Government. This is the first occasion when the Minister of Town and Country Planning has stood at that Box with the knowledge that these additional powers are to be his. We commend the bringing together again of the Departments which deal with town and country planning and local government. Many of us on this side of the House, as I dare say hon. Gentlemen opposite, or some of them, have long felt that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning could not fulfil its duties effectively while, for example, the choice and approval of sites for house building remained functions of a different Department. I hope very much that the new administrative arrangements will prove to be satisfactory and beneficial. We can certainly compliment the Minister on the additional powers which he is likely to receive shortly.

I am sure that no hon. Member was surprised when notice was given to introduce a new Town and Country Planning Bill, although I am bound to say that I for one was rather disappointed at this mouse of a Bill which the Minister has produced because I had been expecting and hoping for something very much better. The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which we on this side of the House opposed at all stages—[Interruption.] I have taken the trouble to look it up and I see that I voted against it on both Second and Third Readings, and so did my hon. Friends. The Act is fast becoming one of the most unpopular Measures which has ever been passed. The "Local Government Chronicle," in a recent issue, said: The application of the Town and Country Planning Act must inevitably create opponents as it proceeds. For years we may be able to ignore it; suddenly it hits us and we cry aloud and ask whether there is any justice left. During the past 12 months the Act has been the subject of an absolute deluge of constructive memoranda from such bodies as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, the Country Landowners' Association, the Council of the Law Society, and so on. We have reached a stage when it was said in "The Economist" in a recent number: It is now generally accepted that the financial provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, will not work satisfactorily. It goes on to make a great many comments which I will not go into now.

When the original Bill was introduced my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), moved a most comprehensive Amendment which expressed clearly the Opposition's criticism of the Bill at that time. It is well worth looking up the terms of that Amendment. I recommend hon. Members particularly those on the other side of the House, to do so because they will see that the passage of time has very much justified the Opposition's attitude at that time. We are still convinced that the law as it stands today is unworkable and unjust, and I cannot help feeling that the new Minister will not be in office very long without coming to the House with a much more serious amending Bill than this one.

As the right hon. Gentleman has told us, the Bill deals with the correction of two faults in the original Act. It was suggested to me that an appropriate Title for the Bill would be "The Silkin (Ironing-out of Bloomers) Bill," but as I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman's sense of loyalty to a past colleague would prevent him from accepting such an Amendment to the Title, I would only suggest to him that it might at any rate have been franker to call this the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill, because it certainly is that.

Clause 1, which, I gather from the Minister, is to reconcile the Act with the General Development Order, 1950, which he made, needs to be included in the Bill because it has emerged that the Order does not come within the powers of the Minister under the Act. I suppose that he has now been advised—I think he indicated it—that planning permission is not necessary for any works of restoration of war-damaged property short of total re-building, and this is naturally causing very great concern among the authorities who are affected. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether in the Clause as now drafted he has not really cast his net too wide. Is it not possible perhaps to distinguish between major and minor works of war damage by specifying a maximum value of work which can be done without permission. That is a matter into which we can perhaps go more fully when we come to the Committee stage. Naturally, I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman necessarily to give an answer on that point this afternoon.

One of the reasons why the Bill is necessary is that the Government refused to allow sufficient time for discussion when the 1947 Bill was going through the Committee stage. We all remember that at that time the pressure on the House of Commons was very great and the Government were forcing through a great deal of legislation. In consequence of that, it is not surprising to find that many mistakes have been made. Clause 2 seeks to cure a defect in Section 23 of the Act. Section 23 is one which the Committee was not allowed to discuss at all. The Guillotine fell and that Clause went through this House without any criticism at all.

Mr. Dalton

It did not go wrong in this House.

Mr. Assheton

The right hon. Gentleman said that something done in another place led to this mistake. All I can say is that if there had been a full discussion of these matters in the Committee of the House of Commons their Lordships would have been in a much better position to discuss the Clause when it came up in another place. It all illustrates the folly of the Government in seeking to rush Measures through Parliament without proper discussion, a folly from which the whole country is now suffering.

These Clauses are a little complicated and on the Committee stage there will no doubt be opportunities for discussing them more fully. We certainly do not intend to oppose the Second Reading today, though, as I have already indicated, the major criticisms by the Opposition of the 1947 Act are in no way met by the Bill. However, I have some hopes that the right hon. Gentleman will take a realistic view of the situation—I think he is a realist—and that he will come forward with some proposals before long.

When the right hon. Gentleman recently made some new regulations he talked about "experiments in freedom." I cannot say that his use of that phrase appealed to the Opposition very much, because freedom is what this country had been accustomed to for many hundreds of years and the experiments in taking away freedom which this Government have made have not been popular. Certainly they have not been beneficial. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman now appreciates that and that he has seen the light. There is a very large body of opinion in this country which is in favour of reasonable town and country planning and I, for one, shall be very sorry if the odium into which planning has been brought by the 1947 Act results in abandoning much for which many people have worked for so long.

There is no doubt that the innumerable controls, regulations and forms which now surround, provoke and deter the prospective developer of land have created a public opinion which says "Away with planning altogether." I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman himself is a landowner or not he certainly had, when he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, experience in the, management of a great estate. Those who have had personal experience of how this 1947 Act works know very well the appalling sense of frustration which it has created. In order to do the smallest and most innocent development it is now necessary to obtain and fill in at least 12 very complicated forms. If the right hon. Gentleman has any notion, as I think he has, of the effect which a Government form has upon the average citizen of this country, he will understand why that in itself is a great deterrent to development.

I had an example only last week which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. In the village in which I live it was very necessary to find a garage for the district nurse. Owing to the new arrangements made by the Ministry of Health, a district nurse came to live in the village, and there was no garage for her. I was fortunate enough to find a little building with two garages in it. Beside it there was a space in which it is quite convenient to make another garage. Only a roof and door are necessary. Already the walls are there. It is rather an ugly sort of tin-can hole in which much rubbish has been thrown. It is dangerous to children, which makes it desirable to clear up this bit of untidiness. In order to do that very small operation of development, namely, to put one little roof and a door on to this building, permission has to be obtained from the rural district council, permission has to be obtained from the county council as planning authority for the area and four forms had to be filled in. A settlement has to be made with the Central Land Board as to whether there is to be any development charge. A building licence may have to be applied for, in case the cost turns out to be more than £100, and as timber has to be used we may have to get a licence for that. As the building is on a road, there has to be consultation with the Ministry of Transport.

Could not the Minister try to coordinate all that work? Could he not try to avoid that mass of forms? Perhaps he could so arrange things that only one form has to be filled in, and the various departments and authorities could deal with it. At any rate, it would get all the information on to one form, and perhaps the local authority could copy that form several times and circulate it. Then one might be able to make some progress. Unfortunately that is not a matter which this Bill will cure.

I have not spoken, and I do not propose to say a word, about the terribly serious deterrent represented by the development charges themselves, except to remark that those development charges are tending to freeze the land in its present use because any change in use involves a payment. To freeze development in this country in a pattern which is appropriate to the past rather than to the future cannot be a sensible thing to do. No more frustrating legislation has been passed than the 1947 Act. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that unless the Government are willing to admit the mistakes of the past and to bring forward a radical amendment to the present Measure, we shall, when we come into office, be obliged to make the most drastic changes in it.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I hesitate to intervene in a debate upon what is recognised to be an extremely complex problem, and I do so only because the Bill raises one or two points which I think it would be quite wrong for us to overlook and upon which I should be glad of elucidation. This is a very small Bill and, having regard to the new wide range of the powers and responsibilities of my right hon. Friend—on which I congratulate him—it is likely to be the smallest Bill that he will sponsor for a considerable time.

When I inquire what this Bill does, I find that it has the effect of making it a development under town and country planning law to carry out the work of making good war damage affecting only the interior of a building or not materially affecting its external appearance. That is what the first Clause of the Bill seems to do. It does not, as I understand the matter, attract a development charge because it is a Third Schedule development, but this kind of operation, as a result of the Bill, will in future require planning permission. Up till now it has not required planning permission.

That is a change which may have quite important consequences in practice, and ought to be investigated. Permission is already granted by the General Development Order for the making good of war damaged property. Such permission is granted automatically by the Order, except in cases where the Minister has made a direction. It seems that the only relevance of Clause 1 of the Bill arises where the proposed development is to take place in an area affected by a direction to the Minister. That shows how very limited is the practical effect of Clause 1.

The inquiry that one feels obliged to make then is: What will be the effect on the owner of war damaged property if the property is situated in an area subject to the direction of the Minister, and if permission to develop is refused, as it can be refused under the Bill? Certain quite important consequences may result in that case, and I should have thought it was desirable for us to consider the point on Second Reading. It will certainly need careful consideration in Committee. If permission to carry out war damage repairs is refused and if the building in respect of which permission is refused is compulsorily acquired, the consequence, as I understand it, if war damage compensation has been assessed on a cost-of-works basis, will be that the owner of the property will have his compensation adjusted in accordance with Section 53 of the 1947 Act, which makes provision for that adjustment in such cases. If, however, the compensation to which an owner of property is entitled has been assessed upon the basis of a value payment, no provision whatever is made for the adjustment of that compensation. It is possible that the Bill as it stands leaves a lacuna in the law of compensation—and upon this I may find agreement from all sides of the House—which will need to be filled.

Let me deal with the practical case. A man may have sustained war damage to, for example, his residence. He has had his war damage compensation assessed upon the basis of a value payment and is entitled to a value payment. Until the Bill was introduced he was entitled to proceed with making good the war damage to his property without permission; now, however, he is required to ask permission, which may be refused. In that event, what happens to his compensation, his value payment having been calculated and assessed upon the assumption that he would be permitted to make good the damage?

As a result of the Bill, that man may not be permitted to make good the damage. His position is distinct from that of the owner of property whose compensation has been assessed upon a cost-of-works basis, because no specific provision is made for him either in the present Bill or in the 1947 Act. These points, upon which, as I have said, I seek elucidation, seem to me to be points of serious substance, upon which I should be grateful for some assistance from the Government Front Bench.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

The speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) illustrates that even so short a Bill as the present one is not entirely free from difficulty. If I may try to give the hon. Member a reply—I do so only in order that I may be corrected if I am wrong—I will explain the position as I understand it. Certainly, it was the intention of the Committee upstairs, during the passage of the principal Act, that war damage repairs of an extensive kind should be brought within the control of the planning authority or of the Minister. The machinery which was devised appears at first sight to be somewhat cumbrous.

Under the General Development Order, all rebuilding or repairs of war-damaged property was freed from this planning control. Within that general freedom it was further provided, under Article IV of the General Development Order, that in cases which were known under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, as "areas of extensive war damage." where it was intended that there should be redevelopment on a large scale, the Minister was to have the power to issue directions so that that kind of rebuilding work, in which it was hoped that reconstruction would be on a much better planned basis than was the old destroyed property, should come within the planning permission control either of the local authority or of the Minister.

What has happened is that no one had foreseen that the effect of Section 12 (2, a) of the existing Act would be interpreted so as to exclude from the power of planning control under the Statutory Instrument, everything that could fairly be described as repairs arising out of war damage. The answer to the hon. Member is, I think, that all that the Bill will do for the future, from the date when it was first published, is to make the law what it had been intended by Parliament that it should be. Permissions which were given in the past will continue to be valid, but any rebuilding which was begun before the publication of this amending Bill in defiance of a planning authority will be permitted. For the future, therefore, the law will be what it had been believed and intended to be at the time of the passing of the original Act.

The hon. Member referred to compensation. As I understand it, because this is brought under paragraph I of the Third Schedule to the principal Act, where the aggrieved owner calls upon the local authority to acquire the property on the ground that the refusal of permission, or the granting of permission subject to restrictive conditions, has deprived him of the reasonable user of the land, the compensation which will have to be paid to him in respect of that land will take into account the refusal of the permission to develop.

If my remarks are not altogether lucid, the fault is no doubt partly my own, but this is an extremely difficult and complex matter and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will deal with it at some length. The Minister was lucid in what he said, but this is a much more difficult Bill to understand that its brevity would suggest, and there are matters connected with the granting of permission and with compensation which might with advantage be set out a little more fully than the Minister has done.

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary an important question. In all this town and country planning legislation, even after one understands how the machinery is intended to work, it is a little difficult to know exactly how it will be put into operation. For that reason I ask these questions. Since the purpose of this amending Bill is to make the law what it was believed to be and what the Minister and local authorities have tried to administer, will the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House, first, whether the procedure has worked satisfactorily so far? At first sight it appears a little cumbrous to make a general development order exempting all repairs of war damage from planning permission, and then to issue directions in order to bring again under planning control such repairs to war damaged property as appear to the local authority or to the Minister to need permission. Will he please deal with that point and, before we re-enact the old procedure, will he explain how it is working and whether it is working satisfactorily?

Secondly, I ask him to give a little information about the way in which those directions have been issued. Do they only apply to geographical areas, or do they perhaps also apply to the amount of expenditure upon some particular matter? It would appear that it might be reasonable to say in a direction that no expenditure exceeding £50,000 should be made without planning permission, but if it were only a matter of £50 or £500 it might be so minor a matter that it was not desirable to have any need for permission of that sort.

Thirdly, may we know to what extent throughout the country the procedure which it was intended to enact has, in fact, been applied? For example, when was it that the Law Officers of the Crown suddenly warned the Minister of Town and Country Planning that he had not the powers he thought he had? How did this matter arise; was there a case in court in which it was found that the Minister had not the powers?

As to the general principles of the Bill, I am sure we shall all do our best so to amend it if need be as to make town and country planning legislation more satisfactory and less onerous than it has been. I would repeat my right hon. Friend's observation that it would have been a little clearer and a little less disingenuous if the Minister had described this as a Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill, because in his introductory remarks he said that the only purpose was to amend the principal Act. I hope we may have an amendment of the title to that effect.

I would draw attention, once more, to the fact that the main Act was subject to the Guillotine in Committee upstairs. There had been no obstruction by the Opposition at that time. Lord Silk in said at that time: I do not allege at all that there has been any intentional obstruction of the business of the Committee. I make no such allegation and never have made it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D. 4th March, 1947, c. 182.] He went on to make the usual complaint that the speeches were longer than he thought was necessary and that arguments had frequently been repeated, but there was no deliberate obstruction on the part of the Opposition. In spite of that, the Guillotine was introduced and it was impossible for the Bill to be fully considered in Committee of the House of Commons.

I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman, who referred somewhat disparagingly to the work done in another place, that a very large number of Amendments which the Government discovered were necessary, especially in Clauses which were never properly discussed in Committee of this House, had to be moved as Government Amendments in their Lordships' House. If there was an occasion when a Socialist Peer accepted an Amendment which is now thought to have been unwise, I would also point out that when the Bill came back to this House a number of Amendments considered by the Government to have been unwise were taken out of the Bill. Therefore, this matter, which is now being altered by this amending Bill, was not merely accepted by an insufficiently informed Socialist Peer but, apparently, was regarded as innocuous by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I was a little astonished when I heard the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) talk about inadequate discussion of this important Bill, because my recollection is that my right hon. Friend the Minister opened the discussion with so monumental an oration that it almost rivalled the famous Don Pacifico speech. At the end of it one ought to have been able to say that no schoolboy of 14 in this country should henceforward fail to understand the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. At any rate, one could say that with precisely the same assurance and certitude as Macaulay said that every schoolboy knew who imprisoned Montezuma and who killed Atahualpa.

I am bound to confess to my right hon. Friend, and I hope I shall be forgiven for this regrettable confession, that there have been second thoughts on this matter and the feeling we all had that we fully understood the Bill has not blossomed nor burgeoned with complete certitude in our minds ever since.

The Law Society were good enough to run a series of lectures on the Town and Country Planning Act in various parts of the country. I considered the matter and, as in duty bound, came to the conclusion that it was not a job for a senior partner to attend those lectures. Indeed, I had some difficulty in selecting an appropriate deputy. Finally one of my partners volunteered to go and I say of him with respect and admiration that he went with all the courage and quiet heroism with which the aristocrats went to the tumbrils. He came back looking a little distressed and I asked him if it was possible to prepare a brief summary of what he had learned. He said he would compress it in a sentence: we had to double our insurance against actions for negligence. That prudent step I am happy to say we have taken and up to now that is about the bulk of our progress.

I am quite sure that during his months in office my right hon. Friend has acquired a knowledge of the Act which should be disseminated among those of us who do not share that knowledge and with his gifts of lucidity, I am sure could help us to share it. I had hopes that he would open out a little today and lift for a moment or two, in the interest of clarity, that iron curtain which separates us from a full knowledge of the highly complicated workings of this Act. It is a little distressing, in a professional office, when no one seems to know the basis of computation of development values at all. We had the whole business of putting forward claims to the Compensation Fund and, so far as I know, nothing has yet been paid, although the fund is over-claimed. Some of us wonder whether the £300 million in the kitty might not be a very great deal better kept in the kitty and a little more thought be put in before parting with it. Rumour has it that there may be other claims on our funds in the near future and I would be very anxious to suggest some alternative measures.

That is point No. 1. Point No. 2 is on compensation. It is really a fact, and I am talking quite seriously now, that very often an assessment is made without looking at the land at all, and nearly always it is an arbitrary figure. One gets this impression: someone chooses a figure, someone else says it is not enough so the figure is doubled. It is said "This is not a round figure, let us round it off. It is £450; let us say £500."

They then get a round figure and we start arguing. On that basis the correspondence starts. We offer 20 per cent. Finally, it is agreed at 33⅓ per cent. or 40 per cent. of the original request, which does not look like a really scientific method of working out what is really a matter of some controversy. I have no idea—it may be that that is due to the fact that all my recent time has not been devoted to research—what is coming in and what is due to go out, but certainly most people with experience in this matter are a little alarmed at the very small amount that is coming in.

I remember that one of my optimistic colleagues said "off the record," with pride, when we passed that Act, "We nationalised the land when the Tories were not looking." I did not regard that as surprising; it is the sort of thing that might happen, but I really do not think that we have done so. Honestly, I do not think that the legislation is working well. I hope that we shall have a discussion on this matter today and that we shall get further information.

As we are considering a Bill to amend the Town and Country Planning Act, I would urge upon my right hon. Friend that it is wise to consider whether it might just be possible that some other Amendments might be desirable. As one who is not convinced on this matter, I suggest that other Amendments might be undertaken by my right hon. Friend's Department, which is now charged with so many other duties. I hope that we shall have a full statement from the Parliamentary Secretary of all the information that is available, and a few promising financial details.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

The Minister said that this Bill was not likely to arouse much controversy. It would be equally true to say that it is not likely to arouse much enthusiasm, as has been clearly shown by the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale). I regret that the hon. Member found it necessary to double the insurance against negligence in his office. I could have suggested to him another course which he could have taken which would have protected him just as effectively and at very much less expense.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

What course?

Mr. Hutchinson

The hon. Member knows quite well.

It is strange that in the case of an Act which has so many defects and which has brought about so much injustice, the Minister should be proposing to amend it only in such very minor matters as those with which this Bill is concerned. One might have hoped that after the experience all over the country since 1947 the right hon. Gentleman would have taken his courage in both hands and set to work to remedy some of those defects in that Act which are so well known to those who have had experience of its practical effect.

Of course, I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to undertake the task of amending the Act in respect of those fundamental matters to which we on this side of the House very strongly object. This Bill, however, did present the Minister with an opportunity of putting right a number of defects, some of them serious, some of them widespread, some of them not so widespread but none the less unjust, which have arisen out of the working of this extremely complicated Measure. Not only has the right hon. Gentleman refrained from taking this course, but this Bill is drafted in such a way that it will be very difficult for us to propose Amendments at the Committee stage. I see that the Minister nods his head when I say that it will be very difficult for us to propose Amendments at the Committee stage within the bounds of order. He might at least have given us the opportunity of remedying some of the more outstanding defects of this Act, if he himself is not ready to do so.

I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one defect which he might have remedied in this Bill. The House will recall that in that part of the Act which deals with the assessment of compensation for compulsory acquisition a provision was inserted the effect of which is to exclude from the compensation any value in respect of vacant possession of the premises. It may be fairly arguable that in the case of property held for investment that was not unjust, as a temporary measure. I do not necessarily subscribe to that view but I shall not challenge it this afternoon. But the application of that rule to dwellinghouses occupied by their owners produces a result which I am sure the House will feel to be completely unjust, and which I believe was not intended by Parliament at the time when it was enacted.

I invite the House to consider for a moment what happens. It may come as a surprise to some Members to know that if the local authority considers that one's residence or garden will make a suitable site for a school or a street improvement or something of that kind a compulsory order can be made, and it can be acquired by compulsory purchase. Nevertheless that has been the law for some time. This Act has introduced a refinement of that principle which I think is extremely unjust. Not only is a man's home acquired by compulsory purchase but he is paid by way of compensation a sum which is deliberately assessed upon a basis which will be insufficient to enable him to acquire another residence with vacant possession. That is happening all over the country.

I tried some months ago to ascertain from the Minister how many cases there have been of persons being dispossessed of their homes and being paid compensation assessed in that manner. He told me that there was no record at the Ministry. In the case of one very large authority with which I am connected I know that there have been a large number of cases. I understand that it is contemplated that before long London Airport is to be extended and that a number of dwelling-houses will have to be acquired for demolition in order to extend the runways. I am told that about 250 of those houses are occupied by their owners. Some weeks ago I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation upon what basis it was anticipated compensation would be assessed. His reply was that it would be in accordance with the existing statutes. That means that each one of those persons will, if their houses are required within the next three years, be paid compensation deliberately assessed at a figure which will not be sufficient to enable them to purchase another house with vacant possession.

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will agree that that is a very unjust arrangement. When one looks at the history of the relevant Section, it appears that it was introduced rather late at the Committee stage of the Bill. Protests were made about it being passed on the same morning upon which it was first placed before the Committee. Those protests appear to have been disregarded, and that Section was accordingly passed without this point ever occurring to anyone, so far as I can see.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply to answer these two questions. First of all, does he regard the basis of the assessment of compensation for owner-occupied dwelling houses as a just or an unjust basis; and, secondly, if his answer is that he considers this basis is unjust, whether he will take the necessary steps, either in this Bill or some subsequent Bill, to put the matter right?

I myself have taken such steps as are open to a Private Member to deal with such a matter. There is on the Paper a Motion in my name for leave to introduce a Bill to put this matter right. But I may encounter certain difficulties. As the House will readily understand, there are certain difficulties which a Private Member does encounter when he tries to introduce legislation of this nature. At some stage, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall have to ask for your Ruling as to whether these difficulties are as formidable as some people consider them to be. But apart from that, if the Minister regards this method of assessing compensation in cases such as those to which I have referred as an unjust method, it would be a simple matter to put right, either in this Bill or some similar Bill. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will give me an answer to my two questions, and that he will give us some assurance that either in this Bill or later on, this particular matter will be put right.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

So far, we have had an extremely interesting debate arising out of the general topic with which this Bill is concerned. I feel that some of the points made by my hon. Friends, and by hon. Members opposite, complaining of the effect of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, as it has shown itself in several years' working are entirely justified. Like them, I feel rather sorry that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has not chosen to bring forward a far greater Measure at this time to remedy the manifest injustices and defects which the working of that Act has shown.

This is, no doubt, a very complicated and complex Measure. I have, for example, every sympathy with the partner of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale), who was directed to attend lectures on the law on this subject. I can only say that had I been the partner of the hon. Member—which I hasten to assure him for his own assistance that I am not likely to be—I should probably have told him, "You passed the Bill; you tell me what it is all about yourself."

There are two points I wish to deal with by way of observation on the Bill now before us. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton). I am wondering whether Clause 1 is likely to be far more extensive than is really necessary. I am worried about the position of the owner who wishes to do only minor repairs by way of war damage. I can see that where a local authority does not wish completely bombed damaged property to be replaced in its original condition, because they have a plan for the wider area of which that particular site forms a part, there is every reason why they should have the power to withhold planning permission.

As I understand the explanation, that is what the Bill is all about as far as Clause 1 is concerned. It is to give local authorities the power to withhold consent to the development of a site where the provisions of the Bill apply. That is all right so far as it goes. I do not suppose that any of us would object if we were dealing exclusively with buildings which had been almost completely destroyed; where the whole building had been gutted and only the walls left standing. It would obviously be unwise, and, I think, contrary to the interests of the community as a whole, to say that the local authority which has a wider plan for the entire area should be prevented from having a particular building pulled down at some time and the whole site re-modelled.

But if we pass the Bill as it stands what is to be the position of the man who has a building of which only part of the roof and, shall we say, the upper floor is destroyed by a couple of incendiary bombs? Under the Bill it will be for him, if he has not yet done the war damage repairs, to get planning permission before he can do it; and we are thereby giving power to the local authority to stop that man doing a job which might be very necessary.

After all, we have to face the situation that however desirable it may be for a local authority to have the power to plan out the future development and use of areas, it will be quite some time before those major plans can be put fully into operation. I should have thought that in the meantime we ought to do something to make the utmost use which can be made of parts of buildings which have been damaged by bombs but which might be put into useful occupation again. I have in mind particularly cases where the roof and upper floor has been destroyed. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he and his right hon. Friend will consider this point and will perhaps introduce a Government Amendment themselves which, subject to some kind of provision, will exempt from the requirement of obtaining planning permission small repairs to a maximum limit of, shall I say, £250. That would, for example, give an owner power to do internal decoration which may have been destroyed, and which he has not had the opportunity of doing.

My second point arises directly out of the observations made by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine). I am very concerned about the position which will arise where the War Damage Commission have agreed to make a cost-of-works payment for the restoration of bomb-damaged property. As I understand, at the moment the War Damage Commission are refusing to make a cost-of-works payment to an owner who wishes to use the money obtained from such payment to do work on a site other than that which has actually been damaged or destroyed. I do not complain about that, except within the context of the Bill; because as I see it if an owner has had property damaged and he has made his claim, and has prima facie the right to a cost-of-works payment, he may, if the Bill becomes law, have to go to the local authority and obtain planning permission to carry out the necessary repairs to the interior of the building.

If a local authority are given power to refuse planning permission, because they happen to have plans for the future development of a bigger area, and, therefore, they withhold permission, as I see it the unfortunate owner is between the devil of the War Damage Commission and the deep blue sea of the local authority. First of all, he cannot get his cost-of-work payment unless he does the repairs, and the local authority may say, "We will not give you permission to carry out work to that particular building."

I see that as a great dilemma, and I hope that it will be considered. I do not think it would be altogether impossible, either by Amendment to this Bill, or in some other way, departmentally, for instructions to be given to the War Damage Commission that such cost-of-works payments as I have in mind should be transferred, at the wish of the owner and under necessary safeguards, to another site or building. I think that is a reasonable point and I can see a certain amount of hardship falling upon an owner if he is left in that position.

I thought that the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill was unusually brief and also con ciliatory. I hope these points will be borne in mind and that perhaps the Government may be able to introduce their own Amendments to meet them.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Watkinson (Woking)

In joining with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) in regretting the rather limited scope of this Bill, I should like to discuss a matter which has not come within the scope of our discussion so far this afternoon. I had hoped that this small amending Bill would have done something to make conditions a little bit easier for the industrialist moving a factory who meets difficulties connected with the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act.

I am pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary is present, because he will remember a case in connection with the Sheerwater Estate, in my constituency. I should like to say how much I appreciated his kindness in dealing with the matter very fully. It is a condemnation of his own Act that although every effort was made to meet the needs of a certain manufacturer it was not possible to find a path through the labyrinthine workings of the Act in order to satisfy the normal requirements of the manufacturer. Incidentally, this has meant at least the temporary loss of a dollar earner to this country.

I had hoped that somewhere in this Measure there might have been something to straighten out the many difficulties which, I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, arise when industrial sites are involved. While I appreciate that some such Amendment cannot now be added, I hope that at least the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will bear in mind the difficulty so that if further Amendments are brought forward this matter may be dealt with. It is the general consensus of opinion that other Amendments may have to be made to the Act, and I hope that this point will be borne in mind.

I should like to explain the difficulty. First, it will be agreed that in industry time is often the essence of a contract. If an industrialist coming to this country wanted to open up a factory to make certain vital products which would earn a great deal of foreign currency, obviously time would be important. In the case in my division it was a Canadian manufacturer who wanted to set up a factory, but time was the essence of the contract, and in matters of town and country planning time means very little when one has to find the way through the Act. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) who commented on the complexity of the Act. What he said is proved by the fact that although the Ministry and the Parliamentary Secretary did all they could to straighten out this case, the matter went on for many months. In the end the manufacturer decided, temporarily at least, to transfer his activities to Belgium instead of to my constituency, where they would have provided employment for new residents on an L.C.C. estate.

As an example of the absurd way in which the Act works in these instances, I would point out that a portion of that estate had been allocated for small satellite factories to serve the employment needs of the new residents. There was no question that the land was not designated for use by factories. Nevertheless, it was found impossible to give exemption under Section 80, and a development charge of about £4,000 fell to be levied on a comparatively small area of land. Not only that, but the negotiations occupied an enormous time. It was most difficult to get a satisfactory answer as to where the manufacturer stood under the provisions of the Act.

I make a plea that, although the matter cannot be dealt with now, it should be included in further amending legislation if the Act is ever to serve anything like the purpose which it was intended to serve. I wish to register as strong a plea as I can that if further Amendments become necessary the requirements of industry should be considered. As the Minister has already committed himself to making experiments in freedom, perhaps he will make an experiment in streamlining the Act for industry so that industrialists will know clearly where they stand, what the cost will be, how long it will take to get planning permission, and how to find their way through the intricacies of the Act.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich, South)

Before the Parliamentary Secretary replies to this brief debate, perhaps he would allow me to make two or three points, as a former occupant of the ministerial office which he now holds. Both the Amendments contained in this Bill are necessary Amendments of the law. Therefore, I have no doubt that the Bill will receive a unanimous Second Reading. Before I raise one or two questions on each point, I should like to support what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton). I should like to say a few words about the powers which will in future be held by the Minister of Town and Country Planning in addition to those which he at present holds.

It would obviously be out of order, nor would it be my desire, to deal with the transfer of powers from the Minister of Health to the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to say that, while an opportunity will no doubt be given to the House to discuss those transfers in detail, those who are interested, as I am, in town and country planning, will welcome the fact that certain additional powers at present held by the Minister of Health are being transferred to him. I am sure that it was not logical that the Ministry of Health should have had powers under its Acts to choose and acquire the sites for houses, a matter obviously of the greatest interest to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and only as a matter of courtesy be under any necessity of consulting the Ministry of Town and Country Planning.

I turn to the changes made by the Bill. Let me take the first change, that which relates to war damage. The first question I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is one which was also put by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). As I understand the first change made by this Measure, it is really to put in order and to give a legal basis for the existing provisions of the General Development Order and Development Charge Applications Regulations, 1950. The Minister said that the local authorities desired and that he needed the power of control which he thought he possessed but which he has now been advised that, without this Measure, he does not possess. My first question is whether any damage has, in fact, already been done which will not be remedied by the Bill which we are now invited to pass. The House would like to know whether in fact, owing to this defect in his powers, the Minister has had to permit anything which, had he possessed the power which he believed he possessed at the time these Regulations were made, he would never have allowed.

On the question of compensation which was raised by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), I am under the impression that perhaps a more suitable occasion for detailed discussion may be provided during the Committee stage of this Measure. I shall be glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, but I confess that my first impression, confirmed by such inquiry as I made from the right hon. Gentleman's courteous Department by telephone this morning, is that some of the fears expressed by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Edge Hill are not justified. In view of the combined effect of Sections 19 and 53 of the 1947 Act, the position may not be exactly what the hon. Member for Edge Hill feared.

I agree, however, that there will be a further opportunity of discussing that particular matter. I should be bound to support the right hon. Gentleman in seeking to make the first Amendment, because he handsomely admitted that he acquired this power under an Act which I had the honour to help to conduct through this House—the Act of 1943. As the House provided him with this power in 1943, and his predecessor rather carelessly gave it away in 1947, I have the utmost pleasure in helping to give it back to him.

Now I come to the second change, namely, putting right the defect regarding enforcement to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention in his opening speech. We can be certain that here we are in time with our legislative Amendment and that no irrevocable damage can have been done, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take to heart the lesson of how that defect came about. I spoke on the Second and Third Readings of the 1947 Bill, and I served on the Committee which considered it when it was passing through the House, and the section which now contains this blunder was one which we were not permitted to consider at all upstairs. I think the Government themselves now agree that that is so, and that the section required amendment in the House of Lords, but they made a blunder in accepting an Amendment which had certain technical defects.

There is one other matter which I would mention regarding what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak. He suggested an Amendment to the title to include the word "Amendment." I can leave that question with some confidence to the Parliamentary draftsmen, but, with respect, I rather differ from my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak. I think there is some convenience in having a short Title which mentions the subject-matter and the year but does not include the word "Amendment," unless it is really necessary. However, that is a question for the draftsman.

I come now to the only point upon which I have a further suggestion to make to the Government. There will, of course, be certain Amendments which we may put down on drafting and other matters, even with the short title as it stands. There are, however, other matters which I think the whole House would like to put right. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to remember that an Amendment to the short title of a Bill is one of those things which never happen unless the Government ask for it. If they asked for it, I think there would certainly be support from both sides of the House for other amendments of the principal Act. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale), who enlivened the House with a witty contribution earlier this afternoon, mentioned how he thought development charges were computed. It is not for me to say whether the hon. Gentleman is right or wrong, but I believe that the Government would be well advised to meet the demand that has been made from the very beginning by the Opposition, that there should be a right of appeal against the assessment of the development charge.

The second example which I would give—and it is something which, at least, we ought all to be able to discuss—concerns the matter that was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson). The Government do not want to incur unnecessary unpopularity, through an injustice in any necessary acquisition of dwelling houses, because of a defect in the 1947 Act. I am sure the Government would be well advised so to amend the short title of this Measure that the question raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North, could at least be discussed. These are the only observations which I desire to make, and I have no doubt that the House will give the Bill a unanimous Second Reading.

5.6 p.m.

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

May I, first of all, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, express appreciation to the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) and to the hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss), who respectively opened and wound up the debate for the Opposition, for their very kindly references to my right hon. Friend and to the new responsibilities which have been placed upon him? These kindly remarks are very much appreciated indeed.

There have been only four speeches today which have in any way really dealt with the subject matter of this Bill except for the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), the hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South, and my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) all drew attention to matters which I suggest, with great respect, have been entirely outside the scope of this Bill. While they are all very important matters, and while there are many other important matters which have not been mentioned at all today in regard to the 1947 Act, they are entirely outside the scope of the present Bill, and I am sure that those hon. Gentlemen will not expect me to reply to the points which they raised, though the fact that I am not replying to them does not necessarily mean that we can in any way accept the implications of some of their remarks. I feel that it is my job today to deal only with those points which have been raised in so far as this short Bill is concerned.

Firstly, how does the Bill come about at all? It arises, in fact, from an exclusion from the general definition of development in Section 12 of the 1947 Act; and a proviso to subsection (2) excludes from the requirement to obtain planning permission works on buildings that are being renovated or maintained, or in which the interior is being altered while the exterior is not. So far as the general application of the Act is concerned, it was understood to apply to all major repairs and maintenance works, but when the legal gentlemen came along, they decided that maintenance included any work necessary to restore the build- ing to the condition in which it was before. It is a fact that, in any blitzed area, if there is a wall, say 2 ft. 6 ins. in height, or something like that still standing, the exception under Section 12 (2) (a) of the 1947 Act will apply and the building can be rebuilt without permission. That was by no means the intention of the Act, and, since the question was asked by the hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South, I can say that there have been no serious cases in which redevelopment has been prevented.

I think it was the hon. Member for The High Peak who asked how it was that this defect was found out. It is the result of a case at Hull in which a certain lawyer, who had been briefed by the owner of certain property, stumbled across the point about maintenance including complete restoration of the building so long as some part of it was still standing. The point was looked into, in conjunction with the Law Officers, and it was shown to be the fact: so that, if some very bright people had got on to it and had wanted to be awkward, they could have caused a great deal of trouble. Frankly, we have not shouted about it, nor have the local authorities, nor the legal gentleman, and no damage has been done up to the moment. I am sure that the House will agree, however, that, where so very serious a defect—from the point of view of redevelopment of the blitzed cities—has been brought to light, we ought to put it right, and we have done that by means of Clause 1 of this Bill.

The second point raised by the hon. Member for The High Peak and by the hon. Member for Henley is a very small one. Great play was made of the fact —I do not complain in any shape or form; it is part of the system of debate in this House—that the Amendment in the House of Lords was accepted and that Section 23 was not discussed in this House. The fact is that in all good faith a noble Lord moved the Amendment and that in all good faith it was accepted. The intention of the Amendment was good; it was that a person who had committed a breach of the law, either knowingly or unknowingly, should not for all times be put in peril of being pulled up for it. It placed a limitation on the period of time in which a local planning authority could call for redress from a person who had evaded planning permission. What happened was that the four-year limitation took effect from the time that planning permission was acted on.

It is quite common, particularly in blitzed areas, for a planning authority to say that for, perhaps, 10, 15 or 20 years they will not be able to develop such areas as they would like to do, and that as the redevelopment will not come about for some considerable length of time they are prepared to give planning permission for temporary shop and office premises or for the temporary re-adaptation of certain buildings. But under the Amendment accepted in the other place, once four years had gone by, anyone could ignore a condition imposed under that planning permission.

I will now deal with the matter of compensation which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill, by the hon. Member for The High Peak and by the hon. Member for Henley. If I may say so, the hon. Member for The High Peak gave the correct answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill in regard to the matter of compensation. Under the Bill as it now stands—and it perpetuates what was in the 1947 Act—where a person is deprived of the opportunity of the reasonable use of his land and buildings through being refused permission to develop, he will, in fact, have the cost of work payment taken into account in the purchase price which he receives from the local authority. That does not mean to say that we can make the cost of work payments mobile, but it does mean that, so far as a person who is, refused planning permission is concerned, the cost of restoring the building is taken into account by the local authority in assessing compensation if, in fact, the owner should require the local authority, as he can under Section 19, to acquire the property as being no longer of any great value to himself.

Mr. Hay

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether the amount of compensation would also take into account the much higher cost of the purchase of another site elsewhere?

Mr. Lindgren

No, Sir. Could one really do that in such cases? I do not think one could say that in such a case the cost of acquiring some other site must, in fact, be taken into account when assessing compensation, because that would lead to a great many difficulties.

Mr. Irvine

I do not want to cause any difficulty about this, but I take it that in his answer to me my hon. Friend is referring to the provisions of Section 53 of the 1947 Act. The point I want to make quite clear is that where there is a value payment to be made—not a cost of work payment—it seems to me there may be a lacuna in the compensation law resulting from this amending Bill.

Mr. Lindgren

I will be perfectly frank; even my legal friends in putting a question as clearly as they can, confuse me. This is a very important but a very confusing point, and if my hon. Friend agrees I will discuss it with him later, because it is so involved.

I think I have answered all the points raised in regard to matters which come within the scope of the Bill, and I thank the House for the—

Mr. Molson

I did ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he would give an indication as to how the procedure had worked—whether, in fact, it had worked flexibly and smoothly.

Mr. Lindgren

The general procedure has worked exceptionally well, and there has been very little difficulty at all. In some areas, indeed, there has been greater difficulty over the plans for re-development than over the machinery for redevelopment. In cases of difficulty the dispute usually arose between the existing owners of land and the local authority who wanted a totally different layout for the area. It was an attempt to get the original layout restored which brought the present defect to light.

Mr. Molson

I also asked the hon. Gentleman whether it was possible to distinguish between larger and lesser repair works and whether the experiment had been tried in the case of the directions to say that they should only apply to work involving expenditure of more than a certain amount.

Mr. Lindgren

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me because I had intended to deal with that point. Although it goes a little wider, the intention of and the urgent necessity for Clause 1 of this Bill is in areas where complete re-development is needed because of the blitz; but the need also arises on the fringes of such areas and even in the case of relatively minor works within such areas. With regard to blitz repairs, all the minor works, generally speaking, have, in fact, been already carried out. After all, it is now five or six years since work of that sort was started in such cities as London, Bristol, Plymouth and others. Therefore, whilst it is true that this Bill deals with both major and minor works, all the minor works have been carried out, and so the hon. Member's point about the need for a distinction between major and minor works does not in practice arise.

In such cases as the hon. Member for Henley quite rightly envisaged—it was a common occurrence for the top floor of a building to be destroyed through incendiary action—it is true to say that in most areas such repairs would have been completed by now. But should such work not have been completed, even in an area in which no immediate redevelopment is to take place, then, of course, the opportunity for restoration is still there, and so the person goes ahead on restoration with war damage payments and the rest.

Mr. Hay

My point was not only that but also that planning permission was required. As I see it, in view of the fact that they had in mind the complete development of that area, a local authority might prevent the restoration of that particular small part of a much bigger building.

Mr. Lindgren

If in fact they have taken power within the area for redevelopment then planning permission must be obtained. Normal sensible arrangements are made by local authorities all over the country: if an area is scheduled for immediate re-development it would be a waste of labour and material if, within 12 months, the whole building was to come down, and the local authority would not sanction it. However, if the site is not required for immediate development they might give planning permission for a number of years for restoration. I thank the House for the way they have received this Bill on Second Reading. As suggested by hon. Members there are many points which are Committee points and we shall be happy to consider them.

Mr. Hutchinson


Mr. H. Strauss

There was one other point, and it may be the same point about which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), is rising to put a question. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is the last chance of raising this point to which I ventured to refer in my winding-up speech. Can he say whether the Government will favourably consider extending the short Title in such a manner that some other Amendments, some of which are supported in all quarters of the House, like that suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford. North, might be considered on the Committee stage?

Mr. Lindgren

No, Sir, I really could not. Quite frankly, and I am speaking entirely personally, I think the point raised by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) is even more important. The difficulty is where we could stop, and I cannot give that undertaking.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Royle.]