HC Deb 14 May 1953 vol 515 cc1547-56

10.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I beg to move, That the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Regulations, 1953, dated 14th April, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th April, be approved. These Regulations make a few small amendments to the existing Regulations which deal with planning control over quarrying and other work. The existing Regulations apply the general principles of the Town and Country Planning Act to the special case of minerals. They were introduced in the summer of 1948, and experience has shown that some amendments were desirable to those Regulations. With the exception of one, these amendments are on points of detail and machinery, and they are reasonably well explained in the Explanatory Note at the end of the Statutory Instrument. Unfortunately it is not easy to reconcile the Explanatory Note with the Regulations, but the Explanatory Note is comprehensive if not easily reconcilable.

The one exception to the minor amendments is Regulation 5, which is on page 2 of the Statutory Instrument. This slightly extends the field for claiming compensation for loss which has been suffered on a refusal of permission to re-open or extend an existing mine or quarry. To make this point clear, perhaps I can give an example. If a man in 1938 had a 70-year lease to extract minerals and had installed the necessary machinery for that extraction, and then, during the war, he was stopped by a Defence Regulation from extracting the minerals, and after the war, when he came to restart he was not allowed to do so on planning grounds —perhaps the man was in the Cotswolds and he could not restart because it was thought undesirable that the Cotswolds should be disfigured—

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

A more aesthetic Government.

Mr. Marples

I am glad that the hon. and learned Member supports the Government in this light-hearted way, and I am most gTateful for his support— if the man were stopped during the war by a Defence Regulation, he could, under the existing Regulations, get compensation for abortive expenditure on plant and machinery and the necessary installations to extract the minerals.

If a man were making bricks he could get compensation for abortive expenditure on his plant and machinery, provided that he was stopped by a Defence Regulation. But if he had to stop during the war because all his men were conscripted, and not because of any Defence Regulation, he would, under the existing Regulations, not be able, when he came to restart, to get any compensation for abortive expenditure.

It was the tight wording of the existing Regulations which was responsible for this situation. One or two cases came to the notice of the Ministry in which it was clearly unjust to exclude compensation, but as they did not fall precisely within the wording of the previous Regulations no claim could be made. These revised Regulations remedy that injustice. Compensation is granted for abortive expenditure on plant and machinery—kilns or whatever it may be —where the man is prevented from doing something by the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act. He is not paid compensation for any losses suffered during the war through not being able to work his property.

It was asked in another place how much money would be involved. It is only a very small amount, according to the number of cases which have come to the knowledge of the Department. There may be other claims made if and when this Statutory Instrument becomes law, but it is not expected that they will amount to very much. The cost will be quite infinitesimal as compared with the general scope of the Act.

Another point I wish to make is that those parts of the 1948 Regulations which deal with development charges, claims on the £300 million fund and allied matters will have to be reviewed later in connection with the Government's proposals for the general amendment of the financial provisions of the 1947 Act. These present Regulations, therefore, do not touch on any of this. Their sole purpose is to make a number of minor amendments which experience over the last four or five years has shown to be desirable. The Regulations are limited in scope, impose very little charge upon the Exchequer but, I hope hon. Members will agree, give a great measure of justice; therefore, I hope that the House will now agree to them.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I must say that these are very complicated Regulations. In general, I think that all my hon. Friends welcome them, despite their complexity. We welcome the point which, incidentally, the Parliamentary Secretary did not mention, and which seems to be something of considerable importance, namely, that the disposal of mining refuse is, for the first time—I believe that is so—regarded as a "change of use" and is, therefore, subject to planning control. In areas such as my own constituency that would seem to be a matter of importance or, at any rate, a matter capable of being of importance. We welcome the extension of the enforce- ment provisions, which appear to be incomplete in this regard. That is a small change, but a useful one.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he could let us know something about two points? First, there is a provision for the continuance of mining if begun without permission, or with only a limited permission, and for the imposition of conditions on that continuance. I can understand the need for that kind of provision; but I cannot understand what is the change which has called the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to it now, and, therefore, made these new Regulations necessary?

Second, we were told by the hon. Gentleman that they were intended to cover what are called some "hard" cases, where abortive expenditure has been incurred and cannot be met under the existing laws. So far as I can see, however, the change is simply to abolish two time limits—particularly that as regards the application to resume or continue. That was originally limited to, I think, a comparatively short period after the appointed day, and now the door appears to be opened completely. I have no doubt that there is some good reason for opening it, but I do not quite understand the type of hardship which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

I hope that I have made my two points clear, and that neither is unduly complicated. In general, the Regulations appear to represent a reasonable tightening up and, in other respects, a reasonable alteration; and are, therefore, acceptable.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Marples

If I might speak again, with the leave of the House, I would first say that I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. and learned Member has just said about the complexity of the Regulations. They are quite the most complicated that I have come across in my Department, and anybody who can thoroughly master them really deserves a medal. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for approving and even welcoming certain aspects of the Regulations.

The disposal of refuse is development, and, I think, rightly so. It is not only the extraction of minerals, which is important from the point of view of town and country planning, but also the re- placement of the top soil and putting the land back into position.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked why by paragraph (3), Section 18 (1) and (2), are made retrospective. The reason is that under the Town and Country Planning Act the position is that if one put in an application to erect a building which had already been started without permission, one might in certain circumstances get permission, and conditions would be attached to it. Under the Regulations which these Regulations amend, minerals were dealt with on a different basis, for no particular reason. The Regulations did not give the same treatment to mineral workings as the Act gave to buildings put up under the general Act.

Under the old Regulations, if one worked minerals for two years, there was no possibility of retrospective permission. The man who worked them could not put himself right although he might have started working the minerals without knowing that he ought not to do so. There was no method in law by which he could put himself right. The Regulations did not apply to minerals the feature of the Act which was applied to ordinary building operations. Under the new Regulations there is given to minerals what is already given to other forms of development. I do not see why it should not be so. If the person who has been working the minerals for some time past, against the law as it were, applies for permission, he can be given permission, but the Ministry or planning authority can attach conditions to the permission and make sure that the conditions are enforced.

Mr. Mitchison

If I understand the hon. Gentleman rightly, he is legalising what he regards as a pardonable illegality.

Mr. Marples

And in some cases a desirable illegality. This is legalising something which under the present Regulations could never be put right.

With regard to Regulation 5, the hon. and learned Gentleman said that the time limit had been altered in two respects. He argued that mineral undertakers had been treated more generously than those who were prevented from completing other forms of development. He was referring to Section 79 of the 1947 Act, which applied only to cases where an application for planning permission is made within six months of the appointed day; whereas Regulation 5 applies not to six months but to any time at which an application is made under Part III of the Act. I think that was his point.

Mr. Mitchison

It is near enough.

Mr. Marples

The main point is that this is not a new departure since Regulation 10 (1, b) of the 1948 regulations also dispensed with any time limit for the making of the relevant application; and for the reason that there was no time limit in the 1948 Regulations it would be inequitable to introduce one now, as it would disqualify undertakers covered by Regulation 10 (1, b); that is, those whose operations were temporarily suspended when the 1947 Act came into force. The hon. and learned Gentleman's grasp of these matters is so great that I have no doubt that he will understand the point readily.

Therefore, it is right that the mineral undertaker should be allowed this extension of time, particularly because in the case of mineral workings it must be remembered that there is continuous operation. One has to apply for permission in respect of the extraction of the minerals and, as one goes along, one also has to put the ground back into position, and one sometimes has to use for that the same machinery as one used for the extraction of the minerals. The London Brick Company at Stewartby use the same machinery for replacing the overburden which they take up before they come to the clay as they do for the clay which they use for making bricks.

Mr. Mitchison

Is that Corby?

Mr. Marples

I am talking about Stewartby, which is not so important as Corby in some respects but is more important industrially.

Therefore, I would say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that mineral undertakers are in quite a different category from the point of view of the time limit due to the technical nature of their operations. In view of that explanation, which I hope he will consider lucid, I trust that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with the Motion.

Resolved, That the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Regulations, 1953, dated 14th April, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th April, be approved.

10.51 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)

I beg to move: That the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) (Scotland) Regulations, 1953, dated 14th April, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th April, be approved. These Regulations are similar to those which have just been approved by the House in regard to England except in two minor respects, the first of which is the omission of the provisions in the English Regulations regarding enforcement notices. The reason is that this is already provided for by Section 21 (1) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947. The other respect in which they differ is that they contain a special provision covering the position arising from the fact that the Lands Tribunal Act, 1949, has not yet been brought into force in Scotland, and that is because there is not sufficient work for a tribunal of that nature to do at the present time. Meantime we are proceeding under the old system of procedure in these particular matters. These are the only differences in the Scottish Regulations, and I hope that the House will approve them.

10.52 p.m.

Mr, Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

When I got my copy of the Scottish Regulations and discovered that they were not quite the same as the English Regulations, I looked at the Explanatory Note. I found that the Note in the English Regulations ran to about six inches and that in the Scottish Regulations to about two and a half inches, so I assumed there must be more in the English than in the Scottish Regulations. On looking at the Regulations closely I discovered the difference about the enforcement and also that about the Lands Tribunal.

I wonder, however, if the Joint Undersecretary would help me to understand these Regulations a little better. If they are complicated to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), they are equally complicated to me. The Regulations contain many adaptations and repetitions of what was contained in the 1948 Regulations, except that Regulation 3 (b) contains an addition, namely, the inclusion of Section 16 (1 and 2) and of Section 73. I wonder if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could tell me precisely what these additions do, why they are necessary and why this change is being made.

Secondly, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in explaining the English Regulations, said a little about Regulation 5, which is Regulation 4 of the Scottish Regulations, and it seemed to me to be a great change. Section 76 of the Act which is here being amended provides, of course, that compensation for expenses will be paid if planning permission is sought within six months of the passage of the Bill, and is refused. The adaptation made here provides that compensation may be paid if planning permission is sought and refused, not within six months but at any time. Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us what kind of works in Scotland he or his right hon. Friend have in mind in making this change in the law?

Can he tell us whether I am right in thinking that a person who laid down plant and machinery some time before the passage of the Town and Country Planning Act and failed to make application for planning permission to carry out certain further work within six months of the passing of the Act but now, or in five or 10 years time does so and is then refused, will be entitled to compensation for abortive expenditure? In other words, just how far does the insertion of the words "at any time" in place of "six months from the passage of the Act" take us? What kind of case is intended to be covered by this; what kind of cases have arisen, if any, in Scotland; and is it possible to say whether this is likely to involve any considerable sum of money in compensation?

I know that these matters are complicated and perhaps my incompetence makes it impossible for me to make myself more plain to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman but, if he has followed me, I shall be indebted to him if he can help me to understand the position.

10.57 p.m.

Commander Galbraith

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will try to answer the questions put to me by the hon. Gentleman.

As he is aware, Regulation 3 replaces Regulation 3 (1) of the 1948 Regulations. It was designed to ensure that the term "use" of land in the 1947 Act includes mining operations only for certain purposes. The present Regulation widens the context in which mining operations can be regarded as a use, so that permission can be granted under Section 16 of the Act for mining operations already begun, and so that conditions relating to such operations may be enforced under Section 73 of the Act. The hon. Gentleman said that it was somewhat complicated, and I agree. The Regulation also makes it clear that Section 10 (3, b) of the Act, which provides that the deposit of waste involves a material change in the use of land, applies to waste tipping which is part of the mining operations.

The hon. Gentleman asked me exactly what was covered under Regulation 4. I would remind him that the 1948 Regulations covered abortive expenditure in respect of buildings, plant and machinery required for the winning and working of minerals. The Regulation now before us covers also such abortive expenditure in respect of buildings, plant and machinery required for processing minerals. Compensation in respect of work not authorised under current planning legislation has been excluded. The hon. Gentleman also asked what sums were involved in relation to this compensation, and I have to tell him that, so far as can be foreseen, any compensation will be very small indeed.

Mr. Fraser

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell me of any case—for instance of brickworks or quarries? If someone laid down plant for the processing of stone in a quarry, and made application for permission before 1955 or 1965, to extend his extraction of minerals to be processed by the plant installed before the passage of the Act, and was refused permission to extract additional minerals, would he be entitled to compensation for abortive expenditure due to the provision of the machinery or plant for processing minerals?

Commander Galbraith

The answer to the last part of the question is, yes. We have no knowledge of actual cases that would be covered by the new Regulation; in fact none has arisen on which the old Regulation would "bite." The new Regulation was made to cover possible cases which might arise.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. James Mclnnes (Glasgow, Central)

The Minister cannot say "yes" to my hon. Friend's question because the Lands Tribunal would consider it as a separate item for compensation and would determine later whether it would be entertained.

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Member will understand that the Lands Tribunal is not in question here. We are dealing with the arbiter appointed for this purpose.

Resolved, That the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) (Scotland) Regulations, 1953, dated 14th April, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th April, be approved.