HC Deb 09 July 1959 vol 608 cc1705-18

Lords Amendment: After Amendment last inserted, insert: B.—(1) The provisions of sections seventeen and eighteen of this Act (except subsection (2) of the said section eighteen) shall have effect in relation to any planning permission which, in accordance with any direction or provision given or made by or under an enactment, is deemed to be granted for any development, as if a planning decision granting that permission had been made at the time when, in accordance with the enactment in question, the permission is deemed to be granted: Provided that, in the case of a direction given under an enactment which contains no provision as to the time when the permission is deemed to be granted, those provisions shall have effect as if such a planning decision had been made at the time when the direction is given. (2) The provisions of sections seventeen and eighteen of this Act (except subsection (2) of the said section eighteen) shall have effect in relation to any planning permission which is granted for any development by virtue of a development order, as if—

  1. (a) a planning decision granting that permission had been made at the time of the occurrence of the event in consequence of which (in accordance with the provisions of the order) the development is deemed to be sanctioned by a government department, or
  2. (b) in a case not falling within the preceding paragraph, such a planning decision had been made at the time when the development is initiated.
(3) Where the provisions of section seventeen of this Act have effect as applied by subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section, then if—
  1. (a) before the time of the planning decision which is to be assumed in accordance with those provisions as so applied, a person who (in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) of section eighteen of this Act as so applied) is entitled to give an address for service under that section has given such an address to the acquiring authority, and
  2. (b) the development is proposed to be carried out by the acquiring authority, or, if it is proposed to be carried out by a person other than the acquiring authority, notice of that proposal is given to the acquiring authority by the person proposing to carry out the development.
it shall (subject to the next following subsection) be the duty of the acquiring authority to give notice of that proposal in the prescribed form to the first-mentioned person at the address given by him to the authority.
(4) An acquiring authority shall not be required by virtue of the last preceding subsection to give notice of proposed development to the person mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section eighteen of this Act at a time after an address for service has been given to them by such a person as is mentioned in paragraph (b) of the said subsection (1), if they have reasonable grounds for believing that the former person is dead or that any other act or event has occurred such as is mentioned in subsection (5) of section seventeen of this Act. (5) Any reference in this section to subsection (1) of section eighteen of this Act shall include a reference to that subsection as extended by subsection (7) of that section and any reference in this section to subsection (5) of section seventeen of this Act shall accordingly include a reference to paragraph (d) of subsection (9) of the said section eighteen.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. MacColl

There are one or two points about the new Clause upon which I should like to comment. The Minister offered us an exhaustive analysis of the Clause. It would have been helpful if he had told us something more about what is in it.

Before you were in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, we were discussing the question of a misprint in the last line of the Clause, line 61. It was explained to us that the misprint was due to the House and not to the Government. That is something that we can all understand and accept. What I feel about it is that it is intolerable and indicative of what the Government have been doing with a casual disregard not only of hon. Members and their work but of the servants of the House in checking this enormously complicated volume for it to be printed. One of two things happened. Either no effort whatever was made to check that the print was right or it was know that it was wrong but no effort was made to tell anyone that there was a misprint.

This is not a fiddling point. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said that anyone who tries to grasp what the volume means finds it difficult enough in all con science to get through it when it means what it says, but in this case having got to the sixtieth line of the new Clause we find a reference to something that does not exist, and this means that it takes a terrific amount of time, research and guesswork to find out what is meant. It means that hon. Members who have been trying to understand what all these Amendments are about not only have difficulty in understanding what the new Clause means but have been prevented by the duration of their labours from finding out what the rest of the Lords Amendments mean because they never got to them, being so busy scratching their heads to find out what this means.

It is very difficult to understand why the Government, if they knew there was a misprint—as they moved the Amendment, presumably they knew there was a misprint—did not make some effort to tell hon. Members. It is characteristic of the cavalier way they are treating the House that they produce without any apology or explanation this portentous document which has to be discussed at short notice. They have rushed it through and, therefore, there has been no adequate time to consider it, and they have not even bothered to save hon. Members unnecessary labours in trying to grasp what it means.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) considers—he is a very persuasive authority with me, and I am sure he is with all other hon. Members—that the new Clause does not greatly add to the extent of the Bill and is a reasonable one. I am glad to know that. As you, Mr. Speaker, told us, this is a matter of Privilege and therefore it must mean some extra expenditure, contingently or certainly—I would not know.

This is one of those marginal cases of which the Minister is so fond. He did not trouble to tell us how much was involved. He is asking the House to accept an Amendment from another place imposing a charge on the public, but he does not tell us whether it is 2¼d. or £100,000. The House is entitled to know what is involved, if anything. We can be certain that there will be at least one extra charge on public funds and that is the cost of printing. It comes about from the series of provisions in this whole beautiful concept, to which the Minister is devoted, of giving the owners of land a rake-off on land which they have already sold.

10.30 p.m.

In the original Bill, Clause 17 provided: Additional compensation for new planning permission in respect of land acquired. Clause 18 referred to: Supplementary provisions as to compensation under section 17. In other words, that was a supplementary provision to compensation under additional provisions. To that we are being asked to add: Extension of sections 17 and 18 to planning permission where no planning decision made. We now have these three enormous Clauses which are extremely difficult to follow and which are all closely interrelated.

The net effect is that Clause 17 has 173 lines and Clause 18 has 93 lines. If we drop eight lines which the Government have proposed to omit and set off odd words which have been dropped against odd words which have been added, the net effect of that added to the Lords Clause is a total of 327 lines from which we have to deduct eight lines to leave a net total of 319 lines dealing with this question in three Clauses.

Somebody has to try to grapple with and understand that. We are here apparently light-heartedly passing this new Clause which will add to the difficulties which are already big enough and about which we have already protested. This is a most irresponsible way in which to treat the public, officers of local authorities and private practitioners who have to advise members of the public and to throw at them what is obviously ill-digested legislation.

The fact that it is ill-digested legislation was shown even in Standing Committee when we were trying to persuade the Minister to simplify the Bill and to explain some of its provisions. The right hon. Gentleman took very much the same attitude which he is now taking, saying, "Take it or leave it". The result of that has been a drastic re-writing of the Bill in another place. That phrase is always coming up—"This is merely a re-writing of a provision".

I suggest that it is unfair to the House that without adequate consideration we should be asked to add to the Bill something which, if it is not necessary, will only complicate the Bill and which, if it is necessary, should be properly explained.

I conclude as I began, by asking for some information about the financial implications of the Clause for both the Treasury and local authorities. It has not been sufficiently brought to the attention of the House that in many Amendments—this in particular and in a worse example later—we are imposing a charge on the public at this late hour in this way at this late stage of the Bill. They are charges which were not imposed in the earlier draft of the Bill. If the Minister says that there is very little involved, or, as he said earlier, that it is marginal, will he say precisely what the effect of new Clause (B) is in financial terms?

Mr. Sparks

The title of the proposed new Clause is: Extension of ss. 17 and 18 to planning permission where no planning decision made. As I understand the work of local planning authorities, one cannot have planning permission without a decision being made. Is the right hon. Gentleman referring to an assumed planning permission? If he is, I can understand that. Planning permission is permission to the person who is making the application, but before the permission is granted a planning decision has to be arrived at by the planning authority.

The planning authority cannot give planning permission without arriving at a decision, so this is confusing in that sense, but I think that what the right hon. Gentleman may be aiming at is an assumed planning permission because a local authority may wish to acquire a piece of land where it is not necessary to obtain planning permission itself because no specific use is designated in the development plan and then, for the purposes of compensation, an assumed planning permission has to be obtained. I can understand that, because it is upon the assumed planning permission that the compensation is paid.

The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that this Clause was concerned mainly with the question of general development orders, granted by Government Departments, which permitted development and carried with them planning permission in certain areas. Was the right hon. Gentleman referring to such general development orders as were granted before the local authority desired to acquire the land, or was he referring to general development orders which arise after the local authority has acquired the land, because there is a distinction between the two situations. If the general development order were granted before the local authority acquired the land, the basis of compensation to be paid by the owner would have regard to that general development order and the use to which it designated the land. It would probably be on that basis that the compensation would be paid to the owner of the land.

If the general development order is not issued until after the local authority has acquired the land, it may well give a higher value to the land than that which the local authority paid for its acquisition. Where a general development order carried a lower development value the local authority would have to stand the loss, but where it carried a higher value the local authority would have to pay the additional compensation. The general development order may be made after the local authority has acquired the land, but before the expiry of five years the authority may wish to put the land to a use other than that which it originally intended. What is the situation from the point of view of compensation?

This is a very complicated Clause. Some of us are trying to understand what it means. Even if hon. Members opposite are not concerned, we want to know what it means. I re-emphasise that the title of the Clause is rather confusing and misleading, because we cannot have a planning permission without a planning decision. If the Minister can tell us whether it refers to an assumed planning permission it would clear the air as to the intentions of the Clause and its effect on local authorities who want to change the use from the first purpose to a second purpose.

The Clause may be designed not for local authority acquisition. Other bodies will require to purchase land for their own purposes. If the Clause applies to all authorities, other than local authorities, who want to acquire land, I can understand it, but if it is designed to cover local authority acquisition of land I submit that it creates an added confusion as to the precise responsibilities and liabilities which local authorities will have to undertake in consequence of it.

The right hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to the Clause earlier on, and it would be helpful if he could give the House a little more information as to the applicability of the Clause to local authority acquisition in relation to the general development orders, and also tell us whether it relates to authorities other than local authorities who require to acquire land under general development orders.

Mr. Gibson

I had hoped not to have to rise in this debate. I held back earlier on because I thought the Minister would reply to the point made very clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl)—much more clearly than I did in our earlier discussion. The point I raised then comes up again here. The new Clause is headed, "Extension of ss. 17 and 18 to planning permission where no planning decision made." When we turn to those Clauses we find that they both deal with additional compensation.

I cannot believe that the new Clause was put in without anybody working out a rough idea what it will cost local authorities. I would remind the Minister again that on the original Bill we were given a Financial Memorandum, which showed that as the Bill was then written the extra cost on the funds of local authorities would be about £8½ million per annum.

10.45 p.m.

I remember during the Committee discussions quoting a memorandum which showed that as far as the London County Council was concerned it was going to cost it £1 million per annum extra. The Bill has been considerably altered since then. It was altered in Committee. These additional compensation payments were put into the Bill during the weary three months that we spent discussing the Bill upstairs.

Mr. Ross

Not weary.

Mr. Gibson

They were weary to some of us especially when we got to dominium utile, and even now we do not know exactly what it means.

The Bill has come back from the other House with a proposed new Clause giving additional compensation to someone in certain circumstances, and the House is being asked to accept it as a drafting point, as something which more adequately expresses what the Committee wanted. It seems to me that what is proposed is a new and additional point.

As I said earlier, it is an endeavour to make sure that even more people can dip their hands into the coffers of the local authorities if they happen to have land which the authorities want. I object to the House being asked to adopt the Clause without adequate discussion and without having the opportunity of examining it such as we would have had in Committee. We are being asked to accept it without being given any estimate by the Government of what it may cost local authorities when the Bill becomes an Act, if it ever does.

It seems to me that this is treating the House with contempt and is an abuse of Parliamentary procedure. I hope that the Minister will now be able to obtain information, if he has not already got it, as to what this Clause can mean in the shape of additional cost to the local ratepayers and that he will tell the House and the country so that we may have a clear appreciation of how these masses of Amendments which have come from the Lords will affect the people of this country.

Mr. H. Brooke

If I may speak again with the leave of the House, I should like to say that the hon. Member for Clap-ham (Mr. Gibson) does me an injustice. I never suggested that it was a mere drafting point. I explained it at the outset in terms which enabled the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) to ask what the new Clause did, and I can hardly improve on his description of it.

Let me try again. This new Clause extends the provision already in the Bill to two cases where planning permission is given though no planning decision is taken. I think that is what the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) did not quite appreciate. When a development order is made, nobody gives planning permission, nobody takes a planning decision. The development order is made and that automatically gives certain planning permissions.

As I say, the Clause extends the Bill as it stands to planning permissions which are given by a development order. The hon. Member for Clapham, with his extensive local government knowledge, must surely know that the likelihood of that happening in the future is very small compared with the whole agglomeration of planning permissions which are given by the ordinary procedure. That is why nobody can fix the figure of the prospective cost of this Clause.

The other reason is that it is all in the future. None of us can foresee what development orders may be made or, indeed, what planning permissions may be deemed to be granted. Nevertheless, the fact is that this is completing the precedure in Clauses 17 and 18 by including certain other cases, rare in comparison with those covered by the Clauses. But if we did not do that, there would be an anomalous inconsistency between them. I am, therefore, entitled to say that the financial effect of this Clause is marginal.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) asked for a further explanation about the new Clause. I had offered to give one and he took up that offer. Subsection (1) deals with the cases in which planning permission is deemed to be granted. As the hon. Gentleman knows, permission may be deemed to be granted when a Minister who is authorising development under some Act of Parliament or other may direct that planning permission for such development may be deemed to be granted.

Another example is the case of planning development by a local authority. I think that this arises only in England and Wales. Permission is deemed to have been granted when the local authority resolves to carry it out, and this subsection says that the time of the planning decision in such cases is the date of the direction or resolution

Mr. MacColl

As it is now to apply, as I understand, where there has been Ministerial direction to the authority, does not that widen the scope of the Bill which has been based on the principle that the planning authority has changed its mind? The argument for Clause 17 is that the person who has changed his mind is the person who benefits by the change of development. If it is a Ministerial development, why should the wretched local authority have to pay more compensation as a kind of fine to the owner of the land?

Mr. Brooke

That raises the general question.

Mr. MacColl

No, this is new.

Mr. Brooke

There is no doubt that when a new planning permission attaches to the land, the value of the land may further be enhanced and an obligation to pay additional compensation may accrue.

Subsection (2) deals with permission automatically granted when Government sanction is given and the date of the sanction is taken as the date of the planning decision. Paragraph (b) covers the other case where no specific sanction is necessary. Under subsection (3) an obligation to notify a third party will arise only where development is proposed to be carried out by the acquiring authority or it has been notified by the person proposing to carry out the development, because otherwise it might not know and might not be in a position to fulfil the obligation. The remaining subsections of the new Clause correspond with similar subsections in Clause 18.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Widnes was puzzled about the misprint, for which I explained that the Government are not responsible. When he found that there was no subsection (9) in Clause 18 I should have thought it possible that he might have guessed that the reference to the subsection was a mistake for Clause 17. There is a subsection (9, d) in Clause 17. I am extremely sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have been under any misconception. I understand that it is not the duty of the Government to move Amendments where there is a misprint in the version of the Lords Amendments laid before Parliament by the House authorities.

Mr. Willis

As I read the new Clause, subsection (5) relates purely to Scotland. Subsection (5) is the Scottish application of the new Clause. Why could not this new Clause be treated as the other Clauses having a Scottish application have been treated? Why could we not be told at the commencement of the subsection, as we are told in other Scottish application subsections— In the application of this section to Scotland, any reference in this section to subsection (1) of section eighteen and so forth?

Once again, it seems that the Scottish Office has had little or no consideration for the people who will have to make the Bill work. On the one hand, people can go through the Bill and be guided, at the end of the various Clauses, by a subsection commencing, In the application of this section to Scotland … but in this new Clause, one has to read right through the thing and refer back to Clauses 17 and 18 to see what the particular subsections are to which reference is made, and then, having done that, one discovers that they refer to Scotland. That is a shocking way to treat Scottish legislation.

The Solicitor-General could have done better than that. Even today, he could have introduced a manuscript Amendment to put it right.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland indicated dissent.

Mr. Willis

The Solicitor-General shakes his head. After listening to him, I am not surprised at his defeatist attitude. He does not seem to think that he can do anything. I am bound to say that we on this side of the House would agree with that. But that is no reason why he should not, at least, try. After all, there are people who will have to try to understand the Bill in Scotland. Many people will have to try to make it work. I do not like repeating myself, but it ought to be said again that the job of the House is not to make things difficult to understand, but to enable the people who are affected by the legislation we pass to understand it. That is our job, not to make it more difficult. Why have we this difference in this new Clause?

I ask that question, too, because I think I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Minister say, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), that there were certain differences in relation to Scotland as regards subsection (1). When speaking about permission being deemed to have been granted, I think he said that this applied to England and Wales. He did not seem to know whether it applied to Scotland or not. Will the Solicitor-General tell us what the position is, and why that has not been made clear in the Clause? It seems to me that the Scottish application is very obscure, and we ought to be told by the learned Solicitor-General why it is so obscure.

Mr. Ross

I want to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). It was singularly ungracious of the Minister, in reply, to refer to the mistake which had been made. It certainly was not made by anyone on this side, but it misled us and it obviously misled him. Without correction of the mistake, it would seem very difficult to trace any reference to Scotland in this new Clause at all. That is probably what misled the right hon. Gentleman. In discussing subsection (1), he definitely said that it did not refer to Scotland. With all respect to his superior knowledge and position, he did say that.

11.0 p.m.

It certainly does refer to Scotland, but on superficial reading it would be very difficult to appreciate that it did so. We have really no direct Scottish application here at all and, of course, it is little wonder that the Scottish Office did not realise that it did refer to Scotland because the only direct reference is to … subsection (9) of the said section eighteen That should read "section seventeen"—about which we are told we should have known.

The fact is that when we try to track down these Amendments in order to apply them to the original Bill we get into an unholy mess before arriving at the truth. And if the Minister is so ungracious about this mistake that he has made, is there no responsibility at all on the Government to check for accuracy that which they lay upon the Table? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in this respect our complaints do not arise from irritation or pique.

I can further assure him that there is another of these mistakes still to come—a mistake that cost me about one and a half hours, trying to make sense of it, and then I realised that no sense could be made of it. I suppose that that, too, will be blamed on the poor printer. As far as I know, the Government have not discovered that mistake yet but, when they do, the Minister will no doubt apologise and say that it has been brought to his attention. If he does not read the papers that are placed before him, we have to, and it is very difficult to get into this kind of position. I do not know how many more minutes we have to find this one out, but no doubt we will be told that it was the poor printer, that we should have known better, and so on.

All this is less than fair when we are dealing with a series of complicated Amendments. To have these misprints and wrong figures inevitably leads to additional and frustrating work for hon. Members. I sincerely hope that we shall have from the Solicitor-General for Scotland an adequate explanation that the new Clause does apply to Scotland and that the mistake is one that should never have happened, certainly to him or to anyone representing the Scottish Front Bench, because this, again, refers to our learned superiors in Scotland, the people who get this additional and further consideration.

Mr. N. Macpherson

I really do not think that there is any great difficulty with regard to subsection (5) of the new Clause. It expressly states: Any reference in this section to subsection (1) of section eighteen of this Act shall include a reference to that subsection as extended by subsection (7) of that section … Subsection (7) refers exclusively to Scotland. Therefore, we have not to look very far, or spend one and a half hours on that. I am sorry, indeed, about the time it has taken the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to find out the error—it does not seem to have improved his temper tonight—but we will wait for the other one, when, perhaps, we shall find that it is not so real as he thinks.

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood my right hon. Friend. I certainly did not hear my right hon. Gentleman say—and I am quite sure that he did not say—that this new Clause does not apply to Scotland. What he did was to give an example that referred exclusively to England and Wales. I heard him give, as an example of deemed permission, development by a local planning authority in England and Wales for which permission is deemed to have been granted when the authority resolved to carry out the development, and he said that that related only to England and Wales. That is so, but that is only one example. There are plenty of examples, covered both by subsection (1) and by subsection (2), which relate to Scotland.

As the hon. Member will know, the procedure in that case is that where there is a resolution of an authority, that resolution has to be notified to the Secretary of State and it is then open to the Secretary of State to confirm, refuse or modify it. That, however, was merely the example given by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Willis

Is it a question of drafting?

Mr. Macpherson

It is not a question of drafting. The mere fact that the Clause does not say that it does not apply to Scotland makes it quite clear that it does apply to Scotland.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to. [Several with Special Entries.]