HC Deb 27 July 1960 vol 627 cc1677-84

Lords Amendment: In page 25, line 7, at end insert: () Without prejudice to subsection (1) of this section, any requirement in an enforcement notice for the discontinuance of any use of land shall operate as a requirement for the permanent discontinuance of the use to the extent that the use is in contravention of Part III of the Act of 1947, and accordingly the resumption of the use at any time after its discontinuance in compliance with the enforcement notice shall to that extent be in contravention of the enforcement notice

Sir K. Joseph

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Will it be convenient to the House to take with this Amendment the following five Amendments, which are all consequential?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, that will be convenient.

Sir K. Joseph

Perhaps it will be convenient if I first explain that we are making now a distinction between responsibility for compliance with an original enforcement notice and responsibility for an offence against a continuing enforcement notice. Responsibility for compliance with an original enforcement notice is still governed by Clause 33, and the responsibility falls upon the owner.

Clause 37, to which all these Amendments apply, deals with the continued effect of an enforcement notice—that is to say, its effect if anybody should reinstate buildings, works, or developments which have been the subject of an enforcement notice and which have been pulled down, altered or abated as a result of an enforcement notice, but which are later reinstated—or the con- tinuing effect of an enforcement notice where the resumption of a use of land which has been abated in compliance with an enforcement notice is itself resumed.

In the second case, namely, the case covered by Clause 37, where a continued enforcement notice is disobeyed—that is to say, where there is a resumption of a forbidden use, or the reinstatement of a forbidden development—there is a positive action, the perpetrator of which can be identified.

The Amendments seek to pin the responsibility, therefore, not upon the owner who is at the moment responsible, as Clause 33, which pins the responsibility on the owner, is brought into the present draft of Clause 37, but upon the person who resumes the forbidden use or reinstates the forbidden development.

I hope that that explains this rather complicated series of Amendments, which I will now discuss in detail.

The Amendment in line 7 makes it abundantly clear that an enforcement notice will continue to apply to a use of land which is resumed after being discontinued in compliance with the notice.

The Amendments in lines 16 and 20 go together. They refer to the reinstatement of buildings or works which have been demolished or altered in compliance with an enforcement notice. They provide that a local authority may go in, in the last resort, and abate the 'offending development, recovering the cost from the perpetrator. But the Amendments also remove, by the omission of subsection (3), the responsibility that at the moment lies upon the owner by bringing in Clause 33.

The next two Amendments to take together are those in lines 24 and 29. These specifically exclude the sanction on the owner in Clause 33, to which I have been referring. The final leg of this multiple Amendment is the Amendment in line 25, which makes it clear that there is no offence in reinstatement of works which have been subject to an enforcement notice if planning permission for that reinstatement has been granted.

Mr. Dempsey

I find it rather difficult to follow the explanation of the hon. Gentleman. We are dealing, first, with a particular proprietor against whom the local authority has taken an enforcement notice. We assume that the notice has been upheld by the machinery of appeal. When that occurs a penalty is imposed on the proprietor of that caravan for every day that he occupies those premises beyond the permitted time. That is the normal course which events take.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that we are dealing in all probability with another set of circumstances where, as far as I can follow his argument, the owner in this case may be the owner of the caravan but may be causing an offence against the owner of the land.

Sir K. Joseph

By leave of the House, I wish to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that we are on Part II, which deals with general planning and not just caravans.

Mr. Dempsey

We are dealing with general planning, which reinforces my argument to an even greater extent. In general planning there is enforceable legislation operating at present which can be very detrimental towards the perpetrator of any unnecessary development or unnecessary existence of any development which, in the opinion of the powers that be or the authorities concerned, should not be tolerated any longer. From the general planning point of view, when consent has been refused and the refusal has been enforced at court level, penalties exist to such an extent that it is unwise, unprofitable and undesirable for any unauthorised developer to proceed with the development of his site or area, or whatever his fixture or asset may be.

5.0 p.m.

I am trying to ascertain the purpose served by these Amendments. In accepting them, does it mean that we are in all probability negating the present powers whereby very strong action can be taken against unauthorised developments in various part of the country. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to clarify this matter for me. If, from my reading of the Amendments, they negate the effect of provisions at present in force, I should be very surprised that the hon. Gentleman was arguing for their acceptance. It may be that he has arrived at the conclusion that these Amendments will further enforce the existing legislation.

I realise that at present where a development has been rejected by the authorities concerned and the developer continues the development, a very heavy penalty can be meted out for such unauthorised development. It would appear to me that to some extent these Amendments may be in conflict with the operation of existing legislation; on the other hand, they may not. As a member of a local authority, I should like to be satisfied that these Amendments in no way detract from the use of existing powers and existing legislation which render it well-nigh impossible for unauthorised developers to continue any development without the planning consent of the local authority.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

I gather that there is justification for the Amendments in as much that to quote the Parliamentary Secretary's own words, they would relieve the owner of certain responsibilities. He stated, also, that in the process action would be taken against perpetrators where they were identified. Does he visualise instances where such perpetrators would not be identified?

Mr. A. J. Irvine

I think that the purpose of the Amendments is not open to any objection, but, like my hon. Friends, I feel that there are some matters which possibly need further explanation.

As I understood the Parliamentary Secretary, he was telling the House that the effect of these Amendments would be that where an enforcement notice had been served on an owner of land, and there was a resumption of contravening use of the land, the enforcement authority could go not against the owner but against the current perpetrator. If I am right in that, it would seem to be an objective which was desirable in the public interest, subject to the perpetrator being given sufficient notice of what was toward.

I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would enlighten the House on that matter, because it would be undesirable that the perpetrator, to give him that title, should be made subject to enforcement proceedings without notice to himself in circumstances where he might have had no intimation from the original owner and recipient of the enforcement notice of any proceedings having been taken. I do not think that I can usefully develop that point further. There seems to be a need here for the House to be informed of the protection, if any, to prevent the undesirable effect of the perpetrator of the contravening use being made suddenly, as it were, the object of enforcement proceedings in circumstances in which he could not reasonably have discovered that originally enforcement proceedings had been commenced and carried through against the owner.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

What the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) said surely reinforces the need to see that there is a proper registration of enforcement notices. If enforcement notices are, in future, as it were, to run with the land, the normal considerations of a public register giving full particulars of the enforcement notice ought to be secured. I am not sure to what extent it is at present secured, or to what extent it may be improved by administrative action. I should think that there is good room for improvement. I intervene only to ask my hon. Friend to give an assurance, to help both the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself, that enforcement notices, in some detail, should be registered against the land, so that persons sub-sequently dealing with and on the land may have full notice thereof.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I want to express my gratitude for this Amendment. During the earlier stages of the Bill, I sail on this subject that Clause 37, as it is now, was most unfair on the owner because, as it stood, it made him absolutely liable for resumption of a breach of enforcement notice although he might not be responsible for it. This Amendment plants the responsibility on the perpetrator, on the right person, and to that extent I am very glad that it has been tabled. Nevertheless, it does raise the difficulty that it is now absolutely necessary that the new owner of the land—the purchaser of the land—should be able to be perfectly clear about the liabilities arising after the enforce-meat notice.

The enforcement notice may be quite a complicated document. It may set out the conditions on which the land is allowed to be developed as well as the breaches that have been committed. That means that, as it stands, the register is really quite useless. As far as I can recollect, if one searches for an enforcement notice in the register one gets only the name of the person against whom it is registered, the property, and the date. That is all.

That will not be sufficient for owners in future, because the enforcement notice will be a charge on the land for ever or, at least, until some one removes it. Therefore, every future owner of the land will want full particulars of that enforcement notice. I recollect trying to obtain from a local authority full particulars of an enforcement notice, after I have searched the register and obtained merely names and dates. I was refused that information by the local authority. I argued, from the legal point of view, that it could not refuse to give me those particulars, but I think that I was wrong and that the authority was quite right as the law stood, in refusing it. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will look into this and, by regulation, produce a really effective register of enforcement notices.

Sir K. Joseph

With permission of the House, I will try to reply to these points First, I would stress that the Clause, and the Amendments to it, share with the whole of Part II the object, which has been welcomed on both sides, of strengthening planning powers. In fact, the Amendments increase the planning authorities' powers. There is a power given to the local authority to abate the contravening development and, secondly, the fact that enforcement notices are continuing in their effect is emphasised and made absolutely plain, where as before it was not 100 per cent. so.

I am asked how we can be sure that the perpetrator will be identifiable, since these Amendments pin the responsibility on the perpetrator. I tried to explain that we are here dealing with a resumption of a use or a development that offends against the enforcement notice requiring an abatement or alteration of an existing development. Consequently, there is positive action which must have a perpetrator, so there should be no difficulty—unless the local planning authority has its eyes shut—in identifying the perpetrator.

The hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) asked about the purchaser's position in knowing of an enforcement notice. I can tell them that an enforcement notice is registered in the local land charges register—but, here, I must meet the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that the information is not definite enough and, in complicated cases, not nearly definite enough. I think, however, that my hon. Friend will agree that the purchaser of the land is at least put on inquiry by seraching the local land charges register, and it is then up to him to seek the full details he requires from the vendor, or through his solicitors. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have taken note of my hon. Friend's suggestion about a suitable regulation if there should be need.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the possibility that, as we are dealing with perpetrators who are resuming a contravening and prohibited use, it may be found that, in practice, the registration will not give the perpetrator sufficient notice to enable him to be dealt with fairly? I think that this is true, and the reason is very simple. At the date of the search of the register he may not have contemplated renewal of the prohibited use. In cases like that, before enforcement proceedings are begun against him, his attention should be drawn to the fact that what he is doing and the work that he is carrying out are in contravention of the planning permission, and are the subject of an earlier enforcement notice.

The point is an administrative point, but I want to emphasise it at this stage, because I think that the risk of possible unfairness is not entirely met by registration of the land charge since, at the operative date of his search into the land charge, he may not have formed the intention to resume the contravening use.

Mr. Graham Page

Before my hon. Friend replies to that, I should like to draw attention to the case in which an enforcement notice may have been issued two or three vendors back, and the present vendor may have no copy of the notice to supply to the purchaser. There may be no copy other than that registered with the local planning authority.

Sir K. Joseph

I hope that I can untie these knots. I would draw the attention of the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) to the fifth line of the Amendment in page 25, line 20, which states that before taking any action to require compliance with the enforcement notice the local authority must give not less than 28 days' notice to the owner and occupier. I think that that meets the hon. and learned Gentleman's main point.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), I can only say that it is open to any occupier to clarify the position once and for all by seeking planning permission for the use or development that he wishes to carry out. He could, therefore. if he was at all doubtful about the position regarding a use or development, put himself in the clear with the local planning authority, right or wrong, by seeking planning permission.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.