HC Deb 20 May 1968 vol 765 cc41-8


(1) When preparing a structure plan for their area and before finally determining its content for submission to the Minister, the local planning authority shall take such steps as will in their opinion secure—

  1. (a) that adequate publicity is given in their area to the report of the survey under section 1 above and to the matters which they propose to include in the plan;
  2. (b) that persons who may be expected to desire an opportunity of making representations to the authority with respect to those matters are made aware that they are entitled to an opportunity of doing so; and
  3. (c) that such persons are given an adequate opportunity of making such representations;
and the authority shall consider any representations made to them within the prescribed period.

(2) Not later than the submission of a structure plan to the Minister the local planning authority shall make copies of the plan as submitted to the Minister available for inspection at their office and at such other places as may be prescribed, and each copy shall be accompanied by a statement of the time within which objections to the plan may be made to the Minister.

(3) A structure plan submitted by the local planning authority to the Minister for his approval shall be accompanied by a statement containing such particulars, if any, as may be prescribed—

  1. (a) of the steps which the authority have taken to comply with subsection (1) above; and
  2. (b) of the authority's consultations with, and consideration of the views of, other persons with respect to those matters.

(4) If after considering the statement submitted with, and the matters included in, the structure plan and any other information provided by the local planning authority, the Minister is satisfied that the authority have adequately complied with subsection (1) above, he shall proceed to consider whether to approve the structure plan; and if he is not so satisfied he shall return the plan to the authority and direct them—

  1. (a) to take such further action as he may specify in order better to comply with that subsection; and
  2. (b) after doing so, to resubmit the plan with such modifications, if any, as they then consider appropriate and, if so required by the direction, to do so within a specified period.

(5) Where the Minister returns the structure plan to the local planning authority under subsection (4) above, he shall inform the authority of his reasons for doing so and, if any person has made to him an objection to the plan, shall also inform that person that he has returned the plan.

(6) A local planning authority who are given directions by the Minister under sub section (4) above shall forthwith withdraw the copies of the plan made available for inspection as required by subsection (2) above.

(7) Subsections (2) to (6) of this section shall apply, with the necessary modifications, in relation to a structure plan resubmitted to the Minister in accordance with directions given by him under subsection (4) as they apply in relation to the plan as originally submitted. —[Mr. MacDermot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.46 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

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

This new Clause, together with new Clause 2, replaces Clause 3 so as to meet some points raised in Committee. It was thought that it would be more convenient for the House if we presented Amendments in this form, setting out the Clause afresh, instead of tabling a series of different Amendments. We have taken the opportunity to divide the Clause into two, which will make for greater clarity. The changes made by the new Clause spring entirely from suggestions made by hon. Members in Committee.

The new Clause will amend the old subsection (1) in three ways. First, it is made clear in subsection (1) of the new Clause that the steps required for publicity and participation shall take place during the preparation of the structure plan and before its contents are finally determined in representations for submission to the Minister. We agreed in Committee that the important thing was to see that the public were consulted and could make representations before the local planning authority became committed. That is the intention of this wording. Of course, it can and will be supplemented as necessary by guidance in circulars.

Second, the words "having an interest in "have been replaced. They had been misunderstood to mean having an interest in property, as if only people with a property interest would have the right to make representations. That meaning would, of course, be far too restrictive and was not intended. The words have, therefore, been altered to make it clear that any persons, whether organisations or individuals, who may be expecting to want to make representations are to be made aware of their opportunity. This Amendment is wide enough to cover both persons resident in the area of the local planning authority and those persons, including amenity or other regional or national societies, who are based outside it.

Subsection (2) merely repeats the existing subsection (2) of Clause 3. Subsection (3) differs from the existing subsection (3) only in that it requires the statement sent to the Minister with the submitted structure plan to deal with all the steps taken to comply with the provisions of subsection (1).

Subsection (4), with the supplementary provisions in subsections (5) to (7) of the new Clause honours my undertaking to bring forward Amendments to give effect to the proposal in an Amendment moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason). First, it requires the Minister to satisfy himself that the local planning authority has complied with the requirements as to publicity and hearing of representations set out in subsection (1) of the new Clause. Only if he is so satisfied may the Minister go on to consider the merits of the submitted plan. He has, of course, to consider the statement submitted and must consider the matters included in the plan, for the nature and the content of the plan will have a bearing on what is adequate by way of arrangements for public participation. He can also take account of any other information provided by the planning authority, and this will enable him to call for further explanations from the authority and to consider them if he is not completely satisfied by the statement itself.

If the Minister is not satisfied that subsection (1) has been adequately complied with he is under the duty to return the plan to the authority and to give clear directions about further action to be taken by the authority to comply with the subsection and about resubmission of the plan afterwards. He has power to set a time limit for resubmission and the authority can resubmit the plan with such modifications as it thinks fit.

Subsection (5) provides that the Minister shall give reasons for returning the plan and notify any person who has made an objection to the plan that he has done so. The return of the plan does not invalidate the objection, but the notification alerts the objector to the possible need to reconsider his objection in the light of any modifications made to the plan for resubmission. Regulations will be made in respect of the validity and consideration of objections to plans which are withdrawn, and these regulations can be made under Clause 11.

Subsection (6) seeks to prevent the confusion which could arise if a plan returned by the Minister were left on deposit and continued to be the focus of attention in preparing objections. Any copies made available for inspection are to be withdrawn when the Minister issues a direction under subsection (4).

Subsection (7) provides that the procedure followed on resubmission of the original plan to the Minister shall be repeated on its resubmission. In this way the authority is required to give a statement of the further steps it has taken and to afford a fresh opportunity for further objections. Indeed, if it were necessary—I hope it will never be—the Minister will have power to return the plan yet again if he is not satisfied that steps have been taken to comply with his objection in an adequate manner.

Mr. Speaker

I have just been reminded that the Amendments listed as selected are Amendments not only to the first three parts of the Bill, but also to Part IV of the Bill.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

With the purpose of this new Clause, namely, to give publicity in connection with the preparation of development plans, we have no quarrel. Indeed, this Clause, and some other of the Amendments on the Notice Paper, give effect to a number of representations which were made in Committee, although it will be noted that, as the Minister explained matters, there are a number of complexities and technicalities to be considered.

But I want to protest—I have given the Leader of the House notice that I intended to do so this afternoon—at the very short period of time given to Members of this House to consider 52 pages of new Clauses and Amendments to a Bill which, although it is not controversial in a party political sense, raises matters of very great importance to the public and to the many interests concerned.

These new Clauses and Amendments were available in draft last Tuesday to the Opposition, but the rest of the House and the public did not see them until Thursday. This really gives a totally inadequate: amount of time, even for those Members who served on the Standing Committee, to consider in detail what is proposed, and for the rest of the House it is absolutely intolerable to be faced with this sort of situation.

The position is equally difficult for outside bodies concerned, whether it is the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Town and Country Planning Association—and all the other bodies which have a vital interest in these matters—because of the short amount of time afforded by the Government for consideration of these matters. There have been other controversial matters before the House in recent weeks, but this protest must be repeated in regard to this Bill.

There must come a time when this Government, if they will not take any notice of representations by the Opposition, must surely listen to people like Lord Chorley and Lord Goodman. Parliamentary democracy has been absolutely broken down by this Government, and what is happening in the name of reform is that Parliament is being destroyed: if it is desired to set up a dictatorship you call it a people's democracy. It really is intolerable that we should be faced with the need to consider matters of this kind in such inadequate time.

Lord Chorley is reported in the Observer yesterday as speaking of the harmful effect of the extensive speed of legislation, and saying, with reference to the Companies Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill, that it has reached "almost catastrophic proportions". His arguments were applied specifically to the Companies Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill, but they can be presented again about the Transport Bill.

This Bill, although one about which there is a measure of agreement, raises exactly the same principle about the speed of passing a complex Measure, and I hope that the Government will sooner or later take note of the strong feeling which there is outside as well as inside this House that legislation must be considered properly in the public interest. Now we have 52 pages of Amendments which the Minister has just slapped in front of the House, which is already absolutely drowned in a spate of controversial legislation which the Government persist in trying to force through the House in an absolutely outrageous way.

I had to make that protest, but I do not dissent from the fact that the Ministers immediately concerned with this Bill have tried to make a number of Amendments which we on this side of the House will welcome, perhaps with modifications largely of a technical nature, and ones which, in the ordinary course of events, we could settle without too much difficulty. It may be that the Ministers immediately concerned with the Bill are in no way to blame that they have been obliged to squeeze the Bill into the Parliamentary programme, which is already in such a state of confusion, and I would say, on behalf of my hon. Friends, that we entirely acquit the Minister of State and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of any attempt to bulldoze legislation through Parliament.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and others of my hon. Friends who served on the Standing Committee will readily acknowledge the way in which the proceedings there were conducted and the good will and helpfulnes which Ministers themselves showed. The responsibility rests on the Leader of the House to see that these things do not happen, and to see that the business of the House is so conducted that these matters can be properly considered.

As I have said, we welcome this new Clause, which represents an attempt to meet representations made in the Committee and elsewhere. I would say that we have to be careful that in securing publicity of this sort we do not put such a burden on the local authorities as to delay the planning processes, but with that reservation, and knowing that there will be other Clauses and Amendments designed by the Government to ensure continuity of activity in the planning process, I have nothing more to say about the Clause.

Sir Frank Pearson (Clitheroe)

I have a very short point I wish to raise, but before I do so I want to give the fullest support I can to the protest which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) has made. I speak on behalf of the Parish Councils' Association. This new Clause was put on the Notice Paper last Thursday and there has not been time for me or anybody else to consult the Association about the details of the Clause, and today I am totallv unbriefed about this very important Clause. I hope that every single parish council throughout the country— and I remind the Minister that the parish councils command a vast number of votes —will note that, because of this short notice of this Clause, it is not possible today to represent, as they ought to be represented, the interests of the parish councils, and that is due purely to the fact that the Government have been rushing this legislation through.

Very briefly, I would ask for clarification of one point in subsection (1). The Minister of State said, I think, that the word "persons" in paragraphs (b) and (c) includes organisation as well, and I take that to be so. Does it also include statutory bodies like parish councils?

Will there be an absolute right for the parish council to be informed of when the schemes are made, to be shown the schemes and to be given the same opportunity of making their protests and making their recommendations as any other body? It is a very brief point and I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify it.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I feel that there should be a word from this side of the House both in support of the new Clause and also in objection to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. We have become accustomed to sound and fury from the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, but if anyone makes a protest about the time available he should not do so. We do not normally have the pleasure of his company, even when he is an official member of the Committee. Therefore, I would have thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be the last person to make any comment about the opportunities for debate in this House, or anywhere else.

It is quite normal for this period of time to be given. Those who have the opportunity of attending the Committee know, and others could have found out from the reports of the Committee, that this new Clause and many others follow on the debates there, and are at the request of hon. Members both in Opposition and on the Government side of the House. They are not new matters, and, therefore, the opportunity given is not unreasonable if we are to make progress with the proposals before us.

Mr. MacDermot

May I answer the hon. Gentleman's question? The answer is, yes, parish councils are included, by virtue of the provisions of the Interpretation Act, in the word "person", and they will have exactly the same rights as any other body to make representations and to participate in the formulation stage of plans which will affect them. It is precisely for this purpose that we are making the Amendment.

Sir Frank Pearson

Would the plans be specifically forwarded to them?

Mr. MacDermot

This may be done as a matter of internal arrangement. It is not required in the Act but parish councils would be included in the words: … persons who may be expected to desire an opportunity of making representations to the authority … Therefore, the duty is imposed on the planning authority to make sure that the publicity they give is such as is likely to reach them. They may find that the most convenient way is to send it to them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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