HC Deb 20 May 1968 vol 765 cc177-87


Where a builder or developer has paid betterment levy in respect of land on which planning permission ceases to have effect as a result of the service of a completion notice in accordance with section 57 of this Act, the Land Commission shall have power to refund to him the entire amount of the levy.—[Mr. Rossi.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Rossi

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

The object of the Clause is to grant the Land Commission a new power. It is a wonder that the day has come that anyone from this side of the House should be seeking to give a new power —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have a general round of conversation when an hon. Member is addressing the House.

Mr. Rossi

—to the Land Commission. We would have a far more interesting fate for it.

So that we can consider the new Clause fully, I must refer the House to Clause 57. This provides that, where planning permission has been granted subject to a condition that the development must be begun before a certain date and the development is begun but not completed before that date, the local planning authority, is of opinon that the development will not be completed within a reasonable period, may serve a notice stating that the planning permission shall cease to have effect. That notice, known as a completion notice, has to be confirmed by the Minister.

This situation can arise. A developer is granted a conditional planning permission, conditional in the sense that he must begin his work before a certain date. He complies with that condition and commences the development. Having commenced it, he is then liable to pay betterment levy under Case C of the Land Commission Act for carrying cut a material development. Having done both those things, having started his development and having paid the betterment levy, he then finds that for some reason he is unable to continue the development for the time being. Perhaps bad weather has stopped his operations. Perhaps he is affected by a strike. Perhaps he has difficulty in obtaining materials.

If the local authority considers it expedient and considers that he will not complete his development within what it regards as a reasonable time, it may withdraw the planning permission. Having his planning permission withdrawn under Clause 57, the developer is then left with nothing. He cannot continue his operations, and he has paid a sum of money to the Land Commission.

It is the object of the new Clause to assist a person left in that position by giving the Land Commission a right to do something which it has no right to do at the moment, namely, to repay the levy which has been extracted from the developer who now finds that he cannot continue with his scheme because his planning permission has been withdrawn. This matter exercised the Standing Committee, and the Minister admitted that it created a problem. On 9th April— this is column 1000 of the OFFICIAL REPORT—he said that it seemed to be a legitimate case that should be dealt with. He added that it was being looked at, but it was extremely complex because of the complexity of the betterment levy conditions. We all know where the blame lies for that.

Because of the complexity, the Minister could not undertake to deal with the matter in this legislation, but he undertook that in due course new legislation would be forthcoming to deal with it. We do not accept that that is a satisfactory way of proceeding when the matter can be easily dealt with now. It can be dealt with now not by putting an obligation on the Land Commission to repay, but by giving it a discretion to repay. The wording of the new Clause is directed to that end.

10.30 p.m.

We suggest that the Land Commission should have the power to refund the entire amount of the levy, and that gives it the right to investigate all the circumstances of the withdrawal of planning permission land all the circumstances relating to the amount of development that may have taken place, and still remains to continue. For example, if an estate of 300 houses has been half completed, the Land Commission may well take the view that part of the betterment levy should remain payable. There is no obligation on it to refund the whole of the levy. It is given a discretion to do so.

We hope that the Minister will unbend on this matter. There is no legal obstacle in the way, as far as we can see, to giving the Land Commission an absolute discretion and power to investigate to consider all circumstances and then, if it thinks it right and proper, to remit the levy which has been taken from a developer frustrated, possibly through causes outside his control, from continuing with his scheme.

Mr. MacDermot

I have already given an undertaking in Committee that this matter will be dealt with at the proper place. I do not think that this Bill is the proper place to introduce provisions about betterment levy. There is no urgency about this, for the simple reason that it will be some years before the first completion notice is served, and when one is served there will be at least 12 months, and perhaps more, during which the developer will be able to complete the development. It will only be after all that has transpired that a situation could arise where he would want to claim repayment in whole or in part of the levy he had paid. This is a matter to be brought forward in a Finance Bill. I have given an undertaking that we shall bring it forward.

The hon. Gentleman said that it is a simple Clause that can easily be introduced here. It is simple, but it is defective. It begins by saying: Where a builder or developer has paid betterment levy …". I do not see that it should be limited to such people. If the principle is right, it should be right for everyone. The Clause does not deal with cases where it would be right for only part of the levy to be refunded—it is all or nothing —nor with the position of successors in title. Perhaps that is enough to show that the matter is a little more complicated than hon. Members opposite have said.

As I have said, we have given an undertaking, and it will be implemented.

Mr. Rippon

That was an extraordinarily disappointing reply. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) put forward the new Clause very reasonably and moderately. It is drafted far more narrowly than the Amendments which were suggested in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg).

The Clause's purpose is very limited. It is to deal simply with the situation whereby a builder has paid betterment levy under Case C of the Land Commission Act, 1967 for material development of land on which he has begun work, and subsequently loses his planning permission because a completion notice has been served on him. The Minister indicated the justice of this in Committee, and my hon. Friend has quoted what he said then.

No one doubts for one moment that the Minister is right in talking about the complexity of the betterment levy conditions. He talked of the matter being extremely complex. No one differs from him about that. Now he says that there are many other anomalies which should be dealt with at the same time. However, we thought that we should be relatively modest and stick to the one he conceded required action.

The hon. and learned Gentleman says that this is not the proper place to do it. That was not one of his arguments in Committee. He said then that this was a very complex matter and that the Government must have plenty of time to consider. They have that time because the Land Commission has taken so long to get under way—and we also understand that. Now he says that the proper place to do this is in a Finance Bill.

Some of our colleagues have good reason to know that a Finance Bill is going on upstairs. We know that the Government are not anxious to have their legislation discussed to any great extent. At the same time, I do not see why they have not taken the opportunity to make this amendment to the law in the current Finance Bill upstairs. If the hon. and learned Gentleman undertook to do that, we might be satisfied, but simply for him to say that the Government will do something in a Finance Bill some time in future is not satisfactory.

It is desirable that the Government give immediate effect to amendments to laws which they themselves have passed and which have been found wanting, and they should do it at the earliest opportunity. They now have such an opportunity and we shall press them to take it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I intervene briefly because, having listened to the previous debate, I learnt with some dismay that assurances given by Ministers on the Bill are hardly worth the paper they are printed on. The hon. and learned Gentleman has just asked us to accept that, if he gives an undertaking that this matter will be taken care of, we can rest content. But in the light of the obvious going back on assurances so carefully enumerated by my hon. Friends in the previous debate, one can have little confidence in such undertakings. If the Government go back on undertakings in one Clause they must not expect to be believed when they give further undertakings on another.

My concern is that local authorities are to be given, under Clause 57, considerable powers. Surely that business of developing sites has enough risks without adding to them the risk that a man can lose his planning permission because, through no fault of his own, he has suffered delays in construction.

A developer may be subject to delays by three possible causes—acts of God, acts of men, and acts of this Government. I can visualise a developer faced by inclement weather. I remember working on a building site during the winter of 1958. The weather became extremely harsh and we were delayed through no fault of our own. It is disturbing to feel that a man's planning permission can disappear because of an act of God in bringing harsh weather.

Then there is the possibility of acts of men delaying completion of the building. For example, such things as withdrawal of labour through inter-union disputes could cause delay through no fault of the developer. Yet he is to be subject to the loss of his building permission and may well find himself with a half-completed structure which he cannot sell and which he might not even be allowed to demolish, but on which he will, nevertheless, have given up a substantial portion of his own funds in order to pay the development charge. Surely this must be quite clear to Ministers as being hopelessly unfair.

Then, too, I mentioned possible delays arising out of acts of the Government. We have recently seen the impact of the squeeze on the building industry. Surely, this has produced more delays in development than anything for a very long time. Is it to be contemplated that a developer shall lose substantial sums of money because, through no fault of his own, the whole momentum of building is held up by a credit squeeze, by a new Bill pushed through this House, and over which he can have no possible control and which he could not possibly have foreseen?

As my hon. Friend pointed out to me a little while ago, as a result of an act of the Government a developer might find himself with a load of bricks 101 miles away from the site, and possibly, under the Transport Bill, if it is passed, the road haulage contractor would not be able to get a licence to bring those bricks to the site. So, once again, there would be delay arising out of acts of the Government. It seems to me that the possibilities of delay are so great, unfortunately, that to leave a developer in a situation where he might be caused serious losses through no fault of his own, and not to accept the simple and straightforward Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend, is to do an injustice, and that it will not help with this Bill, as I am sure, both sides of the House wish.

The Minister picked one or two technical holes in my hon. Friend's Amendment. He said it did not catch all categories of persons concerned. This may be, but I remind him of the point I made at the beginning, that since his assurances on a previous Clause, assurances given, as far as I know, solemnly to hon. Members of the Committee, have not been implemented, since those assurances have fallen to the ground, it is really very difficult for this side of the House to accept a new group of assurances given at this time. I, for one, would be more than happy if he would reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend, but if he is not willing to do that I certainly hope my hon. Friends will indicate their views in the Division Lobby.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

For my part, I am perfectly prepared to accept the undertakings of my hon. and learned Friend, the more so having regard to the fact that, as he pointed out, the proposed Clause would not cure the evil which is complained about and which is recognised as being one which ought to be cured.

I rise, therefore, only to ask my hon. and learned Friend whether any further legislation is really necessary in dealing with this matter. As I understand the position, under Case C betterment levy is charged having regard to the value of the planning permission which is granted; the calculation, normally speaking, is based upon the value of the land in the light of the planning permission.

Under Clause 57 (4) the original planning permission is invalid except in so far as it authorises development carried out up to the date specified in the completion notice. It follows that there is substituted for the original planning permission a different planning permission, and, in many cases, a substantially less value. It follows from that that the betterment levy has been charged upon the basis of a planning permission other than that which the developer will have if this procedure goes through. In these circumstances, is it necessary to have any special legislation to enable the developer to recoup the extra amount of levy which he has paid over and above that which he would have paid if, in the first place, he had had the planning permission as it will not become?

Mr. MacDermot

The short point is, as I explained in Committee, that, where a builder is levied on commencing operations, he is levied on the assumption that he will complete those operations. If that assumption is falsified in the event, it seems to be right that he should be able to reclaim pro tanto the levy that he has paid.

Mr. Graham Page

That is not clear in the Bill before us. The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) put forward a very ingenious argument that further legislation might not be necessary. It is doubtful whether that argument would hold water, with great respect to him. I would much rather see specifically stated in the Statute that the Land Commission has power to return the levy.

The point I really wanted to make was this. The Minister said, first, that the Bill was not the proper place for this Clause and, secondly, there was no urgency. Surely, when the law is altered to the detriment of the citizen, the proper place to put it right is in the Bill and not in a later Bill. According to the Long Title of the Bill, betterment levy can be dealt with, and it ought to be dealt with when the law is changed in this way.

With regard to the point about no urgency, Clause 57 is what new Clause 13 deals with, because it deals with completion notices. Clause 57 reads: … planning permission for development is granted or deemed to be granted subject to a condition … Any existing planning permission is to be deemed to be granted subject to a condition that it expires at a certain future date, and that comes in Clause 54(1).

Immediately the Bill becomes law, existing planning permissions are subject to a condition, and they come under Clause 57. Work being undertaken under those planning permissions becomes subject to a completion notice immediately the Bill becomes law. The completion notice cannot take effect for twelve months, but that is a possible 12 months from the day on which the Bill receives the Royal Assent; so there is urgency. It must be included in an Act of Parliament if it is to be corrected within that period of time.

It might be squeezed into the next Finance Bill, but I am not prepared to rely on the Minister, even with the best will in the world, to get a Clause into a perhaps overcrowded Finance Bill and into law in July, 1969. This is the soonest date that he can give us when this might become law, and even that is not guaranteed in the undertaking which he has given.

The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot say that there is no urgency about it. There is urgency when there is a possibility of it taking effect within the next 12 months. Therefore, I press for its inclusion in the Bill.

Mr. MacDermot

I would like to look at the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. If it is well founded, I will see what can be done.

Division No. 150.] AYES [10.50 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Foster, Sir John Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Goodhew, Victor Pym, Francis
Astor, John Grant, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M.
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bessell, Peter Hall, John (Wycombe) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn, Sir Peter
Biffen, John Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Biggs-Davison, John Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boardman, Tom Holland, Philip Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Bossom, Sir Clive Hordern, Peter Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Brewis, John Iremonger, T. L. Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.SirWalter Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Russell, Sir Ronald
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Scott, Nicholas
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Kaberry, Sir Donald Sharpies, Richard
Buck, Antony (Cotchester) Kirk, Peter Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Burden, F. A Kitson, Timothy Silvester, Frederick
Cary, Sir Robert Lancaster, Col. C. G. Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Channon, H. P. G. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Speed, Keith
Clark, Henry Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Stainton, Keith
Clegg, Walter Lubbock, Eric Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Cooke, Robert Maude, Angus Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Costain, A. P, Mawby, Ray Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Crouch, David Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Temple, John M.
Currie, G. B. H. Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C Tilney, John
Dance, James Monro, Hector Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
d'Avigdor-Coldsmid, Sir Henry Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Murton, Oscar Ward, Dame Irene
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Onslow, Cranley Webster, David
Eden, Sir John Page, Graham (Crosby) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Elliott,R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Pardoe, John Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Emery, Peter Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Wright, Esmond
Errington, Sir Eric Percival, Ian
Eyre, Reginald Peyton, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Farr, John Pink, R. Bonner Mr. Jasper More and
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Pounder, Rafton Mr. Humphrey Atkins.
Allen, Scholefield English, Michael Lawson, George
Armstrong, Ernest Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yard-ley) Leadbitter, Ted
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Femyhough, E. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Bagier, Cordon A. T. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Loughlin, Charles
Bamett, Joel Fowler, Gerry Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Beaney, Alan Fraser, John (Norwood) MacDermot, Niall
Bidwell, Sydney Freeson, Reginald Macdonald, A. H.
Blackburn, F. Galpem, Sir Myer Mackenzie, Cregor (Rutherglen)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Gardner, Tony Mackintosh, John P.
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Garrett, W. E. McNamara, J. Kevin
Boyden, James Courlay, Harry MacPherson, Malcolm
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Gregory, Arnold Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Grey, Charles (Durham) Mapp, Charles
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Griffiths, David (Rather Valley) Marks, Kenneth
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Marojuand, David
Buchan, Norman Hamling, William Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hannan, William Mendelson, J. J.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Harper, Joseph Millan, Bruce
Carmichael, Neil Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Coe, Denis Haseldine, Norman Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Henig, Stanley Moyle, Roland
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Newens, Stan
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Hooley, Frank Noel-Baker,Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby,S.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Homer, John Norwood, Christopher
Dell, Edmund Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Ogden, Eric
Dempsey, James Howell, Denis (Small Heath) O'Malley, Brian
Dewar, Donald Hoy, James Orbach, Maurice
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Huckfield, Leslie Orme, Stanley
Dickens, James Hynd, John Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Doig, Peter Irvine, Sir Arthur Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Durmett, Jack Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Paget, R. T.
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Park, Trevor
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Eadie, Alex Kelley, Richard Pavitt, Laurence
Ellis, John Kenyon, Clifford Pentland, Norman

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 101, Noes 146.

Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Slater, Joseph Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Snow, Julian Whitlock, William
Price, William (Rugby) Sprigge, Leslie Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Roberts, Cwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Robinson, W. 0. J. (Walth'stow,E.) Swingler, Stephen Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Roebuck, Roy Taverne, Dick Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Rose, Paul Thornton, Ernest Winnick, David
Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Tinn, James Woodbum, Rt. Hn. A.
Shaw, Arnold (llford, S.) Urwin, T. w. Woof, Robert
Sheldon, Robert Wainwright, Edwin (Deame Valley) Yates, Victor
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Walden, Brian (AH Saints)
Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Walker, Harold (Dorvcaster) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Silverman,' Julius (Aston) Wallace, George Mr, Concaonon and
Skeffington, Arthur Watkins, David (Consett) Mr. Ernest Perry.