HC Deb 22 May 1968 vol 765 cc716-34


Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)

I beg to move Amendment No. 52, in page 22, line 38, after 'a', insert 'proposed'.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that with Amendment No. 52 we take Amendment No. 53, in page 22, line 38, leave out second ' in force '.

Amendment No. 54, in page 22, line 45, after 'a', insert 'proposed'.

Amendment No. 55, in page 22, line 45, leave out from 'plan' to 'as' in line 46 and insert: 'for the time being applicable to the district in which it is situated and any alterations thereto (including a plan or alterations made available for inspection in pursuance of (Publicity for Preparation of Local Plans) (2) of this Act, but not yet in force), or is land defined in such a plan or such alterations'. and Amendment No. 56, in page 22, line 45, leave out 'in force'.

Mr. Rowlands

We spent a lot of time in Committee debating the Clause and the matters relating to planning blight, but we did not come to a conclusive decision. The Committee evenly divided on the subject, with the result that the status quo was preserved only by the vote of the Chairman. It is important that we should return to this subject and to these Amendments.

The question resolves around the right of an individual to serve a purchase notice when his property has been blighted by planning proposals. Under the provisions of the 1962 Act the right is operable only when the development plan has been approved. Although Clause 28 is intended to cover structure plans when approved, as my hon. and learned Friend said in Committee, this does not in any way change the principle relating to the right of the individual to serve a purchase notice. The Amendments aim to change the principle.

Our argument is that the notion of planning blight, and the hardship and distress caused to individual householders and home holders, is appreciated much more fully than it was when the 1959 and 1962 Acts embodied legislation relating to purchase orders. When those Acts were introduced we did not realise what planning blight involved. As a result of major town centre schemes which have been proposed, and the planning network road proposals included in the town centre schemes, planning blight has become a familiar term.

It is now nationally familiar as a result of a T.V. series called "The Newcomers." This features a family in a new town, and the series has recently portrayed the problem of a widow who wanted to sell her house, since it was too large and she had neither the financial means nor the wish to keep it. At the point of sale, discussion of the proposals blighted her property and blighted her sale. The serial did not do justice to her case. I would have written a succeeding episode. In the following episodes, she would have applied to the local authority to purchase her house, under their existing discretionary powers. The local authority would have refused to do so on the ground that no hardship was involved, and she, and the national viewers, would have found that they have no legal rights in such a case. The fate of the widow in "The Newcomers" is that of many of our constituents. We should net let this opportunity pass to do something about it.

1.15 a.m.

As my hon. and learned Friend has said, it is expressly concerned with planning legislation as provided in the Town and Country Planning Acts. It has nothing to do with compensation. Our Amendments try to get to grips with the problem. The existing provisions and even the present proposals in Clause 28 confine the right of the individual to serving a purchase notice only when the structure plan is approved. But planning blight does not occur when the deliberations of the council and the Minister are over. It occurs when the proposals are made. Blight moves in overnight. That is the distinction that we try to make in our Amendments, as compared with the proposals in Clause 28.

I admit that my Amendment is a compromise. I realise that planning blight can occur at an even earlier stage than when the structure plan is produced or published, as these Amendments sug- gest. However, my aim is to remove one of the chief objections voiced by the Minister in Committee. He said then that, if the Government accepted the Amendments that we put forward, in the case of a variety of proposals for different road routes, for example, a council would find itself having to purchase properties which, in the end, it might not require.

My answer to that is that, if the serving of a notice is confined to when the structure plan is produced or published, by that time, such matters as road routes should be fairly firm proposals. One of the nearest examples of the urban structure plan under the Bill is the proposal put forward in Cardiff by Professor Buchanan, which takes a very similar form. When introducing it, he said that his proposals were not made lightly and could not be challenged lightly. Therefore, the effect of road proposals on individual homes cannot be refuted lightly. That is why we suggest that the individual has the right to serve a purchase notice at the stage when the structure plan is produced and published. That should dispose of the Minister's objection that a local authority would be forced to purchase properties which it might not require.

The other chief objection to our Amendments in Committee was that a local authority would be forced to buy a large number of properties in advance of requirements and would receive an avalanche of requests to purchase. It is said that this would place an enormous financial burden on that local authority. However, the argument takes no account of the much greater burden upon the individual. A local authority might be able to withstand such a burden, but if, as happens in so many cases, a person's house is devalued by half and he finds that he cannot sell his house for half the mortgage that he owes, how much less is he able to withstand the burden?

This objection shows not only a remarkable lack of understanding for the human and personal hardship caused, but a basic misunderstanding of the position. I reject the idea that there would be an avalanche of requests to purchase. It is the existing position which causes the avalanche. If a person feels that he is a prisoner in his semi-detached house, that he cannot sell it and that, as the years go by, there will be even less chance of selling it, it is then that the avalanche occurs. If he has the security of knowing that he can serve a purchase notice, surely he will take a rational decision and, in many cases, will not serve immediate notice on the local authority, but bide his time. Local authorities, instead of receiving an avalanche, will receive a number of individual applications over a period of time.

This is certainly the pattern that will emerge in my own constituency, I am sure. At the present moment, when people feel they are imprisoned and cannot sell, they are the more determined to try to get out of their properties. The position should not be left as it is. It is impossible to leave the individual in the position of having to rely on an advisory Circular which is often ignored by the planning authority. It has been ignored in Cardiff, and I am sure by other planning authorities. It is restrictive and depends on the individual proving hardship.

Why should a person have to have a nervous breakdown before he can sell his house, or compulsory promotion by the Civil Service before he is entitled to seek a decision from the local planning authority? Why should he have to suffer hardship before he can serve a purchase notice? To put an individual in this position is ridiculous and degrading.

Whatever the practical difficulties are of implementing these Amendments, whatever the pros and cons, it must be said that planning legislation is aimed at holding the balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community. In my opinion, under the present provisions relating to planning blight and the serving of a purchase notice, the individual gets a raw deal. If it is argued that the local authority cannot afford to finance the purchase of these properties in advance of requirement, then I think we should assert the golden principle of planning—that if the community cannot afford to give the individual a square deal then it cannot afford the development at all.

For this reason, I am moving this Amendment.

Mr. MacDermot

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Rowlands) always argues his case most persuasively, and speaking for myself—and I think other hon. Members—one always listens with the greatest pleasure to his speeches.

I confess at once that the case he makes out is a forceful one, and I do not pretend it is an easy one to reply to. Let me begin by reminding the House of what we have made clear from the start of this Bill—that it is a Town and Country Planning Bill which does not set out to be a compensation Bill to amend the compensation law. We have certain compensation provisions, including this extension of blight compensation provisions, because some amendments to the compensation law were absolutely necessary in consequence of the changes in planning law which are being made. We have adhered firmly to that principle in the Bill.

I told the House that there are a number of compensation matters which I would have been glad of an opportunity to try to deal with in this Bill, but I realised that if I sought to do that I would be opening the door to many other proposals to alter compensation law and we would have on our hands what is already a sufficiently complex Bill turned into a mammoth Bill.

As hon. Members know, very careful studies and memoranda have been prepared and submitted to our Ministry for amendment of the compensation code. These are under careful consideration, and that applies to the field of blight and the kind of matters which my hon. Friend has been referring to.

My hon. Friend rejected, I thought a little summarily, my argument that there was a connection between what he is asking for and compensation for planning blight and the general compensation code. I urge upon him that there is such a connection. He is asking us to widen compensation for planning blight so that it would cover cases where, at the end of the day, the person's land may never be taken at all. We all know that one of the grounds most strongly urged for revision of the compensation code is where people are affected injuriously by works which are being carried out but where their land is not taken. The motorway case is the familiar example. The person whose land is not taken may nevertheless be subjected to nuisance and to having the value of his land depreciated by the motorway and he does not have the right to compensation.

If one were to admit the principle of extension of blight compensation in the way my hon. Friend suggests, one would be brought face to face with that other issue and any solution must be coherent and defensible across the board. This is just to explain to the House the sort of complexities raised in proposals of this kind.

What we have done here—and it is accepted as right—is to extend the right to claim planning blight from the much more general and vaguer proposals contained in structure plans to those contained in existing development plans with their precise designations. But we propose that that right should only exist from the time when the structure plan has been approved by the Minister, and that corresponds to the existing provisions where the planning applied in relation to the development plans only operates from the time those plans are confirmed.

It would be anomalous if one had a situation in which some part of the country had gone over to the new system of planning blight rights whereas other areas were still operating on the old development plan system. That would not be defensible.

My hon. Friend did not define what he meant by the word "proposed". In reading his Amendments, I thought he meant at the preparatory stage when proposals are published and subject to publication procedures. I think he indicated that this was not what he had in mind and I suppose that he actually means when the formal stages have begun. I think that is also implicit in Amendment No. 55, where the Opposition propose it to apply where local plan proposals have been made available for inspection, which would mean when the formal stages of the adoption began. Then the planning blight provisions would be comparable.

For the general reasons I have given, I do not think that it would be right for us to go even that far. I hope that what I have said indicates that I am not try- ing to slam the door on principle against what has been proposed. Nor do I suggest that I am committing the Government to legislation in this respect in order to deal with it. But this is part of a whole complex of proposals we are studying fully and carefully at present. Meanwhile, I take the point about the fact that the circular urging local authorities to use their discretionary powers to acquire such land in cases where hardship is caused is not being uniformly applied by local authorities throughout the country.

1.30 a.m.

Once this Bill has been passed we propose, in the circular we shall send out explaining these new blight provisions, to state again the principles on which local authorities will proceed. By "hardship" we do not mean, in my hon. Friend's phrase, that people would have to have a nervous breakdown before they would be able to persuade a local authority that they are suffering hardship sufficient to justify that local authority acquiring their land before the stage when it could legally be made to do so. In spite of the spirit in which I have replied to the Amendment, I must ask the House to reject it.

Mr. Graham Page

We agree with the Minister that this is not a compensation Bill—we will expect more when that Bill comes forward. This deals with one narrow point, on what is not, strictly, compensation as such, but the power of the owner-occupier, in particular the residential owner-occupier, to oblige a local authority to acquire his property. That is the narrow front of compensation dealt with in the Bill, and dealt with by these Amendments. The argument that this is not a compensation Bill should not weigh against Amendments of this sort, which are directly related to the provisions of the Bill. They have to do with purchase notice, the amendment of the law as it affects the purchase notice, and the qualifications for serving such a notice.

The Minister quoted the motorway cases and said that by accepting these Amendments we would be opening the door to claims to treat fairly those injuriously affected but whose land is not taken away compulsorily, or who are not directly affected by proposed development. This is incorrect. At present the person not directly affected by the development would not have the right to serve a purchase notice, and these Amendments would not change that. They would only say that a person directly affected could claim when actual blight exists, and not only when some theoretical blight or some stage is reached in the process.

This is not drawing a line between what is blight and what is not, but is drawing a fictitious line somewhere along the production of development proposals. To succeed with a purchase notice, the owner-occupier serving it must prove that he has been unable to dispose of his property at the price which it was reasonable to expect for it, had it not been subject to development proposals. There is no extension of that principle. The person has to show that the property really has become blighted by the proposals. At present he has to show that the property has become blighted to the extent that he cannot sell it at the price that he ought to have been able to sell it. Then he comes up against the brick wall that it must be shown, somewhere on the plan, to be subject to development. In Amendment 55 we have taken words which appears elsewhere in the Bill. In paragraph 58, page 94, the Bill gives the right to the Land Commission to exercise compulsory purchase powers if it can show that there are matters in the draft local plan, or the copy of the local plan before it becomes a formal plan, showing certain developments.

It has been recognised there that the plan at the stage when it is prepared and is to be submitted to the Minister has an effect on the properties there shown. We have merely taken those words and said in effect that the Land Commission should not be given this privilege, that this can be applied to the ordinary individual. This is a stage at which his land becomes blighted, when it is shown in the local plan to be subject to development. It is a false distinction to say that it is not blighted until the Minister has approved the plan.

Of course, blight attaches to a property immediately the public know that it is subject to this form of development. The public do not know any more about it, and it will not affect the purchase any more because the Minister has approved the plan. It will affect them immediately it is made public. That is when we say that blight starts and when the owner should be able to make a purchase notice. We are trying to get to the point where blight occurs, and away from some false distinction and unreal line drawn in the process of development proposals.

It would be much fairer to have this stage at the point where it is known to the public, to prospective purchasers of this property, that this is the effect of the plan. Where it is a formal plan, the Minister's stamp on it does not matter. Where a plan is published as being the final thoughts of the local planning authority, everyone believes that it will be the final plan. It would be an extraordinary and exceptional case where a Minister sends a plan back to a local authority to think about it again, so to put the blight stage at the point of adoption is false, and we would prefer to put it back to where the plan is proposed by the local planning authority.

I hope that we can have some better assurances from the Minister. I would have liked to have seen it in this Bill. Possibly our drafting is not correct, but this could be included at a later stage. We should not be asked to wait for the compensation bill for this.

This Bill deals with purchase notices. If we alter the law about purchase notices in this Bill, I have a feeling that when we have the compensation bill, they will say that the law was reformed on purchase notices as recently as last July and we cannot do it all again, and that the compensation bill is not a purchase notice bill. Let us do it now.

Mr. Rowlands

I appreciate the sympathetic consideration given to the Amendment, but I reiterate the point I made, that I think it is nothing to do with compensation. We are being told that if one put these Amendments into this Clause, subsequent Clauses could cover cases where people's properties are not involved. If the local authority can show that there is no need or demand for the property, although it might have an injurious effect, the provisions of the Clause would not apply. It is entirely concerned with the right to serve a purchase notice which has not been in legislation relating to compensation, but in legislation relating to Town and Country Planning. It is in the 1962 Act and the 1959 Act. For those reasons, the Amendment deserves to be put into the Bill, not in any future Bill.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Speaker

I would remind the House at this stage that there are some 40 debates on Amendments ahead of us, apart from those on Government Amendments.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 57, in page 23, line 4, leave out from ' force' to end of line 10.

I will take your word of advice, Mr. Speaker, and endeavour to move this Amendment briefly. It is a short point.

Clause 28(l)(c) states that property is blighted to the extent that a purchase notice may be served if the land is subject to a compulsory purchase order under certain enactments. I have not been able to discover whether the statutes set out there cover all the cases in which a compulsory purchase order can be outstanding on property or whether this is a selection of compulsory purchase orders, and, if it is a selection, why. Is there any principle running through these several different types of compulsory purchase order? Why not leave it merely with the words "if the property is subject to a compulsory purchase order"? Everyone who reads a Bill of this kind knows what a compulsory purchase order is. This would make it clear. If there are other compulsory purchase orders—and I am sure there are—other than those mentioned in the Clause, why are they excluded? Do they not cause just as much blight as those under the Water Act, the Water Resources Act or the New Towns Act?

Mr. Skeffington

The Government feel disposed to accept the Amendment, although we do not think that it will make any real difference. Nevertheless, for the sake of peace and quiet at this time of the night, this is a good gesture.

The only possible compulsory purchase order which is not covered is in Section 11 of the Pipelines Act, 1962. But I fail to see how this could give rise to the problems intended to be covered by Section 138 of the Town and Country Planning Act.

The reason that the particular statutes have been spelt out is because we wanted to be sure that the definition was right. No harm will be done in accepting the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Allason

I beg to move Amendment No. 58, in page 23, line 13, at end insert: (d) is land which appears from the route or the approximate route of a proposed road or footpath—

  1. (i) as shown in the development plan, or
  2. (ii) as indicated in information received by the local planning authority from the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State (if it be land in Wales) or a local highway authority
to be land on such road or footpaths may be provided.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment it will be convenient to take Amendment No. 225, in page 87, leave out lines 12 to 24.

Mr. Allason

Clause 28 lays down a new criteria for blight. In the last discussion we showed that there was a tendency for the blight provisions to be contracted. The blight provisions are extended in the Schedule and by Amendment 225 we should like to bring them into Clause 28 and extend them so that they are logical. The Amendment deals with blight in the path of a proposed road or footpath, which tend to be long term proposals, with completion following after some time.

1.45 a.m.

The Minister of State told us that the Bill does not amend compensation, but the 1962 Act laid down conditions for purchase notices which the Bill will change. So the Government cannot say that we cannot extend blight provisions because they relate to compensation. They are redrawing the line and cannot complain at a proposal to redraw it logically. I thought, on the last Amendment, that the Minister of State was about to withdraw Clause 28 altogether, because he was so terrified at changing anything to do with compensation. The new subsection to be inserted in the principal Act, permitting blight in cases of proposed main roads, is very welcome, but it is extraordinary to confine it to trunk roads.

I quoted a case from my constituency of a cafe on the line of a subsidiary road near the line of a by-pass. Had it been on the line of the by-pass, which is to be provided in the early 1970's— the previous Minister of Transport, by a slip of the tongue, referred to "early 1970", but her Department smartly corrected that when we checked—it would have come under these new blight provisions. The subsidiary road is necessary for the by-pass, either to give access or to divert another road beneath the by-pass. This is a ridiculous situation, because, if the blight were caused by the by-pass, a purchase notice would be possible and compensation could be taken; because it is a local road in exactly the same circumstances, this is not possible. The position is that in respect of a local road there are substantial discrepancies.

This only occurs under Section 138 (1) (f) of the principal Act which reads: is land shown on plans approved by a resolution of a local highway authority as land comprised in the site of a highway as proposed to be constructed, improved or altered by that authority. The operative words there are approved by a resolution of the authority. In this case, although the route of this road is well known, nevertheless, rather naturally, the local authority has not approved the construction of the road, and, therefore, there can be no compensation. That cafe is absolutely blighted, but, nevertheless, there can be no compensation.

I cannot see any reason why the two sorts of roads should not be dealt with absolutely pari passu. Therefore, the effect of Amendment No. 58 is to do what paragraph 30 of Schedule 5 does, and, in addition, to include local roads as well. Amendment No. 225 is purely consequential on Amendment No. 58.

Mr. Skeffington

I shall seek to assure the House that the major points in the two Amendments are already met. The first part of the Amendment would move the main provisions of paragraph 30 of the Schedule from the Schedule and into the body of the Bill, with this additional category of land for which compensation proposals for blight will, when the Bill becomes law, apply. There is no clash of principle here. The Government were very anxious to add this additional category where either the route is shown on the development plan or it could be sufficiently precisely indicated by the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State for Wales to the local authority as being the route, therefore enabling the consequential benefits of the blight provisions to apply. As the hon. Gentleman will realise, of course, this may come at a very much later stage when a draft order has been confirmed. Had it been possible to have concluded all the preliminary steps which had to be taken before we were in a position to bring this matter before the Committee I think we might have well have put the provision in here, but we had passed Clause 28, and so it was put, not inappropriately, as it happens, in the Schedule.

So, on the first point, there is no clash of principle. It is a question of convenience, and to transfer the provision now would require a considerable amount of alteration which I could not recommend the House to accept.

In any event, the matter is further complicated in the Amendment by the reference to footpaths. This is unnecessary because urban footpaths, which the hon. Gentleman has in mind, are either highways of themselves or, if they are not, they are parts of highways and are covered under the definition in the Highways Act. In rural areas, if the hon. Gentleman is thinking of rights of way limited to pedestrians, no problem arises because in the normally accepted use of the word "footpath" it is unlikely—indeed, I cannot imagine how such a case could occur—that cases of blight would occur.

The third part of the Amendment calls for a notification from the local highway authority and the Ministry of Transport. This is unnecessary because if a road has been approved by a resolution of a local highway authority as land comprised in the site of a highway as proposed to be constructed, improved or altered by that authority, it is already covered by Section 138(l)(f) of the 1962 Act. I trust, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Allason

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that any land which the Minister of Transport proposes to provide for a trunk or special road comes within that definition and that every road in the country is covered? I did not gather from what was said in Committee that every road, including every minor road, was covered. Apart from footpaths, the Amendment is designed to cover minor roads provided by local authorities, aside from the main roads provided by the Ministry of Transport.

Mr. Skeffington

I was making the point that the proposals in the Amendment, in so far as they relate to roads affected by the notification procedure, are not necessary because the matter is covered by Section 138(1)(f) of the 1962 Act. The other types of road— road diversions and roads acknowledged under the Highways Act and so on—are covered by Section 138(l)(e) of the 1962 Act. I was dealing with those categories of roads and was not going beyond that.

Mr. Graham Page

The Amendment goes a lot further than that, as is its intention. It says, in effect, that property shall be legally blighted, so that a purchase notice could be served, if there is information to the local planning authority from the highway authority, whether it be the Minister of Transport, the Secretary of State for Wales or the local authority.

It is in this respect that the Amendment goes further than the Amendment introduced by the Government in Committee. We were pleased when the Government introduced that Amendment, which was to the effect that if the Ministry of Transport gave information to the local planning authority that it intended to build a road in a certain position, then the land there would be treated as blighted, and a purchase notice could be issued. However, we could not see the distinction between Ministry of Transport roads—trunk and special roads—and the ordinary roads of the local authority, since there is just the same possibility of blight.

As the law stands—and the Parliamentary Secretary cited Section 138(1)(f) of the 1962 Act—to qualify for the service of a purchase notice one must show, first, that the land for the local authority road is shown on a plan. One then has to show that it is shown on an approved plan. Then one has to show that it is shown on a plan approved by a resolution of the local highway authority.

Before all that happens it is well known to the public, through discussions in the council and in the highways committee, that it is intended to put a road in a certain area and property thereby becomes blighted. A false line is drawn at the point where the plan is approved by resolution. We want to push that line further back. The Government have already pushed it back concerning trunk roads and special roads. They have acknowledged the point at which real blight occurs when the Ministry informs the local planning authority. It should be recognised in the case of ordinary roads when information comes from the local planning authority to the local highway authority—which probably is the same—in discussion of plans without waiting for a formal resolution.

2.0 a.m.

Mr. Skeffington

I am seized of the point. I had misunderstood the Amendment. I do not know whether that was my fault or whether it was due to the way in which the Amendment is drafted. I had assumed from the wording that the local authority road was one which had already been approved by resolution of the council, which of course, would bring it within the terms of Section 138(1)(f), but I see that the purpose of the Amendment is to do that at an earlier stage.

In cases where the Government feel that they can move further, there is a road definitely marked on the development plan or one which is indicated in documents which are sufficiently accurate as to the route approved by the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State for Wales. If the hon. Member reflects on this he will realise that it is extraordinarily difficult to bring forward blighting consequences until the local authority has reached the stage of precision we are providing for in the development either on the development plan or in documents which come from the Ministers concerned.

What has been said by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) leads me to believe that the blighting consequences might follow preliminary discussions in the council chamber. I do not think this is workable. I do not think one could invite the House to agree to a proposal which depended upon such vague considerations as the hon. Member has outlined.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman has accepted this imprecision in relation to trunk roads and special roads. It needs only a little careful drafting to accept the same sort of imprecision for local highway authority roads, recognising the point at which blight occurs.

Mr. Skeffington

I was careful in Committee to spell out that in the indications which the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State for Wales will give, there will be sufficient indication and precision to enable the local authority to deal with blighting consequences. In what the hon. Member said and what the Amendment provides, there is not sufficient precision and for that reason I could not advise the House to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Allason

Will the hon. Gentleman agree that there is too great precision now in Section 138(1)(f), which says that: land shown on plans approved by a resolution of a local highway authority. That means that the authority is about to make up a road rather than that it has got the plan drawn.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 60, in page 23, line 13, at end insert: (d) is land which has suffered subsidence damage as defined by section 1(1) of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act 1957'. Would it be convinent, Mr. Speaker, to discuss also Amendment No. 67, in page 26, line 7, at end insert: (4) For the purpose of section 28(l)(d) of this Act and of section 147 of the principal Act the appropriate authority shall be the National Coal Board.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Page

I am obliged, Sir. This, again, is a question of when blight may occur and when it would be fair to allow the owner-occupier to serve a purchase notice. It is proposed in Amend- ment No. 60 that the owner-occupier should be entitled to serve a purchase notice when his land has been blighted by subsidence. Under the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1957, the owner is entitled to claim to have his property repaired if it suffers subsidence damage. Section 1(1) of that Act says: 'subsidence damage' means any damage (including an alteration of the level or gradient of property not otherwise damaged such as to affect the fitness of that property for use for the purposes mentioned … in the Act.

Frequently property is subject to subsidence and becomes impossible to dispose of. Harrowing stories can be related of new property purchased in mining areas by those who may be of very slender means and who have perhaps purchased subject to a building society mortgage; and then frequently, because of new methods of mining, subsidence occurs and the property is severely damaged. The only redress an owner-occupier has is to have his property patched up by the National Coal Board. I say "patched up" deliberately. I have seen such houses. When subsidence occurs, frequently gaps are left in the interior walls—not in the exterior walls, because that would leave the property not wind- and water-tight. The doors are askew. The floors are sloping. Yet the Board claims that the house is fit. It may be fit for the purpose of shelter, but it is not fit as a property and is certainly not saleable.

In cases where the property has been blighted in this case, greater regard is now paid to the hardship which occurs than was paid even 10 or 11 years ago. Having recognised the purchase notice procedure when property is otherwise blighted, we should recognise it in the case of subsidence. The National Coal Board is responsible for the execution of such works … as may be necessary to render the damaged property reasonably fit for use for the purposes for which, at the date immediately before the damage occurred, it was … used". It is not sufficient to compensate those who have had their home so grievously twisted and made so rotten for them in future. It is not sufficient merely to patch it up. They should be able to dispose of the property. They should be able to oblige the Board, which, after all, is responsible for the mining, for the subsidence which has occurred and for the damage arising from that subsidence, to purchase the property from them when it gets into that state.

I appreciate that this is rather remote from what we have previously discussed. But it is strictly connected with a form of blight and with the purchase notice procedure. As we have expanded the purchase notice procedure in other ways, we should recognise the very serious case where mere patching up is insufficient for those who have so suffered by subsidence of their home.

Mr. Skeffington

I do not know whether it is the early hour or the hon. Gentleman's ingeniousness, but until I saw the Amendment I did not think that we should be discussing compensation due to mining subsidence in a planning Bill.

The compensation proposals we are introducing and extending here deal with planning blight—depreciation of the value of a property because of the threat or possible threat of acquisition for public purposes. The Bill does not deal with compensation which may arise in a hundred ways as a result of mechanical or other activities. The Amendment would be wholly inappropriate in this Bill.

The Amendment would also be completely ineffective, and I am surprised, because usually I am filled with admiration for both the ingenious and very comprehensive way in which the hon. Gentleman puts forward his Amendments. It would be ineffective because all that the National Coal Board would have to do would be to serve a counter notice, like any other authority in its category, under Section 140 of the principal Act. Therefore, even if the Amendment were accepted it would have no effect in enabling anybody to get one penny compensation for subsidence.

Compensation for consequences of mining is governed by the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Acts of 1950 and 1957. I gathered that the hon. Gentleman's point was that the compensation payable under them is insufficient. That may or may not be so. I do not know, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to remedy these matters he must attack another Statute and not the Bill.

Mr. Graham Page

I had hoped that the Minister might at least say that he had consulted the Minister of Power and that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to consider this. It is a very serious matter. If it cannot be dealt with in a planning Bill, at least we have staked a claim that it should be considered, and the point is not put forward frivolously.

We should not be prepared to accept the hardship that results from subsidence as the House has done in the past. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will ask his right hon. Friend to read this very short debate, and perhaps it can be dealt with in another way.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the National Coal Board could defeat the provisions of the Amendment by a counter notice. Under Section 140 of the principal Act any local authority can serve a counter notice, but must prove that it has a right to the effects of the notice.

However, the Amendment has raised the point, and I assure the hon. Gentlemen that my pleading will not cease here. I shall find other opportunities to put this forward, and I hope that this has pushed the door open a little bit.

Under the circumstances, I recognise that the Amendment is not entirely appropriate for this Bill, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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