HC Deb 11 June 1969 vol 784 cc1609-17
Dr. Dickson Mabon

I beg to move Amendment No. 27, in page 57, line 15, after 'authority' insert: 'who in their opinion is suitably qualified or experienced for the purpose'. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) sought in Committee to make delegation possible only, to quote his Amendment to any suitably qualified officer of the authority". The hon. Gentleman may remember that I resisted his Amendment on two grounds which I shall not now repeat. I emphasised that I had every confidence in the good sense of the authorities in the circumstances, but I undertook to look again at the wording of the Clause. This Amendment, which is very carefully drafted, tries to meet the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am grateful to him.

Amendment agreed to.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Wylie

I beg to move Amendment No. 28, in page 57, line 17, leave out paragraph (a).

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would be convenient also to discuss Amendment No. 29, in page 57, line 29, leave out paragraph (d).

Mr. Wylie

Clause 63 is one to which we took strong exception on principle in the Committee because in certain circumstances it seeks to give power to the local planning authority to delegate its planning functions to officials. We said that it was wrong in principle and that local authorities elected to exercise statutory powers had no right to delegate them to individuals, and that it was thoroughly bad for the individual to whom delegation was made. In this case we have confined our objections to two of the more glaring instances which illustrate the effect of this general proposals, namely, applications for planning permission under Section 12 of the 1957 Act and applications for consent under the Control of Advertising Regulations.

These are both matters about which individuals concerned feel strongly. An application for planning permission under Section 12 can mean a great deal, financially or otherwise, to the person making the application, and applications under the Control of Advertising Regulations are usually important to the companies concerned. It is entirely wrong that a decision on a matter of that nature should be left to a named official. It puts the official in a most invidious position and exposes him to the most undesirable pressures. I have not met a single planning officer or official of local authorities—and I have some experience of planning—who has ever suggested that this would be desirable. Since this Bill was published, those to whom I have spoken have strongly opposed the proposal.

I cannot think of any planning officer who would want to be in the invidious position of deciding personally under Section 12. We know that committees and authorities often take decisions on the advice of the planning officer, but the decision is taken with the anonymity which goes with a committee and the planning officer is in no way himself responsible.

One can readily imagine the pressures which can be brought to bear. I do not mean corrupt practices or anything like that, although one cannot exclude the possibility of that coming in—but just the pressures which can be brought to bear on an individual planning officer, particularly in a relatively small burgh where everybody knows everybody else and he is the person who has to make a decision which may materially affect the business or livelihood of another individual with whom he is on friendly terms.

It is true that he can disclaim responsibility under provisions made later in this Clause, but the fact that it is necessary to write in qualifications of that nature puts a question mark over the desirability of the power in the first place. These are thoroughly bad proposals which are thoroughly unnecessary, and the less we have to do with them the better.

Mr. Monro

I echo the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). This is one of the worst proposals in the Bill. I am glad we opposed it strongly in Committee and that we are to do so again tonight. The planning committee of a local authority is one of the most interesting committees of which to be a member, and therefore few planning committees will be prepared to delegate authority to take decisions. Although this delegation of power is discretionary, it is not one that we should encourage by writing it into the Bill. It is a power that the officials do not want and one which should be retained by the elected representatives.

I accept that the elected representatives on planning committees take careful note of the advice given to them by the planning officer. This is correct, because the planning officer has studied the legal and other factors to be considered before he makes a recommendation to the committee. The final decision must lie with the elected representatives. They are elected to make decisions as elected representatives and to take responsibility for doing so. An official does not take a post with a local authority and expect to take responsibility for the difficult decisions that need to be taken on planning.

I want the Minister to give a clear answer tonight—he did not do so in Committee—on where the pressure has come from for this change. I, too, have taken the trouble to sound out local authorities and planning officers. I have not found one who advocates this change. On most planning committees the elected representatives cover, particularly in rural areas, a wide spread of the area they represent. It is rare for a decision to come before a planning committee without one or two of its members having personal knowledge of the facts, in addition to the advice given to them by the planning officer. This is valuable, because all facets of the decision can be considered by the authority.

The Minister will no doubt contend that there are many simple issues concerned with, for example, garages, bicycle sheds or pigeon lofts, which do not need to be considered in detail by a planning committee. But it should still be the responsibility of the committee and not of the planning officer to make the decision. This is particularly so in connection with some of the matters mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend. I am opposed to delegating the power of decision on advertising matters to the planning officer. There are frequently pressures from the sources which wish to display advertisements which it would be unfair for an official to bear as his sole responsibility. When an industrialist wants an early decision about whether he can develop a site or bring a factory to an area, the elected representatives must take the responsibility for giving a quick decision in consultation with the planning officer.

I think this Clause cuts across the basis—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not discussing the Clause. The hon. Gentleman has so far related his remarks to the Amendment, and I hope he will continue to do so.

Mr. Monro

Exactly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This Clause, on which we are discussing this particular Amendment, does give the planning authority power to delegate authority to a planning officer or other designated official. The whole issue here cuts across the basis of elected local government, because it is removing the main power of a planning committee composed of elected representatives who are sent there by their constituents to do this very job. That is why I strongly support the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend and hope that the Minister will at least see sense on this occasion.

Earl of Dalkeith

I support these two Amendments, and very much endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) has been saying. This is a very important matter indeed, and, as I see it, it is a constitutional change. It is a complete departure from what is recognised practice both in Parliament and in local government. Never before, so far as I am aware, have powers been transferred from the elected representatives to the officials. Where will this stop? Maybe if the Government were to transfer some of its decision-making to the civil servants we might get some better answers than we are getting now, but I ask the Minister to take this point seriously. It is a major constitutional change and should be recognised as such.

Mr. Galbraith

I rise to intervene only briefly, but I hope the Minister will explain why he wishes to have this change. Tonight we have been making a great song and dance about local democracy. The trouble with this proposal is that it is not local democracy but local bureaucracy, and that seems to me to be the very negation of freedom and the reason why we should accept the Amendment.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I am sorry that the brevity of that speech was not equalled by the quality of the argument.

Let me give the assurance on Amendment No. 29, as I did in Committee, that Clause 63(1)(d) will not be commenced if appeals are abolished. That assurance still stands.

With reference to the general argument exemplified by Amendment No. 28, I appreciated the debate in Committee more than the debate tonight because it has necessarily been truncated at this stage. I do not know whether the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) is arguing that the matter should be mandatory in reference to officials or not, but I must tell him that this is not mandatory, it is permissive. If all local authorities in Scotland agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite, not one of them will implement any part of this. If some local authorities which delegate later see the error of their ways, they will retract whatever delegation they agreed to. If they delegate they can do so under very stringent conditions, and the official, in certain circumstances, can ask to be relieved of the decision.

I can think of no more flexible Clause than this, given the argument that the burden of work on elected members is so great that where policy has been settled by the elected members, and it is a purely administrative matter, this should be simply carried out as a delegated function, subject to recall and review, as is the case in many great business organisations and departments of State.

Many hon. Members, before they go to sleep tonight, will doubtless read the Maud Report and reflect on what may be said by the Royal Commission when it reports on the situation in Scotland. If they do so, they will remind themselves that the pressure on elected representatives is becoming greater and greater. If the essence of the Redcliffe-Maud Report is to be accepted, clearly the delegation of functions is to be acknowledged as playing some part in the work of local authorities. This Clause is written in for that reason. I ask the Opposition not to resist every change we are proposing. They may be conservative in the wider sense, but they must be allowed sometimes to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Monro

Who pressurised the hon. Gentleman into putting this provision into the Bill? Was it the Convention of Royal Burghs or the Association of County Councils?

Dr. Mabon

I have had some experience in this. I have met as many planning people as the hon. Gentleman and I have not experienced such pressure. I agree that the majority of officials are not in favour of this provision because of the heavy burden entailed if they are asked by elected members to do it. I hope that the councils will take that into account when considering delegation that might be unfair to officials. That, of course, is why we have put the safeguard in. The Government are not being bullied by the Convention of Royal Burghs and have not been cajoled by the Association of County Councils or pressurised by the Association of Counties of Cities. There is a general wish that we should do something like this and the actual application will be done by the councils themselves.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

The Minister of State has referred to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, which came out today. That Report deals with England—not even with Wales as well. He may spend hours later tonight reading it, but we and many people in Scotland are waiting for Wheatley. That is the report on local government in Scotland for which we are still to wait for some weeks yet. That is the report which will affect Scottish planning procedures. He seems to have fallen into the old trap of following what has been happening in England—not even in Wales on this occasion.

Dr. Mabon

I referred to the Royal Commission, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government cannot and do not dictate to a Royal Commission when to report. Royal Commissions are independent.

Mr. Campbell

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman made reference to the Redcliffe-Maud Report. If he is to put forward proposals and plans based on that Report, what will happen when the Wheatley Commission reports? That is

what we are waiting for. We believe this provision to be unnecessary and unwise for the reasons explained so eloquently by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie).

Mr. Clark Hutchison

I support the Amendment. I would be surprised if Edinburgh asked for this arrangement. Will the Minister of State tell us if it did? If it did not, why is he overruling its wishes?

Dr. Mabon

I have had no letter from Edinburgh protesting about this provision. I equally admit that I have had no letter from Edinburgh urging me to go on with it. In the absence of advice from Edinburgh, I think I am courageous enough to go on alone.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 196.

Division No. 250.] AYES [11.20 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Glover, Sir Douglas Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Gower, Raymond Osborn, John (Hallam)
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Grant, Anthony Page, Graham (Crosby)
Astor, John Grant-Ferris, R. Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Gresham Cooke, R. Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Awdry, Daniel Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Percival, Ian
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Gurden, Harold Pike, Miss Mervyn
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Pounder, Rafton
Berry, Hn. Anthony Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Biffen, John Harvie Anderson, Miss Pym, Francis
Biggs-Davison, John Hawkins, Paul Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Black, Sir Cyril Hay, John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Blaker, Peter Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Royle, Anthony
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Hiley, Joseph Russell, Sir Ronald
Brewis, John Hill, J. E. B. Scott, Nicholas
Brinton, Sir Tatton Holland, Philip Scott-Hopkins, James
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Hordern, Peter Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Bryan, Paul Howell, David (Guildford) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Buchana-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M) Hutchison, Michael Clark Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Burden, F. A. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Stainton, Keith
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Stodart, Anthony
Chataway, Christopher Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Clegg, Walter Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Summers, Sir Spencer
Cooke, Robert Jopling, Michael Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Kaberry, Sir Donald Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Costain, A. P. Kershaw, Anthony Temple, John M.
Crouch, David Kimball, Marcus Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Currie, G. B. H. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Waddington, David
Dalkeith, Earl of Kitson, Timothy Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Dance, James Lane, David Walters, Dennis
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Ward, Dame Irene
Dean, Paul MacArthur, Ian Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Maude, Angus Wiggin, A. W.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Mawby, Ray Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Emery, Peter Mills, Peter (Torrington) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Farr, John Monro, Hector Woodnutt, Mark
Fisher, Nigel Montgomery, Fergus Wylie, N. R.
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Foster, Sir John Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Nicholls, Sir Harmar Mr. Jasper More and
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Nott, John Mr. Reginald Eyre.
Albu, Austen Fraser, John (Norwood) Manuel, Archie
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Freeson, Reginald Mapp, Charles
Anderson, Donald Galpern, Sir Myer Marks, Kenneth
Archer, Peter Gardner, Tony Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Armstrong, Ernest Garrett, W. E. Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Ginsburg, David Mendelson, John
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Millan, Bruce
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Gregory, Arnold Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Grey, Charles (Durham) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Barnes, Michael Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Barnett, Joel Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Bence, Cyril Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Neal, Harold
Bonn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Hamling, William Ogden, Eric
Bidwell, Sydney Harper, Joseph Oram, Albert E.
Binns, John Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Orbach, Maurice
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Orme, Stanley
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Haseldine, Norman Oswald, Thomas
Booth, Albert Hazell, Bert Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Heffer, Eric S. Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hooley, Frank Paget, R. T.
Cant, R. B. Horner, John Palmer, Arthur
Carmichael, Neil Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Park, Trevor
Chapman, Donald Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Coe, Denis Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Coleman, Donald Howie, W. Pentland, Norman
Concannon, J. D. Hoy, James Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Conlan, Bernard Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Hughes, Roy (Newport) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dalyell, Tam Hunter, Adam Probert, Arthur
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Hynd, John Richard, Ivor
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Janner, Sir Barnett Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Jenkins, Ht. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Ryan, John
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Sheldon, Robert
Delargy, Hugh Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dewar, Donald Judd, Frank Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Kelley, Richard Silverman, Julius
Dickens, James Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Skeffington, Arthur
Dobson, Ray Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Small, William
Doig, Peter Lawson, George Spriggs, Leslie
Driberg, Tom Leadbitter, Tad Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Dunnett, Jack Lee, John (Reading) Taverne, Dick
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Lestor, Miss Joan Tinn, James
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Urwin, T. W.
Eadie, Alex Loughlin, Charles Varley, Eric G.
Edelman, Maurice Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Ellis, John Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
English, Michael McBride, Neil Wallace, George
Ennals, David McCann, John Watkins, David (Consett)
Ensor, David Macdonald, A. H. Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McGuire, Michael Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Wilkins, W. A.
Fernyhough, E. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mackie, John Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackintosh, John P. Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maclennan, Robert Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Foley, Maurice McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) McNamara, J. Kevin Woof, Robert
Ford, Ben Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Forrester, John Mahon, Simon (Bootle) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fowler, Gerry Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Mr. Ernest Perry and Dr. Miller
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