HC Deb 11 June 1969 vol 784 cc1529-42

.—(1) Compliance with an enforcement notice, whether in respect of—

  1. (a) the demolition or alteration of any buildings or works, or
  2. (b) the discontinuance of any use of land,
or in respect of any other requirements contained in the enforcement notice, shall not discharge the enforcement notice.

(2) Without prejudice to the preceding subsection, any provision of an enforcement notice requiring a use of land to be discontinued shall operate as a requirement that it shall be discontinued permanently, to the extent that it is in contravention of Part III of this Act; and accordingly the resumption of that use at any time after it has been discontinued in compliance with the enforcement notice shall to that extent be in contravention of the enforcement notice.

(3) Without prejudice to subsection (1) of this section, if any development is carried out on land by way of reinstating or restoring buildings or works which have been demolished or altered in compliance with an enforcement notice, the notice shall, notwithstanding that its terms are not apt for the purpose be deemed to apply in relation to the buildings or works as reinstated or restored as it applied in relation to the buildings or works before they were demolished or altered.

(4) A person who, without the grant of planning permission in that behalf, carries out any development on land by way of reinstating or restoring buildings or works which have been demolished or altered in compliance with an enforcement notice shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds.—[Mr. Willis.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Willis

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

I should like to make a correction to the Clause. The reference to Part III in subsection (2) should be a reference to Part II.

The Clause seeks to ensure that an enforcement notice shall have effect against subsequent development. During the Committee stage I received representations from Midlothian County Council drawing to the fact that there was no certainty as to the position after an enforcement notice had been served and had been complied with. The council said that this created certain difficulties. It said that the position had not been made clear in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947, or since, but that south of the Border a provision had been included in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, to deal with this matter. Local authorities in Scotland are at a certain disadvantage in this respect, because they do not know how they stand and can find out only by taking a case as far as the Court of Session.

At present, to make an enforcement notice effective, if a person on whom it is served fails to comply with it, the matter has to be reported to the Procurator Fiscal and the matter goes to the sheriff's court in respect of a statutory offence. This is likely to involve delay. Meanwhile, it is easy for a person who has failed to comply with a notice to continue to fail to comply. If the local authority takes the matter to the sheriff's court, it has to spend money to enforce the notice and, as far as anyone knows, a few weeks afterwards the man may commit the same offence and the procedure has to be repeated by the authority. As the Bill stands, this could go on ad infinitum.

I spoke to my hon. Friend the Minister of State about this and he very kindly put it to his officials. I have received a letter from him which did not give me much satisfaction. It was altogether a bit of a sloppy affair. He said that there was an opportunity to do something about this in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960, but nothing was done and the decision was deliberate— based on the fact that no practical difficulties had then arisen or were expected to arise in Scotland from the want of such a pro-vision. This expectation has been justified because there has not been a single case in Scotland. My hon. Friend went on to add what I regard as the crowning slipshod argument: On balance, however, I would not feel justified—and I am sure you will agree—in adding a page and a half to the Bill to deal with a problem which does not seem to have arisen in Scotland. My hon. Friend cannot have been aware of all the facts because the matter was taken up with me by the Midlothian County Council precisely because of its difficulties. I sent my hon. Friend's letter to the council and asked for comments and the council was rather annoyed about the letter. It pointed out that it had experienced a number of these cases and said that difficulties of this kind were constantly occurring.

The writer of the letter went on to give an example of action twice taken in connection with a large field used for the dumping of prefabricated materials. The two occasions related to the same person and the same offence and it took more than three years before there was compliance, because of the lack of clarity. The writer said that local authorities would clearly not go to the Court of Session to find out exactly what the position was unless there were a situation which would justify the expenditure of the large sum involved.

This is an important matter. I do not know how close to the ground in Scotland my hon. Friend has his ear, but one of the major problems in Scotland at present is the opening of caravan sites all over the Highland area, sites which have no control.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

I have such a case now.

Mr. Willis

There is serious concern about the spread of caravan sites in the Highlands. As the law stands, anyone may start a caravan site. He may wait until a local authority serves an enforcement notice to discontinue the use of the caravan site, but meanwhile the summer will have passed and he may pack up for the winter and carry on next year. There is nothing to prevent that. This could destroy Scotland.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman does not know much about Scotland. He would do better to conserve the two votes which he has in Peterborough than to try to conserve the Scottish countryside.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

My right hon. Friend has raised an important issue by referring to caravan sites. I shall not talk about caravan sites. However, when a local authority is confronted by a person who puts a caravan on to a site, the authority may take the necessary action to serve an enforcement notice, but the following day another person will move to the site with another caravan and the authority will have to repeat the procedure. The new Clause would obviate that. While I am on my feet, may I say that I am amazed to find out—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been on his feet long enough for an intervention.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I do not know whether my hon. Friend will talk about caravan sites, but if there is even one caravan on a site it is a caravan site for the time being.

There is enormous difficulty controlling this development in the Highlands and in Central Scotland and the difficulties are growing and the situation which I have described is likely to occur all over the area.

The Bill should give local authorities some indication of the position once an enforcement notice has been served and the offending person has complied with it. It is not a great deal to ask. It would clarify the position and solve several problems for local authorities. Midlothian quotes the case of a dump. I imagine that in many local authority areas pieces of land are wrongly used as dumps for old motor cars and that, following the issue of an enforcement notice, the person concerned uses it again. This is not unlikely. The whole question of refuse dumping, of old motor cars and builders' refuse, is urgent. This problem does arise and will continue to arise, probably more frequently in future, because of the growing need for areas like this and for caravan sites.

I could quote many other instances. I cannot see why, for the sake of half a page in the Bill, we should refuse to deal with this. That seems a reasonable request. It would meet one of the difficulties of Midlothian over the operation of the 1947 Act—and I do not suppose that Midlothian is unique. Fancy sending a letter saying, in effect, "We could not be bothered in 1960 and we cannot be bothered now, and even if we could, would it be worth while, since it would take up a page of a Bill?" After all, Acts of Parliament are full of Clauses which are seldom used and which one hopes will not be used, but we have passed through the Scottish Standing Committee a number of Clauses to help local authorities. That is what this Clause would seek to do.

I do not quote England as an example. The need is a Scottish need. I do not care whether they have such a Clause in the English Bill. Midlothian has established a case for such a Clause in the Scottish Bill. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will look with favour on the Clause. He will notice that the drafting is superb. If the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) ever wants to hire a draftsman, he might bear this in mind. It might not read right but it seems to meet the issue. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept it, thereby giving some guidance and help to Scottish local authorities.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

I support the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), particularly for his attack on the Minister of State. To have a former Minister of State referring to the efforts of his successor as "slipshod" is a sad indication of where we have come to in Scottish administration, and falls far short of the standard of invective which we have come to expect from the party opposite.

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman doubted the adequacy of the new Clause. If it is adequate, it should not take up a full page of the Bill, which he suggests is the Minister's main reason for rejecting this sensible provision. The case is valid. Caravan sites as such do not destroy the countryside. We need more and better such sites. Anything that we can do, here and outside, to encourage the highest standards in these sites, the better for our visitors and for the reputation of Scotland. But where there is abuse, as there can be at present, we should deal with it. I hope that the Minister of State will consider that.

Mr. Eadie

I would rather that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) had not spoken in support of the Clause, because of his opening words. We want my hon. Friend to accept the Clause and do not want to be too hard on him. I did not have the pleasure of being on the Committee, but I know that my hon. Friend has been helpful. When I made my speech on Second Reading, he agreed to accept one of the propositions of Midlothian, which has greatly strengthened the Bill. But, after that, he should consider any other suggestions from this, the premier county of Scotland.

This is a new Bill and it is not good enough to say that something has not happened before, and that, by use and want, we have got by all right. Midlothian is a booming county, industrially, as is the whole of Scotland. My hon. Friend must realise that we are entitled to examine a new piece of legislation to see whether we should correct it and think ahead about future legislation. In many areas of Scotland there are problems because of the tremendous increase in the use of the motor car. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) mentioned the superb drafting, which we did with the aid of two or three pins and a duplicating machine. The motor car point is valid.

If someone proposed to make a junk yard and there was a weakness about enforcement notices, every hon. Member would regret that we had not made sure in this Bill that there would be no anomaly and that planning authorities were not confused about whether to issue enforcement notices. In Loanhead, there is such a case of a caravan site, as the Minister of State knows. It is a complicated case and I will not go into it, but anything which can strengthen the legal authority of the planning authority in Midlothian or any other county of Scotland would surely be a good thing. Contrary to the belief of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East, I believe that my hon. Friend is always amenable to reason. Having listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and myself putting what I believe to be a very strong case, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the new Clause.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

I agree with the Minister that it is not advisable to be too specific in a Bill and that we should leave some latitude. However, could not the point outlined in the new Clause be covered by regulations? If so, that would appear to be a better way of dealing with it.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I wrote the letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) because from 1956 until the date of writing it we had not had notice in the Scottish Office of any kind of evasion. I do not blame my right hon. Friend for not letting me have the note from Midlothian in time. He did not give the date, but I am sure that he received it only a few days ago. Unfortunately, we are at a minute to twelve in parliamentary terms concerning the Bill, and it is difficult for me to accept the new Clause when there is one, and only one, defect in it.

I congratulate my colleagues on devising the new Clause. Strangely, it brings an echo to my mind of Section 51 of the English Planning Act of 1962. No doubt that is a wicked and mischievous thought on my part. It is almost a straight copy of Section 51.

Mr. Willis

It is a copy, but all the points with which we are not concerned have been deleted.

Dr. Mabon

I am glad to hear that self-confession by my right hon. Friend. However, the new Clause should refer to Part II of the 1947 Act. The fact that it refers to Part III may be a printer's error.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Subsection (2) of the new Clause refers to contravention of Part III of the Bill. It should refer to Part II of the 1947 Act. If it is possible to make that alteration at this stage, I am willing to accept the new Clause.

Mr. Speaker

I would be willing to accept a manuscript Amendment if it were to commend itself to the House.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Perhaps a manuscript Amendment would meet the need. I do not apologise for butting in on Scottish affairs after the way in which Scottish Members tried to dominate the discussion on the reorganisation of local government in England earlier today.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has a good memory, but we must not deal with that now.

Mr. Wylie

I would be the last to try to dissuade the Minister from accepting something which he believes will improve the Bill. However, it seems to have been done in such a casual way that I am wondering whether the Minister has satisfied himself on the point. There are provisions for stop notices in the Bill. Do not they meet the point of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis)? I do not wish it to be thought that I am opposing the new Clause, but I should like to be satisfied that we are doing the right thing and that we are not going about it in the wrong way, with the right hon. Gentleman hastily scribbling down Amendments to his own new Clause.

Would the Minister satisfy the House on the effect of the stop notice procedure? On the face of it, it goes a long way towards meeting the objections of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. Like the Minister, I have never heard of any shortcomings in the procedure. No one has suggested to me that the enforcement procedure under the Statute has not operated satisfactorily. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East mentioned difficulties in Midlothian. If there are difficulties in Midlothian, I should have thought that we would have come across them elsewhere because presumably developments in Midlothian are not unique in Scotland. I should like to be sure that the Minister is not accepting off the cuff something which he might later regret having accepted.

7.15 p.m.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The position is straightforward and simple. It was demonstrated in the case of Posthill v. East Riding County Council, in 1956, that there was a defect, and it was argued in Committee that if this was so in England and evasion was proven the Bill should be amended. The Scots sensibly said, "We do not have the problem, so we should not apply this amendment in the English law to Scotland".

When I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East there was still no problem. No county council had raised this matter formally with the Scottish Office or asked for a similar amendment to be made. On that very narrow point, I refused my right hon. Friend's request. Why provide a solution to a problem which does not exist? It seemed a sensible position for a Minister to adopt. Today, my right hon. Friend has demonstrated that there is a case for an amendment.

The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) referred to the English position concerning stop notices. The English have stop notices, but they still need Section 51 to close this loophole and my right hon. Friend has demonstrated that we do, too.

I do not think we should spend much more time on this point. I will move a manuscript Amendment to the new Clause changing "Part III of this Act" to "Part II of the 1947 Act." We can then adopt the new Clause.

Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)

This is a most extraordinary way of legislating. I do not know whether it has ever happened before. Certain problems will arise from it. I should like to give an example. In subsection (4) of the new Clause there is reference to the penalties which will be imposed if there is contravention. No appeal against the penalties which can be imposed will lie unless consequential Amendments are made, perhaps in Clause 16. Should not consequential Amendments be made if the Amendment which the Minister proposes is accepted?

Mr. Wylie

When there is reference to summary conviction, the Acts dealing with the summary criminal procedure apply and a right of appeal is built in.

Earl of Dalkeith

Even so, we are rushing through something without considering what consequential Amendments may be needed in other parts of the Bill. I do not know whether the Minister arrived at the Dispatch Box having decided that he would accept the Amendment or having decided that he would not. I do not know whether he has with his advisers considered whether consequential Amendments may be necessary. If he has done so, and decided that they are not necessary, this is a good thing.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The noble Lord knows that, like himself, I do my homework on legislation thoroughly. I assure him that it was only on this one point that I rejected my right hon. Friend's Amendment. It is a perfectly sound Amendment except for that one small point. There is no question of my doing this unilaterally without advice. I have strong advice behind me which says that this is an Amendment which would have been good if we had had previous examples. We now have an example and it is, therefore, a good Amendment.

Earl of Dalkeith

If the Amendment was a good one with the exception of this one fault, why was not the necessary change put on the Notice Paper?

Mr. Speaker

We are getting into very deep water. We will discuss the proposed Amendment if we give the Clause a Second Reading. The Amendment will have to be moved and hon. Gentlemen can then speak about it. The question at the moment is whether we want the Clause to have a Second Reading.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

My noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) has raised a real point. It would help the House if the Minister told us when he reached a decision. The impression left on the House is that he came to the debate prepared not to accept the new Clause. Is it merely because of this one instance which has been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman that the Minister is prepared now to accept the new Clause?

The Minister has spoken of the Bill as coming at one minute to midnight, but his decision seems to have come at that time. Sensible and properly thought-out legislation will not be produced if the Minister comes to a conclusion merely on the basis of one instance brought forward at this late stage when previous evidence has been to the contrary. Will the Minister tell us what is behind this, whether he was prepared to accept the Clause before he came to the House, and whether he is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to justify the acceptance of the new Clause.

Mr. James Hamilton

It was not my intention to speak, but reference has been made to one local authority. As a member of a local authority for 10 years, and a member of the planning committee, I can say that this is something with which we were confronted on many occasions.

If a planning application is refused, but the applicant goes ahead and constructs the building and the local authority take enforcement action against him, another applicant may in turn apply for planning permission, in which case the application for planning permission takes priority over the enforcement order, and the procedure must be gone through again. I am told that this happens regularly in relation to caravans, and the county clerk has told me that nothing can be done about this on the basis of the 1947 Act.

If the Clause obviates circumstances of that nature, it is desirable that it should be accepted. It is not good enough to say that the 1947 Act should not be accepted as being totally valid and at the same time to pass an Act of 1969 which contains weaknesses. I hope that my hon. Friend will answer the the points I am putting forward, not on the basis of the Midlothian local authority, but on the basis of my experience as a member of the Lanarkshire local authority.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

We are being held up over a comparatively small matter. I agree with the new Clause and hope that it will be accepted. On the other hand, this is a most extraordinary way of proceeding. If we on this side were to behave in this way and produce manuscript Amendments at the last minute, the first person to raise the roof in protest would be the Minister. I can see him standing at the Box and telling us not to be superficial and careless in bringing Amendments before the House.

I am sorry that we are wasting time on the Clause. Would not the normal procedure be for the Minister to give us an assurance that he will look into this carefully and bring in an appropriate Amendment in another place—

Dr. Mabon

This is the last time.

Mr. Younger

In that case, I have a further point to make. If the Minister discovered that there was a small error in the new Clause, surely his simplest course would have been to telephone his right hon. Friend and get the error put right before coming here, thus saving a great deal of time.

Mr. MacArthur

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). I do not want to discuss the merits or otherwise of the new Clause; I merely want to ask whether we should accept it at this stage. My fear is based on the unbelievably slipshod handling of the new Clause by the Government.

We cannot ask the Government to review the matter in another place since the Bill has already gone through another place and we are here at the ultimate moment. If the new Clause is not accepted now it will not be in the Bill. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in his apprehension that it might not be in the Bill.

I ask the House to consider whether it is right for Parliament to legislate in this way and to accept a new Clause on the sudden whim of the Minister, particularly a defective new Clause which it is proposed to put right by a manuscript Amendment which you, Mr. Speaker, said most generously that the House would accept. The Amendment was scribbled on a piece of paper, while the right hon. Gentleman was running from one bench to another, a moment ago. This is a most unfortunate way to proceed and is not the way in which legislation should be produced.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I have no doubt that, had the shoe been on the other foot, the Government would have said exactly the same about hon. Members on this side of the House as my hon. Friend is now saying about the Government. It is refreshing to know that there are occasions when something is achieved by Parliamentary debate. I am glad that Parliament can show, even in the middle of a debate, that it can influence the course of legislation.

Mr. MacArthur

I agree with my hon. Friend. The purpose of the Clause is to create a new offence and to introduce a new fine on the citizen. Legislation of this kind should not be introduced at the last moment, in a hurry, without consideration, particularly when the Clause is being amended yet again by a manuscript Amendment which has been produced in this clumsy way. The Minister would be wise to tell the House that he accepts the principle of the Amendment and that it will be studied with greater care.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

Amendment made to the proposed Clause: In subsection (2) leave out from "Part" to "and" and insert: II of the Act of 1947."—[Dr. Mabon.]

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

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