HC Deb 04 March 1969 vol 779 cc359-82

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, That the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 (Commencement No 1) Order 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1908), dated 29th November 1968, be withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

Unless I hear any objection, I think that it would be convenient for both sides of the House if, with this Motion, we discussed the other eight Motions— That the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 (Commencement No. 2) Order 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1909), dated 29th November 1968, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 (Commencement No. 3) Order 1969 (S.I., 1969, No. 16), dated 7th January 1969, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning (Listed Buildings) Regulations 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1910), dated 29th November 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th December, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning (Planning Inquiry Commissions) Regulations 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1911), dated 29th November 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning (Inquiries Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1953), dated 9th December 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning Appeals (Determination by Appointed Persons) (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1952), dated 9th December 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 16th December, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning (Determination of appeals by appointed persons) (Prescribed Classes) Regulations 1968 (S.I., 1968, No. 1972), dated 12th December 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17th December, be withdrawn. That the Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation Order) Regulations 1969 (S.I., 1969, No. 17), dated 7th January 1969, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th January, be withdrawn. The alternative will be to have a rather tight debate on the first one, followed by rather narrow debates.

Mr. Page

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for your proposal that we should discuss these nine Orders together. They are Orders made under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, a new Act which is not fully in operation and is coming into operation over a period of time.

The nine Orders consist of three bringing into operation parts of the Act at different dates. One Order relates to buildings of architectural and historic interest. It may be that I am old-fashioned, but I like to call them that and not the coined phrase of the Statute "listed buildings", which is a most inelegant phrase. We are discussing buildings of architectural or historic interest. There is one Order on planning inquiries, and then there is a miscellaneous one relating to inquiries generally. Two Orders relate to town planning appeals to persons appointed by the Minister to hear and decide appeals in the place of the Minister. Finally, there is an Order relating to tree preservation.

Together, the Orders would form a substantial Act of Parliament if they were embodied in a Bill. They deal with important matters. They contain details which affect the individual, in many cases quite substantially, in the ownership of and dealing with property. The Orders relating to appeals to an appointed person provide an essential part of the 1968 Act. Without these Orders, that important part of the Act could not operate. Then again, the Order relating to tree preservation rewrites a part of the 1962 Act.

Dealing first with the Commencement No. 1 Order, which is one bringing into operation certain Sections of the 1968 Act, it is in accordance with Section 105 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, that the Act should be brought into operation piecemeal in this way.

It is an extremely difficult type of Order to understand when one has to study carefully the Sections and even parts of Sections which are brought into operation, in some cases only in certain respects. More important than the form of the Order was the way in which the Order reached not only this House but the public as well.

Although the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1968, received Royal Assent on 25th October last year and became the law of the land on that date, prints of the Act were not available to the public until 21st November, 1968—a month after it became law. It is true that no part of the Act had come into operation at that time, but it is inconsiderate for those who have to study an Act of this kind that it is not printed until nearly a month after it receives Royal Assent.

We might have got over that difficulty, but then, came Statutory Instrument, 1968, No 1908, which was made on 29th November, 1968, bringing into operation 25 sections, two schedules and parts of three other schedules of the Act on 6th December, 1968. I stress that date. The Order was made on 29th November bringing this large part of the Act, in rather a complicated way, into operation a week later on 6th December. I should think that one week for studying this is all right, but that Order was not available to the public until the afternoon of 6th December, the day on which it brought that part of the Act into operation. This is not treating the public properly. It is a difficult Order to study and discover its effect. I make the strongest protest at both the House and the public being treated in this way.

By this Order offences are created. It brings into operation, for example, Section 102 which deals with offences. By this Order transactions in property are affected. It might be that by the operation of Section 39, which is brought into operation by this Order, a purchase from a local authority completed on the Friday morning, when no member of the public had read the Order, might have been in breach of Section 39. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give not only some explanation of the delay in printing, but an undertaking that this kind of thing would not happen again.

We come now to Statutory Instrument, 1968, No. 1909, where there was the same delay, but not so serious in this case because it was bringing parts of the Act into operation on 1st January, 1969, not 6th December, 1968. But, here again, we have another complicated Order to study—not the kind of thing perhaps to study during the Christmas vacation—because it brings into operation part of Schedule 9, paragraph 45(b) in relation to the references to Sections 30 and 31 of the principal Act, paragraph 45(c) so far as it relates to enforcement notices under Section 44 of the Act and paragraph 45(d). As I say, this had to be studied over the Christmas vacation. I cannot see any reason why the Ministry could not have had these Orders ready at the time the Bill obtained Royal Assent.

Statutory Instrument, 1969, No. 16, deals with tree preservation orders. This was made on 7th January and brings the provisions of the Act relating to tree preservations orders into operation on 10th February, 1969—a month between when the Order was made and the time that it brings this part of the Act into operation. But the tree preservation Order, without which this part of the Act could not operate, did not appear until 17th January, three weeks before any local authority or member of the public had to operate it. Again I protest against the delay in laying these documents before Parliament and in publishing them to the public.

Now I come to the Orders which deal with the merits of the Act, and first the Order which relates to listed buildings, the buildings of architectural and historical value. As the House knows, if one wishes to demolish or to alter one of these buildings it is necessary to obtain a special form of consent. This was provided for under the 1962 Town and Country Planning Act, but it was considerably amended by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968. In Section 40 and subsequent Sections of the 1968 Act provisions were laid down concerning listed buildings—the consent that one had to obtain before demolishing or altering them, the certificates which had to accompany applications, the forms of appeal, compensation, purchase notices, and such like matters which arose from the necessity to obtain consent.

The 1968 Act left a number of gaps to be filled by Regulation, and now we have those Regulations in Statutory Instrument No. 1910, but here again there are a number of points which I hope the Minister will be able to explain to the House. Regulation 3 provides that the owner of a listed building shall make his application for consent on a form issued by the local planning authority … and shall include the particulars required by that form to be supplied … The form is not described in the Order, and this is unusual in applications of this sort. Each local authority is left to decide what particulars it will demand from the applicant for consent. I should have thought that the normal thing was for the Minister to prescribe the form in this Order so that there was conformity throughout the country. Perhaps there is some good reason for leaving it to local authorities to decide what information they will demand, but I should have thought that guidance from the Minister to keep the practice uniform throughout the country would have been best.

At the end of Regulation 4, which deals with advertisements of applications for consent relating to listed buildings, there is this paragraph: The preceding paragraphs of this regulation shall not apply to any application for consent to carry out works affecting only the interior of a Grade II building, namely a building which when first notified to the authority by the Minister as a building of architectural or historic interest was classified as a building of Grade II and not of Grade II*. This must be a printing error. It even has a star after the end of the second "Grade II", but no correction slip was issued to me when I obtained this copy from the Vote Office. Assuming that this is a misprint and that it was classified as a building "of Grade II and not of Grade I", which evidently is what was meant, what are these grades? They do not appear as statutory descriptions anywhere. They appear in the Order, as if everyone knows exactly what they are. One should remember that it is now a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment up to 12 months and an unlimited fine to execute works for the demolition, alteration or extension of a listed building. Therefore, one should be clear and definite in legislation and Orders like this about what is a listed building.

We have here Grade I and Grade II, and apparently, in Grade I, one must not alter the interior of the building without consent, but in Grade II one may alter it without consent. But that does not appear in the Act. This was apparently thought up by the Minister when making the Order.

A case has come to my notice of a person who read the Order and the Act and recollected that his own house appeared on the local land charges search made when he purchased it as being on the "supplemental list" of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. He was not certain what was meant by the supplemental list, and whether it was an official list or not. He very wisely looked up not only the Town and Country Planning Act but the Civic Amenities Act, 1967, which in Section 11 says that the Minister must keep all lists approved available for public inspection at reasonable hours and at a convenient place.

So this gentleman telephoned the Ministry to discover whether the Ministry was a convenient place and where the list was housed in the Ministry. After half an hour of his call being passed from one Department to another, no one at the Ministry knew. He recollected that, in the Encyclopaedia of Planning Law and Practice, there was mention of lists being kept at Fielden House, Little College Street, London, S.W.I, so he rang that number. After some time, he managed to get Inquiries and was told that they knew nothing about lists but would transfer him to the department which dealt with that, Special Buildings.

Someone in that department told him that there were lists and that they were at Fielden House. "Very well," said my friend, "can I see them?" "No, these are confidential lists on which we are now working so as to produce the full list." So he asked what was meant by the supplemental list: "Oh, that is Grade III". "Is Grade III an official list? Is mine a listed building? May I alter my building without consent?" "No, a Grade III building is a listed building." But later, not being satisfied with that answer, he phoned the Ministry again and eventually was told that the Grade III list was not an official list and that he would not be a criminal if he made alterations to his house.

It is not good enough that offences should be brought in depending entirely on what is included in a list. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will explain exactly what is meant by a Grade I list, a Grade II list and a Grade III list, where each of these lists can be discovered, and how anyone can discover whether his house is in one of those grades and is listed under the Act or this Order. Apart from those provisions in Statutory Instrument No. 1910, the Instrument seems to cover the majority of points which the Act requires to be covered but apparently there is no Instrument as yet concerning the procedure for the enforcement of notices in respect of listed buildings. Can we expect a further Instrument about that in due course?

Statutory Instrument No. 1911 relates to planning inquiry commissions which can be appointed for substantial inquiries, such as that which went into the Stansted question. The Act provides that when an inquiry commission is established, notices or advertisements about it are served. That part of the 1968 Act, which deals with planning inquiry commissions, was brought into operation on 6th December, but there was no prescribed procedure at that time for notifying the public that a planning inquiry commission had been set up.

This Instrument was made on 29th November, was laid on 9th December and came into operation on 11th December, five days after the Act had come into operation, leaving a blank from the point of view of the procedure for advertising inquiries. It is strange that the Instrument was made on 29th November, the same date as the commencement provisions for this part of the Act, yet was not laid before 9th December and did not come into operation until some days after that part of the Act had come into operation. Why was it not published when it was made? Why did we have to wait until that part of the Act came into operation before the necessary procedure was provided?

Statutory Instrument No. 1953 is a rather unintelligible hotchpotch of amendments to the 1968 Rules applying to inquiry procedure. It would have been better to have rewritten the Rules than to ask anybody who must appear at inquiries to find the cross references between this Instrument and the 1965 Rules. It makes it extremely difficult for a layman to understand the procedure and conduct his own case—and we are always encouraging laymen to appear at inquiries which are intended to be of an informal nature—when we produce provisions of this sort.

One must have a comprehensive range of Butterworth's Statutory Instruments on one's shelves fully to comprehend what it is all about; and Butterworth's run along a good many shelves these days. It is impossible to understand these procedures because they require so much cross-referencing. I hope that these Rules will be consolidated at the earliest possible moment.

Statutory Instrument No. 1952 deals with the inquiry procedure under which the Minister may appoint a person to undertake an appeal; and the decision of that person is the decision of the Minister. Unlike the Order I have been speaking about, this is very intelligible and pleasantly readable. It has been made after consultation with the Council on Tribunals. I draw attention to Rule 5 in paragraph 2, which deals with the information to be given to the public and to the neighbours when an inquiry is to be held in connection with an appeal before an appointed person. It provides: Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this rule, the Minister may require the local planning authority to take one or more of the following steps, namely—

  1. (a) to publish in one or more newspapers circulating in the locality in which the land is such notices of the inquiry as he may direct;
  2. (b) to serve notice of the inquiry in such form, and on such persons or classes of persons as he may specify;
  3. (c) to post such notices of the inquiry as he may direct in a conspicuous place or places near to the land;".
Town planning is not, of course, a method of preserving rights which the law does not recognise, such as for example, the right to a view. To that extent one should not invite the neighbours and general public to come and protest, but nevertheless there is undoubtedly very strong feeling when an inquiry is proceeding relating to town planning that the neighbours should be informed and that they should have a chance to make representations.

The provision that the Minister may direct the service of notice of the inquiry on anyone whom he may choose is perhaps a little doubtful of the Minister's power to make himself sub-delegated powers. I do not complain about it for that reason, but I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to say what the Minister has in mind as the people who will be notified under that Rule because it follows up Rule 9, which deals with appeals at the inquiry, that those who have been so notified have the right to appear at the inquiry. This is the sort of thing we wanted when we discussed the Bill in Committee. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can fill in the background a little more.

Order No. 1972, relating to the prescribed classes of appeal which can be determined by a person appointed by the Minister instead of by the Minister himself, is again an Order which is not very easy to understand. It sets out in Schedule 1 those types of appeal which can be heard by the appointed person. Generally the most important I suppose is an appeal in relation to the alteration of a building or buildings for use as for not more than ten dwelling houses. We have the sort of ten dwelling house limit there for the appointed person. I do not know how that figure was chosen, nor why the appointed person was given only a small field of that sort in appeals. Generally we all approve the idea of having an appointed person to hear appeals. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will explain how these limits were reached.

There should be considerable publicity about this Schedule. It is not easy to read as it stands. It will need to be put into better language for publicity purposes, but the public deserve to be told the type of case which will be dealt with in this way.

I come to the Tree Preservation Order, No. 17 of 1969. Here we have a most extraordinary form of legislation. The 1962 Act provided that in making a tree preservation Order the Minister can rewrite certain sections of the Act, but he re-writes them by putting them in a Schedule to the Tree Preservation Order. We have before us the Regulations which set out the form of the Tree Preservation Order. In that form of the Order the 1962 Act is re-written so far as concerns Sections 21, 22, 23 and 27.

The Act empowers the Minister to do that, but it empowers him only to modify and not to re-write the Act. In modifying Section 27 the Minister has added another subsection. I question whether this is modifying. Subsection (5) does not appear in the Act. I am aware that the Ministry holds the view that modifying a Statute includes adding to it. This is stretching the point. I hear the Parliamentary Secretary saying that there is authority for this. I do not think it goes all the way in authorising the addition of a subsection. I hesitate to be very forceful about this, because it is a very useful subsection. However, it is a peculiar form of legislation which the House should watch and ask to be explained whenever it occurs. That is why I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to put on record the reasons for modifying the Statute to this extent.

I apologise to the House for the length of my speech on these Orders. I have not dealt with all the matters which they cover. They are as much as an Act of Parliament in themselves. I hope that the fact that we are debating them will assist the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to some extent in making the public aware of the contents of these Orders, because they are Orders with which in so many cases the layman and not necessarily the professional man has to deal. The more publicity we can give them the better it will be for the operation of these parts of the Act, on which both sides of the House agree.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for the rather exhaustive survey—I say that in a complimentary way—he has given us of these Orders, because it enables us to comment on them. Schedule 1 of Statutory Instrument No. 1972 contains some arbitrary figures. I am interested to know what magic 2 acres have as opposed to 3 or 1½ acres and why 10 dwellinghouses as opposed to 18 or 8 are taken as the figure. In setting out categories like this, we are bound to draw arbitrary and perhaps rather indefensible lines. Did the Minister consider something slightly different when setting out the classes that the appointed person may determine?

The 1968 Act, as well as providing for the kind of Order before us, gave power permissively to local authorities to delegate decisions to their officers. I wonder whether it might not have been more rational to try to create some kind of linking between the two sets of delegations. If not, as in the case we are dealing with, I can see a faintly absurd situation arising. We could have a class of town planning application which the local authority deemed to be important, and therefore reserved to itself for decision, but which might well be one of the categories set out here, which the Minister presumably considers to be slightly less important and delegates to the appointed person. Such a proceeding might be undemocratic. Or we could have the situation the other way round, with the local authority delegating something because it considers it unimportant, while it is not delegated by the Minister if there should be an appeal from the decision.

After all, the local authority is on the spot. An application involving fewer than 10 dwellinghouses might seem insignificant at first sight, but it might be a test case, as sometimes happens. Developers of plots of land round about might be anxiously waiting to see whether the developer concerned succeeded in getting 10 rather than the eight that the local authority had stipulated. Therefore, something that is apparently quite trivial might turn out to be more significant. Was any thought given by the Minister to the basis of determining the classes to which I have referred?

Regulation 4(2) of the Tree Preservation Order says: The order shall define the position of the trees … and for that purpose shall include a map. I see possible difficulties here. Could my hon. Friend explain how he feels that they can be acceptably resolved? I am told that when a local authority contemplates a tree preservation order it does not normally notify the owners and occupiers of the land, because there is a danger that if the owners or occupiers knew they might rush to fell the trees quickly and present the local authority with a fait accompli. The local authorities' practice seems reasonable, but if a local authority is required to draw up a map it might be necessary for its employees to enter upon the land in question, because it might not be conveniently visible from the nearest public highway. If they are to enter upon the land to prepare a map or plan, but are not to reveal to the owners or occupiers that a tree preservation order is contemplated, I wonder how this can be acceptably done. I cannot believe that the employees of the local authority will be encouraged to trespass on the land, but if they are not to trespass they might have to adopt a device or pretext.

Indeed, a case has been brought to my attention in which the local authority had a T.P.O. in contemplation and its employees entered upon the land. The owner's wife knew that they were there and it was with her consent that they were there. But she was not aware that they had come for the purpose of drawing a map for a T.P.O. She was allowed to be under the impression that they had come for a different purpose. Will my hon. Friend explain how this dilemma that seems apparent can be acceptably resolved?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

My Hon. Friend has raised a serious matter. It is suggested that the local authority's employees misled the occupier or his wife. Will my hon. Friend send me particulars of the case? I think he did send me an outline of the case in general, but I do not remember this allegation being made. This is something which the local authorities should watch very carefully.

Mr. Macdonald

I shall be glad to give my hon. Friend particulars of the case. But this was just one instance. Looking at T.P.Os., it is not clear to me how this can be resolved in future cases. No doubt there is an explanation, and I shall be glad to know what it is.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) referred to Statutory Instrument No. 1910, dealing with listed buildings, and to the confusion which has arisen over what is and what is not a listed building. In particular, referring to paragraph 4(3), he drew attention to the fact that the Minister has waived the requirement of listed building consent in cases of interiors of Grade II buildings.

This I welcome because I was chided in Committee during the proceedings on the Town and Country Planning Act for expressing fears that the owner of a Grade II building might be prevented from, say, installing central heating or doing some other useful work to the interior. No hint was given in Committee that there was any question of reducing what is said in the Act. The Act clearly says, in Section 40, that a listed building consent is required for any change within such a building, and defines a listed building as one that comes within the definition of Section 32 of the 1962 Act, which, in turn, states that the Minister must maintain lists of buildings. This, I understand, is in relation to Grades I and II and that Grade III consists only of provisional listings of matters of interest and not of official historical interest and, therefore, does not come within the terms of Section 40 of the 1968 Act.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will direct me to the power the Minister has to make regulations to exclude these buildings. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to do so but I find it surprising that he is entitled to exclude a substantial part of the whole business of listed building consent. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will also tell us what is the Grade II which my hon. Friend has mentioned. I had read the Grade II as being a variety of Grade II, but he suggests that it is Grade I.

In paragraph 10 there is a useful provision intended to safeguard the position of a listed building which is in the ownership of a local planning authority. Here the intention is that listed building consents shall be given by the Minister. This is very wise, because clearly a local planning authority which has a listed building that it would like to demolish will look peculiar if it gives itself listed building consent. It is better that the Minister should intervene in this matter.

I am sure that that is the intention of paragraph 10, but there seems to be a flaw in it. It refers only to where the local planning authority has made the application. It is not only the owner of a building who can make an application for listed building consent. Paragraphs 3 and 5 make it clear that the applicant must, if he is not the owner, serve notice that he has informed the owner that he is making such an application. If a local planning authority was very anxious to demolishh a building in its ownership, what is to stop it granting planning consent to some other applicant, perhaps an intending developer? It would be entitled to give the consent in relation to its own building without going to the Minister. It seems that paragraph 10 is not water tight.

10.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)

The Hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) very rightly said that all these Orders and Regulations, if taken together, would form a substantial Act of Parliament. I agree, and I hope the House will realise that whoever has to reply to such a considerable batch of regulations has a somewhat difficult task. The hon. Gentleman made a formidable speech, dealing only with the points which interested him, and other hon. Gentlemen have done likewise. I have to deal with all of them. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I miss any. I will study the OFFICIAL REPORT and pick up any points missed and write to the hon. Members.

I begin by paying a sincere tribute to the hon. Member, not only for what he said tonight about these Orders and Regulations—and, coming from him, it was almost complimentary—but for the work in general which he does on Statutory Instruments and Regulations. I suppose that the hon. Gentleman and I could not be farther apart doctrinally—and I have no doubt that he is glad that I have put that on the record—but the degree of devotion and expert technical knowledge that he brings to the study of these matters, and the conscientious way in which he and the Committee on Statutory Instruments discharge their duties, render a very great service to the House and the public.

The hon. Member had something to say about the Commencement Orders and the fact that the first two came into effect only upon the day they were available to hon. Members and the public—6th December. I must say how sorry I am that this happened. I can assure him that it was not intended; indeed the reverse was the case on the part of the Minister and the Department.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that this legislation going through the House got very much behind the time schedule, simply because we were continually extending the Bill to meet important suggestions made on all sides of the House and, indeed, in another place. We tried to deal with the position of statutory undertakers in relation to bringing them into the planning procedure and by limiting compensation in certain cases, and many other matters so that, instead of the Bill being finished before the Summer Recess, it did not come back until October and, consequently, all subsequent operations were put back. The hon. Gentleman suggested that perhaps the regulations could have been drafted before the Bill received the Royal Assent, but it is difficult to do so until the Bill has gone through all its stages, and the hon. Gentleman will recall that there was one formidable stage on Report and at a very late stage when we dealt with matters coming from another place.

The result was that in the progress of the Bill, in the drafting of the regulations and in the further consultations which are customary and necessary, the time ran badly against the Department. We had hoped that the Commencement Orders would have been published on 1st December That became impossible, and we were then up against serious printing difficulties I am not blaming the Stationery Office, which was dealing with a considerable volume of legislation—the Transport Act, and the Medicine Act, which had 130 Clauses, and other measures—and there was considerable overloading. I accept the rebuke of the hon. Gentleman, and I will do all I can to ensure that this does not happen again. There was no malice behind what happened; it was a sheer combination of factors, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

I do not want to make excuses for what happened, but less harm may have been done than has been suggested. Most of the provisions in S.I. No. 1908 affect primarily public authorities and not individuals. Secondly, it brought into effect many relaxations which were in the interests of local authorities. For example, local planning authorities ceased to be liable, from the time the Commencement Order was made, for the payment of special compensation to statutory undertakers for adverse planning decisions. Treasury agreements ceased to be required in some land transactions between local authorities and Crown authorities, and Ministerial consent in certain matters was no longer required; and there were other procedures of that kind. So it may be that the disadvantages are not so great as the hon. Gentleman thought. In the main, public bodies were being freed from certain duties.

The hon. Gentleman referred to new offences. In fact, no new offences are created by the Order. Some old offences in previous legislation are dealt with, and the provision in Section 102 for dealing with offences by corporate bodies was extended. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will feel that the damage was not so great as he feared. We shall do our best to ensure that it does not happen again, but I have tried to give a full explanation which I hope he will accept.

The hon. Gentleman then dealt with the regulation concerning listed buildings. The general purpose of the new Part V of the Act has been welcomed by those who have studied the legislation here and outside. It gives much greater protection to historic buildings than before, and we hope that some incidents which resulted in notorious cases of people flagrantly disregarding the legislation because there were not sufficient penalties or supervision will no longer occur. It is the hope of all that we shall be able to preserve those buildings, of which we have such a marvellous heritage, more effectively and realistically than has been possible in the past.

The hon. Gentleman said that he does not like the expression "listed buildings". Perhaps he would prefer to call them "A. & H."—architectural and historic—but I am not sure that would be any better. This is an unromantic title, but I think the purpose is clear. On the whole, I am sure that the regulations will confer considerable benefits to the nation in terms of preservation.

Perhaps I might say a word or two about the grading. Grade I is applied only to buildings which are very exceptional. Grade II* has a special character, rather like an honours degree, second class, upper division, for buildings which are outstanding but not quite of Grade I quality. Then Grade II covers all other buildings which form part of the official list.

Mr. Graham Page

I am grateful for that explanation. I thought that Grade II* was a kind of brandy. In that connection, is it wrong for a Grade III building to be registered as a land charge? I have come across this in local authority registers, and I presume that such a building has been wrongly inserted in the register.

Mr. Skeffington

The hon. Gentleman can always be relied upon to bowl a few googlies or Chinamen. I am not quite sure of the answer to that one. As the hon. Gentleman knew, the Registrar has some discretion about what is registered. But Grade III is not an official listing and is outside our legislation. I think it is wrong to list it. But I should like to take further advice on the point before giving a definite answer.

The listing of buildings, which has been going on for many years with a very small and devoted staff, is virtually completed now, though it is necessary to keep these matters under review. It may be that buildings on the unofficial list, with the passage of time or perhaps the discovery of a new aspect, become listed. The lists as completed are sent by the Department to the local authorities, and owners of listed buildings are informed that their buildings are on the list.

The listing of those official classes is registered as a local land charge and, therefore, an owner should know about it, and a new owner can find out from the register. I realise that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) did not know about his porch at one time, but we were able in Committee to impart this valuable information to him. The fact that buildings are registered means that owners are aware, or certainly can be aware.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead asked me a point about Regulation 10 of the Listed Buildings Regulations. The answer is that before a local planning authority can grant consent it must first notify the Minister of its intention, and the Minister may call it in for his decision. This would include the case where the local authority can get someone else to make application for the buildings. I am glad to confirm that. The Minister has this right to call in—it is important that he should have it—in difficult or significant cases.

About Regulation 4(3): it waives the publicity requirements but it does not dispense with the need for listed building consent. This was generally agreed in the consultations that we had and seems to be satisfactory.

Incidentally, I have now received a note from my advisers saying that Grade III buildings should not be on the register of land charges. That is what I speculated. I have no doubt that by accident or by discretion or for some other reason, the Registrar has allowed it, but the buildings do not come within the category dealt with by our legislation and certainly not by the 1968 Act.

Hon. Gentlemen made interesting points about the Planning Inquiry Commission Regulations. I do not wish to argue that it is a good practice but on the whole I do not think any harm was done by the fact that the regulations came into effect a day or two after the commencement of the Planning Inquiry Commission section of the Act. The regulations apply only to actions of Ministers in referring cases to a Commission. The way Ministers do this is important and it should be laid down by statute, as should the fact that there should be proper advertisement, notice and so on. But the regulations do not, I think, disadvantage any individual. It is, of course, open to any groups or persons at any time to suggest to the Minister that particular cases should go to the P.I.C. The cases to be referred are carefully laid down by the Act, but this need not inhibit or prohibit the Minister if he wishes to appoint, outside the Planning Inquiry Commission, committees of rather wider composition than is customary. He may have an inspector sitting with an assessor, or more than one assessor, or joint inquiries. All these variations are used in cases which seem appropriate to the Minister.

While I am dealing with these No. 1911 Regulations, perhaps I might refer to the fact that some criticism has been levelled at the fact that they are not sufficiently comprehensive in that they do not cover, as I think the hon. Member criticised, individual bodies in this kind of case. But I remind him of the authority in Section 63 of the Act whereby the Commission is required to make direct service of the notice on the local planning authority and on the applicant, which may include an appellant, or any other person who has made representations which the local planning authority, which it would be bound to take into account if taking the decision itself. So there is direct service in this case. The Planning Inquiry Commission itself will be in direct touch also with the applicant under Section 62(6).

I think the regulations are clear. The hon. Member for Crosby felt that he fully understood them, and I share his certainty. They should prevent the kind of apprehension that he had in mind because of the strict requirements in the Act about service of notices.

There was some interesting discussion about the categories of case to be transferred to inspectors, but first I should like to make one point about publicity. The Ministry has issued a booklet about planning appeals entitled A Guide to Procedure, 1969. All appellants should get copies, and the local authorities have copies available. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen it, but it is a very good guide. In fact, a number of the points which have been raised tonight are perhaps better answered in this booklet than I shall answer them. I commend it to hon. Members who have not seen it. It is a very helpful publication.

I was asked what were the criteria on which these cases which are to be transferred to inspectors were selected. We had a fairly long discussion on this in Committee. The first basic criterion was from an analysis the Ministry made of appeal cases to find out the nature of the majority of them. Complete lists were not kept throughout the country until, I think, 1962. I remember asking a question about this when we were in Opposition. From 1962 comprehensive compilations of appeals have been kept. From a close study of these it was clear that the overwhelming number of cases were the simple ones which we have listed in the regulations and discussed in Committee. They relate to outline application cases not exceeding two acres, operations relating to existing housing use or proposed housing use—conversions and that kind of thing; changes of use of not more than ten houses or changes of use in other respects to not more than 10 houses. It was clear not only that these simple issues constituted the overwhelming number of appeals, but that in a very large proportion of the cases which went to appeal they were decided by the Minister precisely as the Inspector recommended. Therefore, these seem to be cases which could be taken in this final stage by an appointed person, provided he has suitable qualifications, which the Ministry ensures.

There are a number of exceptions for more difficult cases which at this stage we do not intend to transfer. However, it is thought and hoped that this procedure will permit an enormous increase in the speed with which appeals are dealt with, yet they will still be dealt with fairly, and will provide an opportunity for those who are dissatisfied with the decision at the lower level to have their say a second time and have the matter adjudicated upon by an independent person.

I should put on record some interesting figures which I hope will be of interest to hon. Members and read outside. The time taken at present to determine an appeal in these types of case now transferred, if it goes to a public inquiry, is, on average 35 weeks—a long period indeed. If it is dealt with by written representations only it still takes, on average, 29 weeks. I hesitate to say what the time will be under the new scheme. We have not yet got any information to enable us to estimate. However, from consultations that we have had with those who do this kind of work, we are sure that there will be a considerable reduction in time. It is thought that the inspector may be able to give his decision within two or three weeks of holding the inquiry, and, because of the handling of the matter locally, the inquiry should be held much earlier.

I cannot say what will be the total saving in time. It could be anything up to a couple of months. I do not want to be held to this figure, but we are optimistic, and I think everyone will agree that if we can achieve some substantial saving in time on this scale this will be in everybody's interests.

The House may be interested to know that since 1st January notice has been given of 153 appeals to which the 1968 Act applies, and that they divide themselves so far in this way: not in the prescribed classes—that is, not to be adjudicated upon by this procedure—77; recovered by the Minister either by regulation or by specific direction—4; transferred to inspectors—72. This works out at about 47 per cent. of the cases that we have had up to 26th February. None of these transferred cases has yet been settled, but the first inquiries will take place in May. Nevertheless, this is the breakdown so far, and I am sure the House hopes that this experiment will be a success.

The Minister will transfer other cases as experience shows that they can be handled competently. We shall do this again on the basis of the analysis that we have made. I ought to have added earlier that we have had consultations not only with the inspectorate, but with local authorities and other people about the sort of cases they feel could be handled competently.

I think I am right in saying—I remember referring to this in Committee—that there has been some kind of working group within the local councils which has considered this matter.

Mr. Graham Page

The Minister gave us some interesting figures. May we get the position quite clear? As I understand it, 153 appeals have come in since 1st January. These are all kinds of appeals, and of this number as many as 72 have been found to be within this Schedule 1 description of the prescribed classes. Does that mean that there are some more of the 153 which may be transferred, or is it the case that about 50 per cent. of the appeals that come in can be transferred to an inspector?

Mr. Skeffington

It is not quite 50 per cent., according to my figures. I thought that the hon. Gentleman had spotted a mistake in my arithmetic. The 72 transferred work out at about 47 per cent., or nearly half. I think that this is encouraging.

I was asked about the regulations dealing with trees. I know that the Statutory Instruments Committee raised the point which the hon. Gentleman first made about whether the provision in paragraph 27(5) of the Tree Preservation Order Regulations was legally valid, because the Committee took the view that this was an extension of powers and not a modification of them. I have a copy of the Memorandum sent by the Department to the hon. Gentleman, in which the view is taken that it was within the Minister's power. The authority for that is the old case of Stevens v. The General Steam Navigation Company Limited, where the Court of Appeal ruled that although "harbour" did not appear in the Act out of which the action arose, nevertheless, by Section 38 of the Interpretation Act, 1889, where an Act passed after other Acts repeals and re-enacts with or without modification any provision of a former Act it shall be construed as references to provisions so re-enacted. So "harbour" was included. In section 27(5), extension is also covered, and the new power to suspend a planning permission is included. At any rate, I hope the Committee was satisfied that this is the interpretation which has been given in many of these cases.

It is very necessary in these regulations, to have this power in respect of trees when a revocation order is in issue. There must be a period to stop felling. If there is no power to suspend the planning permission which has been given, there is no point in the Minister having the power to intervene, because the trees would be topped or cut down. It is therefore, necessary to have this power. I do not think the hon. Gentleman objected to the power. He merely wanted to know whether it was legal. We hope that it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) raised the question of maps and surveys about T.P.O.s. There are various ways in which local authorities can proceed. The large-scale Ordnance Survey maps have substantial trees already marked. Most urban authorities make a tree survey for the whole or part of their cities. The City of Liverpool is doing this for the whole city to see where it is appropriate to make tree preservation orders. In the initial stages these surveys can sometimes be carried out by amenity societies. This has been done in my village, and, I believe, in Chelmsford. It is with this information that, when an application comes before it, a local authority can proceed.

I have seen many of the orders, which are now running at about 1,000 a year. Some orders may comprise a large number of trees, and they must contain a map, especially when there is an appeal. Apart from the incident described by my hon Friend, I have known of no difficulty. The information must be accurate, especially in the case of Part II of the Civic Amenities Act, where one is faced with tree preservation orders which may last not only for the life of the existing tree but beyond that, after the tree is dead and has been replaced. I shall be glad to look into any further points my hon. Friend has in this matter.

The only other point is that the Act and the regulations now make it possible for local authorities to issue the T.P.O. at once where there is no objection to an order within the period. This will save a considerable time in labour, which is very much to be welcomed.

I am grateful to all those hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. If they have any points which I have not dealt with in what has been a long speech, I shall be able to write to the hon. Members concerned.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I am extremely grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the all-too-kind words he used about me at the beginning of his speech. The House is very grateful to him for the explanations he has given of these Regulations, and some interesting facts have been brought out. I accept his apologies for the delay in the publication of the statutory instruments and I hope that, having made these rather strong comments about them on this occasion, I shall have ensured that they will be taken notice of by other Departments as well as the hon. Gentleman's.

On the question of listed buildings, I hope that the Minister will issue a pamphlet of some kind explaining to the public what is meant by the different grades—Grade I, Grade II, Grade II*, and Grade III, and point out that these are dealing with listed buildings and not other commodities. I am still somewhat in the dark why there should be these different grades, and what rules apply to each of them. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear, too.

I was sorry to hear the Parliamentary Secretary reduce the Planning Inquiry Commission to initials. We have had the Planning Inquiry Appeal—the P.I.A.; the Prices and Incomes Board—the P.I.B.; and now we have the P.I.C. I warn the hon. Gentleman not to go too far through the alphabet.

I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's figures of the planning appeals already transferred to an appointed person. We should like to watch the first batch of 72 which have been tranesferred to see how long they take to go through the mill. I hope that I shall remember to put down a Question on how the timing is going. After all, the purpose of the Act and the regulations was to speed up and streamline the procedure. We shall also like to know how progress is going on the Tree Preservation Orders, to see how efficiently they are being operated.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's explanations. Our Motion had to be for the withdrawal of the regulations so as to get explanations and publicity, but, in those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.