§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am very grateful to have an opportunity of presenting this Private Member's Bill. I at once acknowledge the element of luck that puts me in my present position. Within five months of becoming a Member of Parliament, to have got to number 10 in the Private Members' Ballot, if not as a place of residence, is I think a little fortuitous.
I have thought very carefully. As an architect and town planning consultant, it is with confidence, though diffidence, that I present this Bill. It is, as the 2127 hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) said in the previous debate, on the general principles that one discusses a Second Reading. I believe that the purpose of this Bill is threefold and could be summarised as follows: first, to discourage the felling and mutilation of trees unnecessarily; second, to encourage the preservation of more old buildings; and third, to make the public more aware of planning applications.
On the question of trees, I wish to say a few words about existing legislation. It could be argued that if the spirit of the existing legislation had been carried out there would be no need for Part I of the Bill. Unfortunately, local planning authorities who are responsible for tree preservation orders have not been able in most cases to make a complete survey of trees in their areas, and therefore there are, in my opinion, many trees that should have preservation orders on them but at present do not. Second, there is a great deal of ignorance among the public about tree preservation orders.
The existing legislation is to be found in Section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and Part II of the Civil Amenities Act, 1967. At this point, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who was responsible for carrying through the House the most far-reaching piece of environment legislation—certainly from the private Member's point of view—that Parliament has ever passed. I hope that he will agree that my proposals are, in essence, an extension of his Act.
I have been conscious of two considerations in this connection from the outset. First, I should be very hesitant to suggest legislation at this time which would require our local authorities to take on extra work or extra staff. Moreover, my whole political philosophy is such that I should in any case be most careful not to propose legislation which would unnecessarily infringe the liberty of the individual. Nevertheless, having said that, I believe that the people of this country are deeply anxious about the numbers of trees in our villages and towns which are coming down or are being mutilated.
My proposal is that anyone who wishes to chop down, to top, to lop, or materially to alter the appearance of any tree which is not the subject of a tree preservation 2128 order shall give six weeks' notice to the local authority before embarking on such a course. He would not have to obtain permission, although, of course, during those six weeks the local planning authority would be able to look at the tree and decide whether it should be subject to a tree preservation order. Second, I ask that such notifications as are received by the local planning authority should be kept, as planning applications are, in a register open at all reasonable hours for public inspection.
I come now to some of the detail of Part I. In Clause 1 I use the words,a tree, group of trees or woodlandsbecause this is the phrase in existing legislation in respect of tree preservation orders. The Bill is not aimed at the forester who wishes to go about his lawful commercial business, and, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, I shall be prepared to exclude the word "woodlands" if that will help my friends in forestry. I regard that as a detail open to negotiation and discussion.
Second, I appreciate the danger in saying—I have tried to keep the Bill as simple as possible—that there shall be exemption in respect of trees whichcannot be seen from a public place".Doubtless, my hon. and learned Friends and hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite will ask, "What is a public place?". This also, I believe, can be the subject of discussion in Committee.
Moreover, because I recognise that there can be legalistic argument about what is a tree, Clause 1 would give authority to the Secretary of State to make exemptions governing the location, size and species of trees covered by the Bill. One does not want to stop the Christmas shopper, for example, from taking a Christmas tree, at least from certain parts of the country, and one does not wish to interfere with what a person does to a sapling in his back garden which is not viewed by the general public.
Why do I propose a fine of £100 in Clause 2? Under existing legislation, someone who chops down or materially alters the appearance of a tree subject to a tree preservation order may be fined up to £250 or the value of the tree, whichever be the greater. In the context of my Bill, I suggest that a fine of £100 2129 would be reasonable, but, again, I am open to suggestions from hon. Members.
If Part I of the Bill becomes law, it will not only discourage people from unnecessarily chopping down or mutilating trees, but it will have another important effect. I believe that many trees are coming down because people have not known that there were tree preservation orders on them. If my Bill becomes an Act, everyone will know that it will be an offence to cut down or doctor a tree without notification, and for that reason I commend Part I to the House.
So often, because a tree is in the way of the easy path of a bulldozer, because a developer wants to put an extra house on a plot of land, or because a row of trees obstructs the route of a double-decker bus, we have thoughtlessly allowed many trees to be chopped down or mutilated. I should like to think that, if Part I becomes law, it will be known as the tree lovers' charter. I hope that it will not be known—I heard one hon. Gentleman suggest this in the House yesterday—as a dispensation for dogs.
Part II covers buildings of architectural or historic interest. There are, in effect, three proposals here. First, it extends the range of buildings the demolition of which would require planning permission. The present law, with one exception, is that a person does not need planning permission to demolish a building. Generally speaking, this has worked satisfactorily because, in normal circumstances, no one demolishes a building unless he wishes to put another building up and, if he wishes to do that, he must obtain planning permission.
My right hon. Friend's Act, the Civil Amenities Act, 1967, was directed to the keeping of buildings of architectural or historic interest for the benefit of the nation, and very rightly so, because so many of our buildings are being knocked down that we shall soon rue the day that a civilised society such as ours ever tolerated it. But, quite often, there are buildings which, although themselves not of architectural or historic importance, have none the less a character and interest in an agreeable setting. To knock down one building in a conservation area, which by very definition is an area in which there is a group of period buildings, could 2130 be to destroy the character of the whole area. An extreme example which comes to mind is the pleasant house which comes down, to be replaced by a multi-storey supermarket or a garish block of flats.
Part II would give the local planning authority the right to insist, as it sees fit, that there be a planning application for demolition of such buildings in conservation areas. At present, only listed buildings need that consent.
The second proposal in Part II—we come here to more technical though none the less important matters—deals with the listed building which is left in a state of neglect. Section 6 of my right hon. Friend's Act—I hope that I do it justice by my paraphrase—provides that, if an owner of a listed building deliberately leaves it in a state of neglect, the local authority may enter the building and do the necessary repairs so that, in effect it will not have to be demolished.
Unfortunately, that Act did not give the local authority power to recover the reasonable costs of the work involved. My Bill proposes that it should be allowed to charge the reasonable costs rather than bear them as yet another burden on the ratepayer or taxpayer. Such charges could be recovered summarily as a civil debt.
The third proposal in Part II relates to what has become known as minimum compensation. Section 53 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, gave the Minister power to issue a certificate for minimum compensation when the owner of a listed building had let his building fall into a state of disrepair and it was decided compulsorily to acquire it to stop it being pulled down. A loophole is that the courts have decided that the fixtures of a building, in which quite a lot of people are interested—for instance, the Adam fireplace or plaster ceiling—are not part of the building and, therefore, a certificate cannot be given for minimum compensation. The Bill would close that loophole.
Part III of the Bill is concerned with planning applications. I suppose that one could say that, whereas town and country planning is the second oldest profession in the world, it is one of the newest in this country. The first Town and Country Planning Act was passed in 1909. It was not until the twentieth 2131 century that we got down to planning how we should use the land in our relatively small island. This was well after the Industrial Revolution had left its scars on our landscape and townscapes.
All too often people think of planning in a negative aspect. Legislation passed by not only the Conservative Party but the Labour Party tried to encourage greater public participation in planning matters. This is a good thing. If members of the public feel that they do not know what is going on, instead of having public participation, all too regularly there has been private resentment towards planning proposals. I see nothing wrong in making the public more aware of pending planning applications.
At present, with one important exception, an applicant does not have to give notification of an application that he is making to a local authority. Section 15 of the 1962 Act, which deals with what has become known as the "bad neighbour planning application", provides that if one proposes to put a knacker's yard, abattoir, pets food shop, gymnasium or Turkish foam bath on a piece of land, one should post a notice on the site. It would be a good thing, and would not delay planning applications or be an expense to the applicant, if more site notices in respect of planning applications were posted.
As a first step, I propose in the Bill that a local planning authority, if it thinks fit, should require an applicant to post a notice on the site so that a neighbour or anyone else who can claim to be involved can see it. Unlike Section 15 of the 1962 Act, I do not suggest that the applicant should put an advertisement in the local newspapers. Many people read the local newspapers, but there is evidence that notices can be inserted in such a way that nobody sees them. However, this costs the applicant money and would, I think, be an unnecessary and unreasonable provision.
Secondly, my Bill proposes that a local planning authority, if it thinks fit, can give information to any member of the public about planning applications in its ward or parish. If this were done, it would be reasonable for the authority to charge a fee. I am thinking particularly of the amenity societies and voluntary organisations which are set up because of concern about the way in which their 2132 village or parts of their town are developing. This is a reasonable proposal, and it is contained in Clause 8.
The third and final proposal has been contentious in and rejected by the House before, but I believe that it is very important if we are to bring public participation and purpose into planning. Parish councils should have the right to receive details of planning applications concerning their areas. Therefore, I commend this provision to the House.
I hope that the House will forgive me for having spoken a little technically and at some length on the Bill. It may seem strange to some people that when, if my calculations are correct, men are at this precise moment walking on the moon I should invite the House to come down to earth with a rather severe bump. But "environment" is now the "in" word in politics. It is the new word in the politician's vocabulary. We have been falling over ourselves, certainly at the last election, to say that we are concerned about environment, conservation, pollution and amenity. I dare to suggest that this is the first Bill of the new Parliament which gives us the opportunity to practise what we have been so assiduously preaching to our electorates in the last few months.
I said that I rose with some diffidence to propose the Second Reading of the Bill. In fact, any diffidence which I had was dispelled before the postal strike by the flood of mail which I received from all parts of the country giving me support for this modest Bill, which I commend to the House.
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking hon. Members on both sides of the House for their active support and encouragement. I hope that this will be a Parliament which does something about preserving the good parts of our environment. I believe that the environment is an issue which should cut across the whole political spectrum. People outside this Chamber are looking to this Parliament to try to make their environment a little more tolerable. We talk, quite properly, about the quality of life. I believe that the quality of life concerns not only the economic well-being and social justice of the people but the physical environment in which they live.
I ask the House in all humility to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)
May I, as the first speaker from this side of the House, warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on bringing forward this Bill for discussion. It is fitting that we should discuss this subject after a week in which we have had debates on which there has not been very much agreement between the two sides of the House. I am sure that there will be a great deal of agreement about the Bill.
There are three specific Clauses in the Bill, and I respect the importance of all three. Having lived in the country, I can appreciate the great concern for the preservation of trees, as with historical buildings. Those of us who have served on local planning committees are fully aware of the point which the hon. Member for Handsworth rightly made about the lack of public awareness of what is proposed in the areas in which people live and, in many cases, in which they will continue to live.
I am sure that many people in London directly affected by housing developments or motorway proposals had no awareness of what was being proposed. Certainly this was the case with motorways in London until public participation was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), and supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. People in parts of London—for instance, North Kensington—are living in great discomfort. I am sure that they were not fully informed of the effects which certain proposals would have on their lives. In this respect, Part III of the Bill is of great importance to the communities not only in the larger cities but throughout the country.
I welcome the provision concerning notification, but I wonder whether it goes far enough. The hon. Member for Handsworth said that the onus will now be for site developers to post notices informing local residents of the development; but elderly people sometimes do not see such notices. Many hon. Members must have had people coming to their advice bureaux complaining that although a certain development was taking place in their area they had not had notice of it. We may tell such people, "The local council has had site notices 2134 displayed", but a person may say "I know nothing about it". I hope that this question will be considered in greater detail in Committee. Developers, whether they be private or council, should bear the onus of informing local people about the effects of the development. I am sure that the additional cost involved in making sure that from the outset local people are informed of what is proposed would be well spent.
When planning permission is granted one sees a slow decanting of the local population, with more and more houses becoming empty and a consequent creation of problems. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must have heard people complaining bitterly about the creation of rubbish dumps where areas have become empty. Empty houses become the homes of tramps, and this causes much difficulty.
A further problem arises for families who remain in an area that is being redeveloped. Houses are pulled down all round them. We can imagine the problems of such families. I know of one case where half a dozen families are still living in an area that is being redeveloped. Bulldozers have knocked down houses all round, and many problems are created for the people who remain.
It seems to me that developers do not pay sufficient attention to the human problems that are caused when redevelopments take place. These affect my constituents as, I am sure, they affect the constituents of many other hon. Members.
Clause 7(5) provides that:In determining any application for planning permission in respect of which a direction has been issued under subsection (1) of this section, the local planning authority shall take into account any representations received by them before the end of the period specified in the last preceding subsection.On 16th December last I asked the Minister for Local Government and Development a question about industrial user rights. Hon. Members may know that when an industrial site has acquired user rights those rights continue. Problems have arisen in my constituency concerning two sites which back directly on to the homes of my constituents. The sites have been vacant for a long time and have become rubbish dumps. 2135 We are now informed that these sites are to be redeveloped. Little consultation has taken place with local residents about such redevelopment. Because these sites have acquired industrial user rights it appears that there is no obligation to inform them. We now find that on one side a garage that has been disused for a long time is to be redeveloped. It is adjacent to a block of flats, on the other side of which there is a garage that is open 24 hours a day. One can appreciate the problems of the people in that block of flats with a garage that is open 24 hours a day—with all the noise and fumes that arise—and the further problems that they will have to face with the building of another garage on the other side of these flats.
I understand from the reply that I received from the Minister that a local authority could be required to pay compensation if it refused to continue industrial user rights. I hope that we can fully examine this question in Committee. We have talked a great deal about environment. I am convinced that the majority of our people want to see some action that will help to improve the amenities of the areas in which they live.
The hon. Member for Handsworth said that this was a modest Bill. It may be, but it is a very important one, and I am sure that the hon. Member will be able to rely on the full support of both sides of the House. I hope that when the Bill goes to Committee we shall be able to discuss some of the points that I have made—and others which I am sure will be made by other hon. Members—in wider detail.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys (Streatham)
I join with the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on the initiative that he has taken in bringing forward the Bill. Its legal drafting will probably be criticised. It is as well to recognise from the beginning that it has legal weaknesses, but I appeal to the Government to help my hon. Friend to correct the drafting rather than concentrate on those weaknesses. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not misunderstand me when I say that. In essence the Bill is very important and valuable, and I hope that there is no 2136 risk of its not going through simply because of technical and legal difficulties.
The Bill has three parts. I fully support the provisions contained in Part I, dealing with the protection of trees. People have greatly changed their attitude to trees in recent years. Developers, local authorities and the public are now taking an interest in trees which they never did 10 years ago, and that is very encouraging. The layout of a new housing estate is now often adjusted so that existing trees can be built around instead of being felled. Similarly, local authorities will often divert the line of a toad rather than knock down a fine row of trees. The public are constantly on the lookout for threats to trees, and often write to their Members of Parliament about such threats.
Nevertheless, I am sure that we should tighten all the restrictions that we can provide against the needless des ruction of trees. We all know that a tree can be knocked down by a bulldozer in a few minutes, but that it takes a generation or two to replace it.
Part II of the Bill is of special importance to me. It fills a serious loophole in the Civil Amenities Act, 1967, which I introduced. It is not enough to designate a conservation area, to draw a line around ito n the map and think that one has done the job. That is only the beginning of the process. Something must be done to give legal effect and protection to what has been described as the "character" of the conservation area. The whole idea of the 1967 Act was to get away from the idea of preserving individual buildings and to recognise that very often buildings which have no architectural merit in themselves are, when taken together as a group—for example, buildings around a cathedral or a market square or street—of great beauty and charm which it is tremendously important to preserve.
I am wholly in support of the purpose of Part II of the Bill, therefore, but I am not happy about the way it is worded. I think that it has dangers. In the first place, I think that it is a mistake to limit the provisions of Part II to buildingsof architectural or historic interestor which contributeto the character or appearance of the Conservation Area".2137 As I have said, these buildings may individually have no architectural merit and no historic interest but together they contribute to the character or appearance of the area. What we want to prevent is their being demolished. Once they are demolished, something else has to be put up in their place and that will not contribute to but will violate the whole appearance and character of the area.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
What prevents the planning authority from controlling what is put up in this case? Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that these special powers should apply to buildings which have no architectural or historic value and make no special contribution to a special conservation area?
§ Mr. Sandys
Yes, I am. We know very well that in a row of old houses there may be one that is not so old, perhaps late Victorian, but is quite inoffensive and hardly noticed. Perhaps it should never have been allowed there in the first place amid a row, say, of old Tudor houses, but at least it does not do harm and one does not really notice it. But knock it down and see what happens. In replacing it, one can hardly say that one will put up a mock Tudor building. One will have to put up something in the latest modern style, and it is unlikely that that will be as inoffensive as the building knocked down.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) may say that the planning authority has this power, but it is safer that it should exercise it early. It takes no more time and trouble to exercise this control before demolition than it does to exercise it when the application comes in to put up something else. Invariably, the planning authority will allow the new building, for example, to go one floor higher than the old one. There always seem to be special circumstances—for example, one is told "We would, of course, prefer what you suggest, but there are economic reasons." So, bit by bit we lose the character and appearance of the area.
My desire is to reinforce Clause 3, not weaken it, and that is the objective of my criticisms. As I understand it, the power proposed for local authorities 2138 would be limited to the power to protect individual buildings. It is a great labour for local authorities, and some of them will not take the trouble to do so, because it means going around looking at one building after another and saying, "That is not a building of great interest", for example. They will hesitate to put this designation on buildings which are not of fairly outstanding interest. Again we shall find that our individual buildings in a street or square we would like to preserve as a whole will not get designated in this way.
I think that we should give the local planning authorities the power, if they wish to exercise it, to impose blanket control on a whole street or square or area which they think important. I shall not be serving on the Standing Committee, but I suggest a new wording for Clause 3(1) which would make it read like this:If in order to preserve the special character of a Conservation Area designated under section one of the Act of 1967 it appears to a local planning authority desirable to exercise control over the demolition or material alteration of the buildings"—I believe that one wants to emphasise the purpose—within such area, the local planning authority may direct that the provisions of section thirty-two of the Act of 1962 shall apply to any building or group of buildings or to all building within the whole or any part of the Conservation Area".Some conservation areas are quite small and it is essential that the whole area should be protected. In other cases, there are certain parts of the conservation area which are important but certain parts which are unimportant but which have been included because it would have been administratively difficult to omit certain small areas within the conservation area as a whole. Then the subsection as I would reword it would go onbeing buildings appearing on the list".I have left out any reference to "historic or architectural interest". These are already dealt with in many other ways. We must concentrate now on protecting the character of an area as a whole.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
My right hon. Friend has had a great deal of experience not only in the operation of the 1967 Act—his own—but as a former Minister of Housing and Local Government. My experience has been that the local planning authority is 2139 often the nigger in the woodpile. It is the authority which is not willing to preserve and is on the side of the developers. I wonder whether we are not placing too much faith in the local authority.
§ Mr. Sandys
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), but the local authority is the planning authority and unless the whole of the planning laws are altered, we can operate only through the local authority. We must leave it to local authorities, with the opinion of Parliament and public opinion, to do their task. That is where the third part of the Bill will come into effect.
However, I believe that one must make it as easy as possible for the local authority to impose these controls and that we should not ask it to go round building by building deeming them to be listed as proposed.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Would not my right hon. Friend think it his duty to advise my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) to avoid phrases such as "nigger in the woodpile" in case he is brought before the Race Relations Board?
§ Mr. Sandys
I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) to convey his thoughts to my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead.
Part III, too, is important and entirely in keeping with the spirit of the new legislation which was recently introduced and the whole modern approach to public planning. In the past, it was always thought that local authorities were the only people who had any knowledge or wisdom in these matters and that the public and the amenity societies were just a lot of cranks and busybodies and that the less they were brought into the picture, the better. We talk about the "environment", a terrible word, although no one has found a better, and "participation", which is one of the latest pieces of jargon, but public participation in the environment is very important, and we cannot get it unless we tell the public what is going on. It is essential that there should be participation before final and irrevocable decisions are taken, not afterwards.
2140 The parish councils should be brought in, for they have a part to play. I do not think that they should be given great powers, but they have a responsibility and represent the possibility of reflecting and stating the views of people in the area.
I am not sure whether it is sufficient in Clause 7 to say that an authority may, if it thinks it desirable, publish an application for planning permission. If this provision is to be effective—and this will no doubt please my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead, who does not have the fullest confidence in local authorities—I hope that the local authorities will make it a procedure that applications for planning permission are publicised. It would be no great burden to put a notice in the town hall so that everybody could know. If it is left to the local authority to decide in which cases to publicise an application, some important applications may slip through without anybody knowing anything about them.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there are certain planning applications which are very private and which should, clearly, not be revealed to the public, provided that they do not concern the outside of a house, for instance?
§ Mr. Sandys
I prefer exemptions rather than leaving it entirely to the discretion of the local authority. However, this is a valid point, and it would be easy to have some provision for it not to be necessary in certain circumstances. We are concerned with applications for rebuilding which will materially alter the character of the exterior of a house or a street.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth and express the hope that the Bill will see its way to the Statute Book.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)
I give my wholehearted support to the Bill, although I think that in some ways it could go a little further, as in one example which I shall mention. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox) about the kinds of area which he has in his constituency and of which I 2141 have too many in mine, where clearance areas have been turned into rubbish dumps in precisely the circumstances my hon. Friend mentioned.
Like most other hon. Members present today, I have had drawn to my attention—and the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was absolutely right to comment on the increased interest in these matters—cases in which tree lopping and the cutting down of trees have caused grave dissatisfaction in areas where they were regarded as amenities. Some of these actions have not only affected the visual amenities, grave though that is, but have a slight but nevertheless important ecological effect in that the birds which have nested in an area have gone away and perhaps not returned, and that, too, detracts from amenity. This is something which has been brought to my attention. It is all very well for assurances to be given about possible replantings, but the Bill will help to allay misgivings of that kind.
I would warn the hon. Member not to be too forthcoming in his negotiations with forestry interests, because although one would not wish the Bill to fail through arousing unnecessary opposition from such interests, nevertheless his readiness simply to withdraw the word "woodlands" without the substitution of some other word not offensive to forestry interests but covering what is necessary, would be to blemish what is basically a good and valuable Bill.
I totally agree with what the hon. Member says about Clause 8. I have an excellent civic society in my constituency which is doing its best to preserve areas of considerable architectural interest. Clause 8 will undoubtedly help it in its worthy and voluntary efforts. What concerns me, and this is not a blemish in the Bill but in legislation as a whole, is that although the Bill provides and extends means for preserving areas which have been left reasonably intact, I would like to see the law go a little wider so as to preserve buildings which are no longer part of an area of beauty, attraction or historical interest, but which are the last vestige of it and whose disappearance would remove entirely all traces of the character of an area.
I am sure that many of us have examples of this in our constituencies. In 2142 my constituency there is one extremely handsome house in the midst of a clearance area which will now have to come down. By its disappearance we remove entirely the memory of what that area of Manchester was like, and it was representative of a very important time in the history of Manchester. That is not a criticism of the Bill, it is only a hope that we may be able to widen the legislation.
We have heard a great deal, and hon. Members have made something of this, about the vogue for environment and participation. Certainly since I have been a Member of this House this is the first genuine article in what might be called participatory legislation, and it is particularly to be commended for that reason. Clause 8 and other Clauses will remove this terrible, strangled and frustrated feeling that people have when something is happening which they do not like and when they say "We did not know". The Bill will help people to know and by doing so will encourage the participation that we all want to see. I very much hope that the House will give it an unopposed Second Reading and that we can get this piece of open government on the Statute Book with whatever improvements the right hon. Member for Streatham and others wish to make.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening at this early stage, but this is a Bill of real significance and it might be helpful if I can put one or two of the arguments that the Government would like to have considered. I was immensely impressed at the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) introduced the Bill. There was a deep knowledge and personal conviction behind the legal drafting, and no one who listened to his speech could have failed to appreciate that.
There is a great deal in the Bill which is very attractive from a legal point of view and from the point of view of trying to find a policy of accord throughout the country on general amenity and environmental considerations. Perhaps I might say something about the individual parts of the Bill, and I start at the beginning with Part I, because this is where I am 2143 in the greatest difficulty in helping my hon. Friend. The difficulty is to take the rather harsh and cold drafting of the Bill and balance it against the eloquent arguments which he put forward for the preservation of trees. On the issues of principle, and on the wider amenity arguments, there can be no doubt that my hon. Friend has the total sympathy of everybody who has come into contact with this subject, or who has any knowledge of the way in which this is done, but unfortunately it is necessary to look at the words of the Bill, and it is on that basis that we find ourselves in some difficulty.
The Bill refers to any owner of any treeintending to cut down, top, lop or otherwise materially alter the appearance of any tree …That is so wide a definition as to threaten those involved in public administration with a deluge of applications which would be unworkable in practice, and I think that there are two consequences which flow from that. First, that the machinery which would have to be set up would not be able to cope with the problems concerned. Second, and perhaps of even greater concern, is the fact that the public would find this sort of bureaucratic interference with their private lives such that many of them would avoid its provisions. I hope my hon. Friend will feel that to introduce a law in the knowledge that it will not command any wide sympathy and would deliberately be avoided by large numbers of the public is something that should be done only with the greatest reluctance.
One finds a difficulty also when one looks at the exemptions which my hon. Friend has introduced. I can see that it is probably relatively easy to agree upon whether a tree is dead or not, but it might be much more difficult to decide whether a tree is dying.
§ Mr. Chapman
The phrase in the Bill is taken from existing legislation relating to tree preservation orders. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with that. I, in turn, agree with what he has just said and would be prepared to withdraw "or dying" and leave it at dead or in a dangerous condition. I have used the words of existing legislation to make the matter simple.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I appreciate the point, and I am aware that my hon. Friend has taken these words from existing legislation, but that legislation relates to a totally different number of trees, and the scope of the problem is the point that we have to consider. I appreciate the fact—and this is probably essentially a Committee point—that my hon. Friend has it in mind to be flexible on this issue. Nevertheless, I give that merely as an example of the problem.
A dangerous tree is a problem about which one can be relatively certain, although it would be difficult for local authorities, when faced with a tree which had in some way been topped of mutilated, to decide whether it was dangerous before the topping or the mutilation took place. That would be one of the problems.
Another difficulty is the qualification that it should be necessary for the tree to be seen from a public place. It will be very difficult to decide by whom it should be seen, with what quality of eyesight, in what seasonal conditions, and, perhaps more important, whether the tree should be in full foliage, because it could be behind other trees in foliage and therefore hidden in summer, but in winter be in full sight.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
And in what degree, because it might be possible to see it from one point on a footpath, or a yard, and that would be enough.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I cannot dissent from that general difficulty in which we find ourselves the moment we look at the situation in any depth. It is therefore not surprising that those local authorities from whom we have had representations—and they after all, will be responsible for dealing with this matter—the Urban District Councils Association, and the Association of Municipal Corporations, have emphasised that it will not be possible to work the sort of scheme which my hon. Friend has in mind without taking draconian powers, which would be unacceptable. I accept that he could say that there is a Clause 4 exemption which means that the Secretary of State could exempt whole categories of trees. It is our view that the exemptions would be so wide-ranging in order to make this legislation work—anyway, as drafted at 2145 the moment—and would come back so close to the existing situation as to mean that there would be virtually no change in the situation at all.
It is very hard for me to make these observations, based essentially on a strict interpretation of the Bill, about a subject on which I personally—and I know my colleagues—would share the anxieties which my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) have expressed about tree preservation.
I am aware of the real change in attitude right through the local and national government machine, to try to take these factors into account, and this attitude is shared by many people—developers and people who are involved on the ground in this problem, in trying to achieve the results which we have in mind. I could not advise the House that the first Part of the Bill would prove an acceptable weapon.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Does what my hon. Friend has said about trees and groups of trees, on which I understand the difficulty, apply also to woodlands, which are larger areas and of which there are fewer examples?
§ Mr. Heseltine
This also is a problem where, once one moves into the definition of woodlands and the way in which they were to be treated, the sort of exemptions which would be required from the Secretary of State, would move us back to a situation quite different from that envisaged by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)
Has my hon. Friend any views as to what can be done about one of the most worrying developers' rackets which has grown up, which is that where estates of houses are being built either undertakings are given to the planning authority or copies are shown to people buying properties showing existing bands of not necessarily protected woodland but woodland which will be preserved? When the time comes—surprise, surprise—the bulldozer which is clearing the road takes off several of those trees, which may be fine specimens, and a surprising extra bungalow comes in at the end of the row. This has happened over and over again, and it is producing some- 2146 thing totally different from the elegant first plans which come before the local authority; a filled-up desert arrives in practice.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I should want to write to my hon. Friend on this point, because I want to be sure that the advice I give is totally right, but it seems that there are two aspects to the question. The first is the planning aspect, on which it is up to the local authority to contain within the planning permission precisely the conditions which it wishes to impose, so that there should be no possibility, legally, of their being caught by surprise.
The second aspect is one essentially of consumer protection and it would not be a matter for my Department to take a decision on that, although I should have thought, from my knowledge of this subject as an ordinary Member, that there would be protection on the issue of literature which gave false impressions. But I will write to the hon. Gentleman about that question, in view of the advice which I get from the Department concerned.
I now turn to Part III, which is less important than Part II. I am glad that I can move on here to happier ground, because my hon. Friend's intentions are widely shared and, I am sure, exactly meet the feeling which is growing up among members of the public and all those affected by development.
I accept entirely that his intention is to extend the concept of bad neighbour development at the discretion of the local authorities into any other field of development which the local authorities feel to merit the publicity he has in mind. I accept that the details of the drafting are taken from existing Statutes, so there are precedents.
It is certainly our view that they should remain discretionary at this stage. The local authority representations to us have been that they should remain at the discretion of the local authority. This is an extension of existing responsibilities, and if it can be done at their discretion, it will command more support from them than it otherwise would.
§ Mr. David James (Dorset, North)
How can people be certain of knowing what is going on if it remains within the discretion of the local authority to decide, in its wisdom, what should and should not be revealed?
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is intended under this legislation that it should be at the discretion of the local authority to decide, in the terms of the Bill, whether a particular planning application merits being given wider publicity.
Hon. Members will appreciate that an enormous number of applications are made every year for planning permissions of various kinds. If each one automatically had to carry with it the additional steps of publicity, this might be a costly and unnecessary exercise, certainly in respect of the vast majority of applications.
We are trying to widen the existing definition away from the present essentially narrow one of bad neighbour developments so as to give local authorities discretion when they feel that something merits wider publicity because it affects peoples' interests. The House may feel, in view of the arguments adduced by my hon. Friend, that this is a suggestion the spirit of which can be accepted. The Government are certainly sympathetic towards it.
On the question of the ability to charge fees, it has been put to us, and we are content to accept it, that local authorities already have this ability. It is essentially a negative power in that there is nothing to stop them from doing this. In other words, they are free to charge fees if they wish.
There are, however, reasons why they are not, in certain cases, keen to charge fees. For example, the moment it becomes a statutory provision to charge fees, there may be a temptation to do it; and there are groups of people who, in the eyes of the Association of Municipal Corporations, would suffer if the charging of fees became the general practice. There are voluntary and public bodies which at present receive this information free. To introduce this provision might mean them having to pay for it.
If one introduced this statutory provision for charging fees, one might be calling into question the general power which local authorities now have in this respect, and I am sure that that is not the intention of my hon. Friend. Perhaps it is one of the reservations which merit further consideration at a later stage.
2148 In connection with Clause 8, perhaps I should mention that the only likely objection might be on the ground that it could greatly increase the work of local authorities, which is something we should avoid at a time when we are attempting to find ways of encouraging public participation. Certainly one is reluctant to greatly increase the costs of running local authorities.
Clause 9 raises the question of giving wider rights to parishes. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that this is an inappropriate moment to take this matter into consideration in this Measure because the Government are now deeply involved in the consideration of local government reform as a total package I suggest that this matter is more appropriately dealt with under that heading.
If I was forced to give a rather unhelpful reply in connection with Part 1 of the Bill, and certainly a general acceptance to Part III, I am happy to move on in a quite different spirit to talk about Part II.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
Before my hon. Friend moves on to Part II, may I ask him to agree that the question of payment is not a particularly important one? As he said, it is covered under other legislation. Does he agree that people do not go to their town halls and frequently do not know what is going on? Is it not a fact that they should be better informed in this as in other matters?
§ Mr. Heseltine
I do not dissent from that general view and I made that point at the outset of my remarks about Part III of the Bill. I can only feel that if the information is there and available free of charge, people are perhaps just that much more likely to go and get it than if they had to pay for it. Clause 8 deals with fees and I agree that it is a small part of the Bill and a part which need not delay the House for long.
We have very great sympathy with the definition contained in Part II of the sort of properties that are now to be brought within the general power of local authorities. It is quite comprehensible, and gives the local authorities the opportunity to protect areas and buildings which, whilst not in themselves of outstanding architectural or historical interest, add up in the round to an area 2149 that one would wish to see preserved. It may be that, individually, the houses are of architectural or historical interest, but they do not necessarily have to be. They may comprise a unit, perhaps of a historical nature, which in total creates a pleasant atmosphere and where to destroy any one part would be to destroy the whole atmosphere.
There are already 1,200 conservation areas, so we must take very seriously any steps proposed to ensure that they are preserved as was, and is, the intention of all those who have played a part—and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys)—in bringing about that situation. The Government believe that whilst tiny details in this Part of the Bill can be discussed, the general purposes and provisions of Part II are acceptable, and will be warmly welcomed.
I am sorry to have intervened so early in the debate, but as so many hon. Members appear to wish to take part I thought that to do so would be helpful.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
The Minister had no alternative but to intervene early, and I will follow his lead. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on producing a Bill that we on this side regard as a very useful contribution to planning discussion, particularly in regard to its three aspects, but even more on getting any discusion in the House on planning at all. Planning is of great and growing concern to the public, and not the least of our reasons for hoping that the Bill will be given a Second Reading is that it will enable us at greater leisure to consider the details in Committee. There is a growing awareness of the importance of these issues.
The only part of the hon. Gentleman's speech to which I take exception is his comment that he would like environment to be taken out of politics. I know what he meant, but when I hear people say that politics should be taken out of housing, out of education, and now out of environment, I feel that there is some danger of our being put on the list of the unemployed. We should never apologise for politics intruding into any of the nation's affairs where they properly should intrude. To engage in politics, 2150 though not necessarily party politics, is an honourable pursuit. It means argument, and where there is no argument about what should be done and how, democracy dies.
I get a little irate when various Press and broadcasting commentators keep trying to rough-ride politicians, as though there were something dishonourable in our profession. There is nothing dishonourable in it at all. We are performing a great service, and most of us also do a great deal of voluntary work. It makes one feel good sometimes to say this.
I agree with the Minister that the proposals about trees causes some concern to local authorities and to such bodies as the A.M.C. I am in favour of the hon. Gentleman's proposal and of what the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) did on a previous occasion. The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman earn the country's gratitude.
It must be a principle of all that we do that Parliament does itself no good by enacting legislation which cannot be enforced or which is flouted on a general scale or which is resented by the public. That is my worry about the proposals concerning trees: a great part of them cannot be enforced, people will think that this is pure red tape, and they will bring us into contempt. This is not to say that what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do should not be supported. We would certainly join him and the Government in a spirit of co-operation to see whether we can remove those parts which are thought to be unenforceable and replace them with something more agreeable.
We strongly support the proposals in regard to buildings of architectural and historical interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) mentioned one case. There is a case which I know—possibly the hon. Gentleman the promoter knows of this case, too—in Birmingham at the moment where the very first municipal estate ever erected in Britain—it is in the centre of Birmingham—is being demolished to make student accommodation for Aston University. One would have thought that it would have been possible to preserve the façade of that interesting development—by grouting it and modernising it—and then to have made it available for students to live in. However, the building has gone. History has gone. As I 2151 understand it, this was because there were no such proposals as these. Therefore, there are real practical reasons as well as emotional reasons why we should support these proposals.
Again in respect of planning applications, we fully endorse the view that the public are entitled to far more information than they get about decisions which will affect their lives and which all too often are taken without their knowledge. Therefore, anything that can be done to let people know their rights and let them object should be supported.
In these three details we see this Bill as a step in the right direction.
I want to make some general comments which I think are of some importance and which will have to be thought about if the Bill goes on to the Statute Book. First, there is the whole rôle of planning machinery. The proposed provisions as regards trees makes this important. Planning machinery, at the very moment when the public regard it as more important than it ever was, is becoming overwhelmed by applications, appeals and decisions. A long, hard think must be taken about what should be done.
Although I prepared a much longer speech, this is not the time for me to put forward ideas about this. The whole training of our planners is of a very haphazard nature. The whole question of the competence of planning authorities to do their job properly should be examined —and not only the competence of the planning authorities but their place in the hierarchy of local authorities. There are still far too many local authorities which do not have a competent planning officer or in which, if they have one, the planning officer is ridden over roughshod, particularly by the highways department and other departments. Therefore, not the least of the services which the hon. Gentleman is rendering us is providing us with an opportunity whereby, even if we cannot do it this afternoon, we can at later stages consider all these vitally important questions.
The hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said that although "environment", "planning" and "participation" are the jargon of the times, this reflects a very real public concern; and that must be right, because we are concerned with nothing less than the preservation of our 2152 national heritage and the developing application of the law of the land and the procedures of local authorities to the lives of ordinary people.
It is in that spirit that the Opposition welcome the Bill, and offer the hon. Gentleman and his Government colleagues our full support in trying to make the Bill workable when enacted.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)
I congratulate and support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) in both the attempt and the achievement of the Bill. I trust that he will accept any of my comments as being intended to be helpful and constructive to the purpose that prompted him to seek to close the gaps in existing legislation in the three areas covered by the Bill.
With the benefit of about 15 years in local government planning matters and with a lifetime's obsession with trees, I applaud the motive contained in Clause 1, with certain reservations.
When one considers the many years required for some species of tree to reach maturity and contrasts that with the short time required to cut a tree down to the ground with callous indifference to environmental amenity, it is clear that giving notice to the local authority of an intention to cut down can be a great protection which I for one would welcome. My reservation falls entirely in the area to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has referred—top, lop or otherwise materially alter the appearance of any tree".I can foresee grave administrative difficulties when a man prunes a tree in his garden unaware, if it can be seen from a public place, that he is breaking the law. Today many authorities seeking to place preservation orders on groups of trees of great amenity value ensure that they are in a public place, but this is a positive action taken by a local authority ensuring for itself that the trees are a general amenity. If we are to place this burden on everyone in his own garden, to assess whether a tree can be seen from a public place and to give notice of intention to lop, prune ormaterially alter the appearance of any tree",I feel, with the Minister, that this will be an almost impossible law to enforce 2153 and as such would bring the law into disrepute if we had widespread evasion.
Every intention as described in the Clauseto cut down, top, lopand so on would undoubtedly involve the local authority in a visit to the site. A claim by the owner that any part of the tree, or the limb wasdead or dying or has become dangerouswould certainly require an investigation by the local authority, because this is a matter of opinion. It is a matter of opinion even among different tree experts. I can recall a situation where a local authority had in its area a very fine avenue of trees along the side of a road, and in the view of a consultant tree expert some of the trees were dangerous. The local authority had a responsibility to the pedestrians and traffic generally, and this expert was of the opinion that some of the trees ought to be felled and replaced with new planting. This raised such a furore of opposition that the residents brought in yet another tree expert who arrived at an altogether different conclusion.
I suggest that to expect an ordinary gardener to make such an assessment about a tree in his garden, both as to whether it is dangerous or dead or dying, and whether it is visible from a public place, places too great a burden on such a person, although I am mindful of my hon. Friend's objective.
I appreciate the subsection giving the Secretary of State power to exempt in respect of location, size or species, but here again I fear that ignorance could bring the law into disrepute. Not everyone, apart from the avid gardeners amongst us, is intimately familiar with Lawsoniana Cupressus, Lombardy poplars or even the common British oak. We are, therefore, asking a person to assess whether he falls within the exemption or not. If he is not certain, he calls in the local authority, and here again I fear that this would place too great a burden upon a local authority. I am mindful of my hon. Friend's hope in this Clause, but, living most of my life in the area of Kent, with as many trees as people, I see grave administrative difficulties. No doubt, in Committee this point will be borne in mind with the other points which have been raised.
2154 Part I has my wholehearted support. It closes an unfortunate gap in the Civil Amenities Act, 1967. My only concern is on two questions of finance. I hope that the Committee will consider whether the safeguards have been drawn widely enough to protect an owner's right of appeal against not only the works but the sum assessed as the reasonable cost thereof. I hope that the Committee will consider also the ways in which a local authority could recoup the cost if it is found not to be recoverable through the usual civil debt procedure.
As regards Part III, I appreciate that my hon. Friend wishes to extend the requirement which is already statutory, inasmuch as these provisions relate to the "bad neighbour" type of development, although he specifically excludes the need to publish in the local Press, which I regard as an advantage in that it removes that additional expense.
I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who obviously, has met only the less enlightened local authorities. My experience is that many local authorities already take the initiative in advertising and publicising planning applications. They do so by public Press advertisement, and sometimes by writing to residents. One hon. Member opposite suggested that the Bill could be amended to contain a requirement that a local authority should write to all residents in the immediate vicinity lest perchance they did not see the notice posted on the site. Many local authorities do this. Where they believe that a planning application or some proposed development will bear heavily upon adjoining residents, they write individually to such residents.
§ Mr. Galbraith
My hon. Friend has referred to my doubts about local authorities. Has she found that they do that when it is their own development which will affect people?
§ Mrs. Fenner
No, the cases in my experience have related not to their own development but to private applications. Certainly, since the activities of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), many local authorities have taken good care to have close consultation with local amenity societies. However, I am sure none the less that even the most enlightened authority can never 2155 be complacent about the extent to which it publicises planning applications and intentions.
I commend my hon. Friend for choosing to try to close the gaps and to provide in his Bill some additional assistance by statute to local planning authorities in order further to preserve our tree heritage, our areas of great amenity and our conservation areas, and further to enlarge the right of the community to be fully aware of changes which are proposed.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Trew (Dartford)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on his initiative in bringing forward the Bill, and I earnestly hope that it will have a Second Reading. The Bill has three valuable aims: to preserve trees, to preserve old buildings, and to widen the notification of planning applications and permissions.
My only fear—I express here points which I hope will be dealt with in Committee—is that if we are too zealous about preserving trees and old buildings, and if we insist on too wide a notification of planning applications and permissions, we shall tend to frustrate much necessary development. In my view, if the Bill is to be effective, it must be selective.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said much of what I had in mind to say about the preservation of trees. I suggest that they way to make Part I effective is not to have exemptions but to specify which classes of tree should be preserved. If this, as he suggested, restores the position to that provided by existing legislation, perhaps Part I could most usefully provide for a stiffening of the penalties for neglect of the existing law.
On the preservation of old buildings, 1 say only that we must be careful to ensure that the buildings which we want to preserve are ones which should genuinely be preserved. We must guard against the widely-held belief that what is old is necessarily good and what is new is necessarily bad. The City of Bath should remind us that yesterday's speculative housing scheme is today's Regency terrace which we rightly seek to preserve.
If we were to be too rigid in insisting or wide notification of all planning appli- 2156 cations, we would frustrate much development. I should like to see wide notification in this Part of the Bill restricted to those developments which are material and which are in areas of dense population.
If I have been slightly critical about the Bill's application, it is not because I oppose the Bill—I wholeheartedly support its principles—but because I want it to be effective.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I join my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman) on the diligence with which he has prepared the Bill. I congratulate him on being successful in being drawn No. 10 in the ballot and on the result of all the hard work which he has done in preparing the Clauses. Having said that, I must confess that there is very little in the results of his work shown in the Bill's Clauses which commends itself to me. If I started the Bill at Clause 10 and ended at Clause 1, I should like it less and less as I went along. I can summarise that by saying that Part I is completely unacceptable to me and, I think, to a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House for reasons which I shall give briefly.
First, Part I completely prohibits the economic activities of any forestry owner. As the Bill is drafted, a forestry owner would have to apply to a local authority for permission materially to alter the appearance of a tree. In economic forestry, it is necessary periodically to prune all the trees in the plantation. It is generally necessary at the 10-year stage and then at the 20-year stage to go through a plantation of trees and thin them. It is necessary every second year and sometimes every year to go down the rows of trees and cut down the saplings or brushwood which may have grown. As the Bill is drafted, before a forestry owner engaged on those activities he would have to give six weeks' notice to a local authority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth has said that it would be possible in Committee to delete the word "woodlands", and, therefore, commercial forestry owners would be excluded.
§ Mr. Chapman
Clause 1(4) gives the Secretary of State power to make exemptions.governing the location, size or species of trees which may be exempt fromthis Part of the Bill. At the forefront of my mind was the point which my hon. Friend mentioned; namely, to exclude people who made their living through forestry.
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but it has not altered much of what I propose to say. Although this exemption is granted to the Secretary of State by, I think, negative Resolution of both Houses, to be effective and generally acceptable to the House the whole country should be included in such an order initially made by the Secretary of State. If the whole country were included in such an exemption order there would be little point in including Part I.
Not only would it be difficult for commercial forestry owners to continue to operate; it would be quite unnecessary to add to the regulations with which they already have to comply. Speaking from memory, I believe that any forestry owner or landowner is allowed to fell 300 cubic feet of timber per quarter, without licence. Provided that he does not exceed that figure he is legitimately enabled to fell any tree he likes. If he wants to fell more than that he must apply for a licence to the Forestry Commission, which will consider his application and will generally expect him to replant an acreage of trees equivalent to that which he proposes to fell. This legislation has worked fairly well up to now.
Part I is phrased in very woolly terms. It refers to trees thatcannot be seen from a public place".It provides that trees that can be seen may not be altered or tampered with in any way. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) has said, a public place is a main road or a footpath. If a person stands on top of some of the hills in my constituency he can see miles of rolling countryside with woodlands, and with a telescope he can pick out individual trees. My hon. Friend may think that I am splitting hairs, but I repeat that the Bill is too woolly.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
One does not have to pick out a tree; one just has to see it. That is enough. Not only forestry will be affected; the Bill will apply to private grounds. It is surely an outrage.
§ Mr. Farr
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. He has raised a point to which I was about to refer. If the Bill becomes law it will be an offence punishable with a fine of up to £100 to fell a tree in one's front garden, however big the tree may be.
Before I develop that point, however, I want to deal with an even more important body of people than private garden owners; namely, people who derive their living from the land—farmers. As the Bill is drafted, if a farmer wishes to fell a tree that is overgrown in a hedgerow, provided that it is visible from any main road or public footpath he must give six weeks' notice to the local planning authority to see whether one of its inspectors wants to come along to see whether the felling should be permitted. To go into matters in such detail means that the set-up is wholly derisory. How can farmers comply with such legislation? When is an overgrown hedgerow not an overgrown hedgerow but a group of young trees? There is no doubt that if this legislation is enacted it will add to the wholesale avoidance of the law.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South has said, every owner of a front garden visible from a main road would be subject to a penalty of £100 if he broke any regulation contained in the Bill concerning trees growing in his garden.
I should like to know the cost to the ratepayer of the tremendous amount of machinery that will need to be set up under Parts I and II. We shall have to have a register of virtually all buildings in a conservation area. Where will the staff come from to look after such a register? What will the cost be of deciding whether a building in a conservation area should be listed?
Part II of the Bill refers to the fact that it will be possible for a local authority to say that any building in a conservation area should be registered. Who will operate the register? Presumably the local authority. Who will send the inspector round to see if a building should or should not be included in the 2159 register? Presumably the local authority. Who is going to decide if a building in a conservation area is contributing.to the character or appearance of the Conservation Areaor is itself of architectural or historic interest? Presumably the local authority. The burden that this will place on the local authority and the ratepayers will be enormous unless the legislation is simply ignored. For example, every designation will require the confirmation of the Secretary of State. Every designation will have to be registered by the local authority. Every local authority which has registered a designation will have to serve a notice on the owner and occupier of the designated building. The cost of carrying out all this paraphernalia would be quite burdensome and quite beyond the small advantages which might be obtained from implementing these powers.
§ Mr. Money
My hon. Friend talks in terms of the cost, including the cost of implementing a register of this sort. I wonder whether in doing so he has thought in terms of the cost in loss and destruction to the centres of our cities, and towns which have taken place over the years. How much would most people in London now pay to have the Adelphi back? How much people in the centres of old cities like Ipswich or Bristol pay if they could have preserved the sort of amenities which it is the intention of the Bill to protect?
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) replies to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), would he bear in mind equally the extent to which some of the centres of our towns are being turned into museum pieces by the almost fanatical administration of the existing preservation law, in which, I am afraid, the Department itself is not at all free of blame?
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful for both interventions. I shall bear both points in mind. But what I have in mind is not so much the impact of the Bill upon city centres but its impact on the countryside. Clause 5 goes so far as to give local authorities the power to go to someone's house and say that it needs painting or a new roof, and if the occupier does not do it, and quickly, the local authority will do it and the occupier will get the bill. 2160 I still believe that an Englishman's home is his castle and that if he prefers to let it fall in ruins about his ears, so be it. He should not be put in a position of having to foot the bill.
§ Mr. Chapman rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is just about half a second or so before Four o'clock. We have had an adequate debate. Would you now accept from me the Motion, That the Question be now put?
§ Mr. Farr rose——
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 19th March.