HC Deb 18 October 1971 vol 823 cc505-9

Order for Second Reading read.

10.11 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

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

This Bill, which consolidates, with Amendments, the whole of the law relating to town and country planning in England and Wales, is a very substantial undertaking. It is a drawing together of all the legislation passed by Governments since the end of the war. It is a Bill which falls into 15 Parts, 295 Clauses and 25 Schedules.

The House may be astonished to learn that there has been considerable demand for the production of this exciting document because there is always understandably anxiety to try to get the law consolidated in this way. It is appropriate that I should pay tribute, on behalf of the House, to those responsible for carrying this out, to Parliamentary Counsel, to the Law Commission who considered it and, not least, to the Joint Committee of both Houses which considers consolidation Bills and which sat for two full days to consider this on 7th and 14th July of this year. The Bill received its Second Reading in another place on 22nd June and Third Reading on 29th July.

It is only natural that there should be one or two loose ends in the consolidation of a mass of legislation of this kind. All these points have been considered by the Law Commission. Almost all the anomalies and oddities with which the Commission deals and in respect of which it has made some recommendations, which have been incorporated in the Bill, could have been dealt with under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, but the subject is brought before the House under this procedure because one or two microscopic changes in the text of the legislation as a whole are necessary.

I hope that the House will excuse me the task of reading the Bill in part, let alone the whole of it, if they hear from me that the Joint Committee, after considering the matter carefully was of the opinion that the recommendations of the Law Commission were for the purpose of producing a satisfactory consolidation of the law, and it approved the recommendations. It reported that it had made certain Amendments in order to improve the form of the Bill and to bring it into conformity with existing law. It was of the opinion that, apart from those alterations which are the subject of the recommendations of the Commission, the Bill is pure consolidation and represents the existing law. It was further of the opinion that the Amendments proposed to be made to the existing law gave effect to the recommendations of the Commission as approved by the Committee and—these are the magic, telling words—that there was no point to which the attention of Parliament ought to be drawn.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

On behalf of this side of the House, I welcome this consolidation Bill. Planning law has grown over the years, and it is right that the recommendations of the Law Commission should be carried out and that we should support them.

If I am in order, I should like to ask the Solicitor-General one question. There are bound to be Amendments, and there may be Amendments in contemplation at this moment. I should be grateful if we could be told how the Government propose to deal with any amending legislation and whether they have any in mind at the moment.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I am very much in agreement with the idea of this consolidating Bill which brings together all the pieces of legislation. It would perhaps have been better to call it an Environment Bill because the Bill brings together not only the 1962 and 1968 Town and Country Planning Acts but other Acts as well.

I should like to ask my hon. and learned Friend two questions. First, in relation to Part II of the Bill, is it the Government's intention to make obligatory on local planning authorities survey and structure plans and local plans? Secondly, could we have the Government's assurance that this is not an excuse for not enforcing and extending legislation concerned with trees and with buildings of historic and architectural interest? There is great feeling on both sides of the House that these aspects of town and country planning need extending and strengthening.

Those two points apart, I support the consolidation of important legislation to do with the environment.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

I welcome the bringing together of all this legislation into one unit. I am mindful of the restriction which is placed on the Second Reading of a consolidation Bill, but in giving this welcome I should like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman for an assurance that the drawing together of all this legislation into a compact form will not preclude early consideration of items which are of concern to many of us, such as publicity, which I regard at the moment as grossly inadequate, and also the question of established usage. It would be out of order for me to deploy any case on this, but I should be grateful for an assurance from the Government that these matters when raised will receive early consideration, despite the fact that this weighty tome may encourage them to put these matters on the shelf and not give them the early consideration which they merit.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I support hon. Members on both sides who have welcomed the Bill within the rather limited scope of this debate. We are asked to give our blessing to this monumental consolidation Bill. I hope that it will not become an Authorised Version of the Bible from which nothing can be subtracted and to which nothing can be added in the future.

There are a number of matters connected with town and country planning requiring the urgent attention of the House which I should have liked to see dealt with and then put into what might become a planners' Bible. As long as we have an assurance from the Front Bench that this Bill is no Bible and can be amended and added to in the future, I hope to go along with the majority of the House in supporting the Measure.

10.20 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I am glad to have the opportunity of replying to the points raised by several hon. Members The point made by the right hon Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) lays the foundation for my reply on points made by other hon. Members.

The right hon. Member asked how we would proceed with any further amendment of this legislation, when and if we were to wish to do so. I am not in a position to say on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment what legislation may or may not be in prospect—save only to say that there must never have been a time in the last 25 years when there have not been legislative proposals about town and country planning in prospect somewhere, because a constant stream of suggestions are made. Therefore, plainly something must be in contemplation, even if it is only a reintroduction of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Chapman), if he has another opportunity this Session.

The point is that it is almost impossible not only to understand legislation but to undertake amendment of it if it is scattered around in a multiplicity of statutes. The fact that we have this legislation in one tome does not mean that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) said, it becomes enshrined like the Bible. It means that it is much more likely to be read than if it is scattered around The place and that it provides a proper foundation for people to see what the law is or is not and to make suggestions and to effect amendments.

It is a moot point, when there is substantive legislation and also consolidating legislation in the pipeline, whether one should wait for the next matter of substance before consolidation or whether one should consolidate before the next matter of substance appears. I hope that this will be a suitable foundation for whatever substance may come hereafter.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) raised the question of publicity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth mentioned the question of survey and structure plans under Part II of the Bill and asked what action was likely to be taken to implement the existing provisions contained in the Bill derived from earlier legislation. I am not in a position to answer that, but I know that several hon. Members have raised outside the Chamber the question of publicity in connection with notices of applications. I shall draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the fact that these points have been raised tonight and therefore this occasion will not have been wasted. He will know that hon. Members are anxious about it.

On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth about excluding legislation in relation to trees and historic buildings, there is no question of this legislation being erected as a kind of Maginot Line against his reforming zeal. It should be regarded more as a launching pad than as a Maginot Line. I hope the House will accept it on that basis.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

I am sure that before replying the hon. and learned Gentleman would have wished to ask for the leave of the House. Perhaps the Summer Recess has clouded his mind for a moment.

The Solicitor-General

Retrospectively, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I be legitimised in what I have said?

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I wish to thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his reassurance about forthcoming legislation, of which he has no precise knowledge and nor do we. We agree with him that it is inevitable as night follows day that there should be some legislation. In thanking him for that assurance, I wish to say that we shall support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Rossi.]

Committee tomorrow.