HC Deb 17 July 1972 vol 841 cc351-5


Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 5, line 28, at end insert: 'and the bodies and persons who may take part therein shall be such only as he may, whether before or during the course of the examination, in his discretion invite to do so: Provided that the person or persons holding the examination shall have power, exercisable either before or during the course of the examination, to invite additional bodies or persons to take part therein if it appears to him or them desirable to do so'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we can also discuss Amendment No. 3, in page 5, leave out lines 34 to 41.

Mr. Page

This Amendment sets out the method of selection of the bodies and persons who will take part in the examination in public which the Secretary of State is required by new subsection (3) of Section 9 of the 1971 Act to hold. This provision will replace the existing subsection (7) of Section 9 as it is set out in Clause 3.

When the provisions for an examination in public on structure plans were considered in Committee there was a helpful and constructive discussion, particularly about the selection of issues and participants. Members of the Committee accepted that in general we should not try, at this stage, to lay down procedure for the examination in public, by Statute or in regulations, but that, because it was a new procedure, it should at the outset be set out in a code of practice which could be adapted more readily, as necessary, in the light of experience in the first few examinations. The Committee showed particular interest in the selection of participants in this examination in public of the structure plan. It agreed to an Amendment of Section 9, as set out in Clause 3(7), designed to give the panel holding the examination the power to add to the list of those bodies or persons invited by the Secretary of State to take part. This was in line with the ideas being developed for the code of practice outlined in a consultation document which was given a wide circulation as long ago as last February. Certainly I accept the substance of subsection (7) as it now appears.

It would be preferable to associate the new provision with subsection (5). Furthermore, in order to introduce a power for the panel holding the examination to invite additional bodies or persons, it is necessary to refer specifically to the fact that the primary method of selection will be by invitation to appear issued by the Secretary of State.

6.15 a.m.

Subsection (5) at present provides that the Secretary of State is not required to secure to any body or person a right of appeal. Amendment No. 1 adds to that subsection an express provision that the bodies and persons taking part in the examination in public should be those invited to do so by the Secretary of State, and, additionally, those invited to do so by the person or persons holding the examination—these powers of invitation being exercisable before or during the course of the examination. Thus Amendment No. 3 is merely consequential and deletes the existing subsection (7).

I consider that we have improved on the contents and indeed the intent of subsection (7) and believe that these two Amendments will secure the essential point established in Committee by the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hands worth (Mr. Sydney Chapman), but will do so in a way which fits in with the related provisions.

We shall deal more fully in the code of practice with the selection of those invited to take part in the examination. We hope to have a draft code of practice ready for consultation with the local authority associations, professional organisations and other interested bodies in a month or so. We shall have it in its final form well before the first examination is held.

I mention this point because the Standing Committee, understandably, was interested in the code. The Committee realised that there were many procedural matters about the examination which were not in the Bill and that there would be difficulties ahead if there were a long delay before we had a code of practice.

At the time I gave an assurance that I would not authorise any items relating to the examination in public to be brought into operation until we had the code ready to apply to the examination in public. I have looked again at the terms of that assurance and have realised that, if taken literally, it would lead to difficulties which were unforeseen at the time I gave it. The existing provisions of Part II of the 1971 Act, which deal with structure and local plans, have been brought into operation in three areas in the country. The new provisions concerning the making of joint structure plans, which are contained in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill, will be brought into operation in those areas by order immediately the Bill becomes law, so that the authorities can proceed at once with their structure plans in the form of joint plans.

I have written to all members of the Committee explaining that immediately the Bill is enacted we shall also need to remake the existing general structure and local plan regulations, made under the 1968 Act to take account of these new provisions for joint structure plans, so that the authorities will be able to get on with the job. These regulations will be remade completely to take account of the consolidating 1971 Act.

The position will be that on Royal Assent to this Bill the present provisions in the 1971 Act relating to the holding of an inquiry and the hearing of objections on structure plans are repealed. In revising the regulations we shall have to leave out Regulations 23 and 24 which refer to an inquiry and objections on the old basis, since these will no longer have any meaning.

If the basic amending provisions of Clause 3, notably that substituting the requirement to hold an examination, for the former requirement to hold an inquiry, and that re-enacting the duty to consider objections duly made, are not brought into force in the three areas I have mentioned, this will mean that the revised regulations could have no reference at all in them to the examination or the consideration of objections. It would be odd if all the statutory provisions and regulations from the first formal steps on structure plans through to altering local plans were in operation but with a gap on examinations and the consideration of objections.

We are advised that we should be open to serious criticism if we produced regulations entirely revoking the earlier version but not replacing a vital part of the procedure. If, however, the basic provisions of Clause 3 are in operation, the regulations can deal with the making and consideration of objections, and we should also be able to make a minimal reference to examinations, the only reference on the latter point that need be made till the code of practice has been tested and adapted.

I apologise for keeping the House with that explanation. I am grateful to the House for listening. I felt that I had to explain the reason why in some respects I have not carried out the undertaking which I gave to the Committee, but I think it would be better if the basic provisions relating to these examinations were brought into effect now.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

As one who took part in what my right hon. Friend described at the constructive and useful discussions in the Standing Committee on this matter, I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for the Amendments he proposed and for the explanation he has been good enough to give to the House. We shall look forward to studying the code of practice in regard to both the matter of issues and the persons invited to participate, and no doubt my right hon. Friend will confirm that a draft of the code of practice will be available to hon. Members at the same time as it is for consultation with interested parties.

Mr. Page


Mr. Sydney Chapman

I hope that I may be allowed to join my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) in thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister most sincerely for his Amendments, which I very much welcome. It was my Amendment No. 5, which is now embodied in the amended Bill, in Clause 3(7), which was carried by the Committee, and I am very grateful that my right hon. Friend has accepted the sentiments which I expressed.

The position was—if I may state it very briefly—that with the Greater London Development Plan almost anything could be raised, on the one hand, under the original proposals in this Bill and yet on the other hand, people were not necessarily allowed to appear for examination in public. It was felt that my Amendment would soften that, and the person or persons holding an examination in public could be given the right to use discretion to call people other than those called by the Secretary of State.

I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for the sensitivity which he has shown to the various problems raised in Committee, and to thank him for the courteous and helpful way in which he has dealt with all the matters put forward. If it is not too much out of place, I would also congratulate him upon his fortitude in the last 15 hours in being almost continually in this Chamber to deal not only with this Bill on Report but also with the continuing saga of the Local Government Bill before it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 3, in page 5, leave out lines 34 to 41.—[Mr. Graham Page.]

Amendment made, in the Title, in line 4, at end insert: 'the service of building preservation notices and for'.—[Mr. Sydney Chapman.]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read the Third time. [Queen's Consent on behalf of the Crown, and the Prince of Wales's Consent, signified.]

Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.