HC Deb 11 November 1975 vol 899 cc1328-81

Lords Amendment: No. 61, in page 15, line 18, leave out the area of each county authority and insert "each county area".

Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

With this we are to take Lords Amendments Nos. 63, 64, 69 to 77, 79, 81, 95, 97 and 99.

Mr. Silkin

I should tell the House that if it were to agree to disagree with these amendments I should wish to move a manuscript amendment to Lords Amendment No. 82, to leave out "county area" in the last line of sub-paragraph (2) and insert area of the county authority". This has nothing to do with the Peak Park but is consequential on disagreeing with the Peak Park amendments which introduce the term "county area".

I find these amendments especially difficult, because it seems to me that the whole question that one is deciding—that is, whether there should be provided in the Bill a separate land acquisition and management scheme for the Peak District National Park—is very difficult and very finely balanced. I am apparently not the only person to find some difficulty in considering this. Some of my hon. Friends take one view, others take another.

As for Conservative Members, I think it was Lord Sandford who moved these amendments in another place, and when we first considered the question in Standing Committee G the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) entered a caveat in favour of the Peak District National Park arrangement. But, after considering it and considering the very finely balanced basis of the two possibilities, I have come to the conclusion that the advice I ought to give to the House is to disagree with the Lords in these amendments.

The Peak Park covers parts of six counties. If, as the Bill provided, the board were simply to participate in the land acquisition and management schemes of each of those six counties, this could be administratively difficult and there would be no guarantee of consistency of treatment across the park as a whole. That is the first factor that one has to consider.

1.0 a.m.

The Government have recognised these as genuine problems. We therefore encouraged discussions between the Peak Park Planning Board and the constituent authorities in the hope that these would lead to an agreed solution. During the discussions the constituent authorities proposed a compromise solution. Each county LAMS—that is, land acquisition and management scheme—was to be divided into two parts, one for the Peak Park area and one for the rest of the country. All of the six LAMS relating to the Peak Park were to be identical, and arrangements were proposed for the setting up of a joint committee and other joint arrangements for operating the land scheme within the national park. However, the Peak Park Planning Board did not feel that this went far enough to meet its point of view.

Accordingly, amendments were brought forward by Lord Sandford in another place to provide for a separate LAMS for the Peak Park, and the Government had to consider their attitude towards these in the light of the proposed compromise solution. At this stage it is important to consider the remaining factors, and, as I have said, I find that these factors constitute an almost insoluble balance.

First, the arrangements for the making of the LAMS do not in any way prejudge the way in which the scheme is naturally implemented in the Peak Park area. Who actually buys land for development will need to be settled on the basis of the factors—for example, the availability of staff—set out in Schedule 5 to the Bill.

Second, whichever solution is adopted, the LAMS will still have to be agreed between all the parties in the area acting jointly. The county authority has no bigger voice than any other authority. It has only certain administrative duties. Therefore, the amendments would in no way alter the balance of power between the authorities involved.

Third, from the point of view of the operation of the land scheme there is no strong reason for preferring one solution to the other. Either would seem to be satisfactory and to enable the scheme to be implemented effectively.

Having established the balance, a conclusion must be reached. The conclusion which the Government have reached is that, looking dispassionately at the problem, there is no real need for any amendment, given the compromise solution offered by the constituent authorities. I cannot claim to be strongly in favour of this solution. I can say only that it seems to be the commonsense one. It leads inevitably to the Government changing their mind, as the Opposition have and as I have no doubt individual people will.

Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (High Peak)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. As is well known, and as was said in another place, my hon. Friend and Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) and I have throughout supported the six county and the nine local councils in this matter. It is a truly non-party issue, and I feel a little humble to be discussing it with the son of a distinguished gentleman who introduced the Peak Park Planning Bill. What is more, Lord Sandford has done a great deal for our national parks and it was he who suggested these amendments.

When the Under-Secretary appeared in Derbyshire this summer, he impressed everyone greatly. One Member of the other place said to me that here was a politician who came, said that he wanted to listen and actually did.

Our case is that by giving separate LAMS to the Peak Park Planning Board we should be creating a great deal of fear among the local authorities. The six counties and nine local authorities disagreed with the amendments because they were frightened that to give a separate LAMS to the park would be like having a Big Brother watching over them. They were frightened about what would happen. As elected representatives in their areas they wish to take an active part in the running of those areas. The amendments which were moved by Lord Sandford and carried in the other place would have had the opposite effect. The members of those authorities would fear for their future. In his winding-up speech in the other place Lord Sandford said that the only reason why he was moving these amendments was that he believed that no agreement could be reached between the local authorities and the parks planning board. I suggest that that is no reason for tabling amendments.

We must reach agreement between the local authorities and the park planning board. I have heard from the Derbyshire County Council that all the constituent authorities have reached general agreement, and on 24th November they are to meet the park planning board to discuss these proposals. They will discuss sug gestions concerning land acquired by agreement, the powers of the park planning board where there is a refusal or a delay by the local authority and on mineral rights and where the bulk of capital is produced by the park planning board. Indeed, it is proposed that there will be a joint committee working under the LAMS for co-ordinating and monitoring. Is that not the thinking of people who want to co-ordinate together?

Sadly one must admit that in the past the high motives which started with these national park boards has not been sustained as much as one would wish. There have been disagreements to which I have already referred. There is the fear that the appointed park boards are sometimes not fully in touch with the wishes and feelings of those who live and work in these parks.

I should like to refer to what the then Mr. Lewis Silkin said on Second Reading of the National Parks Bill. He said: I am a believer in local authorities. I believe that the local planning authorities will welcome the administration of national parks as a challenge and as a great opportunity, which they will discharge in a public-spirited manner."—[Official Report, 31st March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1482.] I suggest that that view is taken today. If the House rejects, as I hope it will, their Lordships amendments, there will be an opportunity for everyone to get together and work for the public good.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

It is bizarre to find at this late hour the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) heaping praise upon this part at least of the Community Land Bill and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench when I, who have been a fervent supporter of this measure, must oppose what my right hon. Friend has said in his belated and, in my view, inexplicable conversion to the view that these amendments should be removed.

I wish to examine why my right hon. Friend has taken that view. I shall try to disentangle some of the tactical miscalculations which may be behind that point of view.

I wish to say something about the residents of the national parks. I was born, and have always lived, in the area of Derbyshire national park. I feel strongly that the Peak District National Park is unique in more than one way. It is already unique as a planning authority. It covers six county councils and nine district councils. It is unique in the type of planning powers which it has compared with the other national parks. It was the first to be designated. It is the winner of more awards, especially in the area of conservation, than all the other parks.

I point out to all hon. Members who are interested in conservation issues that this national park is threatened more than any other. First, it is threatened because it is one of the smallest and is surrounded by large conurbations. People who enjoy the countryside and rambling and wish to enjoy the amenities of the park know that the weight of their enthusiasm may threaten it unless its powers are strictly laid down and observed.

Secondly, it is the victim of greedy interests which are prepared to take out of the national park the mineral resources in which it is so rich and which may, in so doing, fundamentally alter its character.

That is why many people on the Peak District National Park Board hold the unanimous view that positive planning, of which this Bill is the forerunner, should be used by the authority set up by a previous Labour Government—set up largely as a result of the inspiration of my right hon. Friend's father. However, my right hon. Friend has now come forward with what seems a lacklustre argument and suggested that we should throw out the amendments.

Earlier tonight I was told that the amendments would go through unopposed. In the consideration of Lords amendments document which was circulated to hon. Members there is no mention that we should disagree with the Lords in this amendment. That was not proposed. Something has obviously changed my right hon. Friend's mind. However, my mind has not been changed.

Many of my hon. Friends will not support the Government on this issue tonight. We will vote on the other side. No doubt the hon. Member for High Peak and those whom he can whip in behind him will enthusiastically support my right hon. Friend. I cannot and do not propose to do so.

There was all-party support in another place, where there was a free vote, and Lord Sandford's amendments were carried. I understand that at that stage the Government were prepared to give the amendments a fair wind.

I have copies of letters from my right hon. Friend to Alderman Norman Gratton, the Chairman of the Peak District National Park Board, and to the Derbyshire County Council in which he looks sympathetically on what he calls the force of the arguments for having a separate LAMS for the national park area. In another letter to Alderman Gratton, my right hon. Friend said: I stand by the assurances that were given in Standing Committee when this matter was debated. My officials have written to the constituent counties informing them that I am still prepared to bring forward amendments, if necessary, though I would not wish at this stage to do anything to prejudice the negotiations. The negotiations are still going on. The Clerk to the Derbyshire County Council and others have written to those of us who have the honour to represent constituencies in that area to say that there is to be a meeting on 24th November and that it is possible that agreement will be reached. I do not believe that agreement will be reached. I believe that my right hon. Friend will have to take on the arduous duty of mediating in the matter and of coming down on one side or the other. Perhaps in reply to the debate he will indicate what he would say if that unhappy conclusion were reached.

We already have amendments which are sufficient and adequate for the purpose that we want—the setting up of a separate LAMS for the Peak District National Park. I hope that that will be done.

Whatever my right hon. Friend and others have heard in their sounding of opinion, the elected members who serve on the Peak District National Park Council are unanimous right across the board, from the leader of the Conservative Opposition on the Derbyshire County Council, Councillor Wilson, to the more Left-wing figure of my friend and former Member of this House Councillor Peter Jackson, that we should have these powers. I believe that we should have them. The amendments put in in another place, which until a few hours ago the Government appeared to have accepted, would have given those powers to the Peak District National Park.

I invite my hon. Friends to follow me into the other Lobby tonight, however many Conservative Members support the Government, because we should protect a precious amenity—an achievement of a former Labour Government—which will for ever be associated with the name of my right hon Friend's father.

It is inexplicable that my right hon. Friend should come forward and suggest that we disagreed with the Lords amendment because, perhaps on technical grounds, it may be easier to carry the vote that way. The principle is clear. We should vote in the other Lobby, and that is what I urge my hon. Friends to do.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. White-head). This is another indication of the Government's attitude to the national parks. This issue was first raised in Standing Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blen-kinsop), who has a record second to none in this respect. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland suggested that the Government were sympathetic. These amendments were put forward in another place by someone who also has shown considerable sympathy to the whole idea of the national parks, Lord Sandford, and they were agreed on a free vote. It was apparently intended that we should not divide on party lines tonight, but late in the day it was decided that the Government should again give the national parks the thumbs down.

Sadly, the present Government have shown very little concern for the national parks. We have waited months for the announcement of their policy on the Sandford Report. They appear not even to have had time to publish their views.

The key issue is that the national park was to be given the planning responsibility. The whole idea behind the Bill is positive planning, making the purchase of land go hand in hand with the planning authority. If we throw out the amendment, we shall separate the two functions—planning remaining with the national park, and land to be a function of a consortium of local authorities. This will bring confusion to many people in the area. Have we thought how to reconcile the resulting conflict of interest?

It would have been far better to recognise that in the Peak District National Park we have a national asset, not just for those in the area but for people who live round about. The whole concept of the national park body was that there should be representation not just of those who live in it but if those who live around it and enjoy it. That was the reason for including representatives from Greater Manchester and so on. But the voices of these people are not to be heard when it comes to the use of the land in the park.

Surely we should try to set up one body concerned with planning and land purchase. We have such an authority: the Peak Park Planning Board. We shall now confuse the issue by having conflicting bodies competing in planning decisions. I ask the Minister to reconsider.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

It is not often that I have anything in common with the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). The Peak Park covers some of the most attractive areas of my constituency, so I have a genuine interest in these amendments. The hon. Member for Stockport, North and the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) have done the House a service by disagreeing with the Minister.

It is extraordinary that the Minister should have changed his mind. I am undecided how to vote, but I agree with the hon. Member for Derby, North that the Peak Park Planning Board does a wonderful job. Its task will be made that much more difficult by the Minister's decision. I hope that whoever replies will present a case which we can all understand as to why the Government have taken this decision, apparently at the last moment.

The area is under great pressure from the large and powerful conurbations that surround it. The Peak Park is a unique feature of the North Midlands and Northwest and it is vitally important to the people living in urban areas that it should remain as undamaged as possible. Its recreation provision for the people of the area is second to none and it is a wonderful part of the country which must be protected.

The Minister must present a much better case in his reply. My constituents in the hill villages and elsewhere are interested in this debate and the decision we shall take. The Minister should clarify his position. He has failed to make his case so far.

Mr. Graham Page

I am in the same difficulty as the Minister in trying to decide between two evenly balanced arguments. We start in the Bill by making the Peak Park Planning Board a local authority. From its name one would expect it to deal with the planning under this Bill, and in Committee we pleaded that the action of local authorities under the Bill should be within the framework of planning. The Government accepted our arguments and made amendments recognising that the acquisition powers given to local authorities should be exercised within the framework of planning. My inclination is to say that we should leave the land acquisition management schemes in the hands of the planning board.

There was great difficulty when the board was set up in getting agreement on the proportion of district council representatives who should be appointed to it, and they do not have a very big representation. Districts might not have as much say in the preparation of LAMS as they would if the schemes were prepared by county authorities. I favour drawing districts into the preparation of LAMS as much as possible. The spirit of the amendment in calling for coordinated planning in the Peak Park area is right. If we can achieve that, together with a greater representation on the board, the Minister is probably right in saying that we should not accept the amendment but should go for another arrangement.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I share the anxieties of my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) about the Government's attitude to these amendments. The special and unique character of the Peak National Park have been referred to. My constituency is adjacent to the park and I have spent many happy times in recrea tion in it. I travel through it about twice a week on normal parliamentary business. I am therefore acquainted with it, and I know of its immense value not only to my area but to the whole country.

I understand the basic principle of the Bill to be that the planning power and the management and acquisition of land should go hand in hand. That is what the amendments seek to achieve in the Peak National Park, even though the Peak National Park Board is not a local authority within the normal definition.

I am therefore puzzled by the Government's attitude to the amendments. I share the anxieties which my hon. Friends have expressed and I should like a fuller explanation of the Government's approach to the amendments.

Mr. John Silkin

The interesting contributions to the debate underline the dilemma rather than solve it. It is an interesting and curious situation when a Labour Minister, with the help of the Conservative Whip, is suggesting that the House should reject amendments moved by a Conservative peer in the other place, and when he is supported by some Conservatives and some of his hon. Friends but is opposed by other of his right hon. Friends who in turn are supported by Conservatives. That is an indication of the situation we face.

When I said that I thought there was a balance, I was obviously underestimating, not overestimating, the situation. I fully understand every point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley). I sympathise very much with them. But I must ask them to see it my way. It is a balance, and I needed to come down on one side or the other. The obvious solution was to leave the Bill as it was and to agree with the Lords amendments. I do not think, however, that that would have given the necessary weight to the compromise solution.

What the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said is right. When the right hon. Gentleman and I agree it is because both of us have a very deep love of local authorities. Most of the time we are fighting one and other on our interpretation of that love. On this occasion we agree. We are trying to see to what extent the elected representatives, particularly in the districts, can play their part in a matter which is vital both to them and to the country. The factor which tips the balance for me is the compromise solution that has been suggested. I do not know whether it will work, and perhaps it will not, but let us give it a chance. If it does not work, we must think again.

It might help if I remind the House what is involved. The compromise solution was that each county LAMS should be divided into two parts. One was to be for the Peak National Park area and one for the rest of the country. All the six LAMS relating to the Peak Park were to be identical, and arrangements were proposed for the setting up of a joint committee and other joint arrangements for operating the LAMS within the national park.

1.30 a.m.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

Is it not true that the part of the national park falling within three of the counties is infinitesimal and that, therefore, this procedure seems most odd, to say the least?

Mr. Silkin

I should not have described it as infinitesimal. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who disagreed with me earlier would have regarded it as infinitesimal. They all have an interest in it, as has always been recognised. I am merely pointing out that that interest must be recognised. This is an appalling

Division No. 399.] AYES [1.33 a.m.
Abse, Leo Buchanan, Richard Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Aitken, Jonathan Buck, Antony Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Alison, Michael Burden, F. A. Deakins, Eric
Anderson, Donald Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Archer, Peter Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Delargy, Hugh
Armstrong, Ernest Callaghan. Jim (Middleton & P) Dell, Rt Hon Edmund
Arnold, Tom Campbell, Ian Dempsey, James
Ashley, Jack Cant, R. B. Doig, Peter
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Carmichael, Neil Dormand, J. D.
Atkinson, Norman Carter, Ray Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Bagier, Cordon A. T. Carter-Jones, Lewis Duffy, A. E. P.
Banks, Robert Cartwright, John Dunlop, John
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Dunn, James A.
Bates, Alf Clark, William (Croydon S) Dunnett, Jack
Bean, R. E. Clemitson, Ivor Durant, Tony
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Eadie, Alex
Berry, Hon Anthony Coleman, Donald Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Biffen, John Concannon, J. D. Elliott, Sir William
Bishop, E. S. Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Emery, Peter
Boardman, H. Corbett, Robin English, Michael
Booth, Albert Crawshaw, Richard Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Cronin, John Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Boyson, Dr Rhodes(Brent) Cunningham, Dr J (Whiteh) Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Davidson, Arthur Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Buchan, Norman Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Foot, Rt Hon Michael

choice, but someone must make it and advise the House what to do. I am advising the House to try it. If it does not work, we can look at it again. There is time. But as the counties themselves have come up with this compromise solution, let us give it a chance and see that it works.

Mr. Whitehead

My right hon. Friend is advising the House very carefully. What will happen if the compromise agreement does not work? Will he then stick to his undertaking in the letter to Alderman Gratton which I quoted?

Mr. Silkin

My hon. Friend has only to look at the Bill to see what might be the results if there were no agreement. That is all very easy.

Mr. Raison

A minute or two ago the Minister was boasting of his love of local authorities. He now seems to be threatening them.

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman should wake up. I was not threatening. The point was made that the agreement might fail. I know that it might. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North asked what would happen then. I am saying that we should have to have another shot. Let the hon. Gentleman look at the Bill. I think that he is getting tired.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 281, Noes 80.

Forrester, John Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Litterick, Tom Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Luard, Evan Rowlands, Ted
Freeson, Reginald Luce, Richard Sainsbury, Tim
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Lyon, Alexander (York) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Scott, Nicholas
George, Bruce Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Selby, Harry
Gilbert, Dr John McAdden, Sir Stephen Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) McCartney, Hugh Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Ginsburg David McElhone, Frank Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Golding, John Macfarlane, Neil Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Goodhart, Philip McGuire, Michael (Ince) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Gould, Bryan Mackenzie, Gregor Sillars, James
Gourlay, Harry Maclennan, Robert Sinclair, Sir George
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Small, William
Graham, Ted Magee, Bryan Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mahon, Simon Speed, Keith
Grant, John (Islington C) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Spriggs, Leslie
Grieve, Percy Marks, Kenneth Stallard, A. W.
Grocott, Bruce Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stoddart, David
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stott, Roger
Hardy, Peter Marten, Neil Strang, Gavin
Harper, Joseph Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Meacher, Michael Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Swain, Thomas
Havers, Sir Michael Millan, Bruce Temple-Morris, Peter
Hawkins. Paul Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Heffer, Eric S. Molloy, William Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Howell, David (Guildford) Montgomery, Fergus Tierney, Sydney
Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Morgan, Geraint Tinn, James
Huckfield, Les Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Tomlinson, John
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Tomney, Frank
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Torney, Tom
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Townsend, Cyril D.
Hunter, Adam Moyle, Roland Tuck, Raphael
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Tugendhat, Christopher
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Urwin, T. W.
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Noble, Mike Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Oakes, Gordon Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Ogden Eric Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Janner, Greville O'Halloran, Michael Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Jeger, Mrs Lena Onslow, Cranley Watkins, David
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Orbach, Maurice Watkinson, John
Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Weatherill, Bernard
John, Brynmor Ovenden, John Weetch, Ken
Johnson, James (Hull West) Owen, Dr David Wellbeloved, James
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Palmer, Arthur White, James (Pollok)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Park, George Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Parker, John Whitlock, William
Jopling, Michael Parkinson, Cecil Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Judd, Frank Parry, Robert Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Kaufman, Gerald Pavitt, Laurie Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Peyton, Rt Hon John Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Kimball, Marcus Price, William (Rugby) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Raison, Timothy Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Kitson, Sir Timothy Rees-Davies, W. R. Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Knox, David Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Woodall, Alec
Lamborn, Harry Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, NW) Woof, Robert
Lamond, James Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Lawrence, Ivan Robertson, John (Paisley) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Leadbitter, Ted Roderick, Caerwyn
Le Marchant, Spencer Rodgers, William (Stockton) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Mr. John Ellis and
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Ross, William (Londonderry) Mr. Thomas Cox.
Allaun, Frank du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Ashton, Joe Edge, Geoff Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Kelley, Richard
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Flannery, Martin Kerr, Russell
Body, Richard Freud, Clement Kinnock, Neil
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gardiner, George (Reigate) Lambie, David
Bottomley, Peter Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Langford-Holt, Sir John
Brittan, Leon Grylls, Michael Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hatton, Frank Lee, John
Budgen, Nick Hayman, Mrs Helene Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Canavan, Dennis Hooley, Frank Madden, Max
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hooson, Emlyn Marquand, David
Crouch, David Horam, John Maynard, Miss Joan
Cryer, Bob Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Mikardo, Ian
Drayson, Burnaby Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Moonman, Eric Rose, Paul B. Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Mudd, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Newens, Stanley Royle, Sir Anthony Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Pardoe, John Sandelson, Neville Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Penhaligon, David Sedgemore, Brian Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Ward, Michael
Radice, Glies Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Wells, John
Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Silverman, Julius Wise, Mrs Audrey
Richardson, Miss Jo Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Young, David (Bolton E)
Ridsdale, Julian Spearing, Nigel
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Stainton, Keith TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Rooker, J. W. Steel, David (Roxburgh) Mr. Phillip Whitehead and
Roper, John Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton W) Mr. Nicholas Winterton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments disagreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords Amendment: No. 66, in page 15, line 32, leave out "31st December 1975" and insert "29th February 1976".

1.45 a.m.

Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The point of this amendment is to postpone the date for the making of the land acquisition and management schemes from 31st December 1975 to 29th February 1976. This is an issue we have debated several times in Committee and on Report. We have been over the ground so often on this point that I do not want to weary the House with it for too long tonight.

In the view of the Government the local authorities, most of which are getting on very well with the job, have had ample notice of this. They have contributed to the discussions on it for over a year. In the light of this I do not believe that it would be of advantage—indeed, it would be a positive disadvantage—if the date were postponed from that which the local authorities have always known, namely 31st December 1975.

Mr. Raison

In the view of the Opposition, this is an important amendment. I am glad to see the Secretary of State present. It seems probable that he has set some sort of parliamentary record in that throughout the proceedings on this important Bill he has not managed to utter one word. He did not speak on Second Reading. He did not speak—perhaps understandably—in Committee and he did not speak on Report or Third Reading. So far this evening he has not spoken.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation to join these debates. It is true that I have missed a number of speeches from the Opposition Benches, and evidently the more interesting ones. I am in the uniquely happy position of having a fellow Minister in the Department who is also a Cabinet Minister. I cannot think that the House wants two Cabinet Ministers joining in on the same Bill. That would be at least one too many. As far as I can understand it—it is hard for us to know who is in the Shadow Cabinet—there is only one member of the Shadow Cabinet who has taken part in these debates and even he left the whole of the Committee stage to someone who is not a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

Mr. Raison

I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has broken his "duck". I cannot say that his contribution was particularly helpful. People were beginning to wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman's heart was in the Bill.

This is an important amendment. The House will recall that when we discussed this point on Report the Minister behaved in a most extraordinary way. The bullying tone he adopted was disgraceful. He has boasted of his love for local government tonight. Anyone who wants to know what his attitude to local government is capable of being should look at the proceedings on Report, when, talking about the implementation of the schemes by the unfair date of 31st December, he said: I believe that the overwhelming majority of local authorities are prepared to do this. If they are not prepared to do this by 31st December my right hon. Friend is prepared to do it for them. My right hon. Friend has quite a lot of power in this matter. Not only can he step in; he can create organisations that can step in and he can even find other local authorities—there are plenty of good local authorities all over the country—who would be prepared to step in on this basis. I am sorry that it is clearly in the morning because I should like every local authority that is deliberately dragging its heels to listen to what I have to say. They know perfectly well, and have known for the past eight months or so, that this is exactly what the situation would be."—[Official Report, 13th October 1975; Vol. 897, c. 1092–3.] Although they were made at an obscure hour of the morning, his remarks have been very much resented. They were disgraceful remarks to make in the House.

When the Bill came before the other place, Baroness Birk, who spoke on behalf of the Government, was rather more emollient. Apologising on behalf of the Minister for Planning and Local Government, she said: there is an important time and space difference between talking at 2 o'clock in the morning and talking at about 8.20 in the evening. That is a novel constitutional doctrine. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept it, and will he withdraw the odious threats he made on Report?

In referring to comments made by hon. Members, Baroness Birk was wholly unsupported by the facts. She is recorded as saying: the comments made on that occasion clearly indicated that a number of Members of another place were getting rather exercised and were feeling weary and emotional. That is nonsense, as is borne out by the record of our debate. Just as the noble Baroness apologised for the right hon. Gentleman, so I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should apologise on behalf of the noble Baroness.

I should like some substantiation from the right hon. Gentleman on the intriguing pronouncement by the noble Baroness that It is general practice that once a Bill has had its Second Reading in another place, anybody can go ahead, particularly if it is a Government measure, on the assumption that the Bill will be passed and be on the Statute Book. As a Bill goes further along and gets through its Committee and Report stages in another place, and it even gets accepted by noble Lords opposite that the Bill will get on the Statute Book, as they have this Bill, then one can say that it has become constitutionally acceptable. If anything happens in between, then there is a change."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27th October 1975; Vol. 365, cc. 105–107.] I find it hard to know what the noble Baroness was talking about. It is an odd remark for a Minister of the Crown to make.

The amendment is extremely moderate. It was spoken to in the other place by Lord Ridley, who is a prominent figure in local government. The Minister will recognise that Lord Ridley is a responsible, moderate, sensible and highly experienced person. I should be surprised if the Minister were not prepared to take seriously his views.

Lord Ridley pointed out that Northumberland—his county—could not be ready with these schemes by 31st December. He said that the amendment, which sought to delay, until the end of February, the date by which the schemes must be presented, was supported by the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils. A substantial part of the local authority world has therefore joined in the pleas to the Minister to be allowed this extension of time.

The date of 31st December, on which the Government are apparently insisting, was set many months ago when it could not have been known that the Bill would not reach the statute book until mid-November—if it does. In putting in that date the Government may have expected to get the legislation through some months earlier. In those circumstances the date of 31st December would have provided at least an arguably reasonable time for local authorities to prepare their schemes. The Bill will not reach the statute book until the middle of November. This means that local authorities will have only the period between mid-November and 31st December in which to prepare these extremely complicated schemes. That is a wholly unreasonable proposition, and the Lords amendment is meaningful and sensible. The only objection to it that I can see is that it would improve an ineradicably awful Bill.

Has the Minister any grounds for asserting, as he has asserted, that local authorities are dragging their heels? Does he expect them to be on time? What about Northumberland, which I have quoted already? Has the Minister any reason to believe that Lord Ridley was wrong? What about the Peak authority, which we have just been discussing? After all, the question of who is to be the Peak authority has been settled only this evening. Is that authority to have its schemes prepared by 31st December?

Why is not the Minister sensible about this? Why does he go on being so obstinate about it when all the logic is against him? It is absolute nonsense that these schemes have to go ahead before the structure and local plans are ready. But, even accepting that they may go ahead, it is absolutely clear that the whole balance of argument is in favour of the Lords amendment and against the Minister.

Mr. Sainsbury

In opening the debate somewhat briefly, the right hon. Gentleman said that we had often been over this ground. Perhaps it is unfortunate that we seem always to go over it at a rather eccentric hour. This time we are a little later than when we discussed the matter in Standing Committee. I do not know whether that makes us wiser or more emotional. Even their Lordships discussed it at what was for them the extremely late hour of half-past eight.

There is another feature of the late hour at which we discuss this subject. Each time we discuss it at a later date, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has just observed, that means at a later date than was anticipated when the date of 31st December was first included in the draft Bill. That is not without significance. If that date were right originally, it is scarcely logical—certainly it has not been explained or excused here, in Standing Committee or in another place—for the Government to insist on including that date even as the date of the possible enactment of the Bill gets later and later.

That is not the only factor affecting the relevance and rightness of the date. We must note what has been said about the structure of local government. At this moment I hesitate, apart from the risk of being ruled out of order, to enter into discussing the merits and demerits of a two-tier structure of planning. If I did so, we might be here even longer. However, undoubtedly the two-tier structure is the background for land acquisition and management schemes, and it is also why the Royal Town Planning Institute, which I hope will command at least the Minister's ear and attention on this issue, is so concerned about the date of this proposal.

It refers to the potential source of controversy between the two levels of local government. We are all aware of the possibilities and actualities of occasional disagreements between the two levels, but we cannot fail to be aware that when that disagreement occurs it is a source of confusion, delay, additional cost and annoyance to the public.

In that connection we have to note the concern of both the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. It is interesting that when, on a previous occasion, we were going over this ground, the right hon. Gentleman's excuse for not wishing to change his mind was that he had had no representations from local authorities. If that was an adequate reason then, I hope he will be able to explain why, now that he has had representations from the local authority associations, he is not paying attention to them.

2.0 a.m.

We are assured also that adequate progress is being made. I find it hard to accept that excuse for not changing the date. Baroness Birk said in another place that the Government did not have detailed information about progress in each county area. If the right hon. Gentleman does not have detailed information, how can he be so confident that progress is being made?

Mr. Russell Kerr

The hon. Gentleman should use his own arguments.

Mr. Sainsbury

Lady Birk was speaking for the Government. I hope that those hon. Members sitting below the Gangway opposite who are so used to opposing the Government will nevertheless find it possible to agree occasionally with their spokesman in another place.

The local authorities are busy at this period of the year with their budgets, which are commanding a not inconsidable proportion of the time of senior officers and chief executives. The Bill will place an extra burden on them, although their task could scarcely be made more difficult than it is this year.

There are economic difficulties. The Government require that there should be no additional recruitment to local authority staffs, and most hon. Members welcome that. But then the Government place an additional responsibility on the staffs of local authorities. Therefore, the additional burden can be fulfilled only by the existing staff, which means their neglecting for a period the work they would otherwise have been doing.

Thus we thave the peculiar situation that, at a time of unparalleled pressure on local authorities, particularly on the senior officers and chief executives, the Government are placing an additional burden on them while asking them to ensure the greatest possible restraint in their budgets and to recruit no more staff.

There will be a unique burden on local authority officers, but the right hon. Gentleman decides that the original date must stay. He offers no real reason or excuse. Those officers are being forced into this extra work against a ridiculous pressure of time, and I cannot believe that their approach to the work has been helped by the Minister's bullying attitude. It is not a very satisfactory approach and I do not think that he would regard it as a very apt way of showing his much-boasted love of local authorities. It is more like a love-hate relationship if in the early hours of the morning such threatening words have to be uttered.

At this time the local authorities are looking at their budgets. I hope they have noticed that they can reclaim the cost of these schemes in due course, but it was not until 5th November that, in reply to a Question from me, the right hon. Gentleman made this absolutely clear in respect of land acquisition and management schemes, when he said that local authorities had been advised that as soon as the Bill received Royal Assent they would be directed to open land accounts. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to inform us that the local authorities had long been made aware of this. If they are being threatened, encouraged, incited or whatever it is to prepare these schemes, they might have been encouraged a little more had they been made aware of it much earlier.

I do not think we should underestimate the task. Schedule 5 to the Bill explains what is required. It is immediately clear that there is a good deal of work involved in preparing a land acquisition and management scheme. One would hope that the first part, the co-ordination of action, would not require too much work by the local authorities, at least if they are capable of working happily together. The second part is the requirement that the scheme should include action under the Act. One is immediately led to wonder how local authorities are meant to deal with this aspect if they cannot know until tomorrow, perhaps, what land they will have to acquire, what will be exempt or excepted or whether there will be some new category introduced to confuse us still more.

Mr. Michael Latham

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to paragraph 1(f) of Schedule 5, which states such other matters as the Secretary of State may direct"? These are also to be considered by the local authority in drawing up a land acquisition and management scheme. How are we to know between now and 31st December what those other matters are to be?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is a most interesting sidelight on the preparation of schemes. It is rather like the South Sea Bubble to have words like "such other matters as I shall in due course direct". In other words, if one is lucky one's functions are not taken over by another authority, and if one is unlucky it will be Bootle to take over Brighton, or something like that. That is just another aspect of the scope of work that could be involved. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to expect this to be carried out by the State, to refuse to change his mind and then come to the House and change the burden of work which the local authorities will be expected to carry out and the various categories of development.

I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman should expect these LAMS, which we are led to believe are vital to the satisfactory operation of this legislation, to be prepared effectively against so much uncertainty about the type of land and development they are to cover, what special arrangements the Secretary of State will direct and a large number of other relevant matters which are subject to change as the Bill winds its comparatively weary way—

Mr. Fairbairn rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. It would help if the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) was allowed to make his speech and was not applauded before he makes it.

Mr. Sainsbury

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. and learned Friend is not about to make a speech. I have given way to him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In that event, perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will make his intervention.

Mr. Fairbairn

Before my hon. Friend becomes too worried by the irritation among Government supporters about the Bill wending its weary way, he may care to recall the Russian proverb—which should suit Government supporters sitting below the Gangway—that every river eventually finds its way to the sea. When this Bill finds its way to the sea, every one will be at sea.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am always grateful to be reminded of Russian proverbs, because I do not regard myself as an authority on them, either in translation or in the original.

I return to my point, and, although the Minister may profess surprise and even hilarity, it is a serious one. If we are to have this legislation, presumably we should all be interested in having it work as smoothly as such an appalling piece of legislation can be expected to work, with the local authorities given the best chance to bring it into operation smoothly and with the minimum of friction between the various levels of local government.

Why, then, do we have to rush these important land acquisition and management schemes? Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman accept that we are likely to get better schemes better prepared if more time is available? I ask him to recognise that it is unrealistic at this stage to expect local authorities to rush through these schemes by the date in the Bill. Most of us recognise that the date of 29th February suggested in the Lords amendment is a very modest amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I remind my hon. Friend that Clause 16(4) says: or such later date as the Secretary of State may agree in any particular case. It may be that the Secretary of State intends later in this debate to indicate that he will consider rather a lot of special cases and that if the local authorities cannot meet the deadline he may give a general directive that the date be extended.

2.15 a.m.

Mr. Sainsbury

The Minister will give his right hon. Friend an additional burden unless he accepts this modest extension. It is a realistic change.

The Lords amendment suggests that the scheme should be prepared by 29th February next year instead of by the end of this year. If we did not want next February, the February after that would probably be appreciated. However, if we have to keep to this date a large number of local authorities will have to rush because they will not know whether the Secretary of State will see fit to consider granting an extension in any particular case. Indeed, the Secretary of State has left himself little time to determine which, if any, special cases should be allowed. Moreover, he does not have the people to assess the situation. Therefore we shall rush schemes, and some of them will be bad schemes, because of this extraordinary reluctance to accept even the most modest amendment.

I urge the Minister to reconsider this matter. We do not ask him to give way on an enormous matter of principle, but we ask him to recognise good sense.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)

I was not privileged to travel with the Minister over this ground before and therefore I did not originally intend to intervene. However, I have been so disturbed by the interventions from the Government Front Bench, which have been commendable only for their brevity, that perhaps a contribution might not be amiss.

Even my untutored eyes, looking at the schedule to see what exactly is expected of a local authority, recognise that there is something wrong with the Bill.

For those hon. Members who have not applied themselves as closely to Schedule 5 as my right hon. and hon. Friends, let me point out to them some of the things which are expected of local authorities over the next six weeks. For instance, they must review the services of persons qualified and experienced in the acquisition, management, planning, development and disposal of land which are so available". After the development gains tax, the development land tax which is in prospect, and the whole reform of local government, where will these people with these considerable qualifications be found? Will they be found within the ranks of local government? Will they be poached from other authorities, or will they have to be drawn from private practice? What salaries will have to be offered to secure their services when they realise that this Bill can have only an ephemeral life? That is the first problem. The Minister has certainly not given me any reassurance on those matters. It may be that when he winds up this debate he will have something to say, but for the moment he has treated the House with less than courtesy. I am bound to give voice to my concern about this aspect of the matter.

Schedule 5 paragraph 3 provides that (1) Each scheme shall contain—

  1. (a) arrangements for the co-ordination of action by the authorities, including action under this Act".
If we take as an example the Kent County Council, does that provision mean that it must consult every district council in Kent, of which there are many? How will it find time to do that? According to the Minister it only has six weeks. We also understand that each scheme shall contain, (b) arrangements, where appropriate, for the use by one authority of officers or servants employed by another authority". Does that mean that the chief executive of the Dover District Council may be loaned to Shepway to determine what land should be acquired and developed in that particular authority? That would cause considerable consternation in my constituency.

Paragraph 3(c) provides that each scheme shall contain where appropriate, provisions for the transfer of sums between authorities". This is most disturbing, because it will have a considerable effect on the rates charged in various areas. What kind of sums will be transferred, for instance, from Dover to Thanet? Those are the type of matters which my constituents will want to know about. So far I have heard nothing from the Minister concerning these matters. It may be that those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who were privileged to serve on the Committee had the benefit of the Minister's views. I suggest that he should make more free of them to the whole House, because some of us have not had the benefit of his experience and advice upstairs.

We then have, arrangements for determining matters of dispute between the authorities". That opens up an important matter. The Minister envisages considerable friction as a result of the introduction of the Bill between the various district authorities in Kent, for instance, which have so far lived harmoniously. Before setting the district authorities by the ears and introducing disharmony, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should give the county council a chance to work out the scheme with care and in detail. That cannot be done in six weeks.

One can take a charitable view and say that the Minister is ignorant of what he is attempting to impose on county councils. But, more likely, he is arrogantly indifferent to what he is attempting to do.

Mr. John Silkin indicated assent.

Mr. Rees

The right hon. Gentleman nods assent. The House and, indeed, the country should take full account of that. After months of debate, when he had the benefit of the experience and carefully thought out views of my hon. Friends, the right hon. Gentleman blandly admits that he is arrogantly indifferent to what he is about to impose on an already overburdened local government structure.

In fact, the matter is more sinister than that. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has already made the point that the Minister is seeking to take over the concoction of these plans. In other words, he is not proposing to leave any vestige of independence in this crucial area to the county councils. The right hon. Gentleman may take his own bland jocular view. We and the country must form our view. We have become accustomed to the notion that the Bill will be a constitutional outrage. Unless this modest amendment is accepted, I believe that it will be an administrative outrage as well.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I moved an amendment of this kind, though not with this date, when the Bill was before this House on the last occasion. Therefore, I support the Lords amendment.

It seems common sense that the date 31st December, whether the Minister will extend it or not, should not appear in the Bill. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should take the date which is to be applied to Scotland—1st April. Some people might think that a suitable date for the Bill. If 1st April is to apply to Scotland, why not to England?

Local authorities do not have sufficient planning or estate management staff. For example, my county council has one estate manager and a couple of assistant clerks. For it to get a land acquisition and management scheme set up by anything like 31st December is not conceivable. The Bill is supposed to be flexible. Let us have some flexibility in this respect. It does not make sense as it is.

If these things are to be done, we shall have to pay through the nose to get the necessary staff. I was recently approached by a district council to see whether I could get a visa for a Pakistani gentleman to join its planning staff. I do not suggest that the man had not the ability to do the job, but that shows the difficulty being experienced in getting staff.

I vividly remember over a year ago advertisements for staff at a salary of £4,750. We got no replies to those advertisements. Indeed, we got no replies until the salary offered was near £6,000.

The Minister must know as well as the rest of us that there is a great shortage of qualified planning staff. Perhaps the best thing we could do would be to go out and join planning teams. We could make fortunes if we did, but that would not do the country much good.

It is nonsense to insist on 31st December. I believe that date will have to be extended, and the time to admit that is now.

Mr. Lawrence

Surely the important part of this subsection is that which says: …or such later date as the Secretary of State may agree in any particular case. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to exercise his discretion responsibly and fairly, it follows that the date "not later than 31st December" may be no less unreasonable than any other, but if it is not, it is important to seek to get him to change it. I do not know in what circumstances the Secretary of State is likely to agree a later date in any particular case. I am not aware that he has yet stated the circumstances in which he would use his discretion.

What troubles me is that, when given the opportunity to explain himself more fully, he made it absolutely clear that he would not exercise his discretion to extend a local authority's time: what he would do is move in some other organisation which would be prepared to ensure that these matters are concluded by 31st December. His hon. Friend said on 13th October that if it were not prepared to do this by 31st December, the Minister would do it: that he had a good deal of power in the matter—[Interruption.] I am dealing with the Minister's intention. If he intends to be fair-minded and to use his discretion judicially, the question is different, but if he is manifesting a positive desire to be unjudicial, we must think again.

Mr. Sainsbury

In six weeks the Minister or the Secretary of State has to decide whether it is right to act in this manner by granting an extension. I fail to see how this discretion can be exercised fairly and judicially when there is so little time to determine whether an extension should be granted in any particular case. That is surely one of the best reasons for arguing that there should be at least a modest general extension if for no other reason than to allow him to determine how he can best find the cases in which a longer extension can then be granted.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful. Of course it is not just a matter of six weeks. There will be five days for Christmas and five weekends, so that is at least 15 days off the 42 days which may be left. We are talking about 25 or 27 days in which the local authorities must come to these arrangements.

I can see a difficulty which might emerge in some areas. Some Labour-controlled county councils may not see eye to eye immediately over these schemes with some Conservative or Conservative and independent controlled district councils and vice versa.

Mr. Budgen

Is not my hon. Friend being rather mealy-mouthed about this? There must be people in the Civil Service with the same attitude as the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore). It will be easy: all objections will be disregarded, anyone who gets in the way will be walked over, a decision will be taken as quickly as possible and everyone will be told he must cither like it or lump it.

Mr. Lawrence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that I am being mealy-mouthed. That is not an accusation that is usually levelled at me. I am trying to be as reasonable as I can in the face of implacable opposition from the Labour Party. If the conclusion to which we come is that it is the height of ridiculous absurdity to suppose that these matters can be settled with agreement and reasonable comprehensiveness and comprehension within the space of 27 days, and if the Minister is going to send in his other authorities, if he can find them and the wherewithal to do it, the position is quite clear: the words to which I have referred— …or such later date as the Secretary of State may agree in any particular case"— are just verbiage. They are the velvet glove behind which the mailed fist of Socialism is wearing holes.

We have heard and read the contention of Ministers that this Government have great concern for local authorities. If the Government are not prepared to allow local authorities ample time to make arrangements, they are showing their contempt for these authorities and this should be made clear to the public.

If it is being suggested that local authorities should be puppets on the string of a Socialist State, we all know where we are and we shall be able, with greater agreement, to support the Lords amendment and show that we, at least, want to see some sense put into this senseless, doctrinaire and tyrannical piece of legislation.

Mr Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I have been listening to this debate for five hours and I have not always agreed with the line taken by my hon. Friends on some amendments, particularly the proposal relating to legal aid. However, this amendment is an important test case.

The Minister has a great reputation in local government. I have spent many years in local government and I know of the immense problems it is facing, especially with the reorganisation and the current economic situation.

We are talking about just two months in the history of our country. We want the date put back because the Bill has moved a little more slowly than expected and therefore local authorities will need a little more time to prepare their plans. What could be more reasonable?

If the Minister does not move on this amendment, I have serious doubts about us making progress tonight.

2.30 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page

The Minister will earn the good will of the House if he chooses this as the amendment on which to give way.

It is a very practicable amendment. The Bill says that LAMSs shall be prepared, but this is a bit of a farce. The Minister tells us that, as far as he is concerned, they have been prepared while his noble Friend in another place said there was no information on how many of these LAMSs had been prepared for the slaughter of the property owner. The LAM-ing season seems a little short this year. Local authorities are supposed to have the schemes ready within the next 30 working days. This is a complete farce.

We suspect that considerable time and money has already been spent in drawing up schemes in anticipation of what might be in the Bill. Neither we nor local authorities even know what directions the Secretary of State will give under Schedule 5.

On the last occasion this subject was debated, we were told that if local authorities had not prepared schemes by 31st December, the Secretary of State would do the work. But what staff has the Secretary of State to do this work? Has he already engaged staff? If so, where are they? Are they tucked away in Marsham Street? Or will he take busy civil servants off other work to do the job that local authorities cannot do because he has not given them enough time?

The amendment is practical and this cannot be a party matter. Local authorities are obliged to prepare these schemes and it is a matter of pure practical sense to give them more time to do so.

Mr. Budgen

I wish to make only a brief intervention. The Minister seems to be facing a difficult time. He has to organise this scheme within six weeks. He will have to recruit staff to go through the long process of consultation and preparation. He will have to do that through the Civil Service. Sometimes my hon. Friends are critical of the Civil Service, but it has acquired a great reputation for steady conscientious work in which there has seldom been any suspicion of carelessness or dictatorial behaviour, far less of corruption.

But the Civil Service is totally unsuited to getting all this work done in six weeks. It will take a vigorous dictator to kick people very hard, to knock them about and tell them what is to be done. Perhaps the Department could pay one of the Minister's Friends from the Tribune Group to act as a civil servant to get this done. He is the sort of chap who will kick everybody in the teeth and tell anyone who objects to belt up or he will kick them into the ground. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could get the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) to bash the proposal through in six weeks.

We therefore want to know whether the Minister can obtain any of these useful and charming persons to help him in the judicial and civilised mode of government that he advocates.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I wish to reinforce the views expressed by my hon. Friend. I must comment on the excellence of the drafting of the amendment in another place. It was certainly most expertly done and I am sure the whole House would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord who moved it.

I rise, however, to ask the Government why they are in such a hurry. What would be the disadvantage of delaying for a few weeks the completion of the schemes? The Prime Minister has told us that it will now for ever be the natural order of things for there to be a Labour Government. If that is so, why the hurry? Could we not wait until 1984? Why not wait until the schemes are prepared? We should still by then have the same Prime Minister and the same obdurate Minister for Planning and Local Government sitting on the Front Bench smirking and refusing to budge an inch.

Are the Government worried that things are not going very well? Do they fear that perhaps the popular support of 29 per cent. of the electorate who put them into power is slipping away from them? Are the sands of time running out? Do the Government feel that they must hurry and grab people's property before they are prevented from doing so? Is that why these six weeks are so important? There are only 25 shopping days left to Christmas and it is not possible for the local authorities to complete their plans in time. My own local authority has made this point to me. What is to be lost by another few weeks? Why cannot the Minister for once say "I agree with what the Opposition have said. We shall make this small concession"?

I do not know how the plans will be implemented. Who will implement them. Which people at present doing nothing are available to put the plans through if local authorities drag their feet?

The reputation of the House is diminishing as Governments put through absurd Bills at such hours as 2.40 a.m. and refuse to listen to reasonable, sensible suggestions which would ameliorate the effect of the Bill. If the Government want this legislation to stick on the statute book, they should do everything they can to make this side of the House accept it. Admittedly, there is a long way to go, but this would be a little start along the road, late in the day. Such a conversion would at least show willing and a co-operative attitude.

The Bill will be repealed. The crash is not very far away. A borrowing of £975 million was announced a few days ago, and probably the Government will have no majority in the coming Session. The sands of time are running out. That is why the Government want to get the scheme by 31st December

Would it not have been better for the Government to be a little more conciliatory, and to show a little less of the attitude that the gentlemen in Whitehall know best? The Government would have done better to be a little less dictatorial and accept some of the points made by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Why do not the Government wish their legislation to stick, and seek co-operation? A little of the spirit they advocate for industry might very well have been imported into the Bill.

Mr. Lawrence

My hon. Friend's speech is so fascinating that I should like to hear him dilate at greater length. Would he care to consider that the answer to one of his questions is that the Government have given a pledge to some union that this legislation will be in by 1st January 1976?

Mr. Ridley

It is not for me to speculate, or to dilate, which is something I would never seek to do. The question should be put not to me but to the Minister. Was the date of New Year's Eve part of the social contract? Does the small print that has not been shown to us contain that date as the date by which the plans must be completed? If so, we can happily accept the amendment, because the social contract is a busted flush. It has been torn up by one party to it, so we, too, can tear it up. All the sacrifices made by everyone who is not a member of a trade union have stuck, whereas the sacrifices the trade unions were supposed to make have been welshed upon.

Mr. Budgen

My hon. Friend has a great deal of knowledge of the way in which the Civil Service works. Will he comment on whether it is possible for the Civil Service to push through the work that is involved in six weeks, or whether it will have to hire some of the gauleiters of the Tribune Group to do its dirty work?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) is going a little wide in his interventions. The Chair fails to see how the hon. Member's last intervention fits into the argument.

2.45 a.m.

Mr. Ridley

Nothing would worry me more than to see the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), whose usual diligency has deserted him, removed from his profit under the Crown. We would no longer be able to see the living example of Socialism and to heat his pearls of wisdom and good sense day after day. We would be deprived not only of the pleasure of seeing and hearing him, but of hearing the true nature of the threat which he poses to our society. I very much hope that it will not be the hon. Gentleman who will implement this plan.

I hope that the Minister will see sense at this late hour. I know that he has ready his bucket and spade to go off tomorrow to some sunny shore to relax after the strenuous time that he has had with the Bill. My hon. Friends are prepared to give up their hare coursing to stay here through tomorrow. It is no disadvantage to us if he has to delay his holiday. On the other hand, he might get away very much more easily if he were to make one small concession.

If we were to seek to make major pieces of legislation such as this more or less acceptable to both sides we would not have the in-and-out on-and-off processes that we have seen with the betterment levy, the Land Commission and now this silly Bill, one after another. If only the Government could understand that it is necessary even for Socialist Governments to legislate by consent. They could start at this late hour by accepting the excellent amendment in the name of Lord Ridley.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

During this debate many questions have been put to the Minister. I hope that he will answer them. So far not one voice has been raised in support of the Minister, unless we count all the antediluvian grunts from below the Government Front Bench, which I do not. In any event, the source of those grunts has now disappeared.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has said—I accept his mathematics—that we have very few days, assuming the Bill is enacted, before 31st December. In that short time the local authorities have to do a great deal of work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has said, why is there this great hurry? What is so magical about 31st December except that the following day is a Bank Holiday? I would not have thought that that in itself was particularly magical. I could have understood it if we had been arguing, as was being argued earlier, that we should have a six month delay.

It will not have escaped notice that in May of next year there are to be many district elections throughout the country. In those elections the Labour Party will be annihilated. We shall gain control of Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, to name but three cities. We can easily understand why the Minister wants things to happen before those happy events come to pass.

I hope that the Minister will tell us the meaning of the phrase in subsection (4): or such later date as the Secretary of State may agree in any particular case". Does he envisage anything contained within that phrase being activated by him or by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment? Secondly, is it correct that the first appointed day will be 5th April? Statements have been made on this matter in the other place, but we should like the date to be confirmed in this House.

The subject of staff has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members—including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) in a succinct speech in which he stressed the importance of manpower and staffing considerations. Local authority staff are engaged in preparing structure plans and local plans. They are also trying to cope with nearly 500 circulars sent out in the first nine months of this year by four major Departments of State. Additionally, they have to cope with the counterinflation and consumer protection proposals, and also with the circulars relating to the cuts in expenditure. This work will place a heavy strain on chief officers in local authorities and also on committee chairmen and councillors. Furthermore, in a little over a week or so the Secretary of State will be announcing his conclusions on the rate support grant, which also will impose a tremendous amount of work on senior staff and councillors. All this is happening at a time when local authorities have only a month or so left before they reach the end of the year.

The Minister has often spoken about the good will of local government, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) dealt with this aspect. As a Government Whip at the time I well remember how both sides, in a genuine love of local government, worked together on the Local Government Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was also heavily involved in that work. I hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, will show good will and flexibility to the local authorities.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does not my hon. Friend agree that by 31st December this year it will be physically impossible for district, borough and county councils to consider reports submitted to them by their officers, to carry out consultations, and to submit plans or schemes for each area?

Mr. Speed

My hon. Friend makes a practical point. He was at one time my county councillor, and he knows that county authorities are now undertaking a cycle of meetings at a time when an abnormally heavy work-load is falling upon their shoulders. The Government will lose nothing by showing flexibility in this matter and I hope that, even in a Bill as bad as the present one, they will display some vestige of good will.

Having heard the powerful arguments advanced from various sides of the House—[Interruption.] We are dealing with dedicated, professional people and elected representatives trying to cope with a great deal of legislation. They have many problems, not of their own making. It does no one any good to giggle at such things. Will the Minister look at this again? I am sure that he is not trying to dictate to local authorities. What he said a month ago was unfortunate but let us put that behind us. Let him listen to the views of the House and accept this amendment. Let him show us that the good will he has spoken about is real.

Mr. John Silkin

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) always speaks with moderation, understanding and intelligence. It is necessary to treat the points he puts forward with considerable gravity. They are important and they will be dealt with. Perhaps I can deal first with one or two points that were not of such a high level. First, there was the curious attack made on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It was a silly attack because I have to accept the fact, reluctantly, that my right hon. Friend was on record long before me as being in favour of the public ownership of development land. It was rather childish to say that he was half-hearted about this. It is almost beyond comprehension.

The other childish argument was that because this Bill has come late in the Session it must mean that the date of the LAMS must be pushed forward. It it childish, because anyone who went through those long days and nights in Committee knows perfectly well that at the beginning the Opposition were moving amendments to alter the date of the LAMS. At that time they might have thought that the Bill would be delayed. As far as the Government were concerned everything was on course.

Mr. Sainsbury rose

Mr. Silkin

No, I will not give way. I am dealing with the trivialities. I want to get to the important point. Let me get the trivialities out of the way, the stupid points, so that I may deal with the serious points made by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and the hon. Member for Ashford. I have to answer their points because they concern the important case. That case is that between today and the 31st December there is insufficient time for authorities to get together for the making of the schemes embodied in the land acquisition management schemes. If that is so, how is it that local authorities managed to get together some time ago? [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] I cannot give that information to the House. At the moment the schemes are unofficial. The hon. Gentleman should know after all these months that the LAMS have to be made by 31st December. They will not officially be given to the Secretary of State until after that date.

3.0 a.m.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that he knows that many local authorities have produced LAMS. Yet he does not know how many have put forward schemes and how many have not.

Mr. Silkin

I am saying that a large number of local authorities have told me—

Mr. Michael Latham

How many?

Mr. Silkin

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman giving the information. I do not have it off the cuff.

Mr. Latham

In an interview with the Estates Times on 7th November the right hon. Gentleman is quoted as saying: I have evidence even from some of the most reactionary Conservative authorities that they are ready at this very moment to start implementing this legislation. The House wants to know what is that evidence.

Mr. Silkin

The evidence is that the local authorities have told me so.

Mr. Latham

How many?

Mr. Silkin

I have promised to write to the hon. Gentleman. A very large number of authorities have agreed their LAMS. They do not have to make them until 31st December, and they do not have to submit them until after that date. That is the position under the Bill.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Silkin

No, he will not: never shake thy gory locks at me. That is not bad for this hour in the morning.

Mr. Ridley

I did not notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you had shaken your gory locks at the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Silkin

No one could possibly accuse you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of having gory locks.

As so many local authorities have been able to agree their LAMS, why should there be this difficulty? The local authority associations knew as long ago as last November that they would have to make their LAMS and they got on with it. Some fell behind because they came across genuine difficulties which could not be avoided. That occurred in surprisingly few cases. The hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and Chippenham can be reassured that in those cases of course my right hon. Friend is prepared, and understandably so, to give what latitude he possibly can give. There has never been any secret about this. Of course he has the power, and he will willingly use it.

The question was what would happen if there were authorities which, for one reason or another, perhaps encouraged, perhaps off their own bats, deliberately, when they could have got on with their schemes, avoided doing so. What would any sensible Secretary of State do? He would use his powers.

That is what I was saying, not in anger or, I hope, bullyingly or hectoringly in the early hours of the morning. If hon. Members care to check, they will find that I used the word "deliberately", because I was talking about authorities that deliberately behaved in this manner.

Mr. Peter Rees

Why constitutionally should any county authority take any action of any kind to set up LAMS before the Bill is passed?

Mr. Fairbairn

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain two things? First, if he wants to introduce a piece of tyrannical bureaucracy called land acquisition and management schemes, why does he not use the filthy words and stop corrupting the language by saying LAMS? Secondly, before the Bill—which, God help us, I pray will never be passed—by what right has he been encouraging local authorities to indulge in schemes that may never come into being? It is quite wrong that he should suggest that they should have been doing so at this time.

Mr. Silkin

I just have to differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman. Is it not a bit of a mouthful to keep saying land acquisition and management schemes? We live in an age of abbreviations and initials and I feel as innocent as a new-born lamb in defending that one.

I regret to say that I do not see what on earth the hon. and learned Gentleman is driving at in his second criticism. If one has any consultation with local authorities—and I have told the House that there have been more consultations with local authorities about this than about any other Bill ever produced—it follows that the whole position must be put to them and that they must be made aware of it and that they should make such plans and preparations as are neces sary. The right hon. Member for Crosby knows perfectly well that, when he was introducing his Local Government Bill, he was having consultations with local authorities. I do not think that he had as many as I have had, but he had consultations.

Mr. Raison

The right hon. Gentleman is talking about consultations with local authority associations. It is clear that two of them, the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils, asked for extensions. Has the right hon. Gentleman any comments to make about that?

Mr. Silkin

I hate to reveal matters that may or may not be confidential, but perhaps I shall in this case. There was one member of one association—if I do not identify it, that may help—who at the last meeting about a month ago was asked whether he was in favour of an extension of time. I wanted to find out what the feeling was, not among those deliberately thwarting the scheme, but among those who might get into some difficulty, and there are some who might. He wanted an extension, from 31st December to 31st January. Some thought that we should keep to 31st December, but nobody thought that we should go further than he asked. I find that an interesting situation. I do not know whether I have broken a confidence, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I have.

But the hour is getting late and I feel that we should come to a decision on this matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton rose

Mr. Silkin

No. I have given way eight times. It is enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not enough."] Of course it is enough. I cannot imagine any Tory Minister who would have given way so often. Let us make a decision now. Let us make it once and for all. If we stick to the date of 31st December, those who are gone ahead and made their LAMS and those who have been awaiting our decision will be able to get on with the job. For those who are unable to get ahead, there is still the discretion of the Secretary of State. Let us get a move on and get going.

Mr. Awdry

The right hon. Gentleman, probably inadvertently, has failed to reply on the question of the first appointed day. Will he confirm what was said in another place?

Mr. Silkin

I can confirm what Lady Birk said. It will not be before 1st April.

Mr. Budgen

By leave of the House, I want to raise one point that the right hon. Gentleman did not answer.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Has the hon. Gentleman spoken on this amendment?

Mr. Budgen

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Once is enough.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I regret that the Minister was not prepared to give way to me, because there is one point on which I should like clarification. He clearly said that a number of local authorities were in a position to present their schemes to the Department. Is he implying that certain officers of local authorities have indicated to him that they have given some thought to schemes, or that those schemes have passed through committees and are therefore council policy?

If the right hon. Gentleman is saying the latter, I do not believe there is very much behind what he says because, if one has followed the Press and local authority meetings, one finds that there has been little or no mention of these LAMS. If that is the case, the right hon. Gentleman is sadly misleading the House, because I do not believe that many elected members of local authorities have considered these LAMS, which are so important and must be submitted to the Department by the end of the year.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will comment on this aspect. Having been in local government for a number of years, I am aware of the procedures of local authorities. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether the schemes he has mentioned with some local authorities say they are in a position to send have been considered by the elected members? Does not the right hon. Gentleman intend to answer me?

Hon. Members


3.15 a.m.

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman is getting a little tetchy. I do not blame him. He has been out of bed for three hours or so. I was proposing to get up, but it so happens that I have a bad leg and it takes me a little longer to get up than it takes him to do so. Hon. Members opposite know that to be so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Very well, in that case I do not answer.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)


Mr. Durant

There is an important point, I feel, that perhaps has not been covered. We have heard from the Minister that a number of local authorities have prepared land acquisition and management schemes. If this Bill does not become an Act, who will have to make good the money that may have been spent in making the preparations for these schemes?

Mr. Ridley

Would my hon. Friend not agree that if money has been spent in bringing forward these schemes and the Bill does not become an Act—it is very likely that it will not—somebody will be surcharged if the district auditor gets on to it? This is a very good reason for a council never spending money on the preparation of a scheme until a Bill has become an Act of Parliament. It would seem to me that only the very improvident councils will have done anything at all.

Mr. Durant

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. What also slightly worries me on this same aspect is that it is a very serious matter in local government when the district auditor comes in. We have had instances of this type of action and it is something that this House should deprecate.

Mr. Fairbairn

Whether or not the Bill becomes law, the expenditure of funds on the preparation of such a scheme by any local authority would be without authority. The district auditor should surcharge any such authority regardless of whether the Bill becomes law, because money would have been spent without legislative authority.

Mr. Durant

That may be so. A local authority will have stopped doing other things in order to be busy preparing a land acquisition and management scheme. With all the officers busy doing this work, the normal planning applications would have to be put on one side.

Mr. Budgen

It may be that the Government now believe that retrospective legislation should be the norm rather than the exception.

Mr. Durant

I do not wish to enter into that controversy. This is a serious matter. There has been an inference by the Minister that many local authorities—even right-wing Conservative local authorities—have been preparing land acquisition and management schemes at public expense. This concerns me, because I do not believe that it should be happening.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

We are getting into something of a muddle. We are now faced with a position in which numbers of local authorities have been acting illegally. Are we now to be faced with a Bill to indemnify the local authorities which have been making illegal preparations for a Bill which is not enacted? Presumably it is to be done retrospectively. Otherwise the muddle will be compounded yet again. That is the first thing that strikes me as being unclear. We should have an explanation before we allow our deliberations to go any further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) made a perfectly reasonable point. He asked the Minister a specific question, and the Minister rose and said that he thought that my hon. Friend was being tetchy.

Mr. Winterton

Not me. The Minister was being tetchy.

Mr. Hastings

The Minister then complained that it takes him some time to get up to speak because of his bad leg. We entirely sympathise with that. But he was just about to answer this clear and specific question, or so I understood, when suddenly he sat down and said that he would not say any more. Who is being tetchy?

Here we are, trying to get to the bottom of this ludicrous situation, doing our best patiently to understand what is at stake, and we have a Minister who said earlier that he had given way eight times and that was enough. It is not for him or for any other Minister to ration the number of times that he gives way on this or any other serious question. We are here to examine this legislation.

I see that the Minister looks rather less tetchy now. Perhaps we shall have his answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, less tetchiness, and a little more patience. We need time to examine this legislation. I hope that we can expect to have our questions answered fully.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I did not intend to intervene, but I have been listening for the past hour to pleas being made to the Minister to listen to arguments which have been put to him, as he admitted, in a reasonable and responsible way.

The right hon. Gentleman began to answer in a reasonable and responsible way. Then he came to the point where he said that he had had consultations with the local authorities, as was his custom and as he felt was the custom of his predecessors in the Conservative Government. He said that he felt that it was a proper responsibility on his part to have extensive consultations and he told us about his consultations with the County Councils Association and the Association of District Councils.

Tonight, we have asked the right hon. Gentleman to listen to the responsible advice resulting from consultations which Opposition Members have had, and it all seems to be asking him whether he will not give two months more. The right hon. Gentleman said that such a representation had been made to him, and he added that in confidence one of the associations had asked not for two months but for a one-month extension. It so happens that I am a vice-president of the district councils association, so I am concerned to know which of them made that request. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had dismissed this representation, just as he has dismissed the representation which was made to him by Opposition Members.

The Minister has been tetchy and less than courteous to the House. He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) was always responsible and reasonable. Unfortunately, we have had no such responsive reasonableness from the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that he was such a person. I have seen him in his office, and I have always felt that he was such a person. But tonight he is letting down himself and his whole Government in the utterly intractable position that he is adopting.

I have not heard a single loose speech in this debate. It has all been constructive argument. We have not asked him for another year. He said that in Committee he had been asked for another year. Tonight, he has been asked for two months. He has turned down our request. He has not even bothered to answer the request for one month.

Mr. Graham Page

Perhaps I can suggest why the Minister has not answered. It has been said that local government has been spending this money wrongly, but it will get complete compensation from the Exchequer. We have been constantly assured that local authorities will not expend a penny—they will get all the money back. Will this be paid out from the Exchequer in compensation for something which has been paid out illegally under the Bill?

Mr. Crouch

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I shall finish my speech so that the Minister can answer the question.

Mr. Hastings

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) pointed out that when he went to see the Minister in his office he found him more patient and reasonable.

Mr. Ridley

That is the best place for him.

Mr. Hastings

As my hon. Friend says, that is the best place for him. However, if that is so, would it not be in our general interest to adjoin now and all go to see the Minister in his office?

Mr. Crouch

I am being awakened by the remarks of my hon. Friend, but I do not want to see the Minister in his office. I want the Minister to give us an answer now. He has dismissed all the pleas from the back benches. He has completely ignored the arguments put to him from the Front Benches and he has let us down at the middle stage of our debate. I am very disappointed in his performance tonight. I hope that he will now seek an opportunity, by leave of the House, to answer the questions which have been put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page).

Mr. Peyton

I certainly had no intention of addressing the House tonight. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Government Front Bench may laugh their heads off. We have time and they look good and sound better that way.

I do not want to make a long speech, but I invite the Minister to rise to his feet. I know that we all can get rather irritated at this late hour, and he must be very tired having borne the burden of this horrid Bill for so long. He must long to shed the weight of it from his shoulders. However, I hope that he now feels that the time has come when he would be well advised to get to his feet and answer the points put to him by my hon. Friends, and especially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who put his question very quietly and temperately.

I hope that I can tempt the Minister, who is now revealing more of his normal characteristic good nature, mirth and cordiality, to rise to his feet and deal with these points. If he does not do so the time may come when I shall ask your leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to move a dilatory motion in order that my hon. and right hon. Friends may have an opportunity to discuss whether we should continue to debate this subject at this hour, in view of the Minister's unwillingness to answer a question which has been put to him with such brevity and reasonableness.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider his attitude and now rise to his feet. Failing that, I should like to give notice that it will be my intention to seek your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to move a motion to adjourn the House.

Hon. Members


3.30 a.m.

Mr. Cormack

If the Minister is suffering from some infirmity of the legs perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would allow him to address us sitting down? All we want is an answer. The Minister is well known for his geniality. It is lovely to see him beaming again and recovered from that fit of tetchiness which alarmed us all. He quoted Macbeth. We should like to say, "Out, damned Bill! out, I say!"

Mr. Hastings

And Out, damned spot! out, I say!

Mr. Cormack

Yes, that too. We should like the Minister to address us from a "recumbent posture", like Albert and the Lion, if he cannot stand at the Dispatch Box. One is tempted to think that he is so bemused by the LAMS that he remembers the biblical quotation, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth". It is about time the Minister opened his mouth because many points have been put to him forcefully, yet moderately. People are concerned for the good name of the Government of this country. One might say, "Would that we had a Governor-General."

I hope that the Minister will heed what has been said. People who are earnestly concerned, deeply troubled and have the good name of local government at heart, are looking to the Minister, as the custodian of the rights of local government, to give reasonable answers to reasonable questions. If he will not give those answers, I think that the House should adjourn until he feels able to do so.

Mr. John Silkin

It is quite a new sensation for me to receive cheers from hon. Gentlemen opposite. However, I take them as a small tribute for my introduction of the Bill and for the fact that it is moving towards Royal Assent. I am glad that they have also become converted to it.

I gather that the one point to which the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) wished me to reply was that made by the right hon. Member of Crosby (Mr. Page). Am I right?

Mr. Peyton indicated assent.

Mr. Silkin

The right hon. Member for Crosby, if I understood him correctly, asked how, if local authorities were making LAMS before the appointed day—he felt that would be illegal, though on what basis he did not say—the payments could be justified.

The right hon. Gentleman, who knows his own Local Government Act 1972— at least I hope he does—knows that anything which, in the opinion of the authority, is of advantage to the area is a justifiable expense.

I thought I had made that clear to the right hon. Gentleman—I was really talking to him at that moment—when I said that the LAMS were not due to be made until 31st December and not due to be submitted until after that date. That is why the LAMS as such have not been made now. They cannot be made until 31st December.

Mr. Graham Page

I obviously did not put my question clearly. Throughout the debates on the Bill we understood that the local authorities would be able to reclaim from the Exchequer their administrative expenses of implementing the Bill.

Mr. Silkin


Mr. Graham Page

I presumed that would cover the administrative expenses of preparing the LAMS before the Bill received Royal Assent, thereby compensating local authorities for what my hon. Friends have suggested was an illegal expenditure by them.

Mr. Silkin

It is not an illegal expenditure, as we have just established. From Royal Assent until 31st December onwards, yes. The right hon. Gentleman will probably know that Sections 161 and 267—there are probably others—of the 1972 Act would justify the expenditure. It is not illegal.

Mr. Raison

Will the right hon. Gentleman make one point clear? I understood him to say that the LAMS are not due to be made until 31st December. I cannot see the basis for that in the Bill, because it provides: The scheme shall be prepared not later than 31st December. That is a quite different matter.

Mr. Silkin

I do not think it is a different matter. Furthermore, if the hon. Gentleman looks ahead, he will see that, though they may have to be made, they do not have to be submitted to the Secretary of State at that time.

Mr. Speed

In a Written Answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) the right hon. Gentleman said: Local authorities have been advised that as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent they will be directed to open land accounts. Costs incurred in the preparation of LAMS both before and after enactment can then be charged to these accounts."—[Official Report, 5th November 1975; Vol. 899, c. 198.] I take the point about the Local Government Act. But surely this is a different point. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that they can be reimbursed centrally before and after enactment? This seems an important point.

Mr. Silkin

I made that clear. There is every reason and authority for them to do so.

Division No. 400.] AYES [3.35 a.m.
Abse, Leo Doig, Peter Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Allaun, Frank Dormand, J. D. John, Brynmor
Anderson, Donald Douglas-Mann, Bruce Johnson, James (Hull West)
Archer, Peter Dunn, James A. Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Armstrong. Ernest Dunnett, Jack Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Ashley, Jack Eadie, Alex Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Ashton, Joe Edge, Geoff Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Judd, Frank
Atkinson, Norman Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Kaufman, Gerald
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) English, Michael Kelley, Richard
Bates, Alf Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Kerr, Russell
Bean, R. E. Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Kinnock, Neil
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Lambie, David
Bishop, E. S. Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lamborn, Harry
Boardman, H. Flannery, Martin Lamond, James
Booth, Albert Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Foot, Rt Hon Michael Leadbitter, Ted
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Forrester, John Lee, John
Brown, Hugh D (Provan) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Lever, Rt Hon Harold
Buchan, Norman Freeson, Reginald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Buchanan, Richard Garrett, John (Norwich S) Litterick, Tom
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Loyden, Eddie
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) George, Bruce Luard, Evan
Campbell, Ian Ginsburg, David Lyon, Alexander (York)
Canavan, Dennis Golding, John Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Cant, R. B. Gould, Bryan Mabon, Dr J. Dickson
Carmichael, Neil Gourlay, Harry McCartney, Hugh
Carter, Ray Graham, Ted McElhone, Frank
Carter-Jones, Lewis Grant, George (Morpeth) MacFarquhar, Roderick
Cartwright, John Grant, John (Islington C) McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Clemitson, Ivor Grocott, Bruce Mackenzie, Gregor
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mackintosh, John P.
Coleman, Donald Hardy, Peter Maclennan, Robert
Concannon, J. D. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Conlan, Bernard Hart, Rt Hon Judith Madden, Max
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Hatton, Frank Magee, Bryan
Corbett, Robin Hayman, Mrs Helens Mahon, Simon
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Crawshaw, Richard Heffer, Eric S. Marks, Kenneth
Cronin, John Hooley, Frank Marquand, David
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Horam, John Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Cryer, Bob Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Maynard, Miss Joan
Cunningham, Dr J (Whitech) Huckfield, Les Meacher, Michael
Davidson, Arthur Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mikardo, Ian
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Millan, Bruce
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hunter, Adam Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Deakins, Eric Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Molloy, William
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Moonman, Eric
Delargy, Hugh Janner, Greville Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Dempsey, James Jeger, Mrs Lena Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Would the Minister answer my point about whether the schemes which he has suggested are available for submission to his Department have been considered by the elected members of the councils concerned?

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman will have to learn a little patience. As we come to 31st December, he will find that I was right and he was wrong.

Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 261, Noes 248.

Moyle, Roland Sandelson, Neville Tuck, Raphael
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Sedgemore, Brian Urwin, T. W.
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Selby, Harry Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Newens, Stanley Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Noble, Mike Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Oakes, Gordon Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ogden, Eric Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
O'Halloran, Michael Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Ward, Michael
O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Watkins, David
Orbach, Maurice Sillars, James Watkinson, John
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Silverman, Julius Weetch, Ken
Ovenden, John Small, William Wellbeloved, James
Owen, Dr David Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Palmer, Arthur Spearing, Nigel White, James (Pollok)
Park, George Spriggs, Leslie Whitehead, Phillip
Parker, John Stallard, A. W. Whitlock, William
Parry, Robert Stoddart David Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Pavitt, Laurie Stott, Roger Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Strang, Gavin Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Price, William (Rugby) Strauss, Rt Hon G. R. Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Radice, Giles Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Richardson, Miss Jo Swain, Thomas Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton W) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Robertson, John (Paisley) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Woodall, Alec
Roderick, Caerwyn Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Woof, Robert
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Tierney, Sydney Young, David (Bolton E)
Rooker, J. W. Tinn, James
Roper, John Tomlinson, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Rose, Paul B. Tomney, Frank Mr. Joseph Harper and
Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Torney, Tom Mr. Thomas Cox.
Rowlands, Ted
Adley, Robert Drayson, Burnaby Higgins, Terence L.
Aitken, Jonathan du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Holland, Philip
Alison, Michael Dunlop, John Hooson, Emlyn
Arnold, Tom Durant, Tony Hordern, Peter
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Awdry, Daniel Elliott, Sir William Howell, David (Guildford)
Baker, Kenneth Emery, Peter Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Banks, Robert Eyre, Reginald Hunt, John
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Fairbairn, Nicholas Hurd, Douglas
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Fairgrieve, Russell Hutchison, Michael Clark
Benyon, W. Fell, Anthony Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Berry, Hon Anthony Fisher, Sir Nigel Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Biffen, John Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Jenkin, Rt Hn P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Biggs-Davison, John Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)
Blaker, Peter Fookes, Miss Janet Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Body, Richard Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fox, Marcus Jopling, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Freud, Clement Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Fry. Peter Kaberry, Sir Donald
Boyson, Dr Rhodes(Brent) Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Kershaw, Anthony
Braine, Sir Bernard Gardiner, George (Reigate) Kimball, Marcus
Brittan, Leon Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) King, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Brotherton, Michael Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Glyn, Dr Alan Kitson, Sir Timothy
Bryan, Sir Paul Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Knight, Mrs Jill
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Goodhart, Philip Knox, David
Buck, Antony Goodhew, Victor Lamont, Norman
Budgen, Nick Goodlad, Alastair Langford-Holt, Sir John
Bulmer, Esmond Gorst, John Latham, Michael (Melton)
Burden, F. A. Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Lawrence, Ivan
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Lawson, Nigel
Carlisle, Mark Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Le Marchant, Spencer
Carson, John Gray, Hamish Loveridge, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Grieve, Percy Luce, Richard
Channon, Paul Griffiths, Eldon McAdden, Sir Stephen
Churchill, W. S. Grist, Ian McCrindle, Robert
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Grylls, Michael McCusker, H.
Clark, William (Croydon S) Hall, Sir John Macfarlane, Neil
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. MacGregor, John
Clegg, Walter Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Cockcroft, John Hampson, Dr Keith McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Hannam, John McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Cope, John Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Madel, David
Cormack, Patrick Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon. Miss Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Costain, A. P. Hastings, Stephen Marten, Neil
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Havers, Sir Michael Mates, Michael
Crouch, David Hawkins, Paul Mather, Carol
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hayhoe, Barney Maude, Angus
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Heseltine, Michael Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hicks, Robert Mawby, Ray
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Raison, Timothy Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Mayhew, Patrick Rathbone, Tim Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Meyer, Sir Anthony Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Mills, Peter Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Stokes, John
Miscampbell, Norman Rees-Davies, W. R. Stradling Thomas, J.
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Tapsell, Peter
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Moate, Roger Ridley, Hon Nicholas Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Molyneaux, James Ridsdale. Julian Tebbit, Norman
Monro, Hector Rifkind, Malcolm Temple-Morris, Peter
Montgomery, Fergus Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, NW) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Moore, John (Croydon C) Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Townsend, Cyril D.
Morgan, Geraint Ross, William (Londonderry) Trotter, Neville
Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Tugendhat, Christopher
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Royle, Sir Anthony Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Mudd, David Sainsbury, Tim Viggers, Peter
Neave, Airey St. John-Stevas, Norman Wakeham, John
Neubert, Michael Scott, Nicholas Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Newton, Tony Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Nott, John Shelton, William (Streatham) Wall, Patrick
Onslow, Cranley Shepherd, Colin Walters, Dennis
Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Sims, Roger Weatherill, Bernard
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Sinclair, Sir George Wells, John
Pardoe, John Skeet, T. H. H. Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Pattie, Geoffrey Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Wiggin, Jerry
Penhaligon, David Speed, Keith Winterton, Nicholas
Percival, Ian Spence, John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Peyton, Rt Hon John Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Younger, Hon George
Pink, R. Bonner Sproat, Iain
Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Stainton, Keith TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Price, David (Eastleigh) Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. Cecil Parkinson and
Prior, Rt Hon James Stanley, John Mr. Fred Silvester.
Pym, Rt Hon Francis

Question accordingly agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments disagreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment disagreed to.

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