§ Mr. John Silkin
I beg to move Amendment No. 231, in page 38, line 26, leave out:'an authority, a local authority in Wales'and insert:'a local or new town authority, the Land Authority for Wales, the Peak Park Joint or Lake District Special Planning Board, a joint board established under section 2 of this Act'.The purpose of this amendment is to remove a small discrepancy in Clause 42. The exclusion of special parliamentary procedure effected by this clause is intended to apply to the exercise of all compulsory purchase powers by the bodies specified in subsection (l)(b).
This paragraph uses the term "an authority" and by virtue of Clause 1(8), authorities as defined in Clause 1 are empowered to acquire only development land within their areas. The modification to special parliamentary procedure is intended to apply where a compulsory purchase order is made in respect of any land either within or outside the area of an authority.
In paragraph (b) it correctly does so only for local authorities in Wales, which are not land scheme authorities, and for statutory undertakers and Ministers.
To cure this defect, the amendment spells out by name the bodies which are authorities, in addition to any statutory undertakers or a Minister. The reference to a local authority in Wales is subsumed in "a local authority".
§ Amendment agreed to.1243
§ Amendment made: No. 232, in page 38, line 31, after 'the', insert 'Scottish',—[Mr. John Silkin.]
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I beg to move Amendment No. 233, in page 38, line 33, at end insert '(i)'.
§ No. 234, in page 38, line 34, after to', insert '(i)'.
No. 235, in page 38, line 35, at end insert:
No. 236, in page 38, line 35, at end insert:
(3) Paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to the Act of 1946 shall not apply to any interest belonging to a parish council or parish trustees in England or to a community council in Wales if:—
§ Mr. Winterton
In moving this amendment, I am pleased to declare an interest in that I am an honorary vice-president of the National Association of Local Councils and have much sympathy with the points which they are putting to the Government in order to protect their position.
In its existing form, Clause 42 exposes parish and community council property to compulsory purchase orders under many enactments. I have a list of 29 here. I will not delay the House by reading them out because I am sure that the Minister is only too well aware of them. It has hitherto always been considered that, as public authorities, community and parish councils should have parliamentary protection against such treatment, and that is why I am putting these amendments to the House. There is great disquiet among the 8,000 local councils and the voluntary and charitable bodies with which they deal about the potential threat of expropriation that still seems to hang over the properties they administer. I must emphasise that they administer these properties on behalf of the public.
I share the view of the council of the NALC who cannot believe that such an intention forms part of the Government's policy. I hope that, in replying, the Minister will give good reasons why he feels the fears now being expressed so widely are groundless. The House has a right to be disturbed about these matters. Governments change and so do the policies of Governments in power. The Minister who replies to this debate may give us assurances, but another Minister in a future Government may not feel bound by them. The policy of the Welsh Office in relation to the transfer of community property in Wales has been far less liberal than that of its English counterpart. The urban districts and boroughs in Wales 1245 have lost the most property, and what can happen in one part of the United Kingdom can surely happen in another.
This is not a trivial matter. The individual parish and communities may be small, but collectively they cover 80 per cent. of the area of this country and contain 11 million people.
I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind in his reply. These councils cover tens of thousands of acres of land and are very important to local people. I am delighted to be associated with the NALC, which is a grassroots body administering properties extremely efficiently on behalf of the public. I know the amendments are supported by at least one hon. Member opposite and I hope that in his reply the Minister can say something to remove the fears and doubts currently held by the NALC.
§ Mr. John Silkin
Both the nature of the proposed amendments and the very moderate and extremely lucid way in which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) spoke to them show that there is a certain amount of anxiety which needs to be considered and I am glad that the opportunity has arisen to consider it in this House. It is the loss of the opportunity to petition Parliament against compulsory purchase orders which alarms local councils the most. Every hon. Member will understand their proposed amendments to this Bill and the fact that they are motivated by the feeling that they can no longer look to Parliament for a final decision on compulsory purchase orders on their land.
This matter cannot be lightly cast aside and the hon. Gentleman was right to bring it to our attention. The approach of the amendments is much respected. They are recognised as being aimed at restoring to parish councils, and on a formal basis, some of the protection lost by the general exclusion of the special parliamentary procedure.
At the same time, however, it has to be recognised that the county and district councils, among the other land scheme authorities, have been specifically charged with the responsibility of acquiring land for development and, furthermore, that the abolition of the special parliamentary procedure applies also to transactions among those authorities. There is also the inference that the hon. Gentleman 1246 mentioned. He pointed out that either the Secretary of State or those of his Ministers concerned with him would be free from bias but that there might be some bias on the part of the successor to the present Secretary of State and that he might not be quite unbiassed, that he might reach a judgment in favour of a land scheme authority and at the expense perhaps of the right answer in that case.
There is also the main practical consideration, that the requirements of paragraphs (b) and (c) of the main amendment involve certification machinery with implications for argument over whether exchange land was necessary and whether the acquiring authority had done all it could to acquire other land and so on.
If I am to be as negative as that, I must be positive also, since I have said that I approve of the hon. Gentleman's approach and understand the reasons for it. The better course is that the Government should state clearly their attitude towards compulsory acquisition of local councils' land under the community land scheme. This is that the Government will not accept CPOs for such land to be confirmed unless there are good planning reasons for doing so which override the reasons for which the local council wishes to retain the land. The attention of the land scheme authorities, I can promise the hon. Gentleman, will be drawn to this policy in an appropriate circular of guidance.
Finally, I hope that the relationship between the land scheme authorities and the local communities will be one of cooperation. I hope that the question of compulsory purchase never arises. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—he will understand it, perhaps—that there is no more painful prospect for a Minister than to have to decide between the claims of two competing local authorities. With those assurances, I hope that he will seek to withdraw the amendment. They are sincerely given and I hope that they will give some comfort to the local councils.
§ Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)
As my name is associated with some of the amendments, perhaps I might say how much I appreciate the sympathetic way in which the Minister has dealt with them. There is just one point on which I should be grateful for further clarification.
The special parliamentary procedure is now available as protection for local 1247 councils in respect of compulsory purchase orders under a large number of enactments. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) referred to 29, and there are probably more. Will that procedure in relation to those enactments be affected by the Bill or does the exclusion of the special parliamentary procedure, which is referred to in Clause 42(2), apply simply to compulsory purchase orders which might be made within the implementation of the Bill alone, so that that procedure as it has applied a to this date will continue for local councils in respect of all other enactments?
After all, the special parliamentary procedure will be continued, even under the Bill, in respect of the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland, and I am sure there is general agreement that that should be the case. Whether it ought to be extended to local councils under the Bill is the subject of the debate, but I should like an assurance that the special parliamentary procedure protection for local councils in respect of compulsory purchase orders under other enactments is not affected by this measure.
§ Mr. John Silkin
It is true that the special parliamentary procedure will be removed for acquisitions under any enactment, but it will remain—and these are important exceptions—for commons, for village greens and for recreational ground.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation, because I was concerned about the same point. Both the problem itself and the sympathy with which the right hon. Gentleman has looked at it tonight are matters of concern by hon. Members of all parties. I, too, am a vice-president of the National Association of Local Councils, and I am a former parish councillor.
The right hon. Gentleman must understand the deep concern—and it has been strengthened after the period of local government reorganisation—among local councils about their relationship with other authorities over matters of property, and the kind of clear guidance which the right hon. Gentleman has offered to give will be necessary because this has been an uneasy period.
Reorganisation has brought about changes in local government status. Previously, 1248 borough councils and urban district councils enjoyed complete control over their property but they now find themselves in districts with which they are, on some occasions, in dispute over property matters. It is not easy for these two levels to act entirely without suspicion that one is working against the interests of the other.
Many of the market towns are concerned that district councils may be so far away from them as not to appreciate the facilities of their community and may consider their area to be an ideal place for development. It is essential for these towns to keep the facilities which they manage efficiently and economically. No Minister envies the job of being the judge between local authorities in this situation, but it is a job which the right hon. Gentleman has given himself in some respects by the procedure provided by the Bill.
I hope that clear guidance will be sufficient, but it must be seen to run through not only this legislation but other measures and other decisions that the Department recognises that local councils are not, if they were ever so considered, some minor partners in the local government system but are the essential form of local government for substantial communities and that this is of the greatest importance to those citizens.
§ Mr. Winterton
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the trouble that he has taken to reply to the amendments which, by the standards of what we have been discussing, may be considered by some to be trivial but these matters are important to the National Association of Local Councils and to millions of people who live within parish communities.
I am sure I glean from what the right hon. Gentleman said that he appreciates that parish and community councils administer their scattered property efficiently and, in addition, do it far more effectively and at a much lower cost than it is done by "big brother" local authorities, whether they be borough or county councils.
In view of the firm assurances which the Minister has given and the guidelines which he has said he will communicate to local authorities, beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.