HC Deb 14 October 1975 vol 897 cc1142-60
Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

I beg to move Amendment No. 143, in page 71, line 9 leave out "five" and insert "ten".

Mr. Speaker

With the amendment we may take Amendment No. 144, in line 9 at end insert: and in the case of agricultural land 10 years

Mr. Sainsbury

The two amendments, which are closely related, are not to be confused with the point we have just been discussing concerning the period ahead for which authorities might acquire land and whether it should be five or 10 years. We are concerned with the length of time during which an authority loses its right to acquire land under the Act, subsequent to it deciding not to acquire under the procedures set out in the schedule. When this matter was debated in Committee the Minister with characteristic frankness said: I was unprepared for a specialised agricultural point".—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 26th June 1975; c. 1911.] He undertook to have another look at the matter.

I should like to deal first with the agricultural point because this concerns the lesser area. There is, of course, the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) dealing with the relationship of 10 years to the period required by a farmer if he is to receive a Ministry of Agriculture grant in connection with improvements to his land. One is identifying here the special case of the normal land owner's or property owner's approach to good estate managements.

In agriculture one is concerned with good husbandry. I am sure the Minister will agree that this requires, especially in agriculture, and also I suspect in horticulture, that one looks a long way ahead. Five years is not long enough in the context of agriculture, especially concerning grants. Nor, in my submission, is it anything like long enough when it comes to good estate management of developed property, apart from the obvious point that very few items that can be installed in industrial or commercial properties depreciate over a shorter period than five years. If one is concerned with improving a heating system, putting in better insulation and other aspects of estate management, which are almost routine but which can involve heavy expenditure, they would normally be written-off over a period of 10 years and sometimes longer. A considerable amount of the type of maintenance with which property owners are concerned is intended to last for a longer period than five years.

I submit that we should look to the first amendment which would give a 10-year exemption for all classes of property. I only add that I do not believe that the Bill, or the authorities, would lose very much if this were to be accepted. After all, the substantial powers of acquisition already invested in local authorities, going back to the 1947 Act and repeated in all the subsequent Acts, would still exist. If it could be shown to be necessary and subject to the Secretary of State's approval, an authority could come back to acquire within that period.

I hope that the Government will see fit to accept preferably Amendment No. 143 and at least Amendment No. 144.

Mr. Harry Ewing

As the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) has rightly said, these are alternative amendments. The effect of Amendment No. 143 would be that when an authority abandons its power to purchase land in accordance with paragraph (1) of Schedule 6, it should lose its powers of compulsory purchase under the Bill in respect of that land for a period of 10 years, instead of for five years as the Bill, at present, provides. Amendment No. 144 would also extend the loss of powers for 10 years, but in this instance in respect of only agricultural land.

I should explain that there are three circumstances in which an authority loses its powers of compulsory purchase under the Bill. The first is when it states under paragraphs (4) or (5) of the schedule that it does not intend to acquire the land, or fails to serve a notice within the time laid down or subsequently with- draws an earlier notice of intention to acquire.

The second is when, having stated an intention to acquire, it fails to acquire the land or to make a compulsory purchase order within 12 months.

The third is where, a compulsory purchase order having been made and confirmed, the authority fails to serve a notice to treat in the time permitted.

The Bill provides that the loss of compulsory purchase powers in these circumstances should last for five years and it is this period which the amendments seek to extend to 10 years.

The reason for providing for the loss of powers is to enable owners and developers to have certainty that once the authority has decided not to acquire the land they will be able to implement the planning permission and get on with their development without fear of acquisition.

The period of five years is thought to be ample even in the case of a major project to enable development to get under way. Indeed, if it were not started by the end of that period the planning permission would generally lapse in any case by virtue of Section 41 of the 1971 Act.

Mr. Sainsbury

Has the hon. Gentleman taken into account phased developments, which are very common, in which the first phase would normally take two or three years, the second phase longer and then the third phase? The difficulty is knowing whether one can undertake phases, which would be another aspect of the period.

Mr. Ewing

Yes, we have taken account of phased developments. Even in the case of phased developments there can be no argument that the development is at least thought out to its ultimate conclusion. The doubt, as the hon. Member for Hove has pointed out, is whether each phase can be developed in the time envisaged. Therefore, even with a phased development there is no question but that the phasing is part of a comprehensive development plan, and that has been taken into consideration in the provisions of the Bill.

As I said earlier, the Opposition put down a similar amendment to Amendment No. 143 in Committee, and in moving it the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) explained that his concern was in respect of agricultural land. I believe that the hon. Gentleman would agree that he argued that in these cases a period of five years was too short as, first, it would exclude a farmer from receiving agricultural grants and, secondly, it would deter a landlord from reinvesting in the farm concerned. We promised to look at this point, and that promise is recorded in the proceedings.

However, the argument of the hon. Member for Buckingham overlooks the point that the schedule is concerned with cases on which planning permission for relevant development has been granted. There is, therefore, a presumption that development is to take place anyway, and take place within five years, for at the end of that period the planning permission will lapse. Where the machinery in Schedule 6 is operating the question of a farmer's investment plans would simply not arise. But there would, of course, be nothing to stop a farmer from carrying out his short-term plans to keep the farm in production if, having got an unsuspended permission, he did not wish to sell the land or develop it immediately. In that case, he would be secure in the knowledge that the authority could not step in for at least five years.

I believe that I have said sufficient to convince the House that these amendments should be resisted.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 304, in page 72, column 2, line 2, leave out from beginning to 'unless' in line 7 and insert 'The expiration of a period of twelve months beginning with the date on which the compulsory purchase order becomes operative'. Paragraph 1(3) of the schedule at present provides that where an authority has made a compulsory purchase order it will be regarded as abandoning its power to purchase the land—that is, it will lose its powers of compulsory acquisition under the Bill for a period of five years—if it has not served notice to treat within three years of the compulsory purchase order becoming operative.

4.0 p.m.

In Committee the Opposition moved certain amendments directed towards reducing the time, in particular from three years to 12 months. My hon. Friend rightly explained that there was a great deal to be done between the making of a CPO and the completion of acquisition and that 12 months was an extremely limited period. We gave no undertaking to the Opposition, as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) knows, but we have re-examined the matter in the light of the arguments that he put forward at that time. We believe that it can be done. This amendment therefore reduces the period from three years to 12 months.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for looking at the matter again. I recall the debate that we had on this matter in Committee when we gave examples of experiences which my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and I had when we were in Government. We found to our dismay and horror that many local authorities served compulsory purchase orders and then delayed a great deal before proceeding with notices to treat. When we occupied ministerial chairs we felt that that was inequitable and wrong, and we did our best to correct the situation.

We thought it only right when we saw the opportunity in legislation, as we see here, to put upon local authorities an obligation to proceed rapidly after having made compulsory purchase orders. Although arguments in Committee were resisted, we are glad that there have been second thoughts, that our arguments have now been accepted, and that the amendment is to be made.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 340, in page 72, column 2, line 9, at end insert 'outstanding'.

This is a purely drafting amendment which is consequential on a series of amendments made in Committee which introduced the concept of outstanding interest.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 147, in page 72, line 23, at end insert— '(6) Where in respect of any land notice is served by an authority of its intention to purchase that land under the provisions of this Schedule and the first step towards the acquisition of the land has not been taken the provision of Part IX of the Act of 1971 shall apply to such land as if the land were included within one of the classes of land specified in section 192(1) of that Act'.

Mr. Speaker

I gather that with this amendment it will be convenient to take Government Amendments Nos. 311, 331, 332, 335 and 336.

Mr. Rossi

Schedule 6 is concerned with the procedures relating to the making of compulsory purchase orders and, as we have already seen, the timetables under which local authorities should act. If they do not act within the timetables specified, they will lose their right for a period of years to proceed with the public acquisition of the land in question.

Amendment No. 147 seeks to add a further sub-paragraph to Schedule 6, the effect of which will be to enable an owner of land to serve a blight notice under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 where the local authority has served a notice under the provisions of the Community Land Act of its intention to purchase the owner's land.

Part IX of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, which is referred to in the amendment, enables the owner of property to serve a notice upon the local authority when he feels that he is unable to have beneficial use of his land, to sell it, or to do what is usual with land because of the acts of the local authority.

The acts of the local authority are specified in Section 192 of the 1971 Act. That sets out a list of circumstances in which it is right for the owner of land to serve a notice on a local authority. The kind of consideration which arises is where the land has been indicated in a structure plan as possibly being required by a public authority for the purposes of that public authority—for example, where it is adjacent to the line of a highway to be constructed. Acts by a local authority which have the effect of blighting an owner's land entitle the owner under the 1971 Act to serve a notice on the local authority, the effect of which would be to oblige that local authority to buy the blighted land from the owner in question.

The amendment seeks to add to the list of circumstances in which a blight notice can be served under the 1971 Act activities by local authorities under the Community Land Act. Therefore, where a local authority serves a notice of intention to purchase and possibly delays—this is the consideration that we have in mind—the owner should not be prejudiced, but should be able to insist upon an early acquisition of his interest. In the terms of the amendment, we wish to add to the list in the 1971 Act service of a notice by a local authority.

I see that the Government have tabled a number of amendments of a similar kind scattered through a number of different clauses and schedules. I have not had the opportunity of studying those in depth and comparing them with the 1971 Act. Therefore, I await with eager attention the words of wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman to see whether, through his amendments, he is seeking to achieve the objective of our amendment. If so, and if he gives us the assurance that that is so, I should not wish to insist that my right hon. and hon. Friends press our amendment.

Mr. John Silkin

I gladly give that assurance. In fact, I give slightly more than that. I hope that the Opposition will agree to withdraw their amendment in view of the Government's amendments which are upon exactly the same point. The Opposition's amendment is defective because it would not apply in cases where planning permission was suspended under Clause 23 as suspension there does not depend on the service of a notice of intention to purchase. Therefore, it would provide less protection to the owner-occupier than the Opposition would wish. By contrast, the Government's amendments have been drafted to cover all suspended permissions.

I hope that, with that assurance, the hon. Gentleman will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said. Blight is one of the greatest evils of planning permission and one of the most difficult things to put right. Any step towards rectifying that situation is to be welcomed.

Mr. Rossi

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's observations, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 148, in page 72, line 25, at end insert 'or section 22'.

No. 149, in page 72, leave out lines 27 to 33.

No. 150, in page 73, line 4, leave out 'and (2)(b).'.

No. 151, in page 73, line 15, leave out 'bound by an election (as defined in section 21 of this Act)'.

No. 152, in page 73, line 17, leave out 'the election' and insert 'an election under section 21 of this Act'.—[Mr. John Silkin.]

Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move Amendment No. 305, in page 73, line 20, after 'paragraph' insert shall be in the prescribed form and'.

Mr. Speaker

With this amendment it will be convenient to discuss Government Amendments Nos. 306, 307, 312 and 315.

Mr. Silkin

I do not think that it will have escaped the attention of the House that Amendments Nos. 306, 307, 312 and 315 are in exactly the same wording as Amendment No. 305.

It has always been the intention that there should be uniformity for virtually all forms and notices which are designed to meet the Bill's procedures. If, however, the standard form were simply prescribed, which was what happened under Clause 55(1), there would be no obligation on the part of those giving notice to use the prescribed form. This could result in a wide variety of forms being used for the same purpose, which would hinder efficient handling by authorities and the public alike. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure not only that the form is prescribed, but that there is an obligation to use it in all cases for which it is necessary. I hope the House will welcome this clear, logical and simple addition to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 153, in page 73, line 21, leave out 'on the authority'.

No. 306, in page 73, line 38, after 'paragraph' insert 'shall be in the prescribed form and'.

No. 307, in page 74, line 28, after 'paragraph' insert 'shall be in the prescribed form and'.

No. 154, in page 74, line 29, leave out 'may be' and insert 'practicable'.——[Mr. John Silkin.]

Mr. Clegg

I beg to move Amendment No. 155, in page 74, line 29, at end insert— '(3) Where an authority after serving under the preceding provisions of this Part of this Schedule notice of intention to acquire the land decides not to acquire the land, the owner of a material interest in the land shall be entitled to compensation from that authority in respect of any actual financial loss suffered by him by reason of any proposed private development of the land being delayed through the actions of the authority'. Schedule 6 allows an authority which has served a notice saying that it intended to acquire land to change its mind and decide not to acquire. It allows local authorities to be fickle and thereby inconvenience the person whose land they intend to acquire. He may have all his plans rather expensively set at nothing by the vacillations of a local authority. The amendment provides that where an authority serves a notice saying that it no longer wants the land, the owner of a material interest in the land should be entitled to compensation from the authority in respect of any actual financial loss suffered by him by reason of any proposed private development of the land being delayed through the actions of the authority.

The amendment speaks for itself. It is not difficult to envisage the sort of circumstances in which it might be needed—where, for example, an offer has been made for the land or where its development has been frustrated. This is a simple amendment, and the Government Front Bench have been so forthcoming this afternoon that I hope they will not choose this amendment as the one on which to take a firm line.

Mr. John Silkin

The hon. Member puts me in a grave difficulty because I have to choose this moment not to be as forthcoming as I have been this afternoon, despite my great affection for him and the fact that all of us are anxious that there should be as little hardship as possible for owner-occupiers.

The amendment, in slightly different form, was discussed in Committee, and we told the hon. Member that we would look at it again, without commitment. We have looked at it again. On the question of delay, an owner-occupier can find himself in difficulties, especially if he needs to move before the authority is ready to acquire the land. This was the main reason for the Government putting down Amendment No. 311, which provides that, where planning permission has been suspended, the blight provisions of the 1971 Act should apply, if a blight notice succeeds, an authority will have to acquire in advance, and, to this extent, we have met the point made by the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) and the Opposition. However, the amendment goes very much further by importing an unprecedented right of compensation where land is not acquired by the authority.

Under the existing compensation code, there may be compensation for various types of loss, under the heading of disturbance. This includes such items as professional fees and the cost of removal. But there is no provision for compensation when acquisition does not proceed.

The amendment also puts us in difficulties because there is no clue about how the proposed compensation will be assessed or determined. I was a little surprised at this because the hon. Member comes from the same magnificent profession as myself. As he knows, development can be delayed for a number of reasons—it might be bad weather, a shortage of supplies or labour problems. It would be no easy task to separate one factor from another in determining compensation. In addition, the hon. Member has used the term "actual financial loss", but has not defined it. It could be interpreted as including a whole range of losses for which there is no provision in the existing compensation code.

I have tried to be forthcoming this afternoon and we have met a good deal of the point of this amendment in our own Amendment No. 311. I beg the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment negatived.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Michael Morris

I beg to move Amendment No. 156, in page 75, line 36, after second 'a', insert 'substantial'.

We are still dealing with Schedule 6 and the conditions on which a local authority may wish to proceed. Thinking again on this matter, the Opposition's view is that there would be some merit from the safeguard point of view in adding the word "substantial" in terms of the failure to comply. It makes the position a little more definitive.

Mr. John Silkin

I shall have to deal with this amendment at a little more length than did the hon. Member, but I am afraid I see no alternative. In considering the amendment, it is important to bear in mind that the breach of a condition imposed on a notice of intention not to acquire leads to a revival of the powers of the authority which it abandoned when serving the notice, but it does not mean that the authority necessarily has to exercise those powers.

The planning permission remains unsuspended, so the position is merely the same as it is now where a wide range of compulsory powers are available. It is likely that where there has been a substantial failure to comply with the conditions—for example a deliberate attempt to evade an important condition—the authority would seek to exercise its revised powers of compulsory purchase, but where the breach was relatively trivial it would no doubt be content to take no such action. The flexibility sought by the Opposition in putting forward this amendment already exists.

However, breach of a condition is an important matter, and it is reasonable to expect a developer who has received a conditional notice to see that he complies with the conditions. If he can see that it is likely that he will not be able to comply with the condition—for example, because a time limit is running out—he ought to go to the authority in good time with a request for a relaxation of the condition.

Otherwise, a developer could deliberately start development which was not in accordance with the original planning permission and then seek a relaxation of the condition, substituting a different planning permission. This might provide a means of getting "legitimised" development in accordance with a non-authorised permission while avoiding the danger that the land would be acquired following the revival of powers.

While I fully understand the spirit in which the hon. Member believes local authorities should act—and the Secretary of State would also take that view—we feel that the amendment ought to be resisted.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 157, in page 76, line 6, after 'land', insert: 'covered by the planning permission or to which the planning application relates'. We are dealing here with paragraph (9) of Schedule 6, which relates to the service of notices relating only to parts of land. The paragraph envisages the situation where a local authority may not wish to acquire the whole of a piece of land to which the provisions of this Act apply.

The Bill as it stands enables the authority to serve a notice stating that it does not intend to acquire part of the land, and shall accompany that notice, or have it accompanied, with a plan showing the area of land to which the notice relates. In Committee we felt that the wording of the paragraph was far too wide, because it might enable the authority to act in respect of land which was not strictly within the terms of reference of the land scheme because it might not have been the subject matter of a planning permission or a planning application.

Therefore, the amendment seeks to add to that part of the paragraph that deals with the services of notices on parts of land that the authority does not intend to acquire qualifying words to make sure that the notice relates to land in respect of which there has been a planning application or in respect of which a planning permission has been granted, so that the owner knows exactly when he is at risk, and that acquisition should not apply in respect of a whole area of land for only part of which he may have applied for planning permission which has become suspended under the Bill.

Mr. John Silkin

One is bound to have a deal of sympathy with an amendment such as this. It is basically a drafting amendment to make matters, as the hon. Gentleman will hope, somewhat clearer. It is in no spirit of deliberate opposition that I say this, but I do ask why the Opposition want to insert these words just in this one place, when there are many other examples in the Bill. Para- graph 9 makes it clear that such notices may refer to parts of the land only. It does not, however, qualify what "the land" is—and neither is the expression qualified in a number of other places where it appears in Part II of the schedule—because this is made clear at the beginning of Part II, where reference is specifically made to the land to which the planning permission relates in paragraphs 4 and 5. It is not, therefore, necessary to repeat these words in paragraph 9 or anywhere else.

As I have said previously, it is not a good idea, even when one feels that the words will make no great difference to the Bill, to introduce words which are legally unnecessary. All that happens is that the court says "There must be some other meaning", and begins to interpret the words. So, with the greatest respect, and because I believe that we have covered this point adequately, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 158, in page 76, line 14, leave out 'may be' and insert 'practicable'.—[Mr John Silkin.]

Mr. Harry Ewing

I beg to move Amendment No. 159, in page 76, line 17, leave out 'a' and insert: 'where such a notice has been served, a subsequent'. This is a drafting amendment to make it clear that the notice referred to in Schedule 6, paragraph 10(1)(b), is a "withdrawal" notice—that is, one which authorities are required to serve if, after having served a notice of intention to acquire land, they change their minds and decide not to seek to acquire.

Paragraph 10(1)(b) as drafted is slightly ambiguous. It might be interpreted as referring to an original notice of intention to acquire the land, where it is intended to refer only to a notice cancelling an early notice of intention to acquire. The amendment puts the situation beyond doubt by making it clear that it is the subsequent notice, stating the change of intention, to which reference is made.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 160, in page 76, line 22, leave out 'may be' and insert 'practicable'.—[Mr. John Silkin.]

Mr. Harry Ewing

I beg to move Amendment No. 161, in page 76, line 28, at end insert: '10A. As respects Scotland, paragraph 10 above shall not apply but any notice referred to in paragraph 10(1) shall be registered by the authority as soon as practicable in the register kept by them by virtue of section 31(2) of the Scottish Act of 1972 in accordance with the provisions of that section, but where the authority are not an authority responsible for keeping such a register they shall as soon as practicable send a copy of the notice to the local authority responsible for keeping the register for the area concerned, and that local authority shall register the notice accordingly.'. This new paragraph disapplies paragraph 10 of Schedule 6 for Scotland but stipulates that notices under paragraphs 4 or 5, stating that the authority intends to acquire the land, or under paragraph 6, stating that it has decided not to acquire the land, as mentioned in paragraph 10(1) shall be registered by the authority serving the notice in the planning register if it is the authority responsible for keeping that register, or, if it is not, that the authority shall as soon as practicable send a copy of the notice to the local authority responsible for keeping the register for the area concerned, and that local authority must register the notice accordingly.

This amendment makes provision for Scotland with effect as near as can be equivalent to the effect of the provision for England and Wales made in paragraph 10 of Schedule 6. The difference arises from the fact that in Scotland there is no statutory authority for the keeping of land charges registers. It is, therefore, not possible to provide for registration which will achieve a like degree of publication of notices in Scotland as is provided for in England and Wales. In order to secure the widest possible degree of formal publication of such notices in Scotland provision is made for them to be registered in the planning register.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

Having listened with care to the Minister, I am confident that he did not understand a word he read out and that he did not understand any reason for reading it out. I am equally confident that nobody who heard it—whether in the Public Gallery or on the benches of the House or, with the greatest respect, in your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker—understood it either. I doubt whether any on the benches of those whom we are not allowed to mention understood it either. Had they done so, the amendment would never have been necessary in the first place. I should like to know from the Minister what he thinks it means.

The hon. Gentleman knows that it means nothing. He did not understand it; he just read out a document from some anonymous source, about a subject he does not understand on a policy he does not represent from a Government who do not represent anybody anyway in a Bill which is idiotic, absurd, obscene, mad and wrong. [Interruption.] I do not believe that the Minister understands what the amendment means. I certainly do not understand, and I am a mere Scotsman, a mere lawyer, a mere Queen's Counsel in Scotland, so I am an idiot. I do not have the benefit of being a Queen's Counsel in England or representing an English seat or being a Socialist. If I had, all things would be known to me.

This amendment is typical of the Bill. The Minister does not understand it and it would not be necessary if his advisers did. The law of the land is the adjustment of freedoms, not the imposition of rules, and it is scandalous that Parliament passes things it does not understand to control citizens it has never seen in matters it has never experienced.

4.30 p.m.

That is what the Bill is about, and I ask the Minister, for whom I have the greatest personal respect—

Mr. Brace Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)

The hon. and learned Gentleman could have fooled me.

Mr. Fairbairn

I do not care whom I fool. Even fools I am willing to fool.

It is individuals who matter, and nothing else, and the law of the land is based on the presumption that individuals can comprehend it. I ask the Minister, or his English colleague, if I may do so without incurring the Socialist wrath, and presuming that lawyers actually do understand what laws are about—if I may make that terrible error for a moment—to explain just what this idiotic, long-winded, mythological amendment means in terms of the law of Scotland.

Mr. Harry Ewing

No Scottish Minister could fail to respond to such an eloquent invitation, and I am sure that that speech will read much better in the Perthshire Advertiser than it sounded in the House of Commons. I am sure, too, that from that contribution, which has added nothing to our debates, one can conclude that the hon. and learned Gentleman has wandered into the Chamber by mistake, as though he had lost his way. It is obvious that had he taken the trouble to study the Bill he would have known what the amendment means, and it is a bit presumptuous of him to come into the Chamber and suggest that all the hon. Members who have followed this legislation through its Second Reading, through Committee upstairs and all the debates on it, and not forgetting your good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker, cannot possibly understand it, merely because he does not understand something.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. I have only to look as though I understand the legislation.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am willing to accept from the wisest of men, who the Minister is, that he is a genius and I am an idiot, but as an idiot I want a simple answer: what does it mean?

Mr. Harry Ewing

Having got the record straight and established that the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) is an idiot and I am a genius, I shall go on to explain the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure, without looking at "Erskine May", that "idiot" is not a parliamentary expression. The hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) may have denigrated himself too much, but the Minister must not repeat it.

Mr. Ewing

I shall withdraw the remark about the hon. and learned Gentleman on his own behalf so that he does not incriminate himself.

Basically, what the amendment seeks to do—and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be most interested in this—is to ensure that when someone buys land in Scotland, or wants to buy it, he knows the purpose for which that land has been designated, and the only way in which that can be known is if the land is registered in the planning registers. We have put down the amendment to ensure that in Scotland the land will be registered in the planning registers so that when ordinary members of the public—people whom the hon. and learned Gentleman and I happen to represent—search the planning registers, as they normally do, they will see for themselves the inforfation that will be vitally important to what they seek to do. All that we are doing is ensuring that the information is available to members of the public in Scotland, just as it will be available in England and Wales.

There is a provision in England and Wales for this information to be made available at regional offices, and we are seeking to ensure that similar information is available in Scotland not only at regional offices but possibly at district offices, too, where these planning registers are held. To ensure that that happens it is necessary to have this amendment and that, basically, is the explanation for it.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

I should like to congratulate the Minister on a much more lucid explanation of the first amendment that he moved. I understood that one much better than I did this amendment. May I give the hon. Gentleman one piece of advice in one sentence? It was once said by a former Cabinet Minister, a distinguished Member whom I had better not name but he served in the former Conservative Government for 10 years, that the worst question of all to be asked by a back bencher was "What does the departmental brief that you have just read mean?" He said that there was only one thing to do by way of reply, and that was to read the brief again.

Mr. Fairbairn


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire would need the permission of the House to speak again.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 162, in page 76, line 37 [Schedule 6], leave out 'may be' and insert 'practicable'.

No. 341, in page 77, leave out lines 14 to 28.

No. 167, in page 77, line 33, leave out 'may be' and insert 'practicable'.—(Mr. Harry Ewing.)

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)

I beg to move Amendment No. 166, in page 77, line 34, at end insert: '(2) This paragraph shall not apply if and so far as the Land Authority for Wales otherwise direct.' The amendment introduces a provision whereby the Land Authority for Wales, the body entitled to receive certain information, may limit the flow of that information to those cases in which it is likely to have the greatest interest and in which it might have to take action.

Hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will recall that a rather frightening picture was painted of the Land Authority for Wales being submerged in a sea of paper. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) warned me of the perils that arose when father papered the parlour, and the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) asked an embarrassing question when he inquired how many planning permissions were granted in Wales in a particular year. When I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 16th July indicating that the number was 35,227 I began to take seriously the fear about the Land Authority for Wales being submerged in a sea of paper. As a result, we have introduced this amendment because we believe that reason suggests there should be some mechanism to enable the Land Authority to stem the flow of notifications. That is what the amendment seeks to do.

Mr. Michael Morris

As I understood the debate in Committee, there was a requirement that a developer, or any person, should be able to go to a central place and discover what had been granted and what had not been granted. I understand the position about the Land Authority being enveloped in a sea of paper, but we have gone a bit further with modern technological developments and information can now be stored by the use of microfilm and other techniques. Is the Minister saying that there has been no central pool of information for Wales?

Mr. Michael Latham

To be fair to the Minister, I think that the amendment is more flexible than the original provision. The Minister says that something can be done if the Land Authority so directs, so presumably it can ask for some details and not for others. I thank the Minister for this commonsense amendment. I was appalled when he sent me the letter to which he referred and I thought of the prospect of 35,000 planning application notices going to the Land Authority for Wales. I am glad that common sense has prevailed.

Mr. Alec Jones

I merely wish to indicate that there will be a central registry for Wales. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham).

Amendment agreed to.

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