HC Deb 09 February 1976 vol 905 cc171-89

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Community Land (Outstanding Material Interests) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 19), dated 8th January 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th January, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that it is for the convenience of the House to take at the same time the following motion: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Community Land (Statutory Undertakers) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 18), dated 8th January 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th January, be annulled.

Mr. Page

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. Both these Orders—[Interruption]—deal with exemptions from the effects—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members please leave the Chamber quietly? The noise is very unfair to the right hon. Gentleman who is trying to address the House.

Mr. Page

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. Both these Orders deal with exemptions from the effects of the Community Land Act in various ways. In order to appreciate the Orders, and for me to ask certain questions on them, one has to look at some of the definitions.

First, in the Act the phrase "material interest" is defined as meaning the freehold or the leasehold with seven years to run. Then one goes on to the definition of "outstanding material interests". That is said in the Act to be one which is not owned by certain authorities, or is of a description specified in an order made…by the Secretary of State. The first of the two Orders before us, No. 19, is such an Order.

At some future date, which we have come to know as the second appointed day, it will be the duty of the local authorities to acquire all outstanding material interests as long as they are needed for the purpose of designated relevant development. Therefore, none of the land belonging to the 12 bodies named in the first Order will be acquired by the local authorities—or, rather the local authorities will have no duty to acquire the land.

Then we come to the four bodies named in the second Order, No. 18. One has to go a step further and see that it is only the operational land of the bodies so named—the statutory undertakers—which will be exempt from acquisition or from the duty to acquire under the Act.

Therefore, it is necessary again to look at the definition in the Act of statutory undertakers. They are persons authorised by an enactment to carry on any activity set out in Section 5 of the Community Land Act which deals with those undertakings which are operating railways, tramways, road transport, inland navigation, ports, harbours and so on, and other certain named bodies such as the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the National Coal Board and the Post Office. Those are the statutory undertakers, except that there is added to those any other authority, body or undertakers specified in an order made by the Secretary of State". Indeed, we have that Order before us tonight specifying four bodies. It is Order No. 18. But under the Act it is only operational land of the statutory undertakers which comes within that which has to be acquired by the local authorities.

Operational land is again defined in Section 5 of the Act. That definition applies only to the statutory undertakers which are identified in Section 5(1), paragraphs (a) and (b). The definition as I read it does not apply to statutory undertakers which are named in an Order of this sort before the House tonight. That is to say, a definition of operational land as given in the Community Land Act does not apply to the four authorities named in Order No. 18 because the Act says that, as far as they are concerned, operational land shall be that which is defined in the Order naming them as statutory undertakers.

I refer the Minister to Section 5(3) of the Act: In relation to any statutory undertakers specified in an order made under this subsection by the Secretary of State and the appropriate Minister acting jointly, subsection (2) above"— that is, the subsection defining operational land— shall not apply and in this Act' operational land' shall have the meaning given by the order as respects those undertakers". I have searched Order No. 18 and I can find no definition there of operational land. I wonder whether the Minister has slipped up and has omitted some necessary provision in this Order, or do we find this definition of operational land for these four new statutory undertakers somewhere else? That is my first question.

This is important, because with reference to other sections of the Act and other powers—for example, Section 22—in respect of what land or property of these four bodies can planning permission be suspended? When, under Section 41, does the special parliamentary procedure apply to their acquisition of land? When is the local authority's right as expressed in Schedule 4 modified in favour of these bodies? It depends on the definition of operational land, which is missing from the Order.

Order No. 19 sets out the 12 bodies in respect of whose interests in land there shall not apply the definition of outstanding material interests, and, therefore, those interests will be exempt from acquisition or from the duty to acquire by local authorities. They are a mixed bunch. How are these 12 chosen? I am sorry if that sounds rather biblical, but they are a puzzling dozen and I cannot imagine how they were chosen. Why do some appear in Order No. 19 as exempt by means of the definition of outstanding material interest while others appear in Order No. 18 as the new statutory undertakers?

Why is the Commission for New Towns not a statutory undertaker and listed in Order No. 19 when the Independent Broadcasting Authority is a statutory undertaker and is put in Order No. 18? There does not seem to be any logic. Why is the Highlands and Islands Development Board listed in Order No. 19 when it is surely one of the authorities within Section 5 for the supply of electricity, gas, hydraulic power"? Why do the Scottish Development Agency and Welsh Development Agency appear in two Orders—namely, Order No. 19 and a draft Order which the House approved only a few nights ago, an Order to the effect that property owned by these Agencies is excepted development?

As all of us who served in Committee on the Community Land Bill know that Ministers tried to make it as simple a measure as possible by reserving the guts of the Bill to subsequent Orders. By "guts of the Bill" I mean the whole land municipalisation scheme. We were told that various matters were to be left to subsequent Orders and that everything would be beautifully sorted out. We have seen a process of exemption. We are finding, thank heavens, that by these Orders more and more land is slipping through the fingers of the dead hand of the land municipalisation scheme.

The process of exemption started under the Bill when the single dwelling-house was exempted. Then we had the Schedule I exempt development and the statutory undertakers specified in the Act, followed by the charities and the excepted classes by Order. Tonight we have the statutory undertakers by Order and the non-outstanding material interests. There are over half a dozen different classes of bodies, interests or land which are exempt from the Act. Of course, we welcome that. The more we exempt the better, but it seems a little unfair on those who are left within the Act and who have to suffer the acquisition of their land.

The half dozen or so exemptions have been established for various reasons and in respect of various and different conditions. Not one of the bodies mentioned in the Orders has any more moral right to be exempt than has a private developer. This is where the Orders show up the fallacies and faults of the Act. There might be some argument for exempting public bodies from the development land tax on the ground that they do not make profits. Perhaps it is thought that the private developer who makes profits should be taxed—I can understand that argument—but there is no logical or moral argument that we must take away a private individual's land but not the land of a nationalised industry.

Great confusion is bound to arise in land municipalisation schemes. I hope that the Minister will be able to clear up the anomalies under these Orders, because if we are to have more and more such Orders we shall need to have behind them some logic so that we may understand the reasons for exemptions and be able to study them fully. As they are now, they are muddled and cross-fertilised and we are left in confusion.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

At the risk of wearying the House, I wish to declare my interest as a director of a house-building company.

I support the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). The Order deals with a privileged list of organisations. Section 18(1) of the Community Land Act 1975 gives power to designate what is to be relevant development in the area of every county authority—which is the key to deciding which land shall be acquired by either the county council or the district council, usually by compulsory purchase, and initially at only 20 per cent. of its real value, according to current use value only.

Under Section 18(3) the authorities concerned are to arrange between them for all outstanding material interests in land which is needed for the purposes of designated relevant development to be acquired by one of those authorities"— or, to put it simply, to decide who grabs what, subject to the completely inadequate restrictions in Section 18(4).

Section 6 defines a material interest as meaning freehold land or a lease with at least seven years unexpired, and Section 4 defines material interests which are not to be treated as outstanding. It is characteristic of this unhappy Act that Section 4 is meaningless until one reads Section 6, which is meaningless until one reads Section 18, and so on. If the intention of the Minister is to encourage insomnia among practitioners or to frustrate the energy conservation programme by ensuring the burning of more midnight oil, he will at least be successful in that.

Under Section 4 (1)(c) the Secretary of State is given blanket powers—powers which under the Act are the deplorable norm—to exempt further land from the acquisition power of local authorities. That is what the Order does, and there are some names in it which are not obviously appropriate and some which should have been in the Act. Since Section 4(1)(a) lists a new town authority as being exempt, I can only assume that it was sloppy drafting which requires us to have the Commission for New Towns in the Order.

I agree with the inclusion of registered housing associations, but may we have an assurance that land will not be taken from an association which has applied for registration but has not yet been granted it? Similarly, where a housing association has lodged an appeal against expulsion from the register to the High Court under Section 15(3) of the 1974 Housing Act, I assume that its land will still be protected by virtue of Section 15(4), which says that its name remains on the register until the appeal is determined.

I am not very happy about the exclusion of unregistered self-build societies. Section 120 of the Housing Act 1974 amends Section 341 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1970 so as to give self-build societies tax exemption for the rent payable by their members. Although I am a builder, I do not take a narrow view of self-build groups. I think they have a useful role to play in a minor key, provided that their members are properly trained to do the building work and they carry it out themselves rather than subcontract it and thus act as clients rather than as self-builders.

I am a little concerned at the small amount of information available to the Secretary of State about these bodies which are now to receive tax relief and to have the privilege of not having their land within the scheme. On 8th July 1974 I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many self-build-houses had been constructed in the last 10 years. The then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment replied:

I regret the information is not available in the form requested. I estimate that the total number of dwellings under construction by self-build societies in Great Britain is less than 2,000."—[Official Report, 8th July 1974; Vol. 876, c. 377.] On 22nd January 1975, by which time the new fiscal advantages to self-build groups had become law under the 1974 Housing Act, it seemed to me that the public interest required rather more information than was given by that answer. I therefore asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what sources of statistical information are available to him about the number of houses constructed by self-build groups and the loans available to them from public funds; and what steps he is taking to improve them, so as to he able to monitor progress in this regard more satisfactorily in the light of the Housing Act 1974". Although the then Under-Secretary gave me the most courteous reply, it was not very informative. He said: No entirely satisfactory sources of information exist. The Annual Report of the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies gives the numbers of self-build societies registered, and those removed from the register on completion or abandonment of their schemes, together with other information including the number of members and total loans outstanding, whether public or private. This information is compiled from audited financial returns made by the societies. Societies applying for approval under Section 120 of the Housing Act 1974 will be asked how many dwellings they intend to construct, and local authorities and the Housing Corporation will be asked to notify the Department of the amounts of any loans they make to self-build societies."—[Official Report, 22nd January, 1975; Vol. 884, c. 409.] I hope we shall have reassurance from Ministers that more will be done in future to monitor the output and use of land by self-build groups, in the light of this Order, than has been the case in the past.

Concerning the Community Land (Statutory Undertakers) Order, as a former member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby is the most distinguished Chairman, I must protest at the completely inadequate explanatory note to the Order. One of the purposes of an explanatory note is presumably to give a note of explanation, but this note is completely meaningless without detailed reference to the wording of the Community Land Act.

Since we are to have many more Orders under the Act, I hope the Minister will make sure that something better is done in the future, particularly as the explanatory note to the Community Land (Outstanding Material Interests) Order is perfectly satisfactory.

Here again, the purpose of the Order is to protect the operational land of the four organisations named from compulsory acquisition under Section 18(3) of the Community Land Act. Once again, one has to jump around the pages of the Act like a zombie and go back from Section 18(4)(d) to Section 5(1)(c), which gives the Secretary of State power to list by order any statutory undertakers whom he had forgotten when he drafted the list in Section 5(1)(a) and Section 5(1)(b).

I see no reason at all why the BBC and the IBA should be on the list. As a matter of practicality, is any of their land actually threatened by acquisition? Could any local authority afford to acquire it? Are we really expected to believe that the avaricious eyes of county councils are being placed on remote transmitter stations in the middle of nowhere or on juicy office blocks in the middle of large cities—blocks which by definition are occupied, since if they were not they would be gobbled up by the right hon. Gentleman under Part IV of the Act?

As for the Atomic Energy Authority, it is difficult to believe that any local authority would want to acquire its land or that people would be very keen to live there if an authority acquired it, especially if it were the site of nuclear energy experiments. Council houses in a road called Plutonium Avenue might be a little difficult to let, even to the most desperate tenants on the housing list.

We ought not to waste paper in printing Orders which are only common sense. No local authority in its right mind would acquire such land. There is already enough paper emanating from the Department of the Environment as a result of this unhappy Act without adding uselessly to it. I commend the motion to the House.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for bringing his great knowledge and intellectual appreciation to the Orders now before the House. My concern is to ask the Minister for further information about the general interests of the countryside.

I think that as a charity the National Trust is included in the organisations which are excluded from the operation of the Community Land Act. I want to take the Minister a little further, however, and ask him whether land in the national parks can be acquired under the Act by local authorities. With regard to the National Trust itself, what is the position about dedicated land and schemes of management of land handled by the National Trust?

What is the position of the Forestry Commission with regard to land which is either dedicated to it for a period of years or for which there is a managing scheme which the Commission undertakes for hardwood or softwood plantings?

Then there are country houses and their availability to the public under various schemes. Are they still at risk under the terms of the Community Land Act? Do their owners, managers or trustees need to keep looking over their shoulders about the intentions of the local authorities, or can they rest secure in the knowledge that their interests will be properly protected? This applies to the whole subject of countryside interests, and the Minister will know that one of the Select Committees is looking into national parks and the countryside generally. There is need of reassurance in this respect.

A final area of interest concerns land owned by the regional water authorities. What is the position of these statutory undertakings? I have not seen their titles mentioned in any Statutory Instruments, and I should welcome the Minister's observations.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I want to ask the Minister to give us some justification for the inclusion of the British Steel Corporation in Statutory Instrument No. 18. It seems to me that, as the House will be considering a profusion of Bills which extend the power and influence of the nationalised industries and also, in the West Midlands County Council Bill, the power and influence of local authorities, it is vital that nationalised industries are not given a uniquely privileged position in relation to private industry.

One of the features which those in private industry are most concerned about in this legislation is the unnecessary fetter on their right to build on their own land, on their right to extend their operations and, hopefully, when this Government have left office, on their right to increase investment to provide employment for the many people at present unemployed.

The proposal in this Order is to give a privileged position to the BSC. In many respects the Corporation is already competing with a number of private producers of steel. Those private producers are in a very difficult position, and, if their position is further undermined because they cannot expand their plant, they cannot buy a bit of land and they cannot build a factory when the BSC has a privileged position in relation to the bureaucracy, once again we shall see that by a subterfuge, by a by-way, the Government are undermining the position of private industry.

I speak as one who represents a constituency which is vitally concerned both with the production of steel and with the manufacture of parts from the steel industry. It is vital that, if we are to have a large monopoly producer of steel like the BSC, which in some respects, in the production of smaller types of steel, competes with private producers, competition should be fair and on an equal basis. I see no reason why the British Steel Corporation should be given a privileged position as against many private producers of limited types of steel who are in a difficult position.

10.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) for raising this debate and for the usual eloquent and learned way in which he put his case. I confess to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House that my gratitude was a little conditioned by a feeling of déjà vu, because most hon. Members who are here were present in the Chamber and in Committee at far less civilised hours than this when we were discussing many of the issues about which we are concerned tonight.

Hon. Members will recall that during the Committee's deliberations on this part of the Act the Minister for Planning and Local Government referred to the White Paper which foreshadowed the Act and to the reference in it to statutory undertakers and comparable bodies being able to acquire development land needed for their statutory functions without the intervention of local authorities. He said then, and I am sure hon. Members will agree, that such an arrangement made good, common sense. The right hon. Member for Crosby intimated this in his speech. Conservative Members, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman, expressed concern about this being a possible way of driving a coach and horses through the Act since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could exempt what were called all sorts of public bodies under this provision without any control by the House.

References were made to bodies listed as public bodies under the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act, to the Housing Corporation, the co-operative movement, the White Fish Authority and many others besides. The Orders which we have produced show quite clearly that these are not, and never were, intended to drive a coach and horses through the Act. One could hardly get a pony and trap through the Act with these Orders.

Let me explain the purpose of the Orders. The White Paper indicated that statutory undertakers and some comparable bodies would be able to acquire and develop land needed for their statutory functions without the intervention of local authorities under the scheme. In Section 5 (1) of the Act we define three categories of statutory undertakers for the purpose of the Act. Section 5(1)(a) imported a definition of statutory undertakers from the Town and Country Planning Acts concerning, among others, persons authorised to carry on any undertaking for the supply of electricity, gas, hydraulic power or water. Section 5(1)(b) referred to certain named bodies—the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the National Coal Board, the Post Office and others—which, although not covered by the Town and Country Planning Acts, have been given a status as statutory undertakers for the purpose of this Act and other legislation.

It is Section 5(1)(c) that concerns us tonight. Under it the Community Land (Statutory Undertakers) Order has been made. That section allows my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to specify by order other bodies as statutory undertakers for the purpose of the Act. The effect of being specified in the Order is to exempt the named body by virtue of Section 18(4)(d) from any duty on the part of a local authority to acquire its operational land. It also, by virtue of Section 28(8)(b), exempts them from the suspension of planning permission for the development of such land.

Another method of achieving the same objectives is for the Secretary of State to specify material interests in land which are not to be treated as outstanding interests under powers granted by Section 4(1)(c) of the Act. Since under Section 18(3) of the Act the acquisition duty of authorities applies only to outstanding material interests, the interests specified in the Community Land (Outstanding Material Interests) Order are thus also outside the scheme. There is similarly exemption from the suspension of planning permission by virtue of Section 22(8)(a). If all the material interests in the land are owned by a body specified in the Order or are otherwise to be treated as not outstanding, a planning permission for the development of the land cannot then he suspended.

I apologise for being so technical, but this is a very technical matter. May I briefly explain the reasons for the selection of the specified bodies.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

Before the hon. Gentleman does that, I wonder whether he would touch on a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). My right hon. Friend pointed out that in the Order relating to outstanding material interests there is reference to the Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency. The hon. Gentleman has kindly advised us that the making of the Order means that these Agencies will get the protection given by the exemption from the duty to acquire by Section 18(3). They will get the benefit of the exemptions to the suspension of their planning permission by the operation of Section 22. May I add a further point: they will get protection from the modification of the compulsory purchase powers under the Fourth Schedule.

However, those three benefits derived by those two Agencies, by being included in the Order, are also benefits which the Minister stated the other day when he was dealing with the excepted development regulations, because excepted development in itself gives the same benefits as regards Sections 18 and 22 and the Fourth Schedule. These Agencies appear in the outstanding material in- terests Order and in the excepted development regulations, which we approved the other day. There seems to be no distinction, however, between the two situations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby stated, this can only confuse people when they have to try to interpret the legislation. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would direct his mind to that matter.

Mr. Oakes

I proposed to direct my mind to it later, but as the hon. Gentleman has raised it I shall deal with it now.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies appear in both the outstanding material interests Order and in the excepted development Regulations. The answer is that these Agencies need to be in the outstanding material interests Order so that land which they own will not be treated as outstanding when they wish to develop that land themselves. Developments on land which they own but of which they have disposed a material interest is included in the exempted development Regulations so that, for example, lessees of the Agency will be able to carry out the development for which the Agencies have disposed the land without local authorities being under a duty to acquire that land. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government discussed this matter before the House a week ago tonight when the exempted development Regulations were debated and he agreed to reply to this point. I hope I have explained why the Development Agencies are included in the Order.

Mr. Graham Page

We are grateful to have that explanation, but it leads to another question. If a private developer has obtained from the Scottish Development Agency an interest over seven years, is his leasehold interest already excepted from the duty of acquisition by the local authorities?

Mr. Oakes

The right hon. Gentleman springs that question on me. That would not necessarily follow from what I have said, but I will look into it and reply to him. I think that the point is a highly technical one, concerned particularly with the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. So it is fair to say that I shall reply to him in that form. I think that it will not be so.

Mr. Graham Page

If I may relieve the hon. Gentleman of replying for Scotland and Wales, while he is perhaps getting that advice I would point out that he has not answered a rather important question I put to him about the definition of the operational land of the four authorities included in the Order relating to the four authorities. It seems that under Section 5(4) he should have defined the operational land of those four authorities.

Mr. Oakes

There are a number of matters on which I have not yet replied because I have been interrupted on this matter. On the last point about the Development Agencies, the development—not the lease itself—is excepted under the Order.

I should like to come on to some of the reasons for selecting these specific bodies. The statutory undertakers Order is used to cover bodies which may sensibly be regarded as statutory undertakers. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority is a vital contributor to the country's energy supply and is clearly analogous to the gas and electricity industries. The British Steel Corporation is the only nationalised industry which is not already a statutory undertaker. The BBC and the IBA operate under statutory powers and duties, providing a service akin to that provided by a public utility and it is right, I believe, to treat them as statutory undertakers.

The outstanding material interests Order, by contrast, covers bodies whose functions are concerned with the provision of housing or sites for development or are akin to those of a local authority or a new town development corporation, and it is consistent with the scheme that all their land should be outside the scheme proper.

I do not propose to go in detail through the organisations——

Mr. Bugden

The Minister has not answered the point that I tried to make.

Mr. Oakes

I have not had a chance yet.

Mr. Bugden

I am sorry.

Mr. Oakes

I am sorry if I have not answered all the points which hon. Members have raised with the rapidity which they would expect. It is simply that I have not reached those points in my speech. I do not intend to ignore them.

I do not want to go in detail through the particular bodies nominated under the Order, but I shall mention some points that were raised during the debate. The right hon. Member for Crosby asked me why the Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency appear in exempt development and also in the outstanding material interests Order. I have already answered that question. The status of an outstanding material interest excepts the SDA and WDA from the duty to acquire and the suspension of planning permission. Their inclusion in the excepted development Regulations is so that, in pursuance of their statutory duty to make the land available for development where they retain a freehold, development on that land would be excepted development. It is development that should be excepted and not necessarily the lease.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked me about the Highlands and Islands Development Board and why it is included in the outstanding material interests Order when it is clearly a statutory authority under the Act. The Board is not a statutory undertaker under the Act. It does not supply electricity or gas, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to suppose. It is a body to promote development in the Highlands and Islands. For the purposes of planning legislation it is not a statutory undertaker, but clearly it should be treated in the same way as a statutory undertaker in respect of land with which it is concerned in its operations.

I was asked about the Forestry Commission. Most of the land owned by the Forestry Commission is exempted development. This is development under forestry and agriculture powers. I need not go into the long debate that we had in Committee. Although the Forestry Commission is a statutory body, its land is not included in these Orders because it is used for the planting of trees and, therefore, is exempted development within the terms of the Act.

Mr. Arthur Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the question about land that is under the Forestry Commission's management?

Mr. Oakes

Land under the management of the Forestry Commission is overwhelmingly land that is used in the course of forestry, which in itself is exempted development. It may be that the Commission owns tiny pockets of other such land, but we do not believe that it is necessary under the terms of the Order to include such minutiae of land within the terms of the Order.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is saying that minutiae are not important, but nevertheless it is important for owners of land who take part in management schemes with the Forestry Commission. Will they have to look over their shoulders at the local authorities which may have ambitions to acquire land, or if landowners enter into an arrangement with the Forestry Commission can they rest content that the contractual arrangement between themselves and the Forestry Commission will provide the same protection for owners as the operations of the Forestry Commission itself on land in its ownership? I do not think there is any great difference in equity there. I understand that the hon. Gentleman cannot answer all the detailed questions tonight, but I hope he will ensure that this matter is looked into.

Mr. Oakes

I shall certainly undertake, as I always do, to look into detailed matters. The Act is about development land, and under the terms of the Act agricultural land, forestry land and so on is specifically excepted from it. The Forestry Commission may own some parts of land which does not come within the agricultural, forestry or other exceptions. Therefore, I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman about that point. When I said "minutiae" I was not trying to be patronising about this matter. I am trying to emphasise that the amount of such land will be very minimal indeed.

Mr. Arthur Jones


Mr. Oakes

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to continue my speech—for the sake of the Opposition. The Opposition have tabled another Prayer, and it is now 11.5 p.m. I have give way a great deal, and there are a number of other points that I wish to answer. I hope that it will not be considered discourteous if I do not give way again.

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) referred to transitional situations—for example, when an association has applied for registration but has not yet been registered. It is difficult to answer this point. The answer is that the only way one can determine this is as a matter of fact in each particular case. One cannot answer a semi-hypothetical question of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has raised. One must consider each one of these situations on its merits when it comes before the Secretary of State and the Department.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the output of self-build societies and so on. We shall keep a very careful eye on all aspects of schemes. However, I do not think that the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, about which he has previously asked Questions, arises in relation to this Order. I assure him that we shall keep a careful eye on each self-help scheme with regard to this matter.

I was asked about a charity's existing land holdings. A charity's existing land holding is not an outstanding material interest by virtue of Section 4(1)(b) of the Act. I do not want to debate charities at length, because both Houses of Parliament have debated charities ad nauseam and have declared their views on the matter. Therefore, I do not want to debate charities by the back door, so to speak, in relation to these Orders, neither do the Government seek to do so.

I have tried to answer all the points raised as honestly and as frankly as possible. Some of the fears expressed by Opposition Members about the Act will not by any stretch of the imagination be realised. It is not the heavy-handed bureaucratic Act that some of them suggest and fear. As they consider these Orders and what I have said tonight, I think they will realise that we have a sensible and useful Act, and that my right hon. Friend will be using that Act and his powers under it in a sensible, useful way for the benefit of the community as a whole. I hope, therefore, that Opposition Members will withdraw their Prayers against the Orders, which I commend to the House.

Mr. Graham Page

Before the Minister sits down, may I remind him that he has not answered the point about the inclusion of a definition of operational land in the Order which refers to the four statutory undertakers? It comes very clearly under Section 5, which defines statutory undertakers and then goes on to define operational land. It then says in subsection (3) that if new statutory undertakers are introduced by an Order, the definition of operational land in the previous subsection does not apply and that it must have a definition in the Order itself. If one then refers to Section 18, which gives the local authority the duty to acquire land, one finds that it says that the authority does not have that duty when it is operational land of statutory undertakers. We do not know what operational land of the new statutory undertakers is. The Act definitely says that that must be explained in the Order itself.

Mr. Oakes

May I deal with this point, though I am on the edge of order in doing so? Under Section 5(3) they are not the bodies we are considering tonight, which are exempted under Section 5(1)(c). Section 5(1) includes in the definition of statutory undertakers those bodies which are specified in Section 5(1)(c). Section 5(2) defines operational land in relation to statutory undertakers as defined in Section 5(1) and including bodies specified in an order under Section 5(1)(c). Section 5(3) gives the power to define operational land where the Secretary of State thinks fit.

I hope that the House will note that Section 5(3) says only that operational land is to be defined in relation to bodies specified in an order made under this subsection"— that is, Section 5(3), and not the bodies we are considering tonight, which are exempted under Section 5(1)(c).

Mr. Budgen

I must ask the Minister to reply to the point I made earlier. My point was quite clear. I asked him to explain to the House how, when the British Steel Corporation has two functions—partly a monopoly one and partly a competing one—in the competing part of its function the Corporation would be dealing on a fair and equal basis with those small independent producers of steel which still exist. The Minister did not answer my point. I rose earlier when he was speaking, and I should be grateful if he would now answer this point.

Mr. Oakes

The British Steel Corporation by Act of Parliament is akin to a statutory undertaker, and for that reason it is included in the Order along with the other statutory undertakers some of which are defined in the Act and some of which have been specified in the Order. We are talking about the duty on local authorities to acquire land. I cannot conceive of how the hon. Gentleman can argue that the private steel firms, because of this future duty on local authorities, would be severely prejudiced by the inclusion of the British Steel Corporation in the definition of statutory undertakers in the Act itself.

Mr. Graham Page

That was a brave, if rather unsuccessful, struggle by the Under-Secretary to explain the Order. However, having regard to the courtesy with which he always treats us by attempting to answer our questions and looking up points we make, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.