HC Deb 10 July 1981 vol 8 cc701-18

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 8, line 47, at end insert— (2) In section 89(4) and (5) of that Act for the words "£50" there shall be substituted the words "£100".

9.35 am
Mr. Steven Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

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

I think, Mr. Speaker, that it might be for the convenience of the House if with this we take Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 8.

Mr. Speaker

If that is the wish of the House, so be it.

Mr. Hastings

I begin by expressing my thanks to Lord Nugent and to others on both sides of another place for all their work in amending the Bill. It may not be the most wildly exciting or glamorous measure to be debated this Session. Nevertheless, I hope that the House will bear with me. These are necessarily rather complicated amendments, and in fairness to the local authorities which will have to implement the Bill when it is enacted I think that we owe them a proper explanation. Hon. Members on both sides of the House may feel that to have something of a little bromide today will not be too bad a thing after what we suffered yesterday.

The amendments are all concerned with penalties. They fulfil an undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment on 15 May in Committee. He said that the Bill would be amended in another place so as to increase certain of the maximum penalties for offences involving breaches of planning control and breaches of control over listed buildings.

Those who are familiar with the operation of the enforcement provisions in town and country planning legislation will know that they are sometimes criticised by planning authorities, amenity societies and hon. Members because they are said to lack teeth. When somebody deliberately flouts planning control, or ignores listed building control, the penalties available when there is a successful prosecution seem to be inadequate for the offence and do little to deter others from committing the same offence.

The statutory provisions for offences and penalties are all in part V of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. The difficulty is that some of them have been amended by the Criminal Law Act 1977, while others remain the same as they were in 1971. Inflation has made the level of penalties fixed 10 years ago out of date and meaningless. That is the main reason for this group of amendments, the effect of which is to bring the penalties for certain breaches of planning or listed building control to a more realistic level in the light of present-day money values.

I understand, as I think is customary with any statutory penalties, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has been consulted about the proposed increases and that he agrees with them. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will confirm that in due course. If, as I hope, the amendments are approved, their practical application will be for the courts to determine in the light of the seriousness of the offence which the planning authority is prosecuting. I hope that I shall not be straying outside the normal bounds for a Private Member's Bill in saying that many hon. Members will welcome the imposition by the courts, especially the magistrates' courts, of heavier fines for this type of offence.

Lords amendment No. 1 involves the insertion of new subparagraph (2) in paragraph 2 of the schedule. It has the effect of increasing from £50 to £100 the maximum amount of each daily penalty now specified in section 89(4) and (5) of the 1971 Act. This is an increase in the maximum daily penalty available on summary conviction for an offence involving respectively failure to secure compliance with the requirements of the enforcement notice and permitting use to continue when it is in breach of the requirements of the notice. In each case it is a penalty on summary conviction for a continuing offence. There will have been a prior conviction for the same offence.

Amendment No. 2 inserts a new subparagraph in paragraph 3. It increases from £50 to £100 the amount of the maximum daily penalty specified in section 90(7) of the 1971 Act. That provides for a penalty on summary conviction for an offence involving the continuing contravention—or failure to prevent the continuing contravention—of the requirements of a stop notice served by the planning authority under section 90(1) of the 1971 Act. In this case, also, the offence is a continuing one and there will have been a prior conviction for the same offence, which carries a maximum penalty of £1,000 on summary conviction.

Amendment No. 3 inserts a new subparagraph (2) in paragraph 7. Its purpose is to increase from £400 to £1,000 the maximum penalty specified in section 93(5) of the 1971 Act on summary conviction for an offence involving the reinstatement or restoration of buildings or works which have been demolished or altered, in compliance with the requirements of an enforcement notice. That is just as serious an offence as other offences in part V of the 1971 Act involving breaches of planning control, where the maximum penalty on summary conviction has been increased to £1,000 by a provision in the Criminal Law Act 1977. I do not know why some and not all of those penalties were increased at the time. There seems no logical reason for it.

Amendment No. 5 inserts a new paragrah 9A in the schedule. Its purpose is to increase from £50 to £100 the amount of the maximum daily penalty specified in section 98(4) of the 1971 Act on summary conviction for a continuing failure to secure compliance with the requirements of a listed building enforcement notice. Again, that is a penalty for a continuing offence. There will always have been a prior prosecution and conviction, for which the maximum penalty already stands at £1,000.

Each of the amendments was welcomed in another place as providing a more effective financial deterrent to the offences to which they relate. I therefore commend them to the House as a means of enabling the courts to enforce the law more effectively when a breach of control has occurred.

I come now to the fifth and final amendment, No. 8, in the group concerned with penalties. Its purpose is to increase the maximum amount of each of the penalties specified in the 1971 Act on summary conviction in a magistrates' court for an offence involving contravention of the regulations which control the display of outdoor advertisements, namely, the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1969.

The present maximum penalties are £100 and £5 respectively for an offence involving the unauthorised display of an advertisement and for an offence involving its continued display after a first conviction. Those maxima are now derisory, particularly in relation to the income that is often obtainable for unlawful outdoor advertising. The amendment raises them to the more realistic level of £200 and £20 respectively, to which I hope the House will agree.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

That is not enough.

Mr. Hastings

My hon. Friend may be right. Perhaps he will have the opportunity to deploy his argument about that in a minute or two. The figures of £200 and £20 respectively were suggested in another place, so the penalties can be expected to have a deterrent effect on people who may otherwise have ignored the provisions for the control of outdoor advertising. Those fines are regarded at present more as a licence fee than as a penalty.

Leaving aside the amount of the fine, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned that there should be a more effective financial deterrent for such activities as fly-posting and failing to obtain the planning authority's consent for advertisements events. I therefore commend the amendment to the House as a useful step in that direction.

We all have plenty of experience of fly-posting at election time. I discovered that there is special legislation that has kept us all out of prison so far. I understand that the Outdoor Advertising Council is in favour of those penalties. I hope that I am right, but I believe it to be so. It is surely in its interest that all advertisers, not simply the members of the council, should behave lawfully.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I remind the House that the hon. Gentleman has said that we are taking amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 8 with amendment No. 1.

9.45 am
Mr. Cormack

This is the first time I have had a chance to speak on the Bill. I had to be abroad on Select Committee business when it had its Second Reading. I give my heartfelt congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on his commendable initiative in introducing the Bill. I add my thanks to our noble Friend Lord Nugent for the time, work and trouble which he has taken.

This necessary measure is long overdue. Therefore, I reluctantly sound a slightly critical note. While I agree emphatically with the Lords amendments, which have been so beautifully and concisely described by my hon. Friend—he gave us all a lesson in how to describe and define the difficult—they do not go far enough. I believe that they will still not have the deterrent effect which I, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) and most people who are concerned with the preservation of our heritage would like. One must set the penalty in context. These days £100 is little more than the price of a business lunch for three or four people.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)


Mr. Cormack

It is true. That is the price one would pay in London and in many parts of the Midlands, too. It is scandalous. The food is overpriced, but that is entirely another issue.

One has to set the penalty in context. It seems to me that many people will not be deterred by the amounts. Sorry statement as it might be, there is a good case for index-linking fines to keep pace with inflation. Had fines kept pace with inflation, we should not be talking in terms of £100 or, in the case of the advertising penalties, of £200 and £20, but of sums nearer £1,000.

Mr. Hastings

That is a most interesting suggestion. I have never considered it or heard it before. I suppose that one difficulty might be that if that were done for this legislation, the magistrates' courts would need a computer hard at work on a variety of offences, which might be an objection.

Mr. Cormack

My hon. Friend tempts me to tread an interesting path. At the time of the annual wage round to which we are accustomed, it might be possible for fines to be adjusted on an index-linked basis. Across a whole spectrum of activity and offences, fines do not have the necessary deterrent effect. Frequently one reads of people leaving court laughing because they have paid a derisory amount. My hon. Friend tempts me. Perhaps in the new Session of Parliament I shall introduce a Private Member's Bill for that purpose, which we might find extremely useful.

Let us digress for a moment. We could not suggest that for offences such as this and for many others people should be imprisoned. The prisons are too overcrowded and that would be wrong. However, those people should be punished. I do not believe that the measure is punitive enough. We can all tell sorry tales of developers with a wanton disregard for the properties which they acquire and a determination to pull them down and to make money. I like the French system whereby if someone pulls down a listed building—or its equivalent there—he is not allowed to capitalise on it or to build on that site.

Many such people wantonly pull down buildings because they know that the fine will be a mere fleabite and that the gains from their nefarious activities are considerable. I do not like that. There was a case in Wheathampstead some years ago where a marvellous barn was pulled down. It is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), and I do not wish to trespass. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) can tell a similar story much more graphically than I. There was a case in his constituency, recently where a distinguished farm building—but not one of national importance—was destroyed. No doubt my hon. Friend will tell us about that.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth because he attempted earlier this year to place a similar measure on the statute book. I am delighted that he is in the Chamber. All hon. Members, particularly those from Staffordshire, will know of the appalling manner in which the Wedgwood company has behaved towards Barlaston Hall. No words of condemnation can be strong enough to describe the attitude of the management of the Wedgwood company towards that hall. I was delighted when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment recently took his courageous and sensible decision. It was not an easy decision to take, particularly at such a time, but it was right.

Such deeds might well have been prevented if there had been proper legal penalties. In so far as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has recognised that, I warmly congratulate him. In so far as he has sought to tackle the problem, I thank him. I also address my congratulations and thanks to the other place. I am delighted that the Government have been so helpful. I am pleased that the Bill is being given a swift passage, and I am particularly delighted at the Opposition's constructive and sensible attitude.

We all know that the heart of the hon. Member for Edmonton, who presented a mammoth petition about historic houses some years ago, is in the right place. He was the first chairman of the all-party heritage group, which I now have the honour of chairing. He has made many contributions. Although I thank everyone involved, I feel that in a sense this is an opportunity missed. We should have been more punitive and should have ensured that the penalties were more exemplary.

I welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage on to the statute book. However, I hope that we shall turn our attention to the subject again. Perhaps a major Government tidying-up measure will be introduced next Session. I am thinking of a measure that would unite the parties. We need measures that unite hon. Members. Any hon. Member who thinks of what happened here yesterday will realise that we must not polarise and divide too much. One of the great things about this Parliament is that hon. Members in all parts of the House have embraced the common cause of our heritage.

Let us hope that this is the beginning and that within another year or so we shall see legislation that imposes proper penalties. In that way no sleazy developer or landlord who disregards what is on his estates would be able to watch buildings crumble or to pull them down. No such person would then be able to benefit from his philistinism or appalling greed. Such people are not in the majority. Most developers have a sensible and constructive attitude. One need think only of archaeology in the City of London where developers deliberately held off—far beyond the requirements of the Act—so that proper excavations could take place. As the hon. Member for Edmonton and I know from our work on historic houses, there are many enlightened landowners and their number far exceeds the few philistines. Nevertheless, those who behave badly towards our heritage should be punished, and the punishment should deter.

I am delighted to add my support to the Bill. I hope that it will soon be enacted. However, let us return to this subject before too long.

Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) because I shall not be able to stay in the House long enough to celebrate what I hope will be this necessary Bill's satisfactory conclusion. It cannot be enacted too quickly. Generations to come will be grateful to my hon. Friend for having spoken so persuasively today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) rightly said, we are custodians of the commodity that the Bill seeks to protect and preserve. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that that commodity—our heritage—is passed on to generations to come in as good a condition as we received it as custodians.

Although I join my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West in congratulating the noble Lords, I depart from him, with great reluctance, when he suggests that the penalties and fines that the amendments modestly seek to increase should be linked to inflation. I wholeheartedly agree that the penalties—even given the amendments—are by no means a sufficient deterrent. However, even if we were to index-link the penalties to bring them in line with inflation—which, happily, the Government are bringing firmly and, we hope, lastingly under control—they would serve no useful purpose in relation to the property vandals and to those who seek to make a quick buck by encroaching upon the property of others stealthily and with the aid of a bulldozer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West reminded us about the example of Wheathampstead, and Barlaston Hall, which is in his constituency.

Mr. Cormack

No, it is not.

Mr. Heddle

I stand corrected. Barlaston Hall lies adjacent to my hon. Friend's constituency. I should like to remind the House of one case in the West Midlands. I highlighted it in my Town and Country Planning (Protection of Listed Buildings) Bill, which I introduced in January 1981. Monkspath Hall, in Solihull, was a listed, grade 2, Georgian, two-storey farmhouse which stood in several acres. It might not have been the most magnificent example of Georgian architecture, but it adorned the landscape. As it was listed, it should have been preserved. Whether accidentally, coincidentally or intentionally, a bulldozer and its driver—acting on the instructions of a firm of demolition contractors to demolish a barn and a range of outbuildings across the road from Monkspath Hall—found themselves on the opposite side of the road on a Sunday afternoon and wilfully demolished Monkspath Hall. The amendments do not include a fine that can replace the Georgian splendour and glory of that building.

For acts of such wilful vandalism imprisonment and punitive fines are the only reasonable remedy. I support the amendments. However, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West and hope that, if a Bill is introduced along the lines of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act in the next Session, further strength will be given to the amendments to ensure that the fines are punitive. They could be based on the value of the property that has been demolished and on the cost of building a facsimile of that property. In that way the amendments would have some teeth and would act as a deterrent against property vandals who want to make a quick buck.

10 am

Such vandals are few and far between, but there are capital gains to be made from the demolition of a listed building and the allocation of the site for a factory, an office block or a range of houses, bungalows or flats. Such is the value of land with planning permission today that it often greatly outstrips the value of the property on the land. Therefore, there is an incentive for those vandals without conscience or regard for the present other than their bank balance and certainly with a contempt for the future. Such is the temptation wilfully to demolish a listed building that the penalties must be set at a level which takes account not only of inflation, but of the potential capital gain and the cost of reinstatement.

Prevention is better than cure. The amendments, modest and welcome as they are, will unfortunately not provide a cure. Nor will they provide the prevention.

Mr. Graham

I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). He will recall that when we discussed these matters in May, he and the Minister recognised that increased penalties had deliberately been omitted. We all understand the nature of a private Member's Bill. It is much better to get something on the statute book than to be too ambitious.

As I read the reports of the proceedings on the Bill in another place, it was felt—and the Minister has already alluded to this—that some substance should be put into the Bill. We are discussing not law and order, or what has happened this week, but something real and important to thousands of my constituents and to everybody in this country, namely, law enforcement.

Everyone would say and mean that he is a law-abiding citizen, but the irony, as we all know from constituencies surgeries, is that those who are law-abiding citizens somehow feel that when a particular part of legislation impinges on them, their home, their garden or their home extension, they have a little licence to go outside the law.

In essence, we are trying to make the penalty better fit the crime. We are discussing bringing up to date penalties originally envisaged as being appropriate. However, everyone has admitted that although the penalties will be brought more up to date they will in no way be consistant with the original value.

For instance, it was decided in 1971 that £400 was the appropriate figure on summary conviction. That was increased to £1,000 in 1977. We know that £400 in 1971 is worth £1,400 in 1981. When legislation is passed we ought to anticipate some modest inflation and therefore, in effect, the £400 of 1971 ought to be £1,400, £1,500 or £1,600 now.

Let us consider the sum of £50 in 1971. If it were brought into line with inflation, it would be £185 in 1981. The Minister must tell us why, if £50 was thought inappropriate, the correct figure of £200 was not included. The upgrading of £50 to £100 is, in effect, a devaluation of the £50 to £27.20. The relative values of £50 in 1971 and £100 today mean that the £50 has been downgraded to £27.20. We have reduced the deterrent effect to little more than half the 1971 level.

The hon. Members for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) and for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) have pointed out that a fine of £1,000 or £2,000 will not stop a villain who is determined to get his way when stakes are high, with the possibility of a capital accretion of up to £1 million.

I shall concentrate on the milieu with which I am most familiar—street scenes in my constituency. After eight years in the House I know of dozens of instances of people getting very angry about the way that some traders, often small dealers, exploit the procedural and legislative processes and decide to go ahead with a development for which they know they need planning permission but do not bother to apply for it.

The community is involved in costs, because the planning officer is informed that, for example, motor cars are being sold on a forecourt. The enforcement officer tells the dealer that he is using the land for a purpose that contravenes the land use designation and that he must stop. If the dealer does not Stop, the council will issue a contravention notice and, according to the committee cycle and whether there is delegated power in the council, that process can take weeks or months.

When the notice is issued, the dealer's solicitor will probably tell him to apply for planning permission, which takes more time. Often, just before the application is due to be considered by the planning committee it is withdrawn to be revised. By that time, six or eight months will have elapsed since the dealer started carrying on the business that was in contravention of the land use designation.

If the committee refuses to grant planning permission the dealer may appeal to the Secretary of State, who will ask both parties whether they are prepared to deal with the matter in writing. The dealer may say that he wants a personal hearing, and that will take another month or two, although the Government have recently speeded up the process.

The dealer can get the appeal deferred because of holidays or illness. If the appeal is dismissed, he will have 28 or 56 days in which to comply with the enforcement notice. If the notice is not complied with, the local authority has to take out a summons and more time-wasting procedures can be adopted. In the light of how much public money can be spent when someone deliberately exploits existing provisions, a fine of £100 on summary conviction is woefully inadequate. I can understand the problems for any Government in discussing a narrow range of non-compliance with the law. I can understand the wish of the Home Office to consider the matter in a wider context. I shall not oppose the increases, but I hope that the Minister will tell us when there will be a comprehensive review of the penalties. I am not asking for a date, but I am asking the Minister to assure the House, planning officers, town clerks, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and others, that the Government, in a busy life with far greater problems than those covered by today's discussion, will give some attention to it.

We are discussing not only the need to punish the person who deliberately fails to comply with the law but whether we are in danger of bringing the whole concept of complying with the law into disrepute. Although an extension to or the use of a garage may affect the houses on either side, or the four houses across the road, streets are used by thousands of people. When they see, if only for a short time, that the street scene has changed and deteriorated, and that the environment has suffered, they will ask: who will stop it? Whose responsibility is it? When it takes a long time to deal with such a matter, they will cynically say that people can get away with anything in 1981. However, we know that they cannot. We know that we have the legislative framework and the financial penalties, to enable us to take action but we want to be able to demonstrate, even to the innocent person who genuinely makes a mistake, that if he persists he will be dealt with quickly.

I am a great believer in the appeal system. A person who has tried to get something through but has failed should be able to appeal. I have an interesting case in my constituency in Enfield, relating to industrial sewing machines. The Minister will recall that people are often incensed with the appeals system, because it produces the wrong result for them if the appeal is upheld. While I regret that appeals are often upheld, I am still a firm believer that a person aggrieved by a decision of a council is entitled to use the law.

In setting these penalties we must ensure that people understand that if they persist in exercising their rights and incur the community in the expenditure of hundreds of pounds in pursuing and enforcing committee time and so on, they must know that eventually they will be faced with a fine of £1,000, which I hope will be increased, and that for every day thereafter they will be faced with a penalty not of £50 or £100, but £200, which is the figure that I think should be imposed.

10.15 am

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West said that he is concerned with the sleazy developer who deliberately seeks loopholes. I am grateful for the remarks that he made about my interest in the heritage. Those of us who live in urban environments and are urban animals perhaps appreciate more than others the beauty, the value and the traditions of our countryside. I am in favour of anything in this series of amendments that will deter people from damaging listed buildings.

Before the debate I contacted Mr. Stonard, the planning officer of the London borough of Enfield—I have respected the work of Mr. Stonard and his staff for years—about cases involving listed buildings in Enfield. They occur very infrequently. There are interesting statistics on enforcement notices in the last year. Three hundred cases of contravention of planning regulations relating to listed buildings were brought to the attention of the council. Of those 300, 147 were reported to the council. By the time that the enforcement officer visited those buildings and pointed out to the person that he was doing something against the law, the development had been stopped. Some people did not know that they required planning permission. Once an enforcement had been served, 28 of that 147 resulted in appeals to the Secretary of State.

Lord Bellwin in another place said that 6,000 appeals were being considered by his Department in the current year. The 28 cases in Enfield were finally resolved and 13 summonses for non-compliance were issued. I do not have the result of the summonses, but it is certain that if the summons were in connection with failure to comply, the present procedures would follow. Those 300 cases which caused aggravation eventually boiled down to 13 summonses. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is better if we can, by persuasion and example, to ensure that such matters never reach the court. That is the purpose of the legislation. If we can frighten people away from pursuing the matter until we are forced to take them to court, that is good.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has the privilege of bringing together some helpful nitty gritty measures. I shall speak to the amendments that relate to advertising, wasteland and tree preservation when we reach them. My constituents will be far more affected by successful prosecutions than by many other measures that we pass. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House that he takes fully on board the fact that we are endeavouring to make his job more effective and meaningful. He has my full support. Nothing does more to bring disrepute to this place than passing laws to be carried out by planning committees and town clerks and finding at the end of the day that that has been ineffective.

Later we shall discuss wasteland, where the taw is useless because we do not have the additional measures covered by the amendments. In time we all learn, but sadly, people outside this place wait to see what we do and then spend their time finding ways around it. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and Lord Bellwin at least have let people outside know that we recognise the problems and are trying to do something about them. On behalf of the Opposition, I give my full support to the amendments.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)

It might be convenient if I intervene in the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). We appreciate the way in which he has handled the Bill.

The debate has been of considerable importance because it has shown the widespread feeling that something should be done to stiffen the enforcement procedures, with particular reference to listed buildings. It has also shown an underlying anxiety that what we are about is insufficient, first, as a deterrent and, secondly, as an exemplar of the way in which the Government should pursue their fines policy.

I shall seek to reply to some of the points raised by hon. Members. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) has to leave the House shortly for a prior engagement of which he has given me notice. It is, therefore, right that I should refer to the problem that he raised relating to Monkspath Hall. It illustrates effectively the type of problem that we are up against. That case was prosecuted in the Crown court. A fine of £1,500 was levied on the tractor driver who demolished the building and £2,000 on the firm involved. Naturally, the two sums attracted a fair amount of adverse comment.

Solutions which involve the restoration of a damaged building—and this was also the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth was making—give rise to considerable problems. My hon. Friend said that no fines will ever replace a listed building. Of course, that is a fact. In discussing the correct policy towards fines in relation to the destruction of something which is irreplaceable the House is really dealing with something which is intangible.

In some cases involving listed buildings, replacement or restoration can make a substantial contribution to the environment being seen in much the same light. I refer to the destruction of buildings in a Georgian terrace, for example. In that case, a frontage could be replaced. Indeed, many buildings in London as we know have been replaced in this way. A frontage can be replaced if it has been illegally removed. That would create more or less the same impression. However, the removal of a building of great antiquity such as Monkspath Hall, particularly if it is isolated, cannot, I suggest, be adequately compensated for by any fine which the House could devine.

The problem is not, in my judgment, the question of what should be the appropriate fine, but what should be the appropriate system which would prevent that building ever being attacked by the demolition people in the first place.

Mr. Heddle

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for kindly giving way on this particular point. I am also grateful to him for having kindly answered the point raised in my brief speech and for enabling me to listen to his reply before I have to leave.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, I submit that no fine will ever replace a listed building which has been willfully demolished. However, might I direct my hon. Friend's attention to the other point that I raised in citing the Monkspath Hall incident? The site, now having been demolished, is suitable for some alternative form of development. It is suitable for industrial development. The site upon which Monkspath Hall stood is probably worth between £150,000 and £200,000 witht he benefit of planning permission for industrial development. Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure of the fine should in some way relate to the enhanced value of the site previously occupied by the listed building?

Mr. Shaw

I disagree that the level of fine for the destruction of something which is so unique as the dwelling in question should be different from the level of fine for the destruction of buildings of which there are many and which form part of a more compressed environment, as opposed to the unique environment involved in the building to which my hon. Friend refers.

I would take modest issue with my hon. Friend in seeking to find the most ideal solution in fines policy. The Government wish to find the best practical means of preventing the incident from occurring. That is our prime policy. Although there are problems with fining we feel—and the Home Office shares our view—that something more than increasing penalties is needed.

I can give my hon. Friend an assurance. We are exploring what can be done to secure a new approach to this kind of problem. He should take some encouragement from the fact that the incidents which have given rise to complaints made by my hon. Friend and others, deplorable though they are, have collectively required us to examine the problem to see whether we can find an alternative approach.

The group of amendments increase penalties for offences involving breaches of planning and listed building control. They have to be seen in the wider context. Frankly, the wider context is that they come at the end of a pretty long process. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) rightly drew attention to the enormous amount of time and the considerable complexity of the process through which these things have to pass before eventually a court action is brought and successfully concluded with a fine being imposed.

We should remind ourselves that the Bill deals with many other matters than penalties, which rightly are the subject of these amendments. The Bill deals with planning control and amends the system to allow, in particular, the enforcement of procedures on historic buildings to be carried through more efficiently.

The overall position is that the final sanction of a fine or court case is indicative that the process of reason and the process of persuasion, for which the local planning authorities now have considerable power and opportunity, have failed. We wish to stop somebody causing an intolerable nuisance by securing the removal of a scrapyard from a semi-residential area. We also wish to deal with somebody who simply refuses to modify some precious feature of a listed historic building to restore it to its original architectural condition. When persuasion and discussion have failed, it is difficult to design the right mechanism in the fines procedure to alter the situation.

The Government have emphasised what is a common view on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Edmonton referred to it. Enforcement is never to be lightly undertaken by a planning authority. We take that view because sometimes it is all too easy for a planning authority to issue an enforcement notice as a holding action, with the result that almost automatically there is an appeal to the Secretary of State, who is left to sort the matter out with the help of the planning inspectorate. As the hon. Member for Edmonton said, that takes time.

All that, in addition to being time-consuming, is administratively costly. That is one reason why we have advised planning authorities in my Department's circular 22/80, issued last November, that enforcement action should be taken only as a last resort when everything else has failed to produce the result which the planning authority wishes to achieve. This implies, by its being the last resort, that reason and persuasion have failed. One could be dealing with an unreasonable person or with someone who refuses to accept that the value to the community—which, after all, the planning authority has to represent—of the building or of the alteration of the premises in question is sufficient to cause him to change his action.

10.30 am

That puts the planning authority and the individual in the position of having to litigate, at a time when the courts have substantial amounts of business on hand, on matters which, in community terms, probably rank for higher priority. So, we have not only the long administrative process through which such matters must go before they reach litigation, the increasing signs that reasonableness is departing from the argument and that unreasonableness is taking its place, but also the question of placing the action within the timetable for court hearings, which again is a matter of time. In terms of priority it may not be a proper use of the time when so much else of greater importance has to be determined by the courts.

It is not surprising that, if planning authorities take our advice seriously, recourse to law should be the final process through which they go. It is therefore all the more important to have realistic penalty provisions available to the courts because magistrates and judges will increasingly see that the offences brought before them by planning authorities are serious matters, sometimes involving highly-profitable operations that are being carried out unlawfully and for which the only realistic restraint is the heaviest possible financial penalty. If the courts do not impose realistic fines on offenders, as the hon. Member for Edmonton said, they contribute to the reluctance felt by some planning authorities to take enforcement action. They fear that at the end of a long and arduous administrative process there will be only derisory results.

That is particularly true of one of the matters covered by amendment No. 8 concerning advertisement control. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) stressed the need for realistic fines for the amusement arcade industry and also for that industry in central London known as the sex industry. While amendment No. 8 may not go as far as he would have liked, it is a useful step in the right direction.

I come now to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, arid also referred to by the hon. Member for Edmonton on index-linking fines in some way so that they can keep pace by what is considered to be an adequate amount and include some compensation for the erosion of inflation. Such an index-linking provision for many fines exists in section 61 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. In view of the comments that have been made in the debate, it is right that we should urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to use that section to ensure that fines are at least maintained at their money value at the time of their introduction or at the time of their last increase. Whereas this morning we are considering for the first time enshrining in the Bill a provision for fines at significantly more realistic levels than obtained heretofore, it is right to seek discussions about section 61 of the Criminal Law Act with a view to reviewing these fines on the lines of the reviews that should apply to other fines as a result of changes in the value of money.

These provisions need not necessarily be our last word on the subject of fines. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth would have liked greatly increased penalties for unlawful demolition but, as the House will recognise, that would have been substantially out of the scope of the Bill. We are dealing here with certain anomalies and deficiencies in the procedures, we are putting right some of the administrative problems and we are adding at least a more realistic policy for fines.

We shall attempt to remedy the longer-term problem posed by hon. Members when a suitable opportunity occurs in a Government Bill. I acknowledge the strongly-held expression that we cannot allow the problem to remain, assuming the passage of these amendments or the revision of such matters in line with the provisions of the Criminal Law Act 1977. There may be an appropriate occasion for us to look at the whole question of the deterrent value of fines in the area of demolition and to seek an additional Government vehicle for carrying that through at a later stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has dealt in some detail with the amendments. He referred to the Outdoor Advertising Council and amendment No. 8. I can confirm that the council supports the increased penalties. The advertising industry is frequently under attack by those who seek to preserve the heritage, but it continues to act responsibly in these matters and I pay tribute to the way in which it has supported the amendments.

We are all anxious to see the entire system of planning and listed building enforcement, and appeals, working more effectively and efficiently. That is the main purpose of the Bill. This is very much a co-operative effort between my Department and local planning authorities, and I should like to put on record that we are most grateful for the help that we have been given at all stages from the local authority associations in the preparation of the Bill.

That is not quite the end of the story. If, as I hope, the Bill, as amended, will shortly obtain the Royal Assent, it provides for some subordinate regulations to be made governing enforcement appeal procedures, and we shall want to consult both the local authority associations and the Council on Tribunals about the provisions to be included in those regulations.

In these amendments we have the prospect of more realistic fines. The pressure for that arose on Second Reading and was taken up by noble Lords in another place. We are grateful that they are now before us for consideration. With these amendments the Bill becomes a more effective instrument and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire deserves the congratulations that he has received from both sides of the House as he seeks to complete what perhaps he may regard as his "swan song", at least regarding legislation in the House. I think he would be the first to agree that although it is a short Bill some of the provisions are somewhat complex. I thank him for taking the Bill successfully through all its stage in this House. I support the amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 14, line 7, after "the" insert "listed building".

Mr. Hastings

I beg to move, That this House cloth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

May I say how grateful I was to my hon. Friend the Minister for his reception in the previous debate of the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) and for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) about the extent of the penalties, and particularly for what he said about index-linking. It was most encouraging, and I am sure that both my hon. Friends will appreciate it.

This is a minor drafting amendment to make it clear beyond doubt that the reference in subsection (2i of the new section 97A of the 1971 Act is to a listed building enforcement notice. It is a legal point, included on the advice of parliamentary counsel.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 5 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 15, line 5, at end insert—


10A.—(1) In section 103 of that Act (enforcement of duties as to replacement of trees which are the subject of tree preservation orders) in subsection (3) (appeals to the Secretary of State) the words from "and the provisions" to the end of the subsection shall cease to have effect.

(2) The following subsections shall be inserted after that subsection:—

"(3A) An appeal under this section shall be made by notice in writing to the Secretary of State.

(3B) The notice shall indicate the grounds of the appeal and state the facts on which it is based.

(3C) On any such appeal the Secretary of State shall, if either the appellant or the local planning authority so desire, afford to each of them an opportunity of appearing before, and being heard by, a person appointed by the Secretary of State for the purpose.

(3D) Where an appeal is brought under this section, the notice under subsection (1) of this section shall be of no effect pending the final determination or the withdrawal of the appeal.

(3E) On the determination of an appeal under this section, the Secretary of State shall give directions for giving effect to the determination, including, where appropriate, directions for quashing the notice under subsection (1) of this section or for varying its terms.

(3F) On such an appeal the Secretary of State may correct any informality, defect or error in the notice under subsection (1) of this section or give directions for varying its terms if he is satisfied that the correction or variation can be made without injustice to the appellant or the local planning authority.".

(3) In subsection (5) of that section, after the words "enforcement notice", in the second place where they occur, there shall be inserted the words "a copy of which has been".'

Mr. Hastings

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

We now come to the subject of trees. A great deal of attention has been focused on the question of hedgerow trees during the passage so far of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. Where there is an enforcement notice, the amendment is relevant. I know that the matter interests my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) in particular.

The amendment inserts a new paragraph 10A in the schedule. The effect is to amend the existing section 103 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, which deals with the enforcement of a local planning authority's powers to require the replanting of a tree or trees, in accordance with the requirements of a notice served by the planning authority under section 62 of the 1971 Act. The amendment repeals the concluding provisions of subsection (3) of section 103 of the 1971 Act, from the words "and the provisions" to the end of that subsection, and substitutes for them six new subsections, numbered (3A) to (3F), which correspond to similar provisions for enforcement appeals—in sections 88 and 88A of the 1971 Act—which are being amended by provisions in paragraph 1 of the schedule.

These six new subsections specify how an appeal is to be made to the Secretary of State against a notice requiring the replanting of a tree or trees; what procedures the Secretary of State must follow in dealing with any such appeal; that the requirements of the notice are to be suspended until the appeal is finally determined or is withdrawn; and what additional powers of correction or variation of the notice are available to the Secretary of State when he is determining such an appeal. All these provisions are exactly comparable to the parallel provisions for the Secretary of State to deal with enforcement appeals which are being amended by this Bill and it is clearly sensible that these two sets of appeal provisions should be the same.

Subparagraph (3) of the new paragraph 10A makes a minor drafting amendment to subsection (5) of section 103 of the 1971 Act, so that it refers to the copy of an enforcement notice which has been served by the local planning authority instead of referring to the notice itself.

The amendment was supported by the Opposition in another place. I commend it to the House as a worthwhile strengthening of the powers available to planning authorities to ensure that tree planting required by them takes place in practice.

In case all this is not crystal clear, in case some hon. Members share the difficulty that I had when I first saw the amendment—that of distinguishing the wood from the trees, if I may so put it—I shall explain it as simply as I can. The amendment is concerned with what happens when someone appeals to the Secretary of State against a notice in which the planning authority has required a tree to be replanted. One reason for an appeal in such circumstances may simply be to delay having to carry out the replanting work. It is therefore important for the Secretary of State to be able to operate the appeal procedures quickly and fairly. At present he cannot do that, because the procedures are too cumbersome.

You may not believe it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the effect of what I have sought to describe should be to speed up the procedure and get the trees replanted more quickly.

Sir Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that nothing in the amendment does anything to affect the exclusion from any form of planning control that already exists for trees under 3in in diameter?

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the Merthyr report on hedgerow and farm timber, which was published in 1955, and which is relevant. I think that Lord Merthyr was the last person, with his committee, to look in any depth at the problem of tree preservation orders, hedgerow timber and amenity trees on the outskirts of towns and villages.

In paragraph 167 of its report, the committee said that it was essential that the felling of young trees under 3in diameter be free from any form of control, unless they were subject to a tree preservation order. I hope that nothing in the amendment will affect that.

One of the principal recommendations came later in that paragraph. The committee considered that the future maintenance of adequate stocks of hedgerow, farm, park, roadside and amenity trees would be best secured by educating and persuading farmers, landowners and local authorities rather than by additional financial or other assistance, or by a strengthening or alteration of the existing tree preservation orders.

I hope that what we are doing in the amendment will not destroy the spirit of the Merthyr report, which has ensured that we have, especially as a result of the efforts of the Forestry Commission in 1973—"Plant a Tree Year"—a considerable investment in amenity trees, particularly on the outskirts of our villages and towns.

This is a complicated subject. It is significant that my hon. Friend, who was drawn only eighteenth in the ballot, should have had such success in getting the Bill to this stage. I do not want to say anything that would destroy his chances of getting it on to the statute book. To succeed in coming first with one's Lords amendments on the last day of the season for Private Members' Bills is no mean achievement. I sincerely hope that if my hon. Friend can put at rest our fears about trees with a diameter of under 3 in, the passage of the Bill will speedily reach its conclusion.

Mr. Graham

The Opposition welcome the amendment. There is today more concern about the continuing loss of trees than there has been for a long time. It is not accidental but is the result, not of a campaign, but of years of good work by many people. I do not include myself among them. They recognise the need for a positive attitude to the conservation of our countryside and the preservation of the amenity that those of us who live in towns enjoy. They realise that almost overnight, sometimes as a result of vandalism, but often as a result of the actions of careless and unthinking people, the landscape and environmental beauty that we enjoy could be destroyed.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) and I are the only Members in the Chamber who served on the Standing Committee on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. I have learnt a great deal about this subject from him and others, and also about the great importance of positive action. There are conflicts between the needs of the farmer, the nation and the visitor to the countryside. Our legislation is aimed at ensuring that all three interests are fairly treated.

I wish to refer to tree preservation both in the countryside and in urban areas. The London borough of Enfield has some gorgeous leafy parks. Many of its streets have trees. The many large houses now being demolished for redevelopment have beautiful trees in their grounds. The problem is that comprehensively monitoring and mapping the tree population in the borough calls for large resources. Enfield has a first-class record for doing what we would call the right thing. I understand from the planning officer that because of the problem with resources Enfield is often limited simply to ensuring that when a large house is to be demolished for redevelopment the trees in the grounds, if they have to be cut down, are replaced.

In 1980–81 Enfield dealt with nine tree preservation orders. They were all related to redevelopment. When I was chairman of a planning committee in Enfield some years ago, there were two bitter rows about tree preservation. The trees concerned had been part of the landscape for the lifetime of those living in the area. Yet the developer could develop the land properly only if the trees were felled.

The preservation of trees is a sensitive issue, especially in urban areas. The countryside has come through the most tremendous blight in the history of trees—Dutch elm disease. It was catastrophic. Yet it still has trees on an enormous scale. There is now a problem with hedgerows being removed to permit more economic farming.

The amendment is valuable to my constituents to whom a tree—not trees, or a forest—is vital. The one, two, three or four trees that make a beautiful feature, provide a habitat for birds, bees and insects, and present continuing seasonal change, are the heritage of my constituents.

The amendment is designed to stop desecration. It will insist upon replacement and speed up the procedure. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) for this package. We are concerned not only with stopping people from doing what they should not do, but with making them do what they should do. On behalf of the Opposition I give the amendment warm support.

Mr. Giles Shaw

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball) questioned whether anything in the amendment might undermine the Merthyr report and the important work that has flowed from it. I assure him that there is no intention to make any alterations in the present arrangements which the report caused us to adopt. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) raised the question of tree preservation. We are aware that tree preservation orders and their administration by local authorities have caused some difficulty—partly because information about the location of the trees and the problems occurring is not easy to acquire, and partly because the orders are a cumbersome user of administrative time. The hon. Gentleman knows that changes have been made in the handling of tree preservation orders.

The House may not know that a working party has been established by the Association of District Councils. No doubt the London boroughs will wish to contribute to it. It will review the whole operation of tree preservation orders and the way in which local authorities are empowered to handle them. I can repeat the assurance given by my noble Friend Lord Avon in another place. The Government will look carefully at the recommendations of the working party. We agree that trees must be preserved where they contribute an important part to our urban., as well as our rural, landscape.

Sir Marcus Kimball

The powers of the local authorities compulsorily to prune a tree are important. Unless those powers are enforced, people will allow trees to become derelict and use that as an excuse for cutting them down. Will my hon. Friend give us an assurance about compulsory pruning?

Mr. Shaw

I accept the importance of pruning in the culture of trees. However, local authorities are hard— pressed both for staff and resources. Although I agree that anything that seeks to undermine the proper maintenance of trees should be regretted, local authorities must determine what resources they can allocate for pruning purposes.

The amendment substantially helps enforcement procedure. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 15, line 5, at end, after the words last inserted. Insert—

"Waste land

10B. The following section shall be substituted for section 104 of that Act:—

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