HC Deb 11 May 1982 vol 23 cc702-24 11.20 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)

I beg to move, That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1982, which were laid before this House on 19th April, be approved. I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the Scottish motion, That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (Scotland) Regulations 1982, which were laid before this House on 26th April, be approved. These amending regulations, which are laid under powers contained in section 87 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, provide for a number of changes to the fees scheme introduced in April last year. Those changes reflect our, necessarily limited, experience of the operation of fees, and respond to a number of representations from hon. Members and others that the scheme contains unintentional injustices and anomalies. We are also closing a few loopholes. We are therefore making a quick response to certain specific problems. The amending regulations are thus a discharge of my undertaking to review the scheme during its first year of operation but, given the relative novelty of the lees scheme, we have thought it right to confine changes this year to minor adjustments and alterations. Major changes at this stage would, in our view, involve disruption and upheaval on a scale that would not be justified.

But we propose—I shall return to the point—a much more fundamental review during the year. Against that background, we are also proposing a modest across-the-board increase of 10 per cent. in the levels of all fees, with scale maxima going up by the same amount.

There is a conflict between simplicity and equity in any system of charges, and the fees regulations are therefore characterised by some complexity. I hope that we can in due course diminish that complexity. Although there have been some difficulties about interpretation and application, especially in the period immediately after the introduction of fees, it is our impression that the scheme has on the whole worked reasonably smoothly and reasonably well.

I wish to pay tribute to the local planning authorities which have handled the new scheme. I would not pretend that people like paying fees—it would be very odd if they did—but it seems to have been grudgingly accepted that the users of the development control system should make a contribution towards its not inconsiderable costs.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Can my hon. Friend tell us how much money will be raised?

Mr. Shaw

That reference will be made in due course.

The 1981 regulations sought to achieve three main objectives—a fair balance of fees between different categories of development, levels of fees which reflected in broad terms the costs to planning authorities of processing different sorts of applications and levels of fees which did not have the effect of discouraging development. Although the 1981 regulations went some considerable way towards achieving those three objectives, I would not pretend that they have in practice fully met each of them. That is why we have laid the amending regulations. It may be for the convenience of the House if I now briefly summarise the main changes embodied in the amending regulations. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if I occasionally touch on rather complex and technical matters.

As I have said, the amending regulations provide for a modest increase of 10 per cent. in the levels of fees, with scale maxima going up pro rata. Although there have been suggestions that the increases should be larger—some people have suggested over 50 per cent.—we concluded that it would be unjustifiable to go for any larger increase than one which would keep fees roughly constant in real terms. Fees are a comparatively recent innovation, and it would not be right at this early stage to make them considerably higher in real terms.

I turn now to the detailed changes in the fees scheme. We have received a number of representations, not least from hon. Members, that the fees regulations bite hard on large but low-cost agricultural buildings. Although the levels of fees are related to processing costs rather than the costs of the proposed development itself, and agricultural buildings up to 465 sq m are generally a permitted development under class VI of the General Development Order, we have thought it right to respond to those representations.

The amending regulations therefore provide that, for those agricultural buildings which do require planning permission, the first 465 sq m will be discounted when it comes to calculating fees. In my view, that is a substantial concession. It seeks to strike a fairer balance between the costs of processing applications for what can often be large and obtrusive developments in the countryside and the interests of the agricultural community.

The National Farmers Union has made representations to me that there should be further concessions in particular to glasshouse growers. I have received a letter, which no doubt hon. Members on both sides have also received, from the chairman of the parliamentary committee of the National Farmers Union, in the opening paragraph of which he states: I should like to express our thanks in the light of our previous representations for proposing a special category for agricultural buildings whereby the majority of farmers should have their planning fees almost halved. That is correct and it is a considerable reduction. I believe that all those in agriculture will be glad that that change has been made. However, the chairman goes on to a particular question about the glasshouse grower and refers to the differences in benefit from the lower development of half an acre or less and those of the 1 acre development or more.

I have to accept that the calculations show that the benefit is greater for the smaller than for the larger development, but the comparison between the half-acre cost that is quoted under the new draft regulation, a saving of some 19 per cent., would have been about 28 per cent. had the 10 per cent. increase in fees been taken into account. I must also point out that the 6 per cent. increase in payment on the larger building is really a net benefit of 4 per cent. again when the 10 per cent. increase in all charges is taken into consideration.

There are substantial benefits to the glasshouse grower in the revised regulations before the House. I have no doubt, however, that this will provide hon. Members—I know some of my hon. Friends are already of this opinion—with the view that more should be done for horticulture. I therefore give the House an undertaking that we will look at this issue again during the review which I mentioned.

It was recently brought to our attention that the present regulations also contain a wholly unintended anomaly. It is that the fees category dealing with the subdivision of dwellings into flats has no upper limit. As a result, the developer proposing to subdivide three large blocks of vandalised flats in Liverpool, known as the "Piggeries"—I see the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) in his place—faced a fee of over £6,000. Although this may be a unique case, clearly action had to be taken to deal with it.

In the amending regulations we have placed the same upper limit on this category of fee as on the category dealing with the erection of dwellings. At the same time, we are making some more technical changes in this category to ensure that the subdivision of warehouses and the like are treated in the same way as the subdivision of dwelling houses.

An anomaly in the other direction was the treatment of waste disposal applications. At present applications for the disposal of waste to land attract a flat rate fee of £40, but it has become clear that complicated matters of this nature can involve a substantial amount of work for planning authorities. Therefore, the amending regulations recognise that fact by providing that waste disposal applications should be treated in the same way as those for the extraction of minerals, that is at a rate of £22 for each 0.1 hectare of the site area. That will have a maximum of £3,300.

Those are three fairly substantial changes to the regulations. Others are more technical. Arrangements for charging for reserved matters are tightened up in the amending regulations, thus closing some loopholes. At present, it is possible to frame applications for outline permission in such a way as to include details of design and external appearance, thus ensuring that a subsequent detailed application attracts a low flat rate fee. Design and external appearance normally involve local authorities in a fair amount of work and hence costs, and that minor loopnole defeats one of the objectives of the fees scheme. We are therefore closing it.

At the same time, we are extending the scope of the regulation dealing with reserved matters to cover cases where an appeal has been made to the Secretary of State under section 37 of the 1971 Act, and cases in which land has been added to the site covered by the earlier application to provide better access. We are also amending the wording of the regulations to tighten up the "free go" arrangements, under which one revised application is allowed free within 12 months.

At this technical level, there are also two minor but useful improvements to the present arrangements for the payment of fees for the deemed planning application which arises from any enforcement appeal made to the Secretary of State. First, we cater for the situation where someone makes an enforcement appeal, and would normally be required to pay the appropriate fee for it, at a time when he is still waiting for the local planning authority's decision on a planning application for the development cited in the enforcement notice. In those circumstances, it is obviously unfair to have to pay two fees, so the amending regulations introduce an exemption from the fee for the enforcement appeal.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Will the Minister say what will happen when two owners of a semidetached house decide to put in an application to the local authority for an extension which will benefit both occupiers in both portions of the semi-detached house? At present, they would pay two lots of fees. Will it be possible for them to make their application and for only one fee to be paid?

Mr. Shaw

Without detailed knowledge of the case I can only say that it would depend upon whether they are two separate hereditaments involving two separate planning applications. If it is one extension, it will be one fee. If it is two extensions, one for each half of the semidetached property, it will require two planning applications.

Second, we take account of a provision in the Local Government and Planning (Amendment) Act which followed the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). As a result of that Act, the Secretary of State now has a power to quash an enforcement notice, or to dismiss an enforcement appeal, in certain specified circumstances where procedural requirements are not carried out. When that happens, there is no consideration of the deemed planning application and it is therefore entirely appropriate to refund any fee already paid. The amending regulations provide accordingly.

The amending regulations also contain some reorganisation and amendment of the schedules and other drafting amendments. The Scottish regulations are in most respects the same as those for England and Wales but have some minor differences to reflect different circumstances north of the border. The differences are a special rate of charge for the extraction of peat, a flat rate fee for all applications for express consent to the display of advertisements and a different approach to outline applications for single dwelling houses.

As I said, we have not sought to make fundamental changes to the fees scheme. We have only limited experience of its operation, and major alterations in, for example, the incidence of fees would not be justified at this stage. However, we propose during this year to look again, and in much more depth, at the scheme and its details and at the way in which it treats different sorts of development. To that end, the Department will be seeking the views of interested parties.

One issue that we will be examining with particular care is that of minor modifications to existing planning permissions. A number of examples have come our way of local authorities insisting on a fresh application—and therefore another fee—for quite minor changes. It is certainly not our intention that people should be charged twice in that way. We will also be looking at a number of other matters raised by the local authority associations, developers and others.

I commend the new regulations to the House.

Mr. Lawrence

I hope that my hon. Friend will not sit down before he answers my question.

Mr. Shaw

I beg the pardon of my hon. and learned Friend. It is too early to estimate with complete confidence the total income for 1981–82. We expect it to be in the range of £23 million to £25 million, but we cannot yet be certain.

11.34 pm
Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

We shall discuss not only the amendments in the regulations before us but the original regulations. In addition, we shall review the experiences of local councils and the Government's attitude and behaviour towards the regulations and, most importantly, towards the rate support grant. The question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) about the moneys received is significant in that regard.

As the Minister said, it is about 12 months since the original recommendations to introduce the principle of charging for planning applications came before the House. On that occasion, Opposition Members opposed the principle and we intend to oppose the principle of adding to those charges. In Committee, when the Government first mentioned this seemingly simple way of cutting public expenditure and of helping the Exchequer by making councils and applicants pay, it was said that about £30 million might be raised. Indeed, the Minister and I served on that Committee and I am glad to see other Committee members in their places tonight.

When we met about 12 months ago the Government decided that the figure that might be raised was about £38 million. We were told that, consultations had taken place and that about £38 million could be raised. In discussing the rate support grant settlements for 1981–82, the Government then indicated to local authorities that they would assume that that was the type of figure that would be raised. My first charge against the Government is one of gross incompetence in estimating the income from fees.

Although the Minister has given us a figure of £22 million to £25 million, the local authority associations have given us a figure of between £20 million and £22 million. As a result of incompetent estimating, local authorities have been placed in a difficult position. The councils have to make up their budgets. They have used a figure given to them by the Minister. There has been a global pre-emption of about £38 million. If that sum is not received, the charges cannot be increased and the Minister cannot be asked for more. As a result, if councils have assumed they would receive about £200,000 in fees but have received only £120,000, they will have to make up the £80,000 by an internal measure, perhaps affecting social services, education or bringing about the redundancy of one or two members of the planning department.

The Government were far too eager about launching the scheme. They paid lip service to consultation. They were warned by local authority associations that the income that they had estimated was far too high. Therefore, our first charge is incompetence. Our second charge is that, not content with landing councils with a whopping shortfall, the Government have failed to take it into account when deciding on the allowance in the 1982–83 rate support grant. I accept that more than 12 months ago the Government were entitled to the benefit of the doubt in that they genuinely believed that a certain figure could be raised. However, as they moved towards the settlement for 1982–83, it became clear from the evidence that the Minister and I have received that the income was likely to be about £22 million to £25 million. In the figures produced for 1982–83, the Government have written into the current rate support grant figure an estimate of £38 million. Even with the increase, there is likely to be an income of about £23 million, £24 million or £25 million. In two years, there has been a shortfall for authorities of about £27 million. That money has to be found by the councils. In our view, that is disgraceful.

It is not as though the Government were not told that that was likely to happen. The three associations—the Association of County Councils, the Association of District Councils, and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities—protested last year and again this year, when this year's settlement was proposed, but to no avail.

The associations did not oppose the drafting regulations. I quote a letter that they sent me: The three local authority Associations representing all local planning authorities in England and Wales welcome the drafting changes to the Regulations. However, we are concerned about the financial implications of the new scale of fees, which will involve continuing substantial losses for local authorities". I hope that the Minister will tell us what he intends to do, very late in the day, to redress that horrendous situation. The letter goes on: In 2 years a total loss of £28.4 million will have been incurred and the Government has quite cynically and quietly imposed this added burden on local authorities. Whether or not that was intended, that is how the three authority associations see the situation.

I level a third charge at the Government, and that is one of deceit. Even when they seek to impose this system of planning application charges, they deceive councils into believing that they will have an income that is palpably untrue and unattainable.

Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in the past year or two the construction industry has gone through a dull patch, and that therefore the number of applications has been much lower than the Government or anyone could reasonably have expected? In the next year or two, with lower interest rates and a mood of optimism, the applications may increase considerably, and thus bring in the £38 million.

Mr. Graham

If the depression that was suffered by the construction industry was a surprise it was a surprise only to the Government. Another factor that helped to reduce the number of applications was the amendments to the general development order. The Government should be able to see the trends that are there. They simply said to local authorities "On this level of charges, we assume that you will be able to get £38 million". The authorities are saying that in two years there has been a shortfall of about £28 million. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) is, perhaps, right when he says that it was a bad guess. In our view, the Government did not have to guess, because they had last year's experience to guide them, but they still told the authorities that they would get £38 million, although they got only £22 million last year.

Mr. Alton

Is it not true that what has happened is yet another unannounced cut in rate support grant to local authorities throughout the country?

Mr. Graham

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton). The authorities say that the Government has quite cynically and quietly imposed this added burden on local authorities". I am certain that in many council chambers and many gatherings of local authority officers inflammatory language has been used. All that I am saying is that local councils have had this additional impost laid upon them.

The Minister said that there had been a call for increased charges. I am told that in order to make up the shortfall the increase, instead of being 10 per cent., should have been 53 per cent. If there were a 53 per cent. increase in the fees instead of a 10 per cent. increase, there would not be a shortfall. Imagine the enormity of the charges in this early period. We would not be faced with that dilemma if the Government had been honest in their understanding of the matter, recognised the true situation and said to local authorities that they would put the matter right.

The position is made worse because, before the charges for planning applications were brought in, a charge for building regulation applications had been imposed. Authorities were told by the Government of the rate support grant settlement for income from building regulations in 1980–81. There was a shortfall of £19 million. In 1981–82 there was a shortfall of £28 million. It is estimated that in the current year 1982–83, there will be a shortfall of £25 million.

For building regulation fees the shortfall in three years is £72 million. When one adds the £28 million from the planning applications shortfall to the £72 million, one finds the disgraceful situation that, in addition to all the other burdens and imposts that local government has had to bear thanks to the Government, £100 million has been filched from the totals that the people of the country have been led to believe existed.

The other charge we make is that the regulations do not take effect until 1 June. There is no excuse for the Government not bringing in the charges on 1 April. However, they will take effect on 1 June. One-sixth of the year will have passed before local authorities will have the opportunity to recoup.

The Opposition must accept the situation as it is. That is why we have sought to protest strongly about the direct financial consequences for councils—which means ratepayers—of the way in which the Government have imposed the regulations, riding roughshod over councils and councillors. It is unacceptable that we should tolerate deception or acquiesce in this blatant financial chicanery.

There is wide acceptance that the changes in the planning fee regulations will close a number of loopholes revealed in practice during the first year. The Minister is right. The evidence we have it is that the exercise—not merely the increases, but the attempt to put the matter right—is welcome. I am satisfied at the treatment of charges for waste disposal.

A number of lessons have been learnt during the year. The Minister will not be unaware of this, but I want to read into the record a number of confirmations of what was said by the Opposition when the regulations first appeared earlier this year.

The planning officer for the city of Bradford tells me that in spite of the reduction in level of applications, the overall workload of the Section does not appear to have been reduced. From an administration point of view the registering process is more complex due to the checking of fees, answering of queries on fees and accounting procedures. From a professional point of view, there has been a significant increase in pre-submission discussions between applicants and planning officers, with applicants wanting to know the likely outcome of an application before applying. Faced with the need to pay, individuals and companies, to see whether they can avoid paying, are taking up the time of the staff. There is no reduction in staff. The Secretary of State for the Environment is constantly saying to councils—although they are being given more work and the Government are taking away more money from them—that the Government still insist that councils should reduce staff.

The metropolitan borough of Wolverhampton states in a letter to me: There is a noticeable change in public attitude, requiring more staff time to answer pre-application queries and matters involving processing of applications". The Barnsley metropolitan borough council writes—and this is a significant point— The payment of a fee no doubt deters many applicants from seeking permission and when unauthorised development is noticed or brought to the attention of the Council it is often necessary to invoke the enforcement procedure merely to obtain an application. This is particularly relevant in cases where a complaint is received and the local Ombudsman could become involved if no action is taken. It is considered that the collection of fees is in no way helpful to the planning control process, which is already complex and resented by many prospective developers. Let there be no doubt that for fundamental reasons the Opposition remain opposed to the whole philosophy of charging for planning applications. We regard planning as a community obligation. To make individuals and developers pay reveals and underlines the Government's misunderstanding of the nature of planning legislation that has been developing in this country for more than 150 years.

The purpose of planning restrictions is to protect the community generally. The planning system is not a service for the individual applicant. It is designed to benefit the general public. Experience shows that once charges were known to be about to be brought in a flood of applications were made before the 31 March 1981 deadline This must have affected the total for last year. The Opposition stand by the principle that the built environment is shaped by and for the benefit of the community as a whole, not for companies or corporations. Tonight's measure is a second bite at the cherry. To propose 10 per cent. more towards bridging the gap that was created by the sheer dishonesty of the Government is an outrage that will be deeply resented by beleaguered councillors of all political persuasions. The Government show a total disregard for the views of the associations and a contempt for local government that we have come to expect.

Other vital community services will be trimmed to offset this deliberate stealing of already reduced rate support. Above all, the Government show no regard for the concept that our environment should not be put up for the highest bidder but should be preserved, directed and paid for by the community. For that reason I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby tonight and vote against these regulations.

11.53 pm
Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I shall not follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). Some of the words that he used, such as "outrage", "dishonest" and "contempt", are surprising. There is usually some exaggeration when in Opposition, but not as much as that.

I declare an interest. I welcome the regulations. They will benefit agriculture, and we are grateful for the changes. They are important concessions.

I bring to the attention of the House—the Minister briefly mentioned it—the problem of the glasshouse growers. There has been no easement for them. My party's sub-committee on horticulture is anxious about the matter and we must make our representations to the Minister tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) is in the Chamber and if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will outline the problems of the glasshouse industry far better than I can.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the problems of the industry. To illustrate them, I quote from the brief given to me by the National Farmers Union: The evidence provided to the NFU by its members during last year indicates that most developments were in the size range ½ to 1 acre. A grower replacing or erecting new glass covering ½ acre will under the new draft regulations save some £200, a saving of 19 per cent. over the fees in the 1981 regulations; at the 1 acre level he would face an increase in fees of £112, which is 6 per cent. more than he would pay under the present scheme. This compares very unfavourably with the 40–50 per cent. saving to agriculture in general. That is it in a nutshell. Therefore, the Government must look at the question of horticulture again. Bearing in mind the pressures from which the horticulture industry is suffering at present because of energy problems and so on, they should not place another burden on its shoulders. We must ease the burden on the horticulture and glass house industry rather than increase it.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

The view that my hon. Friend has just expressed is strongly endorsed by horticulturists in the East Sussex and Kent county agriculture committee.

Mr. Mills

I am sure that it is right as there are many glass house owners in that area. My hon. Friend knows from practical experience of the problems of the horticulture industry.

There are practical reasons why there should be some easement for horticulture and glass house growers. In their planning applications, not a lot of work is envisaged, and they are usually of standard or set designs. Very few take place each year, and most of them relate to existing nursery sites. In addition, there are no appeals, so this is not a costly business. Those are practical reasons why there should be some easement.

I hope that the Minister will consider this matter again, because it is essential that next year the horticulture and glass house industry should have some easement of its problems.

11.56 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) has raised the problems that are now being faced by the glass house and horticulture industry in many parts of Britain. I shall return to that point later in my remarks, particularly as it affects the Isle of Wight. Many hon. Members will appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has raised this matter with the Minister, but because of ill health he is unable to be present.

Hon. Members can be forgiven for feeling that we are perhaps treading down a path that we have been down before. I am sure that hon. Members will recall that in July 1980, when we were discussing the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, I and 20 other hon. Members called a Division on this matter. In March 1981, we pursued the matter again, and the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) had my support then, when at a very late hour we discussed the fees and the way in which they affect planning, individual householders and local authorities.

Tonight I wish to support much of what the hon. Member for Edmonton has said. His language was sometimes colourful, but that can be forgiven because there is much anger and resentment in many local authorities about the fact that these decisions were taken without the wholehearted support—indeed, against the opposition—of many local authorities and local authority associations whose views were sought but not listened to.

Last year, when the regulations currently in force were introduced, I, like Liberals on all previous occasions, was opposed to fees for planning applications, believing that they were an infringement of basic civil liberties. I said: It is ludicrous and a travesty of justice that individuals should be charged for restrictions which are designed to safeguard the people as a whole".—[Official Report, 3 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 238.] I pleaded then for an improvement in the way in which we planned our communities and unashamed spending by the community for the benefit of the whole communtiy.

A year later, even with the refinements that the Minister has announced tonight, the system is no less ludicrous. That sentiment was reiterated at the Town and Country Planning Association's annual development control seminar at Warick university on 15 and 16 April this year. Gathered there were town planners, councillors and other local government representatives. They argued that, even if the planning fees could be worked without undue problems, they should not be applied.

Coupled with that underlying principled objection is the additional factor mentioned by the hon. Member for Edmonton that the fees estimated by the Government to raise £38 million realised only £25 million. The shortfall of £13 million has been lost as yet another unannounced cut in the rate support grant. This is a smokescreen designed to mask another crude reduction in local government spending.

One of the architects' groups has stated: It concerns the group that it is a common misconception that local authorities benefit from the imposition of planning charges. It should be made more clear that local authorities merely act as agents for central government in what is the collection of a crude tax. It is certainly not generally understood that the income received by a local authority is deducted from the direct block grant. The principled objections remain. Many harmful effects are now being felt which will not be ironed out even with the minor alterations proposed by the Minister tonight. The town planners feel that the fees poison relations between applicants and planning authorities and increase the negative aspect of planning. As one official of the Royal Town Planning Institute put it to me, the public outcry is equal to that which occurs when museum charges are suggested. He believes that planning should be for the benefit of all and paid for by all.

The House-Builders Federation remains opposed to the fees. It says that there is no doubt that the fees are wholly unjustifiable in principle and that the private sector is being forced to shoulder the first of a series of annual fee increases to subsidise a thoroughly inefficient planning system.

Turning, perhaps unusually for me, to the farming population, I would welcome, with the NFU, the exemption for agricultural buildings announced by the Minister if only it were a universal exemption. However, even this glimmer lights up an anomaly that a divisive system causes. Speaking with the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, who regrets his absence through ill health, I can say that no glasshouses are being built on the Isle of Wight. As the NFU points out, far from being substantially helped, those with average buildings covering half an acre to 1 acre will pay 19 per cent. less and those with buildings covering more than an acre 6 per cent. more. The costs do not reflect the work involved, for most glasshouses are standard and merely replace defunct houses. The fees are divisive between one type of farming and another. They do nothing to help our horticulturists compete with subsidised Dutch growers.

On the home front, where I feel more at ease, the small house owner must save up for his front extension—one anomaly among others to which the southern region group of the ARIBA has drawn attention. The group says that even if two adjoining house owners put in a full application for a joint development of linked garages or porches, they will have to pay twice because the fee is related to the dwellings. Another example is a householder with two cars who builds a double garage and pays one fee whereas the owners of two semi-detached houses could build a double garage housing two cars, but both would be required to pay full fees.

Admittedly, some of the more obvious peculiarities have been ironed out in the new regulations but some iniquities remain. I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that he will continue to review some of the oddities that have emerged in the enforcement of the regulations. The architects say that there are sufficient problems to indicate that the best interests of good planning are not being met in many situations. They claim that their view that the standard of architechural design was bound to venture on the safe or mundane has been justified over the last year.

The National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses says that it sees the thin of the wedge in a series of annual increases crippling to the small business man. It feels that it has to shoulder costs that would otherwise have been shared by the whole community.

Even those who are purportedly in favour of the regulations and the amendments favour the increase in fees to counteract the Government's clawback in the RSG settlement. They operate on the basis that local government should not incur an overall loss for operating a Government scheme. I agree that they should not suffer, but it is wrong to use this as an argument that the fees should be increased. Because the Government steal the wherewithal for services from local authorities, they should not, in turn, as converted criminals, double tax some members of the public. Planning is a right that should remain unfettered from these fees. I therefore oppose the regulations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

This is short debate and the Front Bench Members are hoping to catch my eye again at 12.30 am. I say that as a warning to those who wish to speak so that we can get in as many speeches as we can.

12.6 am

Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)

There will be great relief, not to say rejoicing, in the Vale of Evesham tomorrow morning when people wake up to discover that the Minister has said that he will look again at the fee structures as they apply to horticulture.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) has said it all, but, when the Minister comes to reexamine the matter—it is clearly important that he does, as he recognises—perhaps he will bear in mind two points about horticulture. The first point, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West, is that the industry has been suffering greatly recently. This is largely due to its relative position vis-à-vis its Dutch competitors because of energy subsidies and VAT. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the general position of the industry.

My second point relates rather more specifically to the regulations. Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that the glasshouse element in horticulture has a low value of production in ratio to the acreage of the glasshouse? Therefore, there are special considerations affecting the industry that merit the Minister's consideration. He seems to recognise this and I look forward to his being able to modify the regulations as they apply to horticulture.

12.8 am

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I shall refer to a different aspect from that which interests most of my hon. Friends. I refer to the changes to regulation 7, dealing with the opportunity to submit a second application in one year, without payment of a second fee. The widening of the application of this regulation, I assume, will be generally welcomed in the sense that it is presumably designed to improve the situation when genuine applications are being made and then modified according to circumstances.

The Minister may well recall that I wrote to his Department earlier this year on a problem that I felt was arising, particularly in my constituency, but I imagine in other urban areas as well, of repeated and vexatious planning applications. In these, an individual, knowing well that a particular application causes alarm and concern to his or her neighbours, repeats this process, largely to gain notoriety or to strike back for imagined wrongs.

The introduction of the fee for planning applications, whatever its merits or demerits, had one great advantage: it was a marked disincentive to making planning applications that were known to be unacceptable. The problem is that when an application of this sort is made, those who wish to object have to take action to object on each separate occasion. If they do not happen to note that a new application has been made, the planning committee may assume that there are no objections. I have found that it is not considered proper for a local planning committee to carry forward objections to a particular proposal from one application to another, so they have to be made on each occasion.

I regret that at the same time the Minister has chosen to widen the operation of regulation 7, he has not sought to provide powers whereby local authorities might deal effectively with vexatious applications. The regulation as it stands—it has not really been changed this year—is an open invitation to a vexatious planner or would-be planner to introduce a second application just for the sheer hell of it. That matter should be given active consideration in the near future, particularly in urban areas.

12.10 am
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I do not want unnecessarily to add to the burden of the Minister, but I do not regard the regulations favourably.

I was initially doubtful about the wisdom of charging for planning applications, but I went along with it because I believed that the contribution could be useful to local government revenue.

But what we have here is what I feared; a complicated rigmarole covered in a great deal of verbiage and worthy of the sort of regulations that builders and developers had to contend with and live their lives by in the aftermath of the last war. Now, every solicitor, estate agent and architect will need a copy of the regulations by his side whenever he tries to run his business. He will also need a slide rule to help him out. Every town hall will have dozens of copies, and clerks will gleefully reject planning applications because they have been submitted with a. fee appropriate to paragraph 2(iii) rather than paragraph 2(iv) of part II of schedule I to the regulations.

It is the layman's nightmare and the professional man's cause to look up the exact terms of an insurance policy. I regret that a Conservative Government are putting through regulations of such complexity and burdening the community in this mariner. We promised simpler government and less government. When one sees regulations such as these, one begins to doubt whether that has been offered in this instance.

I had hoped to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) about the glasshouse industry, particularly with regard to Nottinghamshire. The point has been well covered, the hour is late, and I do not intend to repeat what he said. But while we are discussing the regulations, I should like to express my disapproval of the fact that the fees, which are apparently increasing by 10 per cent. in less than a year, are not to be returnable in the event of a planning refusal. Where fees run into thousands of pounds, it is a burden that the building industry and the developer ought not to have to carry. The developer may not only lose his application, he may lose his fee, too. He also has to apply for development somewhere else, involving a new fee. We did say, and do say, that we are helping the smaller builder and the smaller developer. If we make fees of this size non-returnable we make the risk of his continuing in business and trying to develop unacceptably high. I am sorry to speak in those terms. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my remarks in the spirit in which they are made. I urge the introduction of early amending legislation along those lines so that we may help the planning, developing and building worlds a great deal more than we have done hitherto.

12.15 am
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I begin by declaring an interest. I am the owner of land in an area in which significant developments are taking place. Furthermore, I think that I was the only Conservative Member to vote against this proposal when it was introduced last year. My views have not changed in the light of the experience that we have had of the operation of this unhappy brainwave of the Department since it was introduced.

I do not go all the way with the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) in his strictures. He spoilt a good case by speaking rather too strongly of the Department. He dwelt on the shortfall in the anticipated revenue to local authorities, but for the best part of his speech he criticised the impact of this imposition. I shall support the hon. Gentleman if he presses this issue to a Division. I believe that I was right to oppose the proposal last year.

I recognise that where building regulations are concerned the local authorities are providing a service. There is no uncertainty about whether the service will be provided and they are entitled to charge a fee, but a planning application is an entirely different matter. Planning regulations are a restriction of the rights of property of the individual. I am not trying to say that that is a reason for scrapping all planning legislation. I entirely support such legislation because I recognise the need for it. But it is not right that entrepreneurs and householders, who, for the most part, initiate planning applications, should have to bear this tax.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) in saying that it is amazing that a Conservative Government should have introduced this wretched measure. We are in favour of helping householders and we are in favour of helping small builders and entrepreneurs, but this is a tax on home owners and on enterprise, which has already had the effect of limiting the way in which developers seek opportunities to put land to its optimum use.

I feel sure that, with the passage of time, it will be recognised that the imposition of these charges was a mistake and that they will be repealed altogether. If they are not repealed altogether, I feel that they will be very much reduced. This is something that will have to happen. I do not favour people being able to submit frivolous applications without proper consideration or preparation, thereby putting local authorities to a great deal of unnecessary work. I would not object to a charge of £20, perhaps, for an amendment to a house or garage, or even a charge of £100 for applications in respect of an acre of land or more, but where the charges run into four figures they deter enterprise, and they are having that effect. I most sincerely ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to look again at the way that this tax is being applied and to recognise that, on balance, it would be better to return to the House and say that the regulations should be withdrawn in their entirety.

12.18 am
Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I cannot support my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) in some of his strictures. The running of a planning department is costly and it is not unreasonable that those who are getting a financial or amenity benefit from gaining planning permission should pay something rather than the great body of ratepayers having to support them.

I reiterate the grief that has been expressed in many parts of the House about the division that has been created between those who are engaged in agriculture. Horticulture has always been viewed in the House as an integral part of agriculture, yet my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is differentiating between agriculture and horticulture. That is not good enough. I know that the regulations cannot be amended, so I shall not support the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) if he presses the issue to a Division.

However, I hope that my hon. Friend will reconsider the matter sympathetically. He has heard moving pleas from West Devon, Derbyshire, East Grinstead, Maidstone and even darkest Liverpool. We are all aware that one third of the food that we eat is of horticultural origin both in terms of value and volume. Horticulture is an integral part of agriculture and I deplore the division that has been created in the industry by my hon. Friend.

12.20 am
Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I am not so surprised as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) about the differences in the original estimate and the yield. Clearly, with a measure such as this there are so many imponderables that it is impossible to be precise. The hon. Gentleman partly hit upon the solution in that there were an enormous number of applications to beat the deadline last year and no doubt that will be partly ironed out this year.

I, too, must declare an interest. I am worried that an increase of 10 per cent. is proposed, and should have hoped that the increase could be nearer 6 per cent. as I would have expected it to be spent mainly on salaries and the Government expect a settlement of that order. Therefore, I regard a higher estimate as inflationary, particularly as an efficiently run Department ought more or less to pay its own way. Therefore, if it is to receive an extra 10 per cent. in revenue, one would expect it to be tempted into spending 10 per cent. more on its services, and this, I believe, would be wrong.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Edmonton about the number of people now seeking more advice before submitting applications. In my experience, if people were acting prudently they always went into the matter in great detail before submitting applications, and the larger developers have always been at great pains to withdraw an application if they knew that it would not be approved. There is usually great reluctance among developers actually to receive a refusal for a substantial development. Therefore, they did all that they possibly could, but if they felt that if was impossible to persuade the authority to grant approval, they have always withdrawn the application. I believe that the prudent small developer, too, including the private person wishing to add an extension to his property, has had the same motive in mind. People do not like to receive a refusal if they can possibly help it. The consultation process on the submission of a planning application has always been an important ingredient and I do not think that it is any more so today then it has been in the past.

I think that one intention of the new system was to reduce the number of planning applications made, as some people tended to try to swamp the planning authority by making a large number of applications for the same site in the hope that one might be approved. The measure has, I think, gone a long way towards resolving that, as I think that the public are now far more careful and selective in submitting applications than they used to be. I have known as many as 12 applications to be made at the time for one site in the hope that something would come out of it. That has been achieved by slight amendments of plans. The measure has reduced that and I welcome the reduction because I believe that planning is a positive matter which should not be conducted in the form of a lottery.

I am concerned, however, that we still seem to have made no provision to deal with the dilatory local authority. I had hoped that a way could be found to ensure that value for money was given to those who now have to pay the fees. In every avenue of life where fees are paid, those paying the fees expect some form of service and as part of that service they expect their applications to be dealt with promptly and diligently.

In my own professional life, I have known a number of local authorities, many of them in country districts, which have been most unhelpful to developers, particularly if they were represented by professional people who were not local. I found that they were inclined to delay applications on every possible excuse. There should be some penalty for a local authority that does not deal with applications quickly and diligently. Where the behaviour of the local authority has been such that the fees have not been earned I believe that there should be a right of appeal to the Minister, who should have the power to reduce the fees.

Mr. Graham

Does the hon. Member also agree that where the member of the public or the developer has acted in an inordinately lengthy and frustrating way he should be asked to pay more?

Mr. Thorne

I believe that that was covered when it was said that some local authorities asked for amendments and alterations and claimed an extra fee. I think that local authorities already have the power to look after their own interests. I am much more concerned that those who pay the fees do not have a similar opportunity. I think one should be fair. If the local authority is completely unreasonable, it should be within my hon. Friend's power to reduce or cancel the fees. That would concentrate the minds of dilatory local authorities. There are only a few; by and large planning is dealt with professionally and the majority of planning officers and committees try to give a reasonable service, but that still does not alter the fact that others do not. This is one way in which they could be made to mend their ways.

12.26 am
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Those of us who have followed the debate with some attention will not have forgotten that there is also a Scottish order. I hope that I am not trespassing on anyone's tolerance, and certainly not that of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), if I raise one or two Scottish matters. This is not the first occasion on which the Minister has had to stand in as a surrogate for the Scottish Office and I hope that he has been reasonably briefed. I see the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) lurking by his side; it may well be that he can fill any gaps.

On a general and preliminary point, I have seldom seen a Government measure which has received such a frosty reception from Government Back-Benchers [Interruption.] It seems that I should review my phraseology. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East is lurking; I think he is skulking and glad to have no part in the debate, because the measure has received almost universal condemnation. "An unhappy brainwave", is I believe, the kindest thing that any Conservative Member has managed to say about it. Most of them judged it much less charitably. It was regarded with personal distaste by one hon. Member and dismissed as a tax on enterprise and owners by another.

I accept that the Minister is only tinkering with the structure, and he has said that there will be a fundamental review. I hope that he will pay attention not only to the eloquent and special pleading of the horticulture industry, which has been well represented tonight, but to the broader matters of principle, the justification for charging for planning applications and the effect upon local government finance in Scotland as in England. I take it that it hardly needs confirmation—no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am under a misapprehension—that there will be a similar review in Scotland carried out independently by the Scottish Office. There is a danger when dealing with regulations north of the border similar to those south of the border, of the review tending to miss out Scottish aspects. I hope that that will not happen.

The minor amendments to the structure are welcome. No one will get very excited about the change to paragraph 4(b) of the schedule, which makes a special rate for The winning and working of peat to differentiate between peat and other minerals. That has a good Scottish ring to it and we do not quarrel with it. A single dwelling house owner will pay a fee of £44, instead of £40, irrespective of area. That is important, because in Scotland we had the ludicrous position whereby one paid a fee of £40 for a site measuring 0.1 hectare, but if one had a house on a larger site of, say, 0.4 hectare the fee was multiplied four times. It is sensible to remove that provision and it will be of some help to the individual who is building a house for his own occupation. There are similar useful minor amendments.

I wish to consider briefly some of the points of principle that are involved, many of which have been referred to in the debate. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) in saying that we should not have the charging system at all. I agree with that if there is public scrutiny it will be an inhibition of ownership. There is no doubt about that. We maintain that there should be some inhibition for the public good, but it is a little anomalous that we should ask the developer to pay for the scrutiny, which is not carried out at his behest but is forced upon him because it is necessary to control and regulate building development. In theory, there is little case—certainly in Conservative theory as we have heard it this evening there is even less case—for that form of planning charge.

The method that has been used is not only bureaucratic—there have been eloquent protests about that—but rather strange and inconsistent. I do not wish to relive the battles of earlier today, but the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and I have been locked together in a room considering the Civic Government (Scotland) Bill for what seems to be many hours. It is interesting that we have just written into schedule 1 to that Bill a system of site advertisement. A fee will be charged by the local authority in that connection, but the Government saw no benefit in trying to stipulate the fees. They have left a fairly wide measure of discretion to the local authority and merely said that fees will be charged.

If we compare that with schedule 2 to the 1981 regulations, which are now being repealed by a replacement provision in the new Scottish regulations, there were many problems with variable fees set at between £10 and £40 for site advertisements. There is now a set fee, which is apparently an attempt to average out the costs, of £22. Not only do we object to the principle of those charges, but I cannot understand why we should have a scale of charges when dealing with similar planning phenomena whereas a different approach has been taken by Ministers in this case.

I contend that the proposal is theoretically wrong and in practice objectionable. I do not know the position south of the border, but I took the trouble to check with Glasgow district council, which is unhappy about the impact of the charges on the administrative burden that has fallen upon its planning department. The Secretary of State for Scotland maintains a merciless vendetta—certainly the energy that he puts into the campaign justifies such a term—against local government employment and is constantly preaching the need to cut local authority jobs. He talks not about creating unemployment in the public sector but about fitter, leaner and more efficient local government. However, the effect is at the end of the unpleasant and ever-increasing dole queues.

I am told by Glasgow district council—it is a small matter but significant when one considers the Government's policy—that it has had to employ two further technicians and one administrative assistant in order to cope with the administrative burden. It has spent about £5,000 to reorganise the office and install safety precautions, because money is now changing hands over the counter in planning departments. Because at the end of the year we are changing all the scales of charges, the council will be put to the added expense of printing new guidance notes. This may seem to be a comparatively minor matter and small beer, but it is of significance and it is an additional burden that we could well do without.

The most important point, and the reason why so much bad theory has been imported even from the Minister's point of view, is financial expediency. The Government have seized the opportunity, as has been said by several hon. Members, to cut the rate support grant substantially and to say to local authorities "Do not worry about it, lads. It is not really a cut in your ability to employ resources to meet services because you will be able to recoup the loss from the rate support grant from the revenue from the fees as they come in".

The question has been raised from the Government Benches as to what has come from England. The estimate is £23 million to £25 million which is very much short of the £38 million downward adjustment in the rate support grant which I understood was brought in.

I should like the Minister to give us the Scottish figures. The figures there are more modest, but the sum is still significant. The rate support grant was cut by £2 million to make room for the alternative financing through this charging system. I do not know what has been raised in Scotland. In Glasgow it was reckoned that in a full year about £200,000 was taken in. If that is right, then in Scotland there will again be a considerable gap. There is certainly a saving from the Minister's point of view because the rate support grant has been cut by £2 million, but there will be a large shortfall from the local authorities' point of view because the charges are not producing that £2 million. The result will be, by the back door, another cut in local authority spending and another deterioration in the services which are already under insupportable pressure because of the policies being followed by the Scottish Office and the Treasury.

Mr. Alexander

Would it not help to recoup some of that money if Glasgow district council decided not to employ all those extra people, whose only additional job is to take money over the counter, remembering that there is no extra work involved apart from that?

Mr. Dewar

There is a considerable amount of extra work. I understand that the hon. Member is a solicitor. Even in the modest way in which solicitors' offices operate, if they start taking money over the counter, say, through a building society agency, often they have to institute accountancy checking and security methods which are demanding of staff time. In view of the scale and the complicated range of charges which have been introduced under these regulations during the last year or so, obviously there will be an impact upon the staff requirements of a major planning department like Glasgow which is dealing with more than 3,000 applications during a year. Therefore, I do not accept that point.

I would not make too much of it, but there has been the requirement, although it has to some extent been simplified, to carry out a great deal of measuring. It may well be that the charging will depend on the measuring of site areas.

In any event, the information I want from the Minister is the extent of the shortfall between the expected revenue and the rate support grant cut, and what he intends to do about it in the coming year and in future years. It is wrong for him to allow that situation to continue if he is genuine in saying that this is not a form of cutting local authority spending power but a substitution where a situation of balance and equality should result at the end of the day. If, as we suspect, both in England and in Scotland there is a gap, we want assurances that steps will be taken in future and, indeed, in the present financial year to ensure that we do not suffer any further from this mishap, if mishap it be.

I want to give the Minister every chance to deal with the anger and sarcasm of his own supporters. They certainly threw up a large number of prickly points for him to deal with. I hope that he will give particular attention to the Scottish situation, particularly the financial implications. The scheme is not cost-effective. It is of marginal relevance to the running of an efficient planning system and it is counter-productive in the sense that it has built-in waste and bureaucracy of a kind that no one wants.

The House-Builders Federation in England has made representations to colleagues in the Liberal Party. In the last sentence of his letter its land and planning officer says: There is no doubt that the fees are wholly unjustified in principle and that the private sector is being forced to shoulder the first of a series of annual fee increases to subsidise a thoroughly inefficient planning system. I am not sure that this is a thoroughly inefficient planning system, but I am clear that the private sector has a genuine grievance, mirrored in the public sector, and that in the condemnation of the initiation of this charging system there is total unanimity in local government, in the private building industry and right across the board.

The Minister owes all hon. Members the assurance that he will look at the need for fundamental changes and possibly the sweeping away of the whole system when he considers the results of the review that he has promised in the coming financial year.

12.42 am
Mr. Giles Shaw

May I first respond to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in relation to the Scottish matters that he raised? I can confirm that a review will be undertaken in Scotland similar to that being undertaken in England and Wales. I can also confirm that the income in Scotland for the current year is expected to be pretty close to the estimated £2 million. With regard to the forthcoming year, while estimates at this stage must invariably be rough, the expectation is that the figure will be £2.2 million and that that too will be raised.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), as I expected, laid greatest emphasis in his remarks on the failure, as he put it, to live up to the estimates in relation to the performance of the fees. I have to accept that in relation to the estimates put in, as the House is well aware, a significant shortfall has occurred in the first year of operation. It is an open secret that the levels of fee prescribed in the 1981 regulations were estimated to produce about £37 million. Against that figure the shortfall is significant. As I told my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), we estimate the range to be of the order of £23 to £25 million on this year.

Let me offer the House an explanation as to why that has occurred. First, as the House will know, the very fact of fees being introduced for the first time resulted in a substantial bunching of applications made to the planning authorities before the fees were introduced. We expected that, but we were not able to anticipate the scale on which that distorted the subsequent planning applications that were made.

Secondly, it is certainly true that more applications than we estimated were of a kind that were exempt from fees. That particularly applies to those made as a result of an article 4 direction and those involved in conservation areas.

Thirdly, as the House will know, we took steps earlier on to amend the general development order and thus exempted about 50,000 planning applications from entering the system. The absolute amount of smaller applications that came into the fee were omitted from the system. As I said, we estimate that the outcome will be of the order of £23 million to £25 million for the year 1981–82. We cannot, even at this stage, be completely clear as to what the final income yield will be.

Given those important caveats, it looks as though the income for 1982–83, having made allowances for what we now know is the performance of the fee system, will be of the order of £27 million to £29 million. Therefore, the prospects are for a further shortfall in 1982–83.

In my opening remarks I referred to the fact that, given the prospect of recovering the total shortfall, a significant increase in planning fees, of the order of 50 per cent., would be required. The recommendation before the House tonight is that the increase be 10 per cent. That is because of the general level of the development industry. In addition, given the relative novelty of the fee system, it would be unwise to become involved in a major increase in fees. However, the shortfall affects the rate support grant. The implication of the level of the increase combined with the estimated level of shortfall will be a matter for early discussion with the local authority associations and I undertake that such discussions will take place.

Mr. Graham

The Minister said that the shortfall could be made up by an increase larger than 10 per cent.—53 per cent. was estimated—and has pointed out why that is, in practical terms, a non-starter. However, may I take it that the shortfall estimated by the authorities in the first and second years could amount to £25 to £28 million? Will the discussions cover how the rate support grant can take that shortfall into account in a future settlement?

Mr. Shaw

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I cannot commit myself here and now to the terms of the discussions. However, I assure him that the effect of the shortfall in the two successive years will be a matter for discussion with the local authority associations. I cannot prejudge the outcome of those discussions.

The objections are twofold. First, there is objection in principle to the idea of fees, to the parent Bill and to the portion of legislation from which the fees and regulations are derived. I was sorry to hear that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) propose to vote against the regulations.

However, the issue centred on agriculture and, particularly, on horticulture. Many of my hon. Friends threw stones in the direction of my glasshouse. The horticulture industry has a serious problem, but hon. Members should recognise that in the amendments we sought to strike a balance between competing agricultural interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) said that the balance between agriculture and horticulture had been changed by the regulations. That is a serious matter. We are talking about an exemption from fee income although—as the House is aware—there is a significant shortage of fee income. Although I have undertaken to examine afresh, towards the end of the year, what might be done about horticultural fees, I must take note of the fact that the total agricultural exemption is regarded by some of my hon. Friends as almost excessive.

Undoubtedly there is a case for looking at the problem of horticulture. We felt it right to make an immediate adjustment and the exemption of the 465 metres will make a significant contribution towards many of the smaller units for horticultural production. That will be welcome.

Mr. Alton


Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) was concerned about the complexity of the regulations. I agree with him and we shall reconsider ways and means of simplifying them. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) raised the question of the vexatious application. Under regulation 7, there will still be only one free further application. The second, third and fourth applications from such a planner would certainly carry the full fee. There is no intention of widening the exemption in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) referred to the dilatory handling of planning applications. I agree that the fee has brought to the attention of local authorities the need to process applications both fairly and efficiently. My hon. Friend will be aware that, for the first time, we have published a list of the planning authorities, showing their performance in relation to the eight week deemed period for dealing with planning applications. It is vital to maintain the pressure on planning authorities to process the applications correctly.

The object of the fees regulations is to make some changes based on what we have learnt, particularly from agriculture, and to make a modest increase in the level of the fees. Tonight the House has said that it expects an increase and accepts the 10 per cent. limit. On the other hand, my hon. Friends argue that there should be a further review of horticulture later in the year. I undertake to do that. Although the Opposition seek to divide the House on the major proposal before us, it is essential that we provide a system under which the substantial costs and benefits of the planning costs should produce some——

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business)

The House divided: Ayes 83, Noes 41.

Division No. 147] [12.50 am
Alexander, Richard Eggar, Tim
Ancram, Michael Faith, Mrs Sheila
Aspinwall, Jack Goodlad, Alastair
Atkinson, David (B'm'th, E) Gow, Ian
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Gray, Hamish
Benyon.Thomas (A 'don) Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Berry, Hon Anthony Gummer, John Selwyn
Bevan, David Gilroy Hamilton, Hon A.
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hannam, John
Blackburn, John Hawkins, Paul
Boscawen, Hon Robert Heddle, John
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Bright, Graham Jessel, Toby
Brinton, Tim Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Lang, Ian
Budgen, Nick Lawrence, Ivan
Bulmer, Esmond Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Loveridge, John
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Luce, Richard
Chapman, Sydney Lyell, Nicholas
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Macfarlane, Neil
Cope, John Major, John
Cranborne, Viscount Mather, Carol
Dorrell, Stephen Meyer, Sir Anthony
Dover, Denshore Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Dunn, Robert(Dartford) Moate, Roger
Murphy, Christopher Stradling Thomas, J.
Needham, Richard Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Neubert, Michael Thompson, Donald
Newton, Tony Thorne, Neil(Ilford South)
Osborn, John Townsend, Cyril D, (B 'heath)
Patten, Christopher(Bath) Waddington, David
Pawsey, James Wall, Sir Patrick
Proctor, K. Harvey Waller, Gary
Renton, Tim Wells, Bowen
Rossi, Hugh Wheeler, John
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wickenden, Keith
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Wilkinson, John
Silvester, Fred
Sims, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Speller, Tony Mr. Peter Brooke and
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.
Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)
Alton, David MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Beith, A. J. Marks, Kenneth
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Marshall, Dr Edmund(Goole)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) O'Neill, Martin
Campbell-Savours, Dale Parry, Robert
Canavan, Dennis Penhaligon, David
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Cryer, Bob Robertson, George
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Dewar, Donald Skinner, Dennis
Dixon, Donald Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Dormand, Jack Snape, Peter
Eastham, Ken Soley, Clive
Evans, John (Newton) Steel, Rt Hon David
Foulkes, George Welsh, Michael
George, Bruce Young, David (Bolton E)
Graham, Ted
Hardy, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Mr. Allan McKay and
Haynes, Frank Mr. George Morton.
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1982, which were laid before this House on 19th April, be approved.

Resolved, That the draft Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (Scotland) Regulations 1982, which were laid before this House on 26th April, be approved.—[Mr. Berry.]