HL Deb 20 July 1943 vol 128 cc610-2

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which we now have to consider is, in origin, a purely wartime measure to meet a purely temporary difficulty. We are, however, taking the opportunity to clear up a small legal ambiguity in the original Act to which I shall refer later. Under the provisions of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, if a persons wants to build within 220 ft. of roads which have been made subject to the restrictions of the Act or to construct an access to such roads, he has to get the consent of the highway authority. When an application is made the authority can either consent, attaching such conditions as they may think appropriate, or they may refuse; the Act does not allow them to give consent for a limited period. In present circumstances, this may put highway authorities in a serious dilemma. It is not unusual for applications to be made for the erection or extension of factories which, in accordance with the principles of good planning, should be refused by the authority ad ministering the Ribbon Development Act; but if consent is refused the war effort may be impeded, as the factory in question may be essential, to the pro secution of the war. The County Councils' Association and many highway authorities have represented to us that special powers should be made available so that such development could be allowed as a war time measure, power remaining with the authorities to ensure that it can be got rid of after the war. In this way no permanent harm will have been done to planning.

The Bill is almost wholly concerned with this point. It provides machinery whereby the highway authorities, if they are satisfied that the public interest re-quires the factory to go on, can refuse consent under the Act, but may serve a notice that if the developer chooses to go on with this development the authority will not take proceedings for contravention of the Act until the expiration of the present war period. That, in essence, is what Clause 1 (1) provides. Clause 1 (2) deals with the not uncommon case where a developer has gone on with his factory or other buildings without having made any application for consent under the provisions of the Act. In those circum-stances also the Bill provides that a similar notice must be given. In an attempt to deal with this problem many highway authorities have given consents which have included a condition that the building in question will be removed at a certain date. Such consents, as I am advised, have no legal value, and Clause 1 (4) of the Bill seeks to turn them into the equivalent of what is provided in Clause 1 (1). In other words it ensures that such buildings can be removed after the end of the war. Fears were expressed in another place that highway authorities might not take action to get buildings removed which were put up under the cover of the Bill or of temporary consent. Whilst I believe that highway authorities will do their duty in order to get the planning position right as soon as possible, should a highway authority neglect their duty the Minister will have power to direct them to do it. Thus the Minister has complete control.

The only other point which is dealt with in the Bill is an amendment of Section 11 of the Act to make it clear that when a highway authority starts proceedings in a court of summary jurisdiction for a contravention, the function of the court is to determine whether in law a contravention has been committed and not to go further and decide on the merits of the case whether a building should be pulled down or an access closed up. In effect Clause 2 is simply a clarification of what was always the intention of the Act but in respect of which there is a possibility of ambiguity in the drafting of the section. It is clear that if the justices had the power to determine not only whether a contravention had been committed in law but also whether the appropriate penalty was removal of the building, there would be danger of weakening the Act in a very important respect.

That, in brief, is what the Bill seeks to do; but I should, perhaps, add one or two comments of general interest. First, this Bill in no way detracts from the powers of the Minister of Town and Country Planning; and secondly, I should like to emphasize that it is my whole-hearted intention to do everything I can to stop the evil of ribbon development. Experience has shown that the Act of 1935 is defective in a number of respects; in particular the financial provisions are not sufficiently wide. If the control of development along roads which is exercised by highway authorities remains substantially as it is at present, I intend, in due course, to suggest amendments which will make it considerably more effective in the post-war period than it has been in the past. The precise nature of my suggestions must depend on a number of major decisions of policy which it would be premature to foreshadow. In the meantime, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Leathers.)


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to give an assurance on one particular point? I notice that the terms of the proposed Bill are limited to the buildings put up during the present war period, and that occurs in Clause 1 (1) and Clause I (2). There is nothing, so far as I see, in the Bill itself which relates to the purpose of the building. The noble Lord made it quite clear that buildings that were erected for war purposes for which this kind of provision is necessary must be excepted, but as far as I can see the Bill does not mention buildings erected for the purposes of the war; it might be any other sort of building. I think the intention of the noble Lord is that the Bill should only apply to buildings erected for the purposes of the war or for purposes connected therewith.


I give that assurance. It is intended to cover just those buildings which arc sanctioned for war purposes during the war period.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.