HL Deb 21 December 1964 vol 262 cc673-710

4.25 p.m.

LORD MOLSON had given Notice of his intention to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the decision of the Minister of Housing and Local Government overruling the decision of the Kent County Council not to permit development at Hartley represents a new policy with regard to a Green Belt around London.


My Lords, before: he noble Lord, Lord Molson, puts his Question, may I raise a point of Order? The point I wish to put, which I have caused to be communicated to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, is that in regard to this debate about the Green Belt so much depends upon the merits of the case on either side that it would be more convenient if a Government spokesman could speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Molson, so that we could hear the Government case. I have put my name down to speak, but I should much prefer to hear the Government's case, as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. It could be done by bringing in a second Government speaker; or the noble Lord who is down to reply at the end of the debate could, by leave of the House, which I am sure would be given, speak once after Lord Molson and still wind up the debate. I do earnestly put it that, in the interests of the Government itself, it would be better if a Government spokesman could follow Lord Molson.


My Lords, if I might rise on the same point of Order (I did not know your Lordships had them), I think it would be better, from the point of view of the Government, to hear all the points that it is desired to raise. I am quite certain that in a matter of this sort noble Lords will have various views and various points to raise, and if whoever is to answer the debate has to answer speech after speech, then we should have repeatedly to ask the leave of the House.


That was not the proposal.


If, on the other hand, one particular noble Lord is to follow me, how am I to answer him, and be sure it is the answer he wants?


My Lords, I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In this case a development company called S.R.L. Investments, Limited, bought two farms, consisting of some 429 acres, near Hartley, in Kent. As the land was in the proposed Green Belt it was not thought that it could be used for building purposes. Therefore the price paid was that of the land for agricultural purposes. The purchasers applied for planning permission to develop a village there. The rural district council, which possesses delegated planning powers, refused permission. This decision was confirmed by the Kent County Council.

The developers thereupon appealed to the Minister, who ordered a public inquiry and appointed Mr. R. G. M. Chase, Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Member of the Town Planning Institute, to hold an inquiry. After a four days hearing Mr. Chase made his report recommending that the appeal should be dismissed. Notwithstanding this, the Minister has allowed the appeal, and S.R.L. Investments have received permission from him to build a new village to accommodate some 5,000 to 6,000 people. This decision is so flagrant and deliberate a defiance of the existing Case Law on the subject that it seems to imply, despite the Minister's denial in another place, a change of policy in regard to the proposed Green Belt for London.

I need not argue at length the case against the Minister's decision. He himself states at paragraph 8 of his Letter of Decision that he does not disagree with any of the facts found by the inspector. I will therefore confine myself, in dealing with the facts, to quotations from the inspector's report. He finds as a fact (paragraph 5): The site is part of the attractive gently undulating and well wooded scenery of the North Downs, and its southern half is included in the North Downs area of great landscape value as defined in the development plan. He then goes on to deal with the commuter problem, and he finds, as his ninth finding: There is a railway station at Longfield about one and a half miles from the site on the main line to Victoria, but this line is already seriously overcrowded. In paragraph 10 he says British Railways have informed the Authority that there is no prospect of improving commuter capacity in Kent in the foreseeable future. Then, at paragraph 16 The application includes no specific proposals for providing employment, but the site includes sufficient land for this purpose if required. Then, in a subsequent paragraph, the inspector finds also that the site is part of good quality agricultural land in an area of generally inferior quality and is producing good crops with a high yield per acre. He concludes: On balance I consider that the objections weigh against this proposal, in spite of its high quality in other respects, and that it ought to be rejected. And in paragraph 99 he says: I recommend that the appeal be dismissed. The Minister explains quite frankly his reasons for over-ruling the two local authorities and his own inspector. He says: The Minister has, however, felt bound to consider the matter in the light of the pressing need to provide more housing for those who need it in London and the surrounding area. We all understand the gravity of London's housing problem and we sympathise with successive Ministers who have to try to deal with it. But it has been the declared view of successive Ministers of both political Parties, and of the Labour Party, that the right solution is not to invade the Green Belt.

This matter was dealt with by the late Mr. Hugh Gaitskell, in a speech in another place on July 18, 1960. Dealing with the suggestion that the Green Belt was available for this purpose, he said: Some people say, 'It is really a matter of increasing the supply of land' … for building purposes by allowing some building on the green belts. We are emphatically and utterly opposed to any such suggestion … The green belts should be the start of the countryside, and not ditches between subtopias. Yet the Minister"— of course, he was speaking then of a Conservative Minister— is doing nothing to stop this. As far as I can see it from his statement he is not even discouraging anybody from building on the other side of the green belts. The effect is clear though; it simply means that we have people working in the towns and living on the other side of the green belts, commuting between the two, with all the problems of transport, congestion and the ruin of the countryside…."—[Official Report (Commons), Vol. 627; col. 40, July 18, 1964.] With regard to this particular application, we know the views of a Labour Member of another place, the Member for Hayes and Harlington, Mr. Arthur Skeffington, who lives in the vicinity. He says, in answer to an argument that has been put forward by the developers who are advised by Messrs. Span: I am afraid that all the detailed study of Messrs. Span cannot increase the capacity of the railways to take more people to town at the times they want to go, or to increase school places within years, or to cut down hospital waiting time. Some of us here have lost faith in the procedure of public inquiries referred to, There was nothing wrong with the public inquiry. The trouble was that the Minister rejected the recommendation of his own inspector. Mr. Skeffington goes on to say: The directors of Span say that the issue is that of providing houses for more people. I should have thought it was a profitable scheme for Span. Perhaps he should have said, "S.R.L. Investments".

It was indeed most profitable. I understand that the price paid by S.R.L. Investments was less than £80 per acre. After permission to develop the value will be over £6, 000 per acre. That figure is based on the value of building land in the neighbourhood. That is the advice that I have received. Naturally, I cannot undertake personal responsibility for its accuracy. If it is inaccurate, no doubt the Minister in reply will show that it is wrong. No feature of the Socialist Party's Election programme was more emphasised than their feeling that it was wrong that land in private hands and in the hands of builders and developers should go shooting up in value. They intend, we understand, to do something to put that right. But the electors would indeed have been surprised at the last General Election had they been able to foresee that the first important planning decision by the new Socialist Minister of Housing and Local Government was to give unforeseen and unforeseeable building permission to S.R.L. Investments, thereby increasing the value of the land at Hartley from the £35, 000 that they paid for it to approximately ½ million.

Why should this decision have been given now? We know that Her Majesty's Government were not satisfied with the conclusions of the South-East Study. They have told us that they are reviewing the whole matter. The Minister says so in his Letter of Decision. It has always been understood that this Government hope to avoid this great increase of more; than two million people in the South Eastern region between 1961 and 1981, and hope to distribute the population better. I sincerely hope that they will succeed. I regard" it as a matter of the utmost importance Why then, at this juncture, while they are reviewing the whole matter, take this sudden and irrecoverable, I fear, decision, which is a complete breach of the established planning code, in order to accommodate additional population in an area where the Kent County Council do not think they need or should be housed?

It may be that, when he comes to reply, the noble Lord opposite will say that a clear distinction must be drawn between the approved Green Belt and the proposed Green Belt. I think, therefore, that it is important to consider exactly what is the existing position with regard to the proposed Green Belt. In August, 1960, a sketch map was sent by the Kent County Council to the Minister. On January 4, 1961, the Ministry replied: In the meantime, and without prejudice to his consideration of formal proposals"— I want to put that in, because this is a matter of custom and not, so to speak, a statutory provision until the formal consideration has been given— the Minister takes note of the sketch map proposals. He assumes that the Council will deal with applications for planning permission in the light of the sketch map and on the lines set out in paragraph 9 of Circular 42/55. The effect of paragraph 9, taken with paragraphs 5 and 6, of that circular was to apply forthwith the policy of severely restricting building already operative in the approved Metropolitan Green Belt. Apart from the fact that the Minister could not be said to be committed to precise boundaries around existing towns, no distinction has been made hitherto between the approved Metropolitan Green Belt and its proposed extension. The same policy has been applied in both areas and has been upheld by a large number of decisions on appeal by successive Ministers.

Before I sit down, I should just like to quote what was said on the whole matter of green belts by Mr. Anthony Greenwood. He was speaking at Basildon New Town on February 22 this year. He was already Chairman of the Labour Party, which I believe he still is, in addition of course to being Secretary of State for the Colonies.


He has just finished his chairmanship.


But, anyway, at the time he made this speech he was Chairman of the Party.


But not the Secretary of State.


He never said he was.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way, but the language he used—perhaps he overlooked it—seemed to imply that Mr. Anthony Greenwood was the Secretary of State at the time. Of course, he was not.


I realise that he was not Secretary of State at the time. I cannot think that that is a very relevant intervention. I was referring in fact to his being Secretary of State at the present time. As the noble Lord may know, his Government came into power two months ago.


What is the relevance of that?


He said: Already the green belts have been nibbled away because a weak Minister has yielded too easily to the speculators, and the hope of further concessions is pushing up the price of land still higher. An almost irrevocably damaged countryside and a dreary urban sprawl will be one of the most eloquent monuments in this country to the present Government. Then Mr. Greenwood said—and this sounds strange now—that only by the return of a Labour Government would the green belts, or what was left of them, be saved.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend who is to reply to the debate was somewhat in error as to the purpose of my intervention earlier on, suggesting that he or some other Minister should speak immediately after the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat. He said, in the course of his observations, that he could not contemplate that it would be useful if a Minister were to get up and reply after every speech made in the debate. But my noble friend knows that that is not what I suggested. All I wanted was somebody to come in after the opener of tie debate so that one could judge between the Government's policy and that of its critic. I thought that it was not quite in keeping, from what I know of the urbane and fair character of my noble friend, to imply that I had asked for a Government speaker after each speech in the debate, which is certainly what I did not do.

However, the point of the debate, so far as I understand it, is this. I speak without knowledge of the Government's reasons for what they have done or of the Government's Answer; therefore, I can speak only on the facts as they have been presented in newspapers. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said, the Government may be able to prove that he is wrong about the facts and deductions. But one has to take it into account, and also the newspaper reports about it. I speak with feeling and sincerity about this because the Green Belt was an invention of the London County Council at the time when I was Leader of the Council. Therefore I am, so to speak, something of a father of the Green Belt around London.

I should like to recall to the House, very briefly, the motives behind the Council in launching that Green Belt scheme. Greater London is a vast built-up area. It is, I think, agreed by everybody, including Her Majesty's Government, that in fact it is too big; that it ought never to have been allowed to become as big as it is as a built-up area. The consequence of this is that people of all classes, but especially people who have not their own motor transport, or people who do not like driving motor cars in long queues and getting choked up on a Sunday when they come back, have quite a journey to make to get from the inner boroughs of London out into the green, natural countryside. The journey there and the journey back may undo all the advantage of the day or part of the day spent in the countryside which they have enjoyed.

The tragedy is that the Green Belt was not formed a hundred years ago, or at any rate fifty years before it was. It would have cost less; it would have been nearer to the built-up areas of London; it would have been far more useful. However, we did it in co-operation with county and county borough councils around London, whose co-operation was readily forthcoming on the terms of financial assistance which the Council offered to them. The whole point of it was to see to it that within reasonable distance Londoners could get to the countryside for fresh air and vigorous walking and so on. Consequently, the making of the Green Belt must be regarded as a somewhat sacred thing. If we play about with it, if we nibble at it (which was one of the terms used during the last Government's administration, partly by newspapers who supported the Government and, I believe—I am not sure; I do not wish to assert this—by Sir Keith Joseph himself) there is no end to where the nibbling may go.


My Lords, may I just correct one thing? I think I speak rightly from memory in saying that Sir Keith Joseph did in fact say that he would not permit nibbling at the Green Belt.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord and will accept what he says. That is where I got a reverse impression of the word nibble. I am glad the noble Lord has now corrected me. In that case the Green Belt becomes a sacred thing which you must not mess about with. I know from experience that wherever you touch a piece of ordinary park—the Green Belt is not all parkland, but contains a lot of agricultural land and is none the worse for that—there can be an awful row about it. If you fetch a tree down, again there can be a terrible row about it. I have never resented these rows that have come along. It is a good thing that on matters of amenity there is a row, even if sometimes the amenity merchants are a bit unreasonable, as I have sometimes found them. But it is right that these principles should be held dear.

It is true that Greater London has a vast housing problem; that I know. If the old Government's South-Eastern plan goes on it will have a worse housing problem, because that policy was to increase the population of South-East England, which I think was unfortunate. But, my Lords, if every time you put marauding hands on the Green Belt, or for that matter on the public park and open space, you are justified in saying, "We need this land for housing", then there is no limit to the amount of open space or Green Belt that can be interfered with.

Who is going to interfere with it? The private speculative concern. I believe that the speculator says that, if he gets his own way, he will hand over so many of the flats, or whatever they are, to local government so that they can let them for rent. I do not know what the circumstances are, what the cost of the flats will be, or what the rents will be, but this ought not to influence us. This is an attempt to influence municipal opinion, or public opinion, in favour of the speculative concern. I do not say that there should be no speculative builders or no private builders, although I am naturally not in love with them, I must admit. But the speculative builder can be a soulless person, who is concerned almost entirely with the money he can make out of the community. Indeed, the figures that were given by the noble Lord who opened the debate, about the former value of the land, what was paid for it, and what its value is now, are a pretty serious reflection on anybody who wants to release that land for private development and private building. So that, therefore, does not occupy the speculator.

I am perhaps all the more disappointed in the Minister of Housing and Local Government because I have known him for a good many years. Years ago when he taught at Oxford we discussed public administration, public assistance and various other problems of local government, in which he took an intelligent interest. Moreover, he is known in the Labour Party as a Left-Winger. He probably got on the constituency section of the Labour Party Executive because he was known as a Left-Winger. I should be pained and hurt if my old friend Dick Crossman, known as a Left-Winger, now switched round to the Right and became among the reactionaries, among the defenders of private enterprise and speculative building development at the expense of the Green Belt, which we have all praised and about which quotations have been given this afternoon. I should be sorry if a man of the reputation of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, with a distinctly Left-Wing reputation, opened himself to the charge that he has become reactionary, that he is making decisions which are bad, or had made this decision which is bad and certainly contrary to Labour Party principles and Labour Party policy.

I have not always agreed with him. I do not agree with him on this, if the facts are as they have been reported. But, nevertheless, I wish him well, as I do all the other Ministers. But it is not good if a Minister goes into office, and the machine gets hold of him and he then gives decisions which were denounced when they were thought about by the previous Administration, and he swings to the Right in this vigorous way. I admit that I have spoken on the basis of the facts as they have been reported, and it may be that my noble friend who is to reply to the debate will be able to prove that the facts as alleged are all wrong, that the Minister is not going to approve this action, has not approved it, and that he is standing by Labour Party policy on this matter. If he does that I shall be delighted and very much relieved, and I hope that that may be the case. But if it is the case that we are going to allow depredations on this matter of the Green Belt, then this will not be the last such decision, and parks and open spaces may be involved as well. I hope that my noble friend can give us assurances that it is all right.

It is true that this is in a rather different category from the original Green Belt, as the noble Lord opposite said, but, nevertheless, it has been handled and regarded as potentially a part of the official Green Belt. If my noble friend is not in a position to give us a satisfactory reply, perhaps he could postpone his reply to another time, and try to persuade his right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to look at the matter again.


He has no power.


It is done?


It is an Act of Parliament.


It is not an Act of Parliament; it is an administrative decision by the Minister. He was not bound to give that decision, was he?

A NOBLE LORD: He has given it.


He has given it, I agree, and that may bind him. That is a fair point, but it is not a welcome point. But it was an administrative decision taken on his own responsibility, his personal, undivided responsibility. If the facts are as they have been stated and indicated, I am bound to say with sorrow—as one who had a great hand in the launching of the Green Belt—that I very much regret it, and I think the day will come when Her Majesty's Government will regret it as well.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say straight away that the architect of this development, Mr. Eric Lyons, has in my opinion made what is possibly the outstanding contribution of any private architect to domestic architecture in this country since the war. Some share of that credit should also go to the developers, Span, to whom he has acted as consultant for many years. This is not an architectural issue; this is a planning issue. During the summer some of my colleagues and I were engaged on a detailed survey of a sample part of the South-East region, just outside the official Green Belt. Since the war, or at any rate in the last ten years, something like a million people have been housed in this region, in what the South-East Study calls the "outer country ring". What we wanted to discover was how this had been done in an area which is still shown as green, rural England on many maps. On the map in the folder at the end of the South-East Study this region appears to be innocent countryside.

We discovered two things. The first was that this had been done very largely by what is called infilling and extension of old villages and small country towns; that this work had been done very largely by speculative builders without the benefit of an architect; and that the damage done to these old places, to their character and charm, had now reached a stage at which the exercise must be called off. The second thing we discovered was that there seemed to be developing two kinds of landscape in the South-East. One was the truly rural, which I need not describe to your Lordships. The other was what we have decided to call the "residential landscape"—and I do not mean subtopia or suburbia. I mean a strange hybrid now beginning to appear all over the place, where the true feeling of the countryside—the silence, the solitude and the sense of space—has been subtly destroyed by the odd house, the odd pylon, the odd wire. This residential landscape, we discovered, occupied nearly as great an acreage as the truly rural landscape. It followed, we thought, that the rural landscape had now become so precious in this London region that it must not be sacrificed any longer: it must be protected at all costs, and development must be guided into the residential landscape, this hybrid landscape, and used to thicken it up. I believe that what we found West of London is equally true East of London and in the part of West Kent where this particular development is to be carried out.

The first fault of this development, therefore, is that it invades the truly rural zone instead of tackling the far more difficult and far more worthwhile job of thickening up the residential zone. But, of course, we must expect this to happen if the area beyond the Green Belt is to remain a kind of "free for all", with all that that must involve in speculation and sprawl. I have referred to this as the area beyond the Green Belt because it can no doubt be argued that because it is beyond the approved Green Belt it is beyond the Green Belt. If we can establish that even beyond the Green Belt this kind of thing is a mistake, then, of course, a fortiori, in an area which is one of outstanding landscape value and which is in the proposed Green Belt it is even more unsuitable.

This brings me to the second point I should like to make. I mentioned just now that during the last ten years one million people have been accommodated in this so-called outer country ring which is beyond the Green Belt. To this one million the South-East Study proposes to add two million more, not in New Towns, in expanded towns, in new cities or in new communities of any kind, necessarily, hut by means of what it describes as "the normal processes of planning". From: he evidence that we have all seen on the ground, it is impossible to contemplate this prospect with anything but alarm. Opinions are bound to differ as to the extent to which the location of development should be rigidly controlled and the extent to which it can or should be left to the operation of the market. My own view is that this must vary with the intensity of use of a region, and that the South-East of England—one of the most beautiful, historic and congested regions in the entire world—can remain civilised only if a firm control is exercised there.

My Lords, a regional plan which controls one-third and leaves two-thirds to "the normal processes of planning" cannot be said to be the kind of control that the circumstances require; and in this development we have a case in point. Far from remedying the weaknesses of the South-East Study, which the Government have declared that they intend to do, the Minister has allowed this weakness to be exploited. It is the kind of planning familiar to us all dur- ing the last ten years, which encourages sprawl in Green Belt land and consumes untold man-hours on public inquiries—the man-hours of technical people desperately needed for creative work and work of real importance. It is the kind of planning that is based on the old and doubtful principle, "There is no harm in asking", when by now, surely, our regional planning in the South-East ought to be so firm that, in this kind of area, there should be no shadow of doubt that there is no point in asking.

I think this case illustrates the weakness of counties when they have to deal with issues of regional planning—weakness no fault of their own, but weakness inevitably if they are to be overruled in cases of this kind. It also illustrates, I believe, the inadequacy of a "once and for all" outline policy statement like the South-East Study. I am quite sure that there is no substitute for proper regional planning. We are told-—we are always being told—that regional planning is bound to come. My Lords, if we go on for long enough saying it is bound to come, it will never come.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to join in the attack on this deplorable decision I wish to make it absolutely clear that I attack the disastrous decision of the Minister, not because the development which he has allowed will not be good in itself, or good of its kind, but because the site chosen is wrong. The disaster is not an architectural disaster: it is a planning disaster. I would associate myself entirely with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Esher about my friend Eric Lyons, the quality of his architectural work and of some of the work of Span Developments. My attack is not, as I say, on the architecture, but solely on the bad planning that allows the use of this site.

Because the site is wrong, the decision of the Minister violates every principle on which the planning authority, with the approval of successive Ministers, had hitherto been working. My noble friend Lord Molson, to whom we are indebted for initiating this debate, mentioned that on January 4, 1961, the then Minister wrote to the Kent County Council, assuming that they would deal with all applications for development within this extended Green Belt in accordance with the circular letter to which reference was made by my noble friend.

On April 15 of this year we had a very instructive debate on the South-East Study. During that debate a vigorous attack on many things—statements and policies outlined in that Study—was made by three noble Lords belonging to the Socialist Party who are now Ministers—the noble Lords, Lord Taylor, Lord Hughes and Lord Stonham. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, initiated the debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, wound up. Those three Ministers attacked the assumptions of the South-East Study and implored the then Government not to treat it as though it were the last word. In that same debate a vigorous speech was made by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and one of the angriest speeches by myself.

My Lords, we were all in agreement on a great number of the points which we then put forward. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth—and I hope it will not harm either of us that in two recent debates we have supported one another—rightly drew attention to the amount of double talk on the subject of the Green Belt contained in that study. Well, my Lords, what has now happened? Every criticism made of that Study in this House and in another place has been wholly and utterly disregarded. And not merely that: this decision of the Minister goes far beyond anything that was suggested either in that Study or in the White Paper of the then-Government which gave their policy on the subject.

It is fair, I think, that I should mention that in paragraph 20 of the White Paper on South-East England the Minister did make it clear that in what I may call, for convenience, the "outer Green Belt", the extension of the Green Belt then under consideration, it might become necessary for some inroads to be made; and the Minister therefore would not approve it without further consideration. But he made it quite clear that he still valued that proposed extension to the Green Belt, as a Green Belt; and he made it clear that he would discuss with the local planning authorities what modification, if any, it might be necessary to make. He said: The local planning authority must also have the opportunity to re-examine, in the light of the latest estimate of population growth, the proposals they have made for extending the Green Belt. The Minister of Housing and Local Government does not therefore propose to approve these in their present form. I say that, my Lords, in fairness to the Minister who has now made this deplorable decision. But if the rest of the paragraph of which I have just quoted the conclusion is read, it makes it clear that nothing like an enormous commuter village was going to be permitted and planted in the middle of it—nothing of that sort. I will not trouble your Lord-ships with the whole paragraph; I will ask noble Lords, perhaps, to take my word for it that the paragraph gives no sort of support to the decision that the Minister has now made. In fact, so far from doing so, it was relied upon by the Kent County Council in resisting this development before the inquiry.

I think noble Lords in all parts of the House recognise that in these planning matters I voice my considered convictions without regard to the views of the Government in power. That has been my practice ever since I came to this House, and I have backed my views with my vote. On two planning occasions I have been successful in my revolt against the Government which in general I supported, and the last occasion, of which, perhaps, I should remind your Lordships, was two and a half years ago, on May 29, 1962, when I proposed my Amendment to the Transport Bill dealing with office development in the County of London and subsequently carried it to a Division—and we beat the Government of the day by a majority of three to two. I may say on that particular question that, of course, I was unable to hold the whole of my victory, much, I think, to the regret of all Governments since that day. Nevertheless, such protection as does exist against the Railways Board making complete nonsense of the development of inner London resulted from the Amendment which I then carried and which was replaced in due course by a less good Government Amendment.

My Lords, in the April debate on the South-East Study my greatest criticism of that annonymous Report was on the two chapters, No. 7 (London Employment and the Office Problem) and No. 8 (Travel to Work in London). I said something to the House about the idiocy of build- ing all these offices in London and making worse the already insoluble problems of commuter traffic. When Her Majesty's present advisers took office, one of their early actions on offices in London gave me some hope that they would show some wisdom in planning matters. I am not going through the details of what they announced—much has not yet been discussed—but at least they seemed determined not to make matters infinitely worse by treating an enormous increase of commuter traffic as inevitable and as something against which they proposed to do nothing. Now, by the present decision, they are quite literally and deliberately creating a village for commuters in an extension of the Green Belt in an area of unspoiled countryside.

I shall avoid—as, I think, previous speakers, with the gallant exception of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, have avoided—questions of whether and how far the South-East should have to provide for an increased population. We were unanimous on the last occasion against accepting the figures of The South-East Study without at least considering some of the alternatives. Nevertheless, I agree that it is a controversial and difficult matter to decide for what additional population the area chosen for The South-East Study will have to provide. But whatever the numbers for which the planning authorities in the South-East area ought to provide, whatever may be the increase for which provision should be made in the development plans, one thing, I think, is beyond dispute. In the opinion of most planners (with the exception of certain types of planners whom I will mention later) New Towns, by making a really substantial contribution, would be, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Esher, better than new villages in a wholly unspoiled countryside; and if there is to be any new development in the hitherto generally unspoiled country-side it should be in places where there is already some sporadic building and not on virgin, beautiful agricultural land. If any noble Lord is visually interested in the land that it is proposed to take for this new village, he will find an excellent photograph in the Architects Journal of the 9th of the present month.

My Lords, in dealing with The South-East Study the present Government have stated that they do not accept it all with- out further discussion, and have indicated that they will discuss it with those concerned. Surely that ought to include the Kent County Council. Why should the Kent County Council be excluded from those with whom it is worth discussing plans of this sort?

In developing my arguments about the Green Belt on the last occasion, and agreeing with many of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and others had said about it, I criticised the implication of the authors of the plan that the whole idea behind the Green Belt was that it should be a playground for Londoners. With the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth and others, I pointed out that it had a far nobler and better purpose than that. The authors actually suggested that the Green Belt's value to Londoners was somehow cancelled by the fact that parts of it were agricultural land to which the public did not have access. I pointed out that this was nonsense; that when we asked for a countryside near our cities, for the benefit of the dwellers in the towns, among others, it was not merely in order to provide a place in which they could play, but also to enable them to feast their eyes on something which would delight their vision and give them an insight into another side of the national life. After all, agriculture is not wholly unimportant. In the present instance the Minister of Agriculture was totally opposed to what is now being permitted by the Minister of Housing and Local Government under this decision.

Suppose for a moment that the Kent County Council had not allowed for sufficient increase in population in their development plan (and this may be the view of the Minister), and that the Minister, after taking all the relevant facts into consideration, had come to the conclusion that some more population ought to be accommodated, even in the extension of the Green Belt, than their plans provided, what should he have done? He should have told the Kent County Council that the County Council must provide for more population than this plan provided for, and should have asked them how they proposed to do it. Now, because a developer happens to have bought a couple of farms rather cheaply, the Minister says that he will allow that new village there, notwithstanding that the land is in the middle of an area of the Green Belt of great natural beauty.

To show that I have not been exaggerating, there are passages in the report to which I should refer. As my noble friend Lord Molson pointed out, it is convenient that the Minister should have accepted every finding of fact of his inspector. I find some of the arguments of the appellants, the developers, extremely significant. One contention will interest the House, I think; and I am certain that it will interest the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, with his concern for the Green Belt. In paragraph 39 of the report of the inquiry, the developers say that in the extension of the Green Belt what they want is not a "green belt" but a "green carpet", in which developments of various kinds should be inserted, giving, when seen from certain points of view, a certain impression of greenness.

I must say that I have some sympathy with the comment on that of the Kent County Council when they came to reply. It is worth quoting. The Council said (paragraph 60): The appellants' witnesses agree that the existing green belt should be inviolate, but consider that it is already wide enough and that outside it the idea of the 'green carpet' should prevail, peppered with patches of urban development—moth-eaten would perhaps be more appropriate—and none of it enjoying the degree of protection applicable in a green belt. Another part of the case for the appellants I find equally enlightening. They point out that the provision made by the Kent County Council, according to the South-East Study, was not going to be nearly enough. So what do they say? They say that if those plans were carried out there would still be a deficit of housing land for over 80, 000 people in the Outer Metropolitan Region representing over a dozen New Ash Greens How right the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was about what we can expect, if this policy is allowed to continue—a dozen new Ash Greens, and the case for every one of them will be at least as strong as this was.

But I think that perhaps the most remarkable of all my quotations and the most enlightening is Paragraph 41 which says: The new village would only be seen from quite nearby having no effect on any long distance view, and the landscape generally in the vicinity is featureless and no more than pleasant rural countryside— I am not joking, my Lords—that is the case for the appellants: … no more than pleasant rural countryside It is not a beauty spot. I always think that the whole conception of a "beauty spot" is responsible for more destruction of the beauty of this country than almost any other conception. What we wish to preserve is the ordinary countryside, and not simply beauty spots.

What of commuter traffic? I think that I ought to read a little more here, just to show your Lordships what is said; because if I did not read it, your Lordships would think that I was trying to be funny. Again this is part of the case for the appellants: It is true that Kent lines into London are generally overcrowded now at peak hours, but conditions on the line from Longfield are not so bad as on others and British Railways are carrying out a comprehensive review of their passenger service arrangements particularly south of the river". That is to say, in effect, "Although the commuter position is appalling, in this particular area it is not quite so bad as it is elsewhere—so let us make it all equal." I am not joking. This is the case for the appellants. This is the case that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has now allowed. This is what is going to be done.

There is one other passage that perhaps I should read. It is from the Minister's decision letter. The remarkable thing about this letter is that he sets out quite clearly all the overwhelming reasons against what he is doing and practically none in favour of the action he is taking. I will read what he says in paragraph 7: While some increase in commuting is unavoidable, if urgent housing needs are to be met, the Minister accepts that any improvement in railway carrying capacity depends on a comprehensive review of the present pattern of services."— in other words, something that has not yet happened, and we do not know whether it can possibly be successful.

But he considers that in the meantime"— the phrase, "in the meantime" seems to me matchless— the appeal site is better placed for development than many others in Kent. That is the utmost the Minister can say in praise of this decision he has reached: that it would be possible, if one searched all Kent, to find pieces of land which are even more unsuitable than that which he is going to allow to be developed.

I thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to an angry old man, who sees nearly everything that he has fought for, inside Parliament and outside, being ruined by stupidity; who sees, after all the lip service that has been given to town and country planning, and all that has been said about protecting our countryside and improving the conditions of the physical surroundings of our people, this idiocy taking place.

There are known, among planners, to be various schools of planning. One school, now uppermost, I think, among the advisers of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, is what is known as trend planning. The nature of this planning is as follows. You discover the trend—in this case, that there are a number of people who, in spite of all the discomfort, would still like to commute from London into a new great village in the middle of an area of outstanding beauty in the extended Green Belt. You find that that is the trend, and your conception of the duty of planning is how to succumb to the trend. There is another school of planning which tries to use planning to improve the life and environment of our people, and to preserve those increasingly rare areas of outstanding beauty that are in reach of the Londoner and the inhabitants of others of our great cities.

When I was at one time a student of the classics, one of the tasks one had was to try to learn something about the authorship of a passage, by textual criticism and sometimes by applying one's critical faculty to various texts to see whether they were really by the same people. I am very much struck by the similarity of the thoughts behind three documents, and they are these: the arguments used by the anonymous authors of the South-East Study; the arguments used by the appellants, which were entirely addressed to those advisers in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government whom they imagined likely to be the ultimate people to advise the Minister on what to do; and the advice behind the Minister's decision letter. I find no difficulty in believing that those three different documents all have the same explanation.

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the Minister. He is a man of high intelligence. I do not think he had given great thought to these particular topics before he took his present office, and I can imagine that great pressure was brought to bear upon him to come to the decision that he reached. In law, it is, I think, an irrevocable decision. There is only one thing that can be done which will save this extension of the Green Beit and prevent what is the absolute negation of good planning from taking place; that is, legislation. I think that it would need great courage for a new Administration and a new Minister to bring in legislation for the single purpose of reversing a decision which he is man enough to recognise to have been wrong. Nevertheless, I believe that Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to incur whatever ridicule might be involved in legislating against this decision, rather than be counted, as they will be counted, as those who destroyed all hope of preserving a most lovely part of South-East England.

There is one more word that I would say to the Minister who will reply to this debate. I hope he will not think that it is sufficient for him to reply giving the case as seen by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It was that Minister's decision; but far more than that Minister is concerned, and nobody is more personally concerned than the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, whose Parliamentary Secretary is going to reply to this debate. The Prime Minister in another place, in answer to a Question on November 26 last, said this: My right honourable friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources will participate in the formulation of the national and regional plans for which my right honourable friend the First Secretary of State has overall responsibility. My right honourable friend the Minister will be generally responsible for the availability of natural resources to meet the needs of the community and it will be for him to consider the use made of natural resources, the development of new resources and the better use of natural resources of which inadequate use is made at present. Land is the most important and urgent problem, and he will be responsible for the establishment of the Land Commission as soon as possible and for future policies relating to the availability of land as the community needs it."—[Official Report, Commons, Vol. 702 (No. 21), col. 214.] I say that the Minister of Land and Natural Resources is already concerned under that first paragraph. But the answer continues to say that there will actually be transferred to him all the functions of the Minister of Housing and Local Government as regards National Parks, which were quite rightly mentioned in this connection by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth.

My Lords, I find it quite impossible to believe that, if the new Ministry is to be concerned at all with the allocation of land, including National Parks, longdistance routes and the rest, it can take a position of complete indifference on the matter before us, and simply think that it has nothing to say, once the Minister of Housing and Local Government has made up his mind. I should like to know from the noble Lord who is to reply how much consideration of this development allowed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government was given by his Minister, the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. How did his Minister decide that the Minister of Housing and Local Government was right, and that the Minister of Agriculture, who objected to the whole proposal, was wrong? I hope that we shall hear all that. I am sorry if I have taken too much time. But I have been speaking on a subject that has been a matter of a lifetime's concern, and I hate to see England destroyed by a piece of outrageous folly.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, as some of your Lordships know, I am one of the "amenity merchants" to whom my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth referred, and I should like to add my voice to what has been said against thi's decision by other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Silkin, who is really the only Minister of Town and Country Planning that this country has ever had, said in his speech on the gracious Speech that he proposed from time to time to address the new Government as a candid friend. I thought that was an admirable sentiment. I do not know that I have actually heard him carrying out this promise, but we have had the great pleasure of hearing my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, with whom I worked during the war, do it more than once, and this afternoon very manfully.

I share something of the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, in this mat- ter. I could not help remembering, when he was talking about the harm which had been done to England by the conception of beauty spots, of a famous ironical remark—I do not know who the author was—saying that our generation had found England a place of beauty and was in danger of leaving it a place of beauty spots, which is very true.

I speak in the defence of rural England and the beauties of our country which, after all, have inspired our greatest poets. The reason why I think our poets are famous throughout the world is because they were inspired more by the beauty of England than by any other one theme, and this is the theme which runs throughout English poetry, which is one of our greatest contributions to the world. That undoubtedly transcends any Party political element that there may be in this subject and in this debate.

I am reminded, when I take up a rather critical attitude towards the present Minister of Housing and Local Government, of the debate we had on December 3 last year, when we were criticising a bad decision of the former Minister of Housing and Local Government in relation to the Green Belt on the North side of London, and in which I think two of the Conservative Peers who have taken part this afternoon, and at least one other, criticised their own Minister in a very able way. Several of those of us on what was then the other side of the House joined with them. So I hope it will not be regarded as altogether surprising if the very much worse decision which the new Minister has just given, in an even more important case finds me lining up with the same Conservative Peers whom I joined almost exactly a year ago to criticise that bad and unfortunate decision.

The detailed case against this decision has been made effectively by noble Lords who have spoken in this debate so far, and I do not propose to dot the i's and cross the t's. This decision letter is really the most extraordinary document that I have ever seen from a Minister. Mr. Crossman's intellect and intelligence has been emphasised by more than one speaker this afternoon, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was certainly right when he said that this letter was written by the same hand that penned the South-East England Study.

That had occurred to more than him. The phraseology, the mode of thought, and everything else is just the same. When Mr. Crossman, who is a very intelligent man, comes to ponder over these things later on, and sees what he has been made to say in that letter of decision, I think somebody is in for a "wigging" in that Ministry.

It is the most extraordinary document, as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said. Every argument against this appeal was put, and then the wrong decision was taken. The only argument in favour of the decision is that it will lead to houses for 5,000 or 6,000 more people. In effect, the argument is that by hook or by crook we must have housing for 5,000 or 6,000 more people, even if it is in a very bad place, even if it destroys the only really good agricultural land there is in that particular part of Kent, and even if it operates against all the principles of planning.

The Minister goes on to say that he quite agrees that this will give rise to a very difficult transport problem, adding to the commuting difficulties of these people, because he admits that they are mostly going to work in London and that they will not be able to get there comfortably. In effect he says: "Well, somehow or other they will get there, because somehow or other all these wretched people who commute into London every day, hanging on straps and breathing in germs of this, that and the other, in the end get into London, as these people will; so let us provide them with houses and subject them to this tiresome journey to London." They will not all go to London, because some of them will go into the Medway towns, where they will be equally crowded and equally in difficulties in getting there. I should think that this is the most extraordinary decision that ever came out of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, or any other Ministry.

If you look at a large-scale map of Kent of this area, you will see there a quite substantial Green Belt, and I hope that the Minister is not going to take these technical points about the fact that it is not part of the original Green Belt. That argument was hit on the head before it was advanced.

Obviously the original Green Belt was worked out rather quickly, largely by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, one of our greatest men in this line, and clearly it was going to have to be modified by extensions here and there. That has been done, and those extensions have always, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, pointed out, been regarded as part of the Green Belt proper. I think it would be a legalistic and technical argument to try to make out that, because it was the extension and not the original Green Belt, what had happened did not matter very much.

Over the last years England has been subjected to what has been called the nibbling process in the Green Belt. The Conservative Governments started well with their first Minister of Housing and Local Government. Mr. Duncan Sandys, who was pretty sound on this sort of thing, presided over a Ministry of Housing at that time who were pretty sensitive to the claims of rural England. Since that time there has been a continuous decay. The nibbling process started because politicians are more interested in housing than in almost anything else. Mr. Macmillan went to the country on the basis of building more houses than anybody else, and Ministers of Housing and Local Government have since that time been Ministers of Housing primarily.

In the speech I made to your Lordships a year ago, I found that the amalgamation of the Housing Ministry with the Town and Country Planning Ministry was the primary source of trouble in regard to this particular matter, because building houses is not the same thing as planning England. There may very often be, and very often has been, and in this case there quite clearly was, a conflict between housing requirements and the requirements of good planning; and that will continue to be so. It is really altogether wrong that in the same Ministry there should be officials who are, in effect, holding the position of judges of their own plans, and who are first and foremost civil servants concerned with housing and only secondarily civil servants concerned with planning. So the result is that planning considerations go by the board and housing statistics, which are so important, are put in the bag. That will continue to happen.

It is obvious to all of us who are in this movement that over the last few years the feeling in the Ministry of Housing and Planning, so called, has been hardening not only against the Green Belt but against the amenity movement—because it has been not only in relation to the Green Belt, but in relation to problems that have come up regarding National Parks and in all sorts of other ways in which Ministers have been concerned. I made this point a year ago, and in the interval the situation has quite clearly deteriorated. What has been described as "nibbling" has now become mouthfuls. Nobody could describe what is to be quite a large town in the heart of the Kent Green Belt as just a nibble; it is quite a sizeable mouthful. As the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, pointed out, before we know where we are there will be other mouthfuls of the same kind swallowed up in other parts of the Green Belt.

That is the difficulty: the calibre of the Ministry and the officials; and, after all, those are the people we are really concerned with. For here is a new Minister, who has never specialised in this sort of thing but who, as so often happens in English politics, is put in charge of a very important Department in the work of which he had never specialised in the past. I remember a very old friend of mine, a colleague at the School of Economics, who was also a politician and who was made a Minister in the House of Commons, saying to me that throughout his political career, which was a very long one, he had kept all sorts of files on all the different matters in which he was interested—and he was interested in a pretty wide range of topics. When the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald made him a Minister, he went to his files and found that it was the one subject on which he had not a single entry. That is what happens in politics, and it leads to many wrong decisions. You have a man who, within a month of being called to high office of State, has to make a very important decision on a subject on which he knows practically nothing. Naturally, he eats out of the hands of his civil servants who, during the last years, have become hostile to the Green Belt.


My Lords, I would interrupt my noble friend for a moment in order to be fair, for I think that for some years Mr. Grossman was a member of the Oxford City Council, in which he would have acquired a fair amount of local government experience.


No doubt he has acquired local government experience, but that is not experience in planning the Green Belt. So far as I know, and I have studied a great many of the admirable writings, from the one on Plato onwards, which Mr. Crossman has contributed to English politics, both on the theoretical and practical side, but I think he was like my friend who found that he had not studied the particular subject which he had been called upon to administer as the head of a Department. That is the difficulty. What other explanation is there that he should, in fact, have stepped into the shoes of the late Minister and proceeded to implement exactly the same sort of policy, a policy of housing before everything, and certainly before planning? These are the difficulties.

As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, pointed out, this is the most astonishing encouragement to the speculators. In the speech which I made to your Lordships a year ago, I pointed out how they were taking heart as a result of the decisions of the late Minister. There was the case of the building speculator who purchased a large area of land down in Surrey and gave a Press Conference at which he said that he had bought all this land at a quite reasonable price because it would not be long before the politicians were forced out of the position they had taken up about no building on the Green Belt. He said that the speculators would force them out of it. Within 18 months they are indeed being forced out of it, and I must say, as one who was a member of the Labour Party when Mr. Crossman was still at his "prep" school, that I find very hard indeed a decision which is going to encourage all the land speculators, not only around London but all over England, because there are the beginnings of green belts around many other of our large towns. Ought land speculation of this kind to be encouraged by a Socialist Minister who is supposed to administer a Socialist policy in the Ministry of Housing and Planning?

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by clearing up two quite small personal points. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that when I interrupted him earlier, I was merely trying to correct what I thought was a verbal slip on his part. If I did any more than that, it would have been impertinent. I should not like him to feel that I was trying to put a substantial point in that particular way. May I turn to an even more serious case? May I assure my noble friend, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, whom, after all, I have known for many years, that I had No 1ntention of dictating to him in any way what he did in this matter. I merely felt, and having listened to the discussion I still feel, that the Government would probably be criticised by so many people from many different angles—and that indeed has been the case—that if I tried to reply separately, which I know is not the usual course, it was bound to lead to confusion, and that if I left one congent and forceful speech, as I rightly considered it would be, from the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, until after I had spoken, then it might go unanswered altogether; and that, I am sure, is the very last thing that the noble Lord would have wished. I took him to want a reply and I will give it to the best of my ability. I imagine that if the noble Lord wished to speak again afterwards, the House would give him leave. Certainly, I would not object.

I think the most convenient thing I can do for your Lordships is to start by reading out what the Minister for Housing and Local Government has asked me to say. And may I clear up one point at once? This is not a decision for which the Minister seeks to put any responsibility on any one but himself. Part of what I am going to read out now is actually in his own handwriting, and my only complaint about that is that it is not very legible. Having done that, may I then, as a second part, do something which clearly he was in no position to do—that is, deal separately with the various points that noble Lords have made.

I hope I shall not be thought to be impertinent if I say that personally I found the debate exceedingly interesting, not merely because of strong feelings that are held about the subject but also because of the very wide differences of approach introduced by noble Lords in making their speeches. None of them, I may say, has shown any real enthusiasm for the decision.

The Question—and it is perhaps just as well that one should read this out again; it is quite short—is this: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the decision of the Minister of Housing and Local Government overruling the decision of the Kent County Council not to permit development at Hartley represents a new policy with regard to a Green Belt around London? That is the Question I am called upon to answer. I begin by reading. There are two inter-related questions here: first, the Government's policy on the Metropolitan Green Belt, and, second, the recent decision of my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to allow an appeal at Hartley in Kent. I should like to look first at the Metropolitan Green Belt and at the way in which it has developed. The original Green Belt proposed in the Abercrombie Plan was a fairly narrow belt encircling London. This was incorporated in the development plans of the local planning authorities and was approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government when those plans were approved, generally in the late 1950s.

Meanwhile, the planning authorities had put forward proposals for widening the Green Belt. These proposed extensions have not been formally approved by the Minister, but local authorities were asked in 1955 to apply the same control in proposed as in approved Green Belt areas. Both the approved Green Belt and the extensions were conceived in a very different climate of opinion from the present one. Then the planners looked forward to a fairly slow growth of population. Now the expected population increase gets bigger every time the figures are revised.

The Government's measures to hold population in other regions will help to take pressure off the area around London. But with rising standards of living, with people marrying younger and living longer, we must expect even the existing population of London to give rise to a continued growth in the number of new households. This has implications for the Metropolitan Green Belt and more especially for the proposed extensions. The local planning authorities are, in response to a request from the previous Minister, already reviewing the approved Green Belt to see whether any small parts that are of little Green Belt value can be released for housing. They are also re-examining the extensions in the light of the expected population increases. My right honourable friend is looking to them to approach this difficult problem in a constructive way.

I turn now to the particular case referred to by the noble Lord. This concerns a proposal to build a new village of a very high standard of design, at Hartley in Kent. The site is included in the Kent County Council's proposed extensions to the Green Belt, but these have not been approved by the Minister, either finally or in detail. They have been treated like the other Green Belt extensions. I do not want to add to what the noble Lord has said about the arguments on both sides, though I am not quite certain I have heard many arguments on my own side. But I should like to look at the conclusion of the Inspector who heard the arguments and saw the sites. He found some points in favour of the development—namely, that it would make a useful and imaginative contribution to the problem of housing in the outer metropolitan region"; and that its effect … on the countryside from the scenic point of view would not be more serious than would be tolerated even in the proposed extension of the green belt, if the proposal were sound for other planning reasons. On the other hand, he found that the "village" would be too small to attract industry or offices, and that the inhabitants would have to work elsewhere. This would mean travelling either to neighbouring towns with which road and rail communications were not wholly satisfactory; or to London, which would mean traffic on an already overburdened railway line. The Inspector also gave some weight to the agricultural objections. Taking all these points together, the Inspector considered that the objections weighed against the proposal, in spite of its high quality in other respects; and he recommended that the appeal should be dismissed.

My right honourable friend had then to reach his own conclusions on the appeal. This was a finely-balanced case. The proposal was one for an imaginatively planned model village with architecture and landscaping of a high order.

In making his decision my right honourable friend had to take account of the advantages of securing this high quality development, the pressing need to provide more housing for those in London and the surrounding area who need it, and his Inspector's view that there was no objection to the development of the site as such. In all the circumstances, my right honourable friend concluded that the benefits of allowing the development would outweigh the disadvantages. He therefore allowed the appeal.

I would emphasise here that, although the Minister's conclusion was different from his Inspector's, he was not, in fact, in disagreement with him so far as the Green Belt aspect of the case is concerned. The Inspector thought that the site could be developed in the way proposed without any serious effect on the countryside. His recommendation to dismiss the appeal was based on quite other factors, which my right honourable friend felt were outweighed by the merits of the proposal.

I hope I have said enough to show that my right honourable friend's decision in the Hartley case is not to be regarded as a first nibble portending a swallowing up of the Green Belt. As I said at the outset, the Green Belt cannot be looked at in isolation from the pressures it will have to withstand. If Green Belts are to be maintained over the years great care must be taken in drawing their boundaries in the first place. Moreover, if the proposed extensions to the Green Belt are to be guarded against constant seepage of minor development into the large villages which gradually erodes their amenity value, a courageous decision must be taken from time to time to sanction compact development such as the model village at Hartley. These were my right honourable friend's reasons.

Now I turn to consider, in the light of the Question before us today, one or two of the points made by noble Lords—or, I hope, all of them. If I fail to answer any of them I shall be only too glad to send the best answer I can afterwards. I want to say one thing to begin with. The framing of town and country legislation, as I understand it, is that in the first place a decision is made by a planning authority and that decision is then subject to review by the appropriate Minister, who always has been, and still is, the Minister called the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That review is, of course, a statutory matter; it has been for very many years in the town and country legislation; and the decision that was taken when these parts of the law were passed was that the Minister should do it, and that there is no appeal from the Minister. He has in fact been entrusted by Parliament with the duty of making up his mind on questions, some of which may be quite narrow whilst others may be of considerable national importance. I remember a recent case about the centre of London—I think it was in Piccadilly—which obviously, being a quite different type of matter, went beyond the immediate local concern.

That being so, there is no provision for Parliament to review in any way the decisions of a Minister. They are, of course, rightly and properly subject to criticism afterwards, and it is always open to an Opposition, if they wish, to take a Supply Day in another place or to put down a vote of no confidence in the Minister in question; but that is all. Consequently, whatever we say here to-day, whilst certainly and obviously having great value as criticism, the decision cannot be altered. If I may say so with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, I think it is slightly fantastic to suppose that when a Minister has made a decision which he thinks is right, special legislation is going to be passed by the Government of which he is a member in order to reverse it. I think that has a touch of unreality which is really out of place in this important matter.

Turning from that to the particular points that have been made, I would remark that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, described what had happened as a "flagrant and deliberate defiance of Case Law". I am not quite sure what he meant by that. So far as I know, there is here no question of law—Case Law or anything else. All I would say is that if he meant that it was an extraordinary innovation, the fact is that previous Conservative Governments, for many years now, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, have been allowing incursions into the Green Belt. It may be that this is a large one—it certainly is; but it is not the first time that it has been done. In many cases those were incursions into the area of, shall I call it, the Abercrombie or the Morrison Green Belt. These are, after all, the extensions, and it is not entirely a legalistic distinction, as somebody suggested, as between the Green Belt itself and the proposed extensions.

Noble Lords, referring to the proposed extensions, rightly pointed out that there was to be a severe restriction on planning permission to build in those areas; and a similar phrase was used in another context. The fact is that the proposed extensions are not on the same footing as the Green Belt itself, because they have not had the detailed consideration and approval of the Minister. In practice, they are treated as not quite the same, but with many of the restrictions which are made in full as regards the Green Belt itself. Putting it roughly, they are three-quarters of the way to the Green Belt, but they are not the whole way. There really is a difference.


My Lords, may I just interrupt to deal with that point?—I tried to deal with it in my opening speech. Under the letter which the Minister sent to the Kent County Council on January 4, 1961, it was requested that the the same principles should be applied to the proposed Green Belt as had been applied to the approved Green Belt. The position really is this: the same policy has been applicable in both areas, but whereas the first has statutory force by reason of its area being defined, the proposed extension to the Metropolitan Green Belt is defined as to its area on a sketch map of which the Minister has taken note, and the policy applicable is stated in a ministerial circular. Since that date, the Kent County Council has received a large measure of support from the Minister in his decisions on appeal in the extended area. That is what I meant by "Case Law", I did not mean the cases decided in the courts.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I really did not understand what he was after at that point, but I thought it was this. This bears out exactly what I had in mind. In the instructions to county councils, including the Kent County Council, the councils were asked to apply the same principles; and I think it would be exceedingly inappropriate for the Kent County Council to allow an incursion, certainly as large an incursion as this, into the Green Belt. That is my own feeling about it in the light of that letter. That, I understand, has been the practice of the Ministry. But I repeat that in fact previous Ministers, whatever Sir Keith Joseph may have said about it, allowed quite a number of minor incursions into the extended Green Belt. That is what I think it really comes to. I do not think there is any difference on this issue between the noble Lord and myself: that these areas are nearly the same, but that in extensions there has been a little more laxity on the ground I gave, in that the extensions have never been approved by the Minister.

If I may just pick up one particular point, so far as I know the Green Belt is not defined by Statute. I am subject to correction on this. I think it owes its existence to its inclusion as a matter of policy—and high policy, too—in the development plans of the authorities concerned. I do not think you can turn up a Town and Country Planning Act and find a line drawn on it like a national frontier. I think that is the way it has happened.


My Lords, I think that under the Act the position is that when it is approved, the plans are approved, and they are statutory under the Town and Country Planning Act.


My Lords, that is perfectly true. But that applies, of course, to a great many things besides the Green Belt; and there is no statutory provision that a given area in a given town shall be kept for residential purposes. That depends on the development plan, which has statutory effect by reason of the town and country planning legislation. In this particular instance the land has not that status, because this provision has never even become part of the Development Plan. But I agree that when we get into that sort of area, that is legalistic. The real, substantial point here is that extensions to Green Belts are not the same as the original (as I prefer to call it, if my noble friend will allow me) Morrison Green Belt. They are not the same as that; they have never been approved.

I turn from that to other points: that the Green Belt should be the start of the countryside. This was quoted, I think, from the late Mr. Gaitskell in a debate in 1960, and I am not sure that I did not take part in the debate myself. That is true enough, but I think that in considering a question of this sort it is essential to remember one thing: that these people are going to be housed somewhere, somehow. They are not going to be housed in the middle of London at present in present conditions. There are necessary restrictions in London. If their housing is not built in this area, it will be built somewhere else, and it will be built in what is partly country. I looked at the map of the surrounding area in the Kent Development Plan and, sure enough, there were quite a number of minor cases where development had been allowed in the extended Green Belt.

Turning from that to the position of the developers, I think that I ought to make myself quite clear over this. I share fully the apprehension felt by noble Lords, and the criticisms made by noble Lords about the extortionate profits often made by developers. I was very glad that it was said from the Benches opposite. When we come to consider the proposals for setting up a Lands Commission, I hope that noble Lords will remember what they have said to-day and will tell us how best they think this difficulty could be met. But I do not think the right way of dealing with extortionate or excessive profits, if they exist, is to deal with a particular case on a planning application. The right way of dealing with a question of this sort is by a general provision, not by a particular one. The intention of the town and country planning legislation is, and ought to be, that the broadest national considerations should determine an application if it goes, as this one undoubtedly does, beyond mere local matters.

I was asked about what was going to be done about the houses which were to be built at Hartley. This company, the applicants, are a subsidiary of Span. They propose to build houses for sale, and although the figures have not yet finally been settled, they propose to build them for what I might call moderate incomes, to be sold at a price of somewhere between £3,700, or perhaps rather lower, and £5,000. I hope that I have told your Lordships what you wanted to know on that matter.

I should like to pick up one remark, and one only, made by my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth. I entirely agree with what he said about the Green Belt being in many ways something which should be regarded as a sacred thing. If you do not give it some character of that sort, then you may never be able to restrain the constant "nibbling" which has been going on. I quite agree with that. On the other hand, I think that perhaps the question we are discussing to-day is whether a sacred cow can grow. And I think that sacred cows can grow and should grow. When one has laid down a Green Belt in the time of Professor Abercrombie, many years ago; when one has had extensions to it afterwards, and when one considers the new extensions to it, then it is quite impossible to say that the principle of the scheme is being violated if proper development in it is allowed, either by way of extension or, exceptionally, by way of putting a village of this sort into it. The noble Viscount, Lord Esher referred, I notice, to the amount of "nibbling" which has been going on in recent years. That is quite true.

The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, described this as a deplorable decision, a disastrous decision—both those things in the first sentence; and he said it was idiocy. I have missed most of the other words. I appreciate—and I have known the noble Lord for some time—that he feels very deeply and sincerely about this matter. I think it was Cromwell who, before a battle, went among his troops and urged them, in un-Parliamentary language at the beginning, to remember that they might be mistaken. I sometimes feel on questions of this sort that it is advisable to remember that one may be mistaken; that this was a finely balanced decision and that in fact there was a very great deal to be said on both sides.

If I may try to summarise it—and I hesitate to do so—I would say this. It is not only a question of housing the growing population of London in present circumstances; it is also a question of housing them and not allowing oneself to be cramped and hindered by decisions that were made many years earlier in different circumstances. That seems to me to be the sum of the matter here, and however sacred this type of thing may be, it can and should be adapted to changing circumstances. Nobody looking at the face of this country in recent years, looking, for good or ill, to the drift towards the South-East of England, and looking at the rate at which the population grows (or the rate at which households grow, as my right honourable friend put it in the passage which I read out) can really feel that decisions of this kind which have been taken in the past are necessarily immutable or appropriate in modern circumstances. I would say, therefore, that this is not a nibble and that this is no change of principle. This is the application in different circumstances of the same principle which my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth so stoutly laid down and carried into force many years ago.