HL Deb 15 June 1965 vol 267 cc94-102

8.2 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Lord Rhodes.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 3 [Retrospective control in metropolitan region]:


My Lords, this is a short and purely drafting Amendment, designed to correct a slight discrepancy between three closely allied provisions in the Bill. They are: Clause 3(2), which provides for the retrospective control of office development in Greater London, Clause 9(1), which provides for enforcement of the retrospective control, and paragraph 1 of Schedule 1, which provides grounds of appeal against enforcement notices under Clause 9. In each case our intention is to cover development which either consists of or includes the erection on land in Greater London of a building containing office premises, or consists of or includes the extension of a building on land in Greater London by the addition of office premises. The Amendment is in line with the other Amendment that I shall move in a moment, to paragraph 1 of Schedule 1, bringing the drafting precisely into line with this intention. Neither Amendment makes any change of substance in the provisions of the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 42, leave out ("for") and insert ("consisting of or including".—(Lord Rhodes.)


My Lords, may I ask a question about this, as it affects buildings which were perhaps already in course of erection, or extensions that were already in course of erection, or extensions that were in the course of being made? I am bound to confess that I had not myself appreciated so far that extensions being made were hit in the same way, or that office premises (and this, I take it, is also the purpose of the Amendment) located in buildings which may consist mainly, say, of flats, or partly of shops and partly of offices and partly of flats, were also affected. This would seem to be a curious use of the powers, because it is carrying the use of the powers into a mixed field.


My Lords, may I set the noble Lord right so that we do not stray too much on this point? His argument is really directed to the third Amendment, if I may say so. The first two are merely drafting.


Would it be convenient for me to continue my argument on this point now, if the Amendments are linked, or shall I wait until the third Amendment is moved?


The noble Lord may as well carry on now.


If it is for the convenience of the House, I think it will be easier to get an explanation of the matter. As I say, this is carrying the use of the powers into a mixed field. If I recollect accurately, where the mixture is office accommodation and industrial accommodation, a concession has been made. I find it difficult to see why the same kind of concession should not have been made in the case of a mixed field of office and, say, domestic building, or offices and shops.

I do not know how this will work out. It would seem to be possible, at any rate, that the effect might be to arrest the building of residential accommodation with which offices were linked, and that the whole of the operation may stop. I quite appreciate that the offices themselves might perhaps be redesigned into residential accommodation. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the whole operation would be arrested, or at any rate delayed for a time; and, of course, if this Amendment is more than simply a verbal change it may be that it will have a further retrospective effect. It would perhaps cause a good deal of trouble to those who were engaged on mixed development. So far, they may have thought that they were not within the scope of the ban which was put on, carrying on with plans that were already in existence where the contract was not already signed.

I am not sure about this Amendment. I was not clear as to its purport when I saw it on the Order Paper. Personally, I thought it was purely a verbal Amendment. But it seems to me that there is a possibility that it goes further than that, and I should be grateful if the noble Lord could enlighten me.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that it does not go any further than that, and that it is purely a slight drafting correction. If we may take the first Amendment now, I will explain to the noble Lord on the second Amendment what he wants to know.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Mixed industrial and office development]:


My Lords, this Amendment gives me an opportunity to answer the noble Lord. As he knows, the main purpose of Clause 5 is to exempt from the retrospective control of office development in Greater London mixed industrial and office development, for which both an I.D.C. and planning permission were granted before November 5, 1964. Subsection (2) defines the scope of this exemption too narrowly, because it covers only the erection of new buildings containing industrial and office space: hence this small correction. We had intended that the exemption should also apply to extensions of buildings containing industrial and office space, and that is the effect of our Amendment. We feel that this will remove a number of anxieties. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 35, after ("premises") insert ("or consisting of or including the extension of a building on land in Greater London by the addition of office premises together with other premises").—(Lord Rhodes.)


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his explanation of this matter. As he said, this puts right what appears to have been an omission at an earlier stage which nobody had spotted.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Special grounds of appeal against enforcement notices under section 9]:


My Lords, this is the most slender of all the Amendments. It is the second of the two drafting Amendments which are required to correct the slight discrepancy between the drafting of Clause 3(2), Clause 9(1) and paragraph 1 of Schedule 1. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 26, line 7, leave out second ("of").(Lord Rhodes.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

8.10 p.m.


My Lords, in moving that this Bill do now pass I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. There are only a few points that I would make. This Bill received a Second and Third Reading in another place, and a Second Reading in this House, without a Division. That speaks for itself. No one has disputed the serious implications of the rate of growth of office employment in and around London, both for London itself and for the rest of the country. No one has disputed the case for taking powers in this Bill to grapple with this problem—with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, who seems to be alone in his belief that the problem which this Bill is designed to tackle had already been solved by the previous Government. However, I will not pursue that theme, as the noble Lord is not here. We are, however, encouraged by the fact that some noble Lords opposite have welcomed the Bill in positive terms and urged us to administer it with firmness.

Our discussions in Committee and on Report have been directed to two main purposes. In the first place, we have been pressed, and quite rightly so, to explain the policy underlying the Bill, particularly in regard to the new control of office development, to make clear its comprehensive scope and to indicate how the control will be administered by the Board of Trade. On these wider issues we have been unable to be so accommodating in accepting Amendments as some noble Lords opposite would have wished, because to have accepted some of them would have had the effect of weakening the control and limiting its scope. On the other hand, we fully appreciate the importance of the points which have been raised concerning the extent of the new powers and the way in which they will be used. We have tried on all these matters to lessen the anxieties of noble Lords opposite, and we have welcomed the opportunity to clarify the Government's intentions.

We have listened with particular interest to the arguments put forward by the noble Lords opposite, Lord Erroll of Hale and Lord Drumalbyn, for exempting from the offices control certain types of offices which are required by industry. We know that they still have reservations on this aspect of the control, but we are in no doubt at all that to attempt to distinguish in the Bill between types of offices which were to be controlled and other kinds of offices which were not to be controlled would seriously weaken our powers to deal with the office problem and make the administration and enforcement of the control more difficult. Finally, I wish to express my personal gratitude to your Lordships for your assistance in enabling me and my noble friends, Lord Mitchison and Lord Champion, to conduct this Bill through this House. It only remains for me to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Rhodes.)


My Lords, in dealing with this Bill I think it is true to say we all recognise that there is a serious problem. It is also fair to say that when my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale said that the problem had already been solved, what he meant was that steps had been taken which would result in the solution of the problem. He did not mean literally that the problem was already solved, and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes appreciated that at the time. What I think we on this side of the House feel is that the Government had not thought out the implications of the Bill or the way in which the powers in it were to be exercised before they introduced it. We do not think they have fully thought them out yet. We believe they still do not know.

By this Bill the Government are treating an admittedly serious disease with a remedy which has been evolved for quite a different disease—the remedy evolved to treat distribution of industry. If the remedy works the Government will be extremely lucky. They will also be extremely fortunate in what one might term the nurses of the Board of Trade, who will have to treat the disease with only the most vague and summary directions from the doctors on the Front Bench opposite. What has to be recognised is that in the course of this the patient is certainly going to suffer considerably and his last state may well be worse than his present condition.

My Lords, we have not thought fit to oppose the Government in this Bill on the Second Reading on the matter of principle, because this was a matter within their decision. Our view had been, and still is, that the difficulties could have been solved in a different way. We sympathise entirely with the desire of the Government to be fully informed of what is going on in the matter of office construction. They should be fully informed through reports from the planning authorities. We sympathise also with their wish to be able to get more offices to move out of London. We believe that in setting up the Location of Offices Bureau we started a process which could have been increased and a great deal more effort could have been put into it, more influence could have been exercised by the Board and its activities could have been enhanced. All that could have been done. But, my Lords, instead the Government have chosen to use powers which, instead of encouraging, are going to force offices out of London, and it may well be that in the course of doing that they will force some of the wrong offices out of London and will prevent and deter some of the right offices from coming to London, including, it may be, international organisations.

The one thing that we deplore about this Bill is that in so far as it is dealing with office accommodation it is entirely negative. Under the distribution of in- dustry powers under the local employment Acts there are inducements. How far these inducements are to apply to the building of office accommodation in development districts is not clear. It may be that it does apply in the case of offices which are built by those who are going to use them. It may be that in those cases building grants may be available. I have looked up the Act and I am not clear of the interpretation of it in that regard. But it certainly seems much less likely that those offices which are built speculatively would come under the Act, and one has to bear in mind that most offices are built speculatively, and this is the very great difference between the administration of the control of office location and the control of factory location.

We would indicate in passing this Bill our grave misgivings for the future. What has taken place so often in the past is that you impose a control; in order to make it effective you have to close loopholes and extend the control further and further. This Bill is going to exercise a very severe control which will affect quite small offices. It may be that the Bill will have the effect that the Government desire. On the other hand, we believe that the results could have been obtained very much more easily and with very much less trouble. We believe this is going to be an exceedingly difficult Bill to administer. It will have a great deal of growing pains. In all probability the Government are going to come back in a very short time for clarification and extension of the Bill. For all these reasons we feel it is not a good Bill, and while we hope it will be successful in achieving some of the results which it seeks to achieve in preventing the drift to the South, and particularly the effects of overcrowding in London, we feel that we must express our serious misgivings on the Bill and our belief that before a Bill of this kind was brought in its implications and the methods of implementing it should have been much more carefully thought out.

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, since I have been sitting here all day to answer a question which has not been asked, may I permit myself the luxury of a few words at the end of the debate? I have just listened to a speech made on behalf of a Party which has not divided against this Bill either in another place or here. Is that perhaps because it did not have the courage to do so, knowing full well that for thirteen years they had seen this problem grow and had done nothing whatever to meet it? We had to-day a welcome to a Bill—or, was it a welcome?—at any rate, words about a Bill which showed, I think admirably, the preference which the Party opposite invariably give to their own Party above the interests of the country. They recognise somewhat grudgingly that at the moment this is an urgent problem. They must know it has been growing during those thirteen years and nothing whatever has been done about it.

What interested me in listening to-day was to pick up the reasons that induced the Party opposite to do nothing. They were afraid there would be interference in some form or other with business. They preferred that there should be no interference and that the mass of people in London should suffer and not have places to live in and that offices needed in other parts of the country should be directed to London. They preferred that to happen rather than that any form of control should be exercised. A more prejudiced, a more grudging, a more unpatriotic and a more unhelpful speech I have never heard in respect of a Bill against which no one had the courage to divide.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock.