HL Deb 17 May 1965 vol 266 cc298-357

3.52 p.m.

House again in Committee.


I wish to support Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5, which all appear to me to be founded on good sense. However, if we are concentrating our attention now on Amendment 3, I shall say nothing for the moment, as I am more interested in Amendment 5.


We are discussing them all together.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord, I am not interested in the question whether the words "more even" should be substituted for the word "better", but I think it most essential that after the words "distribution of" there should appear the word "office". We are concerned with office employment. It is a mere truism to say that office premises are premises which are occupied by people who are principally doing clerical work. We are not in this connection immediately interested in people who are engaged in industrial work or in manual labour. It is perfectly true, of course, that people engaged in industrial work and manual labour may have some effect upon the amount of office premises that are required in a certain area. On the other hand, there are millions of people in the country who do not require any offices at all. I will let your Lordships into a secret. No one today has an office by way of amusement or for a hobby; it is far too expensive a form of amusement.

Let us look at the matter from a practical point of view. If, for example, people in Newcastle said that there were not enough office premises in Newcastle, I presume that the Minister or one of his agents would go up there and personally examine the situation. He would decide that there were not sufficient office premises available there, and would exercise his discretion to issue more office development permits than he otherwise would do. I regard it entirely from a practical point of view; and I think the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, deserves to be supported in these Amendments.


I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in his Amendment No. 4, which seeks to substitute the expression, the more even distribution of employment for the vaguer expression which appears in the Bill, the better distribution of employment. The subsection which we are now discussing requires the Board of Trade to ask itself the question:"What will make for the better distribution of employment?" That, surely, is yet another aspect of the question: what does Whitehall think is best? I should have thought that it was for Parliament, and that the question ought to be: what does Parliament mean by the expression, "the better distribution of employment"? Does Parlia- ment mean the wider distribution, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, puts it, the more even distribution? If so, then let Parliament put those words into the Bill. Of course, the Board of Trade must make the decisions as the cases come along, but surely it is for Parliament to formulate precisely, for the benefit of the Board of Trade, the question which the Board is to ask itself. It is not for Parliament to shelter behind vagueness, and to allow or to invite Whitehall to ask itself what will be better.


I fully appreciate the importance of the considerations lying behind these Amendments, and I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has put these Amendments down in a helpful way. In Clause 1, subsection (4), we in the Board of Trade are obliged to have particular regard to the need for promoting the better distribution of employment… There are many factors to be considered in this respect. It might be transport; it might be housing; it might be the modernisation that we talked about on a previous Amendment. We accept unreservedly that the question of efficiency should come into our considerations on this matter. We consider it most important that the question of efficiency should be carefully weighed when an application is being considered. I would point out, however, that there is really no likelihood that this aspect of an application will ever be neglected, because this must be one of the primary considerations of an applicant when he is coming forward to get his O.D.P. grant. Obviously, no applicant would come forward to do something which was going to reduce his efficiency.

The most important consideration from the Government's point of view in operating this control is the distribution of employment. I must say that I should think that the introduction of other criteria to which the Board of Trade must pay "particular" regard, and placing those criteria on an equal footing with what is already in the Bill, would reduce the significance of the word "particular", especially if they were in practice to be given priority. For these reasons, we opposed this Amendment in another place, where the Amendments were to add criteria to this Clause 1, subsection (4). I am afraid that we must also resist them here.

Some remarks have been made about the difference between "better" and "more even". There is a natural tendency in some areas or regions for towns to become office centres, and in such places you would find a pool of clerical labour and the supplies and services which offices require. Although the need to keep this tendency within bounds, especially in the Metropolitan Area, is a mainspring of this Bill, it would be neither desirable nor possible to reverse it and to try, say, to relate the office employment in a town more or less rigidly to its size or population. In certain circumstances it may be in the public interest for the Board of Trade to grant an office permit in a town where a considerable number of offices already exist, while refusing one in another town not far away with fewer offices. But the adoption of this Amendment would make it more difficult to justify such decisions, and would encourage pressure from the towns which considered that they had a right under the Bill to as much office development as their neighbours. I think that would probably be a natural outcome.

This would bite deepest on areas where the labour shortage was greatest. For instance, there are many towns in the Metropolitan region which have little or no office development going on at all, and if these words were in the Bill they could conceivably point to neighbouring towns with large office developments and claim that they were entitled to new offices, too, on the grounds that the development would be "more even". However, I think everybody agrees that the need is to restrain the growth of offices in the Metropolitan Region as a whole. In these areas permits will be issued, as we have said, according to stringent criteria, and the effect of this Amendment could be only to weaken the operation of the control. I repeat, we recognise the good intentions lying behind it.

On the question of the suggestion that we include the word "office" before "employment" in Clause 1, subsection (4), noble Lords will remember that in the Committee stage in another place this word "office" was removed; and yet here we want to put it back again. It was present on the basis that the Bill would fail if, in concentrating on a better spread of office employment, it discouraged the better spread of employment as a whole throughout the country. In accepting the Opposition's Amendment, the Minister of State agreed that the Government were concerned, in the Bill's wider scope, with the distribution of employment as a whole. It would be undesirable, we believe, to permit office development where there was a danger that the staff would be "poached" from nearby industrial undertakings. There is enough poaching going on to-day in industry, and enough is far too much. As I have pointed out before, last year the wage drift was 2½ per cent. It is estimated in some quarters that it might be between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. this year. We want to do anything we can to prevent this pressure on employment.

Another point we need to consider is not only the increase in office employment which may result from the office building, but also the resulting demands on other types of labour—transport, maintenance of building and equipment et cetera—not directly employed by the occupants of the offices. For these reasons we should be sorry to see the scope of the Bill's objective narrowed by the reinstatement of the word "office" I think another place showed wisdom: not only the Opposition in proposing its deletion, but the Government in accepting it. I hope I have been able to give a satisfactory explanation of our determination to resist.


I was interested in the reply that the noble Lord gave to my noble friend's three Amendments. I must say I am surprised that he was not prepared to accept the inclusion of the word "efficiency". He made the suggestion that an applicant would come forward only because in applying he was hoping to improve his efficiency; it does not follow. He now has to come forward because he cannot get the office development where he wants it. He may suggest a place to which he would like to go, but the Board of Trade will say, "No, you cannot go there. You must go somewhere else." This he could demonstrably argue would make his organisation less efficient. Is the Board of Trade not concerned with efficiency? Does the Board of Trade not care at all whether office operations are conducted efficiently? Would the noble Lord care to answer "Yes" or "No" to that?


I think the actions of the Government since they came into office have shown definitely that efficiency is one of our first priorities.


I am delighted to hear that. In that case, I suggest he writes the word in the Bill. Let us have it in the Bill, if he believes in what he has just said. It is important that what he describes as the "first priority" should therefore be written into the Bill, because this particular phrase in subsection (4) will become the guide formula for determining all applications for office development permits. Both my noble friend and myself have a good deal of experience of I.D.C. applications and we were always using the phrase as a test phrase in the relevant legislation: "the proper distribution of industry". It was the key phrase. It is very important to get this subsection right. If efficiency is to be in the forefront of the thoughts of the Minister, his colleagues and officials, let us have the word in the Bill. I hope the noble Lord will think again about this point.

Then I was very interested in his remarks about more even distribution. "More even distribution" is a much better phrase than "better", because "better" is a subjective word. What does "better" distribution mean? It means nothing at all. It means whatever the Minister likes to think it is to mean. The examples that the noble Lord cited filled me with dismay. He said that some towns are going to have offices and others not; and all will be at the discretion of the Minister, not because he is concerned with the more even distribution of employment but because there might be poaching. This is a fine message to go to the Pottery towns, with their high proportion of female labour: they are not to have office development. All the women, young and old, must stay in the pottery industry. Is that what he has in mind? That is what the noble Lord is saying.

With his great experience of Lancashire and Yorkshire, does he mean that he wants the old Lancashire mill towns not to have offices because the office proprietors might be poaching female labour from the mills? Some of the mining towns have very little employment for the wives and daughters. Are they not to have offices in the mining towns because it may dismay a prosperous town nearby which has already plenty of offices and wants more? In my opinion, the noble Lord has not thought out the important implications of subsection (4). This is a guide phrase, the key formula, for the future determination of office development permit applications. While we would not seek to press this matter to a Division to-day, I hope, on behalf of my noble friends, that we may see an Amendment tabled by the noble Lord on the Report stage to clarify a situation which is not clear to-day.


Why does the noble Lord say that the Amendments would weaken the Bill? I find this difficult to understand. What my noble friend's Amendment does is to render more specific what is intended. My noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale said that "better" can mean almost anything. Some people think it is much better that more people should be employed in London; some people do not. This is a matter of opinion. There is no sort of definition of what is intended. It seems to me that the Amendments give a very much better—or, I should say, "clearer"—picture of what is intended by Parliament.

The noble Lord suggests, frankly, that he should chase unemployment. Of course, this is a consideration; but I think we are past the stage when unemployment is the only thing to be chased. I would not for a moment underestimate its importance where it exists; but that is not a basis on which planning of this sort should be carried out. I should like the noble Lord to explain what he means by "weaken" the Bill. I personally do not want the Bill to be weakened; I am only too glad to see a wider distribution in the country; but I should like to know on what basis it is to proceed.


I thought I had given an adequate reason for the refusal of each of these Amendments, but I will go over it again if noble Lords wish. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, had to say about efficiency. He asked me whether I had given thought to this matter. I have given thought to it. He also asked me what was the Government's attitude towards it. He said its non-appearance filled him with dismay. Well, after all his experience at the Board of Trade and elsewhere, for this to fill him with dismay is really ludicrous. Because really it does not fill him with dismay. This question of efficiency will be considered by the Board of Trade and will be given all the importance that it deserves—and it deserves a lot. It will be done, I can give the Committee that assurance.

As to better distribution of employment, lit is very difficult to put exact definitions into the Bill. Far better to leave it as it is. "Better" is a good English word which means what it says: "to better" means to improve; not to make it more even—that is equivocation. If we put in the words "more even", it could in some cases militate against what we are trying to do in the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, mentioned unemployment, but in this Bill we are talking about overemployment. With regard to the latter part, in another place it was decided that "office employment" should be "employment". I quite agree with this. I think it is sensible because it does not particularise too much. It gives the whole breadth and scope of the intention: the distribution of employment. Undoubtedly there would be some "poaching" from nearby industrial institutions if the word "office" were reinstated in the Bill. While I am sorry not to be more helpful, I am quite firm in resisting these Amendments and certain that the Bill is better as it is at present worded.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.

4.22 p.m.

LORD DRUMALBYN moved, after Clause 1, to insert the following new clause:

Special provisions for comprehensive development areas

".—(1) Where by virtue of section 4 or section 6 of the Act of 1962 a local planning authority submits to the Minister a development plan or any alteration in addition to a development plan (in this section referred to as a plan ') and such plan—

  1. (a) defines any land as an area of comprehensive redevelopment; and
  2. 306
  3. (b) specifies that any part of that land is proposed to be used for the erection of office premises, or that the use for office premises is among the planned range of uses for that area; the Minister shall not approve the plan unless the Board of Trade certify—
    1. (i) that they consider, in accordance with their duty to have regard to the need for promoting the more even distribution of employment in Great Britain, that the use of land for office premises is appropriate in that area; and
    2. (ii) that, if they so consider, they would be prepared to issue office development permits in that area for a specified minimum number of square feet of office premises.

(2) Where the Minister causes a local inquiry or hearing to take place upon any objection or representation received by him concerning the plan, a copy of any certificate issued by the Board of Trade by virtue of the last foregoing subsection, or a statement by the Board of Trade that they are not prepared to issue any such certificate, as the case may be, shall be made available at the inquiry or hearing.

(3) If the Minister approves any plan in relation to which a certificate has been issued by the Board of Trade by virtue of this section, the Board of Trade shall consult with the local planning authority for the area concerned and shall agree with that authority the terms and conditions (if any) subject to which office development permits, up to the maximum number of square feet of office premises specified in the certificate, will be issued, and in default of agreement shall inform that authority of the terms and conditions which it considers appropriate in that respect."

The noble Lord said: I must apologise to the Committee for the fact that my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross has been called away, and I sympathise with noble Lords because I am sure that I shall not be able to move this Amendment with anything like the assurance and the knowledge he has in the matter. The purpose of this Amendment is fourfold. The first purpose is to ensure that no local authority will receive authorisation from the Ministry—or in Scotland from the Secretary of State—to go ahead, only to find that the part of the scheme concerned with office development is frustrated by the refusal of the Board of Trade to give an office development permit.

A great deal of money is involved in the preparation of such schemes, and if, as often is the case, a scheme of this kind depended for its viability largely on the office content, it would be entirely frustrated if that office content were cut out; indeed, the scheme would have to be very greatly modified if the office content itself were modified. So it is important for the local authority to know in advance that the Board of Trade will give an office development permit for at least that minimum number of square feet of office development that will allow the scheme to be economic.

A third point is that the willingness of the Board of Trade to give a certificate to this effect should be known at any public inquiry about the scheme. This must be known before the scheme goes to public inquiry.

In this Amendment it is provided that a copy of any certificate issued by the Board of Trade by virtue of the last foregoing subsection, or a statement by the Board of Trade that they are not prepared to issue any such certificate, as the case may be, shall be made available at the inquiry or hearing. I myself would hope that no scheme would have to go forward without a certificate. I think it is unlikely that any local authority would take this to an inquiry unless the certificate of the Board of Trade had been given, so I think the question as to whether the Board of Trade would be examined about their refusal would be unlikely to arise. I shall be glad to hear the noble Lord's comments on the point as to whether, if we had this kind of provision, it would be desirable for the clause to be phrased in the way it is here, that is, that either the certificate of the Board of Trade or a statement of the Board of Trade to say they were not going to give a certificate should be provided, or that there should simply be a certificate of the Board of Trade. The fourth point is that one wants to ensure that the Board of Trade do not subsequently impose on the grant of the office development permits such conditions as would frustrate the scheme or render it uneconomic.

So the two main points are, first of all, that the scheme should be agreed by the Board of Trade in advance, or at least at the same time as it goes to the Ministry, and before it goes to a public inquiry. There should be the agreement of the Board of Trade to the office content. Secondly, there is the necessity that the Board of Trade should not then, after the inquiry or after the authorisation of the Minister, impose on the grant of office development permits to particular applicants for development conditions at variance with the original intention of the scheme. I think I am right in saying that local authorities often enter into negotiations with firms that may be prepared to take up the space, and that the imposition of conditions after the scheme was cut and dried might involve the scheme becoming uneconomic, and might certainly involve the frustration of arrangements which had been, unofficially or officially, made with particular firms for them to go there.

The whole purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that, where these development plans are worked out, it can be done in conjunction with the Board of Trade, with the full knowledge that what is agreed at that time will ultimately be fulfilled, and the conception of the Amendment is that the Board of Trade should signify their general agreement by giving a certificate for the minimum amount of office space they will allow to be provided there. They may allow more later, but they will at least say, "We shall allow this amount to be provided, in accordance with the development plan", and will not afterwards interfere with arrangements—that is to say, arrangements with particular firms—on which the plan has been based.

We want to get the whole thing worked out in advance to the utmost possible extent, and I think it is important that we should have the fullest co-operation between the local authority, on the one hand, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Board of Trade, on the other, to ensure that there is no waste of effort in the preparation of the schemes, and to ensure also that firms which have been induced to take an interest in the scheme with a view to going there will not have their plan interfered with. All this needs to be well prepared in advance, and the clause should provide for both the interests of the local authority—which is perhaps the primary consideration here, because it is the local authority that does all the work involved—and also the interests of the better distribution of employment.

4.30 p.m.


I have put down the next Amendment, which deals with the same point. I rather prefer my own but, if the Government are going to meet us on this matter, they are going to have their own form of words, so that anything we propose would be rather academic. As my noble friend has stated, this is an important point concerning urban renewal, the redevelopment of city centres—a matter which is very much in the public eye at present, and on which we are to have a debate later this week. I do not know what will be said in the debate, but I guess that some noble Lords will refer to the importance of these developments and to the slowness of their progress. I agree that progress is slow, but anybody who has had anything to do with these schemes will not be surprised, because of the great complexity of what is involved.

Speaking from a local authority point of view, perhaps I may amplify one or two things that my noble friend has said. In the matter of planning, local authorities are required by Statute to submit development plans setting out the broad principles of their scheme. We are expected to supplement them by a town map, which sets out in much greater detail how all the land within that area should be used, but at our discretion—and I emphasise that it is at our discretion—we can further supplement these town maps by submitting schemes for comprehensive development, by which is meant the acquisition, if necessary by compulsion, of areas of land, pulling down most of the buildings and submitting plans for redevelopment to make these areas conform to modern requirements. Probably we make a model of the scheme, though perhaps not such an elaborate model as those we have seen in the Library of the Barbican and Piccadilly Circus schemes.

There are stringent regulations regarding these areas of comprehensive development, because the powers are drastic. It is hard work to make up a scheme which will conform with them. A great number of intricate decisions have to be taken about traffic, on architectural aspects, and so forth, as well as on the financial aspects. There is often a big element of financial risk in these plans, particularly where two-tier government makes it easy to get into long arguments about who pays for what. To reduce this risk, some authorities, like my own, take the advice, at the correct fee, of experts in property valuation who advise on the viability of any scheme we may propose. This word "viability"is a great word with my own authority. It is used simply to mean that, whether we plan offices or shops, somebody will come along and take them. It would be a serious matter if they did not, because, after all, we are dealing with our ratepayers' money and the sums involved are inclined to be astronomical.

When we have come to an agreement about our plans, they are submitted to the Minister. I am not quite clear what happens then. I take it that they go around the Ministries, including the Board of Trade, and come back to us after three or six months, or a year or two years, with amendments, possibly approved. There is nearly always a public inquiry. On the Second Reading in another place, the President of the Board of Trade said this: It may also be necessary to agree to a very small amount of office building in what are called comprehensive redevelopment schemes, though even there we should have to look closely at each scheme and sometimes cut down, or even cut out, the office content"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 705 (No. 47), col. 740, February 1, 1965.] If the Minister was referring to the numerous schemes in the pipe-line, I would not quarrel with his statement, because, although it is a great nuisance to authorities to have to recast their schemes, we all realise that the Minister has this power of amendment; and no question of principle arises. But if he was referring to schemes which have been approved after all this elaborate procedure, it would mean that by a simple administrative act, possibly without any further inquiry, he could destroy one of the important elements in our financial calculations and possibly make us unwilling to try such experiments again. I submit that this is a very questionable thing to do.

It has been argued time after time that if the industrial development procedures work quite well without all this difficulty, why should not the same be true of the office development procedure. This line of argument may have theoretical merits, but I do not think it has any practical merits. Normally, we do not want to put industries in town centres. Generally we relegate them to special areas, as is done in the New Towns. If we want to put up a flatted factory in a redevelopment area, I do not think we should expect any developer to do that, as the I.D.C. procedure would be too speculative. The needs of industry are much more diverse than offices, and I suppose that we in local authorities shall have to take that risk ourselves. But we want to put up offices in the new town centres, and we want them to be built by private developers. We want to get agreement with them because, if we adhere to our plans, we want them to come in and share our financial burdens and risks. Large firms—as one can see on looking out of the window of your Lordships' Library—build their own offices, but I think that, as often as not, the smaller firms prefer to go into offices which they find already built. We do not want either to frighten away developers by the blight of uncertainty, or to suffer from the blight of uncertainty ourselves.

I hope that your Lordships will not think that this is a whimsical piece of "crankiness" on my part, particularly as it was not raised in another place, but I have consulted the principal technical adviser to the County Councils Association, Mr. Ernest Doubleday, a past President of the Town Planning Institute and at present Planning Officer of Hertfordshire, and I should like to read a sentence or two of what he said. A major consideration in any urban redevelopment scheme is that it should have a sound economic basis, and it is my experience, in the fourteen urban renewal schemes we have on hand in this county, that offices form a very large part of the economic appraisal of a redevelopment scheme. The present Bill seems to be drawn up on the basis that even after a comprehensive development plan had been approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, permission would still have to be sought for an office development permit from the Board of Trade and the granting or otherwise of a permit for any scheme could make or mar the success of that redevelopment scheme. The consequences upon the town could be most damaging if a hole is knocked in the bottom of the economics of the central area redevelopment scheme. I should have thought that it should be possible for the Minister of Housing and Local Government to approve a comprehensive redevelopment scheme and to pick up and cover the point of the office development permits so that independent action was not thereafter necessary, placing the Minister's approval and the redevelopment scheme at risk. This is what I have tried to cover in my Amendment. I have to meet the Government's desire for a new look. In my Amendment (and I apologise for referring to it in advance) I have made it applicable only to schemes approved after the passing of this Bill. I am not suggesting that the Board of Trade should be excluded altogether from operating within an area of comprehensive redevelopment. I am suggesting that their broad directive should be incorporated in the ministerial approval of the scheme, and should hold good without further interference, at least until the quinquennial review. I appreciate that this would deprive the Board of Trade of the absolute flexibility of control. But what is planning except a restriction of absolute flexibility? If you are going to have absolute flexibility, it is tantamount to saying that you do not believe in planning.

I am told that there are some 400 urban development schemes at present being undertaken and in various stages of preparation and completion. I do not know how many of these are in the areas scheduled in the Bill, and I do not know how many are dependent for their financial structure on an office content. It may be that there are some schemes which are financially viable without office or industrial content. If there are, then other issues would arise; because, clearly, you cannot offer no work to a population without encouraging commuting, a matter about which the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, spoke so eloquently a few days ago. If you deprive people of local employment, then they must go elsewhere for their work.

I hope that the Government may go some way to help us in this matter; and this does not mean merely giving comforting assurances. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who I regret is no longer here, went out of his way on Second Reading to warn the Government that this Bill, unless administered with great skill, might have effects very different from what they anticipate. It might have a sort of ossifying effect. It might mean that offices which ought to be improved are not improved, and it might mean that industries which ought to be moved would not be moved. I do not think it will have an ossifying effect on local authorities themselves. I think that anybody who has anything to do with these schemes realises what a tremendous amount of work and grind they

entail. To get one of these schemes into a mature state will probably take five years from the time it is conceived. In these days of high rates and stringent finance, and at a time when there is considerable reform in the air, or talked about, it is so easy just to put it off for another year or two. I am afraid that this is what will happen if nothing is done to help local authorities in this way. Whatever may be said in the debate on Wednesday, I think we shall have a position where local authorities will be encouraged to do nothing. I support my noble friend's Amendment.

4.45 p.m.


I, too, hope and believe that we shall have an exceedingly interesting debate on urban development when we come to it. While I quite recognise that, to some extent, broad questions of ordinary development are involved in these Amendments, I regard them as raising a point of method rather than any point of principle. One must, I think, remember that if this Bill is to work at all, the close co-operation that your Lordships now see between my noble friend on my right and myself must be more than reflected—it must be lodged into a continuous co-operation between the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The practice of industry and industrial development certificates is not irrelevant, because in that field there is the same need for co-operation. The co-operation, in fact, has been practised for many years now, and, as regards the kind of point we are discussing today, I think without any serious complaint.

Let me see, first of all, what this Amendment—that is, the Amendment we are first discussing—proposes. It proposes that the Board of Trade, as a precondition to the approval of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, should certify not only that the use of land for office premises is appropriate in the area, but also that a specified minimum number of square feet of office floor space will be allowed. One has to remember that there is a considerable difference between the task that is put upon the Board of Trade when they have to consider an application for a term of that kind and the duty laid on the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he has to consider a comprehensive development area scheme. On the question of time, for instance, a comprehensive development area scheme may well be a matter of several years in its performance. It need not be, and, as I understand it, is not, in a case of that kind, usually approved in detail. It is therefore possible for modifications to be made in the comprehensive development area scheme, provided that the substantial uses are kept to.

The scheme itself must be a plan to deal with an area that requires special treatment (I say this to the noble Viscount, Lord Gage)—and I quote from Section 4 of the 1962 Act— for the purpose of providing for the relocation of population or industry"— then there are set out other instances— and for any other purpose specified in the plan. It is a special area, and the treatment of it involves questions going beyond the usual responsibilities of a local authority, as I see it, however important those may be. In all cases, I should have thought, and certainly in most, it will raise questions of national importance, and it is therefore treated specially in the Act, and is, of course, subject to the approval of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is the right Minister for that purpose.

What in fact happens in all these cases is that, where industry is concerned, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government at present consults, and is bound to consult, with the Board of Trade, not only at one point, but throughout the various proceedings which are sure to take place before the plan is formally approved. Not only has the Minister power to call for local inquiries (it is a very wide power, as we all know, contained in the 1962 Act), but I cannot imagine that, in a scheme of the kind we all have in mind to-day, he would fail to have a local inquiry; and the form of the Amendment suggests that there should be something of the sort.

That being so, no one, so far as I know, has suggested to-day that as regards industrial development this consultation has been unsatisfactory in the past, or that there is any need to put it into the more rigid frame which is suggested by these Amendments in relation to offices. I have been waiting for the suggestion to be made. I should be rather surprised if it were made by noble Lords opposite, because on the whole their objection has been to the rigidity of some of these arrangements. What they are now proposing in this Amendment is very much more rigid than the practice that has hitherto prevailed with regard to industrial development or is intended to prevail in relation to offices. There has to be, for instance, a specified minimum amount of office space. I am not clear what the purpose of that is. To what extent may it be enlarged? May it be doubled; may it be trebled, or may it be increased enormously? What is required by the Amendment is an unspecified amount. With respect, that seems to me to be an absolutely typical case of trying to make a frame where no frame is required.

It is perfectly obvious that if there is going to be a question of provision of office space in the area, then clearly the Board of Trade must be consulted, and that is what this Bill is all about. At whatever stage the direction is given, they have to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as regards the national interests, and also, I would add, with the local authority as regards local interests, broadly considered. There may be more in this than I suppose—I do not know. But I think the existing practice has been perfectly successful that is to say, consultation with the local authority, the formulation of plans, at first, in the case of a comprehensive development area scheme, often in no great detail at all, the detail being subsequently worked in. All that has proceeded, so far as these things can do so, to the general satisfaction of the local authorities and the Government Departments concerned.

I am waiting to know why this practice needs to be altered. What is proposed is this. Under Clause 2 of the Bill the Board of Trade certify to the effect I have mentioned; or a statement that they are not prepared to issue a certificate would have to be produced at any local inquiry into C.D.A. proposals. What is the use of that? I should have thought that that was making the Board of Trade decide well in advance of the right moment. Why need this be laid down by Statute? If, in the circumstances of the case, it is advisable that the Board of Trade should be asked this question, then there is ample power to ask them already. It is not necessary to have a Statute.

Then there is subsection (3), which provides that where the certificate was issued, the Board of Trade should consult with the local planning authority and agree the terms and conditions subject to which office development permits would be issued. This again seems to me to represent what would normally be done, and to attempt to fix this into the Statutory procedure is simply trying to devise a form which is very rigid, which no doubt in some cases might be appropriate and in others might be completely inappropriate. I think this is a typical instance of trying to use a Statute to make far too rigid a definition of what is required.

If I might put in generally, I do not think any one in this country is wholly satisfied with the planning procedure. I am well aware that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is far from wholly satisfied. I read with great interest a speech he made about a month ago, I think, to the Town Planning Institute. It was an excellent speech, and one of the features of it was that he thought that planning in general badly needed reconsideration, and possibly radical reconsideration. But that is not a matter we can deal with in this Bill. If in fact there is, as I believe there ought to be, some further development in planning, we are now putting into a measure which mainly concerns the Board of Trade (though it also concerns the Ministry of Housing and Local Government) a particular form of procedure adapted to particular circumstances, and one which again might have to be modified considerably where there is a general improvement, adaption or change in the planning machinery.

I therefore feel that this Amendment does not raise broad general questions about whether planning machinery in general could be improved, or broad general questions about the share which the local authority, as the planning authority, and the Ministry should take in decisions which are supposed to be for the common good. I do not think it does that. I think, on the contrary, it is an Amendment purely of method, directed to taking particular steps at a particular time; directed to those steps being taken by one of the two ministerial partners concerned; and, at the risk of repeating myself, something far too rigid to be put into this Bill. I cannot see what the real advantage of it is.

Of course, if we were to assume that no Ministry ever consulted with another, that no Ministry ever took into account the views of local authorities, that there was none of the extensive informal consultation which we all know perfectly well goes on in any case of this sort, then the Amendment might be advisable. But we must look at the facts of the practice at present, and no Government, whatever its complexion, could conceivably work if, on questions involving, on the one hand, planning as regards housing, and, on the other hand, the development of industry and the development of offices or the control of industry and the control of offices, there were not continuous and close consultation between the Ministries. To try to tell the Ministries that they have to do in public, in the open, at a certain stage, things which may be quite inappropriate for getting the real collaboration between them that is required, is merely to put spanners in the works instead of constructing a useful piece of machinery. With great respect to noble Lords opposite, this is really a procedural spanner. It would simply make things very difficult. It is not intended to remedy anything that is wrong; it is intended simply to put rigidity where no rigidity is required. After saying that, I shall not surprise your Lordships by saying that I hope this Amendment will not be accepted.


The noble Lord concluded by saying that he thought this Amendment was not intended to remedy something which was wrong. It certainly was not intended to obstruct anything. Spanners can be used for various purposes: they can be used for good purposes, and they can be used for bad purposes. If this was a spanner at all, it was intended to be used for a good purpose. The noble Lord thinks that this would make far too rigid provisions. But very often you must make some kind of rigidity in order to protect a particular interest. The purpose of this Amendment is to protect the interests of the local authorities, so as to enable them to know where they stand. It seems to me that it is worth possibly having a certain amount of rigidity injected—if you inject rigidity—into a Bill in order to achieve this purpose. There are the two different aspects of this matter involved. The noble Lord has not really dealt with what I think my noble friend Lord Gage and I both felt was the core of this subject, and that was protection of the viability—that was the word he used and I think I used it as well—of these comprehensive redevelopment plans.

I do not know to what extent comprehensive redevelopment plans normally include industrial development. I would suggest, at any rate, that if one is making a comparison between what has been done so far as I.D.C.s are concerned and the proposed office development procedure, the main difference is this: that, by and large, as we shall see when we come later to this matter in the second Part of the Bill, there has been pretty little speculative development of factories. Factories have generally been built by particular firms. It 'has been the practice of local planning authorities to lay out certain areas as areas for industrial development, without considering very closely the number of people who are going to be employed or the amount of space that is likely to be provided. They lay out certain areas. But we all know that one of the difficulties of planning is that areas have been laid out for industrial development and often almost sterilised for industrial development; they are not very likely to get industrial development. Many areas are like that because there has been a certain amount of competition between local authorities in order to get industry. The whole thing has been speculative and uncertain.

This is not the case with office development. Office development normally, as my noble friend said, in cases of this kind will be made for letting. There will, I daresay, be some cases where the local authority will hear about a large insurance office which may want to move out and may be able to phase its movements and plan to move out at a certain time to coincide with the comprehensive development plan. But, generally speaking, I am sure my noble friend is right in saying that it will be a question of interesting developers who will be prepared to put up a defined amount of office accommodation in the full knowledge, in the Metropolitan Area, that, with the great growth of population that we are going to have in any case in this area, office accommodation will be required in order to provide a reasonably even—I use the word again—spread of office accommodation in accordance with the population needs. I am sure this is what is required. Before the local planning authority commits itself very far it will want to know that the Board of Trade is going to give consent to that amount of office building that will make the scheme viable. This, I think, is the centre of the need for some provision of this kind.

The noble Lord says, "Of course, we shall have the fullest co-operation between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Board of Trade at the appropriate stages." But I am sure that it is as well to specify in the Bill the degree of co-operation required; and the degree of co-operation required is the objective of ensuring that within the framework of a particular plan—and I quite agree it can be modified to take account of change of population, and all the rest, in the course of working it out—there will be what is regarded by the local authority as the appropriate amount of office development to carry that plan. This, I think, is what we have in mind.


The noble Lord has referred twice to the "appropriate amount" of office development. Is this the same as the "specified minimum" or is it not?


Yes, it is, because I said "the appropriate amount to carry the plan". They may have more office development later on, but that will be surplus; it will be all to the good to enable the local authority to make its plan still more economic. And, of course, it provides for the flexibility that is required with more population being available, or possibly certain firms wanting to go to the area, a development that had not previously been foreseen, and so forth. The necessity from the viability point of view is to have a minimum amount of office space in view. That is the case, I think, from the aspect of the provision for approving a minimum amount.

I think there is a strong reason for providing that the Board of Trade should give at the time when the scheme is considered by the inquiry a certificate to say that that minimum amount is agreed to by the Board of Trade as necessary and desirable. That will take out of the inquiry a large amount of work, a large amount of discussion as to whether this is, as the noble Lord would say, the appropriate amount or not. It is the minimum amount that is necessary to make the scheme viable. It may be that the local planning authority itself will have to define that figure, but at any rate it is the figure that is agreed by the Board of Trade as being the minimum amount of office space for which it is prepared to give office development permits. It seems to me that that is an extraordinarily simple procedure, and I should not have thought it was introducing any excessive rigidity. It is merely putting the local planning authority in the position to gauge the viability of its own scheme. I hope that the noble Lord will give further consideration to this point.

I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his place; he was not here for the opening remarks, and we were rather looking forward to hearing him, so that he could give us further guidance on this matter from his own great experience. We are here talking of the local planning authorities in the Metropolitan Area primarily. Later on it may be elsewhere, but at the moment we are talking about those cases. It may well be that if this control extends to the Midlands area the same kind of consideration will apply as in the Metropolitan Area, where you are having an increase locally, you are having a movement out from London and it is being supplemented, and is likely to be supplemented for some years to come, by the movement into the South-Eastern area. There is obviously going to be plenty of office development in the Metropolitan Area, even if noble Lords opposite want to spread as much of it as possible outside the area. There is going to be plenty of this, and what is required is to allow local planning authorities in that area to work out their plans in conjunction with the Ministry, then go to the local inquiry and, at that stage, be certain of the position, or at least the minimum position, so far as the office development there is concerned. This is, I think, what is required, and I hope that the noble Lord will not feel that we are in any way trying to put on shackles in regard to the Board of Trade. What we are trying to do is merely to ensure that the whole apparatus, where there is a comprehensive development, will work as economically and as smoothly as possible.


I gladly respond to the invitation of the noble Lord to say something on this Amendment. I should like to assure him that, if I felt that this was an Amendment that ought to be supported, I should not hesitate to say so. But I have considered this and I feel that it is not a desirable Amendment to incorporate in the Bill. I think there is not an altogether clear conception on the part of the noble Lord of what happens in the preparatory stages. It is not that the local authority produces a plan out of a hat, or even out of its own imagination or inquiries. A good deal of informal discussion takes place between the local planning authority and the Ministries concerned before the plan actually appears and is put forward; and by the time it is put forward the local authority normally knows the mind of the Ministry. At that stage, it is open to any member of the public to object to the plan.

Broadly speaking, it is undesirable that at that stage the plan should have become a rigid one so that any objection on the part of the public is useless because the Minister has already made up his mind about it. It seems to me quite wrong to hold an inquiry at all in those circumstances. If the noble Lord is right, the appropriate Minister will by that time have made up his mind as to the amount of office accommodation that will be available, and how many certificates he is going to issue. If that were the case, there are of course other matters that could be inquired into in the course of the development; but on that particular matter it would be useless for anybody to come along and make a case for more office accommodation. I think that the matter should be open—


I should like just to correct the noble Lord, if I may, because this is only a minimum provision—deliberately a minimum provision. It may be right that it would be difficult to contest that the minimum was too high; but even there, I think, as I said, it would be possible to ask the local planning authority to justify that minimum.


It rather restricts, does it not, the freedom of the Minister to make up his mind on the basis of the evidence that is presented? Whether it is a minimum or whether it is a maximum, it makes no difference from the point of view of the principle that here is a plan which is the subject of an inquiry and the Minister has already come to a decision on a vital part of the plan. I think it is not only bad administration, but it is bad from the point of view of public relations. After all, the public already have an idea that there is a suspicion about public inquiries, and I think that the less we give colour to that idea the better. It ought to be completely open and free, and the public should have no feeling whatsoever that the Ministry have made up their minds on anything in connection with it before the inquiry is held and before the evidence has been heard.

Then, to have all this incorporated in the Bill rather complicates the Bill and the procedure. Most of it, apart from settling the amount or the minimum of office development, is something that is normally done after the inquiry, and a good deal of discussion takes place between various Ministries before a decision is given. As the noble Lord himself knows, that is the normal procedure, and at that stage everything is taken into account, including the evidence that has been given at the inquiry. I would have thought that this works quite well; and as to the noble Lord's suggestion that things that should be done are done as a matter of course and will be done by every well-administered Government, I think it is undesirable to the extent that we are endeavouring to get a Minister to commit himself in advance to something that is going to be the subject of an inquiry. I think that is highly undesirable.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I am sorry he was not here at the beginning. I think that in a way we are talking about two different things. By moving my Amendment simultaneously with this one, I fear I have created some confusion. I would not myself wish to urge in consultation anything at all in preparation of the scheme. What I am asking is that when the scheme has been made and approved it will mean what it says. That is the only thing I am asking. I am asking that the whole value of the scheme shall not be completely wrecked because, by a chance, the Board of Trade at a particular time do not think it will suit them to let the scheme be implemented, and withhold their consent. That is the point.


I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has completed his speech?


Well, I had intended to deal with Amendment No. 6 alone. I was not dealing with Amendment No. 7 at all. Therefore, to the extent that I have spoken on Amendment No. 6, I have finished.


I have listened to this debate with close attention, and although it would appear at first sight that noble Lords on both sides are in complete disagreement, I do not really think that that is so. As I understand the point—and we have discussed this—my noble friends were really concerned about two points, upon which they have had reassurance from the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. If I am wrong about that, no doubt he will correct me. I feel that the Minister of Housing was quite correct when he expressed his dissatisfaction with the way that planning machinery has been working. There is certainly widespread criticism, especially from local authorities with the closest experience of it, of the delays and frustrations to which they are exposed.

As I understood the speech of my noble friend, Lord Gage, what he was concerned about was this. One of the most valuable provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, was that dealing with redevelopment. It is extremely difficult to make these schemes—to use the word that has been used on both sides of the Committee—viable, or, as I should have preferred to say, financially sound. It is, in fact, a sine qua non of their financial soundness that there should be a certain amount of industrial and commercial development. It is out of the larger rents and rates which are derived from buildings of that kind that the general comprehensive development scheme is financed. What we on this side of the Committee were concerned about was lest this new procedure of the office development certificate should be something which could be imposed later, and that the Board of Trade might refuse to authorise the carrying through of a scheme which had already been approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. We wanted an assurance that in these matters all the considerations which have to be taken into account under this Bill would already have been considered inside the inner councils of the Government before the Minister approved the development scheme.


Is the noble Lord referring to schemes which have been approved before the coming into operation of the Act, or after? If it is before, then we must be free to look at even an approved scheme in the light of the operation of this Act. If it is after, I am sure that it will be taken into account.


I quite agree. I was at that moment speaking about the Amendment to which my noble friend Lord Gage has spoken, in which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will see that there is a reference to the future. As I understand it, we have been assured by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that the Government are fully aware that this is an additional hurdle which the local authorities must get over in their attempts at urban development, and that all these matters will be taken into account before approval is given. Further, that the flexibility for which the noble Lord has been asking will in fact enable all these discussions to take place, and that it embraces all the considerations, including the considerations which the Board of Trade is going to be statutorily obliged to take into account before issuing an office certificate. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, says that there is no need to put into the Statute the requirement of consultation and cooperation between the different Government Departments because that is a rule of good administration and will be continued even under this Government.

5.24 p.m.


In courtesy to those who have spoken, I have little to add, but I had better say a word or two. First of all, I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Silkin said. One of the major objections to Amendment No. 6 is that the Board of Trade is supposed to make up its mind before the public inquiry on what is considered to be a vital point. That cannot be right. If it is of importance, and no doubt in many cases it is—if it is the minimum office space that makes the scheme viable, that clearly is of importance—then what purpose is the public inquiry going to serve, coming, as it would, afterwards? I really think that the noble Lord who supported that cannot have considered the relation between what he was proposing and what general purpose a public inquiry is supposed to serve.

Turning to what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, I found very little indeed to disagree with, but I want to make two things clear. First of all, I referred to what my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing said the other day in a speech to the Town Planning Institute. Those who want a more accurate reference may prefer to look at the actual speech rather than to listen to any casual reference I make about it. I ought to make clear, however, that I did not read my right honourable friend as criticising the operation of the machinery of planning in the sense of criticising those who were administering and working it. I read him as saying that the machinery itself wanted looking into. Speaking for myself, I agree with him that it does want looking into, but that is only an incidental point here.

Secondly, Lord Molson said one thing with which I entirely agree. I think that the practice of consultation at all stages is working very well. I do not believe that there is any serious complaint on that point. I should be surprised if noble Lords who support this Amendment feel that there is any real difficulty in the matter of consultation with local authorities. I should have expected them to bring forward some instance, in some form or another, to add reality to what, with great respect, seems to be a slightly imaginary difficulty. It is said that the Board of Trade must say what it is going to do. The first comment on that is—why not ask it? That has not been answered by anybody. That is what happens.


With respect, it does not happen yet, because the Bill is not yet an Act.


I was thinking of industrial development.


That is an entirely different situation.


With respect to the noble Lord, it is not an entirely different situation. It is a case where functions of the Board of Trade have to be carried out, and care is taken to see that the Board of Trade have the last word—and the first, if you like—on what is appropriate; that is to say, in that instance the location of industry. In this case it is the control of offices. Those two cases are not entirely different. I can see the noble Lord shaking his head. Industry and offices are not the same, but in the respect I have indicated the considerations to be taken into account are the same. Until I am convinced otherwise, I shall continue to say and think so.

If it is intended to bind the Board of Trade beforehand, that is to say, to make them agree, in considering a comprehensive development area scheme which may take many years to execute, to a minimum office space without which the scheme would not be viable and with which the scheme will be viable, I would ask: is that a wise thing to do? Is that what is really meant? Is it meant that in no circumstances are the Board of Trade to be allowed to say, on reconsideration and after consultation with the local authorities: "We think that it would be better to have more industry here and fewer offices."? Are they not to be allowed to say that? Are they to be tied by Statute from seeking a measure of agreement which they can already get between the Ministry of Housing, on the one hand, and the local authorities, on the other? No, my Lords: the answer to this is quite simple. If this information is desired as information, it is available now, and nothing I have said is going to make it any less available. We all know the progress of a scheme of this kind and the degree of consultation which it necessarily entails. If, on the other hand, it is intended to make a rigid framework in tying in advance the hands of the Board of Trade, then, though the framework is far from rigid, because it specifies only a minimum, it is nevertheless an inexpedient thing to do. I hope that the Committee will feel able to reject the Amendment, or that those who moved it will withdraw it.

I am not quite clear what will be the most convenient course to adopt on Lord Gage's subsequent Amendment. He spoke to it, and I can reply to it very shortly, or I can wait until it is formally called.


The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, suggested that he might have some different point on that Amendment. I should prefer to make a brief speech when moving my own Amendment later.


If I have been too long, I am sorry. Certainly, I shall not lengthen this speech now in that connection.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for his patient exposition of his point of view on this, which was very clear, if I may say so. I certainly do not want to delay the Committee any further on this particular Amendment. However, may I make just one point? I think that in the course of our discussions we may have become a little confused as between the general twenty-year plan, where one sets out arrangements for industrial use and all the rest of it, with different sectors of an area, and the comprehensive development plan on which we are concentrating particularly in this Amendment. I do not think it is on all-fours, because I think I am right in saying that there is not generally a great deal of industrial development in the comprehensive development plan, whereas, as I said before, one of the difficulties about an urban plan or something of that kind is that land is set aside for an industrial estate. Such land has been set aside in the past without very much consultation with the Board of Trade, and that land has remained without development because the Board of Trade has not felt able to steer industries to that area.

This is a common complaint, and I suppose it has to some extent inspired our fear that the same kind of position might arise with the comprehensive development plan; that is to say, approval might be given by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for office development, and then later the office development permits might not be forthcoming. However, we should very much like to consider everything that has been said and, in the meantime, while of course reserving our position on the possibility of referring to this matter at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2:

Exemption by reference to office floor space

2.—(1) Notwithstanding anything in the preceding section, an office development permit shall not be required for the purposes of an application for planning permission to carry out any development (in this section referred to as "the proposed development") if the office floor space to be created by the proposed development, together with any office floor space created or to be created by any related development, does not exceed the prescribed exemption limit.

(2) For the purposes of the preceding subsection development shall, in relation to art application for planning permission (in this section referred to as "the relevant application"), be taken to be "related development" if—

  1. (a) it related, or is to relate, to the same building as that to which the proposed development is to relate (in this subsection referred to as the "relevant building"), or
  2. (b) it related, or is to relate, to a building which is, or is to be, contiguous or adjacent to the relevant building, and it was, or is to be, development comprised in, or for the purposes of, the same scheme or project or for the purposes of the same undertaking as the proposed development,
and (in either case) it fulfils one or other of the conditions mentioned in subsection (3) or subsection (4) of this section, as the case may be, and is not excluded by subsection (5) of this section.

(7) The Board of Trade may by order direct that such number of square feet (whether greater or less than 3,000) as may be specified in the order shall be the prescribed exemption limit for the purposes of this section, either generally or in relation to any particular area to which this Part of this Act applies in accordance with subsection (2) of the preceding section or in relation to any particular part of such an area.

5.33 p.m.

VISCOUNT GAGE moved to leave out subsection (1) and insert— (1) Notwithstanding anything in the preceding section, an office development permit shall not be required for the purposes of an application for planning permission to carry out any development (in this section referred to as 'the proposed development') if:—

  1. (a) the proposed development is in an area defined in a development plan approved after the passing of this act by the Minister of Housing and Local Government under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1962, as an area of comprehensive development;
  2. (b) if the office floor space to be created by the proposed development, together with any office floor space created or to be created by any related development, does not exceed the prescribed exemption limit."

The noble Viscount said: I do not propose to make a long speech. Like my noble friend, I must, of course, pay a great deal of attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has just said, but I must confess that at first hearing I do not think he did a great deal of justice to the point which I was putting forward, and which had the support of one of the most experienced planning officers in the country who has had most to do with development schemes. According to the noble Lord, everything was going to be for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and what really comes out of this is what is meant by "planning".

It is quite clear that the idea of planning held by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, is rather like that of "Big Brother": "Anything I say at any given moment is right, and long-term planning is all right for others but not for me." That is the way it sounds. But, of course, I shall very carefully consider everything that has been said, and also reserve my position. If the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, sees that there is no chance of getting any kind of sanctity for these comprehensive development plans—I am sure that he has had great experience—then we must just reconcile ourselves to the fact that they will not even go ahead as fast as they have already done. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 23, leave out subsection (1) and insert the said new subsection.—(Viscount Gage.)


The effect of this Amendment would be to insert a new paragraph (a)—paragraph (b) is already in subsection (1) of the Bill—which simply says, in effect, that the control in this Bill is not to operate in an area of comprehensive development. I may have misunderstood.


There would be control to start with over the original scheme, but not ad hoc control after the scheme has been approved.


Yes, but what it comes to is this. When there is an area of comprehensive development, the provisions of this Bill are not to apply to that area. That is how I read it. I will only say that I am afraid we cannot accept that, very largely for the reasons that were given in the course of the last discussion. It is, of course, an extremely sweeping provision and I do not think we could make the intentions of this Bill—upon which I hope we agree—operative if we were to have what might be considerable and numerous islands of comprehensive development which were exempt from the Bill.

I should like to make one further point in general reply to what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. I hope he will accept that I say this in the most friendly spirit. I think his difficulty over planning, and perhaps the difficulty of other people from the point of view of local authorities, is that they underestimate a little the difficulty of effective co-operation—I would rather call it partnership—between the local authorities and the Government Ministries concerned. The difficulty comes very largely, I think, from the variety of circumstances in which that co-operation and partnership have to be practised, and Amendments such as the one we were last discussing do not on the whole cure that difficulty.

What is proposed here is to cure it by a surgical rather than a medical operation. You simply remove the control of offices from what might be quite a considerable part of the area where it is relevant. As I see it, that does not really solve the problem. If you want control of offices at all, you must have power of control in all the appropriate parts of the country, and you must not be deterred from exercising that power by the existence of areas of comprehensive development which may have been arranged and decided on for reasons rather different from the motives that we have in this Bill.


I was very interested in what the noble Lord had to say about this second Amendment, because it raises a question of administrative procedure which I think it is important we should try to clarify this afternoon. When the Minister of Housing and Local Government has approved a C.D.A., say with four blocks of offices in it, will it still be necessary to get O.D.P.s for each of those office blocks? That would seem to be adding a second tier over all permissions. I understand the point that everything should be kept entirely fluid for the stage of a public inquiry. I can appreciate the argument on the previous Amendment that the whole matter should be left free. But, surely, when a C.D.A. has been put up to the appropriate Minister, and after a local inquiry has, if necessary, been approved by that Minister, that must, or certainly ought to, carry with it enshrined in the permission the necessary O.D.P.s for the office part of the comprehensive development plan. If not, then of course who dare go ahead?

By definition the scheme is a comprehensive one. It hangs together, or it does not go forward at all. One cannot risk building the shops, the houses and the flats unless one can also be sure of building the offices. As was said earlier this afternoon, these schemes may take several years to come to full maturity so one may start with some houses and some shops, and then, as I understand it, one follows the administrative procedure and applies to the Board of Trade for the O.D.P. The Board of Trade may say, "No, we are very sorry but you cannot have the O.D.P. because circumstances have changed since the public inquiry was held, and we do not want any more office development in this area." Or perhaps two out of four will be granted and then the chopper will come down on the third and fourth. Surely, when the C.D.A. is approved by the Minister it must carry with it approval by the Board of Trade for this planning development, because after all an O.D.P. is only a preliminary to getting planning permission.

Even if our Amendments have been a little clumsy in this regard, that is very much what we had in mind. We have tried to probe the mind of Ministers concerned about the way they intend to administer this. I hope therefore that, if it cannot be explained to-day, the Ministers concerned will take the matter away and look at it, because there is a very serious point here which if not resolved and made plain will affect substantially the development of comprehensive development schemes.


I am not quite clear that this point arises on this Amendment, but, with respect, I think the answer is a simple one. The only effective sanction for the permits that are called for under this Act is the provision in Clause 1(3) that an application for planning permission shall be of no effect unless a permit in respect of that development is issued—that is to say, an office development permit. It is at the point where an application for a permit is made that the provisions of this Bill impinge on previous planning legislation. I hope I shall not be asked to deliver a general discourse on the operation of the comprehensive development provisions of the 1962 Act. They are quite a long way from what we are considering at the moment. Surely, that is a sufficient and complete answer to it.


Would the noble Viscount explain his Amendment? To me, it is not very clear. What he is saying is that the permit shall not be required in certain circumstances: first, if there is a development plan which has been approved; and, secondly, if the area does not exceed the prescribed exemption limit. If it does not exceed the prescribed exemption limit, no permit is required in any event under this Bill, whether it is in a proposed development area or not. Is it necessary to say this once more? I am just reading the Amendment literally.


I am simply adopting the verbiage of this Bill as printed, and putting my own amendment, which is paragraph (a), in advance of what the Bill states. Really, it is simply to make the thing run. I put my Amendment down as a new paragraph to the Government's proposals, and that is why those references are made in the second part of it. It simply quotes what the Bill says to make the clause run.


I cannot see that it is any better. Really, it is more restrictive than the words that are in the Bill as it stands, because the noble Viscount is making it a condition that it must be in an area where there is a development plan, whereas in the clause as it stands there is no such condition. There is no permit required, in any case, where the area is below the prescribed limit in the Bill. I do not know why the noble Viscount wants to make it more restrictive.


I am sorry; I did not make my meaning clear. In drafting this Amendment I had to take account of what the Bill said. The part that the noble Lord is quoting from stands in the original Bill. My Amendment comes in a little before it to make the thing run. I have retained paragraph (b) so that that wording remains in the Bill. That is the explanation of that.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

5.45 p.m.

LORD ERROLL OF HALE moved, in subsection (1), after "application for" to insert: the replacement (upon the same site as those being replaced) of office premises which were in existence on 5th November, 1964, which whether before or after that date are destroyed or damaged by fire,".

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8 standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I should explain to the Committee that there is a small drafting error, for which I apologise. At the end there should be added the words "or for". These words do not alter the sense in any way: they mean merely that, if the Committee accept the Amendment, it will fit properly into its place in the Bill. After nearly three hours of debate, the Government have not seen fit to concede any of the admirable Amendments put forward by noble Members of this Committee, and, as this is my first dip into the bran tub, I hope that I may be successful and draw out a small prize.

This Amendment deals with a small but important matter—namely, those cases where offices are destroyed by fire. The occurrence is tragic enough, in all conscience, in that not only are the premises destroyed but valuable records are probably destroyed with them, and important businesses are utterly disrupted. Let us hope that the fire has taken place outside working hours, with no worse a consequence to the employees than that they are deprived for the time being of their employment. In such cases—fortunately, relatively rare—it is, of course, of the greatest importance to get busy as quickly as possible with the rebuilding of the premises. That is why I have tabled this Amendment. It is to ensure that there is no delay while an application is made for an office development certificate.

I can understand that some zealot at the Board of Trade might say, "This is a wonderful opportunity to squeeze this particular office out of the centre of London, and to get it down to Reading, or Southampton", or somewhere else. But I suggest that in these cases that would be imposing an intolerable hardship on the occupiers of the office, and, equally, if the tenants are not the same as the owner, on the owner—who, in letting off floors of office space, may have incurred contractual obligations which will compel him to find alternative office accommodation for his tenants in the event of the accommodation already provided becoming unsuitable or untenantable, as would be the case in the event of a fire. It would therefore seem only reasonable, in equity, to give exemption in such cases, and I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 25, after "for" insert the said words.—(Lord Erroll of Hale.)


I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, that I am absolutely champing at the bit to make a concession and accept an Amendment. If we can gallop through the next two, I am prepared to say that I am very well disposed towards the next but one. But, before I go on any further, I cannot refrain from a comment on the reference to me made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, as the "Big Brother" of planning. My goodness! if George Orwell had been in a position to comment on the situation as he would see it here this afternoon, there is no question but that he would consider that many of his prophecies were going wrong.

However, the noble Lord has put down this Amendment. I do not myself know much about fires. Although I have been in business for 45 years, I have not had any fires, and so I cannot speak with as much knowledge of this subject as, perhaps, other noble Lords can. Nevertheless, this is an Amendment which was thoroughly debated during the Committee stage in another place. It is a control which is linked, in the same way as the industrial development certificate is, with the planning control, and an office development permit will be required for rebuilding fire-damaged premises if, and only if, the work comes within the meaning of "development" in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and therefore requires planning permission. I have an explanation ready, if noble Lords should ask me what it means; but I hope that they will not do so. Planning permission would not be needed in the case of building operations which affected only the interior of the building and did not materially affect its external appearance.

May I say, in all seriousness, that the Board of Trade will normally be very sympathetic towards an application for a permit to restore a building destroyed or severely damaged by fire, and would in general expect to grant an office development permit for rebuilding to the same amount of floor space. We could not go so far as to say that an office development permit will never be refused in these circumstances, because there might be cases where the site was ripe for other development (for example, a reversion to residential use) at the time of the fire—and it would be undesirable to continue office use. Even when a permit is refused, the right to rebuild is only postponed, because of the temporary nature of the Bill, and not lost altogether. I feel that we cannot give way on this, and I would ask the noble Lord if he would be kind enough to withdraw his Amendment.


I think there is a little more in this than meets the eye. I am a director of a small insurance company, but I have not taken expert advice on this particular point. I should like the noble Lord to take expert advice through the Fire Offices Association before the next stage of this Bill, because, if the offices have been insured, it might in many cases be cheaper to rebuild on the same site because the foundations have not been destroyed. If the owner has been told that he cannot rebuild on that site, what is his claim going to be? Is it going to be for the total amount, including the foundations, or not? He has not lost the foundations; they are there; but he has been told that he must not put a new building on these foundations. These are technical insurance points and I should like the noble Lord to take really expert advice on this aspect before the next stage.


I do not think I need take expert advice on this, because I was always well covered in my business with insurance and I understand about replacement value and the type of insurance you are able to effect, even assuming that the foundations are going to be intact, and so on. It is a risk you take. I do not think I need any more advice on this; but I would venture to give a little in the hope that this Amendment is speedily disposed of.


I hope the noble Lord will withdraw what he has said, if only because only a rash man says that he never needs advice.


I was going to add that comment myself. I hope that the noble Lord will look at this matter with the great wisdom he already possesses—his self-confessed wisdom—to see whether there is not a very substantial point in what my noble friend has said; because, on reflection, I think he will find it is a matter that deserves further study. I was glad to hear that applications for office development permits in respect of premises destroyed or damaged by fire will be looked at sympathetically. I shall be happy to withdraw my Amendment on condition that the noble Lord undertakes that they will be looked at not only sympathetically but speedily. May we have an assurance that this matter will be looked at quickly and not delayed over a period of months while the inter-departmental co-ordination, of which we have heard so much, is taking place?


I do not think that it would be right for the owner to have an absolute right to rebuild without any question of a permit, because he would still have to get planning permission, especially if there were any question of alteration of the external appearance. But I think a number of factors may arise. For instance there may be a non-conforming user, and perhaps it would be very undesirable that the user of this particular site as office premises should be continued. In such cases it might be fortunate that there has been a fire. I think that the noble Lord should be satisfied with the assurance that in normal cases the Board would expect to grant a permit. The person who suffered the fire might be a lessee, and there might be a covenant to rebuild. He would be in a very difficult position if he were not allowed to rebuild. Or he might be under obligation to his tenants to do something.

All these are factors which I am sure any President of the Board of Trade would take fully into consideration. But I can conceive of circumstances where it might be desirable that rebuilding should not take place, and therefore I think it would be wrong that there should be a binding obligation on the Board to grant permission in all circumstances. I hope that the noble Lord who moved the Amendment will assume that there is some common sense and reasonableness at the Board of Trade, even though he is no longer connected with it, and that in most cases this would not be one of the problems that would arise; although there could be exceptional cases where it would do so.


I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


This Amendment is intended to be a helpful one. I am not certain whether there is the possibility of a loophole; but, obviously, in the interests of fairness it is desirable that there should not be a loophole; that is to say, that one should not allow, say, a parent undertaking, or a subsidiary, or an allied undertaking, which is not exactly the same as the undertaking, to put up the extension, or whatever it may be, as if it were the same undertaking. I do not think I need expatiate on the Amendment: it is self-explanatory. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 42, after ("undertaking") insert ("or of an undertaking under the same control").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)


This is a rather technical point, and I confess that I do not understand it as well as I did the last Amendment. At present, in considering whether the exemption limit has been exceeded, it is necessary to add together any office development which is part of the same scheme or project or which is "for the purposes of the same undertaking". As I see it, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is seeking to tighten up the control. He is seeking to prevent a loophole. We think the objections to the Amendment are that it is rather too vague; it would place an impossible burden of interpretation on planning authorities, and it would weaken the force of the existing words. It is too vague because "control" is not defined. Is it by management control or shareholding control, and what degree of ownership constitutes control? One could go on for ever. These are questions which have to be gone into in great detail if they are considered at all, as they are in the Finance Acts. To go into them here would greatly complicate the Bill and would be very difficult for planning authorities to interpret.

We think, too, that the Amendment would detract from the existing words which leave open the question of what is "the same undertaking". For example, we expect to be able to argue that an organisation is the same undertaking, even though it is operating under a different name, if the ownership is substantially the same and it is carrying on similar activities. We think this Amendment goes a little too far, and while we thank the noble Lord for his helpfulness we should prefer him to withdraw the Amendment.


I am quite content to withdraw the Amendment so long as the noble Lord is satisfied with his own explanation. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.2 p.m.

LORD DRUMALBYN moved, in subsection (7), after "3,000" to insert "but not less than 1,000". The noble Lord said: The effect of this Amendment is that the Board of Trade may, by order, direct that such number of square feet, whether greater or less than 3,000 but not less than 1,000, as may be specified in the order, shall be the prescribed exemption for the purposes of this subsection. In other words, this is the subsection which gives power to the Board of Trade to ask for Parliamentary approval for the lowering of the limit, either generally or in relation to a particular area. I personally cannot conceive that it would be worth while attempting to exercise a control on less than 1,000 square feet. As it is drafted, the subsection does not envisage the possibility of requiring office development permits for every kind of development there may be. There must at least be one square foot or even two square feet as the minimum, and I do not think it conceivable that the Board of Trade would want to exercise control below 1,000 square feet. That being so I think it would be as well to say so.


This is the Amendment that some little time ago I pointed out we were going to accept. It seeks to prevent the Board of Trade from lowering the exemption limit for offices to less than 1,000 square feet. It is reasonable, so without further ado or talk I will accept the Amendment which, along with Amendment 25, will have the effect of establishing a minimum exemption limit of 1,000 square feet common to both the I.D.C. and offices controls.


Perhaps as Amendment 25 is in my name I might be allowed to thank the noble Lord for permitting me, as well as my noble friend, to draw a prize out of the bran tub.


I do not really mind if the noble Lord thanks me twice, once now and once on Amendment 25.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Retrospective control in metropolitan region]:

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved to add to the clause: () Where by virtue of subsection (5) of this section a planning permission is deemed not to have effect, then if, on a claim made to the local planning authority within the time and in the manner prescribed by regulations under this section it is shown that a person interested in the land has incurred expenditure in carrying out work which is rendered obsolete by the operation of subsection (5) of this section the local planning authority shall pay to that person compensation in respect of that expenditure. () For the purposes of the last foregoing subsection section 217 of the Act of 1962 shall apply as if regulations made under this section were made under the Act of 1962.

The noble Viscount said: I must confess that when, about two Amendments ago, I heard the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, say he thought he was going to accept the next Amendment but two, my spirits rose considerably. Unfortunately I had miscalculated, as I now realise, but it seems to me it might have been a very great improvement if he had been prepared to accept this Amendment. Noble Lords will realise that under Clause 3 of the Bill there are some transitional provisions which deal with the situation that occur when someone obtained a planning permission for an office building on the 5th November of last year but has not yet got a building contract to start building it. A person in that position is not allowed to go ahead under this Bill and under its retrospective provisions unless he also gets later an O.D.P. for that development which is permitted; and it may be that he will not get that O.D.P. in the end.

This is a transitional situation; but what will have happened will be that whereas the planning authority—and your Lordships will remember that we are talking about the Metropolitan Area, where the planning authorities were by no means enthusiastic in granting consents for office buildings—had thought that building in that place was all right and had granted consent, nevertheless, upon the advent of this Bill, the Board of Trade, having been given the new control, subsequently decided that it was not all right. Consequently the building will not proceed although planning permission was given and although in those circumstances probably a considerable amount of money will have been spent on such things as professional fees, legal expenses and matters of that sort, in getting the thing to the stage that it had reached.

There is a parallel to this Amendment. It is to be found in Section 118 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, and it is the circumstance where a local planning authority grants a consent for a certain development and then afterwards for some reason changes its mind and either revokes that consent or modifies it so that it is not the same as it was originally. If that happens under the present law the person affected—the owner of the land or the person having an interest in the land—is granted compensation under that Act, under two heads. First of all, he is given compensation for the abortive expenditure on fees and things of that sort which has been thrown away. Secondly, he is given compensation in respect of the difference in the value of his land with the consent that it had and the value of the land after the consent has been taken away.

I do not propose in this Amendment to make provision for the second half of that compensation because, as I understand it, this Bill is to last for seven years, and it may well be that it is fair that the person should have to wait for that time, and in due course his land, for all we know, will regain the value that it had before. But in seven years' time the fees that have been spent in the architect's department or on legal matters and that type of thing will probably have been wasted, because it will not be possible for any use to be made of the work that was done in that connection.

Therefore it seems to me that if, when the old system was working, when it was just the planning authority which had the jurisdiction to say "Yes" or "No" to those people, they granted planning permission for it, and subsequently the Board of Trade think otherwise, payment of those fees and that type of expenditure, which will not be very large in most cases, should be granted to the person who has the interest.

I expect I shall be told that there is one flaw in my Amendment, and this of course I realise. It is provided by this Amendment that the person who seeks the sort of compensation which I hope I have adequately explained should go to the local planning authority for it and that that authority should pay it. This, in fact, would be patently unfair, because the planning authority would have had nothing to do with the decision. It would have been the Board of Trade, and, clearly, if compensation for this type of thing is to be granted it will have to be paid out of public resources.

It is not the slightest use my putting down an Amendment in this House which would have that effect, and I realise that it could not be accepted. Nevertheless, I believe that the principle of compensation for this sort of thing is something which your Lordships ought to discuss and which is relevant, even in the terms of a so-called seven year ban—and let us hope it does not go on for more than seven years—and it is a principle to which I hope the Government may feel sympathetic. If they do, it is perfectly within their power to deal with the matter by means of a slightly different Amendment, and cope with the financial side in another place later on. I believe that there is a case for this limited sort of Amendment in a transitional situation, where people have done everything required of them under existing law but the law is then changed and all their work is brought to nothing by the new system which is brought in. It is a sort of retrospective legislation in which I think there is scope for this limited compensation provision. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 15, at end insert the said subsections.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


I feel certain that the noble Viscount has said everything that could possibly be said in support of his Amendment, but he may be aware that there are fatal objections to it. Let me deal first with the one he mentioned last. The present position is that if this Amendment were to be moved in another place, it would fail because it would require a Money Resolution. What your Lordships' House is being asked to do is to pass an Amendment which would elsewhere require a Money Resolution.


I do not think so, because I do not think it would require a Money Resolution for local authorities to pay compensation.


With respect, it does, because it affects what used to be called the Exchequer Equalisation Grants—I forget the modern name—and on that account it requires a Money Resolution. Expenditure out of rates has long been disallowed for that reason, unless there is a Money Resolution to support it. Of course, the position of individual authorities varies from year to year and from place to place. I suggest that that is the conclusive answer to the whole matter, but I should like to say something on the merits. This is a Bill which was not opposed on Second Reading, either elsewhere or here, and the broad objects of it have had the support of the Conservative Party and its members, and I am sure that they would not wish to retract from that. Because of the urgent character of the situation about offices, and incidentally about housing in London, a statement was made on November 4 by the First Secretary which made clear in what cases retrospective legislation would be brought in. He did not suggest that there should be any compensation.

Is not the position about compensation for acts of Parliament that people have to take alterations in rights without compensation? Changes in purchase tax is an obvious instance or, to take another case, which does not involve legislation or even an Order, if a man applies for planning permission and fails to get it he does not thereby become entitled to compensation for the expenditure he has incurred in preparing his application. And this is a case where, on broad national grounds, a further wholesale refusal of planning permission is contemplated. It would affect certain people. I am not going into the merits of what the First Secretary said and I do not think that anybody would ask us to go beyond what was then said. Certainly, so far as I know, no such request has been made. That being so, the very short answer is that it is just too bad.

In the circumstances, there is no case for compensation here. I would also add that nobody has asked for it. What they have done is to come along and say that they have very nearly passed the mark and they hope they will get their office development permit in due course. No doubt that kind of thing is something which should be taken into consideration. It is not for me to say what weight the Board of Trade ought to give to it, and I do not think it is for my noble friend here to say at this stage. It is a factor; that is all one can say about it.

On these grounds, I would advise the noble Viscount to withdraw this Amendment. I think that we really must not start passing Amendments here which involve the expenditure of public funds and would require a Money Resolution in another place. It is not for a new Member like me to give advice to the House on a matter of this sort, but I should have thought that we were all agreed on the principle that the financial control of the Government of the day, whatever their colour, is exercised by the use of Money Resolutions in another place.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. It is a matter of pure ignorance on my part that I put down an Amendment which would involve a Money Resolution. I had intended not to do that, but to present the case on merit to the Government, who, so far as I am aware, are in control of the finances of this country and, if they accept a matter of merit, can in due course deal with its finances. I do not know whether the noble Lord can really rely on the speech of the First Secretary on November 4, which, if I remember rightly, was a broad outline, and he would hardly have been expected to go into a matter quite so intricate and consequential as this.

I think that the noble Lord is perhaps being a little unjust to my case. It may be that nobody asked for it. Whatever noble Lords opposite might say, under the development planning control in the Greater London Council area, in Middlesex and Surrey, certainly in Metropolitan Kent and Essex, to a slightly lesser degree in the County Borough of Croydon, and to a fairly large degree in East Ham and West Ham, it was extremely difficult to get permission for an office development. People had to put in their applications within the limits of the development control that was set out in the development plans of those planning authorities. Sometimes, they were rejected and went to the Ministry and he said that he thought, in the circumstances, they were all right. A restrictive policy was going on. It might not have been restrictive enough for noble Lords, but it was restrictive enough for the people who wanted to build offices.

Nevertheless, those people fulfilled all the requirements: they made a special case; they got their permission. There was no inkling before that that there was to be an extra hurdle imposed. If they failed on the extra hurdle, not apparently because of the local considerations, nor necessarily because of the planning considerations which the Minister of Housing and Local Government would have dealt with on appeal, but because of this entirely new agency, the Board of Trade being brought in, I should have thought there was a marked case for providing a similar sort of limited compensation as is given when the local planning authority say: "We have changed our minds. We have made a mistake. We must go back and cancel what we have already given." I wonder if the noble Lord, who deals with it very broadly, might give some attention to the detail of this matter and see if something can be done. If nobody asks for for it, then it will do no harm; it is transitional only and it will cost nobody anything. But if there are hard cases, it might bolster the Board of Trade if they have to say that, hard case thought it is, they cannot give an O.D.P. but at least they will say, "We will give you your fees in compensation. Here is the provision in the Bill". This might help noble Lords in administering the control that they are seeking.


I take the noble Viscount's logical point, and perhaps purchase tax is the better of the two. But, on the merits, I suggest that the importance of the fact that people are not asking for it is that they understood quite clearly what the First Secretary said: they knew that they were not going to get compensation, and that it was no use asking for it. It was put as an urgent national need—we do not want to go back to Burmah Oil: we sometimes have them in peace time. That was the real ground for what was done, but I do not think it is to be expected in those circumstances that compensation will be given for this kind of expenditure. May I console the noble Viscount by saying this? I feel sure that if he gave an opinion on the merits, it would be as good in seven years' time as it was when he gave it. He will not, I hope, take that as a measure of insult; it is not intended to be.

There is one other point. It has been pointed out to me that the question of a Money Resolution might depend on the position of the particular authority. There is, in fact, only one borough, Lewisham, which gets benefit from an Exchequer equalisation grant. I have no wish to deceive the Committee, but I must add that, in my opinion, that does not really solve the question, because at any time they may find themselves in a position of getting an equalisation grant, and that is the right way to look at Money Resolutions. Anyhow, there is no doubt about the principle of the thing, because charges on the rates have for some time past been considered a matter that requires a special resolution. I say that in an attempt to apologise very slightly in my turn, in view of the attractive apologies made by the noble Viscount.


Before we leave this Amendment, I should like to point out to the noble Lord, since he is so fond of the purchase tax analogy, that the Treasury, when the Conservative Government were in office, made arrangements whereby retailers could be relieved of some of the disadvantages of changes in purchase tax by accepting the principle of consignment stock which was still held by the wholesaler nominally, although in the hands of the retailer. So it is possible to make changes to alleviate the burden of tax, and this was in fact done. Secondly, I do not think we should fall into the error in this House of accepting the dicta by the First Secretary as meaning that no Bill may ever be amended because he did not happen to mention the full details of its provisions in a speech in another place. The fact that the First Secretary did not refer to compensation does not mean that we should not insert compensation proposals in this House if we so wish. There is nothing to prevent us, as I understand it, from tabling an Amendment to a Bill which would require a revised Financial Resolution in another place. I think it is important that that should be on the record.


Perhaps I might answer those two points quite shortly. On the first one, if an opinion had been obtained as to what was a chocolate biscuit for the purpose of purchase tax—this was a matter that troubled the Customs for some time past—the costs of that would not be recoverable on a change in purchase tax involving more chocolate biscuits. That is the analogy here.

On the second point, surely this is what matters. We are dealing with retrospective legislation, and an annoucement was made as to exactly what that retrospective legislation would be. None of us likes retrospective legislation. All of us, I think, recognise that there are cases for it when a clear announcement has been made beforehand of what the retrospective legislation would be. But when that has been done, it is inexpedient to introduce, when you come to the legislation, something that was not in the statement or which contradicted it in any way. That would be the result if we had gone beyond the statement made at the time.


So long as it is not supposed that the noble Lord is thinking of fees that were incurred by those with whom I am concerned after the statement, as opposed to those which now relate back and which were incurred before it, I do not think there is any confusion. I should like to consider what the noble Lord has had to say, and in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Planning permission where no office development permit required]


This is a drafting Amendment, and it is intended to resolve any possible doubt about the interpretation of the scope of the clause. I can go into the point if noble Lords desire it, but I hope that at this hour they will accept my assurance that that is what it is. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 38, after ("case)" insert ("the erection of that building would not constitute development to which this Part of this Act applies or (if it would constitute such development)").—(Lord Mitchison.)


Before we accept the Amendment, may we have an assurance that in this particular case the noble Lord understands his brief?


I should like to give that assurance in a strictly accurate form: I understood it a little time ago. For the moment I have forgotten it, but I remember that when I read it through it was perfectly clear. It is to the effect that I indicated.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 [Provisions as to conditions imposed or implied in pursuance of s. 6 or s. 7]:

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?


Am I right in understanding that conditions will run with the development in the same way, as has already been mentioned, that the permit runs? Will any conditions laid down bind any future owner of the premises as well as the applicant?


Yes; I think so.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Enforcement notices relating to land in Greater London]:

6.30 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved, after subsection (6), to insert: ("() Where an enforcement notice to which this section applies is served on any person, he or any other person having an interest in the land may, in addition to or in lieu of bringing an appeal to the Minister under section 46 of the Act of 1962 as amended by the last foregoing subsection, make an application to the High Court to determine the question whether there had been made before the 5th November, 1964, a building contract specifically relating to the land, or part of the land, in respect of which planning permission was granted before that date for the development to which the enforcement notice relates and which provided for the erection thereon of a building containing office premises or the extension of a building by the addition of office premises, and to that extent subsection (1) of section 177 of the Act of 1962 shall not have effect. () On any application under the last foregoing subsection the Court shall determine the question so referred to it, and, if it is satisfied that such a contract had been made, shall quash the order.")

The noble Viscount said: This Amendment goes with the last one on the Marshalled List, No. 27. It again relates to the transitional procedure for the unfortunate people who were caught by the announcement of November 4, and who subsequently got into trouble because they went ahead with the building for which they had planning consent prior to that date, but for which they did not subsequently have an office development permit.

The machinery for this transitional provision is extremely complicated. One of the things that happens, or may happen, is set out under Clause 10 of the Bill. That clause gives power to the Board of Trade to ask anyone to give them certain documents for their inspection. The purpose, as I understand it, for this power, is that the Board of Trade should be able to see whether or not this famous building contract was or was not in existence on November 5, because if there was a building contract in existence on that date (and I hope I have got this right) then you do not require an office development permit, and the planning permission that you had before that date is good enough. If there was not a building contract, then you require the O.D.P. and, of course, it makes a great deal of difference to the subsequent control by the Board of Trade to discover whether or not that building contract had been made.




Yes, you had to have made them before November 5—up to midnight on November 4, the day of the speech—and I believe remarkable efforts were made in some cases.

The difficulty is this. Having discovered the information from the person concerned, one must then look back to Clause 9 which tells the Minister of Housing and Local Government what can be done about it. What in fact happens is that if a building is being built without the requisite O.D.P., then in the normal way, because there is deemed to have been no planning consent, the matter can be dealt with by way of enforcement notice. But this enforcement notice is only to be served either by or at the direction of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I would assume that before he does that the Minister will have had a word with the Board of Trade, because he will want to know from them whether, in their view, there was a building contract. If you serve an enforcement notice on a person, that person has the right to appeal to the Minister—that is to say, the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The normal grounds upon which you do so are set out in Section 46 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962.

But in the case of these special transitional notices under Clause 9, there are some different grounds of appeal which are set out in the First Schedule to the Bill. The third of these special grounds is that you appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the grounds that there was a building contract which had been made before November 5. What will be the situation? Somebody in the Government will suspect that there was not a building contract. The Board of Trade will ask for the documents, and will get them. They will tell the Minister that in their view—and they will no doubt show him the documents—there was not a building contract. So he will serve an enforcement notice. The person upon whom the notice is served appeals to the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the grounds that there was a building contract. Prima facie the Minister has already made up his mind that there was not, because otherwise he would not have served an enforcement notice. Apart from the paradox of that situation, take it one step further. The question whether or not there is a building contract is, I should have thought, in most cases a matter of law or, at any rate, interpretation of the facts in such a way that it could be considered to be a point of law. On an enforcement notice there is an appeal to the High Court on a point of law, and I should have thought that in many appeal cases, which might be quite complicated, it would be almost inevitable that the appellant would decide that he was not content, however good the Ministry staff, with the Minister's answer upon this matter.

Supposing that the inquiry takes the normal course—and I have attended many of them—there would be the inspector who conducts the inquiry, a very worthy man, a very competent man, but usually a surveyor or an architect. He will not be used, I should think, to having mountains of legal authorities and copious legal argument quoted before him. Even if he has a legal assessor, as he might well have, sitting with him this sort of material is not—and I repeat this with great emphasis—is not suitable for a public inquiry. Moreover, particularly it is not suitable for a public inquiry considering the expense involved when, as like as not, it is going to be done all over again in the High Court.

The point of my Amendment is fins. If you have one of these special legal "Is there, or is there not a building contract?" cases, instead of going to the Minister on appeal with all the procedure that is to be involved, and all the time wasted and all the money and everything else, would it not be a good idea to give an option Ito the appellant to go straight to the High Court in the first place? It is probably the place where it will be fought out in the end. It is only optional in my Amendment. If he chooses to go to the Minister and have it threshed out there, perhaps more cheaply, then he can do so. Would it not be a good idea, in the difficult cases, to cut out that intermediate stage and take them straight up to the High Court, where I believe they belong? If so, I believe that my Amendment, even if it is not quite perfect in drafting, at least indicates an idea to noble Lords opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give this favourable consideration. I think it would be an improvement on the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 12, line 8, at end insert the said subsections.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

6.36 p.m.


I am bound to say that this Amendment is not without its appeal to me personally, as I have a preference for getting things to courts where there is some real doubt about them. But I do not think it is right in this case to accept the Amendment, and I will give my reasons as concisely as I can. The noble Viscount put it very clearly. The present position is that there are various grounds on which the Minister can act in connection with an enforcement notice. One of those grounds involves this question: Was there or was there not a contract? The effect of this will be to allow the person concerned, or the applicant, to choose whether he goes to the High Court, or whether he leaves it to the Minister. I think on the whole that is wrong. I think the Minister ought to be able to decide questions about the enforcement notices on whatever grounds the question arises, and, therefore, in order not to separate the grounds on which the Minister acts, I think it is right that it should stay there.

The noble Viscount is much better aware than I am that that does not prevent the applicant from going to the High Court if he so chooses. It is simply a question of how he does it. I am sure that the noble Viscount is quite right in saying that surveyors are not always the best judges of the question whether or not there was a contract. I quite appreciate that. On the other hand, it is in most cases, at any rate, as he said himself, a question of law. It could be taken to the court and taken, I think, comparatively cheaply.

There will be some more troublesome cases, because there may be, if I read the Bill rightly, oral contracts, and, therefore, there may be questions of evidence, and so on. I think one must stick to the principle that in this kind of case, dealing with enforcement notices under planning, dealing with a lot more planning machinery, there should be room for a decision by the Minister, subject in effect, though perhaps not in form, to appeal on a point of law to the High Court. Of course, in this particular case proceedings might be brought in the High Court to establish that there was in fact and in law a contract.

I think that is the position. I hope that I have stated it fairly. I agree that this is rather an imaginary case. But I think that the separation of the grounds upon which the Minister can act would be so inconvenient in practice, and so confusing, that it is better to let the Minister decide without allowing the applicant to take it away from him and take it to the High Court. One does not in this way deprive the applicant of the right to go to the High Court; one merely makes him do it through another channel. It may be or may not be more expensive; it depends on the circumstances. I can conceive of cases where the documents are available where it might be simpler to have it in this form. For these reasons, I would ask the noble Viscount to withdraw the Amendment, though I tell him that I have a certain amount of old-fashioned sympathy for it which is not shared by other people.


The noble Lord is very engaging in refusing this Amendment. I hope that I may be allowed to make one or two further and, I trust, practical suggestions. The first difficulty about the noble Lord's alternative, which is that one should go by way of declaration, is that it is discretionary, and one might be told that one should have gone to the Minister first and had it dealt with that way. The more difficult point (and I say this with absolutely no disrespect to the inspectors who hold the inquiries for the Ministry, for whom I have the greatest respect and in front of whom I appear frequently) is that they are not, and are not intended to be, strict in procedure. The noble Lord has said there may be cases where these contracts were oral, and it will therefore be a matter for examination of witnesses upon oath. But the rules of evidence in public inquiries are not by any means as strict as in court; nor indeed is the reporting of answers—it is very seldom that there is a shorthand-writer who takes them down.

I would suspect that when the case came to the High Court on a point of law the Court would not welcome a retrial of the whole matter, with all oral witnesses coming again. Moreover, I suspect that this would not be possible, and it would have to be done by way of affidavit. But on what basis are the affidavits to be taken? Will there be a full transcript of the inquiry before the inspector? Will the inspector be one of those specially chosen, as particularly well briefed in the administration of evidence and what he can and what he cannot allow by way of question? Will particular regard be had in the Ministry to the holding of this rather special type of inquiry, where, in some cases, there is almost certain to be trouble as to what was said by whom, what was the inflexion, and points of that kind?

I see the difficulty of separating one ground of appeal from the other, but I would impress upon the noble Lord that there is liable to be the most awful confusion under this paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 if it is to go through two stages. I hope that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government will have a very good look at the procedure they propose to adopt for these quite unusual inquiries. They are very special ones, and particular regard must be had to the way in which they are dealt with. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to do something about this matter, and in time, because I daresay this Bill will become law fairly soon. I do not know whether the noble Lord can give any assurance upon these matters.


I can give no assurance except one, and that is that I will call the attention of the Minister of Housing and Local Government and his officials to what the noble Viscount has said.


I think that my noble friend has made the most overwhelming case for this particular change in the procedure of the Bill, and the only thing he has not emphasised is that this is a very temporary performance. After all, once these cases have been settled there will be no further ones. The only argument which the noble Lord in charge of the Bill really adduced which seemed to break the case at all was one where there was a dual reason for going to the court. I venture to think it would be possible to separate that, would it not?

6.45 p.m.


I frankly do not think that it would be in the interest of an applicant ever to want to go to the High Court instead of appealing to the Minister. If the matter does go to the High Court it will be dealt with entirely on the strict legal principle and on the strict letter of whether there is a contract or not. If it is dealt with by the Minister it may well turn out that the applicant believed there was a contract but it was not in fact a binding contract, and the Minister, being a reasonable person, would deal with the thing on an equitable basis, which the High Court could not do.

The noble Viscount rather challenged the competence of the inspectors—he said with respect and with great admiration for the inspectors. Nevertheless, he challenged their competence to deal with these matters. As he knows perfectly well, the inspector is not called upon to decide at all. He is called upon to hear the evidence and to make a faithful note of it and report it to the Minister. If he is able to make a recommendation, and he generally is, he makes it; but if he finds any difficulty in making a recommendation he merely presents the facts to the Minister and leaves the Minister to make it. I have had considerable experience of inspectors, as the noble Viscount has, and I am bound to say I have never found an inspector who was not competent to appreciate the points that were presented to him, even on a legal document, even on a question as to whether there is a contract or not. I should have thought it is by far in the interests of the applicant himself or the person against whom the enforcement notice has been served to leave it to the Minister rather than to the Court. But that would only mean that he would not, if he were properly advised, exercise his option very often.

I appreciate that he is not compelled to take his case to the Court. But, as my noble friend has said, this probably will not be the only point which will be at issue, not merely as to whether there is a contract before the 5th November; other points will possibly have to be considered, and it would be quite wrong, I think, to isolate one ground and give a person the right to go to the High Court on that alone, however ill-advised he may be to go, and yet give him the right to go to the Minister on the other point, as this Amendment does. It provides that he may go to the Minister as well as the Court.

I think that is very much complicating the procedure. I take it that the purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that no hardship is caused to a person against whom an enforcement notice has been served, and I can visualise cases where he may well believe there has been a contract, a binding and enforceable contract. It may turn out that it is not binding and not enforceable; nevertheless, he ought to get relief, and the Court could not give it and the Minister could. So I feel that the clause is much better left as it is.


The last thing I wish to leave as an impression with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is that I was criticising the competence of the inspectors of the Ministry to grasp points, whether of fact, law or anything else. What I was saying was that they were not experts in administering the strict laws of evidence and that they did not always (because they cannot write fast enough what is said) take a completely full, verbatim note of what is said, which may be of importance in the case of oral evidence.


The noble Viscount has seen some of their reports, I am sure, and has seen that they are quite long enough, and it would appear that they have taken almost a verbatim account of the proceedings.


Yes; but when it is going to be a matter of an affidavit to the High Court, it may not be enough upon which to pursue this matter. The noble Lord has also pointed out that it may be to the advantage of the applicant to go to the Minister rather than to the High Court. There is, I think, an appeal either way. There is an appeal from the enforcing authority to the High Court as well, if they are not satisfied with the Minister's decision because it is not quite accurate enough for them. They can take it up to the High Court as well. I am not sure that this is a thoroughly strong point, and again it is a matter which I should like to consider. There is one big difficulty that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has pointed out. If I can think of a way round that, it may be possible that we shall return to it at another stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?


I have one short question on subsection (4).


It was the intention that we should resume the House at this stage. We did not want a long discussion on Clause 9. We were going to resume the House after disposing of this Amendment. But if the point is a short one—


It is a short one, unless the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has a long answer to it. Subsection (4), in line 34, says: …section 46(3) of that Act (whereby, on an appeal, an enforcement notice is of no effect while the appeal is pending) shall not apply to such an enforcement notice. As I understand it, an enforcement notice can require not only the building to be stopped but the status quo ante to be restored. If that is so, I think this wants looking at again. With great respect, while the appeal is pending, the status quo ante could be altered. I think this point is probably something worth looking at.


We will look at it.


I am much obliged.

Clause 9 agreed to.


I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.