§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sandford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Provision for joint surveys, reports and structure plans]:
§ LORD MILNER of LEEDS moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 7, leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new clause:
1. Local planning authorities shall have and shall be deemed always to have had powers to institute joint surveys and jointly to prepare and submit to the Secretary of State joint structure plans for combined areas and the Secretary of State may approve such plans.
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 1 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennet and myself. This is a probing Amendment which I move in order that there shall be an opportunity for discussion. As noble Lords are aware, the purpose of Clause 1 is to provide for joint structure plans. We on this side of the Committee support this proposal, but question why it should be necessary to add in excess of 100 lines to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 to permit local planning authorities to do what some of them are already doing, although I understand that no joint structure plans have yet been approved by the Secretary of State. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will tell us whether any such plans have been submitted to the Secretary of State. On Second Reading, in reply to my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said that he would consider whether the objective of this clause could be achieved in a simpler way. I therefore ask the noble Lord to let us hear from him on this. I beg to move.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord for making clear his purpose in moving this Amendment, and for giving me an opportunity to confirm 742 that we have considered the suggestion that came from his noble friend; namely, that there might be a simpler way of dealing with the necessity to provide for joint surveys, joint reports and joint structure plans. I am advised that unless the phrase "combined areas" which the noble Lord's Amendment uses is given a meaning, and the existing statutory provisions are suitably adapted to apply in combined areas, the interpretation of them in relation to joint surveys and joint structure plans will be uncertain in a number of respects.
The format of Clause 1 is a drafting matter. If it had, in the view of our advisers, been possible to achieve its aims in the very simple and general form proposed by the Amendment, that is something we should have done. We should certainly wish that the clause were not as complex as it is. However, the terms of the 1971 Act are such that they clearly impose a duty on each local planning authority in respect of its own area and the Department is advised that textual amendments are required in order to give authorities power to join formally together—they do not, of course, need it to join informally—in instituting a joint survey and preparing a structure plan for a combined area. The form of the 1971 Act provisions, with their frequent references to the area for which a survey is to be carried out, or a structure plan is to be made, necessitates detailed amendments of the 1971 Act to ensure that the legal position is clear. As the common object of the noble Lords and the Government is to put the legal position beyond doubt, the approach in the clause is the appropriate one.
The second point is that there are in the Amendment provisions of a retrospective character. The phrase, "shall be deemed always to have had" is the one I have in mind. In this instance, the case for retrospective legislation is not strong it does not seem necessary. So far as it known, none of the local planning authorities who are working towards a joint structure plan has yet taken any formal action of the kind required by the Statutes. I want to stress this since, as is well known, there is much preparatory work needed on plans before formal stages are reached. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, said on Second Reading, collaborative working 743 between authorities has always been encouraged as a sensible feature of the new planning system. That is the second point.
There are a number of other factors of a technical kind which have led us to the slightly complex clause which we feel is necessary. The provisions of the clause as drafted, which take the form of amendments to the consolidating 1971 Act, cannot come into operation until April 1, 1972, which is the date on which that Act itself comes into operation. This Amendment provides that authorities shall have power to institute joint surveys and prepare joint structure plans immediately—that is to say, on the date that this Bill which we are discussing is passed—and shall be deemed always to have had such power. But the latter provision seems to us to be too sweeping in its terms, since provision for structure plans was first made only in Part I of the 1968 Act, and there seems to us to be no merit in enabling authorities to act before the 1971 Act comes into operation, since the period between the date of passing this Bill and April 1, 1972, will be of only short duration. Neither Clause 1 of the Bill as drafted nor the Amendment, if it were agreed to, can of course be effective until the Bill becomes law.
Thirdly, the Amendment omits the requirement which we have in Clause 1 as drafted at the moment for the Secretary of State's consent to be obtained. This consent is in our view essential. Part II of the 1971 Act, covering the duties and powers in respect of the new development plan systems, will be introduced progressively by means of commencement orders—that is in Part II of the Act—and each order will bring it into operation in areas which make sense in planning terms. It is necessary, I submit, for the Secretary of State to have power to ensure that the combined areas, the areas combining together for the making of joint structure plans, also make sense in planning terms and over the country as a whole. Consent for the preparation of a joint structure plan for any reasonable combination of areas is of course unlikely to be withheld. I think the Committee will agree that power to guide such combinations must be there. I hope that that explanation, which has been rather long and rather involved, dealing with a 744 clause which I think must be rather complex to secure its aims, will satisfy the Committee and noble Lords opposite that it would not be possible to deal with this matter in the simple and attractive way which noble Lords have sought to secure. I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord, Lord Milner, will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Amendment of provisions relating to approval of structure plans and local plans etc. by Secretary of State]:
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 5, line 6, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
("(b) afford to any persons whose objections so made are not withdrawn an opportunity of appearing before, and being heard by, a person appointed by him for the purpose and
(c) if a local enquiry or other hearing is held, also afford the like opportunity to the local planning authority and such other person as he thinks tit.")
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennet and myself. This Amendment deletes paragraph (b) of subsection (3) and inserts paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (3) of Section 9 of the 1971 Act. Unless this Amendment is carried there will no longer be a right for every objector to be heard; the Secretary of State will decide which objections are relevant to the issue and which objections will be heard. On Second Reading my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale said that the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils Association were critical of this clause, although recognising the need to speed up procedure. We on this side of your Lordships' Committee sympathise with the aim to accelerate the bringing into being of structure plans to lessen 745 the period of uncertainty and of property blight. However, it is doubtful that the proposed procedure will achieve greater speed, and any such shortening of the time involved must not be at the expense of the rights of the individual. I beg to move.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving this Amendment, and glad of the further opportunity it provides me for setting out how at the moment we see the new public examination of broad strategic issues of a structure plan being a different exercise from the now familiar public local inquiry into objections to a local plan, and how procedures are called for the former which will of necessity have to be different from those that have been developed for the latter.
It is a new type of plan which is at issue, one setting out the broad strategic proposals for an area. It is on these, and on the key issues arising on them, that we need to concentrate both the Secretary of State's consideration and the public examination. The structure plan is to be followed up by local plans, containing the detailed working through of the proposals. These local plans, on an Ordnance Survey base, dealing with the detail of individual properties and interests, are the sort of plan which we are used to and which people are used to making detailed objections to, and all that must continue. For these plans there will still be the normal public local inquiry—and this I want to stress very much—at which every objector has the right, and will continue to have the right, to be heard. The Government are seeking to avoid what the Amendment would preserve; namely, an identical form of inquiry on both tiers of plans. This would, I submit to the Committee, surely involve an unacceptable overlap, an unnecessary overlap. At the same time, the Government are seeking to evolve for the new form of plan a more relevant means of examination in public.
There are now for the first time statutory provisions about publicity and public participation. Among other things, local planning authorities have to consider representations made to them about the matters they propose to include in their structure plans before submitting them to the Secretary of State. The 746 report they make on the outcome of public participation will help the Secretary of State to identify the key issues for examination in public. Clause 3 does not—nor does it seek to—restrict in any way the right to object to a structure plan. And the Secretary of State remains firmly under a duty to consider any objections to the structure plan, irrespective of whether or not they are heard. Also, the objections and the grounds for them will clearly be very material in the Secretary of State's consideration of which arc the key issues to be examined in public and of those who would take part in the examination.
Finally, due weight needs to be given to the need for procedures to take into account—and this was stressed by several noble Lords on Second Reading—the serious disadvantages there are in processes which are too time-consuming and can cause serious and unnecessary blight. These are factors of the kind to which it is easy to pay too little attention at the outset but which later we come to regret were not thought about sufficiently at an earlier stage. The bodies so far consulted have, in sending to the Department their initial comments, shown that they recognise the problems which the Government are facing and that the initiative we are taking is generally welcomed. However, like us they want the opportunity to consider further the detailed procedures for this new form of public examination. It is clearly important to combine the efficient and timely consideration of structural issues with the ability of organisations and of individuals to register their views and have them considered in a constructive way. For their part, the Government want to have the opportunity to consider the detailed suggestions made by the bodies that we have consulted (now that the majority of these are in) and of course the points made in your Lordships' House at an earlier stage and at this Committee stage. That is why it would he valuable if on this and other Amendments to Clause 3 your Lordships could draw my attention to any points which cause you misgivings or seem to be of particular importance.
The point we are now at in consultations over this key issue is that we have received from almost all the bodies we have consulted their comments on the 747 first consultation paper, and we can now consider these as a whole. By the next stage of the Bill in the House I hope to be in a position to give a broad outline for a possible procedure for the examinations in public, or at least to set out the main suggestions for dealing with the sort of points that have caused misgivings. This would enable us to take into account not only the points that noble Lords have made so far but any that they might make at the next stages, before we issue the second detailed consultation document. When that is ready I shall be glad to send it to any noble Lords who wish to see it, and of course to welcome further comments upon it. May I take this opportunity of asking the noble Lord, Lord Milner, to Pass on to his noble friend Lord Greenwood my regrets at not having sent him the previous consultation document as expeditiously as I had intended to.
I hope that explanation of the care we are taking to strike a balance between thoroughness and due regard to individual rights on the one hand and getting through these public examinations with reasonable dispatch and confining the examination to broad issues on the other hand, will satisfy the noble Lord and the Committee that we are setting about this matter in the right way. I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Amendment because I regret that I cannot advise the Committee to accept it.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
I should like an opportunity to consider what the noble Lord has said, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.3 p.m.
LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 5, line 12, at end insert ("provided that, before making such regulations, he shall consult with persons and organisations likely to be affected, including representatives of the building industry").
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment also concerns the examination in public relating to structural plans, and I am moving it in order to try to get a little more information from the Government over and above what my noble friend has given in reply to the last Amend 748 ment. This Amendment would ensure that before making the regulations referred to in subsection (4) of Section 9 of the 1971 Act the Secretary of State should consult with persons and organisations likely to be affected, including representatives of the building industry. My first question is whether the Government now intend to make regulations at all, because there has been some indication that the Government have had second thoughts and are proposing that there should be a code of practice relating to this public examination of structural plans without there being any enforceable regulations at all. I would have said that in a matter of this kind, which is somewhat delicate, it was desirable to have statutory regulations so that everybody may know exactly where he stands.
My second question is, how much consultation will take place? My noble friend spoke of the consultations that have already taken place. Indeed, in his Second Reading speech he said, and I quote:
The relevant professional bodies have contributions to make; so have the local authority associations; so have the Council on Tribunals, with whom we have already had some discussion, and so have the bodies representing amenity societies, from whom we have invited comment. We have also sent a consultation document to all those bodies."—[OFFICAL REPORT; 18/11/71, col. 763.]
§ So far as I am aware, the consultative document has not been sent to the representatives of the building industry, particularly the house building industry, yet one of the most crucial questions arising out of these structural plans will be whether sufficient land is set aside for house building under the plan. It is common knowledge that over a number of years past the house building industry has been extremely anxious lest building land is released too slowly and consequently the cost of that land and the ultimate cost of the houses erected on it will be pushed up. I feel sure my noble friend will agree that this is one of the crucial questions that will fall to be decided under most of the structural plans, or at least many of them, and I hope he will be able to assure me that the house building industry will be given an opportunity to comment upon the regulations, if he proposes to make them, or on the code of procedure if he does not. I beg to move.749
§ LORD SLATER
I take it from the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, that this is more or less a probing Amendment as to the probable position, so far as the Minister himself is concerned, in regard to a public examination. When the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. was Minister of Housing and Local Government he laid down certain regulations and passed certain legislation through Parliament which the local planning authorities had to implement and operate. Do I gather from this clause, therefore, that if the Minister feels so disposed he can say that he is not prepared to have a public inquiry or examination of all the aspects of the situation and the proposals that might be presented to him, or the opposition, because of the fact that the local authorities who have come together and are operating jointly must have their own examination before the Act comes into being?
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor for giving me the opportunity to set out in still more detail the exact way in which we are consulting at this stage, and the form of the code of practice and the regulations. In answer to the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Slater, I may say that it will be easier to deal with his point when we get back to the broad question of the way in which these examinations are to be carried out, which I think we shall be discussing when we reach Amendment No. 4: but perhaps we can see when I have dealt with my noble friend's Amendment.
As I explained during the Second Reading debate, the Government's intention, now and all along, has been to shape the new procedure in consultation with those representing the interests mainly concerned. The original consultation paper was sent out on a comparatively restricted basis as it was felt that at that stage the regular participants in inquiries, namely, the local authorities, certain professional bodies and the representatives of the amenity societies, were the right ones to involve. As I also indicated in the debate, the intention was that further discussion should take place about the details of the new procedure, and ultimately the results of all the consultations, discussions and debates will 750 be embodied, in the first instance, in a simple code of practice. The Government's present intention—I do not think we have been deflected from this—is that this code of practice should be a non-statutory document so as to secure the broadest possible acceptance of a common form of procedure together with an opportunity to adjust that procedure, which will be a new procedure, in the light of our early experience. But, as my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor has mentioned, it may well be necessary to codify this more firmly in regulations, and provision for doing that is made, as the Committee will see, in Clause 3(4).
I can assure my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor that the further consultation document which it is proposed should form the basis of the new round of discussions on the detailed shape of the procedure will be sent to all those bodies who are normally consulted by the Department on important proposals affecting the administration of planning law, and the National Federation of Building Trades Employers will certainly be included. They were, for instance, consulted on the structure and local plans regulations. I will see that copies of the document are sent to any other organisation which can claim a legitimate interest in the subject-matter of the further consultation paper. I hope that that explanation and that assurance will satisfy the purpose that my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor had in mind in putting down his Amendment.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
I am very grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. I am sure it has made the position a great deal clearer to all of us. My anxiety arose partly because the amenity associations had been mentioned and the house builders had not. There may be on some structure plans a clash between those two interests, and we all wish that clash to be resolved in the fairest way to everybody concerned. What my noble friend said at the end of his reply has encouraged me to believe that from now on every organisation likely to be concerned will be treated equally and consulted equally. That is the assurance I wish to receive, and in the light of it I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.751
§ 6.13 p.m.
LORD MILVERTON moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 5, line 15, at end insert ("provided he is satisfied either that any objection to the said plan on which the said authority or person wishes to be heard is not relevant to his decision on the said plan, or that the matter raised by the objection is substantially contained in some other objection selected for hearing; and the Secretary of State shall publish in writing his grounds for considering any such objection not to be so relevant.")
§ The noble Lord said: In rising to propose the Amendment which stands in my name, I feel that I ought to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for the assurance which he has already given, which up to a point has perhaps met the point which I am trying to make in this Amendment; but as it does not quite reassure me, I am hoping that after I have tried to make the case for the Amendment he will see his way to broadening the assurance he has already given.
§ Clause 3 introduces a new form for public inquiries into structure plans. I offer the suggestion that some speedier and simpler procedure than the traditional public inquiry is essential if the structure plans are to be brought into being reasonably quickly and a lengthy period of "blight" avoided. For instance, the Association of Municipal Corporations agrees in substance with the proposals in Clause 3, but at the same time we feel that the powers given by the clause to the Secretary of State to refuse (under subsection (1)(5) of Clause 3) a right to be heard in the course of examination of the structure plan are too sweeping as drafted, and that some safeguards are needed to enable those who feel that their objections ought reasonably to be heard to be assured that they are given a fair opportunity of a hearing. This, of course, should include an individual person, a local authority and a local planning authority.
§ Instead of the traditional kind of public inquiry into detailed objections which have been lodged, it is proposed that the Secretary of State will be empowered to state what issues he wishes to see publicly examined; there will no longer be a right for every objector to be heard; and the Secretary of State will decide which objections are relevant to the issues he will decide, and which are therefore 752 to be heard. The Secretary of State has, explained the need to accelerate the bringing into force of structure plans; to lessen the period of uncertainty and of property blight due to delay in adopting the plans; and also that the new form of public examination of the main issues in the structure plan identified by the Secretary of State will relate to key issues rather than to such objections as happen to be made, and will form a more comprehensive basis for the Secretary of State's subsequent decision. He has also emphasised that the traditional public inquiry procedure will continue to apply to objections to local plans, which on an ordance map base will show the effect of proposals on individual properties.
§ One can fully share the Secretary of State's view that the uncertainty period while structure plans are being prepared should be minimised, the blighting effect caused by uncertainty should also be reduced, and structure plans brought into being as quickly as possible. But surely all this must not be done at the expense of a democratic process. There are several objections to the proposals as they stand. There should, for instance, be some machinery to ensure that the general public and objectors are satisfied that the Secretary of State's definition of issues for public examination is not too narrow, that objectors are not frightened off by any procedural regulations made under the powers the clause provides; and that, fundamentally, if an objector at the structure plan stage is to be refused a hearing, the only ground for refusal should be if the Secretary of State demonstrates that the objection is irrelevant to the structure plan. The limits which Clause 3 places on the right of objection require to be examined with great care, surely, to ensure that the need to expedite the making of structure plans does not deprive the citizen of an effective right of objection to safeguard a valid interest.
§ I have endeavoured to be brief in this explanation of the purpose of this Amendment. One can support in principle, as I do, the introduction by Clause 3 of a new procedure for examining the structure plans of local planning authorities, in place of the traditional public inquiry, while at the same time feeling that the suggested procedure needs 753 amendment. I make one final point. The structure plan will be followed, of course, by the local plan. It may be said that the local plan is the point for specific objections to be heard, whereas the structure plan is too broad a document on which to make specific objections. One fears, however, that if the structure plan is approved, an objector may then be committed and be unable to raise a specific objection at the later stage when the local plan is the subject or a public inquiry. That is the case for the Amendment, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Sandford will be able to reassure me and enable me to withdraw my Amendment.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD SLATER
I am very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, had to say regarding this Amendment. I am all for more freedom being granted to local authorities, and I expect that this Government are of the same mind. Listening to the speech that has been delivered on this Amendment, and as one who has had past experience in local government, I am beginning to wonder whether the Government are seeking to introduce and adopt on this occasion, by the Bill they are bringing forward, a method of taking away from local authorities and the ordinary citizen the rights to follow' the present lines of approach in their forms of objection at a public inquiry set up by the Minister. If these have to go by the board, then God help the people of this country who have interests in certain structure operations, whether by way of altering them or by new structure formations. Legislation of this nature is bound to upset the people of this country, if that is going to be the position.
I sincerely hope that what I fear is not going to be the position, and that the Minister is not, in the first place, to be the final arbiter, then passing the matter down to the local authorities and saying, "This is it. For these things you have to accept what I believe must be done in regard to the structure". If that is to be the position, then I can visualise a lot of trouble occurring. When the new Local Government Bill comes to be considered more will be said in respect of this particular position, if the situation is as 754 I have gathered it to be from the speech of the noble Lord.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am eager to give all the assurances I can on this particular issue, and I have saved up some for my noble friend's Amendment. Before I get on to it, I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Slater, that in this Bill we are not detracting in any respect at all from the rights of individual objectors at public local inquiries. They all remain as intact as they are at the moment. What we are doing is to introduce procedures for a new form of public examination of a new form of planning, namely, a structure plan, and we are seeking to strike a fresh balance between the rights of objectors to that, and the need to get on and discuss not detailed proprietary objections but broad strategic issues. I should like to give the noble Lord the reassurance that nothing we are doing here affects the rights of private individuals in respect of the existing and familiar public local inquiries, which will continue and will form a complementary part of the structure plans.
I welcome my noble friend's Amendment, because it enables me to give reassurances of a rather different kind. The procedures for the examination in public of structure plans will be evolved in close consultation with the local authority associations and the other main bodies representing the professional interests concerned. In the second round we shall be bringing in a wider circle. Almost all of those consulted in the first round have now replied, and their general support is welcomed by the Government. Now we have to consider the many suggestions which are of a constructive kind, and the misgivings which are bound to be expressed at this stage in working through to new proposals. Among the bodies with whom we have been consulting in drawing up the procedures is the Council on Tribunals. My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government and Development has already met representatives of the Council, and there is at the moment a constructive exchange of letters proceeding between my honourable friend and them. One assurance which my honourable friend has now given to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, who is Chairman of 755 the Council, is that these examinations will fall within the purview of the Council. This has all along been our intention, and to put that point beyond doubt I shall be tabling an Amendment at the Report stage in this House, and the effect of this will be that the Council would be seen to be concerned with the procedure relating to the new examinations in public. The role here of what I hope I may call colloquially the "statutory watchdog" in these matters will go quite a long way towards meeting the kind of misgivings which have been expressed by noble Lords and by the bodies that we have been consulting.
I confirm that the sort of considerations mentioned in my noble friend's Amendment would be among the criteria that the Secretary of State would have in mind in selecting issues, and those who would appear at the examination. The criteria will be among the many matters which need to be considered further in the course of our consultations. As I have said, the intention is to work towards a code of practice. I think it would be inappropriate to write such provisos into the Bill—certainly at this stage.
Finally, the suggestion that the Secretary of State should indicate the general basis on which he would be selecting issues and choosing participants at the examination is certainly one thing which we are currently considering very carefully. But I submit to the Committee that it would be going much too far to require the Secretary of State, by Statute, to publish the grounds for not hearing any one objector or for considering irrelevant any one objection not selected for hearing. The Secretary of State must, and will, consider all objections, whether they are heard at the examination or not, but the new machinery we need for setting up this new form of examination of strategic issues must be one that enables strategic and broad issues to be sifted out from the detailed proprietary and local ones, without in any way denying the importance of the latter.
I hope that these assurances—and particularly the one in which I sought to set out the relationship of the Council on Tribunals to all this—will satisfy the Committee, and enable my noble friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD MILVERTON
I think the noble Lord for his reassurances, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amwndment.
§ Clause 5 [Continuation in force of provisions relating to control of office development]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ LORD MACPHERSON OF DRUMOCHTER
Clause 5 deals with the retention of the control of office development permits in premises of over 10,000 square feet in the South-East of England, and the sole remaining reason for its retention is to try to force the movement of office work out of London, and in particular out of the congested central part. These provisions were originally made in the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act 1965, and consolidated in the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. I have been asked by the Chamber of Commerce movement here in London to ask for the deletion of this clause, which I understand is a further temporary five-year extension of an originally temporary measure.
My reasons for wishing to delete this clause are first, that the object of this particular piece of bureaucracy does not appear to have worked. I quote that expert my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford who said, in the Second Reading debate:In 1951, 22 per cent. of all employmentin the South-Eastwas in offices; in 1961 the figure was 26 per cent. By 1981 we estimate that over one-third of all the employment in the South-East will he in offices."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18/11/71; col. 798.]In fact, the steady growth of office employment continues despite office development permits. There are other ways of encouraging office development in areas outside the South-East. Secondly, the main result of O.D.P.s has been delays and, far more important, a phenomenal increase in London office rents. I am sure that my noble friend the 757 Minister is well aware of the 1970 Report on this point, by the Committee on Invisible Exports. I will not delay your Lordships by repeating that Report, except for its conclusions:We think the Committee should continue to press for the removal of O.D.P.s.I believe I should be right in saying that it is now generally accepted that O.D.P.s have been one of the main causes of this enormous increase in rents.
I would respectfully suggest that those noble Lords interested in this point should re-read the very able Second Reading speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin (Col. 784). As the Minister himself admitted, Lord Silkin is one of the greatest experts on planning problems and is the author of our planning legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rightly drew attention to the effect of these high rents on the smaller office, and in particular to the effect on the professions, especially of course the legal profession. Unfortunately, O.D.P.s on offices of 10,000 square feet and over do not mean cheaper rents for the smaller office, as rents are usually in direct proportion to the floor space that the office occupies. The result has been that the smaller firms have, in the main, been forced either out of business or to occupy shabby older buildings.
Thirdly, a great many firms—and here I should disclose a personal interest as my head office borders on the City—have to he in the centre of the Metropolitan area. Commercial firms must be near to the banks for the handling of documents; the central banks have to be close to the Bank of England; insurance must be in the proximity of Lloyd's; stockbrokers must be near to the Stock Exchange; produce merchants must be near to the Produce Exchange, and so forth. I believe that to-day there are very few firms situated in the centre of London except through necessity. The difficulties of obtaining staff, with the problems of commuting to London, et cetera, plus all the other difficulties associated with a congested and busy city, are sufficient incentive for those who do not need to be in the Metropolitan area to move to the peace of the country. With the possibility of the United Kingdom joining the E.E.C., foreign companies wishing to set up European head offices, with the resultant 758 employment, may be forced to choose Brussels, Paris or somewhere else for their headquarters, instead of the City of London.
Regrettably, all that this legislation has achieved is that rents and costs have been forced up, and in a number of cases visible and invisible exports have been made more expensive and less competitive. I admit that this Government have taken a very liberal view in the issuing of O.D.P.s, and in the City of London have granted permits for 31 million square feet during the first nine months of this year, against 2 million square feet for the whole of 1970. This is not an argument for retention, but only an admission of the increased necessity for space in the City where, on average, the amount of office space vacant at any one time is only 0.4 per cent. of the total available space. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister must have read the leader in the Business Section of The Times on November 17, following the very strong plea for the abandonment of O.D.P.s by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Edward Howard, at the annual Guildhall Banquet. The Lord Mayor was at that time dealing with meeting the challenge which the Common Market would pose to the City.
I maintain that, although there are provisions in Clause 5 for earlier termination by Order in Council than the proposed date of 1977, sufficient powers exist under the present planning authorities to make this legislation unnecessary. I personally feel that we have too many regulations in this field, and if it were found possible to do away with O.D.P.s in the City of London—as we have done in most of the rest of the country—this would be a step in the right direction. Her Majesty's Government have already intimated that they are not in favour of continuing this legislation indefinitely. I therefore suggest that now is the time to bring to an end this inflationary factor which, unlike so many, is within the control of the Government. Finally, of course I appreciate that the Government, until they have worked out and implemented an overall policy, still have a problem in the South-East. But my noble friend the Minister must in turn accept that the City of London—an area most adversely affected by these orders, and an area where Government intervention is 759 least necessary—must be given an assurancd that O.D.P.s for the centre of London will be discontinued.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
I should like to support the very powerful case made by my noble friend Lord Macpherson of Drumochter. In the few remarks that I am going to make, I shall be speaking only about the City area—what is called the "square mile"—and the immediate surroundings. I have no interest to declare here, but I have been advised by many reputable and knowledgeable people in the City that the continuation of this office development permit procedure, as is proposed in Clause 5, would in present circumstances be detrimental to many of the financial and commercial operations that arc carried on in the square mile. I have also been told that the O.D.P. procedure, superimposed on the requirements of the planning authorities, results in serious delays, and that this is part of the cause of the really fantastic rise in rents, which was referred to my by my noble friend, that has taken place in the City over recent years. I have been informed that rents of new and modernised accommodation in the banking and insurance areas have increased five-fold or six-fold over the past ten years, and that over the past three years they have more than doubled. Rents are higher in this area than in any other Continental centre. with the possible exception of one or two very limited areas in Paris and Zurich, and higher in general than they are in the City of New York.
I imagine that the original objects of office development permits were, first, to discourage new office building in view of other priorities which were very strong at that time; and, secondly, that it would be beneficial for transportation reasons that the number of people who travel daily to the City should be curtailed if possible. It may have been thought, as a deliberate action, that if rents were to rise it might be helpful to the achievement of that last item of policy: but whether it was a deliberate object or not, the fact is that rents have risen dramatically and, one would think, dangerously. Some firms have moved or are moving—and also departments of a statistical nature, such as my noble friend has referred to, like the share register office— 760 away from the City, and that is a desirable thing to happen. But present evidence seems to indicate that in sectors like finance, insurance and shipping the main seat of operations must be in the square mile, or very close thereto.
Now it is true, as my noble friend has said, and as I understand, that recently the O.D.P. procedure has been loosening up, and most applications for modernisation, if they do not involve additional floor space, are in fact approved. But the effects, I am told, are none the less frustrating and damaging. Targets have been incorrectly assessed. That is very understandable, because the demand has been much stronger than almost anybody had forecast. There are also psychological deterrents, due to the delays and the frustrations resulting from them. I think the system has introduced an element of inflexibility and arbitrariness which seems contrary to the wishes and the policies of the present Government. There is no need for me to stress the value to the national economy of the really remarkable level of income from invisibles that has been earned in the City, or to remind my noble friends that, as regards invisible exports, office accommodation is really in some ways the equivalent of factory tools and equipment. Nor, I am sure, is there any need to emphasise the enormous and exciting opportunities that will come to the City if we play our cards right and if they play their cards right when we enter Europe. London, one hopes—and I believe that one can hope with confidence—is really going to become the financial centre of Europe to a far greater extent than ever before in our history, and if we are to exploit that opportunity then the City must have accommodation second to none in quality.
I feel that the answer lies not in forcing operations of the kind I have mentioned away from the City by very high rents, but in gradually expanding the limits of the square mile, perhaps Eastwards and Northwards, as opportunity offers. I would therefore urge my noble friend and the Government to look again to see whether, in the present circumstances, and still more in the circumstances of the immediate future, the O.D.P. procedure has not, for this area at any rate, outlived its utility and whether it should 761 not now be dropped, leaving the essential control in the hands of the planning authorities. I therefore hope that my noble friend will agree to have another look at this clause. I realise that under the clause this procedure can be terminated by order at an earlier date than the five years proposed for the extension, but, like my noble friend who has just spoken, I believe that the prudent decision would be to terminate this procedure now.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
In spite of the two very persuasive speeches we have just heard, we on this side of the Committee hope that the Government will not allow the office development controls to be swept away at the moment. It is true that the rents are fantastically high, and are going up all the time; but it seems to me that one can argue that this does not make a case for sweeping away the controls but that it might be the kernel of a case for introducing rent control for offices, something which should not be very much harder for the Minister to devise than has been done over all these years for housing. If it really is a grave problem, as I dare say it is, then let us keep the office development control and examine the possibility of rent controls to solve the problem.
The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, was very frank about expanding the square mile. He painted a picture of the City spreading outwards, North and West.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
It is only a small point, and it is purely my own idea; but I should have thought Eastwards and Northwards.
§ LORD KENNET
I stand corrected: North and East. But even if you go East you come into areas where people live, and this is precisely what worries some of us. An unchecked expansion of office development in the centre of London, or indeed any other town, leads to a situation in which there is nobody living there; and we for our part hold to the old concept of a city as a place—including the centre—where people live and find employment, and not only as a place of employment.
The other point on this is the rush-hour problem. The more offices you have and the fewer residents you have, 762 the more people there are who have to come into the City in the morning and get back in the evening. For myself, when I tried to administer the office development permits, as I did for a few very hectic months—and, my goodness!, the pressure was hard—it so happens that at the beginning of that period I Was at Fenchurch Street Station one day in the rush-hour, and it seemed to me humanly impossible to consider dismantling the controls, having seen the awful conditions in which so many thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow citizens come to work, even as things are.
To turn for a moment to the argument of proximity, the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson, said that certain enterprises must be close to other enterprises, and that those other enterprises are established by long tradition in the City of London. I wonder whether this is not rather living in the past. Is it necessary in this day and age for a man to go downstairs from his office, out into the street, along and upstairs into the other fellow's office, have a cup of tea and come back again? Is it really necessary in the age of the Telex, if you want something written down: or of the telephone, if you do not want it written down? Or, if you have to see the other fellow face to face, is it necessary to walk to see him when we can have closed television links between one part of the country and another?
Lastly, I would beg the Minister to remember that we are dealing not only with London, but with the entire South-East Region. I believe that this control, belaboured as it is by its opponents, is a useful tool of regional planning, and should be maintained for that purpose. The planning authorities' ordinary development controls were found insufficient to handle this vast pressure, and it seems to me that if we revert to that level of control we shall once again find that it is insufficient. Maintaining the controls does not mean turning all the applications down, as both noble Lords who have spoken already have pointed out.
§ LORD TERRINGTON
I should like to speak very briefly in support of this Amendment, and I must declare my 763 interest as a member of a City partnership. I do not know that I can add very much more to what other noble Lords have had to say in support of the Amendment. I entirely agree with all that has been said. I would underline the importance of the City as a financial centre in connection with the European Economic Community; and I find it interesting to learn that, as I believe, there are already a number of European companies which are in the process of negotiating for City premises. This, I think, may tend further to aggravate the situation. I also find it interesting that a number of American banks, ninny of which I know about personally, have found it absolutely necessary to be within this very small area. Finally, may I mention that I spent a good part of the year working in the Wall Street area of New York, and when my friends there learned of the sort of rents that we have to pay to try to do our job in the City they could hardly believe their ears.
§ THE EARL or LIMERICK
May I add one more voice in support of the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson? I have an interest in this subject, as a merchant banker with an international business and a Member of the Council of the London Chamber of Commerce. I have been made aware of the strongly held views of the Committee on Invisible Exports, and of the Corporation of the City of London as the planning authority. The first point I wish to make is that these procedures impose a delay on business planning, and I will confine my remarks (because this is the area I know best) to the City of London, where I am informed that a typical period for getting consent under an O.D.P., even in a "cut-and dried" case, varies between four months and, sometimes, more than a year. This leads to frustration and delay. These rents are very high indeed, and it has been pointed out that whereas during the early part of the 'sixties they were rising by between 8 and 9 per cent. per annum, from 1968 to 1970 the rent levels in the central area doubled, and they now stand in all the main sectors at approximately four times the level of 1965.
If we compare. as is done in Table 2 of the Report of the Committee on Invis 764 ible Exports, 11 regional centres outside Central London we find that rent levels in three have approximately doubled during the same five-year period; in eight others the rent increased by, approximately, only 50 per cent. It is significant, as we approach Europe, to make comparison with comparable central areas of the Continent. The only place where rent levels approach those of London is Paris, and the figure here is approximately 80 per cent. of the London levels. In Zurich, a typical central rent is only 25 per cent. of Central London levels; in Frankfurt, 20 per cent.; in Brussels, 15 per cent., and in Amsterdam, 10 per cent. These are enormous differentials. It should not be assumed, as has been pointed out, that abolition, at least for the City area, of O.D.P.s would mean an immediate free-for-all, for other planning controls exist and would no doubt be applied. The issue of permits has certainly been eased where replacement of floor space is concerned and also if there is a main tenant; but I would concentrate on the delay, the extra hurdle that has to he cleared by anyone who wishes to make provision for his business—a burden that is particularly heavy on small businesses.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
Practically all noble Lords who spoke, with the exception of Lord Kennet, have spoken exclusively of the City. But, of course, the noble Lord's Amendment, if it were accepted, would have the effect of sweeping away all these powers, or allowing them to lapse, on August 5 next year over the whole of that part of the country, the South-East, to which they at present apply. Nevertheless, I think that the Committee will be grateful, as I am, to the noble Lord for moving this Amendment for it has given us an opportunity to discuss the current operation of office development permits, to understand the need to keep the power behind them for the time being, as Lord Kennet explained, and to discuss some of the factors involved in moving towards their abolition in an orderly way in due course when other things are ready. I appreciate that this has been my noble friend's purpose in moving his Amendment and that he understands, as I am sure do all other noble Lords, that to accept the Amendment and to allow all this apparatus to 765 lapse on August 5, 1972—which would be the effect—is out of the question.
The decision to retain the powers of control was based primarily on the need for the Government to have the means of influencing the location of office employment in the South East in accordance with the recommendations of the Strategic Plan for the Region which has been endorsed by the Government recently as a framework for regional development. Until the implementation of that Plan has been carried further, it will still be necessary, through the use of office control, to exercise restraint in London if progress is to be maintained in moving office activities outside the capital, and to discourage office development in those parts of the region which have not been earmarked for additional growth in the Strategic Plan, some of which are already under considerable pressure. In operating these restrictions, we shall continue to have regard to the interests of firms who require new office premises to carry out their businesses more efficiently. It is recognised that certain commercial activities are firmly tied to the City, for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Macpherson has set out, but readier approvals of office projects in central London during the past year have done much to encourage the easing of the current shortage of accommodation.
My noble friend Lord Macpherson agrees that the Government are being very liberal indeed in the granting of office development permits in the City. We are granting them now in the City at more than twice the rate of a year ago, as I think my noble friend said. Permits for 31 million square feet were granted during the first nine months of this year against 2 million square feet for the whole of 1970. This represents a very high rate of new construction. The "pipeline"—that is, new premises completed and vacant, premises under construction and premises for which planning permission has been given—has now risen to nearly 51 million square feet compared with just over 4 million square feet a year ago. This growth is in accordance with the policy announced by my honourable friend last year when he raised the exemption limit nearly threefold from 3,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. He said then that in consider 766 ing applications he would ensure that enough new office space was being provided for the essential needs of commerce. It is in this spirit that the control has now been working for some time.
In response to my noble friend Lord Amory, I would confirm that the Government are determined that the City shall be able to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by entry into the European Economic Community and certainly should not be hampered in so doing. For these reasons, we shall continue to keep the control, so long as we retain it, under review so as to ensure that space is being provided for essential small users; that advantage is taken of opportunities for comprehensive redevelopment; and that the time taken to settle applications is as short as possible. If any noble Lord has knowledge of particular cases that are taking too long I shall be glad to hear of them. But these are all matters of administration within the powers we now have. Nevertheless, it remains our aim to achieve the office employment objectives of the Strategic Plan for the South-East, without relying on the office control powers a moment longer than is necessary.
Several noble Lords pointed to the office development permit system as being an inflationary factor. It could be, and it may have been in the past. But I would put this to the Committee: in so far as Her Majesty's Government's broad location of offices policy—of which office development permits in the South-East is but a part—is successful in persuading enterprises that need not be there to go to areas away from the centre of London, its effect is far more likely to restrain the increase of rents in the centre than to contribute to the increase. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving the Committee an opportunity to discuss these important matters, and for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government's approach. I hope that the reassurances I have given will satisfy the Committee that we are tackling this business of office employment location in the right way, but that we need Clause 5 in the Bill to continue.
§ LORD MACPHERSON OF DRUMOCHTER
As the Minister has stressed, this is an important issue and I 767 think we were right to discuss it in some depth. I wish to thank those noble Lords who have supported me, and also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennett, for his contribution. But in view of the Minister's reply that he will see there is no delay in the granting of these permits, and as obviously he appreciates the special problems that the City has to face in future, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (LORD CHAMPION)
There is no Amendment before the Committee to withdraw. The only Question before the Committee is, That Clause 5 stand part of the Bill; and that is the Question that I have to put.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [Control of demolition in conservation areas in England and Wales]:
§ 7.2 p.m.
LORD MILNER OF LEEDS moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 8, line 36, after ("demolition") insert ("or to control alterations which would materially affect the external appearance").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 5. This Amendment adds to the powers of the local planning authorities and enables them to control alterations to buildings in a conservation area. As the Committee will be aware, the Bill gives local planning authorities power to control the demolition of buildings in a conservation area but does not enable them to control alterations and extensions. Alterations which materially affect the external appearance of a building can often do much damage—for example, major alterations to window sizes, the introduction of new windows or the replacement of thatch roofs, although they may be developments within the provisions of the 1971 Act and are permitted under the Town and Country Development Order. We are not asking for the same control as for listed buildings, but only for control over works which would materially affect the external appearance.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, 768 for this Amendment and for the general support implied in it for what we are seeking to do in the clause. I think that I can assure the Committee that this Amendment is not necessary. First of all, alterations which materially affect the external appearance of buildings constitute development for the purposes of the planning Acts, and require planning permission. Where they are permited development under Schedule 1 of the General Development Order—I think this is the loophole which the noble Lord is seeking to close—that is to say, planning permission is granted by the Order and need not be obtained from the local planning authority, then the authority may always recover control by making a direction under Article 4 of that Order. My right honourable friend the Secretary of Slate is, in general, favourably disposed towards approving Article 4 directions relating to development of this kind in conservation areas—which are what we are talking about—provided the need can be demonstrated for it and local general support for controls of this kind can he shown. We would prefer to control development of this sort in this way, as it is consistent with our general approach over conservation areas as a whole. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that explanation.
§ LORD KENNET
Will the noble Lord answer one question? If there is an Article 4 declaration, would not that give the local authority power to prevent the demolition of an unlisted building in a conservation area? If that is the case, why is the clause in the Bill at all?
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am subject to advice on that point, but I do not think that an Article 4 direction can be used to control demolition. It can be used to bring under control a number of items which are permitted in general, which need to be controlled if the delicate character of the conservation area is to be secured and enhanced; and it can be done in this particular case as well.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for his detailed reply. We shall return to this point on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.769
§ 7.6 p.m.
LORD MILNER or LEEDS moved Amendment No. 6:
After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—
§ Recovery of costs of works for preservation of unoccupied listed building in cases of urgency, and rights of appeal.
§ "The following new subsections shall be inserted at the end of section 101 of the Act of 1971 (which provides for works for the preservation of unoccupied listed buildings in cases of urgency)—
§ (2) Where the period of notice under subsection (1) above has expired a local authority may recover from the person who is the owner of the building any expenses reasonably incurred by them in that behalf.
§ (3) An owner of a building on whom a notice under subsection (1) above has been served may, at any time within the period specified in the notice, appeal against the notice and may also appeal against the cost of any emergency work done by a local authority in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) above.
§ (4) Any appeal under this section shall be made to a magistrates' court acting for the petty sessions area in which the building in question is situated.
§ (5) Where an appeal is brought under this section, any notice to which it relates shall be of no effect pending the final determination or withdrawal of the appeal.
§ (6) On an appeal under this section the magistrates' court may correct any informality, defect or error in any notice if satisfied that the informality, defect or error is not material.
§ (7) On the determination of an appeal under this section the magistrates' court shall give directions for giving effect to their determination, including, where appropriate, directions for quashing any notice or for varying the terms of any notice in favour of the appellant."
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 6 and, with permission, I will speak also with reference to Amendments Nos. 7 and 8. They have this in common, that they all arise out of recommendations made by the Preservation Policy Group a couple of years ago. This was a Group of which my noble friend Lord Kennet was Chairman. I do not need to remind the Committee that it was a distinguished body, containing the best possible advice on all aspects of the problem of what to do with our heritage of historic buildings and towns.
§ The last Government accepted the recommendations in their Report and committed money for one of them, rising to £1½ million a year from the 770 Exchequer, to be matched by an equal amount from the local authorities by 1973–74. On January 1 of this year the present Government, in a Circular, cancelled this money commitment and we were back at square one. I will return to this point in a moment in connection with the third proposed new clause before the Committee. The Circular stated that the Government did not go back on its predecessor's acceptance of the Report's various minor recommendations—they accepted them, as the Labour Government had done, and we waited to see when they would be put into effect. This Bill has come before us and contains a preservation provision in Clause 7. It is a good provision and we have nothing against it so far as it goes. But we are surprised that the Bill does not contain any of the recommendations in the Kennet Report. I can see why it does not contain the major recommendation with which the Government disagreed, but it does not contain even the minor ones with which the Government agreed. I am asking the Committee to move them in.
§ The first new clause, Amendment No. 6, is designed to close one of the last loopholes in the powers of local authorities to take emergency action to repair listed buildings when they are falling to pieces. Under the present law, if a local authority sees that a listed building is falling down, it can order the owner to repair it at his own expense. If the owner does so, well and good. If he does not, the local authority can repair it under the present law but cannot charge the owner for the work if he has refused to do the work himself. This is wrong. The local authority should have power to do the work when the owner refuses to do it, and to charge the owner. I should emphasise that here we are talking only of emergency repairs—things like a tarpaulin over a roof or the replacement of tiles or a smashed window. We are not talking about restoration or maintenance or anything of that nature involving a heavy bill. It would appear to noble Lords on this side of the Committee that there is no reason why we should not take this opportunity to close this small gap, in accordance with the recommendations of the Kennet Report. It is obvious that, far from being a drain on public funds, this provision would act 771 in the other direction. It would bring in a little money to local authorities as a result of the exercise of powers which they already have.
§ My second proposed new clause seems a little abstruse, but it is not really so. When the State, or a local authority, is acquiring a listed building for preservation purposes—whether by simple purchase or by compulsory purchase under the existing law, or indeed because it has been compelled to acquire it by an owner who claims that its preservation has deprived him from beneficial use of the land—in all these circumstances the question of valuation arises. Now usually a listed building, if it is of any grandeur or importance, has valuable fittings inside—staircases, panelling, that sort of thing—which can be torn out and sold. This is called "break-up". But the preservation law as it now stands is normally used to prevent that. The question then arises: should the price of the building and its. fittings reflect the value which could be obtained for the sale of the fittings, if they were permitted to be sold. which of course they are not? The Kennet Committee thought it should not and recommended that break-up value should not be paid when the State or a local authority acquire a listed building for preservation purposes in cases where break-up itself was forbidden. I think that this is only common sense. Once again, far from increasing public expenditure, this provision will decrease it; or, alternatively, it will allow more fine buildings to be acquired for the same amount of money.
§ I turn now to my third new clause, Amendment No. 8, which is the most important and no doubt also the most contentious. The Kennet Committee came to the conclusion that we should not make any real inroad into the problem of saving our historic towns until a new type of general conservation scheme was set up. The idea of such a scheme was that each local authority which wished to conserve part or the whole of a fine old town or village should draw up a general scheme for the purpose, rolling together all the existing grants it could obtain, under the preservation law itself, under housing law, under highways law, under planning law and under housing improvement law—absolutely everything one can 772 think of. But at the end of the day there would still be a deficit and the Committee proposed that the Secretary of State should be empowered to meet 50 per cent. of that deficit in the case of schemes which he had himself approved.
§ The Kennet Committee also said that pilot schemes should be carried out in advance of the necessary legislation in Bath, Chester, Chichester and York. The Labour Government then committed £3 million a year for the general schemes which would follow after these four projects. As I have told the Committee, the present Government cancelled the £3 million and the general schemes, but have continued with the four projects. We are very glad to learn that these are getting off the ground and we wish them well.
§ My new clause now carries the recommendation of the Preservation Policy Group into effect; hut, of course, it does not say anything about the amount of money. This is for Government decision. The clause simply empowers the local authorities to draw up these general conservation schemes and it empowers the Secretary of State to pay 50 per cent. of the deficit of any scheme which he has approved. The number and type of schemes he would approve, and thus the amount of money the Exchequer would spend, would remain, if this clause were carried into the Bill, fully under the control of the Government.
§ Nevertheless, the new clause would give the Secretary of State power to spend. It is unusual for such a provision to be moved into a Government Bill at Committee stage in your Lordships' House and I must pause for a moment. I think that members of the Committee know and applaud the efforts being made by the present Government—as indeed they have been made by former Governments—to ensure that more Bills come forward into your Lordships' House at the beginning of a Session and fewer at the end, in order to redress the balance of work between the two Houses which has hitherto been very much distorted by the fact that most Bills contain some financial provision or other and therefore have had to begin in another place. The Government want to change that, and rightly. In order to do so, they have 773 to change the rules of privilege in another place so that that House will not consider it a breach of privilege if a Bill containing financial provisions comes to it from your Lordships' House.
§ Obviously the Government intend this course mainly for the purpose of Government Bills: but I think that what is "sauce for the goose" must be "sauce for the gander". it would be wrong to distinguish between Government Bills and other Bills coming from this House with a financial content. It is surely the right of your Lordships' House to send such a Bill as this to another place—a right of your Lordships' House as such, and not of the Government operating in your Lordships' House. In any case, this is a Government Bill and I think that it would be hard to maintain that the Government should resist Amendments of a financial nature. We know that Mr. Enoch Powell is blocking the proposed change in the privilege rules in another place, and I of course only introduce this new clause in the belief and the hope that the matter will have been regulated before the Bill leaves your Lordships' House. If it has not, then no doubt it will be necessary to remove the new clause in order not to bump up against the old rules.
§ To return to the contents, this is the first Bill containing any measures of preservation which has come from the present Government. Many people throughout the country have been watching with the greatest interest to see what the Government do about preservation. What they do is right, but it is pitifully small. There are things in the Kennet Report which they have already accepted. Why have they not put them in? Will they now accept them at the proposal of noble Lords on this side of the Committee? I beg to move.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of this Amendment and I am glad to respond to his suggestion that we speak to Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 together for the reason that they all stem from the Report of the Preservation Policy Group, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. It is well known. I think, that as a Government we have accepted in principle the proposals incorporated 774 in Amendments Nos. 6 and 7. I do not really agree that it is correct to say that we have cancelled the proposals incorporated in No. 8, but rather that we have deferred judgment on them for a number of reasons, which I will go into in a moment, but mainly because we think they require to be substantiated by the projects which the noble Lord's group set in motion. That being so, I will not be drawn into a detailed discussion of Amendments Nos. 6 and 7. My main reason for advising the Committee not to accept them is that when we came to consider them carefully in the light of this legislation we came to the conclusion, regretfully—as we did on a number of clauses which could have gone into the Field Monuments Bill which passed its Committee stage only the other day—that with the pressure of legislation upon us, these particular proposals were not sufficiently urgent or free of complexity and controversy to be included in our programme at the moment
I do not want to add or subtract anything from what we said in generally endorsing them in terms of Circular 1/71. I would now turn to Amendment No. 8 and deal with that at greater length, as did the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds. The attitude of Her Majesty's Government to this was given in Circular 1/71 issued on January 1 of this year. After referring to the pilot conservation projects in Bath, Chester, Chichester and York which had been established and which we are carrying forward it says:The Government consider that a decision on this recommendation would be premature until the pilot projects have been carried further.
§ LORD KENNET
I do not think my noble friend said that the Government had cancelled the idea of general conservation schemes. What he said was that they had cancelled the money which the Labour Government had committed to them but not the schemes as such.
§ LORD SANDFORD
One of the reasons for not proceeding immediately with the scheme was that we thought it would be premature until the pilot projects were taken further. Another reason was that the decision will need to take account of the Government's decision to give local authorities greater financial responsibility. As noble Lords will know, we are about to embark on a round of 775 discussions with local authorities leading up to a Local Government Finance Bill. But I would readily acknowledge that the Preservation Policy Group Report and all its recommendations, all the rest of which we have accepted, performed a valuable service in identifying what is possibly a gap in the arrangements for financing conservation. But the extent to which this gap in practice needs filling, the precise way in which it could be filled, are matters which in our view really do need further consideration, and the pilot projects afford us an opportunity of giving them that consideration.
As we said last January, the Government believe that any new measures must take account of the general policy of giving local authorities greater financial freedom and responsibility. In the first place, the Amendment envisages the creation of a new specific grant for local authorities. All our thinking now is in favour of giving local authorities more freedom to determine their own priorities in accordance with the local needs and circumstances, and there is therefore bound to be a big question mark against the creation of a new specific grant for local authorities. Secondly, the formula provided in the Amendment is bound to involve considerable complications (they may be worth accepting) in defining what should be included in, and what should be excluded from, the calculations resulting in the loss of which the Government should share a half, and a detailed checking by central Government over local government calculations of what is eligible and admissible for grant. On the basis of our experience, since thinking on it, I believe that we need something simpler and more flexible, if we need something brand new at all.
Thirdly, the Amendment restricts the definition of a conservation scheme to something promoted by a local authority. Yet it is possible that worthwhile schemes could be promoted by local civil trusts, other amenity bodies, or by private organisations. Finally, until we have proceeded further with the pilot projects we cannot precisely say what the new grant would need to cover and how far existing grants such as the planning grant would meet the need. For instance, we are just about to get detailed proposals 776 for the Akiwark area of the City of York from Lord Esher's firm of consultants. The Department of the Environment have joined with the City Council of York in meeting the cost of this report. These proposals will give us some hard facts for a specific area; then we can identify where any shortfall will come, how much will be involved and how much money can be given under existing statutory powers. Such information is needed to frame the character and working of any new form of grant. As the noble Lord knows, legislation would be needed for his proposal.
However, from our preliminary consideration of the information available to us so far from these studies, it seems probable that something wider and much more flexible will be required than a grant tied specifically to losses incurred over a set period by local authorities. I believe that there are attractions in developing further the basis on which the Historic Buildings Council already operates: in having wider powers that as well as being used for the conservation of individual buildings and groups of buildings, might also cover the improvement, and the enhancement of selected parts of outstanding conservation areas, and be of benefit not just to local authorities, as is proposed in the noble Lord's Amendment, but also to private owners, as M.B.C. grants are at present, and indeed to other bodies such as local amenity societies engaged in promoting practical schemes of conservation. In our view, it is too early to be precise about this. As I have already said, we need more information. But in my view it would be clearly wrong at this stage to accept the restrictive proposal which is incorporated in Amendment No. 8, where all the indications are that we need wider and more flexible powers.
I hope that these remarks—and I apologise for their length—will satisfy the Committee and noble Lords opposite that, so far from being out of sympathy with their intentions as embodied in the Preservation Policy Group Report, we are carrying them forward, though in our own time and in our own way, but, I would assure noble Lords, with quite as much zeal and enthusiasm. For the reasons I have given, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Amendment. I regret that I cannot, for 777 those reasons, advise the Committee to accept this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Remaining clause and Schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.