HL Deb 21 October 1975 vol 364 cc1268-328

4.3 p.m.

House again in Committee on Amendment No. 1.


I regret that I was absent when the noble Lord, Lord Foot, began his speech, but I had to receive a telephone call. I had the opportunity of listening to the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, and I am bound to say that I not only sympathise with his point of view but entirely agree with it. I presume that that was the view taken by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. The fact is that the Government have their priorities all wrong. We had an example the other day which illustrates the point. We were informed that the Government proposed to set up a Royal Commission to deal with affairs associated with the National Health Service but that a fundamental issue, one of extreme importance, was to be excluded from the deliberations of the proposed Royal Commission. That struck me as extraordinary, and I ventured to ask a question about it. I received of course a Ministerial answer which I regarded as wholly unsatisfactory. Now we have another situation not unlike the one to which I have just referred.

The Government have decided to proceed shortly (how shortly we have not been fully informed) with the subject of devolution. Of course I have not been furnished with intimate details of it; nor has anybody in either your Lordships' House or another place. All we know is that the Government have some vague idea about the creation of an Assembly in Scotland and another Assembly in Wales, presumably to deal with domestic affairs. The term "domestic" can range very widely. It is subject to a variety of interpretations.

Here is the situation: we are to deal with the subject of the acquisition of land. I put it very simply. Of course even that statement is surrounded by a number of considerations, speculations, conjectures and so on. There is the question of administration; how it is to be implemented and the like. The Government have pre-empted, as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, rightly said, considerations involved in devolution. Indeed they have come to some conclusion—that is what the subject of the debate is about—on the acquisition of land in Wales and Scotland. It seems to me all wrong, farcical, absurd, just an utter nonsense.

Therefore, the Government should be asked to do one of two things: either to give an assurance that the proposition now before the Committee should, as it is, be debated, and that no decision should be reached until the subject of devolution comes before another place and subsequently is transferred to your Lordships' House for consideration. We can then discuss all these matters pertaining to administration, what the Assemblies in Wales or Scotland respectively are going to be called upon to undertake and so on. There should be an assurance of that kind, or they could decide to accept the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, and agree that Scotland should have a regional organisation set up—because I understand that that is the proposition—to deal with this question associated with the acquisition of land.

When subsequently we decide about devolution, we may have to expunge the decision reached this afternoon, That of course ought not to present any Government with any difficulty. It happens over and over again. In our political history it has happened far too often. In other words, a Government have come to a decision only to regret it subsequently. It is part of our political history. I am bound to repeat what I ventured to say at the outset: the Government have their priorities all wrong. If they have decided about devolution in principle. then they should not have introduced something that is bound to be considered when devolution is implemented. It is as simple as that.

How are we going to deal with this matter? I suggest that the Government should be told what to do; namely, to accept the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. They may dislike it, but it is the only decent thing to do in the circumstances, and I advise it accordingly.


The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said almost what I wanted to say, which means that I can be brief. He summed it up absolutely: the Government have their priorities all wrong. All I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to do, if he can, is to clear up the position regarding the comments of the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches. I thought he made an unanswerable case when he said that if we are to have devolution, anything applying in this Bill should be delayed until we know what is to happen to devolution in Wales and Scotland. But the noble Lord went on to say that it is too late for the Government to withdraw this Bill in order for that to happen. I ask the Lord Chancellor to say that it is not too late and that the Government could withdraw the Bill. Indeed, it may be desirable for them to withdraw it. In any event, it would be good to have it clear, on the authority of the Lord Chancellor, that the Government could withdraw the Bill if they so wished.


Do the Welsh district councils like the idea of a Welsh Land Authority? Is it true that there was a certain amount of estrangement between the district councils and the Secretary of State for Wales over this matter? If so, has the breach been healed? Otherwise I do not see the scheme working well, if the Government are going against both the district councils and the individual.

4.12 p.m.


May I first make the assertion that the Government certainly have not missed or forgotten their priorities? They attach priority to the importance that the principles underlying the Community Land Bill should be given effect to as soon as the legislative procedures are possible and are achieved, and I will come shortly to the implications of the link between it and the devolution proposals, which are still under discussion. There is no question of withdrawing the Bill and I hope I will be able to persuade even my dear and noble friend Lord Shinwell of the rightness of what I am submitting.

I turn, first, however to the basic question which the Committee is debating; namely, the case for the Land Authority for Wales. Naturally this question was considered with great care by the Government before the White Paper was issued and since, and the view of the Government is that there is a clear case, from the point of view of practicality above all, for the existence for Wales, with its special conditions, of a Welsh Land Authority. The fact is that conditions in Wales justify and call for a different system from that which is to be applied to England and Scotland. When the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales was established this was in itself a recognition of the fact that Wales is entitled to look for uniquely Welsh arrangements where the special circumstances in Wales justify this. And it was an inevitable consequence, and one indeed which was welcomed in Wales, that in some matters Wales would be different and would be differently treated. In the case of the Community Land Scheme, the Government have recognised the advantage of—and the Bill gives effect to it—a system which recognises that the compactness of Wales permits a unique solution to be adopted which was quite reasonably not regarded as appropriate in the other parts of the United Kingdom.

In seeking the best and most practical system for Wales, the Government have sought to do two things; first, to make the best use of what already exists and, secondly, to create in the Land Authority for Wales a body capable of giving a purposeful central drive to the new scheme and of ensuring that its objectives would be achieved through Wales as quickly as possible. What exists at present are, of course, the local authorities and the new town corporations. Both will have important new roles under the Community Land Scheme. The powers of the local authorities to acquire land and to develop it for their own purposes will continue and are not affected by the proposals in the Bill. And lest any suspicion may exist that it should be thought to be influencing Government opinion, it would be quite wrong to infer that the Government's proposals reflect any lack of confidence in or alleged inadequacies in Welsh local authorities. It is true that local authorities in Wales would, as in England, have different capacities to undertake the scheme quickly. Many of them have already carried out land assembly schemes promoting compulsory purchase orders for this purpose, though these are generally on a smaller scale than the new system will require.

What the Bill proposes for Wales is a flexible system which we believe will combine the advantages of a central organisation able to operate purposefully throughout Wales with making the maximum use of the local knowledge, skill and experience of local authorities, while at the same time fully involving the local authorities as planning authorities in securing the positive planning benefits which we believe the Community Land Scheme will permit. In that way the benefits will be introduced through Wales in the quickest and most complete way. Local authorities will be involved in the scheme in at least three ways. First, the Bill provides for four members of the Land Authority to be appointed after consultation with organisations representative of Welsh local authorities. Secondly, the Land Authority will be empowered to enter into agency arrangements with local authorities, and to that I will come shortly in the light of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Thirdly, local authorities as planning authorities will work very closely with the central body in operating the scheme in the interests of positive planning.

Discussions have taken place with Welsh local authority associations and whatever resistance there may have been initially—in reply to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley—there is an atmosphere of willingness to co-operate now prevailing in regard to these matters. But, as I say, discussions have taken place with the local authority associations concerned about the form which agency arrangements might take and further discussions will be held when the Authority has been established. Working parties have been set up on a county basis, involving both county and district councils, to review the local authority manpower situation in each area in relation to the various functions which will have to be undertaken by the Land Authority and to assess the willingness and capacity of each authority to undertake an agency function in part or in full for some or all of the duties which will be involved. The Government have received a report on these studies—for which they are grateful—from the Welsh county councils. The objective is that the agency arrangements shall be real and efficient. They cannot, of course, detract from the overall responsibility and the central role of the Land Authority for the operation of the scheme. They can, however, be developed in the light of experience.

The merits of these arrangements and of using local authorities as agents—and I did not apprehend any opposition to that idea, at any rate, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—are these: first, the Land Authority will want and thus will have a local presence in all parts of Wales. Secondly, local authorities can help to get the scheme working quickly. Thirdly, it is desirable to involve local authorities to secure cooperation between them and the Land Authority. As I have said, details of the arrangements are still being worked out in the way I have indicated. We wish to leave as much discretion as possible to the Land Authority and we do not want local authorities to have to recruit staff who could be more effectively employed by the Land Authority. Agency arrangements will not involve delegation of executive responsibility to local authorities. Actions will be in the name of the Land Authority and it must retain responsibility for the operation of the scheme and be answerable to the Secretary of State, who will in turn be answerable to Parliament.

The questions which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked were, first, whether the Land Authority will have to give separate approval for each transaction by the agent local authority when the local authority is the agent. As I have indicated, the Land Authority will be in charge of the scheme, the local authority will be its agent and the relationship will be that of principal and agent. The same arrangements will apply in the field of disposals. The Land Authority must be clearly seen to be in charge of the scheme if there is not to be doubt and confusion. It will be under the control of the Secretary of State, through directions, and he will be answerable to Parliament for its undertakings.

Land acquisitions and disposals will affect the Authority's finances and this is one of the reasons why it must be able to control day-to-day acquisitions and disposals, but it will work throughout, we believe—and we see no reason to anticipate great difficulties in this—in close harmony with local authorities in what it does. In respect of public inquiries in regard to compulsory purchase orders, they will fall to be defended by the Land Authority and it is right that that should be so and should be a consequence flowing from the responsibility of the Authority for deciding what land to buy.

I was asked what is the position if local authorities are unable or unwilling to accept or carry out agency functions. If the Agent is a county and there is inability or refusal at that level, it will be offered to the district, and vice versa. The Authority will make agency arrangements with whatever local authority will, in its view, be able to do the job. It is not anticipated that there will be refusal to co-operate. As to the costs of carrying out by the local authority of agency activities, they will be borne by the Authority and not by the ratepayer.

A question was raised with regard to the possibility that the Land Authority might be deemed to be an undemocratic institution. However, as I have said, the Secretary of State will be answerable for it and, to that extent at any rate, there will be public accountability through the watchdogs in the other place and in this House, to say nothing of the ever watchful eyes of the Press.

I come to the matters that were raised in regard to the link between these proposals and the devolution proposals which are now being actively worked upon by the Government, who have undertaken to produce a White Paper. May I assure the House that the Land Authority proposal and, indeed, the whole of this community land scheme stands on its own merits and that we do not believe that to go ahead with it now will pre-empt the devolution proposals. Indeed, our present thinking is that a resolution of this matter and the setting up of the Welsh Land Authority will fit in quite satisfactorily with the ideas which are being studied with regard to the role of a Welsh Assembly. The Assembly could well have powers in the fields of housing and planning which might usefully be linked with the responsibilities of the Land Authority at an all-Wales level and we see an advantage, indeed, in disposing of and finalising these community land proposals and, in Wales, the setting up of the Land Authority before the scheme of devolution for Wales matures. However, these are matters which will of course be considered in great detail when those fundamentally important proposals come before Parliament and after the publication of the White Paper. I should like to tell my noble friend Lord Shinwell that we do not regard the decision on this matter as pre-empting in any fundamental way the nature and extent of devolution of political responsibility to Wales.

Lest it may be thought that local authorities are being snuffed out of the scene by the appearance of this new and large political object on the horizon, it may be helpful to indicate how the local authorities in Wales will not be affected by the Bill's proposals. They will retain their continuing local planning functions. They will lose none of their existing land acquisition powers for planning purposes and they will still be able to buy land for public purposes such as roads, schools and houses. They will also have the power to buy land for a wide variety of private and mixed purposes such as housing and industrial sites and to acquire land to improve it for planning purposes. They will secure the same advantages as local authorities in England and Scotland, of being able to buy all this land net of development land tax during the transitional period and at current use value in the final scheme.

On a further financial point, Welsh local authorities will not lose from the scheme compared with the authorities in England and Scotland. A 60 per cent. share of surpluses on the land accounts of the Land Authority will be distributed to Welsh local authorities and the Government will, as elsewhere, take 40 per cent. Any surpluses on the accounts of Welsh local authorities who use their existing powers to acquire and dispose of land for private development will he treated in the same way as elsewhere; that is to say, 30 per cent. will be kept by the local authority concerned, 30 per cent. will be distributed among other local authorities and 40 per cent. will be kept by the Government.

Local authorities will be given a further measure of protection under paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 to the Bill by being given the status of statutory objectors if they wish to oppose compulsory purchase orders proposed by the Land Authority. These orders, like many other compulsory purchase orders, will come before the Secretary of State for confirmation, and he will be able to take into account any opposition from a local authority before deciding whether to confirm an order. The Land Authority itself, like all authorities, will be required to have regard to planning matters in carrying out all its responsibilities. The cost in terms, either of manpower or money, of the scheme in Wales, will be no more expensive, it is believed, than the comparable costs in England and Scotland of the arrangements prevailing there. We have been able to make comparisons on various bases and they all indicate that the Land Authority will be as cost effective as the arrangements proposed elsewhere.

I have taken a good deal of your Lordships' time in dealing with this matter in some detail. I have done this in response to the complaint—if that is the right word—of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that these matters have never been fully explained. I trust that the explanations and assurances that I have given may satisfy the Committee that the Land Authority for Wales is the best means of securing what is proposed, and that to have a central body working in co-co-operation with local authorities in a flexible way, so that Wales as a whole benefits from the scheme, is the best arrangement for Wales. Accordingly, I hope that these Amendments will be rejected.


I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his having taken so much trouble to answer my Amendment, but I am sorry to say that I found his arguments totally unconvincing when it came to the reason why there should be a Land Authority for Wales. The noble and learned Lord spoke of the differences in Wales. I am the first to agree with him that Wales is different, and that in certain circumstances it should be treated differently. But regarding local authorities, there is no difference whatsoever between Welsh local authorities and English local authorities. They have the same powers and duties, and they were reorganised under the same 1972 Local Government Act. The Welsh local authorities operate in precisely the same way as the English local authorities. Therefore in this respect there is really no difference, and it is, I believe, impossible, in regard to this Bill, to claim that different treatment is required for Wales from what is required for England.

The noble and learned Lord said, in terms of Wales being different, that he thought that Wales was compact; he spoke of the compactness of Wales. But if that is so, then he is arguing that everybody should have a Land Authority but that it is practicable only in Wales because Wales is compact. If that is so, the Government could have had Land Authorities for the English regions and for Scotland. I find the explanations given totally unsatisfactory. The difference in the treatment of Wales, and the fact that there is to be a Land Authority—rather than the matter being left to the local authorities—has naturally given rise to questions about what will happen when there is a Welsh Assembly. I have great sympathy with the point of view put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Foot and Lord Shinwell; if there is to be a Land Authority this raises all sorts of questions about the powers of a future Assembly. Like them, I think that these matters would be much better postponed until there is an Assembly. Perhaps at a later stage we can move an Amendment on that matter, but for the moment we can leave that for another day.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for having at least given detailed answers to the three specific questions I asked. I will consider these answers. There is one other point I should like to make, although it would probably be better to return to it at a later stage. It concerns the costs of the whole operation. The noble and learned Lord assured us that it would be just as economical to work through a Land Authority as it would be to work through the local authorities; but I am advised that the estimated requirements of manpower, which have been arrived at by the county councils in conjunction with their district councils, are considerably less than those initially outlined by the Welsh Office. That would lead me to believe that it might be more economical to work through the county councils than through a Land Authority. I should like to return to that matter later. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 29, leave out from ("situated") to end of line 31.

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee I should like, in moving Amendment No. 6, to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 162, 164 and new Clause 27A. These Amendments are designed to correct a minor drafting error in the Bill. Subsection (8) of Clause 1 makes it clear that any reference in the Bill to an "authority" refers to that authority operating within their area, but the subsection goes on to provide that a reference to a given class of authority (for example, a reference to "local authority"), is also to be interpreted as referring to the authority of that class within whose area the land is situated. This general provision could produce unwanted effects in some provisions of the Bill; for example, Clause 26, dealing with the compensation payable when one local authority buys from another, and Clause 39, dealing with grants when a local authority buys from the Crown. Amendment No. 6 therefore deletes the words at the end of the subsection dealing with classes of authorities.

However, there is one place in the Bill where a provision of the kind at present included in the subsection is required for a specific purpose. This is in Clause 21, where subsection (6) requires an authority issuing a certificate to send a copy of that certificate "to the district council". It is clear, that, in this case, "the district council" must be interpreted as the district council in whose area the land lies; and Amendment No. 164 therefore inserts a new subsection (10) into Clause 21 on the lines of the words to be deleted from Clause 1(8). There is then a consequential Amendment in subsection (8) of Clause 21, the final words of which are now otiose in view of the general provision in the new subsection (10). Amendment No. 192 accordingly deletes them.

These are essentially drafting Amendments designed to overcome a defect in subsection (8) of Clause 1. This subsection restricts the exercise of functions by authorities to operations within their own areas. For some of the purposes of the Bill it was necessary, also, to provide that a reference to a class of authority (for example, to a district council or a county council) should be interpreted as referring to the authority in whose area a particular piece of land was situated. Words to this effect were accordingly included in subsection (8), but they turned out to have effects that were not intended; for example, Clause 39 gives the Secretary of State power to make grants to local authorities (a class of "authority") when they buy land from the Crown. We want this to apply whether the Crown land which is being bought is inside or outside the area of the particular local authority, but the second half of Clause 1(8), which it is proposed to delete, would have restricted the power to give grants only to cases where the land was in the area of the local authority. Similar considerations occur to Clause 26 dealing with the compensation payable when one local authority buys from another.

These Amendments accordingly delete the general reference to classes of authorities in Clause 1(8) and insert instead a provision in the clause where this point needs to he made. In short, it is really removing the words from a place where they do not strictly apply (or where, if they do apply, they are misleading), and putting them in the right place in the Bill. I beg to move Amendment No. 6.


I wonder whether I may ask the noble Baroness a question. I did not know until she mentioned it that she was going to speak to a number of other Amendments as well. If I am right in thinking that she is attempting to cover Clause 21 as well, then I have something to say. Could the noble Baroness confirm that she is, in fact, doing that?

Baroness BIRK

They are really consequential. It is being deleted from one place and put in another, so it would not have been sense if they had not been dealt with together.


I am quite happy with that but, if that is so, I wonder whether the noble Baroness is sure that she has got it absolutely right, because Clause 21(6) says: If the authority issuing the certificate are not a district council, the authority shall as soon as practicable send a copy of the certificate to the district council". This applies in the great majority of cases, but there are one or two cases, particularly the National Parks, where this passing of a certificate from one authority to another will need to operate the other way as well, and I should have thought that if that was so this group of Amendments was the place in which the noble Baroness ought to try to put it right.

Baroness BIRK

I think I am right in saying (but. if not, I will immediately let the noble Lord know) that this does not apply to National Parks. We are talking here about local authorities, and also the Crown. We are not referring to National Parks in this Amendment. As I have explained, this is really a drafting Amendment which is quite a minor one, although I am afraid the explanation is very wordy. It is merely removing a provision from one part to another part and, as the noble Lord will see, the question of National Parks is not involved.


We can leave it at the moment. It may be a minor Amendment but it is, nevertheless, important to get it right. But we will return to it, if necessary, at a later stage.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness YOUNG

Before we leave Clause 1, I think the length and the content of the debate we have had upon it illustrates that it is extremely difficult for the lay person reading this very complicated Bill to understand why the Government have arranged it in the order that they have adopted. The Bill starts with a number of definitions which go on through the first six clauses of the Bill. Perhaps this does not matter so much if one is a lawyer, but, after all, this is a Bill which will have to be understood by thousands of people in this country. All owner-occupiers, all those who through pension funds will be affected by it indirectly, and the millions of people who own little pieces of land here or there will have to understand the difference that it will make to them. Not only will they have to understand this; they will have to understand the Welsh Land Authority and what relationship, if any, it will have to the Assembly, let alone to Westminster or anything else. I should therefore like to ask the Minister why the Bill has been arranged in this way.

For example, if we take these major definitions which we have been dealing with, we have already had a very long debate on the Welsh Land Authority and it is perfectly clear from the statement that the Government make in the Notes on Clauses which have been sent to me (for which, perhaps I may say in passing, I am most grateful, because they help one to understand the Bill) that they have not worked out the relationship between the Welsh Land Authority and the Welsh Assembly; so first we have a sequence of half-definitions. There is a reference in these definitions to new towns, and of course one of the difficulties about this is that, whereas new towns are quoted as excellent examples of local authorities being planners and developers, by definition a new town is new and there are very few people to be consulted, because, of course, it is just being set up from the beginning. So the whole position becomes quite different when we consider other places where people have been living for a very long time.

Turning to what seems to me the heart of the matter, the key definitions, and indeed the centre of the Bill, are not in Clause 1 at all but appear in the later clauses, perhaps beginning with Clause 15, and certainly in Schedule 4; and one has to look a very long way indeed before one knows what is happening. One of the most important definitions, of course, is that of "relevant development", which appears first in Clause 3. But then we turn to Clause 4, and we get one definition of "development" and one of "development land". But then we need to turn further into the Bill to find the important difference, which occurs in Clause 15, in which we have the first statement of what local authorities are supposed to be doing, which is to exercise the power to acquire land on the first appointed day. The definitions are made much more confusing because they are empowered to acquire land "suitable for development", which of course is not the same as "relevant development", from which the exceptions are made.

My point in raising these complicated matters is to ask the Government whether they really believe that this kind of legislation is intelligible to the ordinary members of the public. It is exceedingly difficult for those of us who are not lawyers but who try to understand legislation to follow it, and it is not just an academic exercise which one should do because it is perhaps quite useful to try to sharpen one's wits on trying to understand it. This is, as the Government themselves have said, a major matter of land reform which will apply to everybody who owns any land at all anywhere, and I am bound to say that I think it is extraordinary that the Bill should be so arranged that no one can find out what it means until they have read about the first 15 clauses. Perhaps this would not matter so much, but I notice that Justice, in the interesting memorandum that they have circulated, make this comment, which seems to me very important: The Committee would like to make the general comment that the Bill is not arranged in a way which assists the ordinary person to understand it. The Bill starts with a conglomeration of definitions, proceeds to consider the special arrangements for Wales and then sets out the substantive powers and duties". It does not seem to me that it is too late to put the Bill into a more intelligible order. Enormous Amendments have been made to the arrangement of the clauses since we had our debate on 4th August, and I should have thought that in the interests of getting public understanding, in the interests of getting the Bill to work at all, it would be better for the Government to look again at the arrangement of the clauses. As it stands, it seems to me to make a mockery of talking about this Bill as being somehow in the interests of democracy, let alone of the community, when I am doubtful whether more than the most minute percentage of the community would have any understanding of it at all.


I threatened earlier to intervene briefly at this stage to say a word or two about Scotland, and I should like, if I may, to put that threat into effect. We were previously discussing—and I raised the matter in the first instance—the unfortunate way in which the Government are dealing with this matter, in that they are dealing with this major scheme of land reform before they make up their mind about what they are going to do in the way of devolution either for Scotland or for Wales.

If I may revert for a moment to the matter of Wales, I do not think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has got the point that I was trying to make and that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, was making: that is, that land law is a highly domestic matter. Looking at Wales, you could scarcely think of anything more domestic to the Welsh people than the problem of the land, if you carry through this great radical reform at this stage before making up your mind what to do about future subordinate government in Wales, take what form it may. The objection to that is that the Government, when they come to consider what form of devolution they are going to give to Wales, will be inhibited and will be unable to pass down to the Welsh Assembly power to make its own land laws because they will have already made the law for them in this Community Land Bill. That is the way in which the inhibition works in Wales. When you turn to Scotland there arc even greater difficulties in the path of the Government if they carry through this major reform and apply it to Scotland before deciding what to do in the way of devolution for Scotland.

I say it is more important because, so far as I know, the Government are more or less committed to a form of devolution for Scotland which the Kilbrandon Commission called legislative devolution. That is the sort of devolution we have had for 50 years in the Stormont Parliament whereby the Parliament at Westminster passed down to the subordinate Government a wide range of functions and in the exercise of those functions the subordinate Government have complete legislative and executive autonomy, subject only to the veto of Westminster in the last resort. That, as I understand it, is the sort of devolution which is now being contemplated by the Government for Scotland. If that is the sort of devolution that is to be given to Scotland, what powers will that place in the hands of the Scottish Legislature and the Scottish Government? We disagreed about many things, but everyone on the Kilbrandon Commission agreed that if you were to give legislative devolution to some subordinate Scottish Parliament, the first candidates in the way of functions are the functions of the Department of the Environment. Those are the things which are clearly of the most domestic concern to the Scots or to the Welsh.

Among the functions of the Department of the Environment the first is local government. If, therefore next year we are to give to Scotland a measure of devolution which will enable them to legislate in the whole field of local government, then the Scottish Assembly will be able if they wish to dismantle the whole of the present system of local government in Scotland and can set up, if they want to, a different system of local government of their own. What is more, they can dismantle completely this Bill (if it ever becomes an Act) and they can tear it up. They can nationalise the land in Scotland, if they have a mind to do so, or they can do nothing about it and leave the land law as it stands at the moment.

That is the reason why I suggest that we have got our priorities all wrong here, and that to try to carry through this piece of legislation and, as it were, to pin upon the Scottish people this framework of the Community Land Act, to pin that upon the Scottish system and then to create a Scottish Parliament which can tear up the whole thing and throw it away is an absurd way to try to achieve good government.

The Government are in a dilemma, if they suggest doing something different. There is another solution: what you could do in the case of Scotland when you come to devolution on the matter of local government is that you could pass down certain legislative and executive functions to the Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh and pass down quite different functions to the local governments in Scotland, and then the regional Government or the national Government and the local governments and act in parallel, each exercising full autonomy within the functions given to them in the same way as district councils and county councils now work in parallel under our reformed local government system.

But the difficulty about that is that the Scottish people would not put up with it. The Scottish people would not be prepared to accept an Assembly which has not got control over its own local authorities or over its own land law. Whatever the feelings of the Scottish people may be—and they cover a wide spectrum—there is no Scot who would be satisfied with that kind of Parliament. For those reasons I suggest that when the Government come to consider the question of devolution for Scotland, if this Bill is then an Act, I think the Government are going to be in a terrible difficulty in deciding how they are to manage the situation. It may be that all we are doing today, so far as Scotland is concerned, is something of an entirely temporary nature which will be washed away as soon as an effective Scottish Assembly and Parliament are in existence.


There was a great deal of common sense in what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about Clause I but perhaps there was some exaggeration when she complained about the framing of the Bill. After long experience—somewhat longer than that of the noble Baroness: but that is purely accidental, I did not arrange it—I can say that I never could understand the legislation that was framed by the experts in Whitehall. Indeed, when I was a Minister, a long time ago, I found great difficulty in understanding some of the Bills that I piloted through the other place. On what happened subsequently perhaps the less said the better.

I have drawn one conclusion from this debate. It is that when devolution is presented to another place and comes to this House it will be discovered to be a sham and a delusion. My reason for saying that is based on the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who described me as his "dear friend". I respond by saying that he is also dear to me. I have known him for a long time; I have great affection for him and admiration for his forensic qualities. But when I was listening to him narrating all the functions that were to be superimposed on the Welsh local authorities and the great variety of organisations that are to be created, I could not help asking myself what, at the end of the day, is going to be left when we deal with devolution? It will be much of a skeleton. After all, he informed us that the agencies in Wales would deal with land acquisition; and, of course, if you deal with land acquisition, you cannot ignore housing accommodation; and if you deal with that it is not easy to exclude transport and roads and the like. Having listened to that narration, delivered in his usual impeccable fashion, I am bound to wonder, as I have earlier remarked, what devolution will really mean. I therefore respond to what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has been saying.

Obviously, what the Government should have done was to decide that at some stage they were going to proceed with devolution for Wales and for Scotland and, at the same time, not ignore devolution for England. After all, there is no reason why we should be excluded. It will be discovered before very long when we arc dealing with devolution proposals, that many people in England, on this side of the Border, will have a great deal to say about it, and will want to know what their rights are. I am all in favour of devolution for Scotland. When I first stood for Parliament way back in 1918—a long time ago—I failed to win, but that was the fault of Lloyd George. He decided to have an Election; he was rather rigid and doctrinaire in his propositions and I could not accept them entirely. In my Election address I had two items. Perhaps I had better mention them both, although I do so with some trepidation. One was Scottish Home Rule and the other was prohibition. Prohibition is the one which worries me a little, because since those days I have somewhat redeemed myself, although it may be a kind of redemption one should not brag about.

I have always been involved with some kind of devolution for Scotland: domestic affairs, local affairs, housing, roads and, in particular, sanitation. When I think of the kind of sanitation we had way back in those early days, there is much need for Scotland having a say in the matter. So I do not discard devolution at all, but it seems to me, before we come to any definite conclusion about the implementation of all those proposals which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor presented to the Committee earlier on on the Amendment under consideration, that it would have been far better to decide to adjourn, to postpone this Bill and wait until the Government introduced their proposals for devolution. Then we can take into consideration every aspect of the question: land acquisition, land development, roads and the like—exclude nothing. That is what I understand by devolution. The Government have decided to adopt a different method; in other words, they are putting the cart before the horse. That is a cliché but it is one which should not be entirely ignored, and that is what is happening in connection with this legislation.

I am in favour of land reform. I do not want any misunderstanding on that. I do not want anybody on the opposite side of the Committee to imagine I am departing from any principle or ideological objective which 1 have held for many years. I am certain that some kind of land reform is required. I do not want to enter into the terms of that; this is not the occasion to do so. But to proceed in this ridiculous, absurd fashion, going into the details before deciding about the principle, is wrong. One should decide about the principle of devolution and surround that principle with a number of details according to the fashion of the people in another place and the Members of your Lordships' House, and then decide what should happen in Wales, Scotland and, as I remarked, on this side of the Border.

What is to be done? To vote against Clause 1 would be of very little value. I do not advise that we should vote against Clause 1. I do not want to be placed in the difficult situation of having to abstain. The last thing I want to do is to sit on the fence. I would rather vote for one side or the other, but not sit on the fence. I beg the noble Baroness, Lady Young, not to press this matter too far. She has expressed her point of view, and, as I said, I agree with a great deal of what she has said. She always speaks with remarkable common sense. I hope that I shall not be expelled from the Party for having indulged in compliments, but that is true. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, speaks with a great deal of common sense too; but we have been presented with a piece of legislation which could have been postponed until a later date. We have to deal with it, and what can we do? I suggest that we accept Clause 1 and make the best or worst of it.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to all the complications of this Bill which seem to be coming out of Clause 1, the complications which have to be decided, nobody seems really to agree with anything. All have different ideas; all want to put forward different points of view. That is right in a democratic system of government; we all have a right to put forward our own points of view. But these matters are so widespread. There has been reference to the arrangement of the clauses, to the position of Wales and Scotland—no one has really had anything very much to say about the position of England. Most people seem to disagree altogether with the Bill. I am rather keen on precedent, and perhaps, so that everybody could have a right to say what they feel about land reform and the whole Bill, it would be a good idea if we voted against every single clause; then the Bill will be out, and those who want to do anything can introduce another Bill which could embody at any rate some of the very sensible suggestions that have come from all sides of the Committee. I hope that the Party I support will have the good sense to vote against some of the clauses. I think we ought to vote against the lot. The Bill is not very popular and, as the months go on, it will become less and less popular. By voting as I suggest at least the country will understand that my side of the Committee felt the best way to let the country know how difficult everything was, was to eliminate the Bill altogether. Then everybody can start all over again. That is my recommendation: I am willing to vote against every single clause.


My Lords, may I differentiate? I agree entirely with every word said by my noble friend Lord Shinwell—a rare thing for me. Although I admire my noble friend greatly, we have never been quite on the same side of the Party. This Bill embodies many important principles but, as luck would have it, I too happen to be in favour of Scottish devolution. I am not so old as my noble friend Lord Shinwell, but he anticipated me by only eight or nine years. I declared my adherence to some measure of Scottish Nationalism in the Leith By-Election in 1926 or 1927, and although that declaration might have owed a little to the waters of the Liffey rather than the waters of the Forth, since then I have had increasing sympathy with the aspirations for a measure of devolution for Scotland. If the Committee will allow a Sassenach without a kilt to intervene, I propose to do so.

I agree with the encomiums which were passed upon the noble Baroness, Lady Young. My noble friend raised the question of your Lordships dealing with this Bill. I intervened at that time because it seemed to me that this was a matter of great complexity. I agree substantially with the general purport of the Bill—though it would have been much more sensible in 1945 than now, and of course land is at the highest price it has ever been. Whatever compensation arrangements are made can succeed, from the Government's point of view, only if somehow or other we manage to give less compensation than the land is really worth at this moment.

I was rather criticised for expressing some apprehensions as to whether the Bill had been fully discussed and was fully understood. I spent the weekend trying very hard to understand what it means. The noble Baroness said that of course a lawyer would understand it. I was not much of a conveyancing lawyer and I have not been in practice for the last 24 years or so, but I would beg to inform the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that every lawyer in England is trying to find out, with an almost complete lack of success, despite a series of lectures and so on, what is the present law of this country under our membership of the European Economic Community. I have still the privilege of being a member of the Select Committee, and we are also trying to find out. As I say, I expressed some doubts as to how long this Bill would need to be discussed and as to whether we should be able to understand it in time. Subsequently, undertakings were given that we should be given time. Today in the Vote Office I was handed 400 excellent and, so far as I can see at a glance, admirably informative pages, which I think make a very real attempt at explaining what the drafters of the Bill had in mind. Therefore, I do not propose to intervene further in this debate, but I shall do what I have done almost invariably up to now and vote in support of the Labour Government who are doing very great work under very great difficulty. I shall read the400 pages carefully between now and the Report stage, and at the Report stage I shall vote according to my conscience, because then I believe that I shall understand something of what the Bill is about and what it is intended to do.

That still leaves us waiting for another Bill to explain other aspects of this Bill. This mass of legislation is going through under difficult conditions, when everybody knows that only a small percentage of Members of this Chamber have been able thoroughly to understand it; that is much better than the Silkin Bill which, it was said, only Lord Silkin understood and later on I believe that quite a number of people were questioning even that! It is a very serious, comprehensive, and Socialist-minded measure, the principle of which I agree. However, at this moment I hope that the advice of the noble Baroness will not be taken. I shall continue to support the Government throughout the Divisions and then try to inform my mind about this Bill. When I have done that I hope that I may come to love it and to understand it.


One of the excitements and hazards of speaking, on Whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill?, is that one never quite knows what will come up. I shall restrict my observations to one specific point. I believe this is the right moment at which to do this, because this is the definition clause and therefore it covers the full gamut of the Bill. On Second Reading I gave notice to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, of a question that I intended to raise. I did indeed ask the question but unfortunately she did not give me the answer in full, and therefore I thought I would give the noble Baroness the opportunity of doing so today. In order to help her to be fully possessed of the necessary information, I warned her beforehand.

The Bill requires 14,000 people to operate it, and the question which I asked the noble Baroness was whether it would be possible for the Government to describe how many of those people would be estate agents, how many would be lawyers, how many would be planners, surveyors and valuers, and how many would fall into the category of administrative staff. It is a colossal figure, and I should like the noble Baroness to understand that I am not trying to ask a "funny" question or trying to trip her, or anything like that. But it is vital that we should know how this figure is arrived at, because if this Bill, when it reaches the Statute Book, is to be operated properly, it will have to be operated largely by professionals. Therefore I should like to ask: where are they coming from?

As I see it—and probably the noble Baroness may say "This all comes into account after the second appointed day"—at present these people are not in public employment, because otherwise they would not be additional to the Bill. So they must be in private practice and, if that is the case, how are the professionals who will be required for the operation of this Bill to be drawn from private practice? If this were to happen, there is bound to be competition for their services, in which case inflation will be given a further spiral. If those in private practice at present are not prepared to undertake the work which this Bill will require, then the work will be done presumably by what one might describe as the "dross" of the professions. If that were to be the case, then the Bill is not going to work at all well, and if the Bill is to work at all it is vital that it should work properly.

When I asked the noble Baroness about this on Second Reading, she said: It is quite impossible at this stage to give that information. If I gave some arbitrary figures, noble Lords would be quite right in asking how I was able at this stage to say that there would be so many lawyers needed and so many land agents needed. That would be the most extravagant and wrong way to go about it."—[Official Report, 16/10/75; col. 1136.] I could sympathise with that view and understand it, except that it is contrary to what the Government have said. If one looks at page vii of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, your Lordships will see that the Government, in order to assist people to understand the Bill, say there: It is estimated that when the scheme is in full operation, … total staff increases will be of the order of 12,000 in local authorities in England and Scotland and 750 in Wales, …". Then it goes on to give an estimate that when the scheme is fully operative the increase in Central Government staff will amount to some 14,000, including staff of the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue. That is the figure which the Government have given: 14,150. It is essential for us to know how that figure is made up. The professions require to know how it is made up, and I have a horrible fear which is that these people are not there. If the noble Baroness were to say, "We really cannot give you a breakdown", I am then bound to put the question to her: how then have you arrived at the figure of 14,000? Has somebody used a slide rule? There must have been some method by which this figure was arrived at; and it really is not good enough for the Government to give an overall figure and say, "You have to accept it." This figure is made up of professionals and these people will want to know how this figure is arrived at, so that it really should be put on record.

Baroness STEDMAN

If I may follow the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I was one of those who in connection with the Community Land Bill No. 2 had reservations about how we were going to find the staff and where they were coming from. Since that time my worries have decreased. My county has started consultations with a view to setting up their land management scheme with the six district councils within our area. What has come out of that is that at the present moment within my county area, within five of the districts and the county itself, we already have 19 solicitors, 17 legal executives, 12 conveyancers, two estate surveyors, one partly qualified surveyor, one chartered surveyor, 11 valuers, six assistant valuers and two unqualified valuers, plus the various planning people within the county and the districts and also the staff which is available to us who work in co-operation with us from the new town development corporation of Greater Peterborough.

My county, in their initial look at it, feel that for the immediate future, at any rate, we can do the job that will be given to us with the staff that we now have; that we shall have our finance and our legal officers who will be keeping a very close watch on the resources of the county and the district; that we shall not go outside and employ any other staff until we are confident that all those throughout the county and the district are being fully utilised in the jobs which they are now doing and the new duties that we are laying upon them. That does not answer the question of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as to where we got 14,000 from, or how we are to get them. I say only that, so far as my own fears are concerned, with the work that we have done in the intervening months my fears are considerably fewer now than they were when we had the Second Reading of the No. 2 Bill.


May I say to the noble Baroness that what she has said is extremely interesting and if that covered the country it would seem to indicate that the 14,000 was far too high a figure. If the 14,000 is a correct figure, then of course there must be people outside those who are already involved on whom, presumably, the Government expect to claim.

Viscount RIDLEY

It does look as if Cambridgeshire is rather overstaffed.

Baroness STEDMAN

I do not think so.

5.23 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

We have ranged quite a long way in this debate on the Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill? I must say immediately that I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she speaks about the complications of this Bill. It is extremely complicated. Most pieces of legislation are complicated, but anything that has to do with land law is particularly so, especially for those of us who do not happen to be experts in it or lawyers with that particular specialisation. The Bill was arranged in this way because in the opinion of Parliamentary Counsel it was the kind of Bill which the average reader would not be able to understand without knowing the definitions. One example of what Parliamentary Counsel had in mind was that it is not possible to understand what authorities can do until those authorities are defined.

This again is a matter of opinion. It is perfectly true that when we were earlier discussing the Bill I was considering—and at some point had a word with the noble Baroness about it—whether it would facilitate discussions if we turned the Bill round. The same criticism can be directed at almost all Bills. There is no easy way of dealing with a very difficult group of subjects. If one is realistic one realises that those who might be called average or ordinary readers who attempt to find out what is going on by reading through a piece of legislation must be quite minimal.

After a Bill is passed is the time for the explanations to be put forth in a more simplified form. Because we are doing this through the local authorities, they will themselves be in a position to put out information about the Bill. There are all kinds of provisions to which we are coming later, in the area of more open government, where information has to be made available and where, again, there are opportunities for explaining what the Bill is about. To do something of this kind, to make an enormously radical change in our land system, at the same time including as much public participation as possible, doing it in as democratic a way as possible, makes for complications. Nobody is pretending otherwise. This is why it is difficult, I agree, to take this Bill through this Committee stage. I do not think there is any easy way out. It is a matter of opinion whether what Parliamentary Counsel decided in their wisdom is easier for the lay reader: but certainly we on this side and from this Bench are trying to do our best to make it as comprehensible as possible.

On devolution, the second large area on which questions have been raised and doubts expressed, I think that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor dealt with the subject in quite considerable detail when replying to the Amendments on Wales. But I here part company with my noble friend Lord Shinwell and some of the other speakers on the view that one should have to wait until the devolution plans, which are still under discussion, have evolved, not only into a White Paper but into legislation before we set about land reform of this kind. The basic principles to which I would draw the attention of the Committee, which are the combination of planning and ownership within the community, exercised through the local authorities in England and Scotland and the Land Authority of Wales, still remain basic. As to whether in the future a regional superstructure is put in, the situation may alter—who can say? I do not think this is the moment to prophesy what will happen. But it does not alter the fundamental principles and objectives of the Bill and I think, and we on this side of the Committee all think, that it would be a great mistake, and in any case quite impossible now and quite wrong, to hold up this Bill which is dealing with land reform. As I have explained on two Second Readings now, it can only be quite catastrophic and destructive to the whole structure and to everything anybody is trying to do to wait on some very much longer-term plans on devolution. On this point we really have to wait and see.

I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Ward, although I do not agree with her, was consistent in her comments of, "Vote against, vote against …" It seems to me to be slightly against the raison d'être of this Chamber, which is to advise and amend. Nevertheless, she of course has freedom to do as she thinks.



Baroness BIRK

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, gave me notice of a question he raised again. He said that I did not give him an answer in full. The trouble is that I am unable and certainly cannot give him the answer that he probably wants. The answer is—and I will spell it out in more detail as I gave it on Second Reading; and it has been supported by what my noble friend Lady Stedman said—that the projected number of around 14,000 in England and Scotland is, first of all, for when the scheme is fully operational. This was based on studying the staff needed by some of the well-organised authorities to process the annual acreage they acquire and dispose of. The local authorities' associations accepted that this figure is about right, although opinions naturally vary about the detailed breakdown of the total.

I repeat what I said on Second Reading the other night, that in our view professional staff—that is, lawyers, planners, valuers—will account for about one-third of the total, and administrative and other support staff will comprise the rest. I would again point out that this number relates to the period after the second appointed day, some years ahead when the scheme is in full swing. Furthermore, the noble Earl is not taking into account the time factor which would allow for training and for the opening up of careers in this area. If what my noble friend Lady Stedman has said proves to be correct, the numbers required will be less than those which have been guessed at. If that is so everybody will say, "So much the better". Also, this does not take into account the fact that authorities are being asked to deploy their existing staffs. There are authorities which already have plans under way whereby they will share expert staff. To go further than that would be not only impossible but quite wrong. This is the best and soundest basis upon which we can prognosticate what will happen in the future. We cannot go beyond that.

I have dealt with the main points that have been raised on this clause and I hope that now we may move on.


May I ask the noble Baroness one question? She said that she was trying to make this Bill as comprehensive as possible. Surely a Bill ought to be comprehensive. If it is not, it ought not be passing through Parliament.

Baroness BIRK

I said "comprehensible".


I thought I said "comprehensible".


I am afraid that we cannot finish with Clause 1 because I have one or two other points and questions to put to the noble Baroness. First, I am sure that all my noble friends on this side of the House will find entirely unsatisfactory the answer of the noble Baroness to my noble friend Lord Ferrers. The Government cannot put into the manpower memorandum of the Bill the figure of 14,150 without having made some calculations. We have just had it from the noble Baroness's own mouth that the Government made some calculations and undertook some surveys. Of course, the points that were made by her noble friend Lady Stedman are of interest so far as the initial stages of the Bill are concerned. We know that Cambridge can manage with the staff that they already have. That is good. We know, however, that a large number of authorities cannot manage with the staff that they already have, and we must be concerned with the training of the staff who will be needed. It may be that they will be needed only in five years' time, but their training must begin now; and if their training is to begin now we must know the answer to my noble friend's question: how many valuers, how many estate agents, how many of this and how many of that? It is most unsatisfactory to be left in this position for the second time and we shall have to return to it.

I am afraid that the noble Baroness is having a rather sticky start. I am also afraid that it is going to get stickier, but I should like to console her by saying how grateful we are to her for her help and that of her office in providing us with notes on clauses. This is considerably expediting matters.

I wish to comment on three matters. They are Wales, the Peak Park Planning Board and the new towns. Wales has already been amply discussed. I should like to commiserate with the people of Wales who will be disenfranchised by the setting up of the Welsh Authority, but I console myself with the thought that by establishing it the Government are building into the Bill in respect of Wales the two basic ingredients which caused the Central Land Board of 1947 and the Land Commission of 1967 never to get off the ground and eventually to founder. To that extent this arrangement is welcome to those who sit on these Benches.

If I may turn to my questions, the first relates to a point made in the notes which the noble Baroness has furnished on Clause 1, particularly paragraph 9, which states that no special provisions arc needed for the National Park Committees. Later it states that they are to exercise planning functions and to do so as committees of the counties concerned. That is true in respect of eight of the ten national parks but it is not true in respect of the Exmoor National Park which straddles two counties that have to make special arrangements. I am satisfied that they can make adequate arrangements between themselves without anything being imported into the Bill, but I am quite certain that the Peak Park Planning Board, which straddles several counties and even more districts, cannot function without special provisions being made. There was an indication at Report stage that the Government have this matter in hand. In the first set of marshalled Amendments there is no sign that the Government are taking it on board. Therefore, I myself have moved certain Amendments. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could indicate whether she has any Amendments of her own in mind.

My next question relates to a matter to which my noble friend Lady Young has already alluded. It is in paragraph 3 of these notes where it is said that the new towns have their own planning powers and that they represent the approach to positive planning which it is the Bill's intention to extend to all significant private development. As my noble friend said, the characteristic of new towns—and I am familiar with quite a number of them—is that they do not have to operate under any kind of democratic control. They do not have communities, at any rate when they start to operate. And just what are the powers that the new towns have that make the noble Baroness and her colleagues feel that they so well represent an approach to positive planning that is apt for this Bill?

Baroness BIRK

If I may deal with the first point of the noble Lord relating to the Peak Park Planning Board, he said that he had certain Amendments in mind. Since this matter arises under Clause 16, may I suggest that we wait until we get nearer to that clause and discuss it in that context? It would then make more sense than it does now. So far as the new towns are concerned, they have been very successful and in many areas their development and planning procedures have been operating in the way which will be required by this piece of legislation. Therefore, there is no reason why they should not be treated as any other authorities would be treated. Again, may I suggest that any specific points ought to be discussed when we are dealing with the powers on acquisitions? We are now dealing with the definitions and the basis of the main clause.


It appears that the noble Baroness does not know whether she is to move any Amendments of her own regarding the Peak Park Planning Board, and that she cannot tell us what are the powers of the new towns that are relevant to this Bill. She has described well the way in which they operate, but they operate on virgin or green field sites without a community and without an electorate. That seems to me to make them totally inappropriate for consideration in the context of this Bill.


When the noble Lord referred to the new towns, his remarks showed a lack of knowledge of history of the new towns which were established by the Labour Government of 1945. Six new towns were established then, and the smallest was in my constituency when I was in the other place. It was called Newton Aycliffe and it was designed for 10,000 people. The Bill was led by a Scotsman when it was going through its Committee stage. May I inform noble Lords that the Leader of the Opposition at that time was known as Mr. "Shapes" Morrison. The policy of the Government was that the new towns should be developed as rapidly as possible and that their own administrative powers ought to be granted to them as quickly as possible. This was thrown out when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor (as he now is), became Minister for Housing and Local Government, and reversed that decision and set up a commission. I sat on the committee, and a member of that commission had to sit upon the management board of the new town, within the terms of reference.

Returning to the subject of the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I was moved by what she said. I thought it was an effective speech, and I was also interested in what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said. I also found the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, interesting, when she produced figures as to how the Government have taken into consultation the national bodies of local government up and down the country on this issue. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was trying to tie my noble friend down to a specific figure, but may I say in all good faith to the noble Earl, and without any displeasure towards him, because I have the highest regard for him, that he ought to initiate a conversation with members of his own side in another place, who have had plenty of opportunity in the Scottish Grand Committee, which has its own forms of debate in regard to such matters as this. Probably he would get his replies from his own friends.

My noble friend has endeavoured to reply to the best of her ability, but noble Lords who have not had experience in the drafting of Bills and in the setting up of committees for discussion should understand that we have what are known as Parliamentary draftsmen. These are the people whom Ministers must convince about the views of Members of this Chamber and of the other place on what ought to appear in the Bill, and about interpretation and phraseology. I give credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and my noble friend who is leading for the Government, and, in view of the consultations that have taken place, I hope, as a past member of local government administration, that we shall not vote against this clause and that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will not press it that far. Otherwise, we may regret it.


Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Slater, that I take his rebuke in the way in which he meant it, and I certainly take no offence. Equally, I hope he will not take offence if I say that, in my view, that was a most extraordinary intervention, if by that he meant that had I addressed my questions to honourable Members of another place who sat on the Scottish Grand Committee I should have got the answer from them, as opposed to the noble Baroness who is in charge of this Bill for the Government. If the members of the Scottish Grand Committee know the answer, I am quite certain that the noble Baroness knows it.

I was not trying to tie the noble Baroness down to a figure. The figure which has been mentioned, and which has been tied down is that which the Government themselves have produced of 14,000. As I tried to explain earlier, I was not doing this in order to try to embarrass the noble Baroness. I believe it to be a very real problem and if this Bill is to operate properly it must he with the advice of the professionals. My fear is that the professionals are not there, but if they are there they are likely to be already engaged and those who are already engaged are not likely to be withdrawn from their private practice. Then you will get the dross of the professions and those who are bad and unskilled and whom private practice does not want to employ. That would be a disaster for the Bill. I hope that in the course of the passage of this Bill the noble Baroness will be able to give some more detailed and, if I may say so in the broadest sense, helpful figures, because this is an important point; it is not just a Committee point.

Baroness BIRK

I should like to add one small point and to thank my noble friend Lord Slater for his intervention. It becomes a circular argument, because it is said that we must have these breakdowns of figures. But once the Bill becomes an Act, I should have thought it more than likely that a number of people will come in from private practice when land goes into public ownership through the local authorities. Noble Lords are saying what should be the logical cut come and that is what I have been saying all the time. Let us get on with the Bill and get it on the Statute Book so that people know where they are, not only from the point of view of planning and ownership, but also from the point of view of staff as well.

Baroness YOUNG

That is rather a dangerous argument to adopt because it suggests that we ought not to discuss the Bill at all. In fact, I think this has been a worth while discussion on the Question, Whether the Clause shall stand part of the Bill?, and I sympathise very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and her colleagues in trying to explain this piece of legislation. I should have thought the numbers of her own colleagues on the Benches behind her, who clearly have not understood it at all and have the deepest sympathies with our constructive suggestions about the rearrangement of clauses and so on—which would make it more intelligible and workable from their point of view—would have indicated to her that there is some question on all sides about this piece of legislation. As it is, we have had no real answer to the point about Scotland raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foot; we have had no real answer about Wales, the final irony being that we are setting up a non-elected, non-democratic Land Authority to implement something for the benefit of the community, which seems to me to be a total contradiction in terms. Also, I do not believe that my noble friend Lord Ferrers has received an answer to his very important points on staff.

I think it only fair to give notice to the Government that we shall press these points and that we shall expect a proper answer before the Report stage. We shall return to this at other stages of the Bill. It simply is not good enough to have such answers on something as important as this. As it is, we will leave this matter where it is now but we hope that the Government will give more satisfactory answers as the Bill proceeds.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Joint boards]:

5.49 p.m.

The Earl of BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 42, at end insert— (1A) If two or more local authorities in Scotland agree that a joint board should be established as an authority under subsection (1) above, they may with the consent of the Secretary of State, combine for any of the purposes of this Act on such terms and conditions as may be agreed between them and approved by the Secretary of State.

The noble Earl said: Most of what I wish to say on Clause 2 was said during my Second Reading speech. Briefly, I would point out that Clause 2 is one of the unique pieces of legislation which creates an entirely different situation in England, Scotland and Wales. If the Government want to keep it that way it is up to them. The reason for this Amendment is to allow two or more authorities in Scotland at least to approach the Secretary of State with a possibility of setting up a joint board. I must apologise to your Lordships. Perhaps I was a little slow, but I should say that the words at the side do not mean that it is intended to be another clause. I am sure noble Lords will realise that the Printed Paper Office, the Public Bill Office, the printers, and everyone else have been under considerable pressure. Those words do not actually affect the Amendment; it is intended as a subsection to the Bill.

I should like to stress that Part I and Schedules 1 and 2 to the Scottish Act of 1972 were repealed. May I say once again that I am very grateful to have the notes on clauses. The notes on Clause 2(3) make reference to Section 1(3) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, which has been repealed. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, said that in the very last clause there was provision that authorities should be able to share expert staff. There is no longer provision in Scottish legislation, under the planning laws and so on, for them to be able to do this. Therefore, my Amendment is intended to be constructive and to fit in with the principle here.

In order to save time, I shall say a few words on the reason for leaving out subsection (6) under Amendment No. 10. It seems to me very strange that the Secretary of State should wish to exclude himself from setting up a joint board in Wales. There is nothing whatever to stop two or more authorities under the planning Acts of England setting up a joint board in Wales, as Part I and the relevant Schedules to the English planning Acts were not repealed when the English Local Government Act went through Parliament. This is somewhat technical. However, to some extent I have already spoken on this point, so I beg to move.

5.53 p.m.


Clause 2 of the Community Land Bill is exactly similar in its application in both England and Scotland. Thus, the Secretary of State is the only person who can set up a joint board. Two English authorities acting alone cannot do so. I think the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, possibly may be confusing this with the position under the local government legislation where there are powers under Section 1 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 for the formation of joint planning committees or two or more authorities in England. but in Scotland these powers were repealed, as I think the noble Earl said.

However, the powers under Section 1 of the Town and Country Planning Act are in exactly the same terms as those in Clause 2 of this Bill; in other words, there is no legal power in existing legislation for local authorities to initiate the setting up of a joint board. The Amendment would make Scotland out of line with England. which I think is exactly what the noble Earl is trying to avoid, if I have his purpose right. In our view, in practice there is nothing to stop any local authority approaching the Secretary of State and asking him to set up a joint board for the purposes of the Land Scheme. In practice this is how it is envisaged that the provision will normally work. Clause 2 in no way prejudices any scheme for co-operation which two or more authorities may agree to in the Land Acquisition and Management Scheme, but the fundamental difference is that a Clause 2 board is a separate legal entity. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Earl will reconsider his Amendment No. 7.

As I understand it, the later Amendment to this clause, No. 10, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, would delete the subsection which omits Wales, and is really consequential on any changes which might have been made to the status of the Land Authority for Wales. While the Land Authority remains in the Bill, there will be no need for the setting up of joint boards in Wales because the Land Authority, as it were, will be a joint board for the whole of the Principality.

Viscount GAGE

May I ask a question not exactly related to this Amendment, although it might be? I hope it is a simple question which will admit of a simple answer. Does anything in this clause permit the Secretary of State to alter the boundaries or composition of established national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty?


No, my Lords.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I am very grateful for the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.57 p.m.

Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 8: Page 3, line 2, leave out from ("inquiry") to ("and") in line 3 and insert ("unless no person affected by the order has objected to it").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8 and to speak briefly at the same time to the other Amendments relating to this clause. As the Committee will see, this is a clause in which exception can be taken from a number of different points of view. The setting up of joint boards ought to be undertaken not on the initiative and at the discretion of the Secretary of State, but at the initiative of the two local authorities concerned. That is one defect.

Another defect is that the powers of the Secretary of State in setting up the board and adapting other legislation so as to give powers to it, are far too sweeping at subsection (5)(b). That is a matter we shall come to in a moment on Amendment No. 8A. Thirdly, it is a provision which ought only to be used as a last resort, when the normal co-operative arrangements between local authorities, provided for in the Local Government Act at Section 101 et cetera, have been invoked, tried and found lacking. Amendment No. 10A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, will deal with that point. At the moment, 1 am just dealing with a further point with my Amendment No. 8, which is that arrangements between local authorities and orders establishing things like joint boards ought not to be undertaken by reference only to the authorities concerned.

The setting up of a joint board is something which affects the enfranchisement of two electorates. There ought to be provision not only for authorities concerned to object to the making of an order having that effect, but also for individuals to object. The purpose of my Amendment is to find out from the Government why they think it is at all appropriate in a matter as important as this for the individual citizen, for individual communities—after whom the Bill is named—to have no say as to whether or not it is right for a board of this kind to be established.


It is our view that this Amendment would make the right of objection to an order under this clause very wide indeed. It is misguided, because the setting up of a joint board for an area is effectively only a decision about how the authorities in the area should exercise their functions. This is a matter between the authorities and the Secretary of State. That is why the Bill limits the right of objection to these authorities. This follows precisely the precedent of Section 1(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, which in turn goes back to the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Frankly, I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, should now want us to depart from that well-established precedent.

The noble Lord argued that individuals in an area should have a right to object to the setting up of a joint board. As I have said, this is, in our view, a mechanical decision about haw the functions of authorities should be exercised. There is no need for individuals to become involved in such a decision. It should be emphasised that a joint board set up under Clause 2 would not be any less answerable to the local electorate than a local authority. Subsection (3) provides that all the members are to be appointed by the constituent authorities and the board will remain responsible to the local electorate through those authorities. I hesitate to emphasise to the noble Lord, with his background in these matters, that it is all the members of the joint board under this clause who will be elected members of local authorities. I hope I have said enough to the noble Lord to induce him to withdraw the Amendment.


I am afraid the noble Lord has said enough to make me think that he has not seen the point at all. What is the relevance of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, which has to do with planning, to the function we are talking about, which has to do with land acquisition? It is an entirely different matter. If you want to refer to a previous Act, you must go to the Local Government Act, and when I come to say some more about this Bill on Clause 2 that is exactly what I shall be doing. If the noble Lord will follow me then, he will see that reference to the general provisions for co-operative arrangements between local authorities, and particularly the use of orders by the Secretary of State, does require provision for citizens concerned to object. I am afraid that answer confirms our worst suspicions: namely, that in making the provisions that are in the Bill the Government have a great deal of regard to the powers of the Secretary of State and how he is to exercise them, some, but much too little, regard to the powers of the local authorities, and no regard at all to the communities after whom the Bill is named. I shall return to this in a moment when we deal with the whole clause. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

Before calling Amendment No. 8A, I should explain that if it is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 9.

6.5 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 8A: Page 3, leave out lines 27 to 29.

The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friend, 1 should like to move Amendment No. 8A, and I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee if we discuss Amendment No. 9 at the same time. We on this side of the Committee regard this as a very important Amendment. It is important because I think it should identify exactly what the Government have in mind in this subsection (5)(b) and what kind of purpose they expect it to be put to. When this Bill was first published, and indeed at intervals since its publication there was a great deal of criticism of it on two main constitutional grounds, the first one being that so much is left to be dealt with by regulations which we have not yet seen—a point, of course, to which we shall be returning when we discuss Clause 3 particularly—and, secondly, that so much has been left to the discretion of the Secretary of State.

Nothing illustrates better that second criticism than subsection (5)(b), in which the Secretary of State: … may adapt or modify any of the provisions of this Act or of any other enactment concerning the acquisition of land. I am, of course, well aware that there are instances precedented in which it is necessary to make provision for the Secretary of State to modify an Act in order in a subsequent Act to make the powers in the previous Act apply to the subsequent legislation. Therefore, there are reasons why it might well be necessary to include the first part of (b), and I can see why that would be necessary. But I find it very difficult to see why the second sentence of subsection (5)(b) is necessary at all. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, whether he can give some examples of what kind of future proposals the Government have in mind when this subsection might be invoked, so that we could see what it is they want to do.

As it stands, it would appear, that this subsection could remove the jurisdiction of Parliament as it empowers the Secretary of State to make an order adapting or modifying any of the provisions of this Act or any other enactment concerning the acquisition of land. The order would be subject to annulment only by Parliament if any of the authorities concerned had not consented to the making of this order. Therefore, so far as Parliament is concerned, or so far as individuals are concerned, the order could be made and there would be no right of objection or discussion. It seems to us on this side a very important matter of principle. It is a quite extraordinary power. I hope that the Government will be able to offer examples of how they expect it to be used and why they think it should be necessary in this Bill, because unless we have a satisfactory explanation we shall find this very difficult to accept. I beg to move.


I wonder whether I could add a word to what my noble friend has said. It is, of course, very important that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, should give us some instances of the powers he would expect to be modified or adapted by an order made under this heading in the subsection. What I think we would also like to know is what the Department see as the limits of the jurisdiction. This is really a matter of legal powers. If you draft a subsection in the way in which it has been drafted, you attach a certain implicit restriction by its phraseology. If you say, "and in particular", the purpose, as I understand it, must be such as really falls within the first two lines of the subsection. But what sort of limitation does the Department see being placed upon such orders. If the noble Lord could give us, as it were, the ring fence in which we shall be operating if any orders under this paragraph are made, I think it would do a great deal to clarify it; we shall be able to see what the powers are which the Government are seeking to arrogate to themselves.


This subsection has given great cause for alarm to my noble friends, because even if the noble Lord can give a ring fence, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, suggested, it still leaves it open merely to set up a joint board to change completely the whole legislation. That obviously must not be the Government's intention. Can we have an explanation?

The Earl of BALFOUR

Could I say a few words, partly speaking to Amendment No. 9 which has been coupled with this one. I should like to show your Lordships exactly what is being said here: An order under this section may adapt or modify any of the provisions of this Act or of any other enactment concerning the acquisition of land". I tried to see whether I could improve this drafting, which is far too wide, and really gives a joint board very much wider powers in the field of anything to do with the acquisition of land than the authorities that make up that board. I will quote briefly from what the right honourable gentleman Mr. Oakes said in another place in reply to Mr. Clegg. He said: all the Amendments as drafted … and I suspect that mine comes into the same category— … would be unacceptable. … Our aim in giving these powers to joint boards was to achieve considerable flexibility because of the wide-ranging and different kinds of things that different boards might be required to do."—(Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee G, 20/5/75, Col. 193.) He goes on in the same column: However, the hon. Gentleman has convinced me that, although we should not delete subsection (5)(b), the powers within this subsection give a joint board powers considerably greater than those of a constituent authority, and that cannot be right. Although we cannot accept the wording of the amendments, I give an undertaking to the Committee that we shall consider the matter. As nothing happened at Report stage in another place and nothing here yet, if my noble friend decides to go to the Division Lobbies to leave out paragraph (b) I shall support him wholeheartedly.


I am sorry to have to correct the noble Earl, but he is not right in what he just said, and I hope he will withdraw it because he has misled the Committee. An Amendment was brought forward by the Government at Report stage in another place, and I will spell out in some detail what happened there because the noble Earl has it completely wrong. What happened was that the Bill was introduced providing power for an order under Clause 2 to adapt or modify legislation, as the noble Earl said. This was the subject of a debate in Committee, and he read out an extract of what my honourable friend said in that debate. The Government undertook to consider the point further after the Committee stage. At the Report stage in another place the Opposition again put down their Amendment, but the Government brought forward an Amendment of their own which had the effect of limiting the exercise of the power to modify legislation by providing that provisions included in an order by virtue of subsection (5) must be "incidental, consequential, transitional or supplementary".

The noble Baroness read out the provisions of paragraph (b) twice without referring back to these vitally important two lines which her noble friend Lord Colville said must govern the application of paragraph (b). I am sure that the noble Baroness did not intend to mislead anybody by doing this, but she did mislead her noble friend Lord Balfour, who proceeded to read the same thing again without these vital first two qualifying lines. I should like to stress the importance of these two lines and the fact that they were introduced at the Report stage in another place, and welcomed by Mr. Rossi in extremely generous terms. He gratefully accepted the Amendment and acknowledged that the Government had met the Opposition objection to the clause, and I am frankly surprised at the somewhat extravagant language used by noble Lords opposite in view of that full and generous acceptance of what the Government have done to meet some real doubts raised at the Committee stage.

I have been asked to give some indication of how we see this working, and I am certainly happy to do that. As my honourable friend explained at Commons Report stage, there needs to be provision for the modification of other legislation because the Bill does not include any new powers for local authorities to manage or dispose of land. Land which they acquire under the Bill will be managed and disposed of by virtue of the general powers in the Local Government Act. Any joint board would need power to manage and dispose of land, and it might therefore be necessary to modify the 1972 Act.

Beyond this general point, the extent to which the power in subsection (5)(b) would need to be used would depend on the precise functions and the role of a joint board. In some areas the local authorities might want a board to take on the whole function of making land available for private development. In another area the local authorities might want to continue to operate their Housing and Planning Act powers while leaving the major job of handling land for private development to the joint board. Another possibility would be for land acquisition to be handled by authorities, and for the joint board to be responsible only for management and disposal. It was to provide this sort of flexibility that Clause 2(1) was drafted in terms of "all or any" for the purposes of the Bill.

The noble Baroness asked me for an example of how we see this working. I shall attempt to give her one. It would be essential for an order setting up a board which was going to be the main acquiring authority for the land scheme to modify the present scheme. If local authorities handed all their functions over to a board they would no longer be "authorities" for the purposes of the Bill, because they would have handed all their functions over to a joint board. They would thus not be able to dispose of land with the right to carry out development under Clause 21(3). Clause 21(9) might need modification so as to give the local authorities in the area of the joint board the same treatment as local authorities in Wales. Similarly, the Bill might need modifying to ensure that the joint board received copies of planning applications, as the Land Authority for Wales will do.

May I end by making a general point about this clause; that is, what kind of orders we are talking about in any event. These are orders which the Secretary of State shall not make unless all the authorities who are concerned agree, and this is in subsection (2) of the clause. Either we have to have the agreement of all the local authorities who are involved—and after all it is their powers which are affected—or alternatively there has to be what I understand is one of the main planks of the Opposition's objection to this Bill, a public inquiry. If there is a public inquiry held, whatever the Secretary of State then does has to be brought before Parliament. I should have thought that in this clause the Government are being as open and as generous in going to public participation and inquiries as could possibly be expected in view of what is actually being done, which is setting up joint boards with the agreement of the local authorities concerned.


May I ask the noble Lord whether he is quite sure that he is right on one small point before my noble friend answers? Is not the position that unless all the local authorities agree the Secretary of State has to hold an inquiry, but the joint board can be set up without the agreement of all the local authorities?


Yes, it can after an inquiry, as I said; and once a Resolution has been taken, subject to annulment in both Houses of Parliament.

The Earl of BALFOUR

May I just raise one more point? I am grateful for what has been said so far. Subsection (5) says: An order under this section may make … supplementary provision as appears to the Secretary of State to be necessary …and, in particular— (b) may adapt or modify any of the provisions of this Act or of any other enactment concerning the acquisition of land I am concerned with "supplementary provision" as much as anything else. I feel that that is extending the powers here beyond what a single local authority might be able to do in the acquisition of land.


Perhaps I can reassure the noble Earl that, as I understand it, a modification to an enactment to give greater powers to a board than its constituent authorities would not in fact be consequential, supplementary and so on. The main purpose of this is not to give powers to the board but to preserve the position of the constituent local authorities.

Viscount GAGE

Could the noble Lord say where in this Bill there appear the limiting words which pleased Mr. Rossi?


They appear on page 3, lines 19 and 20.

Baroness YOUNG

I am grateful for the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and in any observations we make we are of course grateful for many of the Amendments which have been made as the Bill has proceeded through Parliament, certainly on the recommendation of my noble friends in another place, and this is one Amendment which has arisen as a result of extensive debate there. I am not altogether satisfied with the explanation that has been given, because it still remains stated in very general terms and it does not seem to me that we know precisely the circumstances in which this could be used. We are being asked to decide an issue without really understanding all the circumstances in which it could be used and we are, therefore, justified in the criticisms

we have made of it, in that we are being asked to accept part of this Bill without knowing fully the kind of commitments into which we are entering. At this stage, I do not feel inclined to withdraw my Amendment.

6.21 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 8A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 111; Not-Contents, 67.

Aberdare, L. Ferrier, L. O'Hagan, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gage, V. Onslow, E.
Alport, L. Gainford, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Atholl, D. Garner, L. Penrhyn, L.
Balfour, E. Glasgow, E. Pike, B.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Glendevon, L. Rankeillour, L.
Belstead, L. Grenfell, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Berkeley, B. Gridley, L. Redesdale, L.
Blake, L. Hanworth, V. Rhyl, L.
Bradford, E. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Ridley, V.
Brecon, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Robertson of Oakridge, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hawke, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Caccia, L. Hertford, M. St. Aldwyn, E.
Camoys, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. St. Davids, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Salisbury, M.
Carrington, L. Inglewood, L. Sandford, L.
Cathcart, E. Killearn, L. Sandys, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Kilmany, L. Savile, L.
Clitheroe, L. Kinnard, L. Sherfield, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Long, V. Slim, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Loudoun, C. Somers, L.
Cornwallis, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Stamp, L.
Cottesloe, L. Lyell, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Cowley, E. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Strathclyde, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mancroft, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Daventry, V. Mansfield, E.
De L'Isle, V. Margadale, L. Strathspey, L.
Denham, L. Merrivale, L, Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Digby, L. Mersey, V. Sudeley, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Middleton, L. Swansea, L.
Dundee, E. Monck, V. Tenby, V.
Ebbisham, L. Monson, L. Vickers, B.
Ellenborough, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Vivian, L.
Elles, B. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Netherthorpe, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Elton, L. [Teller.] Newall, L. Windlesham, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Northchurch, B. Young, B.
Ferrers, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Amulree, L. Cudlipp, L. Hoy, L.
Arwyn, L. Darwen, L. Jacques, L. [Teller.]
Balogh, L. Douglass of Cleveland, L. Janner, L.
Banks, L. Elwyn-Jones, L. Kirkhill, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Feather, L. Leatherland, L.
Beswick, L. Foot, L. Lee of Newton, L.
Birk, B. Gaitskell, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blyton, L. Gardiner, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Brockway, L. Gordon-Walker, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Lyons of Brighton, L.
Champion, L. Hale, L. Maelor, L.
Collison, L. Hall, V. Mais, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Melchett, L.
Crook, L. Henley, L, Meston, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Morris of Kenwood, L. Segal, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Pannell, L. Shepherd, L. (Lord Privy Seal.) Taylor of Mansfield, L
Peddie, L. Shinwell, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Phillips, B. Slater, L. Walston, L.
Platt, L. Stedman, B. Wells-Pestell, L.
Raglan, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B. Wigoder, L.
Rhodes, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.] Winterbottom, L.
Rusholme, L.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

6.30 p.m.

Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS moved Amendment No. 10A: Page 3, line 32, leave out ("one") and insert ("three").

The noble Viscount said: I draw the attention of the Committee to subsection (7) of this clause. It sounded to me, listening just now to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, as though the Government did not have at present in contemplation urgent orders for the setting up of joint boards, which they are simply longing to bring into existence. I am a little surprised to see the necessity to put in subsection (7). It does not seem to me, unless there is great urgency and the Government feel that they should perhaps have a certain modesty and restraint in their actions—so that they leave a month between the passing of the measure and the bringing into force of an order setting up a joint board—that there is any necessity to have this subsection at all.

So the first thing I should like to ask is why we need the subsection. If we did not have the subsection, what difference would it make and why would it not be possible for the Government to bring into force at such time, if ever, as they wish to set up a joint board, the order doing so? Would they in any way be inconvenienced if we took this out? If they would, I am sure they will say so; but, in that case, would they please say why they wish to specify the period of a month? It seems indecent haste. I did not hear the noble Lord suggesting that they were going to have an order of this sort in a month, but perhaps they are. Perhaps there are recalcitrant local authorities which they wish to coerce by joining them together with others which are less unwilling to carry out the provisions of this Bill. Is that what they have in mind? At any rate, if either the noble Lord or the noble Baroness will explain this, I believe that we shall be greatly reinforced in our understanding, because none of the research that I have been able to do seems to suggest the necessity for having it at all and certainly not for having a period of one month. Perhaps three months would give sufficient time if we have to have a period specified at all. I beg to move.


The reason for having a period of one month is that a delay of one month after Royal Assent is frequently used in legislation. This is a standard period which is designed to allow time for the printing of the Act and for all those concerned to familiarise themselves with its provisions. There is, in our view, no logical reason for extending the period to three months in this particular case. Noble Lords opposite have made it very clear that they do not like the joint board provisions in Clause 2, though I confess that I cannot for the life of me understand why. However, if Mr. Rossi cannot convince noble Lords opposite that there is nothing to worry about, I am quite sure I cannot. But, if, Clause 2 is to stay in the Bill, there is really nothing to be said for making arbitrary amendments which would limit its usefulness, and I suggest to the noble Viscount that that is what his Amendment will do.

If there is a case for a joint board in any area—and this is a matter for the local authorities concerned and for the Secretary of State—it would clearly be desirable for the board to be set up as soon as possible, so that it can make the necessary preparations for beginning to operate the scheme when the first appointed day arrives, which will of course be fairly soon after the passing of the Bill. The Amendment would simply make those arrangements more difficult and protracted.


That will not do at all. The passing of this Bill will now happen within a few weeks, I assume, because I have no doubt that the Government will ensure that in the other place everything is whipped through. But the noble Lord says that, within a month of that, they might want to set up a joint board. What I want to know is, which one? Let us hear the details. We shall be delighted to know what are the arrangements that noble Lords opposite wish to incorporate in an order. The noble Lord says blithely that one month is the standard period to allow everybody to get used to and to understand the contents of a Bill after it has been printed. But what about the regulations under this Bill? There will be thousands of regulations under this Bill. They will not be printed in a month. They will not be available, let alone understood, within a month. Is the noble Lord really going to say that all the regulations—for instance, those under Clause 3 and all the other very important regulations without which the legislation will not work—will be available within a month of the passing of this Bill? If so, he can show us a draft of them now. They must be ready for printing as well. Will the noble Lord show us drafts of the regulations which are going to be made under Clause 3 if he wants to bring this power into force and be as flexible as all that? I hope that the noble Lord will think about this again and produce a more convincing answer.


Would the noble Viscount mind telling me something for a change? If two local authorities want to set up a joint board, why does the noble Viscount want to stop them for three months?


Precisely for the reason I have given. Within the period of a month after the Bill has been passed, I do not believe that half the subordinate legislation which will fall to be made under it will be available to anyone. It will not be there.


If I could interrupt the noble Viscount before he goes off into the question of regulations, which, if I may say so with great respect, has nothing to do with the clause, all local authorities in England will be operating the Bill. They will be preparing to operate it and getting their land acquisition and management schemes ready once the Bill becomes an Act. If, in one particular area, authorities want to set up a joint board, why does the noble Viscount want to stop them? It has nothing to do with the regulations and whether they are ready at all.


The noble Lord justified the period of one month by saying that that was the ordinary period of time within which, after the Act has been passed, it may be printed and its contents made known to and understood by the public. What I am saying is that that is a wholly unreasonable suggestion to make in relation to this Bill. It is perfectly true that those who have followed it may know what is in the Bill and that it may have been printed; but it will not in any way follow that they will know what are the real details of these schemes and, indeed, I venture to suggest that none of the regulations will be ready to be seen by the public.


But this has nothing to do with the regulations.


The noble Lord suggests that the period of one month is to enable members of the public and others concerned to know what is in the Bill. It has always been one of the complaints of everybody that there is virtually nothing in the Bill. It is all being done by subordinate legislation, by regulations and orders and things of that sort. A month after the passing of this Act nobody will be any the wiser than they are now, and I venture to suggest that they will still be relying on non-statutory explanation documents and upon things called "the scope of the Bill". Those are very helpful to Parliament, but they offer no sort of guidance to people in local authorities who are concerned with the arrangements, nor to the people who will be having to deal with joint boards, or people who are concerned with all sorts of aspects of this matter. The noble Lord really cannot say that it will be possible for anybody to understand this within a month after the Bill has passed. I suggest that we should extend this period so that at least we may get some basic details to be laid by different forms of subordinate legislation clear before us all before there is any question of a joint board being set up.

Baroness STEDMAN

I do not believe that my noble friend was saying that all the authorities would know all they should about the Bill within a month. What he was asking was, what objection is there if any two or more authorities want to get together before then and establish a joint board in order to operate the scheme? That would be perfectly proper and perfectly possible. All authorities are now looking at setting up their land management schemes and how they are to implement the Act when it gets on to the Statute Book, and no doubt some of them by this time have ideas as to whether they will work within their own county area or whether they want to co-operate with others and set up a joint board.


I entirely appreciate that but, with respect, I should have thought that even the most bold local authorities, before they make that decision finally, would like to see some of the subordinate legislation. In any event, I covered the possibility which the noble Baroness has just mentioned by inviting the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, to tell us which were the authorities for the purposes of whom one month had to be put into the Bill. Which are the ones which are urgently wanting to set up joint boards? Let us know, and then we shall know whether it is necessary to put this into the Bill.


With great respect, I think that this is making a great nonsense out of nothing. We are passsing an Act of Parliament—I am very grateful for the noble Viscount's assurance that it will be an Act of Parliament in a few weeks' time, and I am sure that my right honourable friend will be much relieved to have that assurance from him—which will be operated by local authorities throughout England. As my noble friend said, all of them—or at least a great many of them—are already preparing land acquisition and management schemes. Authorities are already working. The fact that there is much subordinate legislation to be produced in future is not affecting, that work, which is already going on. If the noble Viscount wants an example, I can say that it is possible that the docklands area in London will be one instance of where a joint board would need to be set up fairly quickly once the Bill becomes an Act. But this is a matter for the local authorities, not for me or for the Secretary of State. Our intention is that if the local authorities come to the Secretary of State and say that they want to operate by way of a joint board, then they should be able to do so, if they are all agreed about it. It is not for me to say that there will be a joint board in this or that area. But the local authorities will be getting down to operating the Act, after it is passed.

So far as I can see, the noble Viscount is saying that in cases where local authorities themselves want to act jointly with a joint board they should be delayed; all the other local authorities in the country can get on with the job, and indeed are getting on with the job. But for some mysterious reason if they want to operate jointly—and it is up to them—there has to be a mysterious delay for three months. I really cannot see any justification whatsoever for that.


Has not the noble Viscount got himself into an impossibly illogical position? He started by saying that there was no need for this clause. In other words, he is saying that there is no need for any delay to be imposed in bringing a joint board into effect, but that if there is to be delay let it not be for a month, but for three months. One would have thought that the argument would be that the period was too long and thus perhaps it should be shortened, to bring it down to, say, a fortnight. But the noble Viscount says, No, there is no need for any delay at all, but if there is to be delay let us have a lot of it.


I can answer that point with the greatest of ease. I suggested that there was no necessity for it because what it provides would probably have the effect in law if there were no such subsection. However, my suspicions are aroused that there is some specific need for it, which has caused it to be put in, because there is some great rush in setting up a certain joint board. I am interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said. He kindly gave me an example of this. I will leave him with a very serious thought on this matter. An order under this provision, as we have just been discussing, may call for various consequential rearrangements of powers. I do not in any way suggest that there is anything wrong with that. But the noble Lord must remember that citizens—not just local authorities—will be involved in this, and people will want to know with whom they are to deal, and upon what terms. They will want to know which are the functions that are being exercised by a joint board, or by the old local authority—a district council, a county council, or whatever it may be; and they will want to know what modifications, if any, there are.

They will need to know these things because the land acquisition and management schemes will have an effect upon every individual who wishes to deal and transact in land. I do not think it unreasonable that they should be given a fairly good opportunity to understand this and to be able to see how it affects them. I hope that in view of what the noble Lord said there will be no orders made within a month of the passing of this Bill. But if there are, and if they are not brought before Parliament, I hope that they will be printed as Statutory Instruments so that at least people can obtain them. I also hope that the noble Lord will see that the terms of the order are made widely available in the locality where the joint board, if any, is being set up. It will be necessary for people to understand how this will work, and they will not necessarily have any easy access to the information unless it is made available locally. I believe that if the noble Lord thinks upon this matter he will see that it is one not just for the local authorities but for the citizens as well in the area concerned. The noble Lord really ought to take some account of that.


I accept that that is a serious point, but no noble Lord opposite has raised it before in any debate on this clause. It is the first serious point raised on this clause, and I shall certainly consider it.


Will the noble Lord do more than consider it? Will he see whether something can be done about it? I am sure that the noble Lord will consider it, because he is very courteous and always considers everything that we say. But very often he does absolutely nothing about it. Will he ensure that on this occasion he does something about it?


I will consider it and then decide whether or not anything should be done about it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

6.47 p.m.


I want now to make two points, looking at this clause as a whole. First, I take exception to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, saying that nobody had yet raised the question of the citizen's interest in all this. This was the very point that I made on my Amendment relating to Clause 8. But if I have to speak with more emphasis than I then did in order to register a point with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, we may take rather longer than I had hoped. But I am not talking about that now. I want to talk about the general question of joint boards. The noble Lord remarked, in answer just now to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, that if local authorities find it necessary to have joint working arrangements, why do they not get on and set them up? Indeed, that is the main burden of my argument. There is provision in the Local Government Act, at Sections 101, 102, 103, and elsewhere, for many joint working arrangements between local authorities, involving joint committees, sharing staff, agency arrangements between local authorities, and sharing of costs and so on.

Therefore the first question is: what is there about all this which makes it necessary for the Secretary of State to take powers to interfere in the co-operative arrangements of the local authorities? My belief is that they have enough powers; they can get on with them. They will be involved in establishing the land acquisition and management schemes, and I need to be convinced that there is any need for the Secretary of State to have power to intervene at all. That is my first point.

My second point is this. If there are circumstances in which it is necessary for him to intervene in order to establish proper joint working arrangements between local authorities, surely it ought to be at their initiative. This does not square at all with the terms of subsection (1), which starts off roundly with the phrase, If it appears to the Secretary of State expedient that a joint board should be established.… If it is the wish of the Government that these boards should be established only on the initiative of a majority of the localauthorities—and I believe that that probably is the case—then why on earth is it not in the Bill? I really see no reason why the clause should not be rephrased to make that clear. It would be far less offensive to local authorities if that were so.

My third question for the noble Lord is this. If he can say that the existing standard arrangements in the Local Government Act for joint working are unsatisfactory, and that therefore we have to have joint hoards, and that even though we might amend the clause so that the initiative for the setting up of one should come from the local authorities, then I should agree with him that an order is necessary to establish them. But if an order is necessary, why are not the standard procedures that are normally involved with provisional orders, and which are laid out in Section 240 of the Local Government Act, not adhered to in this case? The standard arrangements provide that a provisional order has to be advertised—there is no advertisement provision here—and that if there is any objection by individual citizens (and I stress, once again, that that was the very point I was making, and I am glad to know that the noble Lord agrees that it is important) that should be sufficient to cause a public local inquiry to be held.

Then there should be provision, as there is now, for the order to be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution of either House of Parliament. Even that factor was not in the Bill when originally drafted. Perhaps the noble Lord could deal with those points before we decide whether Clause 2 is to form part of the Bill.

Viscount RIDLEY

I wonder whether I could say a little about this clause, having had some experience of joint boards in the field of local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that there is nothing to worry about because the members of the joint boards would be appointed entirely by the local authorities and therefore democracy was entirely enshrined and secure. I would put it to your Lordships' Committee that this is by no means the case. Very often the greater absorbs the lesser in a joint board, and a member of an authority, once he becomes a member of a joint board, ceases to have a direct relationship to his electorate. This one remove is absolutely important in the operation of these sort of things, and I am therefore not in favour of a joint board situation. However, I can see that it could happen. The question I should like to ask the noble Lord. Lord Melchett, is: Is there anything in this (because I am still not clear from what has been said so far tonight) as to whether or not any authority could be compulsorily amalgamated with another authority? Because, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, this has tremendous political overtones, and if it were possible then I believe it would be totally wrong.


The Government's general approach to the operation of the land scheme is that there should be maximum flexibility for local authorities to determine the arrangements which best suit their situation. Normally, this will be resolved within each county through the land acquisition and management schemes to be prepared under Clause 16 of the Bill. We know from our consultations with local authorities that some are considering setting up joint committees using their existing powers to do so, which the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, spelt out in some detail. Normally, we would think that the setting up of a joint committee is as far as authorities will wish to go. But we deliberately intend to allow authorities the option to go further if they wish, so that they can put these joint arrangements on a formal statutory basis by setting up a joint board; and I mentioned the one instance, of which we know, of the London docklands, where serious thought is being given by all the authorities involved to setting up a joint board, and I should have thought that this was an area which was ideally suited to the operations of a joint board if one is set up. The power should also be Available, in particular, to deal with a situation in which there is a need for joint action across the county boundary: for example, for a major growth area which straddles two counties. Clause 2 may therefore serve a useful purpose in certain circumstances, and it should in our view be retained in the Bill.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sand ford, said, the ability to set up a joint board is a well-established feature of local government law. The provisions of Clause 2 basically follow those of Section 1 and Schedule 1 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. It may be said that the clause gives the Secretary of State the power to decide whether or not to set up a joint board, and that one could be set up in the teeth of opposition from the authorities involved. That is, of course, equally a feature of the 1971 Town and Country Planning Act, the provisions of which go back to the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. I hope that noble Lords opposite, and particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who has great experience in these matters, will accept that that Act has not in practice worked so that joint boards have been set up in the teeth of opposition from the local authorities involved. Indeed, when we come to the clause in this Bill, at the Committee stage in another place my right honourable friend gave a firm assurance on the use of the clause (Hansard of the 13th May at col. 102) when he said: As with the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, our aim is not to foist joint boards on local authorities. We cannot use our powers without their views being known, and generally the local authorities would themselves be the ones to press for joint boards. But if we did not have this right, I hope the Committee will consider how inflexible it would all be … if one small authority could upset that, it would upset the whole planning and the whole basis not only of this Bill but of the 1971 Act. To answer the noble Viscount, it is the case with this clause, as it is with the 1971 Act, that a joint board can be set up overriding the wishes of one, or it may be more than one, of the constituent authorities of the board, but only after a public inquiry and only after the order has been the subject of the Negative Resolution procedures in both Houses of Parliament. It would be very unsatisfactory, of course, to set up a joint board in the teeth of opposition from a local authority, and I hope the noble Viscount will accept that in practice this is not how similar powers in the 1971 Act have worked, that an assurance has been given by my right honourable friend that the powers will he operated in the same way, but that it is necessary to have the reserve powers so that one local authority cannot completely wreck the attempts by all the rest of the local authorities in that area to set up a joint board.

Viscount RIDLEY

I thought the noble Lord's Party believed in democracy. I now see that it is otherwise.


If the majority of the local authorities in an area want a joint board, that is a perfect example of democracy in action, I should have thought. An absolute assurance can be given that the Government do not intend to set up a joint board except where the authorities in an area, or at least a majority of them, want it. I hope that that answers the noble Viscount's question about democracy. As I have said, if any authority objects there must be a public inquiry, and the order will be subject to scrutiny by Parliament.


That does not answer the point at all. The noble Lord has now said that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State agrees that it would be unthinkable for him to establish a joint board without the request having come in the first case from the majority of the local authorities concerned. If that is so, why on earth can we not redraft Clause 2(1) so that it reads, for example: If, following representations from the local authorities concerned, it appears to the Secretary of State expedient that …"? What possible harm would that do? What it would do, beneficially, is remove suspicions, which I must say have not been dispelled, that this power is here for the Secretary of State to impose his will on local authorities whether or not they like it and whether or not they ask for it. What possible harm could be done by an Amendment of that kind? I do not ask the noble Lord to accept an Amendment while he is on his feet—that would be very rash and unwise, and I have not drafted one in that sense—but I hope he will say now that in the light of what he has himself said and of what I have just pointed out to him he will consider an Amendment on those lines. It could not possibly do any harm, and it would do a great deal of good by removing these suspicions.

The noble Lord has not answered one little bit the question I raised about an objection from individual members of the electorate. The normal provision in the case of orders by the Secretary of State is that a public local inquiry should be held, unless there is no objection from any of the people affected. This is the Community Land Bill. It is not being enacted for the benefit of the Secretary of State or of the local authorities, but for the individuals who make up the community. I cannot for the life of me see why the normal procedure should not be followed. I do not set so much store by the first point, but if it is the Secretary of State's intention to exercise these powers only when a request for that exercise comes from the local authorities concerned, because they have found for some reason or another that the joint working arrangements provided for in the Local Government Act are not sufficient, then for heaven's sake let us say so in the Bill.


I omitted to say when I was on my feet earlier that I did not agree with the noble Lord when he said that he and his noble friend Lord Ridley were both speaking about the same point, so far as individuals are concerned. The noble Lord, as I understood it, wanted individuals to have the right to object when an order was being made; the noble Viscount raised the point with me as regards individuals having the information about what order had been made. It seemed to me that these were quite different points, and I said that the noble Viscount had raised a new point when I thought he had. The noble Lord took strong objection to that, but I hope that having explained what I said he will see that I was right.

The noble Lord has now raised another point, if I may say so, not one that has been raised in the debates on any of the Amendments so far, and that is that the Secretary of State should wait until authorities approach him, as I understand it, before considering setting up a joint board. This is certainly, as I have said, our intention. It is not our intention to foist these boards on local authorities, and this is something which I would be prepared to consider. I would point out to the noble Lord that it was not found necessary to write this into the 1971 Act, that joint planning boards are very important and that they affect people's lives. I am sure that people living in the Peak District, if they were told that this is something which is not as important as the joint boards being set up under this Act, might well disagree. They find the planning restrictions imposed on them very onerous. It was not found necessary to write it into the 1971 Act. However, we are always open to sensible suggestions, and I will take it away and consider it.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.


It may be for the convenience of the Committee that we break here for45 minutes—that is, until 7.45 p.m.—to take other business. I therefore beg to move that this House do now resume.

House resumed.

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