HL Deb 28 October 1975 vol 365 cc172-232

4.3 p.m.

House again in Committee on Amendment No. 98.

Viscount RIDLEY

I want to say a brief word in support of Amendment No. 98, moved by my noble friend Lord Sandford. I did not say anything when the noble Lord, Lord Henley, moved his Amendment earlier, and it seems to me that both the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said much the same thing. This is interesting to me, because it seems to be the first time we have had the Liberal Party taking part in this Committee stage—or perhaps should say supporting this Committee stage.


I must interrupt the noble Viscount. My noble friend Lord Foot has spoken every day in this Committee, I will not say at inordinate length but at very great length.

Viscount RIDLEY

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Foot. I had no intention to detract from his important speeches. What I am saying is that it is the first time the Liberal Party have shown their hand on this matter, and I am glad to see that Members who have so far been conspicuous by their absence at least agree with some of the Amendments moved from these Benches. To return to the subject of the Amendment, I hope we can have some serious consideration of it. Obviously, proper planning is terribly important; and in turning it round the way my noble friend Lord Sandford has I hope that we shall show that this Bill is not concerned purely with bringing land into public ownership but is doing some good to the community which it is meant to serve.


If noble Lords opposite are not criticising my noble friends behind me for keeping quiet they are criticising the noble Lords on the Liberal Benches for not being here; and, if I may say so, I find both charges totally unjustified—particularly, if I may say so, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. I would remind him that the last Division on this Bill was won by noble Lords opposite by a mere six votes, and in view of their huge numerical superiority over my noble friends I think that reflects a completely contrary view to the one which he expressed about the support which my noble friends have given us throughout the Committee stage of the Bill.

To turn to the effect of Amendment No. 98, the Amendment would alter the basic structure of the general duty that will govern the operation of the land scheme. Once the full duty under Clause 18 is in full operation in an area, authorities in that area will have to acquire between them all the land needed for relevant development in their area. The initial general duty set out in Clause 17(1)(a) is designed to start authorities thinking in terms of this ultimate situation, and to provide a smooth transition to it from the present situation. The main point about the drafting of the general duty is that it states clearly the principle of the Bill that development land—that is, land needed for relevant development—should come into public ownership. When the Bill becomes law this will be a matter that has been decided by Parliament. It is the main principle underlying this Bill, and it should therefore come first in the statement of the general duty. I accept that noble Lords opposite are concerned about protecting the planning system, but this is fully achieved by the inclusion of Clause 17(1)(b) and the specific provisions about planning in subsection (2).

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, made some play with the fact that the Bill has been altered during its passage through Parliament. This is something for which we have been criticised before. I still find it impossible to understand why the Government should be criticised for listening to representations made to them by the professional planning bodies in this country, and for acting on their recommendations. When the Bill was published, we assumed—and we still feel—that the Bill made it quite clear that it would not interfere with the existing planning system. Indeed, whole chunks of the planning Acts, as we discovered yesterday, are imported into the Bill. However, it was put to us that this should be made explicit in the Bill rather than being left implicit, and we were happy to do that. I really do not think it is fair that we should then be criticised for altering the Bill during its passage through Parliament.

The land scheme is to be a tool of planning, not an attempt to overthrow the present planning system. That is why Clause 17(2) sets out the planning considerations to which every authority must have regard in considering whether land is development land. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, both the Royal Institute of Town Planning and the Town and Country Planning Association have declared their support for this part of the Bill in its amended form. Indeed, the Amendments were drafted in consultation with the Royal Institute of Town Planning. As I understand it, the Royal Institute and the Town and Country Planning Association are fully satisfied with these provisions in the Bill, and the position is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said it was, that they are merely happier than they were when the Bill was introduced. Unless the noble Lord has some further information to which the Government have not been made privy, I think he might reconsider those remarks.

So the fact that the scheme must operate within the planning framework is already made clear by the Bill as drafted. We feel that it is reasonable to draft subsection (1) in the way that it is at present in the Bill, because this is, after all, a Bill dealing with community land ownership and not with planning per se. Given that the two major professional planning bodies support the present provisions and accept that they provide the protection necessary to ensure that proper planning continues, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his Amendment.


I am afraid he will not. My criticism of noble Lords opposite was for forgetting to put planning into the Bill in the first case. I was at some pains on Second Reading to commend them for having thought of it halfway through the stages in another place. I should still like to commend them for their repentance in that respect. I should like to go on to make it clear that it is not our object now to protect the planning framework which is safely on the Statute Book in the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 1971, consolidated by us and introduced by them. I see no signs at all that that is insecure. What these Amendments are designed to do is to make that planning framework lead the acquisition powers in the Bill. In seeking to do that, I am doing no more than the Minister in this Government said should be the case. I have quoted his words before and I will repeat them. He said that the acquisition of development land must be planning led. That is all that these Amendments are seeking to do: to write into the Bill the object of the Bill in the terms that the Minister himself has used.

I do this because, like him, I find that acquisition cannot go on sensibly until the planning framework in any place is ready to lead it. Without a proper planning framework it is impossible to answer any of the basic questions: What is the relevant land development in a particular case? Which land is it important to acquire for relevant development and which land should be acquired first? It is impossible to answer any of those questions until the planning framework has been developed to that point; and, as I have just shown, the planning framework has not been developed to that point in a number of places. When it is developed it can be used to lead the acquisition process; but in order to ensure that that is so and that the Minister's objectives are achieved, I am quite sure that Clause 17(1)(b) needs to be modified in something like the way in which my Amendment would secure. Therefore I shall advise my noble friends to support me in pressing this Amendment. If the noble Lord would care to suggest, either now or later, some modification—for instance, of the word "then"—which would make the Amendment more acceptable to the Government, I should be happy to consider it before the Report stage. But, in the light of the reply so far. I intend to press Amendment No. 98.


If the fact that the two professional planning bodies in this country are satisfied with the Bill as it now is has no influence on the noble Lord opposite, I do not think that anything I can say will affect him. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know what would be the effect of Amendment No. 98. It would enable authorities which did not wish to implement the Bill to argue that public ownership of development land was not necessary to secure the proper planning of their area. In other words, authorities would be able to go on much as they have done in the past. The Government do not intend to allow authorities to proceed on the basis that they managed perfectly well in the past. The land scheme provides a new tool for planning, but it also establishes a new principle of public ownership of development land. When the Bill becomes law it is our intention that all authorities should have regard to the principle expressed in this Bill and agreed by Parliament. This Amendment strikes at the root of the Bill and I think it should be resisted.


Surely words could be found to cover both points! The thing at the moment which ought to be settled—and my noble friend made it crystal clear by quoting the words used by the Minister himself—is that it ought to be planning led. If the Government insist that the principle of public ownership must be adhered to whether or not the local authorities want it, then let them find the words to say both things. To say that this essential planning-led point should not be written into the Bill, when to me it is vital in order to make it clear that it shall be planning led, seems to indicate that the Government are refusing to tidy up their own legislation.


It is written in the Bill to the satisfaction of the Royal Institute of Town Planning and the Town and Country Planning Association; but, apparently, not to the satisfaction of noble Lords opposite.


My noble friend fails to convert the other side. I wonder whether I could try. I say this without any condescension at all and without any criticism of my noble friend who, if I may say so, does very well on the Front Bench. But this is not the time for compliments. The noble Lord opposite mentioned my name because I ventured to say in the course of a previous debate that the Government might have thought out some of the details before coming to the conclusion that they should acquire the land. That seemed to be quite logical at the time; but I think that this is a horse of another colour, if I may use the term "horse" in this connection.

I cannot imagine how a Government or a local authority would decide to acquire a piece of land without having some conception of what they were going to do with it. It is obvious to me, and logical. I cannot imagine a local authority deciding to acquire a piece of land, perhaps having a public inquiry about it or being forced to have one at great expense, having to resist the protection protestations of a great variety of objectors and all the rest of the paraphernalia associated with this operation, without having some idea of what they propose to do with the land. Perhaps they want to use it for industrial purposes or for housing accommodation, or recreation purposes or what have you.

Surely that must have occurred to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is a person of acute intelligence. Therefore, he must have had that idea in his mind. In those circumstances is it necessary to force the Government to introduce into the Bill something which is obvious? It is there; it is part of the Bill; it cannot be made an exception; it cannot be excluded from it. It is the whole purpose of the Bill to acquire for a purpose. If the noble Lord opposite is asking that every detail of the purpose should be stated in the legislation, that is asking too much. I am sure that he is not asking for as much as that. It seems to me in a matter of this sort that there is no point in pressing this at all; for what the noble Lord opposite wants is bound to happen eventually.


Neither the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, nor this Amendment, nor the answer to it from the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, go to the root of what I am worried about. It is not that what we are doing here is this planning lead; it is that what we are doing is subordinating planning to it. Nothing that has been said shakes me in my belief. Naturally anything that the two principal bodies connected with town planning say has great weight with me; but I am still worried that they do not seem to have taken up this point: namely, that what we are doing here is subordinating planning to something other than planning.


Is there not possibly room for a compromise which would be satisfactory to all parties? I suggest that a compromise solution might be found simply by putting (b) where (a) is and (a) where (b) is. Clause 17(1) would then have the same meaning. It would meet the wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in that it would put planning matters in the front, and it would, as I see it, meet any objections that the Government may have to the Amendment because it would be adopting the words which the Institute apparently have advised are satisfactory and we should be merely reversing the order. It is a pity that we should need to divide upon this matter because the Government will not give any indication of a willingness to give way at all. If the Government take that stance I am afraid I will have to go into the Division Lobby with the Tories.


I have said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and I say it now in response to the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that some modification of the rather curt "then" in my Amendment is something I should be happy to consider between this stage and Report. I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, says about the RTPI and the TCPA. I am delighted they are satisfied so far. Unless we carry this Amendment, I am not satisfied that we have succeeded in importing into the Bill the intentions of the Secretaryof State. There is no question of seeking to wreck the Bill at this point. We are trying to make the Bill reflect the views of the Minister who took it through the other place. He expressed himself in the clearest possible terms at Report stage in another place. The Amendment I believe does that; as it stands at the moment, the Bill does not do it. For that reason, I want to press Amendment No. 98 to a Division.

4.22 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (N0.98) shall be agreed to?

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 128; Not-Contents,59.

Aberdare, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Mowbray and Stourton. L. [Teller.]
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Erroll of Hale, L.
Airedale, L. Exeter, M. Norwich, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Ferrers, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Allerton, L. Foot, L. Ogmore, L.
Amherst, E. Fortescue, E. O'Hagan, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Onslow, E.
Amory, V. Gage, V. Powis, E.
Arbuthnott, V. Gladwyn, L. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Ashbourne, L. Gowrie, E. Reigate, L.
Balfour, E. Grenfell, L. Ridley, V.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Gridley, L. Roberthall, L.
Balniel, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Barrington, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sackville, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Belstead, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. St. Davids, V.,
Berkeley, B. Harvington, L. St. Helens, L.
Bessborough, E. Hawke, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Braye, L. Hayter, L. Sandford, L.
Brock, L. Henley, L. Sandys, L.
Byers, L. Hereford, V. Savile, L.
Camoys, L. Hives, L. Selkirk, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Sempill, Ly.
Carrington, L Hornsby-Smith, B. Sherfield, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Simon, V.
Clwyd, L. Iddesleigh, E. Stamp, L.
Coleraine, L. Ironside, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Cowley, E. Kindersley, L. Strathclyde, L.
Cromartie. E. Kinloss, Ly. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Daventry, V. Kinnoull, E.
Davidson, V. Lauderdale, E. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
de Clifford, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Strathspey, L.
de Freyne, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Denbigh, E. Long, V. Swaythling, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Loudoun, C. Tenby, V.
Derwent, L. Luke, L. Thomas, L.
Digby, L. Lyell, L. Vernon, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Vickers, B.
Drumalbyn, L. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Vivian, L.
Ebbisham, L. Mancroft, L. Wade, L.
Eccles, V. Merrivale, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L
Effingham, E. Middleton, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Monck, V. Wigoder, L.
Elton, L. Young, B.
Ardwick, L. Geddes of Epsom, L. Paget of Northampton, L
Bacon, B. Gordon-Walker, L. Pargiter, L.
Balogh, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Platt, L.
Birk, B. Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Raglan, L.
Blyton, L. Hale, L. Rhodes, L.
Brockway, L. Halsbury, E. Sainsbury, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Harris of Greenwich, L. Shinwell, L.
Burntwood, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Slater, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Hoy, L. Southwark, Bp.
Castle, L. Jacques, L. [Teller.] Stedman, B.
Champion, L. Janner, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Chorley, L. Leatherland, L. Stow Hill, L.
Crook, L. Lee of Newton, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Crowther-Hunt, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Summerskill, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. McLeavy, L. Winterbottom, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Maelor, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Maybray-King, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Gardiner, L. Melchett, L.

4.32 p.m.

Earl FERRERS moved Amendment No. 101A: Page 17, line 3, leave out ("so far as material").

The noble Earl said: We cannot see what is the use of the words "so far as material", because if one reads the clause it says: In exercising their functions on or after the first appointed day every authority shall have regard to… It then refers to various things in Clause 1. Subsection (2) then says: in considering whether any land is development land, an authority shall have regard to…the provisions of the development plan… Presumably the development plan provisions must be material. We cannot see the point of having these words in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness BIRK

It is necessary to have these words in the Bill and therefore I must resist the Amendment. By removing the words "so far as material" authorities would be required to have regard to the provisions of the development plan even when they were irrelevant. In fact, subsection 2(a) simply follows the general provisions of Section 29(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act which set out the factors that authorities have to consider in determining planning applications. This requires a planning authority, when dealing with a planning application, to have regard to the provisions of the development plan, so far as material. There is no justification for departing from this precedent, which recognises the fact that development plans cannot foresee all likely trends in development, and that there may be cases where a change in circumstances (for example, the exploitation of North Sea oil) means that the development plan is no help at all in considering a specific development proposal.


I wonder whether the noble Baroness, or preferably the noble Lord who sometimes sits on the Woolsack, could tell me what is the force in Statute of the words "shall have regard to". As a mere layman, I would interpret them to mean that the matter would have to he looked at provided only it was relevant to the case in point. Perhaps I may be enlightened on that point.


I do not know whether or not there was an implied taunt in the observation that I sometimes sit on the Woolsack—I do not think there was—but, "have regard to "means to have regard to, to consider it, to give due weight to, to bear in mind all those processes of the working of the judicial mind. They will have to be applied to considering what is indicated in the provision in the clause to be matter to which the court should have regard. Whether those words give any assistance to the noble Lord, I do not know, but they highlight the fact that the court will take this fully and seriously into account.


I am sure those words of the noble and learned Lord are very material and I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for her explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord SANDYS moved Amendment No. 102A:

Page 17, line 10, at end insert— ( ) In considering whether any agricultural land is development land an authority shall—

  1. (i) have regard to the need to conserve productive agricultural land, to the needs of agriculture and to the economic interests of rural areas;
  2. (ii) consult with the Ministry of Agriculture before proceeding with any acquisition of agricultural land;
  3. (iii) seek to make the best use of derelict land, committed development land and other land available for development which is already in local authority ownership in the area concerned.").

The noble Lord said: We consider this Amendment to be of material interest to the whole process of the operation of Clause 17, the general duties of authorities. Particular stress in this Amendment is laid upon the need for conservation of productive agricultural land in part (i), in part (ii), consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture before proceeding with the acquisition of any agricultural land, and in (iii), to seek to make the best use of derelict land, committed development land and other land available for development which is already in local authority ownership in the area concerned.

I should like to refer to the proceedings of Standing Committee G in another place on 26th June and to the Ministerial reply, made in this case by Mr. Harry Ewing, at column 1829, because this materially affects our argument here. This is what he said: It is the clear intention in respect of agricultural land, which we hold to be very important, that not only will advice be given to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but it will be given in consultation with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as well. As I have said so often in this debate, it is important to continue to use farming agricultural land as such until the need is there for development. We regard that as of prime importance, and we shall ensure that there are no slip-ups on this issue. It is reassuring to have that statement made by a Minister in Standing Committee G. Nevertheless, so far as the Bill is concerned the only reassurance is that it does appear half-way down Schedule 6. We do not consider that one entry relating to agricultural land and its use—despite the Ministerial assurance given, which I have read out word for word—is sufficient, because when all is said and done the words set out in the Bill are those which count.

I should like particularly to stress the role of derelict land, which is referred to here. I have searched all the way through the Bill—I hope with some diligence, though perhaps with not quite the same diligence as my noble friend Lord Balfour—but have not been able to find a use of the term "derelict land". This is possibly because the phrase does not occur in the Statute. There is no definition, but there is a valuable circular which I understand was issued by the Department of the Environment in May last, which sets out the different categories of derelict land. I shall state only in very general terms what these are; but since the area of land is so large, particularly in England where we understand there are 106,883 acres of derelict and despoiled land, it is a very substantial factor in our considerations.

As we understand it, there are three different categories of derelict land. There are the spoil heaps and excavations, again split into different sub-categories of derelict, abandoned or disused, mineral spoil heaps and waste disposal; and then in another category altogether we have land justifying restoration and, in a third category, mineral working of an area not covered by restoration. This whole area of the land surface of the United Kingdom merits our attention and we commend to Her Majesty's Government, particularly in view of the fact that their policy has a range of grants of up to 85 per cent. in certain cases and up to 50 per cent in others for the restoration of derelict land, that this should be mentioned and dealt with satisfactorily in the Bill.

There is one other factor on derelict land which we have not considered to date. In the White Paper (Cmnd. 5730) one of the factors commended to its readers is the extremely important factor that land is a non-renewable resource. I do not consider this an accurate statement because where land falls out of use and becomes derelict it can surely be renewed and returned to good and valuable use through the expenditure of energy and effort, some of it commended by present Government policy and also the very substantial efforts made in the past by all Governments in this connection. Nevertheless, we feel that this Amendment would have direct benefit to both agricultural land and industrial derelict land as a whole for the community at large. I beg to move.


Despite all that has been said from the Government side both this week and last week to the contrary, there is a very real danger, indeed a probability, that in trying to exercise their powers, and then later to fulfil their duties under this Bill, local authorities will through their acquisition schemes make increased inroads into agricultural land. There is a danger, too, that they will tend to take the land that is easiest and cheapest to develop—land that is flat, easily accessible, well-drained and so on. This is usually the most productive land. I know that we now have in Schedule 6 to this Bill a request to authorities to have regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry, and I shall refer to that later when we come to Amendment No. 104C. But it is necessary I believe for the new local authorities, whose members and staff are drawn more and more from the urban areas, to be reminded more forcibly of the need—so well set out in the Government White Paper, Land, which heralded this Bill—not to take more land than is absolutely necessary and, when they do take land, to avoid the good land on which our food is produced most economically.

With regard to consultation, referred to in sub-paragraph (ii) in this Amendment, I am sure that there should be a requirement to consult with the Ministry of Agriculture before acquisition. No doubt we shall be told that such a requirement was abolished by a Conservative Government, and indeed I believe that was a mistake. My experience as a member of a planning authority is that the present voluntary consultations between planning authorities and the Ministry are not sufficient. I daresay we shall be reminded that the Government intend to alter the general development order. Nevertheless, I believe there should be a duty to consult written into this Bill to reinforce the forthcoming amendment to the GDO, and in any case I believe that that amendment will refer only to areas of 10 acres or more. I do not think that anybody could quarrel with the requirement under sub-paragraph (iii) about derelict land to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has referred and I shall be most interested to hear what the Government have to say on what seems to be a very worthwhile Amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Viscount GAGE

I should like to support this Amendment. I hope I may be forgiven for speaking in rather general terms. I have to declare an interest, partly as a landowner but more particularly as a farmer. I belong to that class who are always being exhorted by the Government to produce more food for the balance of payments and so forth. I think I am also speaking for the majority of my colleagues in this profession if I say that, although we note those exhortations, we also note that in many other ways the Government seem to be introducing measures to prevent that expansion of agriculture. After all, we cannot expand agriculture unless we expand capital investment in buildings, machinery, stock and so forth. Although we acknowledge with gratitude the efforts that Mr. Peart is making for us in various directions, it is difficult to see how this capital is to be found. It would seem that the benefits Mr. Peart is producing for us are greatly outweighed by various taxes—capital transfer tax, the threat of the wealth tax, and now in this Bill taxation of any non-agricultural value we may have in our land. So, despite any grants we may get, the major part of the expense in expanding our capital investment must come from loans from the bank at 13 or 14 per cent.

On top of this we have a few other burdens such as being threatened with abolition of the tied cottage at a time when local authorities have very long lists of people waiting for housing. The farmers generally in this country are fairly law-abiding compared with some of their opposite numbers in France. Their methods are occasionally a little violent, but that is hardly to be noticed. But they are in a very unhappy frame of mind. I am simply appealing to noble Lords opposite (I am not going into the details explained by my noble friend) and I hope that the Government will do everything they can in this Bill to give encouragement to farmers and to make it possible for them to produce the food the Government want us to produce.


I have listened with great interest to the discussions on these Amendments and support my noble friend Lord Middleton. I have been for years and years in local government and on local government committees of all kinds, and on questions of planning I recall very vividly how very much more powerful was the urban idea and the urban necessity than the agricultural lobby, although I live in what is very much an agricultural area. Any planning should be looked at most carefully if it means taking agricultural land, which can be done quite often in the teeth of the planning authorities. The development people say. "This is much more important than the other proposition which is being put forward"—which might or might not be the case—"in connection with agriculture". We must write into this Bill as strong support for agriculture and for the use of agricultural land as we can because all the forces in local government are more or less against it—perhaps that is too strong a word, but certainly they are biased in favour of urban development and the urban viewpoint. This Amendment puts perfectly clearly, first, the need to conserve agriculture and, secondly, the need not to let people take arbitrary decisions without recourse to the Ministry of Agriculture.

When the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, dealt with another Amendment he said that it would be unnecessary to consult the Ministry of Agriculture. May I say to him that there are some very sensible people in that Ministry. If you consult them about something which is unnecessary they will say so at once. If you consult them about something which you think is important but they say is not, it is up to the people concerned to decide who is right. In my opinion, the Ministry of Agriculture is full of very wise people, because they have people all over the country who are well aware of all these problems, and I should like them to be consulted whenever there is any question of controversial, or even non-controversial, development of any kind.

On the subject of derelict land, I agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has said. Above all, noble Lords must realise that when one sits, as I have done for years and years, on local government committees one is always being pushed around by the urban or industrial interests. More people live in towns than in the country, and those who live in the industrial and urban areas do not always realise what food production entails. Of course, they complain when the food is not there, but if it is not there it is because they have done something very silly which has prevented the food from being grown. I should like to see stronger emphasis placed in this Bill upon the protection of agriculture in the interests of everybody, not only the farmer.


May I give my support to this Amendment. I have remarkably little landed interest to declare but I, along with all of your Lordships, am an eater and I regard the future food situation in this country as most precarious. Not only is the population of the world expanding but in some parts of the world people are becoming more prosperous and taking food from the people who can grow it. As I see it, we shall have balance of payments difficulties for a long time ahead. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that we in this country grow the maximum amount of food that we can. The amount of agricultural land that we are losing every year to road building alone is frightening, and when you add to that building development it becomes a very serious matter indeed.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Urban authorities always want flat land because it is much easier to develop, and we have got ourselves into such a mess, so far as the housing situation is concerned, that one can understand why. The cost of building houses and of borrowing money is much too high and the result is that unless the land can be made as cheap as possible people will be unable to afford to live in the houses Which are built. That militates against the preservation of agriculture. Every time a new town is built the chances are that the best and the flattest land will be taken on which to build it. Therefore, I hope that some protection will be incorporated into this Bill.


We consider that this Amendment is an important one and that the principle which it contains is important. As my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood has said, it is right that agricultural land should be written into this Bill and be given some degree of importance. What my noble friend Lord Gage said about agricultural output being essential is absolutely correct. The first Amendment, Amendment No. 92A, imposed an obligation on local authorities to use the land which they had acquired for agriculture. This Amendment makes local authorities consider the value of that land for agriculture before they designate it as development land. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will realise that this in no way contradicts the aims of the Government. This Bill is fundamentally urban-orientated, and it is bound to be. This means that it is almost diametrically opposed to the interests of agriculture. I am not suggesting that the one is more important than the other, but the fact is that if something is urbanorientated—and one understands the importance of the interests of those who are living in towns—the interests of agriculture—not only the interests of those who are engaged in agriculture but also the national interest—will, if we are not careful, be subjugated under the guise of the urban-orientated planners.

My noble friend Lord Hawke said that every year a number of acres were lost to roads. That is true; 60,000 acres of agricultural land are already lost every single year. In this Amendment we are suggesting that before one designates land as development land one should take into account the interests of agriculture. Where a local authority is trying to expand one should first make quite certain that there is no derelict land within its confines which could be used. As my noble friend Lord Sandys has said, there are approximately 107,000 acres of derelict land. Of course, that land is not spread evenly all over the countryside, but I believe that Greater Manchester has 8,400 acres of derelict land. This Amendment provides that before more agricultural land is taken local authorities should first see whether or not that kind of land is suitable for development.

There are other large stretches of land which are used for such purposes as mineral workings and so forth, and there are 20,000 acres of obsolete railway land. All of this land could be put to some use. Obviously it would be absurd to suggest that one could use all of the 20,000 acres of railway land for development purposes, but the point is that before land is taken away from agriculture considerations such as these should be taken into account. I believe that this is the first place in the Bill where a local authority would be required to find out first whether derelict land might be used before taking better land. I hope that the Government will extend a sympathetic ear to this Amendment.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I did not move Amendment No. 102 because I felt that Amendment No. 102A was very much more to the point. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said that 60,000 acres a year are being eaten up by development. May I remind noble Lords opposite that that probably means that we shall need to spend another £1 million a year to buy food in order to feed this nation. I have already declared an interest, but in this case I am unlikely to be affected. Therefore, it does not greatly concern me. Nevertheless, I ask the Government to try to understand the very long-term agricultural programme. Even the rotation of crops may take seven or eight years. If any of the noble Lords opposite get the chance to do so, may I ask them to visit a farm where one tenant farmer is giving up his tenancy and another is taking over. They will then realise how much is involved in terms of the unexhausted quantities of manure and all the other considerations which have to be taken into account when there is such a changeover. Almost invariably it means that the incoming farmer has to spend two or three years getting established on that farm.

One of the problems about a local authority acquiring land too far in advance is that from the moment notice of intent is given the farmer may be seriously affected if he applies for an agricultural grant that otherwise he may have been able to obtain. I should like noble Lords also to realise that those of us who are interested in forestry and plant trees are not doing so for any benefit that we shall ever see in our lifetime; we are planting the trees and planning for the future welfare of the country, regardless of whoever owns that land. It is in these fields, of the longterm grants and the unexhausted manures, that I ask noble Lords in the Government to take this point into consideration, particularly remembering that in legislation there are already other methods of acquisition where it is necessary besides what is available here.

There are already grants to local authorities whereby derelict land can be brought into good use. So again I ask that in this case the derelict land and reclamation of land, for which local authorities already receive grants, should be put to better use, rather than taking land which, after all, provides our bread and butter in this country.


Before my noble friend replies I should like to add a word or two. I have listened carefully to the arguments on this subject and, without being an agriculturalist myself, I have some sympathy with the need for preserving agriculture; but it seems to me that this Amendment is rather misconceived in this context, and sight is being lost of what this clause seeks to do. All it seeks to do is to provide a definition of "development land". Development land is something which, in the opinion of a given authority, is needed for relevant development. All that subsection (2) does is to say what the authority should have regard to in considering what in its opinion is needed for relevant development. In that context one would have thought that existing use is really immaterial. One is considering whether the land is needed for relevant development and that is all.

It may well be that the matters which have been put forward from the other side are matters which are material to be considered if the authority has to decide whether to exercise its powers to acquire the land; but this is not the issue that arises under Clause 17. Therefore, I should have thought the draftsman was perfectly correct in not specifying existing use, whether agricultural, industrial, mineral, or whatever it may be, in this particular context. For these reasons, therefore, it seems to me this Amendment is inappropriate in this particular place.


I may well be out of order, in which case I shall be told to sit down, but this is really a question of housing. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, will appreciate that. The need is for houses. I should like to ask why a place such as Centre Point is left standing empty year after year when it contains possibly a hundred or two hundred flats.


We shall be dealing expressly with unoccupied office accommodation at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill.


I thank the noble and learned Lord.

5.3 p.m.


I can assure noble Lords opposite that I gave a very sympathetic ear to everything that was said about the Amendment. I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, that I accept all that she said about the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Indeed, I made that point myself when we were speaking on an earlier agricultural Amendment, No. 42A. I said that as a farmer myself, and like all farmers, I have the greatest respect for the advisory capabilities of that Ministry. I agree with the noble Baroness in what she said about it. I did not make the point on Amendment 92A because I had dealt with it earlier in the Committee stage.

May I also make the general point that I entirely accept that many acres of agricultural land are being lost to development every year. I wish it were not necessary. But I have said, in response to exactly the same question which has arisen several times already in this Committee stage, that the Bill will not cause more agricultural land to be used for development. It will not affect the rate of development. The Bill does nothing to affect the rate at which agricultural land will be brought into development. Indeed, as the point is being raised so often, perhaps I may go a little further and say it is quite possible, as the Bill will enable authorities to plan more positively, to bring about a more economical use of land and that less agricultural land will be developed. I, along with most noble Lords who have spoken, would welcome that. I sincerely hope that that will be the case. Certainly I believe it is not the case that more agricultural land will be developed as a result of the passing of this Bill.

On the principle involved there is little, if anything, between us. As I said, and as my noble friend Lady Birk made clear on both Second Readings in your Lordships' House, there is no dispute between either side of the Committee on the need to avoid any unnecessary encroachment on good agricultural land. The LAMS scheme, as I have said, will not result in any major change in the rate of development, so there is no reason why the position of agriculture should in any way worsen.

However, I accept that there may be some misunderstanding in the farming community, and we on this side of the Committee are anxious to reassure farmers that their interests will not be overlooked. In the first place, as the noble Lord, Lord Middleton said, the Government have announced their intention to amend the General Development Order so as to require consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture where the development of a substantial area, over ten acres of agricultural land, is proposed. Consultation in this way has been normal practice on a voluntary basis for some time, but the proposed change (which was announced in a Written Answer in another place on 14th May) will ensure that consultations take place as a statutory requirement. I can assure the Committee that the amendment to the General Development Order will be made very shortly. I hope that will be welcomed by noble Lords opposite. Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, said, following an undertaking given in Committee in another place, paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 has been amended so as to require specifically that authorities take account of the needs of agriculture and forestry in carrying out their functions of land acquisition under the Bill. That is now written into the Bill.

Amendment No.102A would go a great deal further than the Government think is justified. There are objections on a number of specific points. For myself, I am tempted to ask the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, just how many extra staff the Ministry of Agriculture will need to cope with the result of all the mass of consultation which is now being forced into the Bill by noble Lords opposite.


Fourteen thousand!


I will not ask the noble Earl how that staff will break down as between expert and clerical staff, but I daresay it would be helpful to my right honourable friend if the noble Earl could give an indication at least of the breakdown between, say, arable and livestock experts which the Ministry will need as a result of Amendments moved by noble Lords opposite.


I willingly accept the noble Lord's challenge, provided he first gives me the breakdown of those whom the Government say will be required to run the Bill. If he will do that I will willingly make an effort to produce the information for which he has asked.


The noble Earl will need to make an effort, because I believe that at a suitable stage in the passage of the Bill my noble friend Lady Birk will be responding to the point which he raised earlier.

We have a number of specific objections to Amendment No. 120A. For instance, consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture on every proposed acquisition, and not just those over 10 acres, would be unnecessarily burdensome for both the authorities and the Ministry; in other words, the objection I raised to Amendments Nos. 42A and 92A. It was precisely for this reason, as I understand it, that the Conservative Government—I gather without the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, but never theless the Government of noble Lords opposite—removed the old Article 11(2) which required such consultation in certain cases, from the General Development Order, 1973. If a reference to the economic and social interests of rural areas is included, as would happen with this Amendment, I should have thought there should be a parallel reference, at least to the economic and social interests of urban areas. Of course, in logic there should, but both references then cancel each other out and become meaningless.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, mentioned, and other noble Lords took up, the question of derelict land. We had an interesting debate in your Lordships' House, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, will remember, to which I replied and which he initiated, which at the time I felt—and I hope the noble Viscount will not disagree—showed clearly that there is a consensus approach from both sides to this problem. The general view expressed in the debate was that authorities were doing a very good job in reclaiming derelict land and that they were going ahead in many areas extremely well, with assistance where appropriate from the Government.

As I understand it, the only possible point at which the two sides might diverge is in the proposals of the Government for giving a slightly higher rate of grant to authorities than is at present the case. But I think on the whole there is the consensus approach that the authorities are doing as much as they can, and the fact is that a great deal of derelict land is simply not suitable for development. It may well be suitable for landscaping and restoration; much may be suitable for restoration to agricultural land or for use as public open space. But the Bill is concerned with development land. There is also the point that derelict land is often in the area of an authority with no agricultural land to speak of, so it may not be sensible to put the duty on an authority, as would the Amendment. Much of what I have said applies to Amendment No. 104C in the same way. That Amendment in fact makes slightly more sense in that particular respect, but, of course, I have other objections to it which I have already outlined in speaking to this Amendment.

Finally, there is one underlying objection to this Amendment, which is much more fundamental and much more serious. The proper way to protect agriculture is through the operation of the planning system, which contains significant safeguards for agriculture. Anything which weakens the planning system must, therefore, weaken this existing protection. The present Bill has been unjustly accused of being contrary to good planning. It is not. It reinforces and is the tool of good planning, as Clause 17(2) makes clear. These Amendments would have precisely the effect of turning the land scheme procedures into a second and independent planning system. Anything more calculated to wreck the existing planning system—and thus remove the real protection from agriculture—is difficult to imagine. I hope noble Lords opposite will make an exception to this agricultural Amendment, and not press it.


If an intensive horticultural holding of, say, seven acres, is taken over, is there a requirement to consult the Ministry of Agriculture in this case, or not?


No. As the noble Lord will know, his Government amended the General Development Order to make it not a statutory requirement to consult on areas less than 10 acres.


The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has given his reply, which in parts is encouraging to some extent, and to begin with I shall dwell on those parts. He opened by saying that there is nothing between the two sides of the Committee on the need to avoid encroachment. This is something so basic to the whole approach to this Amendment that we can put a tick against that one. To a large extent, I was worried about his next remark, which was to the effect that there was no reason why the implementation of the Bill should worsen the take of land from agriculture. If this is positive planning then we will have none of it, because what all of us desire is efficient land use. If the effect of the Bill is simply a negative or, shall I say, a neutral position, we would describe it as a disbenefit.

The further comment of the noble Lord on the Written Answer of the 14th May given in another place is a matter which we should like to study in greater depth. My only comment at this stage is that Ministerial assurances are no substitute for what is to be written into the Bill. I think it goes without saying that we shall need to look at this with great attention. One of the points on which we find total disagreement between the Front Benches is the matter of consultation, and here there is a divide between us. However, perhaps on further examination we may not find it as bad as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett.

I concede to him that the reference to the economic and social interests of rural areas is one which we should, indeed, re-examine. For that reason alone, it would be beneficial if we withdrew this Amendment at this stage. Nevertheless, we regard this Amendment as being of great significance, and we hope that the Government will bear in mind all that has been said, especially by my noble friends who know so much more about the effect that agriculture has in certain rural areas: and my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood referred to Scotland, of which she has great experience. I feel that further work should be done on this Amendment, and we should like to withdraw it and return to it on Report stage. If the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will enter into some consultation about it, it would be to the general benefit. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.18 p.m.

Lord ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 103: Page 17, line 15, at end insert ("and the Welsh Development Agency").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing Amendment, designed to discover from the Government what plans they may have for co-ordinating the activities of the Welsh Development Agency and the Land Authority for Wales. Certain of their powers in regard to land seem to overlap. The Welsh Development Agency Bill provides, in Clause 1(6) for the Agency to have power, among other things, to acquire and dispose of land, to manage land and to develop land, and to make land available for use by other persons". Clause 21 of that Bill is entirely devoted to the acquisition, disposal and appropriation of land by the Development Agency. Therefore, it seemed to me that there is a danger of the two bodies having overlapping powers. I should be grateful if the Government could give me some indication of how these overlapping functions are to be co-ordinated. I beg to move.


It would not be appropriate to require the Land Authority for Wales to consult the Welsh Development Agency in considering whether any land in Wales is development land. The purpose of Clause 17(3) is to require the Land Authority to consult Welsh planning authorities, and the Welsh Development Agency will not be a planning authority. The Agency will itself be subject to planning law. Its needs will be reflected in the planning situation in the areas in which it is operating. Those needs will therefore be taken into account in the activities of the Land Authority through the facts of the planning situation, which the Land Authority are required to take into account in carrying out their functions.


I should like to study that answer, and for that purpose I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.20 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 103A:

Page 17, leave out lines 16 to 19 and insert— ("In this Act "development land" means land suitable for relevant development and on which the authority concerned intend themselves to carry out or to promote the carrying out by others of relevant development, within ten years from the time at which they are acting.")

The noble Earl said: I hope that the noble and learned Lord, if he is to reply, will consider this a helpful Amendment. It is an attempt to improve the present definition of "development land" I know that the noble and learned Lord will recognise that the words "in the opinion of the authority" have caused great concern, because this is the first time we have seen this form of words in such a Bill there has been grave suspicion that ft will really mean "in the opinion of the local planning officer". Those who have studied the Bill, as this Committee has done for four days, will have discovered various safeguard sin relation to this definition. Does it mean literally that the local authority may act as it sees fit? Will there be guidelines, and an ultimate appeal to the Secretary of State, by anyone having his land compulsorily acquired, on the definition of "development"? If that is so, and if these words are not as fierce as they look, then I suggest that the wording of this definition is bad drafting.

My Amendment is to leave out the words "in the opinion of the authority". Its purpose is to leave the definition basically the same, but without those words. I am advised that the effect of the new definition would be to put a certain constraint on local authorities in one aspect, and that is where they acquire land for relevant development and subsequently develop it for a non-relevant development purpose. That is a matter which has been debated in this Committee, and it is feared that once a local authority own land they may change the purpose. I beg to move.


The Amendment which the noble Earl has moved would introduce three changes as compared with the present definition of "development land" in Clause 17(4). First, and, as the noble Earl indicated, most important. it would remove the qualification that what is development land is decided by the opinion of the authority concerned, in the light of their knowledge of both local needs and the local planning situation. Any attempt to remove this element of judgment and to substitute a question of fact which could ultimately he taken before a court for decision fails, in my submission, to recognise two matters; first, that the decision on what should or should not be development land cannot be a wholly objective one; it depends at various stages on taking judgments and, primarily, judgments about planning issues, the needs of the locality and the circumstances prevailing et cetera. Secondly, with respect, the experience of the last 30 years has shown that the courts are, generally speaking, not very well equipped to take judgments about the merits of planning, although, of course, they are highly qualifi9d to interpret points of planning law, as they do. Planners may be, and indeed are, fallible, but planning is their job and their expertise, and it is interesting that for this reason in 1960 the job of deciding enforcement appeals was taken away from the courts and given to the Secretary of State.

The second point of substance is that the Amendment would require the land to be "suitable" and not "needed", as in the subsection, for relevant development. That, when one thinks of it, is a less stringent test, and it is not immediately apparent why there should be a feeling that the definition of development land should be relaxed in this way. If land is needed for development, then presumably it is also suitable for development. Thirdly, there would be a criterion set up by the Amendment based on the intention of the authority to bring the land into development. It is difficult to see how this concept differs from that of land being needed for development. The drafting of this subsection was deliberately changed by a Government Amendment in another place, to introduce the concept of need for development so as to remove any suggestion that an authority's duty might apply to land which was suitable for development only in the very long term. Clearly, if an authority decide that land is needed for development within 10 years, one would expect them to have an intention to see it brought into development in that period. I hope that, in the light of those considerations, the noble Earl may feel that having raised these matters the Amendment should not be pressed to a Division.

The Earl of KINNOULL

I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for adding some light to this definition. As I said at the start, it has caused some concern outside. I am grateful for his explanation, and I am happy to ask leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 104: Page 17, line 19, at end insert ("but shall not include any land exempted from relevant development by section 3 or Schedule 1 of this Act, or any land within a green belt area, or any land situated more than two kilometres from an urban or industrial development.").

The noble Earl said: If one goes back to the beginning of Clause 17, it says that: (1) In exercising their functions…every authority shall have regard to (a) the desirability of bringing development land into public ownership… We are now dealing with the definition of "development land". I was certainly under the impression that land for somebody's private home or land, which is not relevant development under Clause 3 and Schedule 1 to this Bill, should be excluded from the general duties of the authority in this case.

Again, may I make an appeal in connection with the Green Belt areas, and also in respect of the other part of my Amendment, any land situated more than two kilometers"— in other words, about 1¼miles— from an urban or industrial development". I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware that it has been said recently that there should not be ribbon development; nor should a local authority acquire a farm, even though it may be at a very reasonable price, say two or three kilometres away from a development, and suddenly start to develop there. There is a serious likelihood of upsetting the agriculture between the two places; in other words, between one development, the town that exists, and another development. There is nothing here that does not permit the local authority, in any case of need, to acquire land far beyond that possible under other legislation. I am concerned to make certain that in the case of development land brought into public ownership, which it is, that should not override the provisions of Schedule 1 and also include non-relevant development under subsection (3). I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.


I think that both the last Amendment and this one ought to be looked at again with more sympathy, and with the recognition that authorities are not always as objective as we presume they will be, when we are passing some of this legislation. I have a case in mind—and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, may well have in mind the situation I describe—which makes the point. There was need to take over by compulsory purchase a great area of land for good planning, and at that point no one could possibly object. But within that planning, certain developments had to take place, and there were properties and land within the area being compulsorily acquired that as they stood fitted in with the eventual planning that was desired. You had a situation where there was an area which needed to be publicly-owned in order to get the overall develop- ment you wanted, but on the fringe of it there were properties and land which, as they stood, fitted into the general planning need and the eventual plan that the authorities had in mind.

In this instance, the authority acquired it all. They acquired the land they needed, and also the property and land, which had already reached the stage they eventually wanted, merely because they wanted to own it. If planning was the leading factor in this, the planning desire had already been achieved. Merely to extend that in order to get ownership was being unfair and, in the long term, not good for the community. In this instance you had business premises and so long as the people running the businesses owned the freehold they were prepared to go over those periods when they were making losses in the knowledge that they owned the freehold of the property; the enhanced value that flows in these days of inflation more than covered the losses they had to carry. But under the compulsory purchase terms which were insisted upon they ceased to be freeholders and became tenants, with the periodic rent review which took away that safety net which enabled them to go through difficult periods of business and serve the community.

With that point in mind, I hope that the Lord Chancellor will look at this with sympathy to see whether we can get to the point, while in no way wanting to prevent good development and giving powers for compulsory purchase to get it, where within the development area there are properties and land already serving the purpose eventually intended in the bigger complex. They should not he robbed of their freehold and the safety which is necessary nowadays if they are to continue their business.


I listened carefully to the reply of the noble and learned Lord, to the previous Amendment, and I wonder whether he could, now or later on, tell us what remedies lie open to a person who is aggrieved with the opinion of a local authority about development land, and in particular a person who feels that the opinion is not properly related to community needs.


Perhaps I can answer that now. If what is proposed is so manifestly absurd as to indi- cate that it was not an opinion in good faith, I have little doubt that there would be a remedy through the courts. I will not use the words "outrageous opinion", but short of an opinion of that kind it has to be faced that on this matter the opinion of the relevant authority would be conclusive.

5.35 p.m.


I should like to ask what will happen to what at the moment applies in relation to the green belt under this legislation. It is within my experience in my constituency, where I had a concentrated urban area and for 10 years a considerable rural area which was mainly horticultural, that I saw three attempts to make inroads into the horticultural and green belt areas. They were prevented only by an ultimate appeal and by the inquiry instigated by the Minister. In one case, as my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls has said, there was an attempt to link up a very condensed urban area, practically five miles down the road, with a small local community, which would have destroyed the vast green belt between. It was the late Mr. Richard Crossman who decided that this inroad into the green belt should not take place. As I understand it, we shall not have the same protection and appeal to the Minister. What variation will this make in the present powers to protect the green belt?


May I be permitted to come back to the question of the noble Lord. I ought to have added that in the event of a compulsory purchase order being sought by the local authority it would still have to be confirmed by the Secretary of State. Therefore, the kind of situation that I have indicated would not, in practice arise.


Maybe I can deal with the Amendment which the noble Earl has moved. I am afraid that I have two objections to the Amendment. First, the reference to Clause 3 and Schedule 1 is unnecessary. This is because development land is defined as land needed for relevant development; and relevant development is defined in Clause 3 as excluding development within subsection (1) of that clause, or within Schedule 1 to the Bill. This definition—in what is after all a definition clause although, of course, it is at the beginning of the Bill rather than at the end—is automatically carried through the Bill, and the cross-reference which the noble Earl's Amendment would introduce is unnecessary.

However, I have a much more fundamental objection to the second part of the Amendment. The references to the exclusion of green belt land, or land more than two kilometres from an urban or industrial development, are another attempt to break the present planning system by turning the land scheme into a rival one. Although as a broad generalisation against encroachment on green belt or urban sprawl this is certainly something which is acceptable, I am sure, by all sides of your Lordships' Committee, this is not acceptable as an absolute constraint because there are circumstances in which development land should be acquired which this Amendment would prohibit.

I suspect that I may be asked what sort of circumstances, and it might be helpful if I gave one example before concluding my remarks. The White Paper, Widening the Choice, published in 1973 by the Government of noble Lords opposite, dealt with the supply of land for housing, and contained something I think popularly called "the 2,000 acre exercise" in paragraph 16, which asked the Standing Conference on London and South-East Regional Planning to look at the London green belt and see whether 2,000 acres which was not serving a useful purpose could be released immediately for housing. That is an example where it may be agreed policy—certainly the policy of noble Lords opposite—that there needs to be some encroachment on green belt land, and the Amendment would have made that exercise impossible.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I will not pursue the matter further, except to say that there seems nothing in my Amendment which would prevent them from taking chunks of two kilometres at a time. But what concerns me is that under the existing provisions in the Bill they appear to be able to take four or six kilometres at a time. However,as I do not intend to pursue the matter further, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

5.40 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG moved Amendment No. 104A: Page 17, line 19, at end insert ("and which has been identified as such in the Register of land charges of the district in which the land is situated.")

The noble Baroness said: This is one more attempt, which I can describe briefly, to have this land identified for those living in the area so that they may know what is being talked about. This is another way of doing it which I hope the Government will feel able to accept. We have just listened to a debate on some of the principles lying behind this clause, which is clearly one of the most important clauses in the Bill. Having listened to the principles yet again, it seems to me that although my noble friends and I do not agree with them, at least the reasons for the acquisition should be widely known and I therefore hope that the Government will accede to this Amendment.


As I understand it, this Amendment is directed to the need for landowners in an area to know whether or not an authority considers their land to be development land and, thus, whether or not it would be liable to acquisition. This point is already met by the fact that there will be public access to the five-year rolling programmes of land acquisition prepared by the authorities concerned, and these will indicate the policy that each authority intends to adopt towards the operation of the scheme in different parts of their areas. They will be made available for public inspection at town and county halls. But the Amendment goes further because the entries in the land charges register would presumably have to be in terms of specific sites, so the result would be a kind of designation process designating specific areas for compulsory acquisition. So far from simply informing landowners, it would cause vast areas of totally unnecessary blight for which there would be no remedy for the individual because a reference to the status of the land in the land charges register would not fall within the statutory blight categories. I am sure the noble Baroness would not wish that to happen and, in the light of that most unhappy consequence, I hope she will be disposed to withdraw the Amendment.

Baroness YOUNG

I am grateful for that explanation. Having listened to the noble and learned Lord, I now feel that the Government will accept an Amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Sandford which appears later on the Marshalled List because that seems very much in line with what he was saying. I appreciate the force of the noble and learned Lord's argument about blight, a subject which we must debate much more fully at a later stage in the Bill, and, with that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.44 p.m.

Lord MIDDLETON moved Amendment No. 104C: After Clause 17, insert the following new clause:

Duty of Minister and Authority regarding Agriculture, Forestry and other matters

(" . In the exercise of their functions under this Act it shell be the duty of every Minister and every authority to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas.")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment may commend itself slightly more to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, than did No. 102A, by seeking to create a new clause rather than to insert in Clause 17(2) a duty to have regard to agriculture. We had a full discussion about agricultural land when we dealt with Amendment No. 102A and therefore I can be brief. As we heard when we discussed that Amendment, the Government have accepted the case for writing in a specific reference to agriculture, and that appears in Schedule 6, which is the Schedule which extends the general duties that are outlined in Clause 17, and it appears in paragraph 1(1) as a request that in exercising their functions every authority shall have regard to, among other things, the needs of agriculture and forestry. We feel that it is not enough to tuck this away in a Schedule at the back of the Bill. We feel that the duty to conserve the nation's capacity to feed itself is overriding and should be set out in the body of the Bill. Furthermore, we feel that it should be a mandatory requirement, and that is the purpose of this Amendment.


I hope that at least the principle of this Amendment will com mend itself to the Government because, as my noble friend said, there is an obligation in Schedule 6, but we believe it should be in a more prominent and important position—that is, as a separate clause—giving a statutory duty to local authorities to have regard to the needs of agriculture. As I said earlier, this is, of course, an urban-orientated Bill and that is why it is necessary to stress the needs of agriculture for the benefit of everyone. The Countryside Act 1968, which the last Labour Government introduced, was fundamentally a measure which would take into account the interests of agriculture, yet even in that measure it was found necessary or appropriate to insert a section with regard to agriculture. That is Section 37, which says, almost identically to this Amendment: In the exercise of the functions under this Act and the Act of 1949 it shall be the duty of every Minister and of the Commission, the National Environment Research Council and local authorities to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry and to the economic and social interests of rural areas. So even in a measure which the previous Labour Government introduced and which was agriculture-orientated, it was found necessary or desirable to put that reference in specifically. I suggest to the Government that in this Bill, which is obviously more urban-orientated, the needs are greater.


I agree with what my noble friends have said in support of this Amendment because in the past when we have had the very heavy muscle of a great urban centre—London, Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham—endeavouring to encroach upon and to obtain land which in many cases was green belt or agricultural land, on appeal one always had behind one the Minister, but only in special circumstances is that likely to apply now. It is all too easy to nibble away at smaller plots which will not come into the holy few which will be referred to the Minister, or be regarded as of sufficient magnitude to warrant an investigation by the Ministry. We are leaving smaller country areas and county towns at a great disadvantage if they are not given some strengthening in the Bill, and it is the opinion of a vast number of noble Lords that the interests and value of agriculture to the nation should be enshrined more emphatically in the Bill.


I do not want to repeat what has already been said in support of this Amendment, but the phrase about the interests of rural areas interests me. One cannot exaggerate how the reorganisation of local government has worked. It was done on the basis, so it was thought, of making the urban areas and the towns conscious of agricultural interests and they therefore ran them together in the new local government areas, running together towns and counties so that they became one area. That should have helped the rural areas and made the urban areas more conscious of the rural areas than hitherto had been the case, so they thought. But the opposite is happening. It is happening because far more people live in the urban areas and their interests are paramount in the elections that people have to go through in order to get on to the various types of council.

Admittedly, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said that his sympathies are entirely with us. The noble Lord says he is just as keen as anybody else about agricultural interests, and I believe him; but there is a lot of difference between putting this into the Bill itself—that is, inserting it into Clause 17—and tucking it away in the Schedule. I hope that, because fundamentally we are agreed about this, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will see his way to take this into the main part of the Bill. At this juncture and with the reorganisation so powerful, I believe that this is of the most vital importance.


I should like, from these Benches, to support the Amendment. Time and again in discussing the economy it has been recognised that agriculture is one of our greatest sources of benefit and, very naturally, we have taken every possible measure to support it. However, though some local authorities may think along these lines, many may not. I believe it to be essential that agriculture, which is of such tremendous benefit to our country, should be mandatorily protected.


As I moved the earlier Amendment, I should like to take part in the debate on the present Amendment because the two are inextricably linked. In regard to the Countryside Act 1968, I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, saying during our discussions on the Bill, at a time when she was chairman of the National Parks Commission, that she believed that a declaratory clause could be valuable. She entered the rider that it could mean everything or it could mean nothing. A declaratory clause can indeed mean everything or very little. We believe that it can occupy an important position in the Bill and we also believe that, as we have had the experience of seven years of the Countryside Act, that is surely something to work and build upon.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the Government's White Paper, Land, to which I have already referred. The first sentence reads, Of all resources available in these islands, land is the one resource which cannot be increased. That surely sets the scale of priorities. If that statement in the White Paper is not reflected in some shape or form in the Bill—and we believe that a declaratory clause is a suitable way of doing so—we believe that the Bill will be defective.

5.53 p.m.


We had a debate on an Amendment which was slightly more than inextricably linked with the present Amendment since it was almost exactly the same. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, was good enough to withdraw that Amendment because he wanted to reconsider, in particular, a phrase which occurs in the present Amendment—that is, the reference to the "interests of rural areas". The noble Lord said that the Countryside Act contained a similar provision. It is one thing in an Act which deals specifically with the countryside to make reference solely to rural areas; but in a Bill such as this, which deals not only with rural but also with urban areas, I feel that in logic we must not include a reference merely to the rural areas.

There should be a reference to urban areas and to the needs of industry, for example—and this is something which both sides of the Committee feel should receive due attention. Of course the provision appeared in the Countryside Act for a slightly different reason than has been represented by noble Lords opposite; it was a preservationist measure, and it was necessary to remind people of the economic and social needs of rural areas so that they did not forget that it was still necessary to provide people in the countryside with jobs and homes, and that they must not create depressed areas merely to advance the amenity value. I believe, therefore, that although the phrase may be borrowed from the Countryside Act, it had a different purpose in that Act, and I do not think that it can appropriately be imported into the present Bill without some corresponding reference to the needs of urban areas, industry and a number of other important matters.

I must say that I am profoundly depressed by the contributions of everyone who has spoken on the present Amendment, because nobody has touched on what I said was my fundamental objection to the previous Amendment and which applies equally to the present Amendment. I am not going to delay the Committee by saying exactly the same thing again, but I ask the noble Lord at least to do me the justice of withdrawing the Amendment now and reading in Hansard what I said about my fundamental objections to the previous Amendment which was, after all, very similar to the present Amendment.


The noble Lord said in relation to the first Amendment that he would have been sympathetic if we had not included the last two lines. Would he be equally sympathetic to the present Amendment if we had not included the last line?


The Amendment I said I was sympathetic to was not Amendment No. 102A but Amendment No. 92A; so it was on a completely different point, as the noble Earl himself pointed out. Our view is that if something is in a Schedule that does not detract from the fact that it is in the Bill itself. We believe that it is unnecessary to write it in all over the place. But I still have a fundamental objection to the present Amendment, as I have to the Amendment we discussed a very short while ago, and that is to the setting up of a dual planning system. I believe that it is that to which noble Lords opposite should address themselves.


I remain firmly convinced that a more substantial reminder to local authorities to take account of agricultural requirements should be written into the body of the Bill. However, with regard to the wording of the Amendment, and in particular to the reference to the economic and social interests of rural areas, I take the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in speaking to Amendment No. 102A and the present Amendment, and I am aware that the wording may not be ideal. In view of that and of the discussions which we had on Amendment No. 102A, I feel that we should come back with something better at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 6 [General duties of authorities]:

5.58 p.m.

The Earl of BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 105:

Page 73, line 28, at end insert— (" ( ) the needs for ecclesiastical buildings and dwelling houses for ministers of religion, and").

The noble Earl said: Your Lordships will see that Schedule 6 begins with a list of needs. Here, we are talking about planning for the future and I would argue that something that needs to be just as much planned ahead as any of this long list is the need for ecclesiastical buildings and dwelling houses for ministers of religion. I beg to move.


I am happy to say that I am disposed to go almost all the way with the noble Earl in this Amendment. The Government recognise the Churches' anxiety that they should be able to obtain without difficulty the new land which they require for development so that they can carry out their own functions. The Amendment is wholly acceptable in principle, but not in its present form, since it is the intention of the Government that any special provision made for Churches shall apply equally to all other charities, including schools, about which a noble Lord behind me expressed concern the other day. If, therefore, the Schedule were to be amended in this way, the provision would be too narrow in its application, but I give an undertaking that the spirit and intent of the Amendment will be incorporated into Schedule 6, and an appropriate Amendment covering all charities, including, of course, Churches, will be introduced on Report.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I am sure that what the noble and learned Lord has said will be greatly appreciated on all sides of the Committee. However, I should have thought that it was perhaps a question of putting in all the extra pieces as we go along. But as the noble and learned Lord has far more experience in drafting than I have, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Earl withdraws the Amendment, as we are on the question of Churches and charities, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor whether he can give any undertaking that before this weekend we shall have any indications of what Amendments the Government are proposing at Report stage in respect of Churches and charities; because unless the proposals are very simple and include an entire relief of both tax and the effects of the Bill, we shall need time to study them.


We shall be coming to charities again shortly and I shall take instructions on what the noble Lord has said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.1 p.m.

Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 107: Page 73, line 29, at end insert ("and shall draw up and publish annually a five year programme of the development land that they propose to acquire in the course of the following 5 years. The authority shall indicate in the programme the relevant plans or planning factors that support such a programme of acquisition.")

The noble Lord said: The Committee has already heard enough in relation to the rolling programme, and the fact that it is to be published, for me to have some hope that this Amendment will be acceptable. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite would like to indicate that it will be acceptable, in which case I need not make a long and forceful speech. If it is not to be accepted—as now seems to be the case—then I must make a long speech; but I cannot for the life of me see why it cannot be accepted.

The concept of a rolling programme of acquisition was introduced at that happy stage in midsummer when the Government came to the conclusion that perhaps the Bill ought to contain some reference to the planning framework. They announced their conversion to the Committee sitting in another place and published a useful document, which we have had for some time, which explains how a rolling programme of acquisition would form part of the procedures here. So far as I am aware, the concept of a rolling programme of acquisition has not been formally published anywhere and there is no extensive reference to it in any of the proceedings in another place, and so part of my long speech must be a description of what is involved.

I shall read from notes which have been provided to some of us—certainly not to all Members of the Committee—from the noble Lord's Department. The notes read as follows: Though authorities will be considering the needs of private development up to 10 years ahead"— and we have had all that explained— they will not need to acquire 10 years' supply of land. They will have to prepare five-year rolling programmes of their anticipated expenditure on development land"— I think that means on acquiring development land"— and these will be approved annually by the Department of the Environment as a basis for borrowing approval. They mill not contain lists of sites to be acquired but will need to be appropriately supported"— I ask the Committee to bear this in mind particularly— in relation to the planning basis on which the authorities concerned are operating. I see now how necessary my previous Amendment was. The notes go on: Appropriate backing would include any of the following: a regional strategy which has been endorsed by the Government; a structure plan which has either been approved by the Secretary of State or is in draft; a local plan or a draft local plan; an approved old-style development plan or a submitted Amendment; a non-statutory plan or policy which has been adopted by the local authority concerned, is publicly available, and can be incorporated into a statutory plan as soon as practicable. That is the concept of a rolling programme, and speaking for myself it is a welcome development in the Government's thinking; it is late, but nevertheless welcome. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in replying to my noble friend Lady Young a few minutes ago when she moved Amendment No. 104A, said—and it was not the first time that it had been said—that the rolling programmes will be published and that is welcome. Therefore we are agreed that there should be rolling programmes and that they should be published.

It is also important, if we are agreed to that extent, that provision to that effect should be included in the Bill. This is what my Amendment does, and so far as I know it has not yet been done anywhere else. The notes which I have just been reading to the Committee also make plain that the rolling programmes of acquisition must be based upon planning framework and upon planning factors. In addition to what I have just read, there is a further reference in the notes which were issued last May—in the middle of the Committee stage in another place—which say: They would make it clear also that rolling programmes would have to be prepared within the planning framework". Therefore, as I was saying on my earlier Amendment, the planning framework has to be produced first, and then the rolling programme has to be fitted into it; so—as the Minister put it—the acquisition is planning led. That provision, which is already in the Government's mind, must also go into the Bill. Thus we are agreed that there should be a rolling programme, that it should be published, and that it should be based upon the planning framework. My Amendment does all three of those things, and I cannot see any other provision in the Bill which does that. I beg to move.


I hope that if the noble Lord continues to object to the fact that the Government listened to representations made in another place and altered the Bill in some respects—


I welcomed that; I did not object.


The noble Lord said, in a rather uncharitable, if not to say snide way, if I may say so, that changes had been made very late in the day and that it was very good of the Government to do that.


I welcomed the conversion.


Then he said that we supplied the notes on clauses but only to some Members of the Committee. I hope he will not mind if, when we try to be as helpful and as co-operative as we can, and, secondly, when my noble friend tries to be as helpful and co-operative to Members on the other side of the Committee. I object that both those approaches are not really welcomed in a very open-hearted way by the noble Lord.

However, as he said, the Government have already made it clear that authorities will need to submit five-year rolling programmes of land acquisition and disposal. These will have three functions: first, to provide orderly plans for the operation of the scheme, and to enable the progress being made on its implementation to be assessed; secondly, to form a basis for economic control and the issuing of borrowing approval; and, lastly, to inform local people and builders of the scope of authorities' planned activity. It has also been made clear by the Government in the planning framework document that in submitting their programmes, authorities will have to make clear the planning justification for the acquisitions which they propose.

Rolling programmes are a normal part of the arrangements for programming expenditure in certain spheres of local government—for example, highway construction, school building, and, more recently, expenditure on transport through the Transport Supplementary Grant. Yet there has never been any statutory basis for such programmes—they are required on the basis that the expenditure is the subject of central Government grant, or subject to loan sanction. I am sure that that is something which I do not need to spell out to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who has considerable experience in these matters. For example, take Section 6 of the Local Government Act 1974, one of the last Acts of the previous Conservative Government. This provides for the Secretary of State to pay supplementary grants for transport to county councils and the Greater London Council. But there is no mention whatsoever of the preparation by these authorities of the transport policies and programmes—TPPs—yet it is on the basis of these five-year rolling programmes prepared annually that transport supplementary grants are paid. The Bill is therefore following established practice in containing no statutory provision concerning the preparation of programmes. If I may say so, noble Lords opposite when in Government lived happily with this situation for many years and I think they should accept the same situation so far as the rolling programmes in this Bill are concerned.


The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, tells us that it is standard practice to make no mention of rolling programmes, but he has not produced a single reason why it would be wrong to write it into the Bill.


The noble Lord ought not to wonder why some of us are suspicious and disturbed by this Bill. It becomes even more disturbing each time we have a reply from the Dispatch Box. My noble friend is suggesting that we write into the Bill three desires which the Government through their various spokesmen have said they have. They have said, "This is what we believe is right; this is how we expect it to operate". My noble friend very properly has said, "If that is what you think—and we are rather inclined to agree with you—write it into the Bill". I should have thought that anything as clear and acceptable as that ought to he one of the Amendments which would be accepted.

Although I have been in this House for only a very short time I was beginning to feel reasonably at home until the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, came to the Box. He got rather irritated when my noble friend raised a point a second time. If that is not the duty of anybody when dealing with the Committee stage of a Bill, T do not know what the duty of a Committee is and there is no reason why an answer that has already been given has to be taken as an answer to all the other points. That is not the way in which I understand Parliament ought to work. If you do not succeed the first time, you try and try again. His noble and learned friend the Lord Chan cellor will tell him that, when in his other capacity he was in a court, just because he got no answer to one question the system of putting the same question another way in order to get what he wanted is a useful one. That is what one is expected to do and ought to do in the interests of good legislation. Again, I was feeling at home, but this is not the way I thought a Committee stage ought to be dealt with. I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will be like when he gets to the age where he has gout, but he shows too much irritation at this stage.


I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, could give a further answer to these points which have been raised in the Committee. So far as I have been told, I do not think that one of the main purposes of the Committee is for the two main Parties to indulge Party political badinage. I wonder whether he could contribute to the atmosphere by leaving aside part of his argument which relates to telling the Party opposite what they did or did not do and concentrate solely on the merits of the Amendment. If I sound very elderly I apologise, but I should like to hear some arguments against the Amendment rather than Party political badinage.


I was not indulging in Party political points, I was trying to make it clear that rolling programmes are a normal and accepted administrative procedure which have taken place under both Administrations for many years. There is nothing new about rolling programmes. That was the point I was trying to make. I was not saying that this was something which noble Lords opposite have done and that therefore we could do it, but rather that this is normal administrative practice. That was my objection to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, saying that that was something the Government invented halfway through the Committee stage in another place. I was objecting to a point that the noble Lord raised yet again about our providing him with notes on clauses. That was nothing to do with the point that he was raising on this Amendment which I accept we dealt with before.

My objection to the Amendment is, first, that this is an administrative matter between central and local government and has always been such in any expenditure by local authorities. Financial control must be exercised by local government, and that is what the rolling programmes are for, but this control must be flexible. The control must be able to change as the relationship between central and local government changes. This is something which has been accepted for many years by both Parties. It is for those reasons that I am objecting to the noble Lord's Amendment.


I have listened with some interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said. I agree that this is a common practice, but it does not always happen. I have been for many years in local government and sometimes we get a rolling plan which is put forward and which is known to the county council or whichever group you are working on. But sometimes you do not know. If it is not written in, one may not know it is happening. Suddenly a plan is put before you which you are told has been considered for some time. It has been considered by the officials, but has not come before the elected representatives.

I know that that is possibly wrong and should not happen, but I am saying that it does happen and in order to avoid this both sides of the Committee are agreed that it is not a good idea. It is much better to have a plan, the rolling programme, known to the whole of an elected body whether it is the regional council or the district council. Let us have it put in so that they cannot avoid doing it. I am sure that other noble Lords have had experience in local government and will agree when I say that although it should happen it does not always happen. Why not put it in the Bill? There is nothing wrong with putting it in the Bill.


Does the noble Baroness know of any authority which has paid a transport supplementary grant without submitting a TPP which was a rolling programme and which arose out of the Bill passed by the previous Government? I am not trying to make a Party point, but I am just reassuring noble Lords opposite that this is not an invention which a Socialist Government has made up. Does the noble Baroness know of any case where that grant has been paid without a TPP being submitted?


My experience of local government is in Scotland and I do not know whether that ABC description applies. From my experience I know that it is not always known to the county councillors that a rolling programme is in progress until something comes out and then you are told that this is part of a whole thing. Whether the form you are describing ininitials is one used in my area, I do not know. Anyway that is neither here nor there. The point I am making is that, if noble Lords opposite agree that it is a good plan to have this type of programme in the Bill, then that is all right; nobody disagrees about that, therefore why not put it in?

Baroness SEEAR

The Minister's answer to this Amendment is that it is normal practice to have a rolling plan and to have it not written into the Bill. Our reply to that argument is that this is not a normal Bill; it is an abnormal Bill. The Government think it is an abnormally good Bill and some of us think it is an abnormally bad bill; I think it is an abnormally confusing Bill. It is not a normal Bill, and therefore to say that it is normal practice and that that is a good enough answer for not doing what is right is no answer at all. I think there is one very big difference in this case which I am sure noble Lords will agree with, that is, that a very large number of people are affected by these decisions. The ramifications of these decisions are far more widespread than in most of the other cases to which he is referring. It is for this reason that, surely, we want to be absolutely certain that the information is regularly available to as many people as possible, and in such a way that they can rely on it. At the moment, unless the Minister can satisfy me that people will get up-to-date and regular information which is easily available, my feeling is that this provision ought to be in the Bill.


As I understand the noble Lord, what he is saying is that this is "normal administrative practice", as he calls it. It does not matter in the least whether it is bad practice or good practice; it is normal administrative practice that you do not find something of this kind in other Bills and therefore it should be left out of this Bill. If it is bad normal administrative practice the sooner it comes to an end the better, and this is the moment when it should come to an end.

Viscount RIDLEY

I do not want to introduce a red herring, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will not rest his argument on the TPP—a very unfortunate experience.


Before my noble friend replies, may I say that what I feel a little worried about is whether or not this introduces an element of rigidity into the Bill which it would be better was not put in. After all, this is a rolling programme and it may be desirable at some point to say something else, to put something in, which is something you would do normally in a rolling programme. Once you have moved such a provision as this into the Bill, you begin to get somewhere near the law of the Medes and Persians. Because you have it in the Bill you have got to publish it, and you may feel compelled to continue to do something which it is manifestly desirable not to do. That is the reason that I can see for not including these words in the Bill.


Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may say that he based his argument to a large extent on financial control of rolling programmes. That is not, as I see it, the purpose of this Amendment at all. The purpose is to give information, not only to elected councillors but also to members of the public who will be affected by these programmes. That is not the totality of the Amendment, either, because so far little attention has been paid to the last line of it, which refers to "the relevant plans" and "planning factors". This seems to me to be most important, because it takes away the highly debatable matters of opinion, and gives rather more certainty, and a more positive content, to the whole operation of the system.


May I echo what my noble friend said about this? I had tried to make the point that I was not saying that just because this was normal administrative practice followed by both Parties we should therefore do it for no further reason. It is normal administrative practice under both Administrations for, naturally, very good reasons, and those very good reasons are no doubt what swayed noble Lords opposite when in Government to adopt the same policy as we are adopting in this Bill. The good reasons include, as my noble friend has said, the need for flexibility. The relationship between central Government and local government changes over the years, and rolling programmes are a flexible instrument by which central Government have control over local government's expenditure. It is that overriding need for flexibility, and to be able to take account of the changes in the relationship between central and local government, that we believe that this provision should not be included in the Bill.

Of course we accept the need for the planning justification, and I addressed myself, even if other noble Lords who have spoken did not, to that part of the Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will know, when I said that the Government have already made it perfectly clear in a published document that in submitting their programmes authorities will have to make clear the planning justification for the acquisitions which they propose.

In response to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I would say that we have dealt with publicity both for rolling programmes and for land acquisition and management schemes in some detail previously. Both will be publicly available. We have given undertakings to that effect earlier in this Committee stage.


I do not think I have at any time said that the rolling programme was an evil invention. It is a very welcome concept in development. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said already that the rolling programmes will be published, and that, of course, means published annually, which gets over the difficulty of flexibility and rigidity. Each time they are revised every year, a new one will be published, so there is no difficulty there. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was saying, whatever may be the practice in previous enactments involving rolling programmes the position here is different.

It is particularly important that these rolling programmes are published, because the programme of acquisition involved in each and every one of them affects the lives and property of millions of private citizens throughout the country. It would be quite wrong—a dereliction of Parliament's duty—to leave it to the discretion of a Minister, or even to an undertaking that such a programme should be published because it is the normal custom to publish it and if the local authority finds it convenient, and so on. The publication of the rolling programme is a most important factor, and it must be written into the Bill.

I think it is most unfortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has taken this stand, because the only effect of not agreeing to an Amendment which does

something about which we are all agreed is needlessly and enormously to increase the widespread suspicions that there already are about this Bill. My suspicions are not increased, but they will be increased if this provision is not moved in. It is absolutely essential that the rolling programmes should be created, that they should be published, that they should reflect the planning framework, and that the whole of that should be incorporated in the Bill. I have no option but to press the Amendment.

6.28 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 107) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents 113; Not-Contents, 62.

Ailsa, M. Ferrers, E. Newall, L.
Allan of Kilmahew, L. Foot, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Allerton, L. Fortescue, E. O'Hagan, L.
Alport, L. Gage, V. Onslow, E.
Amory, V. Gainford, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Amulree, L. Garner, L. Pritchard, L.
Arbuthnott, V. Grenfell, L. Reigate, L.
Atholl, D. Gridley, L. Ridley, V.
Auckland, L. Hanworth, V. St. Aldwyn, E.
Balerno, L. Harcourt, V. St. Davids, V.
Balfour, E. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Banks, L. Harvington, L. Sandford, L.
Barnby, L. Hawke, L. Sandys, L.
Belstead, L. Hayter, L. Seear, B.
Berkeley, B. Hereford, V. Sempill, Ly.
Bledisloe, V. Hives, L. Simon, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Somers, L.
Carrington, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Stamp, L.
Coleraine, L. Hylton, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Killearn, L. Strathcarron, L.
Craigavon, V. Kindersley, L. Strathclyde, L.
Croft, L. Kinloss, Ly. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Cromartie, E. Kinnoull, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lauderdale, E. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.
Davidson, V. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
de Freyne, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Swansea, L.
Denham, L. Long, V. [Teller.] Swaythling, L.
Derwent, L. Lonsdale, E. Tenby, V.
Digby, L. Loudoun, C. Teviot, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Luke, L. Tranmire, L.
Duncan-Sandys, L. Lyell, L. Trefgarne, L.
Eccles, V. Macleod of Borve, B. Vernon, L.
Effingham, E. Macpherson of Drumochter, L. Vickers, B.
Elles, B. Merrivale, L. Vivian, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Middleton, L. Wade, L.
Elton, L. [Teller] Monck, V. Wigoder, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Monckton of Brenchley, V. Yarborough, E.
Exeter, M. Netherthorpe, L. Young, B.
Aberdeen and Temair, M Beswick, L. Buckinghamshire, E.
Ardwick, L. Birk, B. Burton of Coventry, B
Arwyn, L. Blyton, L. Castle, L.
Bacon, B. Brockway, L. Champion, L.
Balogh, L. Bruce of Donington, L. Collison, L.
Crook, L. Janner, L. Segal, L.
Crowther-Hunt, L. Kirkhill, L. Serota, B.
Cudlipp, L. Kissin, L. Shackleton, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Leatherland, L. Shinwell, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Lee of Newton, L. Slater, L.
Fisher of Camden, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Stedman, B.
Gardiner, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Geddes of Epsom, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Strabolgi, L.
George-Brown, L. Maelor, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Mais, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale. L. Melchett, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hale, L. Milner of Leeds, L. White, B.
Heycock, L. Pargiter, L. Wigg, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Peddie, L. Winterbottom, L. [Teller.]
Hoy, L. Phillips, B. Wynne-Jones, L.
Jacques, L. [Teller.] Rhodes, L.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness BIRK moved Amendment No. 108B:

Page 74, line 1, leave out ("a person applying") and insert ("an applicant").

The noble Baroness said: This is quite a minor drafting Amendment. The words "a person applying" are a hangover from an earlier stage when applications for prior right by people who were not owners were to be made concurrently with planning applications. Now that prior right applications are to be made before all outstanding material interests were acquired. the words "the applicant" are considered to be more apt. I beg to move.


That little hangover will be nothing to what we face tomorrow!

The Earl of BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 109:

Page 74, line 11, leave out paragraph (4) and insert— ("(4) Sub-paragraph (3)(b) only applies where the application for planning permission was made before the authority acquired all material interest in the land.")

The noble Earl said: I should like briefly to speak to each of the Amendments standing in my name. First, I should like to ask exactly what sub-paragraph (4) of paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 means. It refers to a person who has applied for planning permission—and that is clear enough—and it goes on: …where the application was accompanied by the written consent of the owner of every outstanding material interest in he land which had not been acquired by the authority.

To me this sounds as if before planning application can be granted the person must get permission from all his adjoining proprietors. The words I am seeking to put back were words in the original Bill which stated that sub-paragraph (3)(b) applies only where the application for planning permission was made before the authority acquired all the material interests in the land.

In paragraph 2(3) it states: The relevant applications to the authority are those made in the prescribed form before all outstanding material interests in the land had been acquired by the authority by a person who owned the land or—as it now reads—by an "applicant" for planning permission. But it goes on: being in either case an application for an opportunity…to negotiate the purchase of…the land…or…to negotiate to carry out that development… Unless it is referring to adjoining proprietors I cannot see how sub-paragraph (4) can concern the written consent of the owner of every outstanding material interest which has not been acquired by the authority. Because it does not appear to make sense to me, I am trying to put back what was in the original Bill.


The Amendment would replace paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 6, as the noble Lord has said, with the original paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 3 to the Bill before it was amended in another place. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 sets out the procedures which must be followed where an authority decides to make land available for private sector development, and where there are relevant applications. Relevant applications are those either by the immediate former owner, or by a person with the former owner's consent applying for planning permission for development of the same class as that for which the land has been made available; and are either to negotiate the purchase of material interest in the land, or to negotiate to carry out the development for which the land has been made available. In either case the terms must be acceptable to the authority.

The Schedule as originally drafted did not require the consent of the owner to a prior right application. Representations were made by a number of bodies, notably the House Builders' Federation, that the prior right procedure as then envisaged would poison relations between developers and land owners, because there was no requirement for the developer to follow the normal practice of obtaining the owner's consent before applying for planning permission. There was also the risk that it would have given rise to malicious application by persons who wished an authority to deprive an owner of his land. To remove doubt about the former owner's position and, in particular, to prevent the prior right procedure from being abused by malicious applications, it was decided to amend the Schedule, as has been done, to provide specifically for the developer to obtain the written consent of the former owner before he could get the benefit of the prior right procedure.

In the Government's view it is extremely important that the owner's position should be safeguarded. I think that, unwittingly, the effect of the noble Earl's Amendment would be to defeat that reasonable purpose. I hope that, in the light of my explanation, he may think that what is new, at any rate on this occasion, is better than what was there before.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation. I believe we can accept that sub-paragraph (4) should stand. What I am most concerned with is the second line which says, accompanied by the written consent of the owner of every outstanding material interest in the land which had not been acquired by the authority". I feel that this must concern the owner of an adjoining piece of land, not that which is actually being acquired, because it states, "which had not been acquired by the authority"—not "the owner of land that has been acquired".


The sub-paragraph was amended in another place to bring it into line with other changes in the Bill referring to outstanding material interests; that is to say, interests not owned by local authorities, parish councils and charities. Clause 8 now relates to the acquisition of development land, and to the acquisition of all outstanding material interests in the land. But as is clear in paragraph 2 the present Amendment seeks to substitute the earlier sub-paragraph (4) for the present provision, and no account has been taken of the distinction which is now drawn, between material interests and outstanding material interests.

In any event the requirement that the application must be made before all outstanding material interests are acquired is already in the Bill in the opening words of paragraph 2(3). We think the Amendment would be harmful in removing the existing paragraph 2(4) and unnecessary in duplicating an existing provision. If I have not made the position clear, perhaps I may have a word with the noble Earl to see whether I can enlighten him further. It is not an easy matter but I should be very glad to have another go, if that is the right phrase.


I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling this Amendment. I do not intend to speak to the technical side, but I believe it raises an important issue of principle. I ask the Government whether it is their intention that when a local authority grants leases for development purposes the previous owner of the site—if he wants to have it—shall always have priority over other possible developers?


That is the purpose of the provision in paragraph 2 in the Schedule which is designed to protect the position of the original owner.


May I make a point? The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has relied wholly on Amendments made at Report stage in the other place to this Part of the Bill, and they certainly have had the effect of improving it considerably. There were six Amendments—288, 289, 290, 291, 292 and 341—using the final List published in the other place for their Report stage. But the noble and learned Lord will also sec from Commons Hansard (col. 1047) that despite all those there are further points raised by our right honourable and honourable friends which the Under-Secretary was not able to deal with, either to his or their satisfaction, and on which he promised to write further. It is on some of those matters that we still need some reassurance. It might be helpful if before the Report stage the noble and learned Lord could tell those of us who are still interested in this matter what it was that Mr. Oakes undertook to do at that stage in another place.


I will certainly see that what he undertook to do is done, if it has not already been done. I have not conveniently available, as they say in another place, a copy of the relevant Hansard, but I will certainly study the point. If anything has been left undone which ought to have been done, it shall be done.

The Earl of BALFOUR

Will the noble and learned Lord study the words in line 13 on page 74? I believe, "had not been", should have been "has been". I believe we have the wrong tense. May I leave that with him and the draftsmen to check? It is only a technical point. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord because, to a great extent, he has assured me over Amendment No. 110. I should like to withdraw Amendment No. 109.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 74, line 14, at end insert— . Any dispute as to the material interest to be disposed of to any person shall be determined by the Secretary of State and any dispute as to the purchase price to he paid by that person shall be determined by the Lands Tribunal, and the purchase price shall be agreed with the district valuer or in default of agreement be determined by the Lands Tribunal.

The noble Earl said: I regret to say that, in spite of all that has been said by both Conservatives and Cross-Benchers, there is little provision any where in this Bill for any dispute to be settled. This Amendment is an attempt to ensure that a person having a dispute with a local authority over land acquisition, or anything else like this, has some provision along those lines. The Amendment is not very well drafted, but I feel that the procedures give unnecessary dictatorial powers to a local authority. I am not running down local authorities; there are many occasions when I will speak up for them on other provisions. I am not certain that everything is fair all the way through. I beg to move.


Guidance will be given to local authorities on how effect should be given to the prior right procedures bearing in mind Ministers' intentions that prior right should in practice lead in the majority of cases to an agreement whereby the land will be made available to the applicant. The judgment on what constitutes "best price" is one that must be made by authorities. In the event of failing to agree on terms it will be possible by competitive disposal procedures to measure the offer made against the market price. It would be very undesirable to set up a new formal process of arbitration when market value can be determined by direct means. This would simply invite many disposals to be referred to arbitration in the hope of better terms, thus delaying disposals considerably to the disadvantage of all concerned. In any really difficult cases when a prior right applicant considered that he was being offered unacceptable terms, it would be possible to investigate the case, and if the Department agreed that the terms offered were unreasonable and the authority refused to modify them, it would be possible for the Secretary of State to intervene, using Clause 44 powers, to direct the authority to make the disposal, in such manner, and subject to such terms and conditions, as may be specified in the direction". So that ultimate control of supervision remains.


The local authority would be bound by the valuation of the district valuer or his equivalent. One comes across so many cases where the local authority, and their officers, feel that the price offered—as a result, sometimes, of the district valuer—is below the true value, taking into account the market trends. The owners invariably have to sell because of the delay occasioned in going to the various appeals and arbitrations involved. The loss of money over such a period is more than made up by the extra they would get if they received their true value. Is there any way for the local authority to influence a district valuer? I suppose it is wrong for me to ask this. Is there any way to influence the district valuer that their indication as to value must be taken into account in the form of second thoughts by the district valuer?


I should like to give thought to this. The district valuer—as has been implied by the reservation the noble Lord was making in suggesting that local authorities should influence the valuer—is an independent person, and any attempt of pressure of that kind would not be desirable.

The Earl of KINNOULL

As a valuer, I should like to spring to the defence of district valuers. I have always found them extremely fair and independent.


I respectfully agree.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.56 p.m.

The Earl of BALFOUR moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 74, line 14, at end insert— . Where an authority decide that land should be made available for development by a housing association they shall dispose of that land for the same price as they paid for it.

The noble Earl said: In moving this Amendment, I should like to say how on many occasions I appreciated the advice of district valuers. This Amendment is designed to make certain that those housing associations which are not run for profit and which are backed by the Government, such as the Scottish Special Housing Association, are able to acquire land for the marvellous work that they do for virtually the same price as the local authority pay for it. I feel that this is only fair. I was in touch with the Scottish Special Housing Association. They were not altogether happy (although they are a Government Department) that their interests were protected, and I have no doubt that there are many housing associations, other than local authority associations, run on exactly the same lines. I do not want them to be in the position of being penalised. I have raised this question before, but I have not had any encouragement in any of the answers that I have been given.

While I am on my feet, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 113. So far as I can see, under paragraph 2 the Authority may have disposed of land for a private development and then changed their mind and bought it back again. I feel that this is not in our interests. An authority may have disposed of land under paragraph 2, which has been partially or wholly developed in the class of development for which it had planning permission. But if the builder goes bankrupt or there ceases to be a demand for houses, the authority should not then have the right compulsorily to acquire the land which has not been developed just because something may have gone wrong. I feel that there is a serious risk within this Bill that where land has passed through the hands of the local authority and has not been fully developed, the authority have the right to change their mind and take it over. I have read the Bill carefully and there is nothing which satisfies me that this point is in any way safeguarded. I beg to move Amendment No. 113.


I called Amendment No. 112. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, also spoke to Amendment No. 113, but I will put Amendment No. 112.

Baroness BIRK

There are two separate points here. As the noble Earl has not yet moved Amendment No. 113 (though he has spoken to it) and as the House will be hoping to resume shortly, I will refer now to Amendment No. 112. I appreciate very much what is behind the noble Earl's Amendment and what his motivations are so far as housing associations are concerned. I think he would get a certain amount of support for what he is trying to do. But I point out to the noble Earl that his Amendment will not achieve the results he wants.

He says that he has not had a clear answer on this. The intention here is plainly to give housing associations favourable prices when buying from an authority. The Amendment is unacceptable for several reasons. First, it would apply to any land whenever acquired by the authority. Old land would thus often be transferred far cheaper than ever at its current use value. This would deprive the development value from accruing to the community in the shape of the Bill authorities and would thus conflict with a central principle of the scheme. Secondly, local authorities are obliged by Section 123(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 not to dispose of land at less than the best consideration that can reasonably be obtained except with the specific consent of the Secretary of State, and this consent is given only in exceptional circumstances.

Thirdly, the Amendment could cut against the financial interests of a housing association. This is perhaps the point which the noble Earl overlooked or did not realise would come out of his Amendment. Land prices have generally fallen since the boom period of 1971–73, and land bought then and sold now to a housing association or anyone else at cost price would be unacceptable to the purchaser. So here the housing association would be in a worse position.

Following these points, there is another objection, which is that this type of arrangement would cause planning distortions, because wherever the cost price differed from the valuation required by the compensation code in being at the time—that is, whether it is market use value or even current use value—it would favour either the disposing authority or the prospective customer. An authority is not likely to sell land to a housing association if it can get a better price from someone else—indeed, it is not allowed to do so—and a housing association is not likely to buy from an authority when it can get a cheaper price elsewhere. In either situation, desirable housing development just would not happen, so although the idea is a good one it would simply not work out in practice.

Apart from these arguments there is also the practical point that the Amendment could be of no financial benefit to housing associations anyway because housing associations, as I am sure the noble Earl is well aware, are supported through the Housing Corporation or local authority by Government grants equal to 100 per cent. of the deficit expected to arise from the capitalised difference be-between their expenditure and rental income. Therefore even if the associations were to get land more cheaply because of this Amendment, there would be a corresponding drop in the grant and they would be no better off.

The Earl of BALFOUR

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation, and I am sure that many other Members of the Committee will be, also. If I may say so, her explanation has completely cleared my mind and indeed, has very much relieved it. I apologise for having perhaps unduly stressed this point, but I have felt strongly about it for a long time and I am therefore very grateful for the assurance which has been given. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.