§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, first I must apologise for being, as I think we say in Scotland, "furth" of the Chamber when the Bill was called, but I beg to move that 528 the Bill be now read a second time. The Bill was sponsored in another place by the honourable Member for Warwick and Leamington, and there it had the full support of the Government. I believe that at the outset we should congratulate the honourable Member for Warwick and Leamington in having brought forward the Bill, and I should like to thank the Government, on his behalf, for the valuable help that they have given to him, and for their help to me, throughout the passage of the Bill to the present time, and I look forward to similar assistance being given in your Lordships' House to the Bill, which I believe commands widespread support.
It is a Bill entirely concerned with protecting the quality of our environment, or at least preventing its deterioration, and it seeks to achieve this by making some necessary and, we believe, urgent changes in our planning legislation, particularly in relation to the enforcement of various planning controls. This aspect of planning control has been of growing concern and there are several reasons why there is pressure to make the changes proposed in the Bill. These changes follow the lines recommended in Mr. G. Dobry's Report on the Review of the Development Control System.
Noble Lords will be aware that while planning permission is required for the carrying out of the development of land, it is not an offence to do so without planning permission, and there are many good reasons why it should remain so. There are areas of fact and areas of degree, and legal points which all of us need to go into very thoroughly, and these points must be resolved before a conclusion can be reached as to whether activities on land are lawful or not, and if these activities are not lawful, whether they have become established and are therefore immune from any action to do with enforcement. In addition to this, the enforcement procedure, quite rightly, has to have regard to the various interests in land, and for this reason it has to make certain that anyone having such an interest is aware of an allegation of a breach of planning control. It has to provide an appeal procedure, and also for an appeal to the High Court on points of law, and a period for compliance after the enforcement notice takes effect. The necessity for this cumbersome and 529 often time-consuming procedure is apparent, but it has the disadvantage, if one could call it that, of allowing, in all but the circumstances I shall come to in a moment, the breach of planning control to continue throughout these proceedings, however blatant, unneighbourly, unsightly and annoying is the breach. The exception is where the breach of control involves building or engineering operations. Here local planning authorities, who are at present our custodians in these matters, have been able since 1969 to serve a stop notice prohibiting the continuation of the work beyond a short period of time. But in any other circumstances the whole procedure has to run its course before there is any power to restrain the activity in planning interests.
It seems that recent experience has shown that the major concern, and the main problem, relates to unauthorised uses of land which cause nuisance to neighbours and can also give rise to traffic and other major problems. It seems that unscrupulous operators continue to have nothing to lose in instituting various uses of land, particularly where the use requires little capital outlay, and these unscrupulous operators may do so in the knowledge that the time-scale of enforcement makes their activities profitable at the expense of the local environment. With some of the uses which cause most trouble to local planning authorities, if the operators' appeal should fail, they simply move on to another site and they carry on as before, without having any special or indeed any, regard to the effect their activities can have on the locality. I do not think that I should elaborate on this problem because noble Lords will he aware of the problem and the necessity to be able to curb what are unauthorised, and we find offensive, activities, quickly and, we hope, effectively.
It might be fair to say that the local authority associations and other bodies concerned with, or interested in, planning control matters, who have taken the opportunity of studying the proposals now enshrined in it, generally support the principles of the Bill. We ought to consider what the Bill proposes. First, subject to certain exceptions, it extends the power to serve stop notices so that they can be applied to activities which are, or form part of, a use of land in breach of planning control. The stop notice can be, and is, served on a person known to have 530 an interest in the land, or to be engaged in the activities prohibited by the notice. In addition, the authority can, where they have served a stop notice, also display what is called a site notice. This gives details of the stop notice. As a result of this, any person served with the stop notice, and where a site notice is displayed, any person who knows of the stop notice, is liable to prosecution for contravention of its requirements. Use of a building as a dwelling-house, or use of land for stationing a caravan occupied as a person's only or main residence, are excepted from the stop notice procedure. I believe that that is entirely reasonable, and in line with current thinking. In addition, the stop notice action must be taken within 12 months of the commencement of the activity unless it is connected with building or engineering operations.
As a result of the extension of the stop notice procedure to include uses of land, the Bill makes minor changes in the compensation provisions to enable occupiers, as well as those having an interest in the land, to be compensated for any loss attributable to the prohibition in the stop notice where the enforcement notice action fails on legal grounds. Finally, the Bill extends the powers of local authorities to require specified information from the owner or the occupier of the land about the uses to which the premises are put. This is frequently peculiarly in the possession of such people.
The proposals in this Bill will strengthen, we hope, the existing procedures which have proved over the years to lack the necessary flexibility and the speed to enable unauthorised uses which cause suffering, disturbance, discomfort and nuisance to neighbours, to be brought quickly under control. We hope that the Bill will enable local planning authorities to cope with the problems which have emerged in the last few years, yet at the same time provide that they must exercise great caution in using these powers—the stop notices, the site notices—because otherwise they could find themselves faced with fairly heavy compensation claims—indeed, I understand that they often find themselves faced with fairly heavy compensation claims. This is the balance struck by the provisions, and it is this which will, we hope, discourage abuse of the new powers. I hope that the 531 Bill will receive support from everywhere in your Lordships' House, as it did in another place, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Lyell.)
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Baroness Birk)
My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for the way he has introduced this Bill, and for explaining in such clear and succinct terms the nature and objectives of this measure. As the noble Lord has indicated, the Bill extends the existing rules governing the enforcement of planning control. The planning rules play an extremely important part in maintaining the quality of our environment, but they can work only if the way the rules are applied has popular support. The encouraging and significant thing about this Bill is that it is one of those rare measures which stems from pressure from the grass roots to give authorities more power; and it is in response to this pressure that the Government are giving unqualified support to the Bill, and have made available the expertise of officials at the Department of the Environment in assisting its progress.
I do not think it is any secret to anyone, not even to those not very well versed in our planning laws, that problems have arisen in all sorts of areas due to delays and also due to certain anomalies; and this Bill, although it is a fairly modest measure, goes some way towards dealing with one of those anomalies. It is therefore both non-partisan and also, I believe, non-controversial, since the principles of the Bill are supported by the local authority associations and other responsible bodies interested in matters of planning. Moreover, it has one further blessing which the House will undoubtedly appreciate and note, I am sure, with pleasure: it is short, and an example of a Bill whose effectiveness and desirability is inversely proportional to the amount of paper it consumes.
This Bill has only five pages, but it will at one admirable stroke enable local planning authorities to take emergency 532 action to control blatant abuses of planning control—and it is these blatant abuses which have caused so much trouble and have built up to great mountains of trouble in the past. In many instances, these unauthorised activities cause very severe problems to other peøple living or working in the area, and the concern of these people is the time which elapses between the commencement of the activities and their being brought under control. This is the real crux of the problem.
In considering the Bill's proposals, my colleagues and I were very anxious that the rights of individuals were adequately protected, and we believe that this has been done in the Bill. For instance, we considered suggestions that the extended power to serve stop notices should be confined to a prescribed list of uses and activities, but the diverse range of cases showed clearly that that approach would not serve the purpose because an activity causing no problem in one location could nevertheless cause very serious problems in another. Then there was the question of compensation. The compensation provisions will make local authorities think very carefully before using stop notices, but they will be free to use them without fear of compensation if they are sure there have been breaches of planning control since 1963.
We therefore came to the conclusion that the right balance had been achieved and that overall the provisions in the Bill, limited though they are, are to be welcomed as a means of meeting a particular, urgent problem which has been coming rapidly to the fore as people generally are taking more interest in their environment. Therefore, I strongly commend to your Lordships this desirable piece of legislation, which I hope will soon become law.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, it is sometimes a little discouraging to address a House as thin as this House is tonight—it might almost be described as emaciated, might it not?—but let me say that I am not in any way discouraged by that thought because my purpose in a few minutes this evening is to address myself particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who has sponsored this Bill, and to the 533 noble Baroness, who has given it her blessing. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, but I am afraid that in one respect this Bill is controversial, and I shall try to explain why.
Before I come to the text of the Bill, may I make two preliminary observations. One of the complaints which is very commonly heard these days, not only in this House but elsewhere, and indeed in the country, is that, whatever may be the merits and virtues of the legislation which is laid before us from time to time, there is a great surfeit of it, and that we are being asked to consider a far larger amount of legislation than it is within the capacity of Parliament to deal with properly. That is one complaint which is very common these days, as everybody will know. The other one, of course, is even more general a complaint; that is, that in this complex society of ours we find ourselves in a situation where the individual is set about with a forest of restrictive controls and regulations through which he very often finds his way only with great difficulty, and where, in many cases, the benefits of the regulations and the restrictions are not immediately apparent, to put it mildly.
I mention those two matters of complaint, which are a commonplace in our society today, partly because whenever sentiments of that kind are expressed in this House, and indeed in the other place, they are usually most vociferously acclaimed and supported from the Tory Benches, and I hope that that consideration will induce my Tory friends, if I have any—will induce, at any rate, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell—to agree with me that a Bill which does those two things, which offends against those two sentiments (that is, which proposes to put yet another chapter on the Statute Book and which intends to impose further restrictions upon the rights of certain individuals), is a Bill which, at any rate, ought to be given considerable scrutiny before it passes through this House.
Let me say, my Lords, that I am not opposed to the general principles which are incorporated in this Bill. I understand two things very well. I understand, first of all, that Section 90 of the 1971 Town and Country Planning Act is defective, and I understand, I think correctly, why it is defective. The fact of the matter is 534 that under our planning laws "development" can mean one of two things. First, it can mean what is called in the 1971 Act "operational activities", which can be roughly translated to mean bricks and mortar, or the demolition of bricks and mortar. Secondly, under our planning laws "development" can also mean something rather different, of course. It can mean that development is assumed to take place where there is a change of user of premises or land; and under the general development order there are laid down all the different ways in which you may require planning permission because you are intending to make some change from the existing user.
I understand, therefore, that one of the reasons for this Bill is that under Section 90 of the 1971 Act you could use the stop order procedure only in the case of the bricks and mortar operations. If a person is engaged in development which consists simply of a change of user of the premises, then the stop notice procedure is not available to the planning authority. They have to have resort to the procedure of the enforcement notice and, as has been rightly said, that very often involves long delays and the damage may well be done to the environment or to the neighbourhood before the matter can be brought to a hearing at the appeal. I understand and support the importance of making a change in that regulation.
May I say further that I fully understand, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has said, that this Bill very largely follows the recommendations of Mr. Dobry in his report. It would be right to say, so far as I can judge, that the Bill entirely follows his views, with one qualification. It is the qualification to which I will come back in a moment; because Mr. Dobry, in his chapter about enforcement, came to the general conclusion that the stop notice procedure ought to be extended to change of use development as compared with operational activities. He went on in his recommendation to say this:There is to my mind the overriding need to have an effective means of bringing offensive activities to a halt without having to wait for the months or years while appeal procedures are completed, particularly since the potential profits from the activity may encourage the developer to drag out the appeal process as long as possible".I entirely agree with that, but the way in which that sentence differs from this 535 Bill is this. When you turn to Clause 1 of the Bill, it provides this:Where the local planning authority have served an enforcement notice in respect of any land, then,"—and I leave out the immaterial words—they may at any time before the notice takes effect serve a further notice (in this Act referred to as a 'stop notice') …prohibiting the carrying out on the land, or on any part of it specified in the stop notice, of any activity"—and I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the word "offensive" used by Mr. Dobry is omitted—so specified which is, or is included in, a matter alleged by the enforcement notice to constitute a breach of planning control".That is the point at which it seems to me this Bill has departed from what Mr. Dobry had in mind. Perhaps I may say this. I entirely agree that there must be cases of a change of user which involve an activity which is offensive in the sense of being injurious to the neighbourhood, the environment or the people who live in the neighbourhood. Clearly there must be cases of that kind. Offensive activities are not confined to operational activities. Equally clearly—and I do not think this can he argued about—there must be many cases where there has been a change of user in premises where the activity which is then engendered is not offensive to anybody, or is only minimally offensive to anybody.
I suppose the leading example is where a person is living in a house as his home and then, perhaps, decides to venture out into some kind of small business. In the early days of establishing his business (which may be to the benefit of the local community) he uses part of his premises as an office or a place to receive clients or the like; and, at a certain stage, his change of user will amount, inevitably, to a development for which he will require planning permission. That must be the case. There will be many cases of that kind where there is a change of user (and it does not injure anybody) where it would be perfectly reasonable to allow the present law to continue; that is to say, to allow the planning authority, if they were so minded, to issue an enforcement notice and let the propriety of this activity he considered in due course on an appeal. No harm will be done to anybody unless the activity is offensive.
536 Under this Bill, since any activity which constitutes a change of user can be prohibited by a stop notice issued by the planning authority, the activity of such a person as I have described—however innocuous it may be; and even if the people living in the locality do not even know it is happening, so inoffensive is it—can be brought to an abrupt halt at 28 days' notice by the issue of a stop notice. Consider the possibilities of oppression which arise from that proposal! Supposing, as I have suggested, a man is establishing himself in business and is possibly performing some service which is of value to the local community and which they welcome, there is nothing whatever to stop the planning authority, if they are so minded or so advised, issuing a stop notice which will bring ruination on his little business and may mean that all his capital investment and plans are put at nought, quite unnecessarily, when nobody has been damaged.
It will be said that he can be compensated, perhaps, in the end. At the end of the procedure, it may be that he will be entitled to some form of compensation. But what compensation is it to a man to be told, "We have ruined your business and stopped you from engaging in a perfectly lawful exercise; but at the end of the day you may be entitled, if you can prove your case, to some kind of compensation"? It is no compensation at all.
There is an analogy here concerning the practice at the courts with regard to injunctions. As everybody knows, when a person complains that he is being injured in some way by the activities of his neighbour or anybody else, then, when he complains, if he complains, that his rights have been invaded or his privacy or his property or person interfered with improperly, he can take a civil action and go to the courts and say that he wants this case to be heard, but meanwhile, "I want this activity, this invasion of my rights, to be brought to an end and I am seeking an interim injunction".
When he does that, what are the principles which the courts apply? What the courts do is to say that the remedy of an interim injunction is not a remedy of right but a remedy at the discretion of the court. Before the court decides whether to grant the interim injunction, they have to apply 537 their minds to a number of questions, two of which are these. They must ask themselves, first: "Supposing this complainant's rights have been invaded, if we fail to give an injunction to stop the alleged invasion, will he be sufficiently compensated in damages if he can prove his case at the end of the day? "If they conclude, "Yes, he can be adequately compensated in damages or by some other relief", they will refuse the injunction. Similarly, they consider what would be the effect upon the person against whom the complaint is made if they grant an injunction stopping him from doing what he is doing. Will that have serious consequences for him? Will it involve him in great financial loss and the like?
That is what happens in a court of law. But if under this Bill the planning authorities are satisfied merely that there has been a technical breach of planning law and control, they can, without further ado, issue their injunction to the alleged offender and bring his business and operation summarily to a halt. They have not got to ask themselves: "What damage is this going to do to this man if we enjoin him against continuing with this activity?" They have not got to consider that at all, nor even whether this activity is offensive or harmful to anybody.
It may be said, and no doubt will be said, "You do not have to worry. Admittedly, we are giving these enormous and arbitrary powers to the planning authorities; but the planning authorities are made up of very reasonable people and we can rely on them to exercise their discretion in a compassionate and humane manner". There are two answers to that: one is a particular argument and the other is a more general argument. The particular argument is this. A planning authority, when it is confronted with an alleged breach of planning control, may often act in ignorance of the full facts or by inadvertence. They may not know to what extent, if at all, the activity which they are asked to stop is offensive to anybody. They may have no idea of the consequences of issuing a stop notice upon the person against whom it is issued. They may have little opportunity of ascertaining these facts for themselves, however well disposed they may be.
The more general and much more important argument is that it never well- 538 becomes a Government or indeed the Promoters of a Private Member's Bill to say: "Yes, we are admittedly vesting in an authority wide powers which can be abused, which can be oppressive, which can be capricious; but you have not to worry because they are all responsible people". I suggest that the proper approach should always be this: if you feel obliged to pass into the hands of any authority, at whatever level, powers which can be used oppressively, then, my Lords, what you ought to do is to seek every possible safeguard and write those safeguards into the Act in order to prevent, so far as you can, these powers being—
§ Baroness BIRK
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt. I did not want to spoil his flow of argument, because he was following a logical line. Although it is a Private Member's Bill, it has the support of the Government and it is only fair that I should intervene. I accept that Dobry, in his report, referred to bringing offensive activities to a stop; but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, who is well aware and well versed in these matters, knows how very difficult it is to define offensiveness in one place where it would not be offensive in another.
The noble Lord said that he saw the need for a provision of this sort in our planning law and I appreciate the motivation behind what he is suggesting; but it would mean, first, that there would be even more delay; the local planning authorities would be even more tentative about doing anything about it; the magistrates would have to decide on the question of offensiveness, and the Secretary of State would also have to do that. It seems that he is nullifying trying to promote any further progress in this area of the law.
If the agreed developer has the opportunity of showing on appeal against an enforcement notice that the authority were mistaken, and if a stop notice was served in connection with it, he will be compensated if they were wrong in law and he suffered loss through his prohibition. So he has a comeback. How otherwise, my Lords, do you find this balance between the local planning authority being able to stop some of these things which I know the noble Lord agrees are wrong, and, at the same time, trying to get this very delicate balance of a person's 539 rights? In any case, the notice can only affect an activity which started in the past 12 months. The noble Lord gave the impression—although I do not think he meant to do so—that this was something which would affect something which had been going on for many years.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, that is a rather lengthly intervention, but I am only too pleased that the noble Baroness has intervened at that length because it enables me to deal with one or two of the points which she raised. The first point was one which I was about to advance when she intervened. I do not disagree that there is a technical difficulty in deciding how one defines what is an offensive activity. Obviously, there is a difficulty in that. I was going to suggest that between now and the Committee stage of the Bill some consideration might be given by those of us who are interested as to what form of words might be adopted to meet the object which, in spite of what the noble Baroness has said, is the object we all have in mind. I am not trying by the amendment of this Bill to make it easier for the individual to engage in offensive activities—far from it. I am anxious that all offensive activities, if they are offensive and injurious to their neighbours, should be caught by the stop notice procedure.
I am anxious that activities which are not offensive to anybody, or so minimally offensive as to be unimportant, should not have the stop notice oppressively used against them, but that one should fall back upon the ordinary enforcement notice procedure which has been with us for so many years. I am not asking for a relaxation; it would be very odd if I were to be asking for a relaxation on people who injured the environment. I am asking for nothing of the sort. I hope that between now and the next stage there may be come consultation between the noble Lord, with the assistance of the noble Baroness, in order that we can see whether some form of words can be devised which may be written into the Bill to avoid the oppressiveness of which it is capable as it is now drawn.
There are a number of ways in which this may be done. May I cast about by way of catching a "fish" one suggestion as to the form that the necessary clause 540 might take. Would it not be perfectly practicable, and in accord with some previous legislation, to provide this. If a planning authority were confronted with what they regard as a breach of planning control, and they were minded to have resort to the stop notice procedure, before adopting that procedure and issuing a stop notice they should be under a statutory requirement to have regard to two factors: one is the extent to which the activity is indeed, if at all, offensive; secondly, that they should have due regard, after making such inquiries as they thought fit, to the consequences to the individual against whom the stop notice is to be made.
On the matter of compensation, the noble Baroness is not right. If you stop a man's business in its tracks, or suppose you do not come across his little business until he has been operating for two or three years and then you discover that he has made a change of user to his home, if you put a stop notice in then and smash his business up, it is no answer to say, "If you go on and appeal against the enforcement notice, eventually you may be entitled to some compensation". Nothing can compensate him for it.
These are Committee points, and I am sorry that I have kept the House for so long. I say this in a friendly spirit: I hope the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will be prepared to discuss this matter with me and anybody else who shares my concerns before we reach the next stage, in order that we may see whether we can agree upon a formula to meet a requirement upon which we all agree.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I would hesitate—I almost said to intervene—to wind up in such lengthy and erudite proceedings between the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the noble Baroness. I should like to take the easy part of my remarks first and thank the noble Baroness for her kind welcome of the Bill and also to thank her, her colleagues and advisers for the help my colleagues and I have received.
May I attempt to answer some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Foot. He started by complaining of a surfeit of legislation. Many of us in this House and also in another place are 541 certainly with hint on that particular score; but I believe that the object of this Bill is not just to add—I think the noble Lord's words were "another chapter", although that is possibly how it may appear ultimately in a bound volume in the Library. I believe that the object of this Bill is to refine and see that the existing law, the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, can be more adequately and efficiently enforced.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, complained of a "thicket of regulations". To some extent I would also go along with him there. I am a relative novice in this aspect of planning, and when one takes this Bill and compares it with the Town and Country Planning Act, one realises that we are in more than a thicket: we are in a forest. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that we must do our best to keep legislation as simple as possible to understand. The noble Lord gave a particular example of how the Bill, he believes, can and will affect the liberty of the small businessman. While I think we should all like to see the small businessman supported, what concerns us, as sponsors of the Bill, is licence. I believe that eminent and learned members of the legal profession, such as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, will be able to help me over "liberty" and "licence", but from my preliminary studies I understand there is a fairly wide gulf between the two. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, continued to define "development" and I took the point that a 1971 stop notice does apply to what he calls "operational activities" and also to what he calls "bricks and mortar".
I think we would all agree that the enforcement order under the existing Act can become lengthy and cumbersome, but the noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred to the Dobry recommendations as they refer to the Bill. I believe that anyone who studied the recommendations of Mr. George Dobry would find that the Bill enshrines two recommendations: I believe they appeared in chapter 12, No. 8 and chapter 12, No. 9. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, quoted from the recommendation concerning stop notices in chapter 12.8. I would ask him if he would look higher in that same paragraph, because there he will find this comment:I do not see this as a valid objection in principle, although it may mean that authorities 542 will always be less willing to serve stop notices in respect of uses for fear of attracting a compensation claim".I believe that is of considerable relevance when we are considering this particular recommendation. However, we shall be able to go further into the matter at a later stage, and perhaps before the next stage.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, if the noble Lord would permit me, may I just read the whole of that paragraph, if it is not too tedious? Mr. Dobry says:Stop notice procedure should be extended to change of use".Then he went on:The reason generally given for restricting the application of stop notices to operational development is that there is often much greater difficulty in finding out whether a material change of use has taken placeIt was in that connection that he went on to say:I do not see this as a valid objection in principle, although it may mean that the authorities will always be less willing to serve stop notices in respect of uses for fear of attracting a compensation claim".I do not dissent from that in ally way at all. I wholly approve of the provisions in this Bill which will allow the planning authorities to get further information so that they know what they are doing in the case of an alleged change of use. I am all in favour of that, and I have no quarrel with Mr. Dobry about it.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, at least we are beginning to get on to the same field in that we are considering the whole of that paragraph. I think it is valuable that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has realised that we must consider the whole of that paragraph in the recommendations. However, I think we would all agree that any offensive action must always mean different things to different people in different areas. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, addressed the major part of his remarks to the problems of small businessmen. I think he agrees that often great benefit to the whole community arises from their activities. But what about the neighbours?
I should like to give one example of a case where there might well be a need for one of those giant machines which go by the name of "sludge-gulper". If a particular "sludge-gulper" was operating in 543 a certain area of a community but was later parked further away, perhaps in a residential area, it might well cause grave disturbance to the occupants of that residential area. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Foot, would not agree that they, too, should have a valid claim to make an objection and that the planning authority might be right in putting a stop notice on parking or minor operations. Indeed, the business would be of considerable value to the community elsewhere; but that is the kind of example that I had in mind. However, I do not think we shall argue out this matter tonight. We can settled the details away from your Lordships' House and before the next stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, wished us to take note of oppressive stop notices. I can see quite easily there could be examples of where an oppressive stop notice would mean, as he put it, the ruination and destruction of a business. But I must say I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Foot, would be at one with me in thinking that there are reasonable provisions in the Bill whereby an aggrieved individual whose business is, or is likely to be, ruined, can obtain compensation. I will refer to this question of compensation later.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, also mentioned that an injunction could be raised by the defender in such a claim. The court, I agree, would have to ask whether the innocent victim—in this case the small businessman—might be inadequately compensated. But I think it is asking a great deal of the court to see what would be adequate compensation 12 months, 15 months or 24 months hence. It is very difficult for a court to decide whether or not an injunction should be granted, based on what compensation might be given in 24 months' time. I think that is just a little hard on the court.
I would agree that the court must consider offensive uses to third parties, but I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Foot, would agree and appreciate that in practice the fear of compensation at present acts as a major brake to many local planning authorities as regards their issuing of stop notices, and that many of the complaints which have led to support for this Bill have emanated from persons 544 who are aggrieved by the fear of local planning authorities in use of the existing regulations. I believe that certainly those aggrieved individuals have a reasonable right to representation and reasonable right to expect something to be put into the legislation. I agree that it may not be perfect and that we should negotiate further with any other interested parties in this field. But I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, was in danger of going a little too far about his innocent victim, and I wondered just how small and how innocent his activities might be.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, it may be entirely my fault, but the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has entirely misunderstood me upon this point. I am in favour of that fear which might lurk in the minds of planning authorities when they are considering enforcement procedures, being removed as far as possible. That is why I am all in favour of the provisions of the Bill, by which planning authorities can make themselves better informed about the consequences and the possibility of compensation, if they issue an enforcement notice or a stop notice. I am anxious to remove these fears. I do not want to rely upon them in any way.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, is misunderstanding me as well as I him, in that the point I seek to make is that the fear of compensation is already a reasonable brake upon the present stop notice. That is being found in practice by local planning authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, ended his remarks by asking what were the objects of this Bill. They are not the inadvertent, the unwilling or the involuntary destruction of anybody's business or livelihood. I would say that if a business or livelihood results in unreasonable disturbance to other persons and other interests, which is what I mean by "offensive", then the Bill is well founded and deserves support. We have spent a considerable amount of time on this Bill, but I am grateful to all those who have spoken, and am grateful, also, for the amount of detail which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has put into his argument.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.