§ 2.57 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, DEPARTMENT of the ENVIRONMENT (Lord Bellwin)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 178:
Before Clause 75, to insert the following new clause:
§ ("General provision for transfer of functions
§ Sections (Excepted districts) to (Highways and transportation) below shall have effect for the purpose of adapting the provisions of—
- (a) public general Acts passed before, or during the same session as this Act; and
- (b) instruments made before the passing of this Act under public general Acts, being instruments of a legislative character and not being instruments in the nature of local enactments;
§ The noble Lord said: I feel that it would be for the convenience of the Committee 846 if I spoke to Amendments Nos. 178, 178A, 179 and 180. This will ensure a general debate on the new clauses involved in the principle that I am seeking to establish: namely, the return to some district councils of some functions lost under the Local Government Act 1972, subject to the decision of a district council to seek such powers and subject to the final approval of the appropriate Secretary of State. Thus, I move Amendment No. 178.
Before proceeding further, I should like to quote from the Sunday Telegraph (which has been mentioned already today) of 27th July, 1980. In a small leading article headed, "Second Thoughts", they say:
When last in office Sir Keith Joseph imposed a top-heavy structure of bureaucracy on the Health Service. The present Tory Government sensibly decided last week to streamline all this, thus showing a welcome willingness to learn from past errors. Perhaps the same spirit of repentance could now be demonstrated in the field of local government? Not even Mr. Peter Walker, the author of that example of Tory reform 'under Mr. Heath, could claim that utopian perfection has resulted from it".
§ The amendments are a very modest step in the direction outlined by the newspaper. They are not revolutionary; there is no party political angle to them whatever. Among local authorities likely to be involved so far as district councils are concerned, there is all-party support whatever the political party control of the council might be.
§ Before proceeding to the main arguments, I feel that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I gave a brief explanation of each new clause. I shall also refer briefly to the new schedules which I withdrew on Friday last: these were withdrawn for the time being in the hope of some fruitful results.
§ The first new clause (Amendment No. 178) is a replica of Section 179(1) of the Local Government Act 1972. It is merely a general provision designed to make sure that, in any legislation dealing with the transfer function, it applies to excepted districts—that is, any district to which all or any of the additional powers being sought are transferred. For all other purposes the present titles of district or district council would continue to be applied. The clause is also worded to allow for power sharing if in any particular case the 847 district and county council preferred it that way, or indeed if the Secretary of State thought that such an arrangement would be more appropriate.
§ The next new clause (Amendment No. 178A) deals with how excepted districts would get their new powers. This would be by application rather than as an automatic right. The clause has been drafted in this way because, first, it would allow the flexibility of making the transfer of functions adaptable to local circumstances. For example, if a district council, for its own reasons, did not want responsibility for education, or wanted to share a highways function, such arrangements would be possible. Secondly, although it is presumed that initially only applications from the larger urban authorities would be successful, applications by districts developing in that direction would be possible at a later date without amending legislation.
§ The new clauses in Amendments Nos. 179 and 180 provide for the transfer of education, social services, highways and traffic management to excepted districts. So far as the schedules to which I have referred are concerned, they deal respectively with arrangements for considering applications and for the transfer of staff. The schedule covering arrangements for consideration is worded to safeguard public interest and to provide the Secretary of State with adequate information on which to base his final decision.
So far as the reorganisation carried out under the 1972 Act is concerned, it is now being, I think it will be accepted, clearly revealed as a failure. This is because the reorganisation was based upon a number of gross errors of judgment. The reorganisation was based on functionalism, service by service and not on living communities. But social purposes and political will are found and expressed in communities, especially urban communities, not in widespread counties. This was the secret of the success of the old county boroughs, acknowledged by the Royal Commission on Local Government as:
the most effective local government unit we have known".
§ The reorganisation was based on false ideas of the economy of size, and size is 848 now revealed in many instances as a disadvantage. Over a large geographical area the political direction of a service becomes flabby and the administration becomes top-heavy. There are long lines of communication and consequently the centre becomes insensitive to requirements at ground level. Such a top-heavy administration is unnecessarily costly, and size, so far from conferring savings, entails extravagance.
§ The architects of the new system failed to realise that specialist requirements (for example, in education and social services) have always been dealt with by freely negotiated arrangements between adjoining local authorities, and these arrangements produced satisfactory results. Putting services like education and social services on a county-wide basis may have reduced a number of joint arrangements but has not of itself improved the quality of the service nor has it eliminated the need for joint arrangements entirely, because there will always be some special-isms and some pioneering ventures which require a wider catchment area.
§ This is not a question of political outlook—both the Big 11 of England's major cities (outside the metropolitan areas) and the group of medium-sized cities and boroughs contain councils controlled by both Conservative and Labour majorities. This issue is felt keenly throughout all the important boroughs and cities of the country, irrespective of their political complexion.
§ Now a word on finance. I have no doubt that it will be protested that any further reorganisation of local government will be expensive, as was the, in everyone's opinion, ill-advised reorganisation of 1974. This is not true of the amendment proposals, for the following reasons: first, more compact units of administration will be more economical to run; and, secondly, in the case of highways, the duplication of professional work carried out by both the county and agent district councils will be eliminated. The district staff engaged in the highways function will be detached from the county and become self-sufficient. The Bill already reorganises the need to eliminate the duplication of work on planning, and exactly the same principle is concerned in the duplication of work in highway agencies. If a district can run an agency, it can run an independent service.849
§ In the case of social services and education, most counties have separate area administrations for the boroughs and cities which are likely to benefit from these proposals. There will be a simple hiving-off of staff already engaged on the work of the urban community and a more compact administrative set-up.
§ There will be a substantial economy in the more effective deployment of staff and the evolution of policies more directly related to the needs of the urban community. Any possible marginal increase in costs in education or social services will, in the firm view of the borough and cities, he more than compensated by the more effective utilisation of the staff employed.
§ Now a word about education. I am basing my remarks entirely on the city of Norwich, which as members of the Committee will know, is very close to my heart. The situation in 1974 was entirely self-sufficient. The city council had provided and maintained the following: the Technical College (the City College), which took pupils not only from the city, but also from all central Norfolk and had representatives of the county council on its governing body; the School of Art, which had national recognition and was controlled by a very widely-based board of governors; first and second schools which were entirely adequate for the population of the city; a completely comprehensive system for senior boys and girls with three direct grant schools running alongside; special schools, including two for educationally sub-normal children, one for physically handicapped children and one with boarding facilities for maladjusted children; and a teachers' centre. The city employed eight specialist advisors. Before reorganisation, therefore, the city council maintained a progressive and effective educational system.
§ If the education service were returned to the city council, the colleges, schools and centres enumerated above would enable the city to be entirely self-sufficient immediately. It might well be logical to establish the City College as a joint institution controlled equally by the city and county education committees, in view of the big county interest in the facilities. Such joint arrangements are extremely effective in the case of the airport, the museums, the computer and 850 archives. There is no reason why Norwich and Norfolk should not work equally happily together in the field of further education. If in future the county council wished to be granted access to any of the special facilities of the city, there seems to be no reason why arrangements should not be negotiated.
§ The advantages of restoring the education service to the city council would be, first, that the service would be administered by knowledgeable councillors in whom a sensitivity to the needs of the city would be allied to political will and capacity; secondly, a compact unit would be run with fewer administrative overheads and would be more economical; and, thirdly, the county council would be able to concentrate with greater efficiency on rural problems.
§ Highways and traffic management are a very important issue. If the problems of our major towns are to be resolved, then a corporate approach is needed to all matters affecting the infrastructure and the environment. It is, therefore, imperative that highways and traffic management shall he in the hands of the immediate local urban community. Most boroughs and cities can point to the imposition of rural standards upon the cities by unthinking county councillors.
§ Traffic management and control, in particular, require the most sensitive handling by councillors who have an intimate knowledge of the needs of the area. County councillors, by reason of the size of their area, can rarely obtain such a sensitivity. Although almost all boroughs and cities of any substance carry out this work as agents of their county councils—and this is welcome—this is very definitely a second best. There can still be paralysing differences of view between county and city councils. Hiving-off will create no difficulty, because, as I have already said, almost all boroughs and cities of any size have an agency agreement and are already carrying out the effective part of this work.
§ There will be substantial economies, if the responsibility for highways and traffic is handed back to the boroughs and cities. There will no longer be a needless duplication of effort on the part of city and county staff and there will be a saving of time of 851 members of both councils. This argument, about duplication of effort between district and county, has already been accepted by the Government in the case of planning control, and the argument in respect of highways and traffic management is exactly parallel.
§ I should like to give an example of the effects of the present reorganisation on the city of Norwich. In Norwich, the unfortunate influence of the county council is seen in the following instances. The county council are orientated towards the private motor car and their aim seems to be to get as many cars into the city as cheaply as possible, whereas the city council, who live with the problem and are aware of the damaging impact upon the environment, seek to develop public transport instead.
§ The city's traffic restrictions, both central area and "residents only" schemes have to be policed by traffic wardens. But they are becoming less and less effective, because the county now provide only 15 wardens at maximum, whereas in 1974 the city council employed 36. The county council has opposed experiments such as "bus only" lanes.
§ But I now come to a part that really is astonishing. Norwich was the first authority in the country to create a pedestrianised street—London Street—but now all progress has been blocked by the county council. This is particularly frustrating, because 10 years ago Rouen, their twin city, sent representatives to look at what they had done and they returned to Normandy imbued with Norwich ideals. Now Rouen has a splendid network of "foot streets", whereas Norwich is stagnant. As highways authority, the county council will pay for only low standards of street lighting, cleaning, maintenance, trees, grass verges et cetera and the city has to top up the county's budget.
§ Finally, I come to what to me personally is the most important issue of the whole lot; that is, social services. To my mind, social services are the highest priority for change. In the large cities and towns, the case is overwhelming for the fullest integration of the main community services—housing, personal social services and health. This has an important 852 relationship to the reorganisation of the health services which was so wisely carried out by the present Government, in as much as new districts are being created and area authorities are being done away with. In the field of housing alone, it has become absolutely vital that social services and housing are in the hands of one authority which can deploy the combined resources to the best possible effect.
§ The concept of care in the community can best be realised within local government by concentrating at district level the community support services for families in need, the care of the elderly, children and the physically and mentally handicapped. It is the towns which mainly find in their midst the destitute, the victims of the poverty trap, the misfits and the inadequate. Urban areas throw up very different social problems from rural areas. There is a lot that could be said of the present division of responsibility for the frail and elderly who are unable to cope, on the one hand, and those needing sheltered accommodation, on the other.
§ In the social services field, the 1972 Act has created far more problems than it has provided solutions. The change can be made without increasing public expenditure, except in some minor respects in some areas, and any such minor increase would be more than justified by the vast improvements secured. In urban areas, particularly in the larger towns, the population looks to one local authority for a response and they are confused when services which are closely related are administered by different authorities, from different buildings and frequently with different priorities.
§ This confuses not only the man in the street, but voluntary organisations and professional people such as doctors and others. Putting control of social services at community level would end the confusion and, above all, ensure happy co-ordination with the housing service. I cannot stress too strongly that, of all the proposals put forward in these amendments, that affecting social services is most urgent and vital. Something must be done, and done soon.
§ The amendments which are before the Committee originated, as I have stated, in the city of Norwich, which has a proud 853 tradition of first-class local government administration and an acknowledged good, caring and efficient council. It is to my everlasting pride that I represented that city in another place for over 10 years. Yet I live and pay rates in the Greater London borough of Bexley. That is a newer authority, which is able to control and provide services taken away from experienced and capable cities such as Norwich.
§ I echo the words of the Sunday Telegraph, and hope that the same spirit of repentance which was so recently shown in the case of the National Health Service can now be demonstrated in the field of local government. I say in all sincerity that I hope the Government will accept, at least in principle, the amendments put forward and will carry on the progressive, sensible attitude which was shown in Section 1 of the Health Services Act 1980. I beg to move.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD
The Committee has listened with great interest to the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. But I have to say that he is lucky to be here in this House, because if he were back in another place and continuing to represent the city of Norwich with the distinction with which he represented it before, he would either have been ruled out of order or, almost certainly, his amendment would not have been called, because I have to say to the Committee that, in my view, it falls far outside the terms of the Title of the Bill.
The Bill is not concerned with the transfer of powers between the counties and the districts. All I rise to say is that if the Bill was concerned with that, I should have a great deal to say on behalf of the districts, the city of Norwich among them. It does not surprise me a bit that they feel as they do, and there are several other districts which feel likewise. But I submit to the Committee that this is not the Bill or the moment to be discussing these matters.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
I rise to give general support to the concept put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany. Having been a county borough councillor for a fair number of years, I appreciate in the fullest sense the advantages that that 854 system had to offer. As the noble Lord said, the Royal Commission said the same thing—that it was the most effective local government unit we have known. We then go off and abolish it. Many of the arguments that the noble Lord used in putting forward a case for the transfer of functions to many of the larger non-metropolitan districts are arguments that apply to the whole of the two-tier system of local government.
Many of us, particularly those of us who live in cities, have considerable reservations about the whole concept of two-tier local government. I do not have the kind of personal knowledge that noble Lords who live in shire counties and in cities in shire areas have about the sort of problems the noble Lord has mentioned, though I can see very clearly that the problems, in particular in social services and education, that cities, urban areas, confront are very often extremely and painfully different from the problems in the social services and in education that is county experience; and I think that is really the key to the problem.
There is a large number of paradoxes within this Bill. There is the paradox that the Bill proposes to give back to the district councils almost complete control in town and country planning. I should have thought there was a much better case for having a continuing county output, as no doubt we shall be hearing in many eloquent speeches which will be made on subsequent amendments. I am sure there is a better case for the counties to retain overall control of structure plans and so on at planning level than for them to retain, where there are big cities within the county, control of education and social services. It is a great pity that in drawing up this Bill the Government did not plan consistently a return to the bigger cities in the shire counties of the social services, the welfare services and education. Another paradox is that the Government have retained in this Bill the division between county and district over highways and highway management. Again, I should have thought that might have been—certainly it is in my county—a matter of more controversy than the control of town and country planning.
I must say, however, that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that while it is well-intentioned and a good thing that this matter should be aired, 855 I do not think it is appropriate to go in for piecemeal reorganisation in this way. I can fully understand the feeling in big cities such as Bristol, Nottingham, Leicester, Norwich, Ipswich and many others that they are not being properly served by being part of a county organisation after many decades of being all-purpose authorities. I should have thought that reorganising it along the lines suggested in the noble Lord's amendment would create almost as many anomalies as it would cure.
What would happen in a shire county where there was one district that became an authority which was responsible for its education and social services? What would happen in its relationship with the councillors on that council who went on representing the city that had now got its own services back while other districts within the same county did not have back education and the social services? It would create an enormous and, I should have thought, a greater anomaly and a greater problem than the problems it would solve.
I think that on all sides of the Committee there is great sympathy with the view the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, has put forward. The concept of all-purpose authorities is a concept that even those of us who live in metropolitan districts or metropolitan counties would very much prefer to have. How much more, therefore, would the big cities in shire counties prefer to have this? It is something that, as the noble Lord said, at least seeks a sympathetic word from the Government, but I do not believe it would be appropriate if we were to incorporate it into this Bill, complex and difficult as it is. I believe it would create further difficulties.
If we are considering reorganising there is a strong case, even in metropolitan counties, for further education becoming a county function throughout the country. But that is another reform which would be a piecemeal reform if it were incorporated here. I, and I am sure many members of my party and noble Lords across the party spectrum, support the concept and the feeling that local government would be better and more sensitive if this reform were carried through. But this is not the Bill in which to incorporate it.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
I wish to say a few words because I hope very much that the Committee will refuse to accept this amendment. It is w hat used to be known as Mr. Peter Shore's organic change proposals. Everyone thought that these had died a decent death when the last Government disappeared and I am sorry to see them raised again today. The noble Lord who proposed the amendment said that the 1972 Act had been a failure. That seems to me a little bit unkind to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who steered it so well through your Lordships' House. It may not have been a 100 per cent. success—no Act of Parliament ever is—and it has its faults, like many others. But on the whole people have learned to live with it, warts and all, and to make it work. I think the one thing that local government wants now is no more reorganisation for the moment. We have got enough to cope with in this Bill without starting something else.
Furthermore, it would create great uncertainty in the minds, not only of the public and the councillors—one may say that does not matter—but of everybody concerned with local government. They would not know where they were and it would be dreadfully unsettling for everybody concerned. When the proposals were suggested by the last Government independent people able to judge these things said the proposals then would cost about £80 million a year more for no noticeable improvement in services, so I do not think the noble Lord can be allowed to get away with a statement that it would cost nothing. In today's terms, £80 million then is probably worth nearer £100 million. I think it is absolutely wrong that the Committee should consider this amendment.
§ Lord BELLWIN
The new clauses and schedules are designed to put into effect the proposals of the previous Government for giving certain district councils responsibility for education, personal social services, highways and so on. It will come as no surprise when I say that I cannot accept these amendments. It is understandable that some of the non-metropolitan districts which had been county boroughs before 1974 would like to have some of their former county borough functions restored to them, but the result 857 would be to fragment responsibility for the services in question, not to mention disrupting their administration during any hand-over.
I am not one of those who belittle local pride. It has been a potent, creative force in the development of our local government services. It is a very natural and healthy thing that people should feel they could run their affairs better than anyone else. Indeed, that is very much what local government is about—letting people do things their own way simply because that is the way they choose to do them. So it is not surprising that some of the towns and cities which used to be county boroughs did not take kindly to the transfer of responsibilities to the county councils in 1974. If I may say so as an aside, that would have applied very much to me. But much as I sympathise with those feelings I really do not believe that any responsible Government could support the kind of Heath Robinson arrangements which Labour Ministers proposed under the name of organic change and which these amendments seek to put into effect.
Let us consider what the results would be. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, touched for a moment on a fundamental flaw in what is proposed in the amendments. A non-metropolitan county council which, as things stand, is the education, social services and highway authority for its area, might face a situation in which it no longer provided any of these services in District A. In District B it might provide education but cease to be responsible for social services and highways, while in District C it might lose only its highway functions. I must ask the Committee to consider whether such fragmentation of responsibilities could be in the interests of the efficient provision of services. Of course it could not be. The county council would still have to cater for the residue of its area while the district councils concerned would have to appoint senior staff to manage the services for which they had become responsible. Total costs would rocket.
Moreover, the administration of services would once again have to take account of the artificial boundaries between large towns and cities and their surrounding areas. This would be particularly regrettable in the case of education 858 where the decline in the school population makes it more necessary than ever to consider the needs of inner city areas and the suburbs together. So once again we would have still more duplication and over-overlap on waste, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
As a further reason why I would invite the Committee to reject the amendments, they would confuse accountability for the provision of services. One of the objects of the Bill is to make local democratic control more effective by ensuring that the public is adequately informed about local authority affairs and by clarifying the responsibility for decisions. If the responsibility for services varied from district to district within a single county—and that is what the effect would be—this would not help local electors to know which authority to hold accountable for which decisions. There is currently enough confusion as it is.
Finally, although for the reasons given we would not contemplate such changes it is only too easy to under-estimate the expense and strain of the process of transferring services from counties to districts. Staff and property would have to be transferred and this would offer ample scope for endless disputes. Moreover, the services concerned would suffer a loss of direction during the period of transition while the district came to grips with their new responsibilities and established their policies. Inevitably morale would suffer and the quality of service would be damaged.
From time to time any reorganisation may need to face up to the cost and strains of structural change for the sake of real benefits which can be gained in no other way. However, I maintain that no case whatsoever has been made out for the changes which the amendments envisage and I doubt whether those who favour such changes appreciate the damage they would cause.
The particular scheme put forward by the amendment, which is basically the Labour Government's organic change proposals, is, for the reasons I have given, and many more I could give, a nonstarter. Having gone through the trauma of the 1973–74 reorganisation, I frankly shudder at the prospect of another major upheaval such as acceptance of this 859 amendment would mean, particularly—I say so not unkindly, I hope—because it is ill-thought out, for the reasons I have given. For every authority it would please, 10, 20 or more would be bitterly opposed. The fragmentation aspect alone makes it totally impracticable.
The particular scheme put forward is, as I have said, unacceptable but there may be a case for another reorganisation in the future and one day something of that kind may well come about but, as my noble friend Lord Sandford said, this cannot possibly be the time to consider undertaking it. Although I have to say, wearing a former hat, that I both understood and had much sympathy with the basic motivation behind the proposal, for the reasons given we could not accept the amendment.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
At least I cannot say that I am surprised, but what did surprise me was what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is President of the Association of District Councils. He said that he did not think the amendment would get through in another place, simply because it is not contained in the Title of the Bill. In fact, it is possible to amend the Long Title and that is precisely what I have done. Later in the Marshalled List noble Lords will find that there is an amendment to that effect. I believe that the Commons are a bit tighter on Committee stages. One of the qualities of this House is that some of the tight restrictions of the Commons are not employed here. To that extent we are more democratic.
Secondly, I was not surprised at what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, had to say because he is the voice of the county councils, and the county councils have spoken. Turning to what the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, had to say, I traced in his voice a hint of sympathy but, as the dear lady said to the sailor, sympathy is not enough. I should have liked more. The noble Lord said that some time later it might be possible, which is a hint that the Government may consider it. That is all I am asking for. At the moment I am trying hard to get blood out of a stone. The noble Lord is not stone but the Government might be. If the noble Lord could say that the Government might consider this later on, I should be only too pleased.
860 The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, has pointed out some flaws. It is possible that there are flaws, but I think we were being kind to the Government in giving the Minister absolute control over local authorities to decide for themselves. My feelings on the matter are still very strong, but if the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, will go just a shade further and say that the Government will consider the possibility of reorganisation at some date in the future I shall be very grateful indeed.
§ Lord BELLWIN
The noble Lord really must not tempt me in this way. I will not say that I cannot but I had better not add anything to what I have already said.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
I was rather afraid of that, and normally I would be upset, but we have had a good debate, the point has been made and I hope that it will receive due publicity. To say that the majority of local authorities are against it is absolutely untrue. The county councils are against it, but I have had innumerable letters—no doubt other noble Lords have had similar letters—from all sorts of authorities of high repute, so this is not a minority demand. It is a demand on the part of a large number of people and authorities for whom in the past we have had the greatest respect. I do not intend to prolong the argument. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment standing in my name.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 178A, 179 and 180 not moved.]
§ Clause 75 [Distribution of planning functions between planning authorities]:
§ 3.39 p.m.
Lord MOTTISTONE moved Amendment No. 181:
Page 62, line 21, after ("be") insert ("and in any case not later than seven days").
§ The noble Lord said: In another place my right honourable friend the Minister of State said that the wording of this amendment would be incorporated in a code of practice. I refer to col. 2165 of Hansard of 17th April, Standing Committee D. Though there is some merit in having this wording in a code of practice, 861 the trouble with codes of practice is that they are not, strictly, legally binding. It would seem to me that this sort of provision would do better within the main body of the Bill or Act rather than in a code of practice. If the Government really want to make the planning system expeditious some legal guarantee ought to be added.
§ The wording of the amendment overcomes an earlier criticism that by specifying a number of days that period becomes the norm rather than the maximum. I suggest that this amendment is worthy of incorporation in the Bill and I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDFORD
This amendment would lay statutory duty on the local planning authority of a district council but it is a duty which they will be fulfilling under the voluntary code. I do not see any objection to having it in the statute, if that is the wish of the Committee.
§ Lord SANDYS
There was an extensive debate on this matter in another place. My noble friend Lord Ridley referred to the debate on 17th April and I have spent some time going over it. My right honourable friends and my noble friend Lord Bellwin have considered this amendment with great care. The question was of the precise meaning of the phrase "as soon as may be". Our intention in using this phrase was to indicate that it should be done as soon as possible, which would normally be much sooner than seven days. "As soon as possible" is not a phrase which is appropriate in law, and this was referred to in discussions on Standing Committee, since it could always be agreed that however quickly the job has been done it would have been possible, using some more extreme means, to do it faster. "As soon as may be" is an accepted form of legal wording to cover this point. Nevertheless, I can understand that some people, reading the Bill drafted in this way, might very well be left with a lingering doubt that the man with the responsibility for doing a job in a district council might not have the same interpretation of "as soon as may be" as the parliamentary draughtsman.
862 I would emphasise that copying these applications to county councils is something that should be done as promptly as possible, to avoid delays in deciding planning applications and, to make the point clear, I am happy to accept this amendment.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
If I might make a small point, my noble friend Lord Sandys referred to my noble friend Lord Ridley as having quoted the Standing Committee stage. I think he will find that it was I who referred to it, and perhaps the record should be amended accordingly. I have greatly welcomed my noble friend's acceptance of the amendment and I commend it to your Lordships.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 3.43 p.m.
Lord SANDFORD moved amendment No. 181A:
Page 62, line 29, at end insert ("and which appears to them to relate to the descriptions of development specified in paragraph 17 of Schedule 16 of the Local Government Act 1972.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment is concerned with the question of which planning applications to the district council's local planning authority should be referred to the local highway authority. The Bill prescribes in a rather elaborate way which these should be, in subparagraphs 3(B) and 3(C) of the amendments proposed to paragraph 15 of Schedule 16 to the Local Government Act 1972—the words printed on page 62, between lines 25 and 35. My contention is that this will lead to a very considerable and unnecessary amount of extra work. The definition of which matters should be referred to the local highway authority has been laid down in the Local Government Act 1972 since then and, so far as I know, has worked well.
The categories of matters are as follows—and I quote from the Act:
(a) the formation, laying out or alteration of any means of access to a road classified under section 27 of the Local Government Act 1966 or to a proposed road the route of which has been adopted by resolution of the local highway authority and notified as such to the local planning authority".
That is one category. The second category is:
(b) any other operations or use of land which appear to the local highway authority
to be likely to result in a material increase in the volume of traffic entering or leaving such a classified or proposed road".
It seems to me that that is a satisfactory definition to which the local planning authority can refer in deciding which planning applications it will pass on to the local highway authority for its opinion.
§ To use the definitions now proposed seems to me to involve about a quarter of a million further applications, not falling within this category, having to be sent to the county planning authority, which will now no longer be required to receive anything like so many planning applications—a matter which we are coining to in a moment in Amendment No. 182A. My submission to the Committee would be that, unless good reason can be shown why it should be otherwise, we should stick to the categories of planning applications already prescribed in the Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 16, paragraph 17.
§ Viscount RIDLEY
I wonder whether this is really a wise thing at this stage of the Committee? It seems to be putting a tremendous amount on to the district council; it is a case of its being judge and jury in its own cause. So many planning applications involve technical highways matters that this could be a dangerous thing to introduce.
§ Lord SANDYS
This amendment raises the interesting question of whether it is necessary for county highway authorities to be able, if they choose, to see a copy of every planning application, or whether it would be sufficient for them to see only those which the district believe could be the subject of the highway authorities' power to direct refusal. The issue goes wider than planning and falls as much, if not more, in the field of the Department of Transport as within the Department of the Environment.
The question of local highway authorities' responsibilities in planning matters and of the Department of Transport's equivalent responsibilities in relation to trunk roads is one to which we shall be giving thought. This is not the right occasion for making such a change, but I shall want to bear in mind the arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Sandford.
864 I was glad that my noble friend Lord Ridley had very strong reservations which he has expressed. I can see one technical problem in the amendment as its stands, which is that paragraph 17 of Schedule 16 to the Local Government Act 1972 refers to operations which "appear to the local highway authority" to have certain effects on the highway. The effect of the amendment is therefore to make it the district's responsibility to determine how an application may appear to the local highway authority. District councils might well be a little nervous at having to make that kind of judgment. It is a matter of judgment here. We believe that it would be unwise to proceed with this amendment, and I commend dist judgment to the Committee.
§ Lord EVANS of CLAUGHTON
This is a terrible and bloody struggle to the death between the district councils and the county councils—part of the struggle which is centred on Clause 75. Being a county council man, I take the same view as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I think that Clause 75 is a totally bad clause and that this amendment makes it a bit worse. I therefore oppose it, as the noble Viscount does.
§ Lord SANDFORD
District councils are not at all nervous about taking this decision. They think it a very straight forward one, with the help of the Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 16, paragraph 17, which makes the job absolutely straightforward. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, will be disappointed in the bloody battle that he anticipates between the counties and the districts because, as he will see in a moment or two, everything will be sweetness and light!
I believe that the reservations of my noble friend Lord Ridley were not strong at all; they were extremely feeble. Nevertheless, with the assurance that we received from my noble friend on the Front Bench that the Government will look into the matter again, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord SANDYS
I think it may be for the convenience of the Committee if we take the Statement at this stage, and, with 865 the agreement of your Lordships, I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved, accordingly and, on question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.