HL Deb 06 December 1983 vol 445 cc989-92

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action is being taken to enable health authorities wishing to dispose of property to achieve maximum benefit, which is presently prevented by the Law Officers' ruling in March that planning permission cannot be obtained for Crown land before sale.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Government accept the need for amending legislation, and a Bill—the Town and Country Planning Bill—was introduced in another place on Thursday of last week.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Might I ask whether he saw the reports on this matter in the Guardian on 31st October and in the Sunday Times last Sunday. 4th December, which pointed out that Section 266 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 may have made many buildings erected over the past 12 years technically illegal? If this is the case, can he inform me whether the legislation now introduced will correct that anomoly?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords; I saw the Sunday Times article but I regret that I did not see the Guardian article. There are most certainly not hundreds of developments carried out on Crown land in the past 12 years that are technically illegal. Most sales of surplus Crown land have been carried out according to the Circular 49/63 procedure, under which formal planning permission is not obtained until the sale has been completed. Apart from anything else, it was not the Town and County Planning Act 1971 but the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 from which these problems stem.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether it is still a fact that Crown property which is to be disposed of must first be offered to other Government departments before proceeding to public sale? Secondly, if a sale is effected, who gets the money?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as usual, if a sale is effected the Treasury would get the money. As to Crown land having to be offered to other Government departments, I am afraid I have no idea on this. I should rather doubt it, but if I am wrong I will write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister a question concerning the present policy of large mental hospitals trying to get their patients out into the community where the hospitals have a considerable amount of land available which could be sold off on the open market? Does the noble Lord agree that the health authorities need every single penny they can get hold of to be able to get these patients resettled in the community?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, I would agree with that but I am not sure that this is the way to go about it. In any event, with respect, I suggest that that is rather a different question.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, would the noble Lord the Minister give the House an assurance that he will not consult the Scottish Office on this problem of land sales?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords; I know the Scottish Office was referred to, and an assurance was asked for, but I did not hear on what.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, is it really true that if the health authority sells a property the benefit goes to the Treasury rather than to the health department?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I said that I rather doubted it, and that I did not know, but that I would write to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. Obviously I should be delighted to send a copy of my letter to the noble Lord.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Minister aware that there are at this moment cases where psychiatric hospitals are trying to get rid of adjacent land which is vital to the recovery of the patients in those hospitals? If the land goes there will be nowhere for the patients to be properly exercised, so that they can be returned to the community fit and able to make a contribution to society. Is he further aware that some of the adverts concerned with getting rid of this land are almost distasteful and of a commercial character which debases the principles of our National Health Service?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords, I am not aware of any of that. My understanding is that in many cases it is not only the land but also the hospitals themselves which are being sold as a unit, and I cannot see any objection to that in cases where the hospitals are no longer required for their original purposes.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that what he has said about the disposition of this money appears to be contrary to the assurances that were given to me by his noble colleague, Lord Glenarthur, last week?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have said, I think, on two previous occasions that I am not sure of the correctness of the answer I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. I said that if I was wrong I would write to him.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, would my noble friend inform me roughly what the time schedule would be? Also, will he confirm that obviously a much better price can be obtained by a national health authority disposing of surplus land if they can do so with planning permission? Is he aware that many national health authorities are currently delaying their sales until this change takes place? Does he also accept that the special health authority of which I am amember was informed that funds from sales go to the general health service funds, but usually the particular hospital which is selling is given some credit for the money obtained?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. I confirm that in producing the Bill and introducing it into another place we acted with some speed once the problem had been identified. I should not like to give the House any estimate as to how long such a Bill would take to get on to the statute book, but I should be very surprised if it was not enacted by next summer. So far as the delay in sales is concerned, the recent judgment was only about Crown interest land. Therefore, if there were to be a non-Crown interest in land that land would not be affected.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, as the noble Lord the Minister has succeeded in sowing a good deal of confusion in the House, both as to where the destination of certain monies lie and as to the other matter on which I understood he was going to write to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would he consider being good enough to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that he should put down a further Question—probably a Question for Written Answer —to the Government, so that all the rest of us who would like to be in on this act can know the true position?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. That would certainly be a way of doing it. Perhaps if I can have private discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, afterwards we can come to a suitable arrangement.