HL Deb 28 February 1991 vol 526 cc1115-58

4.10 p.m.

Proceedings after Third Reading resumed.

Clause 1 [Planning contravention notices]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 17, leave out ("fourteen") and insert ("twenty-one").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 16 which is tabled in the name of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate. These two government amendments respond to the concern expressed by my noble friends Lord Stanley and Lord Coleraine when they spoke to Amendment No. 5 tabled in their names on Report. They were especially concerned that the time limit of 14 days for responding to a planning contravention notice was too short where the recipient may be temporarily away from the premises and that it gave too little time for solicitors to investigate complex matters which might be involved in responding correctly to the notice.

We have re-examined that procedural point carefully. While the recommendation in the Carnwath Report is that the time limit for a response to that new notice should be 14 days to avoid delay in obtaining essential information, we recognise that that period will in some cases be too short to enable the recipient of a notice and his advisers to acquire all the detailed information the planning authority may require. As my noble friend Lord Coleraine pointed out, a comparable procedure for requiring information to be given to the planning authority, which is now in Section 330 of the 1990 Act, provides for a response to be given within a minimum period of 21 days after the date of service of the notice. We now propose, as a reasonable compromise, a time limit of 21 days for the recipient's response to the "planning contravention notice" As well as going some way to meet the concern expressed by my noble friends, a 21-day limit will have the advantage of similarity to the provisions of Section 330 of the 1990 Act. Practitioners will therefore be able to assume, in most cases, that the same time limit will apply for both purposes.

I hope that that compromise commends itself to my noble friends and other noble Lords. Amendment No. 2 makes the appropriate change to Clause 1, for England and Wales; and Amendment No. 16 makes a corresponding change to the Scottish provisions in Clause 26. I beg to move.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, my noble friend never ceases to amaze me. When we discussed this point in Committee and on Report she more or less told me and my noble friend Lord Coleraine to jump in the Thames. I am therefore enormously grateful that she has changed her mind since then.

Lord Coleraine

My Lords, I join my noble friend in welcoming the amendment. I still believe that 28 days is the right time. It may be that this is a matter which will be referred to again in another place. To move from 14 days to 21 days—as against the 28 days for which we were asking—is, in all the practicalities of the matter, to meet us considerably more than half way. The 14-day notice in cases where failure to comply was criminalising—I make no apologies for using that word—the person who received the notice, sounded bad and would have been counterproductive; 21 days does not produce that feeling, and so I support the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11 [Rights of entry for enforcement purposes]:

The Lord Advocate (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie) moved Amendment No. 3: Page 17, line 46, after ("authority") insert ("and state the purpose of his entry").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 19, 23, 30, 31, 47, 48, 52, 55, 57 and 58. The amendments are tabled in response to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, when he moved his Amendment No. 44 on Report. He proposed that the words and state the grounds on which entry has been authorised should be inserted at the end of paragraph (a) in the new Section 196C(1) of the 1990 Act. The purpose of his amendment was to enable an owner or occupier, where the planning authority is exercising the right of entry on to land, to require the authorised officer to state the grounds on which entry has been authorised.

The Government's amendment is not in exactly the same terms as that proposed by the noble Lord because we believe that what an owner or occupier of land wants to know, when the right of entry is being exercised, is the purpose for which authority to enter has been given. Moreover, if we referred to "grounds" for entry, that might create confusion with the purposes for entry which are stated in Section 196A(1) and the reference in that subsection to reasonable grounds for entering the land".

While it is right that an owner or occupier should be told the purpose for which land is to be entered in pursuance of the planning authority's power of entry, it is also important not to place too onerous a burden on the authority, which might result in delay or an unjustified attempt to prevent entry. We envisage that the use of the expression "state the purpose" in the amendments will enable the authority's officer merely to say why he has been authorised to enter the land. We do not believe that a formal document stating the purpose of entry will always be needed provided that the authority's officer invariably carries proper evidence of his identity as an employee of the planning authority and of his own authority to exercise the right of entry.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for prompting these improvements. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Meston perhaps I may thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for carrying out his promise to amend the Bill. I realise the amendment is not the same as that proposed by my noble friend, but it sounds satisfactory to me and I am extremely grateful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 4: Page 18, line 8, leave out ("is") and insert ("or chattels are").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I referred to this matter in Committee and on Report when my noble and learned friend conceded that I had something of a point. I am therefore assuming that he has something hopeful to say to me. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley are concerned with the problem he raised on Report, where damage is caused to "property" as opposed to "land" when the right of entry on to land for enforcement purposes is exercised. I understand my noble friend's anxiety on that issue and I hope that we may arrive at a mutually acceptable arrangement for dealing with it.

In reply to my noble friend on Report, I said that we would write to him about the matter. In the meantime, it is fair to say that my noble friend has himself had further thoughts, because his amendments are now drafted in terms of "chattels", instead of "property".

I reassure my noble friend that we continue to think that there may be merit in his suggestion and we are sympathetic to it, but this is a difficult area of law and the precise effect of the proposed changes needs careful scrutiny. We also need to examine comparable provisions in other legislation. On Report my noble friend referred to the Water Resources Act and the Gas Act, but those are not the only two comparable pieces of legislation that must be considered. There is also, for example, the Building Act 1984.

We wish to ensure that any amendment we might make to planning legislation is consistent with similar provisons elsewhere. We should like the opportunity to consider the best way of achieving my noble friend's aim in his amendments. We shall then let him know how we think the matter might best be dealt with. With that further assurance, I hope that my noble friend will agree not to pursue his two amendments.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, as I understand it, my noble and learned friend accepts the principle of my amendment but has not got round to drafting the correct amendment because the "help" from his lawyers has not been helpful. I see nothing wrong with the two Acts that I proposed that we should follow, but obviously his lawyers think differently. If he can show by a nod that he intends to put this point forward in another place so that we have it right, I would be happy to withdraw the amendment. However, I point out—my noble friend may think that this is churlish—that I raised this matter in Committee and I have written to him since, and there has been time for the lawyers to sort the matter out. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord Norrie moved Amendment No. 6: After Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

  1. General environmental duty 20,394 words, 2 divisions