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Clause 105—(Special Provisions As To London)

Volume 437: debated on Monday 12 May 1947

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I beg to move, in page 106, line 35, at the end, to insert:

"(3) Without prejudice to the powers conferred by Section thirty-five of this Act, or by Section thirty-six of this Act as modified by the last foregoing subsection, if the Minister of Health is satisfied that it is expedient in the public interest that any land within a metropolitan borough (whether designated by a development plan as subject to compulsory acquisition or not) should be acquired by the council of that borough for the purpose of providing a public open space, he may authorise that council to acquire that land compulsorily; and the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, except Section two of that Act, shall apply to the compulsory acquisition of land under this subsection as if this subsection had been in force immediately before the commencement of that Act:
Provided that the council of a metropolitan borough shall not, except with the consent of the London County Council be authorised to acquire land compulsorily under this subsection."
This Amendment confers powers on the metropolitan boroughs to purchase land compulsorily for the purpose of providing open spaces. This is a matter in which the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) was interested. At present the metropolitan boroughs have no such power; this is a new power which is being conferred upon them, on condition that they only exercise it with the consent of the London County Council. It is intended, and indeed all that was asked for by the metropolitan boroughs was, that the powers should apply to relatively small areas of two acres, or less, but no limit is provided for in the Amendment because it was felt that the matter could be dealt with by arrangement between the London County Council and the metropolitan boroughs.

I am sure the Committee will turn to this Amendment with a sense of relief, because apart from anything else it is refreshingly free from all ambiguity, and must be welcomed in all parts of the Committee. It confers for the first time on metropolitan borough councils the power to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of providing small open spaces. All those hon. Members who represent London constituencies, as does the Minister himself, will be conscious of the acute need in this congested urban area for small open spaces, and I am sure the metropolitan boroughs will be encouraged by this addition in the Bill to seek out small open spaces, even though it may be only an acre here and an acre there, which can be turned into oases for recreation and safety for the London children who are at present so frequently condemned to play in the streets. It is appropriate that these powers should be exercised only with the consent of the London County Council and of the Minister, but I hope that all metropolitan borough councils will avail themselves to the full of the powers now conferred.

I also welcome the Amendment, but I should like to ask the Minister why it was not possible to include the metropolitan borough councils together with the City of London in Subsection (2, a). If they had the powers under Clauses 36 and 37, this Amendment would not be necessary.

Clauses 36 and 37 deal with acquisition generally by local planning authorities, and the metropolitan boroughs are not planning authorities.

My question still applies; Why did not the Minister include the metropolitan boroughs and give them the same powers as the City of London, which are contained in Subsection (2, a)? The Minister would then have been saved the bother of having this Amendment.

I am not very worried about the Amendment. That method of saving the Amendment would have been much more embarrassing than the embarrassment caused by the Amendment. It would have meant making the metropolitan boroughs planning authorities and so creating 28 planning authorities for the county of London instead of one.

The purpose of the Amendment is admirable, and I have only one query. In lines 2 and 3, it is stated:

"If the Minister of Health is satisfied that it is expedient in the public interest that any land … should be acquired …."
It seems to me that this is a slight invasion by the Minister of Health of the functions of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. It is true that parks and open spaces are healthy and wholesome things, but one of the chief objects of good planning is to provide for the health and convenience of the people, and I should have thought that in a case of this sort, where one might easily get the London plan as such interfered with by the action of the Minister of Health, at the behest of the metropolitan boroughs and the London County Council, it would be as well to provide that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should be the Minister prescribed. There have recently been attempts by other Ministers to invade the province of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. Not long ago the Postmaster-General attempted to erect on White Horse Hill a structure which offended the sensibilities of those who feel about these things, and we were all greatly relieved when that project was abandoned. I should have thought that a matter which so vitally concerned the structure of the plan for London as does the provision of open spaces would have been a matter for the Minister of Town and Country Planning and not for the Minister of Health.

The right hon. Gentleman is now going back on Clause 35 which has been disposed of, and under Clause 35 it is the appropriate Minister—the Minister responsible for the exercise of the powers under which the acquisition takes places—who has the duty of approval, and whose approval is also deemed to be a planning approval. As I explained in Committee, that approval will be given after consultation with the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I can give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that there will be the closest co-operation between the two Ministers and that no consent will be given by the sanctioning Minister except after consultation with the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The acquisition of open spaces is a function of the Minister of Health, and, therefore, it is right that he should give the sanction for the acquisition, but he will not give it without first consulting the Minister of Town and Country Planning and getting his agreement.

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the sanction being given by the appropriate Minister. It is our submission that the Minister of Health is the inappropriate Minister. Surely, the matter should go rather further than a mere question of public health. There might very well be cases in which acquisition was not necessary for public health, but nevertheless would add to the amenities of the district, and in those cases would not the appropriate Minister be the Minister of Town and Country Planning?

It is under the Public Health Acts, the Physical Training Act, and various other Acts of Parliament for which the Minister of Health is responsible, that these acquisitions will take place.

Surely, the Minister who gives the sanction to the local authority to raise the money to acquire the park or open space is the Minister who should function in this respect. In this case, it is the Minister of Health.

On the question of liaison between Ministers and Government Departments in regard to the acquisition of land for various purposes, of course the Minister will be aware there is considerable concern in the public mind about the exercise of these powers by all sorts of different Ministeries. While I do not wish to trespass beyond the bounds of Order in referring to proposals that are made from time to time that these powers should be canalised and centralised, there is one point to which I wish to refer. The Minister said there would be the closest consultation between himself and the Minister of Health and other appropriate Ministers in these cases. I would like to put a question which is not only proper but most important and practical—can the Minister give some indication as to what arrangements and machinery there arc for liaison and consultation rather lower down the departmental ladder where these matters tend to be initiated, and sometimes to be disposed of, subject perhaps to the retrospective veto of the Minister if his attention is called to what otherwise, in the press of his duties, he might not see, by some agitation in the Press or by a Parliamentary question? I quite appreciate that in this case the powers are given to the Minister of Health, and given in the wisdom of Parliament, so that no doubt they are given rightly, but I think the Minister would allay a good deal of reasonable anxiety which is felt in many parts of the country irrespective of political feeling if he would address himself to the question I have put to him.

The right hon. Gentleman the Minister is quite right in calling attention to the Statutes under which the Minister of Health is the appropriate Minister, and that is the reason no doubt why we have the words in this Subsection. The Committee would, however, be making a great error if they were to assume from that fact that the present position was in the least satisfactory. Many of the Acts under which the Minister of Health has these powers are Acts passed before the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry was ever created. It is quite an unsatisfactory position that the Minister of Health should have statutory powers under which he can decide without restriction what land may be acquired for housing purposes, for that vitally affects the whole town and country planning of the country for which the right hon. Gentleman is generally believed to be responsible. I have considerable sympathy with him on account of the number of things for which he may be blamed when he is not really the culprit. That will go on until these matters are cleared up. No one with experience of these matters, and no one who observes who conducts inquiries which vitally affect London and other cities as a whole, at which the right hon. Gentleman's representative does not appear at all, can be satisfied with the present position. It is not true that planning, as between Government Departments, is in any way satisfactory, and it is not true that the right hon. Gentleman will be Minister of Town and Country Planning in anything but name so long as the Minister of Health has so many unrestricted powers as he has at present.

7.30 p.m.

I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman who, of course, has experience of administration in local government, that there has been a great improvement in the methods of co-ordination between various Ministers. Although I will not pretend for a moment that we can never trip up, and that a case may not go through which has not been properly examined by my Ministry, I would say that we are improving, and that by and large I hope that to an increasing extent the Ministry of Town and Country Planning will have their say on every single case of development. We are here concerned with open spaces, and it is not likely that the Minister of Town and Country Planning would fear the acquisition of land for an open space.

I did not intend anything I said to be taken as a reflection on the present occupant of either of those two offices, or a reflection on the degree of consultation between them. My criticism was of the statutory provisions. I say that a Minister of Health who took an entirely different view of town planning from the Minister of Town and Country Planning could, under present Statutes, wreck the town planning of the Minister of Town and Country Planning.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 107, line i6, at the end, to insert:

"(5) References in section ninety-three of this Act to the council of a county district shall be construed as including references to the Common Council of the City of London."
This Amendment brings the Common Council of the City of London into the category of those in respect of which regulations can be made for the transfer of functions.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 108, line 19, at the end, to insert:

"(9) The Common Council of the City of London may borrow money for the purposes of this Act under the City of London Sewers Acts 1848 to 1897, and any expenses incurred by that Council under this Act shall be defrayed as part of their general expenses."
This Amendment reproduces the substance of one which was moved in Committee by the right hon. Gentleman. Its purpose is to give the Common Council of the City the power to borrow money for the purposes of the Bill, and to prescribe how their expenses under the Bill are to be charged.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I only rise at this point because it might cause misapprehension if we were to pass in silence the addition of this Clause to the Bill, though I think the main subject I wish to raise can be more properly discussed when we reach the Report stage proper. I seek your guidance on that point, Mr. Touche. I do not wish to delay the addition of this Clause to the Bill if acceptance of the Motion will not in any way prejudice discussion of this Clause on the Report stage. But if it could be suggested that by adding this Clause at this point we were approving the first Subsection, I should have a good deal to say. I do not know whether you can give any indication on that matter.

What is the nature of the hon. and learned Member's proposal?

There are on the Order Paper, for consideration on the Report stage, some Amendments dealing with this Clause. On those Amendments everything I wish to say can properly be discussed. I do not want it to be thought that by allowing this Clause to stand part of the Bill now we are in any way prejudicing that opportunity.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.