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Stop Notices

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 8 March 1977

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I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 25, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

This is a drafting amendment, the effect being to bring the wording of paragraph (b) into line with paragraph (a) of the same subsection. The change will not affect the meaning or operation of the clause.

I am happy to accept the Minister's explanation, but I hope he will make a little more clear one other matter.

I understand that this provision is to ensure that, where a stop notice is put on a form of activity, it naturally stops any further work being carried out but that it is designed to ensure that it does not require any workpeople who have to live on the site of their work having to evacuate their homes suddenly in the event of a stop notice. Is that the purpose of it, and nothing more than that?

The purpose of the amendment is to tidy up the wording of the subsection. I am advised that there is no material difference in meaning between "shall not" and "may not" in this context, and I believe that it is desirable to aim at consistency in the wording. This point was first raised in another place by Lord Selkirk. My noble Friend the Minister of State explained that, since there was no difference in meaning, it was a matter of drafting preference. But there are also virtues in consistency, and this argument would be strengthened if the House felt able to accept Amendment No. 3 proposing the deletion of subsection 2(c) of the proposed new Section 87.

I give the assurance that it does not mean that anyone will be uprooted from his home and required to leave the area.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 3, leave out lines 31 to 36.

Hon. Members who were present in the Scottish Standing Committee a fortnight ago will recall that, when a similar amendment was moved there by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) I undertook to give the matter further consideration. Now that I have had the opportunity to consider carefully the arguments for and against the 12-month restriction, I believe that the balance of advantage lies in its removal. Perhaps I should explain as briefly as possible for the benefit of the House and the Official Report the strong arguments in favour of limitations of this kind that were put forward in Committee.

8.30 p.m.

It was argued that it would be unfair for a planning authority to use a stop notice suddenly to prohibit a long-standing and continuous activity which it had previously been prepared to tolerate. In addition it could be said that, if enforcement action in such a case was considered necessary, the activity should surely be allowed to continue while any appeal against the enforcement notice was determined. In other words, the appellant should be given the benefit of the doubt until the case was decided.

Against this, it has been argued that planning authorities must be trusted to act fairly and responsibly in deciding when to serve a stop notice. I know that they are reluctant anyway to use stop notices unless they are clearly justified, because the use of the notice might make them liable to pay compensation.

The problem of intensification of an activity was also raised in Committee. What happens if an activity has begun in a small way and is then intensified to the point where the planning authority decides that enforcement action is necessary? My reply was that the Bill provided for this by enabling the planning authority to apply a stop notice to part of any activity alleged in the enforcement notice to be in breach of planning control. This power is clearly there at the end of the new Section 87(1). I argued that the extra amount of activity added on within the 12 months before the stop notice would thus be prohibited.

However, I appreciate that there is considerable scope here for argument about the level of an activity on any particular date, and there would thus be difficulties in applying a stop notice in such circumstances. There is also the difficulty mentioned in Committee by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) about someone who successfully conceals his unauthorised activity from the planning authority for 12 months and thereby escapes a stop notice. Though such cases might rarely give rise to serious consequences, I have taken his point.

All in all, while the result may be slightly rough justice in a few cases, I am persuaded that we would have a simpler and more useful statute by removing the 12-month limitation. I have never believed that the total repository of knowledge and wisdom always lies on the Government side, and this is a case in which there has been constructive argument from the Opposition. I can see the hon. Member's arguments and I think that this amendment should be accepted.

I thank the Minister very much for listening so carefully to the arguments that we put in Committee and for his acceptance of our entire principle in this matter. I was highly delighted that the Secretary of State had added his name to our amendment, and we are grateful to the Minister for taking notice of our argument.

When the Minister explained in detail why he was accepting the amendment, I thought for one awful moment that he was giving reasons why he should not accept it. We on this side have even more enthusiasm for the amendment than he has. The principle is very clear—that if there is a suspected breach of planning control, that breach should be dealt with whether it happened one month, six months, 12 months, 18 months or two years ago. A breach of planning control is a breach of planning control, and it should not be condoned even if it is discovered very late in the day.

I urge the House to accept the amendment with enthusiasm because the main safeguard here is that those who look to the Planning Acts to stop unauthorised and undesirable develpments near their homes or in places of natural beauty are entitled to feel that the regulations and actions of the planning authority can be fulfilled and enforced at all times. I am grateful to the Minister and I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.