Derelict Land Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.On 9 December last the Secretary of State announced to the House his initiative on the derelict land scheme. From that time the scheme has taken a new direction. Grant priority is now being given to schemes in which public sector reclamation is immediately followed by private sector development, for industrial, commercial and other purposes, under an agreement reached beforehand between the authority and the developer concerned in each case. To advance the venture public expenditure on reclamation in 1982–83 was at the same time specially increased to £45 million. This is the "new look" derelict land scheme. That scheme is now being followed by this "new look" legislation in the Bill. What the Bill chiefly does is to marshal into one slim statute, by repeal and re-enactment, the existing statutory provisions relating to the making of grants for the reclamation of derelict land in England. I shall not rehearse the old provisions that are now being replaced—they are set out at the beginning of the explanatory and financial memorandum. Suffice to say that in operating the "new look" scheme English local authorities and the Department of the Environment will, if Parliament so approves, be able to rely on one effective legislative measure that streamlines previous provisions made over the years with various, and sometimes slightly different, objectives. The bulk of clause 1 is devoted to achieving this. Clause 1 also includes two quite new provisions. First, in section 117 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 the Government introduced a new provision enabling the Secretary of State to pay grants towards expenditure incurred by the private sector and the nationalised industries in carrying out reclamation works, that is to say, without involving the local authorities in the process. The new provision prescribed the maximum rate for this grant at 50 per cent. The Government have since decided that the rate should be raised to 80 per cent. with the object of giving greater encouragement to those two sectors to carry out reclamation works with grant aid on their own account. That increase was announced in my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget speech, and subsection (5) fulfils that undertaking. Hon. Members will have observed that the grant can be paid in two ways—clause 1(5)(a) relates to grants made on capital expenditure and clause 1(5)(b) to grants paid on costs incurred in borrowing money to finance a scheme. The latter reflects one of the earlier provisions but, as an option, the Government do not expect it to figure very much, if at all. The concentration will rightly be on the outright capital grants payable under paragraph (a). That is the first new feature. The second new feature is to be found in clause 1(7) coupled with subsection (8)(b). Subsection (8) as a whole does two things. As part of the consolidation of the existing legislation it provides in paragraph (a) for the re-enactment of the power in section 8 of the Local Employment Act 1972 to designate areas as derelict land clearance areas for the sake of improving the economy of the area. That power has been exercised in the past by the Secretary of State for Industry and the intention is that he will continue to use that power as occasion requires by virtue of subsection (8)(a). The new feature of the subsection is to be found in paragraph (b). The object here is to enable reclamation to be undertaken in areas where it is visibly needed, primarily for environmental reasons, but where the economic justification traditionally required for the re-enacted power in paragraph (a) is not forthcoming. I do not expect more than occasional use of that new power—which is secured by an order made with Treasury consent—because areas where derelict land grant is most needed lie by and large in the assisted areas and the derelict land clearance areas already designated. Clause 3 embodies the last substantive provisions relating to England. In the 1980 Act we took a new power to grant aid reclamation for dealing with land which had either collapsed or was expected to collapse as a result of former underground mine workings—except, of course, for coal mining. We now wish to follow that up by giving local authorities a general power, as distinct from whatever particular powers they may have used from time to time, specifically picking up the 1980 grant-making conditions. This is achieved in subsection (1). It may surprise hon. Members to hear that the general power for local authorities to carry out derelict land reclamation works reposes in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but that is the fact of the matter. Clause 3(2) contains another minor provision. The power under section 89(5) of the 1949 Act to purchase land compulsorily for reclamation is thought to be restricted by section 6(3) of the Local Authorities (Land) Act 1963 to derelict land as such, and not to extend to non-derelict land required in connection with the reclamation, for example, as spreading land. It is common for compulsory purchase powers for the purpose of carrying out works to extend to nearby sites needed for working purposes. Clause 3(2) removes any doubt on this score in respect of the power in section 89(5). I now turn to the Welsh Development Agency provision in clause 2. I have left this to this stage because the arrangements for derelict land reclamation in Wales are quite different from those in England. In Wales, as hon. Members know, reclamation is a main responsibility of the agency, which operates under its own Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. The law in England, broadly speaking, relates to powers that local authorities require to carry out works and to powers for the Government to make grants and to declare the areas in which grant can be made at various rates. I therefore felt it more helpful if I dealt with the English provisions in the Bill all at once. Though it takes up quite some space in the Bill, clause 2 essentially consists of a formal transfer to the Welsh Development Agency of new powers given to the Secretary of State in the 1980 Act. It is now considered appropriate for these powers to rest with the agency so as to increase further the agency's ability to improve prospects for industrial development and employment by making the environment more attractive. The powers are identical to those provided in that Act for the Secretary of State for the Environment to be exercised in England. In brief, they will enable grants to be paid by the agency, first, to any person instead of only to local authorities; secondly, where land has become or is likely to become derelict as a result of surface collapse due to underground mining operations, again excepting coal; thirdly, towards the cost of surveys to discover the extent of dereliction; and, finally, for infrastructure connected with development. The transfer of these grant-making powers is achieved in clause 2 by the substitution of a new section 16 in the Act of 1975. I shall not enter upon the merits of the four provisions, as they were all argued during the course of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill and accepted by Parliament as they now stand. I am sure that if hon. Members wish to raise points about them, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who will reply to the debate, will be pleased to deal with them, and he will also attempt to answer questions relating to the other parts of the Bill that I have described. In terms of size, the Bill is a modest one. Nevertheless, I hope that it will play a valuable part in helping to fulfil our commitment to bring derelict land into beneficial use. The House will be aware that the Government set great store by the recycling of urban derelict and unused land. A number of measures have been introduced, including the land register scheme. We believe that with this improved derelict land scheme we are making a genuine contribution to dealing with the question of derelict land. It will mean not only the removal of eyesores and the improvement of the environment, but, we hope, the bringing of new life, new jobs and new opportunities to areas hitherto classified as derelict. I commend the Bill to the House.
It is always a pleasure to speak on the subject of derelict land as I have taken a particular interest in it ever since I became a Member of the House. Indeed, 12 years ago I made my maiden speech on just this topic. At that time, I was living near South Yorkshire. I recall reading Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" and appreciating the very telling point illustrated by the opening words of that book. It begins:
That area is industrial South Yorkshire. When I first related that passage to the topic under discussion today, I saw a great contrast. Now, however, when I travel through the same area every week on my, way North, I see a great change. There has been a marvellous improvement in the environment of many of our industrial areas in the past 12 years. Since 1970, Labour and Conservative Governments and local authorities have tackled the problem, and areas such as the one that I have mentioned are becoming very pleasant indeed. If anyone needs further convincing, he should read the document on reclamation produced by Durham county council. County Durham has probably suffered more than any other county from mining dereliction. Living near there and seeing the changes that I have seen, I realise that the landscape has been transformed. Where once there were coal spoil heaps there are now golf courses, leisure areas and even dry ski slopes. This is vital to the regeneration of the northern industrial areas. We have suffered because we were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. We are determined to wipe away the environmental handicaps and the blight and to restore the natural beauty of the area which is so attractive and which we believe will be so attractive to industrialists in the future."In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster."
I wholeheartedly agree that much derelict land from coal spoils and so on has been most artistically reclaimed. Nevertheless, according to the Civic Trust there are still 250,000 acres of dormant, derelict and vacant land, primarily within the conurbations, which it may not necessarily be appropriate to landscape into golf courses or parks but which should be used for urban regeneration—housing, flats, facilities for industrial uses, and so on. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the main thrust of the Bill should be towards regeneration of that kind rather than increasing the amount of leisure land, useful and pleasant though that may be?
I was coming to that, but perhaps I may digress a little now to take up the hon. Gentleman's point. He is quite right. I represent an urban area without a single field. I have referred to recreation areas, but land has also been improved for farming, afforestation and many other purposes. In many of the county areas we have brought back into production land that was not productive, but there is still great scope for improvement in the industrial areas.I disagree slightly with the hon. Gentleman, however, as I believe that we should not forget that we need lungs in the conurbations. Not all cities are so well endowed with parks as London. One of the great attractions of most capital cities is the amount of open space, but many metropolitan areas do not have the advantage of areas such as the Town Moor in Newcastle or other well-known open spaces. Therefore, I believe that some derelict land should be used for aesthetic purposes as well as for providing homes and job opportunities, important though these are. The Minister introduced the Bill in his usual plausible and convincing way, but certain provisions in the small print of the Bill are worrying and I hope that the Government will be able to reassure us about them. We make these points constructively because we want to see the Bill work. Labour Members want to see a greater clearance of dereliction because so much of it is to be found in our constituencies in the North, the North-West, Yorkshire and Wales, and also in parts of Scotland not covered by the Bill, where so much money is now spent and where there has been the transformation to which I have referred. With these subtle changes, the Opposition are slightly concerned that much of the good work that has been taking place over the past 12 to 15 years will be dissipated and lost. That is not only our view. It is shared by certainly five county councils and by the Association of County Councils. I am not saying that they oppose the Bill but they have serious worries about which I hope assurances will be given. The Government have been very good in their presentation of words on this subject. When it comes to action, their record has not been anywhere near as good. I should like to show what I mean. I have to substantiate an allegation of that nature. I believe that the Government, owing to financial constraints, have been inclined to try to delay programmes. I shall mention two programmes where money could have been obtained for nothing. The EEC had two non-quota schemes, one for former steel-making areas and one for former shipbuilding areas. My constituency happens to be a former shipbuilding area. In August 1980 we submitted a detailed plan to the Government for a £500,000 scheme which would have improved the river front along the Tyne. We are still waiting for that to come through. I have seen the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Industry about it. Our Euro-MP has seen the Commissioner about it. No one has so far accepted responsibility for that improvement which, at no cost to the British taxpayer, could have had a major impact on a large industrial river. I should say, incidentally, that water pollution in the river is declining rapidly. There are salmon in the Tyne, including 20 to 30 pounders. What we need is that little extra in the form of cosmetics to make the situation even better. It is that sort of thing that makes us wary of the Government's intentions. In the past two years there have been a number of changes in the arrangements and guidance given by the Department of the Environment. Part of this arises from the 1980 power, but great difficulties have been caused for those authorities that have been trying to implement the Act and improve schemes for reclamation. I was shattered to discover, if the information is correct, that no decisions have been given to any local authorities on submitted programmes for 1982–83. Here we are involved with programmes that need a considerable lead time, yet, one month into the next financial year, the Government will not give the go-ahead to detailed submissions made by the local authorities. One is bound to ask how intent and determined the Government are in following through this matter. We judge the Bill by the actions of the Government. I hope that the Minister can give me some good news.
I understand fully the two points the hon. Gentleman makes in the allegations, as he describes them, against the Government. I make two in reply. On the commitment to derelict land clearance, the Government, having increased the total amount to £45 million this year and having forecast an amount of £70 million next year, have shown clearly their commitment to derelict land clearance.With regard to the fact that approval has not been given for what might be termed traditional derelict land clearance schemes this year, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter has now been cleared and that regional controllers in our Department are available to give local authorities advice and the result of the applications. I should like to make it clear that, of the £45 million being spent this year, about £29 million is being devoted to on-going traditional land clearance schemes to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
I am partly reassured by what the Minister says, but I still stand by my point. If we are running good business, we must give local authorities sufficient advice. I am glad that the Minister agrees. I hope that this mix-up will not occur in the future if it can be avoided.I have studied the figures. I understand the 20 per cent. increase this year. I am, however, a little perplexed by a matter upon which I hope the Minister will be able to elaborate. At Question Time on 21 April, the Secretary of State was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse). When my hon. Friend referred to the £70 million, the Secretary of State said that this was something different and had nothing to do with the £45 million. I understand from what the Minister has said today that the Secretary of State was talking about next year. We are therefore talking about a further increase next year from £45 million to £70 million.
That has clarified one point. However, it raises the other point about whether the Minister is happy with the extension of powers that the Bill seeks.We welcome the extension. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) has already mentioned, there are areas, especially in the conurbations, where the definition of derelict land is widened by the Bill and where extra money is needed. I wonder whether the Minister can assure those authorities that have traditionally needed considerable sums of money for land reclamation. I am thinking principally of regions such as Wales, the North, the North-West, Yorkshire and the East and West Midlands, which take the largest amount of money. Is the Minister fairly confident that those regions will have available as much money in real terms in the next two or three years as in the past? If that is the case, it would be greatly reassuring not only to the counties but also to the Opposition. It will enable Labour Members in Committee to make judgments on the matter. Another complaint that I receive from the counties is that there has been a stop-go approach over the past two years, as I think the Minister acknowledges. That has created considerable difficulty. There are problems over staffing. I was saddened to hear the Secretary of Slate again last week taking the opportunity to single out and knock Labour authorities for not reducing their staffing levels. In the Home Counties there are not the problems that one finds in Northumberland, Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, and so on. I had thought that the Government were with us in trying to rebuild the Northern region and the other industrial regions. What we see is the Secretary of State almost encouraging councils to dispose of staff. As the Minister knows, in matters of land reclamation and dereliction in particular, there is need for a team of highly qualified and highly specialised and trained staff. It is sad to see pressure brought to bear for staff reductions if the intention is that we should go ahead with reclamation schemes that both sides of the House want.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is no correlation between the regeneration of industrial areas and the need for a greater number of local government staff? Surely the correlation should be between industrial regeneration and private enterprise. That would be the most successful way of achieving the objectives.
I cannot entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We hear that argument in my region, the North. We have to live in that area and we see the spoil heaps. It is not only a question of industrial regeneration. Why should such a beautiful area be blighted by private capital? That has caused the offence. I have no confidence that private capital will remedy the situation. In the past 20 years no Government have shared that view. Of course, there is a place for private capital, but we should not get carried away. Private capital can play only a small, if perhaps important, part in the scheme.I began by saying that in the past 12 years there had been major improvements. That is to the credit of Governments of both parties because they have had an on-going scheme. That scheme has rested on the skill and expertise of local government staff. It is sad that Conservative Members—we went through this last Wednesday—should bash away again at local authority staff. Northumberland, of course, has seen the light. It was Conservative controlled. The brief that I have was produced by a Conservative-controlled Northumberland county council. It was worried about its planning team. It is not only a question of Labour and Conservative. The problem is more acute now, because Labour-controlled areas have more problems.
It has been said that expertise in land reclamation does not necessarily belong to local authority employees. The beauty of bringing in private firms is that they are much cheaper, because a specific task can be contracted out. In that way, a permanent local authority infrastructure is not needed to carry out such jobs. The Bill involves increasing the amount of money that the private sector can get. There is no criticism of public authorities, but they have been appallingly slow. The Bill gives the private sector a further incentive by upping the grant—I am glad that the Minister is shaking his head in the right way—from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. to encourage the constructive use of land. Therefore, the Bill is not knocking anyone; it merely brings in another sector.
I was about to deal with private land. I have great experience of this matter. In one constituency there was great opencast excavation of clay. It was carried out by private operators. It is on record that time and again I had to ask the Minister how we could get the private contractors to honour their obligations. I say unequivo-cally from the Dispatch Box that private industry has not served our cause well when it comes to the reclamation and reinstatment of opencast mining. If hon. Members want substantiation of that fact, they should talk to those hon. Members who come from West Durham. When the National Coal Board reinstates land it is done effectively and well. When private developers do it, most of them consistently avoid the planning regulations. On occasion, when everything has been taken out, the firm suddenly goes bankrupt, leaving a horrible scar on the surface. Therefore, there are major problems.
I remind the hon. Gentleman of the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981, which insists on reclamation clauses being attached to planning permissions. We very much hope that that will reduce that type of problem.
I know that the Minister is aware of the problem, because such experiences were at their worst in his county. I hope that the 1981 Act will solve the problem.The availability of grants to persons other than local authorities is more likely to hinder progress than to assist it. The whole thrust of my argument is that the present system of grants works well. It would be tragic if a well tried and efficient method of dealing with the problem, to the benefit of the public, was altered. I accept that the Minister has tried to do something that he thinks right. I suspect that he is under a bit of pressure from some of his Back Benchers, who want more private capital investment. However, we are risking a well-worked scheme. I shall explain several grave worries that cause not only me but experts outside the House anxiety, because of the possibility of more private involvement in urban and other land reclamation. It was put to me that private schemes would be introduced only when they were linked to high value afteruse, such as the setting up of industries in our main urban and inner city areas. I can see a need for that, but it is important that a unique opportunity to reshape our landscape should not be lost because we have let Mammon take over again. When we rebuild, replan and redevelop our cities, we must ensure that there is as much opportunity for recreation and leisure as there is for house building and industry. It is feared that private money will be attracted only to the possibility of a higher after-use value. My next worry is that there may be a reduction in the standard of reclamation. The standard could be reduced as a result of commercial pressure on finance. In addition, the private sector would not have the resevoir of experience that has been built up in the public sector. Some people may say that that does not apply, but the Secretary of State was concerned about that point in 1980, when he spoke about his Bill. I do not know whether he has found a way round it since then. On 6 February 1980, the Secretary of State said:
We have received no news from the Department. It would be helpful to know whether the Secretary of State found a way of meeting his criteria. Indeed, I hope that the Minister will let us know whether the Department has found a way of ensuring that the private schemes are of the same high standard as the public schemes. It has been pointed out to me that several authorities face an unwillingness by private landowners to sell derelict land. It will remain in an unsightly condition, with no certainty that reclamation will take place. That raises a difficulty. One of the big metropolitan authorities told me that often the only way to go ahead with a decent development scheme was to draw together several owners. There is mention of operating under a licensing system. That is the simplest and quickest way to involve the private sector. Local authorities have carried out the schemes on the basis of licence agreements negotiated with the private sector. The repayment of any after-value resulting from the schemes ensures for the Department of the Environment a return on profit as the private firms develop the land. That system already operates in some of our progressive metropolitan county areas. Until recently, local authorities could obtain grant for schemes carried out in that way. Many schemes have been successfully completed where the local authority undertook the works on licence. However, recent Department of the Environment guidelines point out that land that is not in local authority ownership will not normally be eligible for grant. Therefore, we are saying that a scheme that has worked in many areas—in which progressive local authorities have worked with private operators—is unlikely to be available in future. The Department of the Environment should be encouraging local authorities and publicising the work of authorities such as the Tyne and Wear county council. In a press notice released on 6 April this year the Minister said that he proposed to invite local authorities to work up investment programmes in co-operation with private interests, and to submit them. That is difficult to square with the Bill, but perhaps it is a Committee point. I am sure that the Minister wants to encourage private participation in the most effective way, but what is most effective in one area may not be effective in another."We would of course want to see the present high standards of local authority reclamation maintained in any private or public sector schemes and we are looking into possible ways of ensuring this."
It is important to understand the basic provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member is referring to the discrepancy in ownership and grant availability. In development land clearance areas the local authority is the prime recipient of grant aid and can claim 100 per cent. for clearance schemes. Under the Bill it will be open to the private sector, nationalised industries and other statutory undertakings to claim an 80 per cent. grant. The ownership is not material, although the claim for grant aid is.
I am not sure that the Minister has answered my point. The Tyne and Wear county council, for example, is worried that licence agreements will be precluded in future and, according to the Government's memorandum, will be allowed only in exceptional instances. That is serious and I hope that the Minister will consider it. If my interpretation is right I am sure that we will be able to reach an accommodation in Committee.I have described some of the problems of privatisation. The Minister mentioned mining areas. Clause 1(2)(b) identifies "derelict, neglected or unsightly" land. That does not appear to include shafts and drift mine entrances other than those connected with coal mining. If that is so, grants will be paid for shaft filling and capping in an area of derelict land which is being reclaimed, but not for similar work to disused shafts associated with other forms of mining such as lead mining in the North Pennines and tin mining in Cornwall. Most such mines are not in derelict areas. Will the Minister consider the possibility of including filling and capping shafts and drift entrances to the workings of minerals other than coal? We are worried about the way in which the Government intend to introduce private money. It may lead to underspending. We are not convinced that private industry, except in some major conurbations, will be prepared to take up the challenge and find the extra 20 per cent. Counties and the Government will put money aside which may not be used. We fear that private sector capital will be introduced in a way which may be right for certain parts of the country, but that most of the country will be disadvantaged by the scheme. I am partly reassured by what the Minister has said, but we are anxious to ensure that we do not spread the butter more and more thinly. That would negate the whole 15-year bipartisan programme. In the past two or three years there have been growing financial constraints and an unwillingness by owners to sell to local authorities. It has been difficult for local authorities to maintain a significant rolling programme. The principal need is not for a major change in legislation, but for a recommitment to the long-term strategy. Most derelict land is unlikely to be of interest to the private sector. If the environmentally underprivileged assisted areas are to be cleaned up, every assistance must be given to the local authorities. Together we have been successful in reclaiming derelict land. We do not want the Bill to be scuppered.
One of the many legacies of the Norman conquest was the Domesday Book, an invaluable guide to our land use in the Middle Ages. Nine hundred years later we are faced with a contemporary Domesday Book—the land register, initiated by the Government and equally invaluable in identifying the land use of today.The emotive word "wasteland" conjures up pictures of vast dereliction and decay. It is an equally appropriate word to use to encapsulate the purpose of the Bill, because the waste of land is what we are today seeking to overcome. It should be noted that neither the Social Democratic Party nor the Liberal Party has seen fit to show any interest in this important subject, as the lack of attendance in the House today bears witness. This great natural asset of land has been misused and abused in Britain with increasing frequency over recent decades. Now that vacant land lying dormant—far too often in public ownership—can be quantified, the opportunities for better husbandry are greatly increased. In recent years private surveys have identified more than 250,000 acres of such land in Britain. That is equivalent to an area the size of several new towns. To get an authoritative analysis and to act swiftly upon it by disposing of land held unnecessarily in the public sector is essential if we are to capitalise on this limited resource. Much of the vacant land is clearly derelict, in the sense that it has been so damaged by industrial and other development and then abandoned that it is incapable of beneficial use without treatment. That is why the Bill should prove to be immensely important in achieving, the objective of reclaiming land. As more and more urban land is revitalised, so it is to be hoped that more and more country land will be safeguarded from the ravages of development. No longer should it be necessary for metropolitan expansion when new internal opportunities are created. Such an approach harks back to 1944, when Professor Abercrombie stated:
That view, which helped bring into existence the concept of the green belt, is as pertinent today as it ever was. It is not sufficient to believe that designating a green belt is all that is necessary to safeguard good agricultural land or to conserve attractive countryside, which has been rightly identified as Government policy."There is a fundamental need for putting a limit on London's growth by accretion. A stretch of open country at the immediate edge of the building mass of the suburban area is imperative "
It is probably worth stating again that, according to Dr. Coleman of King's college, about 60,000 acres of good agricultural land have been lost each year over the past decade and that the urban sprawl is continuing. Will my hon. Friend say something about that?
My hon. Friend rightly introduces that problem, which worries all Conservative Members. He has backed my argument.Vigorous monitoring and enforcement of the green belt is essential at all times, for without it there is a great danger that the rural scene will continue to be defaced and derelict urban land will continue to lie dormant, thus ensuring the increasingly evident urban sprawl. The more effective the use that can be made of existing derelict town and city land, the less the outward pressures for urban expansion that will otherwise overtake rural areas. There can be little doubt that both town and country dwellers will be the beneficiaries of such an approach. The Bill can do much to regenerate the land hoards in our already built-up zones and turn them almost into treasure trove. But let us not think of them as providing potential only in terms of bricks and mortar, concrete and tarmacadam. The ribbons of development have already run through fields and meadows, via riversides and forests, up hills and down dales. Might there not also be an opportunity for an inner city farm, a town wood, an urban market garden or a suburban copse? The end of dereliction could also be the start of some rural green among the urban grey.
I welcome the Bill because it clarifies some old legislation and brings it together, and it increases the grants available to private enterprise and other bodies in assisted areas from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. However, there is still a difference between the percentages allowed to local authorities and private enterprise in assisted areas. It is now 100 per cent. as opposed to 80 per cent., and in other areas it is 50 per cent. for each.I consider that private enterprise is much more efficient and cost-effective in carrying out any function, especially in getting land ready for development or in providing a better environment, than any public body. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider whether the 80 per cent. should be further increased to 100 per cent. or whether the 100 per cent. figure for local authorities should be reduced to 80 per cent., giving more incentive to private enterprise to enter this most important area. The cost of improving the appearance of the land or of making it ready for development is not just the cost of reclamation or upgrading. Two factors are of paramount importance. The first is the value that local authorities put on the land in their books. Too many authorities have the land at a high historical cost, plus perhaps some allowance for inflation or interest. I submit that often the land in question has a negative value, because enormous costs are attached to making it useful. Furthermore, local authorities should give more consideration in their planning procedures to allowing private enterprise to make good use of derelict land, especially in inner city areas. The cost of reclaiming and upgrading land is much smaller that the cost of development, and there is potential benefit to the community, to private enterprise and to the local authority in terms of the rates that it will receive. It is important that the land in the land banks should be sold by auction to private enterprise or public bodies to realise its true market value. It should not be priced historically, which bears no relation to its true value in today's market. Local authorities must give enormous encouragement to private enterprise to develop land, not just to reclaim it, and planning officers and councillors must show much understanding to ensure that the best use is made of derelict land in our cities, towns and rural areas.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) on two enlightened and interesting speeches, because they highlighted some important matters that the Bill hopes to remedy. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield dealt with the serious problem of urban sprawl. We must not simply bypass that problem. It is increasing, and it is a serious indictment that 60,000 acres of good agricultural land are lost every year. Something must be done about it. The idea that one could have city farms or a copse in an urban jungle should not be passed over. It could revitalise areas of dereliction. Allotments could be provided for those living in high-rise flats.
If my hon. Friend had attended a committee meeting yesterday he would have heard me say that the amount of agricultural land taken for development has been steadily reducing from about 45,000 acres a year between 1965 and 1970 to about 23,000 acres between 1975 and 1980. I accept that much agricultural land is being taken out of agriculture, but not all of it—certainly not as much as my hon. Friend suggests—is taken for development purposes.
I am grateful for the intervention, which raises an important point. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has answered questions about that and his figures are not on all fours with those of the Department of the Environment. Another problem is that the Department of the Environment's answers tend to differ a little because they include forest land.However, I suspect that neither set of figures is correct. No one knows how much good agricultural land is lost simply because there is no register for it. I wonder from where my hon. Friend gets his statistics. Is it merely an estimate by someone in his Department, or do local authorities submit returns stating any change of use of a piece of land? I suspect that there is no such register and it is pure surmise for my hon. Friend to say that the figures have declined. Dr. Coleman's figure of 60,000 acres in her second land utilisation study is more reliable. Even her figure is out of date, but at least she has analysed the change of use of land in Britain. Her figures are to be preferred unless my hon. Friend can produce evidence to show that there is a register on which he can rely. I suggest that the true figure is the larger, but, whether it is or not, an enormous amount of agricultural land is being lost when we still have urban land that could be reclaimed. The Bill must be welcomed on that basis alone, but it must be viewed in the context of the Government's overall strategy towards urban renewal. A prerequisite of that demands putting idle city land to use quickly at a price that makes it profitable to develop. That is an essential ingredient in any strategy aimed at revitalising our inner city areas. I said in my book "New Life for Old Cities", which was published last October, that releasing idle city land was the first task for the Government in order to reduce the number of acres of land lying idle. The Civic Trust estimates it at 250,000 acres, most of which is hoarded by public owners and nationalised industries. They are holding on to it in the hope that one day they will receive an artificially high price for it. I drew attention to vacant privately owned land that is idle by public inaction because the planners refuse planning permission and thereby prevent the owners from developing it. The Bill will not compel public authorities to release the land that they hoard, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has established registers in city and local authorities whose purpose it is to identify such land. Having identified the land—in fact, we knew already where it was—the problem is how to sell it fast enough. Comparatively little land has been sold since the registers were set up. If the Bill is to be made more effective, it should have a clause added to it that will compel local authorities and public undertakings to auction their surplus land to the highest bidder. Let market forces determine its value and not the local valuation officer, who is compelled to place an historical value on land which hardly ever bears any relation to what the market is prepared to pay for it. The market will pay only what it believes will make for a viable and profitable transaction and not what the district valuer believes it should fetch. A further paradox is the willingness of the planner to see green field sites developed beyond city boundaries from which the city obtains no rate income. Good agricultural land is lost thereby because of the failure to insist on a rigid planning regime within a city's boundaries. The Bill will not help private developers to obtain planning permission more easily. If planners insist on rigid zoning, vacant, dormant and derelict sites within city boundaries are unlikely to be utilised, whatever grant the Government offer for the installation of infrastructure. It is the planners' approach which has made areas of our cities deserted and, therefore, dangerous. Streets that are busy are safe streets. Streets that have people watching for space to walk on them are safe streets to walk along. Dangerous streets are those which are deserted, because no one has any reason to pass along them except during certain hours of the day. The development of inner city sites is needed for environmental and aesthetic reasons, but it is also needed to rebuild communities, to bring back people to the inner city areas and to make the streets within them safe once more. The Bill seeks to attract more private development, and to do this it is offering a higher percentage of public money for the provision of infrastructure. That is to be welcomed. However, if the public sector is to obtain 100 per cent. of infrastructure costs by way of Government grant, why should the private sector receive a less substantial grant? Why should it be discriminated against? The increase from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. must be welcomed, but why is it not more? I acknowledge that a step has been taken in the right direction, but I hope that the Government will consider amending the grant that will be payable to the private sector to increase it to 100 per cent. so that the private sector is on all fours with the public sector. The development of vacant sites will create new jobs for unskilled and unemployed inner city workers, but equally important is the improvement that it will make to the rate base. That in turn will augment the city council's income, creating new prosperity and helping to bring back some of those who left the cities in the past decade. There are vacant sites in the inner cities, but most vacant sites are in the outer city and not in the inner city or the middle city. The rural urban fringe has two-thirds of all vacant land. Inner city sites tend to be oddly shaped and small for development. It is the vast tracts of land on the rural-urban fringes where the Government's grant will be of the greatest use. When talking about derelict vacant land the House should be concerned with the two-thirds of it that lie on the outer city boundaries—it is that land which the Bill is concerned about—rather than the one-third which is contained in inner city areas. Offering incentives for private developers to plough money into the revitalisation of dead land by increasing the grants that are available is a step in the right direction and must be seen as the right approach. It is an enlightened Government who tell private developers that they may bypass the local authority and go straight to the Department when they want infrastructure grant. That is the example of entrepreneurialism that I welcome in the Bill, but something further will have to be done if sites are to be developed on any scale. Cheap money must be made available so that developers have a real incentive to develop abandoned city sites. Extra incentives will be needed if sites are to be developed north of Northampton. There must be some reason for developers to go north rather than south, where the value of land is higher, as are the profits. The Bill is a welcome addition to the Government's already extensive commitment to city regeneration. However, I am convinced that if more than merely a token of the 250,000 acres of dormant land is to be converted so that it may be used for constructive purposes a number of additional measures and steps must be taken contem-poraneously with the passing of the Bill if the thrust of the Bill is to be effective.
I congratulate by hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) on his speech and on the work that he has done in this important area. He has been positively Messianic, and commendably so.In Ealing there is a shortage of land for housing. The vacant land that remains is rapidly being taken up. Not far from Ealing there are many areas of dockland that are largely untouched. I shall fight the trend in outer city areas and inner city areas to cover available land with concrete. I saw the result of that trend when I lived in East London, and especially when I was a prospective parliamentary candidate. I saw Tower Hamlets covered with concrete. Children, old people and all other members of socity had to travel many miles to reach any grassland upon which they could recreate, sit or meet animal life. That is a ruinous and miserable way of life and we cannot allow it to continue. Tower Hamlets—and East London generally—is within striking distance of the docks, and all the derelict land that is available could and should be built upon so that areas like the green parts of Ealing—it is still known as the queen of the suburbs because it had so many lovely green areas—are not ruined. It is being subjected to great pressure to accept industrial and housing development on its few remaining green spaces.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 14,139 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land in the metropolitan area of Greater London?
I am aware of that figure and it is the burden of my remarks. In some areas of London, football and other pitches have been used for building development. They have been taken from the community, though children and adults used them regularly. If we are to have a balanced way of life in urban areas, it is essential to retain areas that may be used for recreation.We must have a much more imaginative approach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree said, it is absurd that the historic value of land is charged, the price being calculated by valuers. The valuer's price is nearly always miles beyond the price that would be reached at an auction, which might be a satisfactory method of disposing of vacant land. I urge the Government to consider a radical approach to the disposal of such land. Let it go to auction. That is better than having it lie idle, unsightly, unwanted and grotesque, while the countryside is rapidly disappearing. Every 10 years land of the acreage of Oxfordshire disappears under concrete, and the process is gaining momentum. If we are not careful we shall become a concrete jungle, with cattle standing on concrete, eating imported food. Here is an opportunity to improve the way of life of urban people. I have taken children from the city to the countryside. At the age of 15 or 16 they may see a worm for the first time or exclaim "That is a bird!" They see pigeons in London, but not natural animal life. Observing animals is a good education for everyone. The derelict land should be used also for city farms, where children can see life in the raw. We can learn about everything from sex to death from animals. All the crises that occur to humans occur to animals. People are more civilised if they learn to care for animals. We need grants to facilitate such projects. It would help to have 100 per cent. grants towards the infrastructure for reclaimed derelict land for local authorities and private enterprise. I agree that it is absurd to make a distinction between the two. The proposal is a big step forward, but we need to go much further. Derelict land could be put to other uses to help the community and give a proper balance to the lives of those who are obliged to live in urban areas. Jungle playgrounds are tremendously successful for children. Derelict land can be converted for such purposes, but as long as it is so costly for the developer that will never happen. Great opportunities could be lost, and it would not cost the Government much to avoid that happening. The land is lying idle, but it could be put to excellent use with a little pressure, money and imagination. In other countries cycle tracks are set up and go-karting areas are provided. The land could also be used for horse riding. Without much difficulty or expense a small area could be reclaimed and covered school and stabling erected. These facilities could be made available to people of all levels of ability and income, including the disabled, who would gain much, and of whom there is a preponderance in urban areas. East London has an enormously high number of disabled and deprived children, as has Liverpool, which I visited with the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. They are all excellent children. All children are excellent if properly brought up. We have a great and inexpensive opportunity to reclaim the land and put it to important and direct use for the community for homes and to make a complete and massive improvement in the lives of urban dwellers by offering access to balanced facilities, with a chance to see animals and follow other pursuits.
I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says about people's lives in the East End. We were both candidates in Tower Hamlets and saw the terrible depression created by concrete. The Government must take on board his remarks in order to bring hope to the families in that and other areas.
The tragedy of communities in East London and elsewhere is that their closest contact with animals is the meat that they buy from the butcher. Council restrictions forbid the keeping of dogs, cats, mice or other animals in flats, and animals cannot survive in the area. Those people's lives are deprived because they do not have the space for recreation and to "grow tall", as the Americans aptly put it.
Land reclamation in Wales is a reminder of one of the most tragic happenings in Wales's history—the Aberfan disaster. Following the tragedy, my noble Friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the then Secretary of State for Wales, set up the derelict land unit at the Welsh Office, which was the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.Few hon. Members here today were present for the debate on the disaster on 26 October 1967, so I shall quote what my noble Friend said:
Since then land reclamation in Wales has continued to be regarded as a matter of first importance. Because of our industrial past there is considerable derelict land. In South Wales the coal tips are the most frequent evidence of spoliation, while in North Wales the beauty of the environment is intruded upon by the slate tips. Other industrial wastage, such as that from the metallurgical industries, has also created problems in need of solution in various parts of Wales. That is the legacy to us in Wales of private enterprise, which has had so much attention in the speeches of Conservative Members. In the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, which was opposed by the Conservative Party, then in Opposition, the Labour Government raised the grant for land reclamation in Wales from 80 per cent. to 100 per cent. Since 1976, when the WDA became operative, it has met the cost of schemes to reclaim land made derelict by past industrial activity and put it to social and productive use. Under the powers of the 1975 Act, the projects were usually carried out by local authorities, having been submitted to and approved by the agency for inclusion in a continuing programme of work. Two main priorities have motivated the agency in selecting schemes to support, and I hope that they will continue when the Bill becomes an Act. The first is the removal of risk to life and property. The second is to provide land for industry, for housing and other community needs, and for country parks, playing fields and open spaces. I should like the Minister to give an assurance that those established priorities will in no way be disturbed by the provisions of the Bill. The WDA, as I said earlier, began its work in 1976. It inherited a very large programme of work to reclaim 1,721 acres of derelict land. By March 1981, that commitment had almost been discharged, at the cost of £17·2 million. During the years 1976, 1977 and 1978 the agency announced additional programmes of work to reclaim a further 4,000 acres of land, and the cost of that work has been estimated to be about £46 million. Under the WDA's direction, at least 108 individual schemes, involving the reclamation of 2,900 acres of land, will have been completed. We are aware, from the WDA's report of its first five years of work, that it has paid out £31·7 million to reimburse the costs incurred in land reclamation. I have put the agency's record in land reclamation clearly before the House this morning because it is a formidable record of land reclamation in Wales, and also because it shows the extent of land dereliction in the Principality, and emphasises the importance put upon land reclamation in Wales. In December last year the Secretary of State for the Environment announced that the sum available for the derelict land programme in England was to be increased from £40 million to £45 million. On 21 April this year, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastington (Mr. Dormand), the Secretary of State for the Environment said:"One of the results of the disaster at Aberfan was to give a new stimulus also to the effort to clear up the land left derelict by industrial processes of the past, a problem of which everyone has long been uncomfortably aware, especially in the mining valleys of South Wales. The objective of this effort is not only to reclaim land now useless so that it may be available for industry or housing or other beneficial use, but also to make these areas more attractive to incoming industry and for those who live in them. To pursue this objective more effectively, shortly after the disaster I set up in the Welsh Office in Cardiff a derelict land unit to work closely with the local authorities in preparing schemes of rehabilitation and getting them carried out."—[Official Report, 26 October 1967; Vol. 751, c. 1911–2.]
We welcome that improvement, and the fact that the Secretary of State now makes provision in the Bill to accomplish those undertakings. We welcome, too, the fact that in England there will be increased provision allocated to local authorities and to private concerns which may wish to apply for grant aid; but the position in Wales is a little different and gives cause for anxiety. We are told that this year the Welsh Development Agency is to be allocated £10·4 million for land reclamation, which is exactly the same amount as last year. Therefore, it is a cutback in real terms. That is unfortunate, because I am advised that local authorities in Wales have made proposals to the agency which total more than £85 million. In my county of West Glamorgan, we have put forward schemes to the value of £14·6 million. They clearly underline the problem of derelict land in Wales, both in the south and in the north. Under the provisions of the Bill, the percentage of grant aid available to private concerns in Wales, as in England, will be increased from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent., and we welcome that, but unless there is an increase in the resources of the Welsh Development Agency, Wales will be in a worse position in future than it was last year. There is a further aspect of the matter which gives cause for concern among the local authorities. Any substantial demand from the private sector will, on the evidence that we have, reduce the amount of money available to local authorities. It is because of those worries that are being expressed in Wales that I seek assurances from the Minister. First, will he assure the House that the WDA—which will be called upon, under the Bill, to make a larger financial commitment to land reclamation in Wales—will receive a greater allocation of money than has already been announced? Secondly, will the Minister assure the House that the local authorities will not be disadvantaged in their applications because of the greater involvement of private concerns? We shall, of course, expect that local authorities will continue to receive 100 per cent. grants for land reclamation schemes, as hitherto. Thirdly, where grants are made to private concerns for land reclamation, will those private concerns be required to pay to the Welsh Developmet Agency part of the enhanced value that the land attracts as a result of reclamation, as now happens with local authorities? As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said in opening the debate, we do not intend to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. However, the matters that he and I have raised are serious matters, particularly where they affect Wales, and we are determined to protect Wales. In giving the Bill a qualified welcome, we demonstrate our belief that this generation has a responsibility to succeeding generations not only to clear up the mess left to us from the past, but to enhance the environment and the life of these islands."The amount available to county and district councils for grant aided derelict land reclamation has been increased in 1982–83 to £45 million, an improvement of some 20 per cent. on last year."—[Official Report, 21 April 1982; Vol. 22 c. 247.]
It is clear that there is unanimity on both sides of the House about the desirability of reclaiming derelict land. It is equally clear that both sides recognise that the Bill is an additional step in assisting reclamation.I shall answer the points raised in the debate in a moment, but first I should like to say a few words about the particular effect of the Bill in Wales, following the remarks of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman). As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said in his opening speech, clause 2 makes an addition to the powers of the Welsh Development Agency. It also recasts the agency's land reclamation powers to bring them back into line with the powers exercised in England. I particularly want to stress, in answer to the points raised by the hon. Member for Neath, that we are introducing an improvement in the area of land reclamation in Wales. The WDA already has the power to pay 100 per cent. of the cost of local authority land reclamation schemes in all parts of Wales, and this power is not affected in any way by the Bill. In effect, the whole of Wales has been a derelict land clearance area, and this will remain the position when the Bill comes into force. The additional power which is being given to the WDA is the ability to pay grants to individuals and to bodies in the private sector, as well as to other public bodies. Since 1980 this power has rested with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. We are now transferring it to the Welsh Development Agency and—as in England—raising the relevant level of grant to 80 per cent., so that all the reclamation powers in Wales will be in the hands of one body, the WDA. We believe that the private sector should be encouraged to play a part in the reclamation of derelict land in Wales, and the improvement in the powers of the WDA will help to bring this about. I think it is fair to say that Wales has led the rest of the United Kingdom in land reclamation. As the hon. Member for Neath said, the derelict land unit in the Welsh Office was set up in 1966, after the tragedy of the Aberfan disaster, and in the 10 years of the unit's existence it reclaimed about 7,750 acres of land in Wales and made a significant start on the major areas of industrial and mining dereliction. When the Welsh Development Agency was founded in 1976, the work of reclamation in Wales was handed over to it, and I believe that it is correct to say that this element in its work has not been the subject of partisan debate. We are all agreed that the agency has continued to do an excellent job. Between 1976 and 1979, over 2,000 acres were reclaimed in Wales. Since 1979, schemes have been approved to reclaim another 2,000 acres. An additional 2,750 acres are in the agency's programmes for the next few years. The new power proposed in the Bill is a natural extension of the agency's land reclamation work. We do not for a moment anticipate that schemes from the private sector will take up more than a minority of the land reclamation carried out in Wales. Of course, the great bulk of the work done by the WDA will go on as before, but it is right that there should be scope for private sector bodies to receive grant assistance where the demand exists. The local authority programmes will continue to form the great majority of the agency's work, and I assure the hon. Member that we are under no illusion about the amount of work which is still to be done, and which can only be done, under the local authorities' normal programmes. The bids from local authorities for inclusion in the WDA's latest reclamation programme added up to many times the amount which could be carried out with any imaginable level of resources that could be available. But this has always been the case. We have a choice of priorities, and my right hon. Friend and I rely upon the agency's advice on the work which needs to be done. We do not know the level of demand which will be created in Wales by the new powers to aid schemes outside the local authority sector. When these schemes are submitted to the agency, they will have to be considered alongside other schemes in the normal local authority programmes, and the Secretary of State will take careful note of the agency's views on the priorities to be adopted, bearing in mind that schemes outside the local authority sector can be carried out at a lower total cost to public funds than local authority schemes which entail 100 per cent. funding. The effect of the new power can only be that more reclamation is carried out, and not less.
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that private schemes involve not just private individuals, but statutory undertakings as well? Will he make it clear that this definition applies also to public corporations which are not involved in the local authorities?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He knows as well as I do the extent of the agency's activities in this area. One has only to read its last annual report to see the authorities that have been involved.The hon. Member said that the resources available for reclamation by the WDA in Wales had decreased. I point out to him that only a couple of months ago, on 3 March, the Secretary of State gave approval to a new £16 million WDA reclamation programme, to be carried out over coming years. Another 1,350 acres of land in Wales will be reclaimed and £2·8 million will be spent in the hon. Gentleman's own county of West Glamorgan, including a further £1½ million on the lower Swansea valley in the enterprise zone there. Expenditure in Wales is being maintained at a very worthwhile level. Perhaps I should not say this with English Members present, but the WDA spent about £10 million on land reclamation in the last financial year and will spend more than £10½ million this year. It is nonsense to say that the budget is not being maintained. About one-fifth of the agency's grant-in-aid from the Government goes on land reclamation. We believe that that is a very fair proportion of the resources available to the WDA and it compares well with the record in the past. I assure the hon. Member for Neath that the existing priorities for reclamation will remain. Safety will, of course, remain the overriding factor and resources will always be found to deal with genuine emergencies. I hope that he will accept that reclamation schemes for safety purposes in Wales have mostly been completed, but the priority will remain absolute when the need arises. There has been a remarkable degree of unanimity in the debate and a general welcome for the Bill. If there has been a difference between the two sides of the House, it has related to the respective roles of local authorities and the private sector. Let me make it clear how the Government see the role of local authorities on the one hand and the private sector on the other. Local authorities have, without question, a leading role, as they always have had, but the Government believe that the right way to achieve general economic regeneration is through the infusion of private sector investment into the economy, with the stimulus to regeneration that that will bring. We have decided to make use in the derelict land scheme of the public lead that reclamation can give to the redevelopment of derelict and idle land. That is the general thrust of the WDA and the new look that is being given to the scheme in England. Priority is being given to schemes where local authority land reclamation, supported by 100 per cent. grants, leads at once to development by the private sector for industrial, commercial and other purposes, by a previous agreement with a developer. That is the way forward and it will give the scheme the most productive edge for helping in the drive for economic regeneration. Much has been said about the Government's decision to raise the level of grant to be paid to the private sector, nationalised industries and other public bodies to encourage them to reclaim derelict land. We have carefully considered the appropriate rates of grant and we regard the present 50 per cent. to the private sector as too low. The proposed 80 per cent. should provide an incentive to the most economic use of public funds by ensuring that the private sector has a 20 per cent. stake in the cost of reclamation works. That is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), who asked why we were not prepared to give 100 per cent. grants to the private sector.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer on the injection of a bit of private money as well as public money. However, does he agree that after the Bill has been passed the issue to be tackled will be how to ensure the release of land in public ownership? Unless it is released at a price that developers can afford, even infrastructure grants will not enable them to make a profit.The most pressing need is to write down the historic value of the derelict land of nationalised industries and local authorities—auctions will probably be the best way—so that it can be purchased by the private market. The 80 per cent. infrastructure grants will allow developers to get on with the construction.
We want land in local authority ownership to be developed productively. The land registers show that about 62 per cent. of derelict land is in the possession of such authorities and we have powers to press them to dispose of that land under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.I was asked about the quality of the work done and the schemes completed by the private sector. Before a grant is paid, reclamation work will have to be completed to the satisfaction of the Department of the Environment. The work will be inspected by one of the Department's professional officers to ensure that it has been carried out to a satisfactory standard. That applies also to the WDA. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier, priority is being given in England to joint local authority-private sector schemes leading to immediate development. The programme, which will cost £45 million, could not be allocated until the Secretary of State had had an opportunity to consider the bids received for priority schemes. Allocations have now been made and are being notified to local authorities through the Department's regional offices. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) raised a number of matters, including disused mine shafts. Those can already be reclaimed under the normal rules, including capping. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the South Tyneside improvement scheme, which was put to the European regional development fund as a non-quota scheme. Such schemes rely on the Commission proposing ways of dealing with them and the Tyneside scheme will have to wait for a decision until the Commission has approved an overall measure for shipbuilding closure zones. The Department of Industry is pressing for approval of the measure by the summer. Once approval is given, individual schemes such as that on Tyneside can be considered.
The hon. Gentleman's reply about the South Tyneside reclamation scheme will cause great disappointment. The scheme has been ready for 18 months and I had a personal assurance from the Prime Minister that it would receive approval within a matter of weeks. Now we are told that it will be a matter of months. As I said earlier, we approve of the Government's intentions, but when we look at the record we have to doubt their commitment to carrying out those intentions.We need clarification about the sums available for the system in ensuing years. We are to extend the areas eligible for grant. If there is not a great increase in the money available, the butter will have to be spread much more thinly and areas such as Wales and the Northern region will suffer badly. I had the impression from the Under-Secretary of State that this was to be increased to £70 million in 1983–84. That was my impression, and I was largely reassured by that. I checked the statement made by the Secretary of State on 21 April. When he was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) about the £70 million, the right hon. Gentleman said:
the £70 million—"I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I point out that the figures he mentioned"—
The House needs some reassurance about this and, indeed, an explanation. Are we talking about £70 million for this derelict land scheme, or about £70 million for a much wider scheme including the urban aid scheme which is in operation? If we are talking about the latter, how much of it are we devoting to derelict land schemes in future years?"relate to a different programme. The £70 million is the sum that I am earmarking for next year's programmes—a combination of derelict land and urban programmes."—[Official Report, 21 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 248.]
Let me deal first with the hon. Gentleman's question about delay over the Tyneside improvement scheme. He will recollect what I said about it. I do not think that he can blame the Government for the delay. As a non-quota scheme, it is clear that the delay is on the part of the Commission. We have been pressing the Commission to establish its scheme, and we are hoping to get the overall measure by the summer.When the hon. Gentleman referred to the increase in spending from £45 million to £70 million in 1983–84 he quoted my right hon. Friend and of course my right hon. Friend was right. The hon. Gentleman was also right to question whether the money was simply for derelict land schemes. Of course it is not. As my right hon. Friend said, it is for rather more than derelict land clearance. However, the division has not yet been made. It will cover rather more than derelict land. Nevertheless, the increase from £45 million to £70 million is significant.
My hon. Friend mentioned the level of spending. He said very little about the way in which the money was to be spent. What is spent and what is thrown up as a result of this valuable measure will be extremely important. May we be assured that my hon. Friend's Department and the Department of the Environment will watch the way in which the grants are used and try to see that a balance of restructuring comes between leisure and industrial and other forms of development?
I assure my hon. Friend that each scheme to which grant is given will be examined very carefully at all stages of its progress.In England, the Bill rationalises existing legislation on derelict land; that is to say, the relevant provisions of the Local Government Act 1966, the Local Employment Act 1972, both as amended by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. It also provides new powers for the Secretary of State. In Wales, the Bill makes a number of changes in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 and expands the agency's powers. I am glad that the measure has received a general welcome from all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).
Derelict Land Money
Queen's Recommendation having been signified—
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to repeal and re-enact with amendments section 97 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, section 9 of the Local Government Act 1966 and section 8 of the Local Employment Act 1972 and to amend section 89 of the said Act of 1949 and section 16 of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, it is expedient to authorise—
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of— (a) grants in respect of relevant expenditure as defined in the said Act of the present Session; (b) any administrative expenses of the Secretary of State under that Act; (c) any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of such money under any other Act; (2) any increase attributable to the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable out of or into the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund under any other Act.—[Mr. Lang.]
Civil Jurisdiction And Judgments Bill Lords
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause 1
Continuance Of Certain Existing Jurisdictions
'(1) Schedule 8 does not affect—
(a)the operation of any enactment which confers jurisdiction on a Scottish court in respect of a specific subject-matter on specific grounds; (b) without prejudice to the foregoing generality, the jurisdiction of any court in respect of any matter mentioned in Schedule (proceedings excluded from Schedule 8).
(2) Her Majesty may by Order in Council—
(a) add to the list in Schedule (proceedings excluded from Schedule 8) any description of proceedings; and (b) remove from that list any description of proceedings (whether included in the list as originally enacted or added by virtue of this subsection).
(3) An Order in Council under subsection (2) may—
(a) make different provision for different descriptions of proceedings or for the same description of proceedings in different courts; and (b) contain such transitional and other incidental provisions as appear to Her Majesty to be appropriate.
(4) An Order in Council under subsection (2) shall not be made unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.—[The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 3, 6, 7 and 25.
This group of amendments recasts those provisions of part III which govern the application of the new Scottish rules of jurisdiction in what we hope is a somewhat more straightforward form, principally by removing to a new schedule those preservations of existing jurisdictions which are at present to be found in clauses 20 and 21. The amendments, which also make certain substantive alterations in these provisions, are parallel in purpose and effect to amendments which were made to part II, applying to England, in Committee.The clause contains the preservation of existing special jurisdictions of Scottish courts which is presently dealt with by clause 20(2) and introduces the list of specific preservations now to be contained in the new schedule. It also introduces for the first time a power similar to that in clause 17 at any time by Order in Council to adjust the list in the schedule. This will enable us in particular to preserve any special jurisdictional provisions which, perhaps because they do not confer jurisdiction on specific grounds, do not fall within the general exclusion under subsection (1)(a) of the new clause. The new schedule gathers together the particular exclusions from the scope of the new rules at present contained in clauses 21 and 20(6), and adds in paragraphs 8, 9 and 10 a preservation of three special jurisdictional provisions, relating respectively to the rectification of the register of aircraft mortgages, the recovery of charges for air navigation services, and proceedings brought in pursuance of an order under the Continental Shelf Act 1964, which would not be covered by the general exclusion in subsection (1)(a) Of the new clause. Finally, paragraph 14 of the new schedule, formerly clause 20(7), has been somewhat altered by the omission of certain words which were intended originally to deal with certain problems relating to Admiralty jurisdiction in Scotland. This is now dealt with separately by paragraph 6, and the words in question were therefore unnecessary and might have given rise to difficulty in interpretation. If the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) will refer to subsection (4), relating to the Order in Council, he may gain some hint of the Government's attitude to his later amendment.
As one who has come late to the Bill and who has been wrestling over the past day or so with its intricacies, I may say that any proposal that is advertised as bringing a rather more straightforward form to the legislation has my cordial support.I take it from what the Solicitor-General for Scotland said that these amendments do not make any substantive change but are largely presentational. If that is the position, I see no point in delaying the House on the matter.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Allocation Within Uk Of Jurisdiction In Certain Civil Proceedings
I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 9, line 41, at end insert—
`() In section 15(1)(a) of the Maintenance Orders Act 1950 (domestic proceedings in which initial process may be served in another part of the United Kingdom), after sub-paragraph (v) there shall be added—
The amendment provides for the service of process in maintenance proceedings when a magistrates' court in England and Wales has jurisdiction over a person domiciled in another part of the United Kingdom by virtue of clause 16 and schedule 4. It is therefore a consequence of the provisions of article 5(2) as set out in schedule 4, which enables a maintenance creditor to proceed in the court in the area where she is domiciled against a person domiciled elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The amendment ensures that process can be served in those circumstances by linking the Bill to the provisions of an existing scheme for serving process in different parts of the United Kingdom. That scheme is contained in section 15 of the Maintenance Orders Act 1950. The amendment adds a reference to the Bill to the list of domestic proceedings in which the 1950 Act procedure may be used."(vi) Article 5(2) of Schedule 4 to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982; or".'.
Amendment agreed to
Exclusion Of Certain Proceedings From Schedule 4
I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 10, line 19, leave out subsection (4) and insert
I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for Scotland for the hint that he threw out in an earlier debate, which may shorten our proceedings. The amendment is similar to one which I moved in Committee. It relates to certain powers which the Bill gives the Lord Chancellor to say that, in relation to certain classes of proceedings, the Bill shall not take effect to change the law and that the existing law shall continue to apply. So in effect it says that after the Bill reaches the statute book the Lord Chancellor may alter what it says. He may change the law back to what it was previously. In its present form the Bill provides that he may do so in regulations which shall not require the affirmative approval of either House. The Solicitor-General and I discussed the matter in Committee. We largely agreed that there was no simple answer to whether a power to make regulations should be subject to the negative or affirmative procedure. I think that the Solicitor-General agreed that where it is subject to the negative procedure, the prospects for obtaining a debate on a Prayer to annul regulations must depend on the good will of the Government's business managers. I do not suggest that they are lacking in good will. But we know the pressures under which they have to work. They may not share the passionate feelings of the Opposition, still less the passionate feelings of individual Members, about the importance of a matter which they see primarily as one more constraint on parliamentary time. I agreed that it was not appropriate to insist on the affirmative procedure for all regulations. That necessarily takes up a little of the time of the House. Where regulations relate to technical matters which give rise to no controversy, the negative procedure is adequate. But we are discussing a power to alter the law. We begin from the proposition that normally the power to change the law should be subject to effective parliamentary control. At the end of our debate in Committee the Solicitor-General invited me to reconsider the matter in the light of his arguments. And he fairly offered that if I wanted to persist he would invite his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to reconsider the matter. Subsequently, I tried to formulate a general criterion to enable us to tell whether a power should be subjected to the negative or affirmative procedure. I confess that I did so without success. There is no criterion. The test has to be pragmatic on each occasion. However, I was led to persist by an argument which the Solicitor-General used to justify the negative procedure. He said that the power would probably be used in relation to a number of localised jurisdictions. The Lord Chancellor may wish to preserve a particular jurisdiction for a particular county court or specific sheriff court. I understand that we do not want everlastingly to bring to the Floor of the House local matters which are not in dispute. I do not believe that, normally, the Government, in exercising their powers under the clause, will have any difficulty in securing acceptance on the nod. But in matters relating to localities, on the odd occasion local feeling may run high. That is the sort of case in which an individual hon. Member should have an opportunity of presenting his case to the House if he thinks it right. I doubt whether it will happen frequently. I do not propose to repeat all the arguments which we deployed in Committee, but I should be grateful if the Solicitor-General would tell us whether, since I tabled the amendment, he has had a opportunity to discuss it with his noble Friend, and if so, with what result.`An order in Council under subsection (2) shall not be made unless a draft of the Order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament'.
I have had an opportunity to consult my noble Friend on this matter. The answer to the question asked by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) is that we are content to accept his amendment.We had a fairly full discussion on this matter in Committee. I share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view about the difficulty, if not impossibility, of finding criteria that would cover every case. In the Bill there are many instances which everyone will agree should fall into the negative resolution class. In the Bill, instances that readily fall into that class are subject to negative resolution. Likewise, there are many which we would say should fall into the affirmative resolution class. The matter that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised falls somewhere in the middle. There are arguments both ways. I have considerable sympathy for the argument that he put forward, having put it forward from the Opposition Benches often myself. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the argument prevailed. I am happy to accept the amendment.
I am grateful to the Solicitor-General. On Report I have knocked on his door only once and he has readily opened it.
Amendment agreed to.
Rules As To Jurisdiction In Scotland
Amendment made: No. 3, in page 12, line 40 leave out subsection (2).— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 13, line 1 leave out `respective'.
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 5.
The purpose of these minor drafting amendments is to make it clear that the new Scottish jurisdictional rules introduced by part III relate only to territorial jurisdiction and have no effect on the competence of either the Court of Session or the sheriff court.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 5, in page 13, line 2, leave out `and' and insert 'or of.
No. 6, in page 13, line 27 leave out subsection (7).
No. 7, in page 13, line 35 leave out Clause 21.— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Retention Of Security In Admiralty Proceedings In England And Wales Or Northern Ireland In Case Of Stay, &C
I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 16, line 39 leave out from 'may' to the end of line 4 on page 17 and insert
'if in those proceedings property has been arrested or bail or other security has been given to prevent or obtain release from arrest—
(a) order that the property arrested be retained as security for the satisfaction of any award or judgment which— (i) is given in respect of the dispute in the arbitration or legal proceedings in favour of which those proceedings are stayed or dismissed; and (ii) is enforceable in England and Wales or, as the case may be, in Northern Ireland; or (b) order that the stay or dismissal of those proceedings be conditional on the provision of equivalent security for the satisfaction of any such award or judgment.'.
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 9 and 41.
These amendments improve clause 26, which provides for the retention of property arrested in Admiralty proceedings before a court in England or Northern Ireland, where the court grants a stay of those proceedings in favour of a reference to arbitration or to a court in an overseas country. In most cases the ship will have been released against bail or other security provided either to the court or privately to the plaintiff.The amendments to clause 26 will ensure that the court may make a stay of proceedings conditional upon the provision of equivalent security, for example a bank guarantee, to satisfy any award or judgment given in the arbitration or foreign proceedings. Amendment No. 41, which amends schedule 12, introduces a transitional provision which ensures that the new power contained in clause 26 will not apply to property or other security given before it comes into force.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 9, in page 17, line 11, leave out 'bail or other security '.— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 17, line 15, leave out subsection (4).
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 12, 19, 21, 22, and 24.
These are purely drafting amendments.Clauses 26, 31, 32, 33 and 34 all make various provisions about overseas judgments, and each defines the term "judgment" in the same way. The amendments delete all those definitions and substitute a single definition to the same effect in clause 50, which is the general interpretation clause.
Amendment agreed to.
Overseas Judgments Given Against States, Etc
I beg to move amendment No. 11 in page 19, line 19, after 'not', insert
This amendment is of a purely drafting nature. It makes it clear that subsection (2)(a) is subject to subsection (2)(c). I shall be happy to give a fuller explanation if hon. Members wish, but for the time being I am content merely to move the amendment.`(except as mentioned in paragraph (c))'
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 12, in page 19, leave out lines 43 to 45.— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Overseas Judgments Given In Breach Of Agreement For Settlement Of Disputes
I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 20, leave out lines 3 and 4 and insert
'Subject to the following provisions of this section, a judgment given by a court of an overseas country in any proceedings shall not be recognised or enforced in the United Kingdom—'.
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16.
Amendments Nos. 13, 15 and 16 are of a purely drafting nature, but amendment No. 14 makes substantive changes by inserting two new subsections.Subsection (1A) makes further provision as to when proceedings in a foreign court will be regarded as being contrary to an agreement for the purposes of a subsection (1)(a). Clearly proceedings taken abroad will not be contrary to an arbitration or jurisdiction agreement if the agreement in question was void. However, the subsection covers certain other cases where the agreement, though valid, was unenforceable or incapable of being performed. An example would be where disputes under a contract were to be referred to a named arbitrator who in the event declined to act so that effect could not be given to the decision to go to arbitration. If there was no mechanism for appointing someone else to act in his place, it would be reasonable for the plaintiff to resort to the ordinary courts. A similar idea is contained in section 1 of the Arbitration Act 1975 which provides for our courts to stay their proceedings in the face of an arbitration agreement but makes exception for agreements which are void, inoperative or incapable of being performed. Subsection (1B) will ensure that our courts will assess the validity of an arbitration or jurisdiction agreement in accordance with their assessment of the law to be applied and will not be bound by any decision of the foreign court as to whether the agreement was valid. The likelihood is, of course, that the foreign court will be bound by its own law to treat the agreement as invalid.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 14, in page 20, line 13, at end insert—
'(1A) Subsection (1) does not apply where the agreement referred to in paragraph (a) of that subsection was illegal, void or unenforceable or was incapable of being performed for reasons attributable to the fault of the party bringing the proceedings in which the judgment was given.
(1B) In determining whether a judgment given by a court of an overseas country should be recognised or enforced in the United Kingdom, a court in the United Kingdom shall not be bound by any decision of the overseas court relating to any of the matters mentioned in subsection (1) or (1A)'.
No. 15, in page 20, line 14, leave out subsection (2).
No. 16, in page 20, line 17, leave out 'this section' and insert 'subsection (1)'.— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 20, line 23, leave out from 'of' to 'section' in line 25.It would perhaps be convenient to take at the same time amendments Nos. 18 and 20, as all three are purely drafting amendments.
I understand that it is for the convenience of the House to take at the same time those Government amendments.
This is a purely pedantic intervention on my part. Amendment No. 17 seeks to delete certain words following the word "of', but the word "of' occurs twice in line 23. The amendment is therefore ambiguous. I think that there is little doubt that the intention is to refer to the first "of ". I can imagine, however, that at some subsequent time officials may be in difficulty about what is to go on to the statute book.
I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for drawing attention to that. Even if there is a choice, no doubt the intention of the amendment is obvious and effect will be given to the meaning that makes sense. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I shall do my best to ensure that that happens.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 18, in page 20, line 29, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.
No. 19, in page 20, line 31, leave out subsection (5).— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Certain Steps Not To Amount To Submission To Jurisdiction Of Overseas Court
Amendments made: No. 20, in page 20, line 38, leave out 'treated' and insert 'regarded'.
No. 21, in page 21, line 11, leave out subsection (3).— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Certain Judgments A Bar To Further Proceedings On The Same Cause Of Action
Amendment made: No. 22, in page 21, line 22, leave out subsection (2).— [The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Matters For Which Rules Of Court May Provide
I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 32, line 5, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
It is perhaps as well if I say something about the amendment, as it affects maintenance proceedings which are of great importance to many people. The amendment extends the power to make rules of court for the purposes of the maintenance provisions of the Bill. As it stands, clause 48(3) refers only to the making of rules in relation to the recognition and enforcement of maintenance orders. It does not cover the rules which may be needed in relation to maintenance proceedings which may be taken in a magistrates' court against a defendant domiciled in another contracting State, by virtue of article 5(2) of the convention. Clause 48(3) is therefore reworded to provide for the making of rules in both sets of circumstances, that is, in relation to maintenance proceedings under the convention and to the recognition and enforcement of maintenance orders. At the same time, we have taken the opportunity to indicate the kinds of rules which may conceivably be needed to ensure that we fulfil our obligations. The amendment refers only to England and Wales and Northern Ireland because it is considered that adequate powers to make rules for the sheriff court already exist in the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971.'(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsections (1) and (2), the power to make rules of court for magistrates' courts, and in Northern Ireland the power to make Judgment Enforcement Rules, shall include power to make such provision as the rule-making authority considers necessary or expedient for the purposes of the provisions of the Conventions and this Act relating to maintenance proceedings and the recognition and enforcement of maintenance orders and shall in particular include power to make provision as to any of the following matters—
(a) authorising the service in another Contracting State of process issued by or for the purposes of a magistrates' court and the service and execution in England and Wales or Northern Ireland of process issued in another Contracting State; (b) requesting courts in other parts of the United Kingdom or in other Contracting States to take evidence there for the purposes of proceedings in England and Wales or Northern Ireland; (c) the taking of evidence in England and Wales or Northern Ireland in response to similar requests received from such courts; (d) the circumstances in which and the conditions subject to which any powers conferred under paragraphs (a) to (c) are to be exercised; (e) the admission in evidence, subject to such conditions as may be prescribed in the rules, of statements contained in documents purporting to be made or authenticated by a court in another part of the United Kingdom or in another Contracting State, or by a judge or official of such a court, which purport— (i) to set out or summarise evidence given in proceedings in that court or to be documents received in evidence in such proceedings or copies of such documents; or (ii) to set out or summarise evidence taken for the purposes of proceedings in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, whether or not in response to any such request as is mentioned in paragraph (b); or (iii) to record information relating to the payments made under an order of that court; (f) the circumstances and manner in which a magistrates' court may or must vary or revoke a maintenance order registered in that court, cancel the registration of, or refrain from enforcing, such an order or transmit such as an order for enforcement in another part of the United Kingdom; (g) the cases and manner in which courts in other parts of the United Kingdom or in other Contracting States are to be informed of orders made, or other things done, by or for the purpose of the magistrates' court; (h) the circumstances and manner in which a magistrates' court may communicate for other purposes with such courts; (i) the giving of notice of such matters as may be prescribed in the rules to such persons as may be so prescribed and the manner in which such notice is to be given.'.
Amendment agreed to
Amendment made: No. 24, in page 33, line 12, at end insert—
"'judgment", subject to sections 15(1) and 18(2) and to paragraph 1 of Schedules 6 and 7, means any judgment or order (by whatever name called) given or made by a court in any civil proceedings;".—[The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]
Proceedings Excluded From Schedule 8
1. Proceedings concerning the status or legal capacity of natural persons (including proceedings for seperation) other than proceedings which consist solely of proceedings for adherence and aliment or of affiliation and aliment.
2. Proceedings for regulating the custody of children.
3. Proceedings relating to tutory and curatory and all proceedings relating to the management of the affairs of persons who are incapable of manaaging their own affairs.
4. Proceedings in respect of sequestration in bankruptcy; or the winding up of a company or other legal person; or proceedings in respect of a judicial arrangement or judicial composition with creditors.
5. Proceedings relating to a company where, by any enactment, jurisdiction in respect of those proceedings is conferred on the court having jurisdiction to wind it up.
6. Admiralty causes in so far as the jurisdiction is based on arrestment in rem or ad fundandam jurisdictionem of a ship, cargo or freight.
7. Commissary proceedings.
8. Proceedings for the rectification of the Register of Aircraft Mortgages kept by the Civil Aviation Authority.
9. Proceedings under section 7(3) of the Civil Aviation (Euro-control) Act 1962 (recovery of charges for air navigation services and proceedings for damages against Eurocontrol).
10. Proceedings brought in pursuance of an order under section 3 of the Continental Shelf Act 1964.
11. Proceedings under section 6 of the Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980 (recovery of sums paid or obtained pursuant to a judgment for multiple damages).
12. Appeals from or review of decisions of tribunals.
13. Proceedings which are not in substance proceedings in which a decree against any person is sought.
14. Proceedings brought in any court in pursuance of—
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Title Ii Of 1968Convention As Modified For Allocation Of Jurisdiction Within Uk
I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 71, line 39 at end insert—
A person may be sued in Scotland:
With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 39, in schedule 8, page 83, line 16, leave out
`where he is not domiciled in the United Kingdom'.
I approach this matter with some trepidation. I have not been involved in the earlier stages of the bill. I did not serve on the Standing Committee, although I have read the short debate on these matters. I do not imagine that I shall delay the House for a great length of time, but a number of fairly substantial points have been canvassed in lengthy correspondence between the Solicitor-General for Scotland and his officials and the Law Society of Scotland. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who bravely raised these issues at an earlier stage, remarked upon terminology which he did not readily appreciate. I have a fellow feeling for him at this moment, although I am thankful for the fact that the initial disputes about actions of forthcoming and multiplepoinding have been disposed of and that we do not have to wrestle with those conundrums on this occasion.It is clear that strong feelings are maintained by the Law Society of Scotland on the questions raised in these amendments. I notice that Mr. Robert Brodie, writing for the Scottish Courts Administration to the Law Society of Scotland on 14 May, said:
It is a disagreement—I would not say a dispute—over some highly technical matters, which has been maintained with great good humour on both sides. I think that the Solicitor-General will appreciate that the arguments were put shortly in Committee—in fact, referred to rather than put—and the matter almost by common consent postponed until the Report stage in the hope that the parties could reach agreement or that one would decide that it was no longer worth while or necessary to maintain its position. My understanding is that the Law Society does not take that view. It has made representations not only to myself but to a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The amendments were originally put down in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who, I know, for good reasons, cannot be present today. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the initiative that he took in tabling the amendments, beating my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West and myself by a short head. We were, however, glad to add our names. The most important amendment is the one that would add article 5B to schedule 4. It will mean that a person may be sued in Scotland if any movable property belonging to him has been arrested there or if he has any beneficial interest in any immovable property situated there. I should like to start with (b) and then move to (a). I understand that (a) is the main subject for concern and perhaps the rather more important of the two. I wish to know, in relation to the suggested (b), what is the current situation and what the Government propose. I am conscious of the fact and make no apology for the possibility that I may have got matters wrong. Although trained as a solicitor, I am no expert in civil jurisdiction. I leave these matters to real lawyers and confine myself to other fields. I understand that under the Bill it will be possible to found civil jurisdiction in Scotland self-evidently if the potential defender against whom the action is to be raised has a principal domicile in Scotland. In other words, if he owns heritage or a house and lives in that house, jurisdiction can be founded upon that fact. In terms of article 3 in schedule 1 concerning countries within the European Economic Community, one can found only if the principal residence is in this country. One cannot found on the fact that a person owns heritage generally if he does not live in it. I hope that that is clear. It is important to make sure that I am arguing basically on the right premise. I accept that the Government have made a concession in the sense that for an action that is raised against a national who is not within the EEC against a potential defendant who lives outwith the EEC domain, there has been an extension to the sheriff court of jurisdiction which hitherto lay merely with the Court of Session. That seems to me to be a rational extension. But the important loss to which the Law Society draws attention, and the reason for the amendment, is the situation in which an Englishman does not have his principal residence in Scotland. Let us say that he is a man of style who has a shooting box or a Highland estate but lives in Godalming or darkest Surrey. Presumably he could not found in Scotland a civil action on the basis of the ownership of that heritage. I trust that this reflects the position, but no doubt the Solicitor-General will inform me if I am wrong. It seems to me, and I am supported by the Law Society, that it would be better if a beneficial interest in immovable property situated in Scotland gave a right to found a civil action. The real issue in the amendment, which has been very much canvassed, is the arrestment of movables to found jurisdiction. The amendment suggests that if one can arrest movables in Scotland as one can arrest a bank account, one should be able to found jurisdiction on that. That right would survive if the amendment were adopted but will, I understand, die under the terms of the Bill as drafted. I hope that the House will allow me to go back to my dim, and I was going to say and almost boyhood, memories, but that cannot be right. I shall say simply my dim memories of instruction in civil law. If my memory is correct, the relevant section is section 6 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1907. I believe that the jurisdiction that we are considering is contained in section 6(c). It says:"Both the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General are very grateful indeed for the time and care devoted by the Society to examining this technical but important Bill."
one can found jurisdiction on that. It is a section with which all hon. Members are familiar because of the romance associated with nailing notices to masts of ships, beloved by the press when it occasionally happens. I believe that this survives in some other part of the Act, although I shall not try to trace it. What goes, however, is the other movable property in section 6(c). This is open to serious debate and argument. Perhaps the easiest approach is to take examples. It is always difficult to construct models. I believe, however, that I want an explanation and some exposition from the Solicitor-General of how the system will work. Let us suppose that I have bought from an English firm a washing machine which turns out to be seriously defective—so defective that I have, in the law of Scotland, a good action for damages. Let us suppose that I go back to the shop where I bought it only to discover that the shop has closed, but I find that there are movables, say a bank account, that I could arrest. As the law of Scotland stands, I could arrest the money in the bank account and trot along to the sheriff court and raise my action. As the Bill envisages the law, I should presumably have to sue in an English court. The Solicitor-General shakes his head. It is a fundamental point. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps inform me if I am wrong."Where the defender is a person not otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of Scotland, and a ship or vessel of which he is owner or part owner or master, or goods, debts, money, or other movable property belonging to him, have be en arrested within the jurisdiction"
I should like to deal with this matter in more detail, but part of the savings, and part of the grounds of jurisdiction, in the Bill make specific provision for consumer contracts. In the example that the hon. Gentleman puts forward the situation would, as I see it, be covered by consumer contracts which would enable the consumer to sue in the courts of his own jurisdiction.
I noticed the provision on consumer conracts in one of the schedules. There is the rather strange concept of a consumer as distinct from a normal pursuer. Article 14 in schedule 4 states:
I assume that that is the Solicitor-General's point. I accept that that may have to be taken into account in the balance of the argument. It is an important point. Ministers argue strongly that there are means of founding, for example, on contract—on the basis of where the contract is made and where it is to be carried out. Therefore, the grounds raised by the Law Society are largely covered. I accept that it may be possible to cover many of the cases. I am not pretending that there are not several innovations—particularly in the schedule to which the Minister referred—which would remove some of the difficulty. Many practitioners in this area have put it to me—not frivolously—that there is a simplicity and usefulness about the arrestment of movables and the founding thereon which will be a distinct loss to practitioners in that part of the law of Scotland. The Minister will no doubt argue in the same way as Mr. Brodie argued in a letter to the Law Society on 14 May. It will be argued that there is little danger of the provision being an embarrassment, because the number of actions in sherrif courts based on letters of arrestment is very small. It is suggested that out of 17,761 ordinary actions in 1979, only 54 were based on the issue of letters of arrestment. The figures for 1980 and 1981 are 101 and 69 respectively. Perhaps that puts the dispute in perspective. However, that is always a double-edged weapon, because both sides could give way if the matter were not very important. I am sceptical about the figures, because I am not sure whether they relate to actions raised or decrees obtained. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point. I have been told—it is a carried story, but from a good source—that often actions to do not get as far as decrees. However, the fact that an action can be raised concentrates the mind of the debtor greatly. As a result, the matter is settled before the expense of litigation has been undertaken. Therefore, we are losing a substantial advantage in terms of simple and comprehensive civil jurisdiction in Scotland. Let us assume that the law is as the Solicitor-General would wish. Let us also assume that I have decided to raise an action in Manchester as the result of some dispute. Let us further assume that there are movables in Scotland which I would normally have arrested in order to found my action, and that I am looking forward—having got my decree—to getting hold of the movables to settle the debt. Clearly, there is a grave danger that the movables in Scotland will move. They have a habit of doing that, particularly in such stress situations. Presumably, there must be some machinery to arrest on the dependence of the action in England. It has been suggested, and it seems reasonable, that I would look to clause 27 for that purpose. That clause begins with the following pregnant line:"A consumer may bring proceedings against the other party to a contract either in the courts of the part of the United Kingdom in which that party is domiciled or in the courts of the part of the United Kingdom in which he is himself domiciled."
Therefore, I assume that any action to arrest on the dependence would have to be taken in the Court of Session. No one has more respect than I for the grace of life in that court. However, there are difficulties about litigating in the Court of Session. I refer, for example, to the problems of employing agents and counsel, although they no doubt welcome the opportunity to make a living. However, the procedure is expensive and a little cumbersome. Does the Solicitor-General not accept that there is some value in the argument that if the arrestment on the dependence—often an important part in the process of genuine recovery—must be made in the Court of Session, there will be considerable expense and difficulty? If we are to arrest on the dependence, what about the lower limit on Court of Session actions? Presumably there is a bottom line beneath which it is impossible to litigate in the Court of Session. If I am pursuing for £300 or £400 in a county court in England and want to arrest in Scotland, is there any difficulty in going to the Court of Session? Will I be met with the objection that the court is not interested in matters as small as £300 or £400? Will I discover that the arrestment is not possible? The gap may not be very important, but, if it exists, the Minister should deal with it. These are matters of some importance and moment. I shall listen carefully to the Solicitor-General's response. I recognise that the Solicitor-General will argue that these jurisdictions are exorbitant and have always been objected to. He will argue that they are incompatible with the scheme set out and that, like it or lump it, the Scots will have to do without it. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that that view does not commend itself to the Law Society of Scotland. For example, a contract might be concluded not in Scotland, but on delivery to a haulier in England. In such circumstances, the arbitrary terms of the contract, or the fact that it has a standard clause saying that it is actionable only under English law, might reduce the apparent comprehensive cover of the provision in the schedule, which gives a jurisdiction based on the law of contract. I refer to article 5(1) as set out in schedule 4. There are difficulties and anxieties about the way in which we are removing well-established Scottish procedures. I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider the matter sympathetically. I do not suggest that this is a head-on nationalist case. I do not think that the Law Society imagines that there will be a great rush of litigation in English courts. That would greatly overstate the position. However, there is a feeling that we are not receiving effectual consideration from Ministers. Mr. A. J. Spencer-Kennedy said in his letter:"The Court of Session may, in any case to which this subsection applies".
That is article 5(1) and clause 25."We really do no more than acknowledge gratefully the Lord Advocate's explanation of the two provisions"
The point is that they are crumbs that do not properly fill the gap. There will still be difficulties. I have said enough to demonstrate the concern that is felt over this matter. I hope that I have not made my case too imperfectly, but I do not have any particular expertise in this field. Despite various references, this is the first opportunity that we have had to debate the subject at any length, because of the difficulties of time, and because negotiations are still in progress. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock)—who is also a member of the Faculty of Advocates and therefore, presumably, a man of skill—made a brief speech. Indeed, in the solicitor's trade, we are always told that such a person is a man of skill. He said that"We accepted that they went some way towards filling the gap left by the abolition of arrestment to found jurisdiction. If our cake is to be taken away we naturally welcome any crumbs that are left behind."
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn was broadly taking the same view as the Law Society of Scotland. Mr. Brodie seems to have shut the door, presumably acting on behalf of the Minister. In the letter that I have already quoted he said:"it is important that the Law Officers appreciate that concern is not confined to the Opposition Benches but is shared on the Conservative side … I hope that the Government will have a well-reasoned view to put to the House on Report if they ultimately reject those submissions."—Official Report, Standing Committee B; 9 April, 1982; c. 32–33.
That is true, because if something is popped into the Bill, that means that its terms have been reconsidered. I am not convinced that it is the wrecking matter that Ministers suggest. We are at the end of the Bill's progress. Normally there is a get-out, because both Ministers and the Opposition can promise to reconsider and in another place or at a later stage table further amendments. It is difficult for Ministers to adopt inexpertly drawn amendments. I make no criticism of those who drafted the amendments under discussion. I hope that the Minister will not have a closed mind. May I raise one further point? During the debate on new clause 1 the Solicitor-General for Scotland referred to the possibility of orders in connection with specialised jurisdictions. Is there any machinery, apart from further primary legislation, to open the door to meeting some of the points genuinely expressed by the Law Society of Scotland and other Scottish legal interests?"The re-introduction of the Scottish exorbitant jurisdictions would compel the Government to reconsider the terms of the Bill."
I welcome the opportunity to debate the issues originally raised by the Law Society of Scotland. I fear that, subsequent to the Bill's Committee stage, there has been a misunderstanding of my attitude to what was said in Committee to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). When I mentioned that it was only during the recess we had received the views of the Law Society for Scotland, I was not criticising. My remarks arose because earlier I had promised to provide those views to Opposition spokesmen as soon as they were available. We did not have an opportunity to debate the views in Committee, and I am happy that we can do so today.The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) should go back a stage further. What is important and at the centre of the Bill is that problems are caused by jurisdictions throughout the convention countries continuing to adopt bases for jurisdiction which other jurisdict ions do not recognise. At present, if a country, be it within the United Kingdom or elsewhere, purports to exercise a jurisdiction that is not recognised by other countries, whenever one goes to that other country to attempt to enforce a judgment, it is necessary to look behind that judgment to ensure that the country exercising jurisdiction did so on a proper basis, on grounds which are recognised. The Bill's purpose is to simplify that. If there is a common basis for the exercise of jurisdiction, once the judgment is obtained, enforcement in another jurisdiction becomes much simpler. The hon. Member for Garscadden and the Law Society of Scotland appear to recognise that. They say that it is important and desirable, and a valid reform of the law, but that in Scotland there should be a basis for jurisdiction which is convenient and helpful in their daily business. They want an enforcement procedure which is simpler throughout the convention countries but, notwithstanding that, within the United Kingdom they want to keep jurisdiction which is otherwise regarded as exorbitant. That cannot be done between the convention's member States. There are three categories—the countries that are within the convention, those that are outwith the convention, and the United Kingdom. It is clear from schedule 1(3) that in no circumstances could this country continue to exercise jurisdiction simply on the basis of the presence within the United Kingdom of property belonging to the defendant or the seizure by the plaintiff of property situated in the United Kingdom. That cannot be done between convention countries because it is specifically excluded. In relation to third countries outwith the convention the arrestment opportunity still exists. That is not altered. Another set of circumstances relates to where the jurisdiction applies to Scotland when a Scottish pursuer seeks to have judgment obtained in Scotland enforced outwith Scotland, in another part of the United Kingdom. The Scottish courts have jurisidiction based on the arrestment of movable property, and the Court of Session, but not the sheriff court, has a jurisdiction based on possession an interest in heritable property. Both those bases of jurisdiction, at least in circumstances where the proceedings have no connection with the property in question, would be regarded as exorbitant by most other countries. Paragraphs 13.163 and 13.164 of Lord Maxwell's report made that clear. Court of Session judgments based on arrestment to found jurisdiction are at present expressly excluded from enforcement in other parts of the United Kingdom by section 8 of the Judgments Extension Act 1868. Sheriff court judgments would not be so enforced. I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West has appended his signature to the amendment. The amendment is designed not simply to maintain the status quo in Scotland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in supporting the amendment, is saying that effect would have to be given to judgments not recognised in England because of the 1868 Act and enforced elsewhere. That is not preserving the status quo but it represents a substantial increase in the number of Scottish arrestments to found jurisdiction as against persons domiciled elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to be given the opportunity of putting on the record that I appended my signature because I thought that it was right for an opportunity to be given for the debate to take place. I was not necessarily asserting any view about the debate.
I could not resist twisting the right hon. and learned Gentleman's tail in some small manner. I recognise that it is important to discuss the matter.There are no equivalent rules of jurisdiction in the 1968 convention. Indeed, by article 3 the taking of jurisdiction on such grounds against persons domiciled in another contracting State is prohibited. Following the advice of the Maxwell committee, rule 2(8) of schedule 8 has the effect of retaining, and in the case of jurisdiction based on presence on interest in immovable property, of extending to the sheriff court, these jurisdictions as against persons domiciled outwith the rest of the United Kingdom and the EEC. In ceasing to apply those grounds of jurisdiction against persons domiciled in other parts of the United Kingdom, we are again following the advice of the Maxwell committee, which considered their use in the United Kingdom context to be exorbitant. It will be appreciated that schedule 4 allocates jurisdiction within the United Kingdom on the basis of rules similar to those contained in the 1968 convention and that the courts of other parts of the United Kingdom are equally giving up certain grounds of jurisdiction that are commonly considered exorbitant as against persons domiciled in Scotland. Thus, it will no longer be possible for a person to be sued in England and Wales simply because a writ has been served on him during his temporary presence there. The ability to present a Scotsman who is climbing the steps of the shuttle to Glasgow with a writ, if that is the only basis on which jurisdiction is taken against him, will no longer exist. That is one of the grounds of jurisdiction in the 1968 convention that is specifically prohibited by article 3. The hon. Member for Garscadden used the example of contract. It must be appreciated that although the basis for asserting jurisdiction on arrestment of movables in Scotland would be lost, in many ways the jurisdiction of the Scottish courts is being extended as against persons domiciled in other parts of the United Kingdom. That extension would limit greatly the cases in which the two jurisdictions that are to be lost could be usefully employed. Schedule 4 is not simply a matter of domicile. With respect to the hon. Member for Garscadden, he somewhat over-simplified the position. It is not just a matter of exercising jurisdiction on the basis of domicile. In the convention reflected in schedule 4, a number of rules are set out and the hon. Gentleman will see that provision is made for actions grounded on contract or, if I may use the Scottish term, delict or to establish a tortious law. Articles 5(1) and 6 of schedule 4 will give jurisdiction to the Scottish courts in many circumstances where at present there has had to be reliance on arrestment, as will articles 13 and 14 in relation to transactions involving a consumer. The hon. Gentleman will see that that is a wide jurisdiction.
Perhaps the Minister will define "consumer". In a sense, anyone who buys anything for his own use is a consumer. Obviously a wholesaler buying for resale is not a consumer, but a firm can buy a piece of machinery which it intends to use in its business. Article 14 caught my eye. It has not been debated at great length and I am curious to know how wide is the term "consumer", because it has a lay connotation of any individual who buys anything for his own use.
If the hon. Gentleman examines article 13, he will find the definition of a consumer. It is very wide. He will also find the definition of "contract" and then he will see what article 14 provides. If anything surprises me about this legislation, it is that there have not been queries about the matter. I doubt whether the Law Society of Scotland would have objected to it, but others might have done so.Clause 27 provides for the first time a procedure by which, where a person must be sued in another part of the United Kingdom, his assets in Scotland can be secured. The hon. Gentleman raised that point and drew our attention to the fact that the procedure is operative only in the Court of Session. I am glad to say that it is not just a matter of the faculty mafia having its way yet again. Paragraph 5.241 of Lord Maxwell's report states:
The hon. Gentleman may be happier with what the report next states:"Such an application should, we think, be competent in the Court of Session only. This is the only court which is at present competent to grant warrant for inhibition, though the Sheriff Court can also grant warrant for arrestment."
That may give the hon. Gentleman some cause for comfort. The provision is not covered by clause 27. It must be covered by rules of court rather than the Bill, and I can do no more than afford him the hope that it might be included in the rules of court. There would be no problem about the lower limit because what is being sought is not an action in the Court of Session but simply a warrant for arrestment. The substantive action is not being considered. Therefore, while the practical concerns of the Law Society of Scotland which have led them to propose the amendments are entirely understandable, their acceptance would put in question the entire basis of what is generally agreed to be the useful scheme of allocation of jurisdiction within the United Kingdom set out in schedule 4. For those reasons, the Government will continue to resist them. Many of the fears that have been expressed are unnecessary. As the hon. Member for Garscadden is aware from a letter sent by Mr. Brodie to Mr. Riddell, the point was made that in more than 17,000 actions in the sheriff court in 1979 only 54 letters of arrestment were granted. Some of those were probably outwith England or the EEC. Furthermore, of the 54 letters, some would in future be covered by the extensions to the jurisdiction in schedule 4. While I appreciate the concern of the Law Society of Scotland, it seems to me that the general scheme of the Bill is desirable. If we were to attempt to accept the amendments, far from maintaining the status quo, we would have to introduce an alteration not only to the law of Scotland but to the law of England. Naturally, some Englishmen would consider that undesirable and unacceptable."The Court of Session seems the most appropriate to handle cases with a foreign element. We recommend, however, that the application should not require the employment of counsel and that a solicitor anywhere in Scotland should be able to sign it."
I thank the Solicitor-General for Scotland for his careful reply. There is much common ground between us. I understand that there are difficulties about accepting the amendments, given the Europe-wide framework of the convention which must be accepted or rejected as a whole. The specific exclusions in article 3(b) and (c) of schedule 1 strike specifically at those matters and tie the hands of the Solicitor-General. These matters are worth discussing because they draw attention to the difficulties presented by this sort of legislation. The news in clause 3 that Mr. P. Jenard and Professor Dr. Peter Schlosser are to become institutional writers in Scots law by statute strikes me as being extremely strange. I was unfamiliar with their works and I hope to remain unfamiliar with them. These gentlemen are rather strange bedfellows with the great institutional writers of Scots law.I welcome the reassurance that the Solicitor-General for Scotland was able to give about the distinction between the enforcement of a decree—indeed, an arrestment on the dependence of a decree pending another in another court—and the lower limit on initiating actions in the Court of Session. If the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that no difficulty will stem from that distinction—and he uttered soothing words about the possibility of further action in an administrative sense—following the Maxwell recommendation, his reassurance will be helpful. 12.30 pm Article 13 defines a consumer's rights, and I find it interesting. It seems that anyone who buys anything outside his trade or profession and who lives in Scotland can found an application in connection with that purchase in Scotland. That appears to be so on a first reading of the article. That is a wide jurisdiction. It will give rise to some interesting developments. It is sweeping in its terms. I do not necessarily quarrel with that, but I find it rather surprising. It underlines the concern that there will be endless horrors for young lawyers in Scotland who will have to master this measure when it is enacted. The main part of the Bill is set out in only 30 or so pages but there are well over 70 pages of impenetrable schedules. That is always a bad sign in any legislation. My doubts and those of the Law Society of Scotland have not been assuaged. There will be some disappointment when it is learnt that the Solicitor-General for Scotland was unable to take a more helpful line. At least we know where we stand, and I do not think that there is any virtue in delaying the House further on these matters. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Proceedings Excluded From Schedule 4
I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 76, line 29, at end insert—
'Register Of Aircraft Mortgages
8. Proceedings for the rectification of the Register of Aircraft Mortgages kept by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Continental Shelf Act 1964
9. Proceedings brought in any court in pursuance of an order under section 3 of the Continental Shelf Act 1964.'.
The amendment is concerned with the allocation of jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. New rules for this purpose are contained in schedule 4. Certain proceedings are for various reasons excluded by schedule 5, leaving the present law to continue to apply to excluded proceedings.
The amendment adds two categories of proceedings to the list in schedule 5—that is to say, those which are excluded. The first in paragraph 8 is proceedings for the rectification of the register of aircraft mortgages. Such proceedings do not take place every day of the week, but they are important. At present they can be brought in the High Court in England or Northern Ireland, or in the Court of Session in Scotland. If schedule 4 applies, they will have to be brought in England because that is where the register is kept. Article 16(3) gives the English courts exclusive jurisdiction. We see little advantage in depriving Northern Ireland and the Scottish courts of jurisdiction that they have hitherto exercised. Therefore, these proceedings are to be excluded from schedule 4 by the amendment.
The second category of proceedings concerns acts or omissions taking place on an installation on the continental shelf. Again, these proceedings do not take place every day of the week, but they are of importance when they arise. These proceedings can at present be brought in the courts in the part of the United Kingdom to which the relevant area of the continental shelf belongs. This allocation of jurisdiction seems unexceptionable. However, it is not clear that it may be continued under schedule 4 as article 5 refers only to courts that are part of the United Kingdom, and the continental shelf might not, strictly speaking, be covered. Again, these proceedings are excluded by the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Enforcement Of Uk Judgments (Money Provisions)
I beg to move amendment No. 28 in page 77, line 44, at beginning insert
'Subject to sub-paragraph (1A) below,'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 29, in page 77, line 47, leave out 'the superior' and insert 'a'.
No. 30, in page 77, line 48, at end insert—
'(1A) A certificate issued by a superior court shall be registered in a superior court and a certificate issued by an inferior court shall be registered in an inferior court'.
No. 31, in page 78, line 3, at end insert—
"'Inferior court" means in Scotland, a Sheriff Court and in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, any court, other than the High Court, having jurisdiction to hear and determine civil causes'.
No. 32, in page 78, line 5, leave out 'superior'.
No. 33, in schedule 7, page 80, line 31, at beginning insert—
'Subject to sub-paragraph (1A) below,'.
No. 34, in page 80, line 33, leave out `the superior' and insert 'a'.
No. 35, in page 80, line 35, at end insert—
'(1A) A certificate issued by a superior court shall be registered in a superior court and a certificate issued by an inferior court shall be registered in an inferior court.'.
No. 36, in page 80, line 38, at end insert—
"Inferior court" means in Scotland, a Sheriff Court, and in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, any court other than the High Court, having jurisdiction to hear and determine civil causes.'.
No. 37, in page 80, line 47, leave out 'superior'.
No. 38, in page 81, line 3, leave out 'the superior' and insert 'a'.
The House may be relieved to know that these amendments can be dealt with considerably more briefly than the previous group. It is common ground that they do not raise matters of principle. They are concerned with administrative convenience and the efficiency of the system.I am speaking from a Scottish point of view, although the amendments may have wider implications. Any decree from Scotland but within the rest of the United Kingdom or the EEC must be recorded in Scotland for enforcement. As the Bill is presently drawn, that must be done through the Court of Session. Lawyers in Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland have taken exception to that exclusive right. The amendments would ensure that if the decree is obtained in a superior court, it must come back to the Court of Session, but if it is obtained in an inferior court of whatever country it can return for enforcement to the relevant sheriff court. It is a simple matter. Everyone can make up their minds quickly on the Scottish merits, but the Minister may say that there are wider implications. I shall be selfish and deal with the Scottish scene, which I know. We must consider a number of interests. The solicitor's trade is not necessarily the most important, but it must be given due consideration for the efficiency of the system. There is the expense and convenience of those litigating, those who are pursued and those who have a decree and wish to enforce it. It would be more convenient for all parties if the sheriff court, which is sited in the area where the arrest and enforcement will ultimately take place, were used. The Minister has previously argued that there is no great inconvenience in centralisation in Edinburgh. There are not that many decrees. The Court of Session has the expertise and it is almost a service to unfortunate country sheriff clerks who may suddenly get a Belgian decree through the post and exclaim "Cripes, what's this?" I am not impressed with such arguments. Under the judgments extension legislation that has operated for about 100 years, sheriff clerks have coped with such problems, which have not given rise to complaint. Let us not take anything too outré or unlikely, but assume that a person living in Aberdeen wished to litigate and discovers that the only jurisdiction in which he can found is in England. The defender may carry on business in Manchester. It is not an article 14 consumer action, so there is no possibility of founding on contract. He goes to a solicitor in Aberdeen who instructs a solicitor in Manchester. He, in turn, raises the necessary action in the English courts and gets decree. That is unavoidably complicated. Presumably he sends the decree back to the solicitor in Aberdeen, who sends it to Edinburgh to be checked and recorded in the Court of Session, presumably employing Edinburgh solicitors for the purpose. The documents are ultimately returned to Aberdeen. Assuming that the goods against which diligence is to be done are in Aberdeen, at the end of the long and complicated train, sheriff officers will be unleashed in Aberdeen. That is a paper chase. On balance of convenience—I can do nothing to get rid of the Aberdeen, Manchester and back to Scotland trail—let us at least make the process a triangle and not something geometrically more complicated, with documents travelling to and from Edinburgh with the consequent delay and expense. I am prepared to listen to arguments about the amendments affecting England and opposition there, but if I were deciding a system for Scotland and looking at the convenience of the legal system there, I have no doubt that I should work on the basis of the amendments, not the Bill. There is a case to be answered. The argument strongly favours my proposal. I hope that at this late stage the hon. Gentleman will consider the amendments sympathetically.
The amendments would, in effect, retain the existing system for registration of judgments within the United Kingdom as it applies to money judgments, and extend it to non-money judgments, by requiring that judgments originating in an inferior court in one part of the United Kingdom should be registered in another part only in an inferior court. Similarly, superior court judgments could only be registered in the appropriate superior court. The Bill, on the other hand, presently provides for a unified system of registration of judgments through the superior courts.As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, this is a question not of principle, but rather of what on balance would be the most convenient system. We have taken the view, supported in Scotland by the Maxwell committee—and, it is fair to say, without opposition in any part of the United Kingdom other than that from the Law Society of Scotland—that, on balance, the advantages of a unified system of registration through the superior courts are decisive. Judgments under the 1968 convention—other than maintenance judgments, for which there is a special regime—will, whatever their origin, be registered in the superior courts. That is required under article 32, as the hon. Member will be aware. Foreign judgments for enforcement under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, which in future will have the possibility of being judgments of inferior courts, are already enforced by registration in the superior court. Further, within the United Kingdom there is being introduced for the first time a system of registration of non-money judgments which may well give rise to more complex problems than do money judgments. For money judgments, a very simple registration procedure is envisaged which could be operated directly by solicitors or by the parties, so that there would be no substantial inconvenience in having to deal with a superior court rather than a local court. If the hon. Gentleman remains concerned about the matter, I invite him to study what the Maxwell committee said in paragraphs 15.63 to 15.66. He will see spelt out an extremely simple procedure for the registration of judgments. As envisaged there, it would not involve an elaborate procedure of passing the judgments necessarily through to an Edinburgh solicitor or to counsel before it could be done. It is very simple and straightforward. The real complication might arise with non-money judgments. I think that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that in those circumstances simply to translate what the English court says into Scottish legal jargon might be desirable. It would be useful to have a centre of expertise in translating some of the more obscure terms of English law into the clarity of thought that is part of the Scottish legal system. Finally, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, comparatively few judgments, whether from other parts of the United Kingdom or from outwith the United Kingdom, are sought to be registered. In 1979, for example, the sheriff courts dealt with only 91 applications relating to the Inferior Courts Judgments Extension Act 1982. That total includes judgments from other parts of the United Kingdom received for registration and Scottish judgments sought to be enforced elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It seems desirable in the circumstances, both on grounds of efficiency and as being most helpful to applicants, to concentrate expertise in the registration of all foreign judgments in one place. The Government's view is that the provisions of the Bill, as it stands, are to be preferred to those contained in the amendments.
I had not expected any other answer from a well-briefed Minister, but the hon. Gentleman put it across, as always, with delicacy, and softened the blow as best he could. I hope that he will look sympathetically at any administrative rules covering the recommendations of the Maxwell committee, because there is a danger, despite the good will at his level, that the matter could become a little over-complicated and fouled up with administration.I hold to my point and the Minister holds to his, but he is the Minister. The best that I can do in the circumstances, with what good order I can manage, is to leave others to judge the arguments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
I beg to move amendment No. 40, in page 96, line 16, after 'and', insert `aliment'.This amendment corrects an error in the amendment to section 15(1)(b) of the Maintenance Orders Act 1950, which is made by paragraph 2 of part II of schedule 11. It is purely formal.
Amendment agreed to.
Commencement, Transitional Provisions And Savings
Amendment made: No. 41, in page 101, line 15, at end insert—
The power conferred by section 26 shall not be exercisable in relation to property arrested before the commencement of that section or in relation to bail or other security given—
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.
Civil Aviation Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.This is a pure consolidation measure, bringing together in one Bill the law relating to the Civil Aviation Authority, aerodromes, regulations on civil aviation, and the law governing aircraft. It does not change the law. We are grateful, as always, to the Joint Committee, which has considered the Bill in detail on our behalf and is satisfied that the Bill represents the existing law. It is a useful consolidation measure. I commend it to the House.
I shall not delay the House. In two sentences I can say that we share the feelings of gratitude which the Government have expressed to the Joint Committee and its Chairman. Certainly nothing will be done by the Opposition in any way to discourage the Government from bringing forward measures of consolidation on law reform.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.— Mr. Gummer.
Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.
Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
Business Of The House
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Item 26 on the Order Paper is not Government business. It is starred on the Order Paper as if it were. It is private Members' business, and this is a day when Government business takes precedence but has no absolute right. If the Government do not wish to move the items up to No. 25 on the Order Paper that is their business. I am glad to see that the Government Chief Whip is in his place. I should like to ask him whether he would give the Queen's Consent to the Second Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill.
I understand that leaving the star off against item No. 4 is a printer's error. I am informed that it is Government business.
The Succession to the Crown Bill is not Government business. It is my business. It is a Private Member's Bill. I am pointing out that there has been an error—that it has a star, but that it is not Government business.
That may be, but the hon. Gentleman cannot move his motion now.
It is only that Government business has precedence. If the Government do not wish to take any matter up to item 25 on the Order Paper, that is their privilege, but it is well before the time for unopposed business. I wish to move the Second Reading of my Bill, and there is a Privy Councillor here who is able to give the necessary Queen's Consent.
I am not willing to accept the hon. Gentleman's motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Gummer.]
Orpington is full of inventive geniuses and small businesses. It is also the home of the printing, publishing and sales departments of the Patent Office. I need no excuse to draw attention to the need to ease ministerial inhibitions on the Patent Office so that it can improve the service that British trade, industry and inventors require from it.I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs to the oversight of the Patent Office. I am pleased that it is now the responsibility of a Minister of State, though I regret that the debate has been forced on my hon. Friend so early in his tenure of office. It follows parliamentary questions that I put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade on 1 February and 3 March this year. The Minister will be aware that, in return for the payment of fees, the Patent Office provides three basic services: the granting of patents, the registration of trade marks and the registration of designs. I am concerned about all three services and especially about the effect of their shortcomings on small businesses, but in the short time available to me I intend to concentrate on the administration of the patent system. The system was devised centuries ago to encourage, by granting freedom from competition for a limited period, the making and disclosures of inventions, the development of inventions and their introduction to the market as new products and processes. In other words, the system is calculated to encourage both primary and secondary innovation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recognised, in a speech to the parliamentary and scientific committee on 25 February 1981, that we had a long way to go before we would be giving proper recognition to our inventors. She said that scientific excellence is admirable, as are engineering competence and technological capability, the successful formation of new businesses and the creation of wealth. But, said my right hon. Friend, most to be admired are those rare, gifted persons who can do all of those things. My right hon. Friend said that underlying many of the difficulties facing our innovators is the supercilious and dangerous attitude that some sections of society display towards engineers and entrepreneurs. She added:
"The only long-term solutions to the distressing level of unemployment which this country now faces are more products which will sell and more business. We need more firms of every kind; some will result from larger organisations adapting themselves to an increasingly competitive world; some will be small firms providing new services, or old services in a new way; and above all some will be new technology-based firms.
That the new technologies will create new jobs, millions of jobs, there is no doubt. What I am doubtful about is whether we in the United Kingdom will have our proper share. It is my purpose to see that we do and we should. We have the skills and the inventiveness. The Government's job is to do all that it can to make the necessary changes easier to bring about.
In wanting fewer complaints about a lack of a sense of urgency when a firm tries to register a company or develop an idea, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might have exemplified the delays and other difficulties encountered in trying to register a patent or a trade mark. There are bottlenecks at the examination stage and also at the stage of printing the patent to be granted. The recently published annual report of the Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks for 1981 said that 29,556 applications were awaiting full examination at the end of the year—an increase of 2,322 on the previous year. The Rayner report on the Patent Office, a copy of which the Minister's predecessor was good enough to place in the Library at my request, notes, at page 18, that the possible backlog of patent examination in 1984—continuing the current rate of accumulation of arrears—is estimated at 2½ years' work at current levels of manpower and output. The New Scientist on 29 April 1981 said that the output of a patent examiner, which used to be an average of two and a half reviews of applications per week, has dropped to two and that the Patent Office has been forced to extend the maximum pending period for a patent application from 3½ years to 4½ years. This examination, the so-called substantive examination, does not normally take place until after 18 months have gone by after the application was filed and early publication of its specification has taken place. The backlog of patents awaiting printing and granting is believed to be more than 14,000. With only 500 to 600 being granted each week, the backlog must necessarily take a very long time to be overhauled unless more printing capacity is brought into play. I am well aware that there are ad hoc arrangements for taking the proven most urgent cases out of turn for grant but that is only a palliative—a sort of first aid directed at the problem—and is no substitute for a speed-up in granting all cases, including those which are only moderately urgent, as soon as they are in order for grant. Without grant, money-raising is inhibited, as is the licensing or sale of a patent and the assertion that patent rights exist. All this is very frustrating for inventors and damaging for the national economy. The House is, of course, well aware of the manpower constraints under which the Patent Office, in common with other Government offices, has been operating. The Comptroller-General, in his report for 1980, said thatWe must develop in those in Government service respect for the risk-taking businessman so that I hear fewer complaints about cumbersome procedures, masses of paper and a lack of urgency when firms try to obtain development planning permission, try to register a company or seek help with a research and development project."
In his report for 1981, he states again that shortage of staff has caused problems, with consequential increases in arrears of work. He says that at the end of 1981 the approved complement was 1,392 but that the actual number in post was more than 40 fewer. I should like to know from the Minister where those vacancies exist. This is a shortage which presumably is due more to recruitment problems than to ministerial restraints or financial constraints and, if there are any vacancies at the Orpington office, I hope they will be filled quickly from local applicants. The fee-earning services of the Patent Office are required to break even each year and appear actually to make large surpluses, totalling, according to my calculations, £13½ million in the last six years. The provision of adequate staff to carry out the services required by the clientele of the Patent Office is not therefore something which causes a net increase in Government expenditure. On the contrary, this revenue-earning service should be encouraged to earn more revenue. No one can sensibly quarrel with the general Government policy to reduce the total size of the Civil Service, so as to reduce the total claim which the central Administration makes on the country's resources. However, it is wrong to reduce manpower to the serious detriment of services where the public interest is served and the consumers need it and are willing to pay for it. An example of such a service in relation to the Patent Office would be the maintenance of a collection of English translations of those European patents—United Kingdom—granted in foreign tongues. Many patents originating in other European countries and granted to cover this country, and perhaps other European countries, dominate the activities of traders and industrialists here. A central holding of those granted in their own language, translated into English, is a good example of a service which is better done centrally than peripherally. It would put an end to the wasteful exercise of each interested company having to make its own translation. Many patent agents are able to cope with French or German, but that does not apply to the majority of patent searchers. The Minister ought to have the staff available to carry out this useful and highly beneficial exercise. All he has to do is to call in such translations from the patent owners abroad. I am sure that he accepts the desirability of requiring such translations. The necessary machinery is in sections 77 and 78 of the Patents Act 1977, waiting to be triggered as soon as the handful of clerical staff needed to administer the scheme can be assembled. The Minister's predecessor, in his written answer to me of 1 February, said that he was satisfied that steady progress was being made towards modernising the Patent Office and increasing its effectiveness. I hope that the Patent Office will soon be able to slot in the holding of translations of foreign language European patents supplied by their foreign owners as a result of these improvements to its procedures. In this connection I should like to see a wider range of indices of the efficiency of the Patent Office included each year in the annual report. Examples would be the average number of patent applications reviewed by an examiner each week, the average delay before substantive examination takes place, the average delay between an application being found to be in order and the patent being printed and granted, the number of non-standard letters issued each week—put at one per examiner in 1979 by the Rayner team—and the average number of patent specifications printed each week now that there are two streams going through under the new law. The written answer of my hon. Friend's predecessor also referred to further computerisation of Patent Office operations. Future capital investment within the Patent Office is a matter of concern, with surpluses on current account being siphoned off into the Treasury each year. This operates like a tax on inventors. Such surpluses seem likely to be the rule so long as the financial objective is to break even in every 12-month period. The Rayner report referred to manifest difficulties being experienced in operating the Patent Office within the present public expenditure framework. It wanted to see capital reserves built up. Has the Minister any proposals to lay before the House in furtherance of that recommendation? In particular, has he any proposals under which the financial objective would revert to that which seemed to work very well some years ago—namely, a break-even taking one year with another in four-year cycles? I referred to the statutory publications of the Patent Office—the annual reports of the Comptroller—General. I now wish to touch on another—the reports of patent and other cases decided by the comptroller or by any court or body, being cases which the comptroller considers to be generally useful or important. I am told that some decided cases of importance to practitioners are not appearing in the reports, or are not reported as soon as might be desired. Some are not placed promptly in the open-access boxes in the Patent Office library, or, to give it its proper name, the Science Reference Library. That library is, of course, the concern of the Department of Education and Science and the Patent Office is, perhaps unfairly, criticised for delays in handing over to the library judgments of topical concern to patent agents and the patent Bar. This leads me to the dissatisfaction which is often expressed with the working of court procedures for litigating patent disputes. The present procedure appears to be complex, unwieldy, time-consuming, expensive and unpredictable. With the opportunities for forum shopping that will be presented after the enactment of the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Bill, to which the House gave Third Reading a few minutes ago, and the ratification of the European convention on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments which will presumably soon follow, some parties to patent litigation may choose to litigate abroad rather than here, to the disadvantage of British industry. I hope that we shall soon have a new body to keep civil procedure under review, in accordance with the report of the Law Commission for 1980–81 and the recommendations of the Review Body on the Chancery Division of the High Court, chaired by Lord Justice Oliver, which were published in Cmnd. 8205. The Lord Chancellor has indicated the Government's acceptance of the recommendations of the review body. For the patent system, we need reforms which are probably beyond the scope of the existing patents procedure committee, as this sits infrequently and is concerned mainly with minor adjustments. Returning nearer home, can the Minister say anything about the implementation of the Rayner recommendations relating to the printing, publishing and sales branches of the Patent Office in my constituency, to whose management and staff Rayner paid well-deserved tribute? I should be interested to learn of any progress with the Property Services Agency on smoothing the work flow by changing the physical arrangements at the Orpington office. I could go on about room for improvements in the patent system at greater length. As there is a little more time available, I should perhaps mention some additional matters. There is, for example, the tighter wording of the strict time limits imposed by the 1977 Act which have caused hardship to some applicants. There is also the need for wider cross-indexing and fuller classification of patents to enable industry to locate the patents that it has to avoid or those which contain wanted new information. There is also the need to remedy the failure to correct past errors in the cross-indexing of the names of all joint inventions in cases where they were indexed under the name of the first of the joint owners. I welcome the reorganisation that I believe is now in train in the trade marks registry. This will strengthen the Government's case for the Community's trade marks office to be located in London. In sum, the Patent Office does a very good and worthwhile job for the country. I hope that the Minister will help it to do even better."persistent undermanning had impaired the efficiency of the Office."
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for his kind remarks. This is a matter in which I am glad to be involved. If we did not already fully recognise the extent of inventive genius in Orpington, we certainly do so now. I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing the whole of this matter before the House. It is opportune at a time when we are hoping to negotiate to bring the European Community trade marks office to London. That would be a great asset.I share my hon. Friend's view that we should give greater recognition to our inventors and inventions. We are fortunate in this country in the way in which we develop inventive skills. I find that this is one of the major reasons why so many overseas companies are anxious to open laboratories and factories here. We have the precious capacity to develop high technology and to train technical workers in our laboratories. It is not surprising that other countries should want to tap that. I agree also that we need to develop more opportunities for people here not only to invent but to have good, sensible access to other people's inventions as quickly as possible. It would be tragic and damaging to our business if we allowed delays to hold up development of new techniques when they become available. That is one reason why I am so glad to be discussing this subject with my hon. Friend today. I welcome the constructive comments of my hon. Friend. The Patent Office was reviewed in 1980 by a team under Sir Derek Rayner as part of the Government's general review of the efficiency of the Civil Service. The review found, as we would have expected, that the professional capacity and knowledge of the staff were very high and that the office enjoyed a very good standing both in this country and abroad. But the review also commented on the severe backlog in processing patents and trade marks and on the increasing cost of the work of the office. My hon. Friend is right. This is a matter for serious concern. As a Minister new to this work, it is something that I shall follow up to see whether I can do more to help. A number of measures have already been taken to tackle these problems. Others will follow over the next few years. For example, I am now able to report that the office is dealing promptly with all requests for searches that it receives and that it is steadily reducing the backlog of requests for a full examination. The backlog was reduced from over 30,000 at the end of October 1981 to 27,470 at the end of April 1982. That is still a very large number outstanding, but there has at last been some reduction. The office has streamlined its procedures for granting and publishing new Act patents and the output of publications has increased from 36,000 in 1977 to 51,000 in 1981. The backlog of new Act grants should be cleared by early next year. Therefore, there are signs of progress, even if they are not enough. The office hopes to be able to cut future publication costs by about £1·5 million per annum from a present total of £5·5 million, so again there is an improvement. The position on patents is improving steadily, but that on trade marks is not so happy. The office has increased the number of examinations and registrations affected, but there is still a serious backlog, which we cannot deny. However, changes are under way. A new structure has been proposed for the branch and, together with other changes being planned, that should go a long way towards solving the branch's problems. The various changes require extensive consultation, not least with the office's customers. The standing advisory committees on patents and trade marks have played, and continue to play, a constructive part. I am deeply indebted to them for their valuable contribution. However, such consultations take time, although we are doing everything possible to speed them up. My hon Friend asked several detailed questions. I appreciate that it is essential to have sufficient staff for the job. He asked me how there could have been 40 recent vacancies when we recognise the need to get on with the work. On 1 April 1981 the number of approved staff was 1,392. The approved figure for 1 April 1982 is 1,340. Therefore, the 40 apparently unfilled posts were the result of phasing out. I assure my hon. Friend that posts were not being left unfilled. My hon. Friend asked about the Orpington office. I understand that eight posts seem to be unfilled. Those posts are presently occupied by those in posts in other parts of the Department. Therefore, we are discussing not unfilled posts, but posts that are presently being used in another part of the service. They are all part of the same service, but they are in a different location. Later we expect to transfer those posts—but not the holders—to the Orpington branch. My hon. Friend was correct to say that each year the Office has made a profit. That profit goes to the Treasury. That is the present arrangement. Under the present cash limit system, it is not proposed to change it. My hon. Friend was also right to talk about translations and to ask whether a central system would be an improvement. Several industries have told us that there are problems and have suggested that we should use the legal provision in the 1977 Act to provide a central register. We do not have any hard evidence of difficulties. The Science Reference Library, to which my hon. Friend referred in another context, provides a service for industry, but I understand that demand is low. There is certainly no pressure for the service to be expanded. If my hon. Friend has evidence of a need, I shall be glad to receive it. To operate such a scheme centrally would require at least 10 extra staff, and about 25,000 files would have to be laid open to inspection. Unless the need is greater than we believe it to be, surely our staff are better used in reducing the backlog. My hon. Friend asked about capital investment. He is correct in what he said. We are consulting, but it is not a major problem at present. It will become a problem with the change to the new computer system. We shall examine the issue when that happens. We do not think it necessary to set up a trading fund. Concentrating on the implementation of the various recommendations by the Rayner Committee on improving efficiency should be the first priority. Questions about court proceedings are for the Lord Chancellor. My hon. Friend asked about the printing, publishing and sales branch at Orpington. We are moving steadily through a four-year programme of implementing the Rayner recommendations. We are not at the stage of examining that part of the work. Perhaps we shall never have to make changes at the Orpington branch office, but if it is necessary it will occur much later in the programme. I ask my hon. Friend to reassure the staff. I shall keep in touch with him when necessary. There is no doubt that the office has been going through a difficult period. I am confident that it is winning the battle. As a result of the impetus of the Rayner review and the good working relationship between the Patent Office and its customers, in the next few years we can hope for the emergence of a modern and streamlined organisation well able to cope in an efficient and cost-effective way with the demands made upon it. It has been important to discuss this matter, and, I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing the subject before the House.
Motor Cars (Personal Importation)
It gives me great pleasure to raise a subject of major importance to many of my constituents, motor dealers and manufacturers here in Europe and elsewhere. I refer to the personal importation of motor cars.In the last few months there has been much publicity about the route by which individuals can, instead of living abroad and bringing in a car according to the intention of the 1978 exemption, take a day or two's holiday, buy a vehicle in Europe and bring it to this country. It is possible to dodge the requirement to meet certain national standards for construction, design and safety. Many questions have arisen in the past few months and I wish to air some of them with the Minister. Many of them will be of interest to European Ministers and the Department of Transport, and I make no apology for raising them. The only long-term solution is for manufacturing costs and selling prices in the United Kingdom to come down to the levels in Europe and elsewhere. However, during the past few years there have been many imports from Japan and other countries because British prices are so much higher—perhaps £1,000 on a smaller vehicle and £3,000 or £4,000 on a prestige vehicle. Those price differentials have led people to seek a way of overcoming them in their own interests. I shall not criticise the work of authorised dealers or manufacturers in the United Kingdom, who have tried to do what is best for the consumer, but there are people who will take every opportunity to bring in a vehicle that meets the approval regulations much more cheaply than they could buy it here. The loophole by which people are exempt from the national type approvals laid down in 1978 should be examined closely to see whether we are complying with the needs of the European Community in terms of our pricing, whether there is fair competition or whether we should impose a restriction to make it available only to those who are resident outside Britain and who are returning here. There was once a 12-month restriction. There have been major scare stories that if the prices come down British dealers will be squeezed out and that manufacturers must make hundreds of thousands of workers redundant, but I do not believe them. If we can successfully export British cars to Europe and elsewhere, we can compete in world markets and reduce our domestic prices. I hope that my hon. Friend will reply to some of my points and assure the House that he will raise the matter with his colleagues on both the trade and the European aspects.
The House will appreciate that we are discussing this matter at short notice, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) is right. He has brought to the attention of the House a matter of considerable interest. I have received many letters on the subject from people who are worried that a loophole is being exploited in a way that will damage the British car industry, or from those who believe that it is irregular that there should be such a difference in price between the same car bought here or bought overseas and imported here. There was much worry that the Government were proposing to make immediate changes to stop it.I assure my hon. Friend that we have no major changes in mind. We see it as part of the normal trading competition within industry and as something that industry should deal with in the first instance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport commissioned a review on the arrangements for the personal import of cars. As a result of that, he said:
This subject has been raised in the House at rather short notice. I understand entirely my hon. Friend's reasons for doing so and I recognise the importance of the issue. He will have the opportunity of reading in Hansard the statement to which I have referred. If he wishes to put any questions to me subsequently, I shall be glad to receive them."There has been concern that the Government intend to restrict the current arrangements under which people importing a car which they have used abroad are exempt from our national type approval checks. The Government will not consider any changes to the terms of that exemption until and unless arrangements are in place to ensure that type approval information is readily available to individuals and independent dealers and until I am entirely satisfied that their operation does not impede the purchaser's choice of supply. But in the meanwhile there will be no changes. My officials are, therefore, approaching the manufacturers and their accredited dealers to discuss how individual purchasers and independent dealers can be given prompt and ready access to the type approval information they need, and to which they have a right in international trading law. Once that information is generally available, it will be more convenient for purchasers to register individually imported cars in the normal way—that is, showing compliance with type approval—leaving the personal import exemption to people genuinely making a change of residence for whom it was provided."
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at half-past One o'clock.