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Town And Country Planning Bill Lords

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 22 May 1990

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Considered in Committee.

8.40 pm

As this is a consolidation measure, if the Committee agrees, in the normal way I shall put the clauses en bloc until we get to the amendments.

Clauses 1 to 170 agreed to.

Clause 171

General Interpretation Of Chapter Ii

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 115, line 46, leave out 'I' and insert II'.

This amendment creates a reference to compensation under part II of the Land Compensation Act 1961, substituting "II" for "I".

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 171, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 172 to 318 agreed to.

Clause 319

Application Of Act To Isles Of Scilly

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 215, line 34, leave out `102(5)' and insert `102(8)'.

This is a minor drafting amendment.

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with a consolidation measure, so that any remarks must be very restricted.

Indeed, they will be, Sir. I shall attempt to consolidate my remarks into the shortest possible amount of time and space.

I want the Solicitor-General to explain in a little more detail. I am not doing this to be awkward at this early point in the evening; I am doing it because it follows on from the previous debate. We need to know a little more. The Committee is being asked to agree something. I am sure that the Solicitor-General would not try to work a flanker on us—he does not look like that sort of person. He is the sort of chap whom one would be quite prepared to have defending one in the courts, or whatever else he does when he is not here. I should like him to explain precisely what the amendment means so that I shall know that, at some later time, no hon. Member will be brought to account for having made some terrible mistake at 8.41 pm in a sparsely attended Chamber. That would colour my whole attitude to the remainder of the Bill.

In clause 319 there is a reference to clause 102(5), which should be a reference to clause 102(8). I hope that that elucidates the matter for the hon. Member.

How did that error occur? It is quite clear that it was sloppy draftsmanship—or draftspersonship, I should say. The Committee should not pass a matter like this willy-nilly without making a comment. How does it happen? Is the Solicitor-General in charge of his Department? Does he know what is going on? Why did he let that happen? Why did it slip through the net? Surely, with all his civil servants buzzing around getting him cups of tea and tending to his every whim, something like this should never have been allowed to occur. It is a matter for resignation.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 319, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 320 to 336, agreed to.

On a point of order, Sir Paul. We have just agreed many clauses. Would it be possible for the clauses to be called out clause by clause? Is it possible to vote clause by clause?

It would be possible. Whether it would be popular with the Committee is a different matter. I am following the customary procedure with consolidation Bills, which is to put blocks of clauses and schedules together, but if the hon. Gentleman feels at any time during our proceedings—

Clause 337

Short Title, Commencement And Extent

8.45 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 230, leave out lines 36 to 39.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will understand when I say that this amendment would remove the privilege amendment moved in another place.

This Bill has been rushed through. Some hon. Members expected more time to prepare. [Interruption.] Indeed, I did not even have time to dress for dinner this evening; I was forced to appear like this.

The amendment would remove the provision
"(4) Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds, or vary the amount or incidence of or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying, administration or application of any money raised by any such charge."
Those words are important to the Bill. I ask the Solicitor-General seriously to answer my question.

There is much in planning legislation that requires public expenditure. There is also much in planning legislation that is rechargeable to applicants. I have some knowledge of planning legislation as a former chair of a borough planning committee, so I have looked into the details of the matter. I was also the chair of the London Labour party committee that drew up the planning policy for the Greater London council.

As my hon. Friend says, if one can chair that, one can chair anything.

Is an informal subsidy being proposed through not fully charging planning applicants, particularly when major developments are involved, or is the matter to do with the enforcement of planning restrictions? I give an example that is very pertinent and of great concern in my constituency.

We have advertising hoardings all around London. Some of them are put up legally—some of them have planning permission. Some have historical planning permission in that they existed as advertising sites before the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. There is also in London a big business whereby people are making a great deal of money by putting up illegal advertising hoardings. Companies exist solely to go around fly-posting advertisements for pop concerts, holidays, loan sharks, bits of merchandise and so on. It is big business. Those hoarding companies operate an illegal trade in that they are illegally fly-posting or illegally advertising across London. It falls within the purview of planning law to exercise control over the disfigurement of our streets.

Some parts of London are very beautiful. Some parts of London are made unnecessarily ugly by the imposition of unauthorised fly-posting and advertising. For example, I drove along Kingsland road the other day. Potentially it is a very beautiful road. It is a broad street with nicely proportioned buildings on either side. It has been absolutely ruined by hoardings. Some of them are legal, but a large number of them are illegal. The area I live in in Finsbury Park is plagued by such hoardings. In many parts of London—I hesitate to say in the poorer working class areas of London—there is disfigurement of our environment by such hoardings.

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with a consolidation measure. I have allowed him to develop some of his arguments, but he must now come to the main point, which is whether the law should be consolidated.

The amendment states:

"Clause 337, page 230, leave out lines 36 to 39."
I read out clause 337(4) for the convenience of hon. Members who may not have a copy of the Bill or the amendment in front of them. The amendment would leave out the guarantee in the existing town and country planning legislation that
"Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge"—

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. We are discussing a purely technical device.

I understand that. I do not want to create any problems for you, Sir Paul, or for the Solicitor-General. I am sure that he is well briefed, although the Civil Service Box appears to be empty apart from one person. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) assures me that there is one person in the Box.

We are told that there will be no charge on public funds through removing a piece of legislation. What is behind what is being done? Will a massive bill descend on local authorities or even on central Government? I am endeavouring to raise a matter of great concern to me, which is illegal fly-posting in London and the disfigurement of the capital by unauthorised and illegal hoardings. Can they be removed and, if so, would that become a charge on public funds?

If the hon. Member took a closer interest in planning matters and parliamentary procedure, he would appreciate that the provision which we are removing was inserted to prevent the Bill from being a money Bill in the House of Lords. It has nothing to do with fly-posting.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 337, as amended, agreed to.

Schedules 1 to 15 agreed to.

Schedule 16

Provisions Of The Planning Acts Referred To In Sections 314 To 319

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 310, line 24, leave out `(5)' and insert `(8)'.— [The Solicitor-General.]

Schedule 16, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 17 agreed to.

Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

8.52 pm

I am attempting gently to demonstrate that much of our legislation goes through in this fashion, virtually on the nod. As I make that statement I see the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), shaking his head in dissent. He shakes his head and he is welcome to it. I would not want to be seen wearing it.

There are a number of points in the Bill that are worthy of consideration. I put it to the Solicitor-General that this is not a satisfactory way of dealing with the Bill, even though it is a consolidation measure. It should not pass without any attempt being made to raise some issues. He was at one point courting disaster by treating the points that we raised in an offhand and laid back fashion, although that seems to be the style in his Department.

I remind him that, had we persisted, we could have been voting all through the night on the amendments that were before the Committee. I hope that he will remember that when he brushes us aside, as he will, no doubt, do again in the future. He must also remember that there is infinite possibility for retribution to be heaped upon his balding pate by irate Back-Benchers who may feel that they have not been treated with the courtesy and seriousness that their points warrant.

8.54 pm

I raised in Committee some points of concern to me arising out of this legislation and the answers I received were unhelpful. I was told that a provision was being deleted to facilitate ease of passage for the measure through the House of Lords. That was not a satisfactory answer to a legitimate question and—

Order. We have dealt with the Committee stage. We are now on Third Reading and the hon. Member must address his remarks to that. I repeat that we are dealing with a consolidation measure. The only question in order on a Bill such as this is whether consolidation should or should not take place.

I am not happy that consolidation should take place, for the reasons I outlined in Committee. I fear that the Bill may incur a greater charge on the public purse in the long run. I wish that I were able to debate many aspects of the Bill, because we in this country do not have a particularly democratic planning system. Under our system, local authorities consult on a planning application, make a decision—appropriate or otherwise, based on that local consultation—and then the power to impose that decision is taken from them either by the process of calling in by the Secretary of State, referred to in clause 44 of the Bill, or by the applicant, a developer—

Order. I fear that the hon. Member is not taking notice of the advice that I have been giving him. He is now attempting to discuss the merits. That is an abuse of our procedures when we are dealing with a consolidation measure. He must bring himself in order, otherwise I shall he obliged to ask him to resume his seat.

I am in some difficulty because I wanted to talk about the lack of democracy in our planning procedures. You are telling me, correctly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that because this is a consolidation measure, only narrow issues may be raised. That being so, may I ask you to advise me of the matters that can be raised, remembering that I have serious concerns to express about planning procedures and the effect they are having, with wealthy developers trying to destroy part of my constituency?

I hope that when the Solicitor-General replies he will bear in mind the remarks I made about many people's anxieties about the need for proper consultation and the right of local authorities and local people to have a real say in planning decisions, rather than those decisions being made over their heads by a cabal involving powerful commercial interests lobbying for their planning proposals, and the Secretary of State overriding the decisions made, after careful consideration, by local authorities.

8.58 pm

I hope that the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will acquit me of discourtesy if I gave short but accurate answers to their technical questions on highly technical amendments.

What we are debating is a process of immensely careful consolidation which, if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West had had the time—I am sure that he will wish to take the time later tonight—to study, he would have realised that, in preparing the consolidation, the House had had the benefit of a report from the Law Commission which contained a number of recommendations of a minor and clarificatory nature for amending the existing legislation.

Those amendments appear in the Bills. We are dealing with four Bills tonight, all of which were referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills &c. during their passage through another place. The Committee reported that the recommendations of the Law Commission were necessary and produced a satisfactory consolidation of the law. The four Bills, taken together, amount to a single consolidation.

The hon. Members for Newham, North-West and for Islington, North have said that many aspects of planning deserve discussion in the House. However you, M r. Deputy Speaker, have explained that we are not permitted to go into the merits or wider aspects of consolidation measures. I am sure that the House will agree that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the parliamentary draftsmen and to all those who have played their part in the earlier stages of the Bill's passage, and in the Committees of this House and another place, in helping to get this measure right.

I shall give way briefly to the hon. Gentleman as a matter of courtesy, but then I shall conclude.

Now that the Solicitor-General has explained the derivation of the Bill—I understand that it is a consolidation measure and incorporates many other pieces of legislation—surely he is aware that there is much concern about the balance of power in planning matters and planning decisions. Is this Bill to form a definitive town and country planning Act for a long time to come, or do the Government have something in mind to address the real and rapidly growing concerns of people throughout the country about the way in which planning decisions are made, often irrespective of the wishes of small local communities, and these days much more in favour of big commercial interests? I am sure that many hon. Members of all parties echo that legitimate concern.

I know that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the proper carrying out of planning procedures is very much in the Government's mind. Although one must not anticipate future legislative programmes, this matter may turn out to be more in mind than the hon. Gentleman realises.

If the hon. Gentleman had been here for earlier debates, or if he were to look at the statute book, he would realise that all the Acts that are now being consolidated have been given time to pass through both Houses during Conservative Administrations, although they span a period going back to 1971, which covers some Labour Administrations. Town and country planning is extremely important, and I am glad that legislation relating to it is being given the time for consolidation now—

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the 1947 Act, but that is not one of the Acts that is being consolidated today.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.