Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Bill

Part of Ways and Means – in the House of Commons on 25th May 1943.

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Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Let me first allay any suspicions that may naturally enough arise from the words of the proviso that it is the Minister's intention to exercise his powers by transferring to strange authorities powers which normally ought to reside in the locality. If the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) will look at Sub-section (1) he will see that the notional resolution which is necessary to bring the whole of the country under a planning resolution is deemed to have been duly passed by the local authority for the district in which the land is situated. As he told us correctly, under the 1932 Act there have been changes from the position where each local authority planned its own land. There have been reliramishments, there have been joint committees, and so on. It may happen that when Clause 1 becomes operative a small section hitherto not subject to a resolution, situated it may be in the very middle of the area which has joined up for joint action, will, if we have not the proviso, be its own authority for planning. It would be undesirable within an area of that character to have a division of planning functions-between one large body which has voluntarily come together or is the result of a voluntary relinquishment and another authority holding a small place in the middle of the area; and that there should be no powers on the part of the Minister to tidy up the position and make an effective planning body governing the whole of the land in question.

It is for that purpose and no other that the proviso exists. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance on that matter. It is necessary in the case of those areas brought under a notional resolution to tidy them up and to secure that there is one authority which will function in an efficient manner for the whole area. I do not anticipate that the areas which are now brought for the first time under planning will feel any reluctance at the proviso. If I were suddenly confronted as an administrator of local government with the task which would be imposed on me, I would welcome inclusion in an area which is already provided with planning powers, and I anticipate no trouble in this provision being accepted. I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) that it would be wrong for the Minister of Town and Country Planning to make these alterations in authorities without the fullest consultation with the authorities concerned. It is not only a question of courtesy, although that is involved. I hope that courtesy will always be a feature of our administration in this country and that those who take upon themselves the burden of public affairs, whether locally or at the centre, will always treat each other with the greatest amount of respect.

Apart from that, there is involved a sound administrative point. A Minister of Town and County Planning who attempted to carve up areas without consultation would not only be extremely discourteous but very foolish, because he would be depriving himself of that local knowledge which is essential if planning is to be effective and popular. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment for this reason. Consultation is a piece of administration and a Minister would be foolish if he did not indulge in it to the full, but the place to check errors in administration is Parliament where the Minister is subject to scrutiny by his fellow members. It is one thing for the. Minister to be obliged to consult by rules of good administration and Parliamentary criticism, and it is another thing for him to be subjected on the matter of consultation to the jurisdiction of the law courts. If we alter the Statute and put these words into it, it opens the door for people to ask: "Did you actually consult before you made the Order?" Possibly years after, when a local authority in good faith has made orders affecting property rights, some cantankerous individual might come along and say that everybody had not been consulted to the full and, therefore, the Order was ultra vires.I am not anxious to avoid the fact of consultation, but I want to avoid cluttering up the Statute Book with possible rocks of offence for the future. The word "consultation" itself is extremely vague in its import. We know what it means, but what degree of consultation is necessary for it to be effective in the words of the Statute? If a Minister likes to be high-handed it could be the most perfunctory consultation, and that would be no safeguard. Nothing but good administration can secure that. I give the assurance, on the one hand, to the hon. Member for Barnsley, of what the proviso is intended to accomplish, and on the other, to the hon. Member for Peckham that the fullest consultation will be necessary and will be carried out. I hope, therefore, that they will not think it necessary to press their Amendments.