In dealing with Amendment No. 9, I come to rather wider considerations which we feel it would be helpful to have in the Bill. We are all interested in the better distribution of employment. We must consider the general social life of the regions and that includes business, industry and the professions. We must look ahead and consider future progress and modernisation. How can the Government possibly object to that? In their policies and speeches they are constantly talking of regional development and modernisation. Why, therefore, have they been so obstinate so far in not accepting these reasonable Amendments?
I think that the reply will be that even the acceptance of these Amendments would still leave out certain considerations. That argument was used in Committee. I suppose that we shall be told that we would be leaving out questions of traffic, transport and housing. The fallacy there is that our Amendments would in no way limit the criteria of the Bill. We are trying to widen those criteria.
Even as the Bill is drafted, traffic, transport and housing will be taken into consideration. The Minister of State has said that the Board of Trade will take everything into consideration. How can it be said, therefore, that we would widen the criteria in one direction whereas transport, traffic and housing would be left out? We are not narrowing the criteria in any sense but are trying to widen them. I cannot accept that argument by the Government and I hope that the Minister of State will not bring it up again tonight. This is not just a drafting Amendment. It goes to the root of the Bill's purpose.
Thirdly, there is the question of modernisation. I imagine that every hon. Member opposite in his election address said something about modernisation and I should be surprised if most of my hon. Friends did not do the same. All parties agree that the only hope for the country is a more progressive and more modern outlook on industrial methods. But when we attempt to bring this sensible point to the attention of the Government we are shot down.
There is a genuine point here. Let us take the example of a factory which has been in an area for a long time. Pressure is brought upon the management by the workers—perhaps the draftsman—for a better place to work in, for more modern offices. One can imagine the pressure being brought in such a way that they say, "Unless you give us better condition to work in we will work elsewhere". The building of a new office block in that place would not bring any more employment to the area.
However, if the only yardstick by which such a case is judged is to be the Bill as drafted, no permit will be granted and those new offices will not be built and the firm concerned will not modernise itself. Yet, in the name of modernisation, surely it should be allowed to do so if it brings no more employment to that area. The Board of Trade, as the Bill is drafted, would be bound to turn down an application of this kind. This is not a theoretical point, because it is the sort of situation which will arise more and more as the years go by. More and more will factories modernise themselves so that more workers have a better standard of office to work in. If the Government believe what they say about modernisation, here is a chance for them to show that they mean business.
This is a vital Clause and perhaps the most vital. If Clause 1 is not clear—and it was described in Standing Committee as the "Charter Clause" of the Bill—the rest of the Bill will fail in its objective. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that I have moved the Amendment reasonably and that he will accept it.
I am very happy to support the Amendment, moved with considerable force by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry). I am certain that it is not the intention of the Board of Trade when exercising the powers under this "Charter Clause", as it has been called, that other important considerations, other than the regional question, should be relegated to an entirely subordinate position. If that were the case, it would introduce an element of distortion into the commercial life of the country which could do grave economic harm.
Our objection to the Clause as it stands is that over-riding importance is given to the distribution of employment and that these other important factors are placed in such a position that it will be open to those who would be responsible for the administration of the Bill to say that they are of less importance.
One is sometimes inclined, when talking about office employment, to regard office workers as being superfluous appendages to the country's main productive effort.
I see the Minister of State shaking his head and I at once acquit him and many other hon. Members opposite of falling into this error. But there are many people who themselves have very little to do with the sort of activities which go on in offices and who are inclined to regard office workers as encumbrances weighing down the efforts of the productive workers and being, as it were, an incubus hanging round their necks like the Old Man of the Sea. I am fairly certain that most rational people recognise that this is not so.
Furthermore, there is an increasing trend, certainly in commerce and industry, for emphasis to be placed on those who sit at desks and think, as opposed to those who stand and twiddle knobs, or do other productive work in factories.
It is not only in commerce and industry that one finds office workers. I mention a particular case relating to one of the schools in London University. Its modernisation plans and plans for developing and expanding the capacity for taking students was, in a major respect, brought to a halt because of the announcement made by the First Secretary of State.
An administrative block was to be planned which was to enable the whole of the administration of the college eventually to be housed—this is within Greater London—to make room for the expansion of residential and teaching accommodation. This had to come to a stop, because of the embargo placed on office building. I hope that eventually permission will be granted. This is a case in which office workers are essential to a rapidly expanding element of society, namely, the universities.
With regard to office workers in commerce and industry, it seems to me that the force of the Amendment is that it imports into the Statute, which is where it ought to be, as my hon. Friend has forcefully said, the fact that the Board of Trade must have regard to the reasonable requirements of office employment. It is my misfortune that one of my duties in the firm for which I work is to be responsible for the allocation of office accommodation within central London. I therefore come fairly frequently into contact with the problem of finding space for an ever-increasing office population.
One of the directors of my firm, who has now retired, used to say that when he was young the whole office was run by two men, a boy and the office cat, whereas now there were hundreds of office workers. He was inclined, in a light-hearted way, to regard this as a measure of deterioration. I recognise that as the productivity of factory workers has increased enormously, so the employment of all sorts of office workers has had to increase, too. As a business expands, one has to have not only more management staff, but more marketing staff, sales staff, and so on. There must be more forward planning and, therefore, there must be more planning and technical staff.
One sees advertisements in the Sunday newspapers for a new range of staff—statisticians, mathematicians, economists, computer programmers, econometricians, technical representatives and so on. All these people have to be employed to increase the productivity and efficiency of industry. In addition, there are those who are perhaps rather less directly engaged on production—clerks, accountants, lawyers, and so on. These are all an essential part of the productive enterprise. It must, therefore, be right that when the Board of Trade is considering exercising its powers under the Bill it must have regard to the reasonable requirements of commerce and industry to ensure that there is space in which these people can work.
It is not only in modern industries where this is happening. I had the great privilege of going as a member of a small parliamentary delegation to the National Coal Board. We saw—hon. Members will have read about this in the newspapers—new automatic coal-getting equipment which eventually will lead, it is thought, to the completely automated coal mine. The ambition which the extremely able technical men have set themselves is that the coal will be mined by a technician sitting in the mine manager's office and that eventually there will be no one down the mine at all. A slightly amusing point is that when I was adopted by my constituency I was stigmatised in the Daily Express as "the faceless man". I have now seen the manless face. So it has gone full circle.
That only shows that even in the old-established industries this trend towards increasing employment of technical and planning men in offices, with a corresponding reduction in the number of manual workers, is bound to go on. Therefore, we need not be surprised if there is constant pressure for more office accommodation. It therefore seems to be right in the Bill and in this important Clause that those who administer this legislation should have their attention specifically directed to the reasonable requirements of commerce, industry and the professions.
I entirely agree that the regional planning aspect of the Bill must be the cardinal feature in it. I have already indicated in an earlier debate that this is an aspect which I support. It must not, however, be done to the detriment of the economic life of the country. It is right that this should be spelled out in the Bill. For this reason, I have much pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend's Amendment.
I do not think that any of us are really in doubt what we wish to do in dealing with this part of Clause 1. We all believe that in the administration of these office development permits the Board of Trade must take into account the effects on employment and a number of other relevant considerations. We all agree with that and we are really only discussing, in effect, the drafting question of how this can best be put into the proper legal language.
It will not be disputed that the main purpose of the Bill is to get office employment better spread out over the whole country. The main mischief which we are aiming to check is the over-concentration of employment in offices in London and the South-East which has led to all sorts of other difficulties which we need not describe at length now.
But although that is the main purpose in administering the O.D.P.s, clearly the Board of Trade must take account of the need for modernisation of offices, decent conditions in transport and housing and a number of other relevant fac- tors which have been mentioned in these debates. It seems to me that if that is the purpose, we shall best achieve it by the existing language of the Clause.
As it is, the Bill states that
the Board of Trade shall have particular regard to the need for promoting the better distribution of employment in Great Britain.
I ask the House to notice that it is "employment in Great Britain" and not simply employment in the neighbourhood to which an O.D.P. applies. If we use that language, it is surely clear, first, that there is special emphasis on the need to promote the better distribution of employment, and that, I think, is what we all intend. It is also clear, however, because the word "particular" is used, that other relevant considerations are not excluded. Both those points are made perfectly clear by the language as it is.
If we were to do what is suggested in Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, if we were to omit "particular" and then add, in addition to "better distribution of employment", and so on, the words proposed in the Amendment,
providing adequate office space to meet the requirements of the commercial, industrial and professional life of the country …
we would surely get into a difficulty. We would then be saying that two groups of considerations are to be taken into account: first, the need for promoting
better distribution of employment, and secondly, the other points which are set out in Amendment No. 9.
If we do that, however, if we do not have the word "particular" and we mention two groups of considerations, it will be implied that other considerations which are not mentioned are not to be taken into account. Why should we select only two of the points which should be taken into account and exclude all others from mention in the Bill?
I believe, therefore, that of the two alternative forms of language, we shall really come nearer to saying what we all want to say if we put it more simply in this form that the Board of Trade
shall have particular regard to … the better distribution of employment
which is the main purpose of the whole operation. But, of course, we will, in practice, take into account all the other relevant factors. If we try to list all the other relevant factors, we are in this difficulty, that either we have to put them all in, which would not be practicable, nor efficient legislation, or, alternatively, we have to put in some and thus clearly imply that others are to be left out of account.
Having carefully considered this, and the arguments of hon. Members, I feel convinced that it would better achieve the purpose on which I think we are all agreed if we leave the wording as it now is in the Bill.
I am sure that the House would wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) on the way he moved this important Amendment. He was brief, but to the point, and he made the issues in the Amendment very clear indeed. He was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), who spoke with particular knowledge of this problem, the allocation of office accommodation. The House is indebted to both of my hon. Friends for their contribution to our consideraticn of the Bill.
The President of the Board of Trade, in replying with his usual sympathy—to which, I must say, we got very much accustomed during Committee—emphasised that to retain the word "particular" in the Bill was very important. As I understood him, he was really saying that because the word "particular" is used,
the Board of Trade shall have particular regard to the need for promoting the better distribution of employment
it implied that other matters would be taken into consideration at the same time.
This is an interesting point, but I am not quite sure how it squares with the dislike which was expressed to this word "particular" by the Minister of State when, it Committee, he replies to a debate on a similar Amendment. He said:
It is the word 'particular' which is troubling us. It would mean having particular regard to the factors which are mentioned, whereas transport might become the overriding consideration and could not then be taken into consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 18th February, 1965; c. 141.]
One of the reasons why we tabled the Amendment was to meet this dislike to the word "particular" expressed by the Minister of State, before going on to the more general question in Amendment No. 9.
My hon. Friends and I were persuaded to table this Amendment in a slightly different form because also of the words of the President of the Board of Trade when he wound up the debate in Committee on this matter. I have no doubt that the President of the Board of Trade remembers these words. He said:
do not think that there is much between us on this"—
and I think that that is right; I do not think there is much between us on this—
and I am prepared to consider whether we are right in our view, which appears to me to justify the Bill in its present form. I cannot promise the introduction of an Amendment on Report because I am not now convinced that the argument of hon. Members opposite is right and mine is wrong, but as this is a matter of interpretation of drafting I am certainly prepared to consider whether this is the best form of word."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 18th February, 1965; c. 148.]
Obviously, the President of the Board of Trade, who will always carry out what he promises in Committee to do, has considered the wording and has come to the conclusion—as we on this side of the House consider, wrongly—that the wording is all right, and that our Amendments are not appropriate.
The President of the Board of Trade will remember that when similar Amendments were moved in Committee I pointed out that they were to cover two quite distinct points. The first was as expressed here, for
providing adequate office space to meet the requirements of the commercial, industrial and professional life of the country".
to ensure that the Board of Trade shall have particular regard to the provision of adequate office space to meet the requirements of the activities I have mentioned.
There was also the second point about the modernisation of industry, because it is not enough to provide for the better distribution of employment merely by looking at it almost exclusively from the point of view of offices. We have to look at it from the point of view also of industry as a whole throughout the country.
One must not be led away by a desire to relieve pressure in one part of the country to direct employment to another part, which, in the long term, will reduce the efficiency of industry and perhaps prevent modernisation. This is why we tabled the second Amendment. I apologise for repeating something that I said during the Committee stage, but I think that it is critical to the Bill. I said:
I believe it to be essential for these Amendments to be written into the Clause. It is what I call the charter Clause of the Bill.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will
agree that it is the charter Clause of the Bill.
It establishes the purpose and spirit of the Bill. Therefore, we believe it to be essential that the Clause should be clear and that people should know precisely what it sets out to do." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 18th February, 1965, c. 134.]
That is what we have tried to do in the Amendment. We have tried to make clear what the considerations are which make it necessary to have the Bill, and the considerations which must be borne in mind in applying its provisions.
I agree that there may be a case for saying that if the word "particular" is used it may limit the factors to be taken into consideration specifically to the various activities that we have tabled in the Amendment. It is because of this fear that we decided—I must add encouraged by the Minister of State, who I regret is not here—to delete the word"particular". In our innocence we thought that having done that we would have met the objection raised by the Government. We thought that once we had deleted it, the problem would be solved, but we have been sadly disillusioned.
If the word "particular" is applied to one factor, it has a different sense and effect from applying it to two or more factors, which is what the hon. Gentleman was proposing previously.
That shows the advisability of not having the word there in the first place. It may be as well to delete it and then there will be no problem at all. If we draw attention to a number of overriding or important considerations to be taken into account without—
I shall be out of order if I pursue that, even though it is an interesting point.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to accept the Amendment. I am sorry that the consideration which he has given to the matter since the Committee stage has not led him to the view that some expansion of the existing wording would be valuable. I still think it essential that the Clause should be clear beyond peradventure. It should be clear what the Bill sets out to do, and it should be made clear in the Clause. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that we are not likely to get much further with the Amendment, and it is not one which we should necessarily press to a Division. I would not suggest that my hon. Friends should pursue it very much further.
We are not getting very far. We have not had a great deal of co-operation from the Government. We have had a lot of sympathetic words, as, indeed, we did throughout the Committee stage. Ministers were very friendly, and most helpful with regard to the expression of intent, but we did not get very much action. That is happening again this evening. Although we may be disposed to meet the Government as far as we can, and not press these Amendments too far, there may come a stage later on when we shall feel compelled to test the feeling of the House. I do not think that we can go on having one Amendment after another shot down in flames, without making some protest. However, I will leave the matter as it is, and leave it to my hon. Friend to take such action as he thinks fit.
We ought to press the right hon. Gentleman just a little bit further on these two Amendments which were so ably argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry). The right hon. Gentleman sat through a great part of the proceedings upstairs, and he will recall the many attempts that we made to amend subsection (4).
All these attempts had one thing in common; they were wholly unsuccessful. But we are applying our energies to this matter because this subsection is cardinal to the way in which the Bill is interpreted. It lays down, for the benefit of officials and the courts—if this were ever tested in the courts—the criteria which officials are to apply when confronted with an application for an office development permit, and because we wanted to get these criteria right and fair—by no means overlooking the cardinal objective of the right hon. Gentleman, which, as expressed here, is to promote the better distribution of employment in Britain—we spent a lot of time on our unsuccessful Amendments.
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not want to mislead the House. He will recall that we had our only success in Committee on subsection (4), in persuading the Committee to delete the word "office".
If I overlooked that at this stage it was because in all the mass of verbiage which floats over this subsection it seemed a rather exiguous gain. But it was something, and I retract anything which I have said which might imply that the right hon. Gentlemen never gave way on anything.
As the right hon. Gentleman is clearly not disposed to give way any further, he could help us if he would reaffirm his intention that his officials will interpret their powers, in judging applications for office development permits, as flexibly as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham put in a plea for flexibility. If we cannot have anything written into the Bill let the right hon. Gentleman say, with the greatest emphasis at his command, that marginal cases which come up really will be considered not only with reference to the Distribution of Industry Act.
I accept that that is the main objective, but in the case of a vast conurbation like London, where vast numbers of people carry on all sorts of trades and activities; where people come despite what the planners may wish them to do because there are high wages and good jobs available; where it is very difficult to persuade them not to come, I ask him to make it clear by his statements on the Bill that he intends his officials to take a very flexible nad wide-ranging view of the many marginal cases which will come to him.
I should like to refer to one case which, as the Bill is now drafted, would clearly fail but which it is clearly desirable should succeed. I take the example of a newspaper published in my constituency—the Croydon Advertiser—one of the best provincial newspapers published anywhere in the country, by any standard. This newspaper has been published in Croydon for generations. It is in the process of providing itself with a single large building which will contain all the editorial offices, all the printing works, and all the ancillary office space for reporters and everything else that goes with it.
To do this it is necessary for the newspaper to exceed, by 1,000 ft. or so, the limit of 2,500 ft.—as it now stands, but which, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman has in mind to increase to 3,000 ft. at a later stage. This is a very marginal case. It cannot be said of the people concerned that they are a "bunch of hard-faced speculators" who have descended on the borough and who wish to put up a lot of speculative office building. It is not like that at all. It is a prosperous enterprise. It has grown. It is bringing its staff into one building from various places dotted around. It has always been associated with this part of the country.
It is unthinkable that because a newspaper wants a few hundred or a thousand or so more square feet than the Bill, even as subsequently, I hope, amended, permits, it may be in danger of having the project turned down. I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman means that kind of process to go on. But his officials will be guided not by various hints and suggestions which he throws out, but by what is actually written into the Bill. Therefore, can he reassure us that in this kind of case—it is not the only one; there will be plenty more—he will have regard to other considerations other than purely distribution of population? If he would say that again, he would give much-needed reassurance to many of us, not only on this side of the House but possibly on the benches behind him, and I hope that we can prevail on him to do that.
If I may speak again by leave of the House and reply to the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson), I am most happy to say that, of course, the intention would be to administer the powers flexibly and to take into account a number of considerations, including those which are mentioned in the Amendment. But when one examines the words and thinks out the alternatives, I think that one comes to the conclusion that unless one adopts the form of words that we have here one is then in the dilemma that either one has to mention all the considerations, which is impossible, or one is bound implicitly to exclude some of them, which is undesirable. Therefore, I think that we are well advised to stick to these words.
There is a special consideration in regard to the new towns around London. Virtually all of them are in the metropolitan area. The consideration in the past has been that the new town is developed to take overspill from London and provide it with work. Part of that work is office work. McAlpine was one of the first firms in the country to move out to a new town, to Hemel Hempstead, and provide office space and work there and thus remove the necessity of having to commute to London. This has been a very valuable development in relieving London of employment and relieving the railway lines to London of congestion.
The new towns have been self-supporting in trying to produce a balance of employment and housing. But the provisions of the Bill seem a little dangerous, and I should like some reassurance in relation to this subsection about what is to happen in the future. If there is to be virtually no office building over the next seven years in the new towns, the position will be that because of the very large increase in population—there is a tendency for young couples to go to new towns and produce families, and we are now reaching the second generation—there will be a great demand by young and intelligent people for office jobs.
If such jobs are not available in the new towns, what are the young people to do? Is it the Government's intention that they should return to commuting and fill office vacancies in London? I do not follow whether that is the intention. It would have the advantage of relieving pressure on housing in London if the workers came in from outside, but I do not think that that is the intention of the Bill. I should like an explanation—
In addition to the natural increase in the population in a new town there is a tendency for greater office employment and less in industry. This is a development in the newer and more up-to-date areas which will be accelerated, and it will increase the demand for office employment. We do not want to turn people away from the new towns; they are developing towns which will relieve the congestion of London and, therefore, they should be encouraged.
Is there any difference between new towns and other authorities? As in any other town, are they not subject to overall development control by the ordinary planning authorities? What is the position about the town map which is under consideration and awaiting the Minister's approval, as I believe is the case in Hemel Hempstead?
I cannot help my hon. Friend about that. In Hemel Hempstead there is an excess of office space at the moment; there are offices to let if anyone is looking for offices. But this will quickly be mopped up, and there will be no further office space available thereafter.
Where new towns differ from towns such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) is that we try to produce a balance of employment and housing. If there is a demand for employment we get some more houses built quickly, because we are an expanding area, whereas other towns—such as some which I represent—tend to be commuter towns and people commute to London. There is not the same demand for local employment.
I feel that the Clause is unsatisfactory, and I should prefer account to be taken of the need to provide adequate office accommodation in those areas.
I am sincerely disappointed that the President of the Board of Trade has not accepted the Amendment. He began by saying that he agreed with us that all the considerations which we mentioned should be taken into account, and so far, so good. He then said that it was only a drafting matter. I do not entirely agree about that. He argued that by selecting certain considerations we had by implication excluded others. He will obviously be very obstinate on this point. We are grateful for the assurance which he has given, and, as we want to make progress, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I think that it would be convenient for the House to take, at the same time, Amendment No. 15, in line 22, at end insert:
(5) Nothing in this part of this Act shall apply to office development required by a local authority for the purposes of the administration of its area, provided that such development is within the area of its administration.
I am obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
As there was a considerable debate in Standing Committee on an Amendment which I moved and which was largely directed to this point, I do not propose to go at great length into the purpose of this Amendment. There is a significant difference between this Amendment and the one which I moved in Committee in that we have tried to avoid on this occasion falling into what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) described as "a hideous trap", which was pointed out by tie Minister of State. I am grateful to him for pointing out what might have been the erroneous application of the Amendment which I moved in Committee. I am also grateful to the Minister for the extreme courtesy he extended to me when we were debating an earlier Amendment tonight.
The difference between this Amendment and the one which I moved in Committee is basically that local authorities would only be exempted from the necessity to apply for an office development permit in respect of administrative offices which they proposed to build under the statutory obligations for administering local government in their areas. Under the Amendment which I moved in Committee local authorities would have been able to develop properties for purposes other than for their own administration.
This Amendment is, therefore, much more limited in its application. It gets away from the strong objections which, when pointed out, were realised by both sides of the Standing Committee. Local authorities have this statutory duty laid upon them and it is a particularly heavy one in respect of London government at present. As hon. Members are aware, the reorganisation of local government in London is causing considerable administrative upheaval. In the debate in Com- mittee I pointed out some of the problems which were facing local authorities in the London area.
I would be the last to seek special consideration for local authorities in this instance if I did not think that this provision was justified. I believe that it is and I agree that we should separate the position of local government from national government in this respect. Local authorities have laid upon them the statutory duty for the administration in their areas. It is highly unlikely that they would be able to establish administrative offices for their own areas in any other area of the country. Different provisions obtain for national government, who are able to establish administrative offices in any part of the country. The approach of national government in this matter must, therefore, be flexible.
The local authorities are not making extravagant claims when they seek to be put in a special position. When I moved the earlier Amendment in Committee I did so with the full support of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils' Association. On that occasion the drafting was suggested to me by the Association of Municipal Corporations. On this occasion the drafting has not been suggested by that Association and I hope that it will not be found to be in any way defective.
Only this morning I received a letter from the Association of Municipal Corporations. I had not consulted the Association about the Amendment, although the letter was directed to the point of the Amendment. Our minds must have been working in concert, although we had not been in consultation. The letter, dated 13th April, stated:
The Association would like an assurance to be given by the Board that provided a local authority will give an undertaking that the use of the old premises will be restricted i.e. so as not to increase office congestion a permit will automatically be granted to the local authority to build new offices for its own use.''
I hope that that request will be considered reasonable, and that the Minister of State or the Parliamentary Secretary will give it due attention.
The objects of my Amendments are clear, and I must say that if I had to choose I would choose the drafting of Amendment No. 15 which, I think, makes the position rather clearer than does that of the other Amendment, but whatever may be the Government's choice will be acceptable to me, and I hope that the Amendments will find more favour than did the previous Amendment I tabled on behalf of local authorities.
I begin by apologising for failing, through circumstances that I could not prevent, to take part in the Committee stage of the Bill, but I have done my best to familiarise myself with all that then happened by reading as carefully as I could the available reports. Without wishing to be in any way controversial, I want to say something about these two Amendments. Like my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) I prefer Amendment No. 15 to No. 11.
I suggest that in the Greater London area there is a real problem caused by the reorganisation of local government that is now taking place, and if I quote the situation in West Middlesex to illustrate that situation I do so, not to make a purely constituency point but because the circumstances there are paralleled elsewhere in Greater London.
In West Middlesex, four local authorities have been telescoped to form a new borough. None of the municipal premises which were in each case adequate for the local authority area concerned are big enough for the administration of the new area, so that the need to look as sympathetically as possible at a request by a new local authority for facilities to provide itself with an efficient administrative centre is very real. I agree that in Committee the Minister dealt very sympathetically with this point, and I do not now seek to be critical of him but merely to ask him to elaborate a little further what he then said.
In West Middlesex, the Hillingdon Borough Council, created by the London Government Act, merges four local authorities, but as none of the offices it has taken over from those authorities is large enough to give it an administrative base it has had to rent premises at a very high cost. It will be appreciated that rent level in West Middlesex is very high, and the Hillingdon Council has been obliged to rent two lots of offices and to pay an annual rent for them of £30,000 a year. Figures of that kind underline the need to see that these new local authorities can as soon as possible have premises big enough to enable them to do the job given to them by Parliament.
I intervene now to ask the Minister for an assurance that he will be prepared to meet the demand of the new local authorities in London for the premises they need to do that job.
This problem is one with which everyone will be in a great deal of sympathy. We considered it carefully in Committee and I do not think anyone can deny the reality of the problem which faces many local authorities, particularly in London.
Dealing first with the technical point of Amendment No. 11—the question of loan consent—this was raised in Committee, although, if I remember rightly, it was not put down in the form of an Amendment. The point is that the Ministry, in looking at loan consents, is considering primarily financial issues, the question of the allocation of capital resources, whether value is obtained for the ratepayers' money, and so on. This is primarily a financial test, and many people in local government complain that the temptation to go a little beyond the purely financial test is not always resisted.
To suggest that loan consent should be regarded as a substitute for permission for office development would not only challenge the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and of the Board of Trade, but it would also place a considerable administrative burden on the people responsible for giving loan consent in first of all checking up whether or not this was a case in which office development permission would have been given had it not been a problem of a local authority requiring loan consent. There is also the special difficulty of the backlog of cases where loan consent has been given but a contract has not been signed, and where there would be an automatic by-passing of the retrospective provisions of the Bill. That is the particular point.
I now want to look at the general point and, without being unduly controversial, I would only say that the Government have found themselves saddled with two crises for neither of which can they in any way be held responsible. One crisis is the tremendous overloading involved on the building industry in London— something which is generally accepted—and, a situation which the last Government tried in other ways to check, the growth of development inside London.
The second crisis is the fact that we are faced with a fundamental reorganisation of London government—something which the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), in bold and vigorous language, described as a considerable administrative upheaval. We have the problem, on the one hand, of the administrative upheaval of the inheritance of London government reorganisation and, on the other hand, the congestion and the crisis arising from office development with which this Bill has to deal. We have to cope with them both together.
One way of not trying to cope with the problem would be by contracting out of the responsibility for considering local authority building in the context of the other crisis with which we are faced. It would not look just, and I do not think it would be just, to give this special privilege to local authorities. It is true that local authorities are in one sense often immobile. They cannot move to another area because they must provide services within their own area. But it was said in Committee that there are central government services which are in the same position. Not all central government services can move, either to other parts of the region or out of the region altogether. There are many local services which have to be provided at a local level.
There are many central government buildings which are in a poor condition and where better facilities are required. Therefore, it would be extremely difficult to defend excluding local government from the Bill without abandoning the, I think, brilliant diplomatic achievement of my right hon. Friend in getting the Crown to agree to be bound by the controls of this Bill. That we have got both groups of public bodies to accept control is, on the whole, of great advantgae.
I do not think this has been explained fully. How, in fact, will this operation work against the Crown? What is the process that is going on? Are matters pending, or what is happening?
I think that the hon. Gentleman cannot have been attending in Committee with his usual assiduity, because this was discussed in a great deal of detail. Hon. Members may remember the argument about the telephone exchange which arose in one of the sittings of the Committee, when we went into the matter in a fair amount of detail. I think that the process will work in the way it usually works when the Crown is accepting restrictions of this sort. It will be done by inter-Departmental consultation. Before a public central government building is built, there will be consultation with my right hon. Friend to see whether this is the kind of building which would have been provided if it had not been for a public authority.
So I start by saying that I think the case for having both central government and local government under the Bill is a good one. When one comes to compare public building, on the one hand, and private building on the other, I think that the case for bringing public building under regulation seems overwhelming. I cannot imagine anything more likely to create ill-feeling and distress, than the idea of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain)—a great and active protagonist of private enterprise; a vigorous contributor to the national income—being told that he must be under control, and subject to all this red tape, when round the corner, after being turned off from having the office block which he most urgently needs for his work, he sees a palatial administrative hall being built for the local council.
I am afraid that the idea that, on the whole, the citizen welcomes local government building, is not true; nor is the idea that the citizen says, "Of course, we recognise the supreme need of local government and we are glad to see that, although we cannot have a new building, local government can." That is not the way I have ever seen local communities operating. On the whole, the one thing that most irritates them is when they see rather expensive and over-elaborate buildings going up, when they are subject to restriction.
We have taken the line all along that this Bill is essential to deal with a crisis. Coming in as it is after having been too long delayed in being introduced, it is bound to be rough justice, it is bound to create a certain amount of hardship, it is bound to create a certain amount of distress. To add to that distress a feeling of resentment and injustice, because public building was cut out of the Bill and private building was to be restricted, is something which I think it would be quite impossible to justify.
Will the Minister allow me to interrupt him? I appreciate the force of the argument he is making, but I should like him to consider one variation of the theme which I think he is overlooking. The case I have already quoted is the case where a new local authority requires to rent office premises. I have said that the Borough of Hillingdon has had to rent two lots of offices—one occupying 32,000 square feet and the other occupying 3,500 square feet. If this local authority is given permission to build, then in addition to the spectacle which it may be displaying of a lot of new buildings going up, there will be the countervailing spectacle, which I think will be equally pleasing, of premises being vacated. Would the Minister consider, where an authority requires to rent on this large scale, that this is an additional reason why it should be permitted to build, on the basis that by building it leaves other premises vacant?
I was developing an argument on the nub of the Amendment—whether or not local authority building should be brought within control. I was going on to look at the problem of how controls would be worked and at the matters to be taken into consideration. The point raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) probably comes under that heading.
I think that there are two ways in which it is necessary to look at the urgent needs of a local authority. The first is the competing claims of different local authorities for the scarce supplies of labour and materials in London. One of the difficulties here is that one of the results of the reorganisation of London government is that almost every one of the new Greater London boroughs is having to find somewhere to house itself.
In the nature of things, often the buildings which are being vacated are not as good as these which are to be built. For instance, in the borough of which I was, until that regrettable date of 1st April, a distinguished alderman, many of the council staff worked in very old private houses which were taken over and, without much conversion, occupied for some 20 years. These will in time be vacated. That accomodation will be nothing like what will be provided in the new buildings. I do not think one could regard it as a balanced swop. The point is that someone has to look at the competing claims of the local authorities in wanting extra premises.
Secondly, even where it is established that a local authority has an urgent need—and I do not deny that local authorities have such needs—someone has to consider whether it needs a new building or whether it can make do in the same way as private people have to make do in finding an existing building. The answers to these questions may vary from place to place and from authority to authority, but they are the right questions to ask.
The only person who can look at the needs of the local authorities and others and at the resources available is the person responsible for looking at the whole trend of office building, which is my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. It is he who has the proper claim.
Surely the only issue is whether the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the President of the Board of Trade is the right man to make a decision. Why does the hon. Gentleman denigrate his own Minister, who is really responsible for local authorities, and say that this responsibility must go to the President of the Board of Trade?
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is a humble man—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and I am sure that both he and I feel that we have quite enough on our plate in grappling with the housing legacy left by the last Government. We are quite happy to leave this extremely technical problem of the distribution of office building to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who is the person looking at the problem in general. If it is only a question of which Department should do the job, the case is strong for that Department being the Board of Trade.
If we can get this Bill through in reasonable time so that the pipeline can be cleared and we can begin to give office development permissions, the sooner will it be possible to do what we all want—to get adequate housing for the local authorities of the standard they require and which I do not for a moment question they should have. But I say that this moment of crisis is not the time to exclude them from control.
Since no one wishes to delay the passage of this Bill, may I very briefly refer to two points raised by the mover of this Amendment? As to the process of mental telepathic communication which the hon. Member claims is taking place between himself and the Association of Municipal Corporations, it would be appreciated if this channel could be widened so that we on this side of the House could have the Association's views at first hand. So far, I have had to rely on my own town clerk. If these matters are to be debated in the House, the Association might consider widening the scope beyond this special reference so that we might all have the benefit of its views.
Secondly, I wonder if this is the beginning of a genuine change of attitude by hon. Members opposite, because so far they have always complained that local authorities have more powers than ordinary members of the public. They have consistently said that local authorities should have powers to do only what other members of the public can do, in connection with such matters as building in the green belt and rent restrictions which do not apply to local authorities. Is this the beginning of a change in which local authorities will have more support from hon. Members opposite in future than they have had in the past?
These two Amendments may appear at first sight and when moved, I thought humbly, by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple)—and that is the sort of definition I would give to the word "humbly" which has been used in another connotation in this debate—not to have quite as much importance as some of the other Amendments we have been dealing with throughout the day. But I think there is no doubt in anybody's mind that the aspects of the Bill as it affects local authorities are particularly matters which concern the efficiency of the local authorities.
I would answer directly the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) by saying that we on this side of the House believe that the best people to decide about local problems are the local people, and this I have reiterated more than once during the Committee stage. We believe also that where efficiency is concerned, the local people and the local authority are better judges of this than the Ministry, and it is specifically at this point where we want to hold exactly to the principles which we present at any time when we are concerned with local government. We are being quite consistent in holding to our general views.
If I may also answer the other question of the hon. Member about the Association of Municipal Corporations, I believe that it is quite normal practice, when matters concerning boroughs and the Association as such come up, that the Association gets in touch with its vice-presidents, and of course my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester is a vice-president. This would probably explain the slight difficulty in the mind of the hon. Member for West Derby. I am sure that neither he nor my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester would suggest that the A.M.C. is political about this. It is only trying to ensure that the views of local authorities are expressed in this House.
Turning to the two Amendments, I find that the first of them has an important aspect in that specifically we are trying to ensure that we do not embarrass the Government by causing one Minister to have to override a decision already made by another Minister. That is all that the Amendment does.
When the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has given permission—in other words, has given loan consent—it seems nonsense to us on this side that another part of the Government should say, "Sorry, old boy, we do not quite agree with your decision. We will override it." That is not the sort of co-operation which we heard stated blandly from both the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of State when they said that they were in perfect co-ordination during the Committee stage. We thought, therefore, that the Amendment would get the Government out of a difficulty and we were delighted to do that.
It has been suggested that Amendment No. 15 is, perhaps, slightly better than No. 11. We notice that the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) appears to No. 15 and not No. 11. I do not know whether that is fortuitous, but as so many compliments have been paid to my hon. Friend's drafting, there is something in that.
Amendment No. 15 sets out quite clearly that for the purpose of administration within its own area, a local authority should be able to have the powers to build. I found very strange the example used by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in saying why this power should not be given.
If, when we say that applications for certain O.D.Ps. were being refused, we wandered through a town and saw a new hall being built, we would consider this unreasonable. I am not under the impression that a new hall is covered by the Bill. May we know, before we leave the Amendment, whether that is so? As I read the definitions in Clause 12(5), I do not think that a hall is included. If a local authority wished to build only a hall for itself without any offices, I do not think that it would have to get Government permission.
We have had this a number of times and we are likely to have it again, on both Government Amendments and on other Amendments when we reach them. I am sure that you would not want me to delay the House, Mr. Speaker, in discussing the possibilities of lobbies and halls. As the Bill stands, I do not believe that a general application to build a new hall would require an O.D.P.
Whatever Ministers may say, people outside this House would believe that the central Government will get what they want. It is nonsense to suggest that if the central Government need new offices, they will be controlled by the Bill. However much Ministers say that they intend to ensure that their Department is associated with Government policy and that they will have to apply to the President of the Board of Trade, I and the public would believe that Government Departments will get this permission. That being the case, it is nonsense to argue that local authorities must be put in the same position. The whole of that argument falls.
I therefore return to the point with which I started in trying to urge the Government to reconsider particularly Amendment No. 15 in another place, because it is designed for the efficiency of local authorities. They are spending the ratepayers' money. The concept that every local authority will be spendthrift and will build new offices for the sake of building them and that there will be competition in this—although that is not exactly what was said, it was inferred by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—is nonsense. Local authorities are responsible authorities. I can speak with experience of my own in Reading. I know the immense amount of thought—and indeed political debate—it gave to the rebuilding of the civic centre and to whether it could be afforded or not. It was judged a major requirement for efficiently coping with the local authority's administration.
I hope that the Government may be able to answer my question about the hall, and that even now they may reconsider the matter of the local authorities. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary should be arguing this case himself. He is the person responsible for this. I could well understand a Board of Trade Minister putting up the argument we have heard from the Government, but I really do not believe we are doing local government any good by the sort of argument put by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I hope that the Government will reconsider and will have the Bill amended in another place.
I intervene only because I think the argument has got a little out of proportion. The hon. Gentleman was trying to suggest that the local authorities are pressing for this Amendment. I can tell him that the local authorities' association in London is not objecting to this Bill. It is in favour of the Bill, and is not pressing that London authorities should be exempted from it. There are 32 London boroughs. They are quite satisfied with the assurances they are receiving from the Government and are not afraid of being put in the ridiculous position of having to run their services but not be able to have their necessary office accommodation.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) says that the people on the ground know best. For five years we in London were trying to apprise his right hon. Friend of what the people of London wanted, but he refused to accept it. This is a late conversion on the other side of the House, suddenly to discover that the people on the ground know best. They said that London reorganisation was fundamentally wrong, costly and unsound, but hon. and right hon. Members opposite refused that view.
I think perhaps we are rather far from the Amendment, but let it be quite clear that though the 32 boroughs the hon. Member may speak for may have felt very strongly about it a large number of people in London did demand the reorganisation they got, and it is a very good thing that they got it.
We cannot discuss that now, but it is not in accordance with the facts. We in London know the facts. I am not sure whether Reading came into the matter at that time, but we in London and the new boroughs, let it be clear, are not pressing for this sort of Amendment. The A.M.C. did not consult the London boroughs committee. I have this in writing. It was not in touch with that committee to discuss this matter. My hon. Friend ought to be apprised of this fact. He is aware of the problems facing London boroughs and I hope that he will refuse this Amendment.
In moving this Amendment I was careful not to claim that I had had it suggested to me either by the Association of Municipal Corporations or the County Councils Association. I took the entire responsibility for this Amendment upon my own shoulders. I would point out to the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) that the area of the metropolitan region extends far beyond the area covered by the London boroughs association or whatever that association may be called.
I know that in the first instance the Amendment was defective. I put it right in this Amendment, in that I narrowed it down purely to give effect to the fact that the local authority associations would be able to build office buildings—and I emphasise "office buildings"—for their own administrative purposes within their own areas. I moved the Amendment in the spirit, which has been so ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery), of local administration having a good idea of what is best for its own locality. I believe that that is the principle upon which local government can base its claims for all time.
I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman's reply. I do not propose to withdraw the Amendment, but to leave it to the decision of the House. I am disappointed that the Government are not prepared to accept it, because I believe that the claims of local government are special. They are different from national government, and I hope that the House will recognise that.
I think that it will be convenient to take with that Amendment, the next two Amendments: No. 13, in page 2, line 22, at end insert:
(5) Within two months of the receipt by the Board of Trade of an application for an office development permit, or within such extended period as the applicant may allow, the Board shall inform the applicant in writing of their decision thereon and of the reasons for that decision; and in default by the Board, in so informing the applicant an office development permit shall be deemed to have been issued by the Board at the expiration of the time aforesaid in accordance with the said application.
No. 14, in line 22, at end insert:
(5) The Board of Trade shall give to the applicant full reasons for their decision in granting or refusing an office development permit.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you have decided that these three Amendments may be discussed together
An Amendment similar to Amendment No. 12 was one of the most important Amendments which the Standing Committee had to discuss, and it is one of the most important issues before the House tonight. If the Government are not prepared to concede this Amendment, and some of the other important ones, I shall find it difficult to refrain from voting against the Third Reading of the Bill. The Minister will remember that a similar Amendment was debated at some length in Committee upstairs, with the unusual result that so unable were the Government to convince their supporters, that they had to rely on the casting vote of the Chairman to defeat it.
When considering the control of office and industrial development, I do not think that anyone can seriously argue that the Board of Trade should have the right to sit on applications for an unlimited time and give no reason for doing so. These three Amendments deal with slightly different points, but they are all related. There are two answers which I suspect the Government will advance if they decide not to accept them. The first, and more important one, is that of principle, and I shall come to that in a moment. The second one is that advanced in Committees about the backlog, and one reason why all the Amendments similar to these were not taken to Divisions was that it was recognised that there might be a backlog of applications when the Bill became law.
The Government originally claimed that there was likely to be a backlog of applications during the early stages after the passing of the Bill. They claimed that too many applications would come in for them to be able to promise to give an answer to applicants within two months of the receipt of applications. I imagine that an application cannot be deemed to have been put in until the Bill has become law. Therefore, although applications are probably coming in now—and perhaps the Minister of State will tell us whether that is so—the President of the Board of Trade will have two months from the date of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent in which to answer the applicants. It is not a question of two months from the date on which the application comes in.
The Minister of State will recall the assurance which he gave on Second Reading when he said:
… the Board of Trade cannot grant or reject permits until the Bill becomes law. It has no power to do so, but we are most anxious to minimise inconvenience to applicants and we therefore propose this."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 741.]
He went on to outline the procedure which applicants must follow. I share his view about minimising inconvenience to applicants. The Amendments will deal partly with that.
Early in April, in answer to a Written Question from one of his hon. Friends, the President of the Board of Trade announced that an office had been set up and an address given to which applicants would send in their applications. The Board of Trade had already begun to consider them informally. Presumably a start has been made on sifting the applications. This will mean that when the Bill becomes law there will be a considerable saving of time.
When will the Bill become law? Presumably it cannot reach another place until after the Easter Recess. Time will be needed to consider it there and it may not become law until the end of May or early June. If that is so it will be the end of July or the first weeks of August before the Board of Trade will be caught by Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, though I hope that the Board will be prepared to answer very much earlier applications to which many developers have been waiting an answer for a considerable time. If it is not an insuperable burden, and I do not see why it should be, the Board of Trade should be able to give a decision within the suggested two months.
The onus is on the Board. If the Board argues that in the early stages a decision cannot be given within two months, it must tell us how many applications are awaiting an answer. The onus should always be on a Government Department to explain why it should not make arrangements for the convenience of people who are at its mercy. Applications should be dealt with in reasonable time.
If the Government shoot down the Amendment because they do not like the drafting, or even because they prefer to insert three or even four months in the Clause—and I would be reluctant to go much beyond that—I am sure that my hon. Friends would agree to a reasonable compromise. The Government could easily make the necessary Amendment in another place. I confess that Amendment No. 12 has not the written—though I am sure that it has the moral—support of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and therefore has not been drafted sufficiently accurately. But I have no doubts at all about Amendments No. 13 and No. 14, for obvious reasons.
It is impossible for us to decide without information from the Board whether in the early stages after the passing of the Bill there will be such a backlog of applications that it will not be possible to deal with them within two months. This is why we decided not to alter materially an Amendment which we proposed at an earlier stage.
It is totally impossible for us, without adequate information, to decide how to deal with the problem of backlog—if there is to be such a problem. I hope that the Government will deal with it frankly. I hope that they will not deal with the arguments on the principle that there is likely to be a backlog in the early stages.
On general principles the Minister of State has said that he wished to have applications dealt with promptly. Every hon. Member would wish that. Surely he cannot deny that in principle it is not unreasonable to have some form of time limit within which an answer must be given.
Amendment No. 13 goes a little further. It provides that if the Board of Trade does not give its reasons within a certain time it will be deemed to have been decided that an office development permit should be granted. There are precedents for action along these lines, although slightly different—for a good reason—in town planning procedure. The Minister will recall that under that procedure if no reply is received from the local authority within two months the application is deemed to have been refused. A very different point arises in the present circumstances, because in the case of office development permits there is no effective appeal. In planning procedure there is an appeal to the Minister, and very different issues of principle arise.
The Minister argued in Committee that to pass this Amendment might be against the interests of the applicant. I am delighted that so many hon. Members have come into the Chamber to give me vocal and moral support. [HON. MEMBERS: "Carry on."] I shall indeed carry on. I am grateful to them for that advice. I venture to recapitulate to those hon. Members who have arrived late the purpose of my Amendments. It is that people who have genuine applications to put in for office development permits should not be unduly penalised by the failure of the Board of Trade to give an adequate answer within an adequate time.
I have suggested in Amendment No. 13 that if the Minister of State argues that in certain circumstances it is against the interests of the applicant that a decision should be given within a certain time—because the Board of Trade might then be tempted to refuse the application—if the applicant so agrees the time within which the Board of Trade should reply may be extended. If we are really to have a situation in which the Board of Trade wishes to have more time to consider an application, in a case which might give rise to considerable difficulty, the time can be extended. No applicant would refuse the Board of Trade extra time to consider the matter, because it would be in his interest to have the matter fully considered, otherwise the Board of Trade might refuse the application. That point has been met in the Amendment.
Amendment No. 14 provides that the Board of Trade shall give an applicant full reasons for its decision in granting or refusing a permit. I should have thought it was obvious in a case like this, where the Board of Trade is judge and jury in its own case and where there is no appeal from its decision, that if it wants to avoid a sense of unfairness being felt it should give its full reasons for refusing any application under the Bill.
There may be cases in which people wish to proceed under the terms of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act but where the Government refuse permission for people to comply with the provisions of that Act. If the Minister of State or the President of the Board of Trade had to give reasons why there had been a refusal of permission, this would be a very effective sanction against the Board of Trade's applying this restriction unreasonably. I have no reason to think that the Board of Trade will act unreasonably. From experience with the industrial development certificates, I think that it will probably administer it fairly. But justice must be seen to be done as well as actually be done, and I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
I have consulted the Franks Committee on Administrative Tribunals and Inquiries. Hon. Members will be aware of the main recommendations. It is unfortunate that no hon. Member present was a member of that Committee. We should have appreciated the assistance of the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), who was a member of it. In fact, we have not been graced by the presence of any member of the Liberal Party throughout our proceedings. Paragraph 98 of the Report, referring to administrative tribunals—I agree that there is a distinction between an administrative tribunal decision and the Minister's decision—says:
We are convinced that if tribunal proceedings are to be fair to the citizen reasons should be given to the fullest practicable extent. A decision is apt to be better if the reasons for it have to be set out in writing because the reasons are then more likely to have been properly thought out.
That applies just as much to a decision of the Minister as to a decision of an administrative tribunal. Paragraph 99 says:
As soon as possible after the hearing the tribunal should send to the parties a written notice of decision".
The Report goes on to make a number of other recommendations. I think that I can legitimately pray in aid the Franks Report for part of my argument.
The Minister of State will say that the Franks Report did not recommend that the Minister should within a specified time have to give an answer or the application should be deemed to have been decided in favour of the applicant. I confess that the Franks Committee did not recommend that. But Amendment No. 13 is an alternative to the other Amendments and my hon. Friends would be extremely pleased if we could have some assurance on Amendments No. 12 and No. 14 even if the President of the Board of Trade does not feel able to go as far as some of us would like in regard to Amendment No. 13. This is an important matter, and I am sorry that it has come on so late at night, but it is nevertheless a matter which the whole House should consider seriously. It affects the rights of individuals. They are up against a powerful Government Department. If there is any doubt about which way the balance lies, it should be given to the citizen and not to the convenience of a Government Department.
An unfortunate thing about this debate is that there are so few hon. Members opposite who were present during the Standing Committee debates. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) was there, but I do not see any others. I think that the hon. Member would agree with me—at any rate, it is a proposition which is not unreasonable—that the Ministers, when arguing against such Amendments in Committee, were more concerned with administrative convenience in the Board of Trade than with the matter of principle.
The hon. Member has, in effect, just reread column 152 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee. We have had all this read out although my hon. Friend answered it very adequately. As my hon. Friend has answered it, I can only feel that this reiteration of the argument is a waste of time.
The hon. Member may take what view he likes; he is entitled to his view. If he thinks it improper that we should argue that a citizen should be given Government decisions in a reasonable time, then we should let people know that that is the Labour Party's view. I make no apology whatever for raising this matter, which is very important. In dealing with it in Standing Committee the Minister did so entirely on the argument of administrative procedure, and I regret that.
Of my three Amendments, I prefer Nos. 12 and 14.
I have dealt with No. 13 and I do not intend to weary the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) any further.
These are very modest Amendments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have noticed that hon. Members opposite are not capable of following argument very late at night. I intend to sit down in two minutes.
All that these modest Amendments ask is that the Board of Trade should indicate to an applicant within two months of receiving an application what decision it intends to give. I do not think that that is unreasonable. Amendment No. 14 asks that full reasons should be given to an applicant for the decision which the Board of Trade comes to
in granting or refusing an office development permit''.
If the Minister cannot go as far as to accept Amendment No. 13, I hope that he will seriously give consideration to the points which we have raised on Amendments Nos. 12 and 14 and try to meet us somewhere on this matter, which is important in principle.
We had a very full discussion of these Amendments in Committee and it could be said that we covered every point made by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) in moving it again. But I thank him for giving us notice of his intention to vote against the Third Reading, which has enlightened us about the recent activities of the Opposition Whips.
We cannot accept Amendment No. 12, largely because of the rigid time factor laid down. The hon. Member asked how we are dealing with the backlog of applications. An announcement has been made, in reply to a Question, that applications have been asked for from 3rd April. They are coming in, and being examined, but there are practical limits to our ability to come to decisions on all applications within two months. This is a new operation which puts new demands on the staff resources available in the Board of Trade, but there are two other factors apart from that. We are dependent on the response which individual firms make in reply to our request for information. We said in Committee that our experience of the I.D.C. control is that the first application often raises the need for additional information which the applicant is not always quick to supply.
I have been dealing with two I.D.C. applications today. In these instances the delays have been entirely due to the fact that the firms concerned did not provide the proper information in the first place. In both cases Board of Trade officials went to the help of the applicants so that the information could be prepared. These applications were for B.O.T.A.C. help in the development districts—loans, grants and so on. This is a service which the Board of Trade should provide and I am sure that all hon. Members are pleased that we do provide it.
If we laid down a time limit for all applications it would be difficult for the staff of the Board of Trade to give this sort of help in cases where help should be given. Another point to remember, when considering a time limit, is that for some of the major projects for comprehensive redevelopment schemes—where the plans may not be fully drawn up to begin with and about which the applicants themselves may ask for, and be glad to have, discussions with Board of Trade officials rather than merely put in a formal application—it would be extremely difficult to get the thing finished within two months.
We believe that the flexible control that has operated for I.D.Cs.—the same kind of flexible and helpful control which we want for office developing permits—would break down if the rigid form of control suggested were applied.
I do not know how much importance should be attached to a psychological factor involved here, but it should certainly be taken into account. If we laid down a time limit and pressure was placed on the Board of Trade to deal with the big applications within two months, there might be a tendency to hold up the smaller applications which should actually be dealt with quickly. Although these are the sort of applications which should be dealt with quickly under the I.D.C. procedure, they might be held up if a two months' limit applied.
I do not want to stress this psychological approach among Board of Trade officials, but I mention it because we want this procedure to be flexible. We want to deal with all applications as quickly as possible. Because in exceptional cases, where help must be given at the beginning because the information we want has not been submitted, and because some major comprehensive projects could probably not be dealt with within two months, we feel that the time limit suggested is too rigid.
Amendment No. 13 would put a statutory obligation on the Board of Trade to give a decision on an application within two months of the receipt of the application. The pressure which there would be on the Board of Trade to reach hasty decisions if a time limit were imposed would be intense, and large schemes which might have received permits had the cases been examined thoroughly would perhaps be in great danger of being turned down.
We consider that there would be no reason, in view of the way in which the Amendment is framed, for the applicant himself to allow the Board of Trade an extension of time to consider the application, for it is provided in the Amendment that the applicant could gain a permit by refusing to let the Board of Trade have extra time beyond the two months.
The hon. Gentleman called in aid, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) previously, the town planning procedure. As I suggested, in a rather Machiavellian way, one should consider the matter in reverse of what is provided in the Bill. The hon. Member for Crosby said that they did this because there is an appeal procedure in regard to planning, but none in the Bill. It is true that there is no formal procedure in the Bill for appeal, but there is a very effective appeal procedure through Members of Parliament up to the Minister. I must point out, as I did in the Standing Committee, that the time limit which applies to the local planning authority does not apply to the Minister. Therefore, to suggest that the thing has been granted if an application is not deal with within two months is something which, even with the well-deployed argument of the hon. Member for Crosby, we cannot accept, because we do not think that the two operations are in any way analogous.
The effect of Amendment No. 14 would be that if an application were turned down the Board of Trade would have to give full reasons for doing so. We know from experience of the industrial development certificate procedure that a decision can be influenced, and frequently is influenced, by the knowledge that other applications in the same area are under consideration. That might be a factor in the decision, but the Board of Trade could not disclose that other applications were being considered, and their nature. The Amendment says that "full reasons" must be given. It would be impossible for us to give the full reasons without breaking the confidence we must have in discussions of I.D.Cs.
The hon. Member for Southend, West said that he did not expect the Board of Trade to be unreasonable and, of course, it would not be unreasonable. The whole experience of the Board of Trade over the last 20 years with regard to control of industrial development has been to be reasonable, and I think that we should leave the rules of operation much as they are under the I.D.C. policy, and not attach the controls and limitations that are sought, because we propose to operate office control in exactly the same reasonable way as that in which the I.D.C. control has been operated.
In operating the I.D.C. control, we are under no statutory obligation to explain our decisions and there is no formal procedure, but it works extremely well, because there must be frank discussion to get the flexible control we want. In practice, our negotiations with applicants make the Board of Trade's views on the matter and its decisions perfectly clear.
As I said before, where an I.D.C. is refused the applicant can always raise the matter again with higher officials in the Board and with Ministers at the Board of Trade through his Member of Parliament. We think that the informality of the I.D.C. system has worked well, and that to change it now would do far more harm than good. I do not think that anybody would benefit at all by the rigid limits and rules and considerations and conditions and qualifications which hon. Members opposite seek now to impose.
I therefore ask the House to reject the Amendment.
These three Amendments seek to provide a procedure after an application has been made for an office development permit that would prevent unnecessary delays in the Government Department, to the serious detriment of the applicant. I assume that the Board of Trade intends to communicate its decision to the applicant, and the first part of the first Amendment is to ensure that we get the communication to the applicant.
How soon should that communication be? Surely, it should be within two months of the application being made, unless the applicant himself has failed to give sufficient information—and, as the Minister of State has said, there may be occasions on which the applicant has failed to give that information. But surely if he is then asked to supply that information he is not going to force the Board of Trade to deal with the application within two months or turn it down. It is entirely within the hands of the Board of Trade to turn down the application if the applicant endeavours to force the pace in that way when he has not provided sufficient information.
Is it the intention of the Board of Trade, when communicating the results, to tell the applicant why it has come to its decision? I was anxious when the Minister of State said that in the case of I.D.C.s it is not the custom to give the reason for the decision.
In certain cases it is withheld from the applicant. In the cases of which I have had experience the reason has always been given, and courteously given. I should have thought that the proper practice here, particularly when office development permits are so concerned with planning, would be for the decision to be given and that this ought to be written into the Bill.
I probably did not make this as clear as I should have done. In many cases we should like, on the applicant's behalf, to keep the application open, but, for reasons that I gave during the Standing Committee proceedings and briefly mentioned a few moments ago, where developments are coming along it is impossible to give a decision right away until all the other developments in the area have been properly considered. But one wants to keep the application open, and for more than two months in many cases.
The applicant, if he had any sense, would see that point and would not wish to force the Board of Trade to reject his application because he was asking the Board to give a decision within two months, but the applicant should have the right to hasten a Government Department to give a decision, to state its reasons for the decision and not to delay it indefinitely. If this is a reasonable procedure, surely there is no objection to putting it into the Bill.
Our purpose throughout the discussions on this type of Amendment has been to reduce the obstructions and the irritants of Government Department procedure to an applicant who has put forward a commercial proposition and has made an application for development. We have tried to overcome the obstructions, obstacles and irritants except where they are absolutely necessary in order to carry out the Government's policy.
As the Minister of State said, it is recognised in town planning law that the authority to whom one has to apply must give the decision within a certain time, but in that case the sanction in town planning law is that if the decision is not given by the local authority in a specific time an appeal lies to the Minister. The Minister of State cannot complain if we have not drawn the Amendment in that way in this case. He has deprived us of our right of appeal in this case. There is no appeal to the Minister, and although we have tried to introduce this into the Bill, it has been denied to us. Therefore, the only sanction in this case is to say that if the application has not been granted within two months, then it is deemed to have been granted.
We have been told that we must leave the applicant and the Board of Trade to carry on their informal discussions—I gather, to carry them on indefinitely, not at the applicant's will but at the will of the officials at the Board of Trade—and that the applicant can never call a halt and say "I really must have the decision now." I am not impressed by that argument. Here we are dealing with commercial necessities. The applicant who comes forward for an office development permit is not coming forward with an application which can wait month after month. He is making application because he wants to develop in a certain area and he wants to develop at once. Therefore, he wants a decision on his application.
Although there may be some advantage in having flexible control, there is no advantage in having indefinite control that can carry on for a length of time. Of course, a Government Department will not want to be pushed to make a decision. Of course, it will not want to say why it has come to a certain decision, but the Minister should really protect the public against this Departmental attitude. He is there as a communication with the public, in order to protect them against this bureaucratic attitude which a Government Department naturally adopts. We have laid down in these three Amendments a very simple and reasonable procedure, and I should have hoped that the Government could have accepted it as such.
By way of introduction, I should like, first, to take up the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown), who suggested that we on this side were putting forward this group of Amendments with the same arguments that were advanced in Committee, and that this was somehow improper and an abuse of the procedure of the House. Quite apart from any reflection upon hon. Members on this side of the House, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman was in danger of casting a reflection upon you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the selection of the Amendments, in that it might have been suggested that there was an error in that Amendments which had been fully debated in Committee were again being selected on Report. Of course, that is not so. The Amendments are not the same, and I hope that the hon Gentleman's accusation against hon. Members on this side may be regarded as out of order.
Let me add my words of welcome to the hon. Gentlemen who have just come into the Chamber to hear this very important debate. We on this side welcome their evident interest in the matter, and we recognise that they are taking a deep interest in what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) called "the rights of the individual". I am delighted to see the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) here, with his warm support for the Minister of State. I am delighted to know that his solicitude for Darling is as great as it is for deer.
I should like to make a few comments on Amendment No. 14. I appreciate the arguments of the Minister of State on Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, and I cannot go the whole way with my hon. Friends who have suggested that it would be practicable and feasible to put these Amendments into the Bill. But Amendment No. 14 is in a different category. This is the Amendment which asks the Minister to give full reasons—this is very important—for the rejection of an application for an O.D.P. For many years it has been a problem and a source of difficulty—
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if hon. Members opposite were slightly less obtrusive perhaps one would be able to take less notice of them.
The problem of Ministerial decision, which is an inescapable function of Government, is one which has caused grave difficulties and grave problems over many years. [HON. MEMBERS: "The last 13?"] For many years, going back beyond 1951. The difficulty of trying to reconcile reasonable safeguards and protections for the individual citizen with the necessities of Government in an increasingly complex age gives rise to enormous problems. There was a time when the dangers of increasing the powers of the Executive were not as fully recognised as they are now.
If the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) will cast his mind back to 1931, he will recall that the Donoughmore Committee was set up to examine Ministers' powers. In the view of many people, that time represented the high water mark of the encroachment of the powers of the Executive upon the life of the individual. After that Committee reported, many things were not done in implementing its recommendations for a number of years but it represented a recognition of the serious problems which this difficulty throws up. [Interruption.] I have some difficulty in developing my argument. [Interruption.] The problem of trying to reconcile Ministerial decisions and the inevitable powers that Ministers must have to implement policies—[Interruption.]
I am grateful for the protection of the Chair.
The difficulty of reconciling the rights of the individual with the powers of Ministers and the Executive was aptly summed up in a short verse by a humorist who coined the lines:
If anything shall seem
Then the Minister may deem
A certificate of demption
Shall provide complete exemption.
I think that we are getting away from legislation of that type and constitutional lawyers and others have performed a notable service in bringing public attention to bear on the desirability of making sure that legislation shall be framed in that form so as not to be beyond challenge, and that it shall take account of the rights of the individual and, so tar as it is possible to do so, reconcile those rights with the legitimate demands of the administrative machine whose decisions shall be open to challenge wherever possible.
It seems to me that office development permits are exactly the sort of thing where this conflict arises in a fairly acute form. It appears to me that the requirement which it is sought to write into the Bill by Amendment No. 14 at any rate goes part of the way in making the control, which I have said that I broadly welcome in principle, acceptable to those who, as it were, feel it at the sharp end, those who submit applications and have them turned down.
It goes a long way to reconcile people to accepting decisions of the Government, even though they may be unpalatable and may be directly against the interests of the applicants, if they at any rate have the satisfaction of knowing the reasons for which their applications were turned down.
Now the Minister of State has sought to justify the rejection of this Amendment on the grounds that the experience the Board of Trade has had the industrial development certificate field has indicated that it is difficult, can be embarrassing and indeed even improper, if the Board of Trade were to give the real reasons, which would have to be included in the "full reasons", for the rejection of the application.
I would have liked to be able to say that in the course of my dealing with I.D.Cs. in industry I have had the experience of an application of mine being rejected. But in every case, I am happy to say, when I was responsible for pursuing these applications, we always got the answer "Yes". Like, in a sense, the young lady who returned from a foreign country and was asked what the Chinese for "Yes" was—it was China she had returned from—and she said she did not know, because she had always said "No."
But I am perfectly certain that by the nature of the I.D.C. procedure almost inevitably one has fairly detailed conversations with the officials of the Board of Trade, and I support what the Minister of State has said about their helpfulness and the services they perform in assisting applicants to make the best of their case. But, by the time those conversations have finished, the applicant will have a pretty clear idea of the reasons why his application has been turned down.
I can understand that in the nature of it, the I.D.C. procedure is not appropriate for "full reasons". Apart from anything else, it is terribly important in the industrial field when there are several applicants—several firms possibly trying to compete for the same market opportunity—that through no leak in the administrative machine should the fact that others have applied get out to each of them. But I wonder if these considerations apply to offices? Inevitably there is competition between office developers, but in a very large number of these cases there would be no possible damage done if the fact that their applications had been put in became known.
In this connection one has only to think of the planning register, which is open to inspection. Different authorities have different rules, but in the authority which I had the honour to be connected with the planning register was open for inspection as soon as a planning application had been before the planning committee and even before it went to the full council.
This office development procedure is very much more akin to planning, although I agree that the factors on which a decision will be made are quite different. Nevertheless it is much more akin to planning than to the I.D.C. procedure, and I should have thought that the particular argument which the Minister of State addressed to the House to justify the reasons for not giving full reasons for the decision is not as valid as he represented it to be. I should be grateful if the Minister would reconsider this, with a view, if he cannot accept the Amendment, at least to the possibility of introducing an Amendment in another place. The desirability—indeed, the necessity—of reconciling those who will be affected by this legislation to its operation is an important factor.
I have the honour to represent a constituency in Greater London and am conscious of the problems of congestion, and so on. We who deal with constituents' problems are much more ready to accept the overriding national case for regional legislation of this sort. It is, perhaps, easy for us, if an application is turned down, to say that we know the reason for it broadly overall. We know that it is desired not to expand employment in congested areas, we know that the Government are trying to encourage the development of under-developed areas, but many of the people who might apply for office development certificates do not have the advantage of this overall view of the economy and many of them are, perhaps quite understandably, concentrating on their own immediate problem and the hopes and aspirations which they may have in this direction. It would be helpful, and it would go a long way to reconciling them to the operation of this whole procedure, if they could be assured of receiving from the Board of Trade, in the event of their applications being rejected, full reasons why they had been turned down.
For this reason, I am happy to support the Amendment, which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West, and I hope that the Minister of State will be prepared to give second thoughts to it.
I intervene only shortly, but I have been moved by the obvious enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite for these Amendments, which have been so ably put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm that was shown for the recommendations of the Franks Committee, in striking contrast to the Minister, who appeared to think that the recommendations of the Franks Committee did not apply to these Clauses.
I have one brief and serious point on Amendment No. 14. When we debated this matter upstairs, our similar Amendment was lost only by the casting vote of the Chairman.
I am waiting for the noise to die down, because I do not want another hon. Member opposite to get up and complain that he cannot hear. What the Minister of State has just said is contrary to the information which was given to me. Nevertheless, I am quite prepared to allow the Minister of State to give any explanation he likes. I say it not by way of criticism that the hon. Member won the Division only by the casting vote of the Chairman.
In his winding-up speech in the debate, the Minister said that the Franks Committee was concerned with administrative tribunals and not with the purposes of the Bill, and I accept that. Nevertheless, it is essential that we consider the spirit in which the Franks Tribunal approached these problems. I would just quote a few lines quoted to the hon. Gentleman already by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) in his opening remarks on the Amendment. The Franks Committee on page 75 of its Report had this to say:
There is a consensus of opinion that the final letter of decision from or on behalf of the Minister should contain full reasons for the decision. The practice of giving properly reasoned decisions has grown noticeably in recent years. Decision letters sent on behalf of the Minister of Housing and Local Government seem to us to be admirable, but the standard of performance among other Departments is unequal.
It is the spirit of this I am trying to get across to the Minister, and I think he would agree that it would be right for the Board of Trade, as far as possible, to do what we say in Amendment No. 14 that the Board of Trade should do, and that is to give the applicant full reasons for granting or refusing an office development permit. if the Board of Trade—or, for that matter, any Department dealing with applications of this kind—does not give full reasons, it leaves the applicant with a feeling of injustice, with the feeling that his case has not been properly considered—even, perhaps, a feeling that the Board of Trade may not have been fully aware of the case. That may be an entirely unreasonable feeling, but human beings are unreasonable; they are not logical, one gathers. We must make it clear that justice is being done, and I am sure that the Minister appreciates this and would want to make certain that people who are refused applications do know why.
The hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) has, I think, answered all these Amendments, including his own support for Amendment No. 14. He agreed with us that Amendment No. 12 and Amendment No. 13 ought not to be carried, for very good reasons, and he concentrated his support on Amendment No. 14 and particularly to the word "full" in the demand for reasons to be given to the applicant if an application for an office development permit is turned down. It is precisely because we want to help applicants that we cannot accept the proposal that full reasons should be given.
The hon. Member went on to explain that the industrial development certificate procedure works very well indeed. In practically every case where an I.D.C. is turned down, because of the way in which it is operated—the flexible, constructive and intelligent way it is operated by the Board of Trade—the applicant who has had his application refused knows precisely why it has been refused. in spite of the fact, as the hon. Member himself said, that there may be cases—and it is a minority of cases we are concerned about—where we get a number of applications for a site and the Board has to turn down all but one of them and does not give reasons till the final settlement is fixed up.
The hon. Member himself has a good deal of experience of this, I know, and he will understand the circumstances. We cannot accept this Amendment, because it might happen that we would want some discretion to be held by the Board of Trade. There may be circumstances in which for precisely the same reasons as apply under the I.D.C. procedure we do not want to give, and cannot give, the full reasons at the time, and I repeat that it is precisely for that reason that we cannot accept Amendment No. 14. We are very glad indeed to have the support of the hon. Member for turning down Amendment No. 12 and Amendment No. 13.
I repeat again to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) what I said in Committee, that the Franks Committee was examining administrative tribunals; it was not examining the I.D.C. procedure, because this is not done under the administrative tribunals procedure. We are going to apply to the office development procedure what applies to the I.D.Cs., and, therefore, the Franks Committee's proposals and recommendations in regard to administrative tribunals have no relevance to what we are here considering. Therefore, I suggest that the Amendment be rejected.
I have listened with interest to the whole of this debate, and I am reluctant to withdraw the Amendment, in spite of the arguments adduced by the Minister of State. Nevertheless, as I do not wish to detain the House at this time of night, and in view of the sympathetic consideration which the hon. Gentleman has given to the matter—although his conclusions are somewhat disappointing—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.