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I beg to move,
That this House has noted with concern the Special Report of the Council on Tribunals, dated 2nd February, 1966, criticising the handling by the Minister of Housing and Local Government of a planning application relating to the Packington Estate, Islington; regrets the failure of the Minister to afford to people affected by his decision any opportunity to state their objections to the application which he approved; and deplores the Minister's refusal to accept and act on the views of an independent body of the highest standing which was set up for the express purpose of protecting the rights and liberties of individual citizens against the abuses of arbitrary power.
It is appropriate that we should, in accordance with the tradition of this House, link the redress of grievance with the grant of supply. The grievances which I desire to lay before the House and seek its views upon are based, first, on the facts found by the Council on Tribunals to the effect that objectors to a certain planning application were denied an opportunity to know of certain proposals before they were approved or to state their case upon them. The second grievance is that the Council on Tribunals has itself been treated with a disrespect and discourtesy which, if unchallenged, would be likely to impair its authority and standing.
These two complaints are founded on the facts embodied in a Special Report by the Council on Tribunals submitted to the noble and learned Lord Chancellor on 2nd February. If I may make one comment on the procedure, I think it an unfortunate precedent that, in a rare case of this kind—for a Special Report of the Council on Tribunals criticising a Minister is an infrequent occurrence—time for this debate has not been found by the Government. It is a bad precedent for the future that it should be left to the Opposition to find the time when this has happened. I appreciate that, in present circumstances, there might be difficulties, but the Report to the Lord Chancellor was made a month ago, when those circumstances did not apply. I mark the point in case, unhappily, there should be a recurrence.
As the case against the Minister's handling of this matter is made in a Report by the Council on Tribunals, I shall begin by pointing put what kind of body it is that has made this Report. The Council was set up by Parliament in 1958 as a watchdog in the sphere of ministerial inquiries and administrative tribunals, and, to emphasise its independence, it was provided that the Tribunal should be appointed, so far as England was concerned, by the Lord Chancellor and should report to him, not to any departmental Minister. The Report which the House is now debating was in due form submitted to the Lord Chancellor early last month.
The Chairman of the Council is Lord Tenby, whom hon. Members will remember in this House as a bearer of the great name of Lloyd George. It includes among its membership, apart from some very eminent English and Scottish lawyers, Lord Collison, former chairman of the Social Services Committee of the Trades Union Congress, a great former public servant in Sir William Murrie, Professor Wade and Baroness Phillips. It is, therefore, a wholly independent and highly authoritative body, and I know that the House will start with the view that any report made by it must and should be taken seriously.
I think that it will help our discussions if I quickly give the factual framework of the matter on which any view of the Minister's actions must depend. The Packington Estate in Islington was built in the 1840s and was bought by the Islington Borough Council for housing purposes in 1963. The council had immediately to consider the question whether this estate could best be used on the basis of pulling down the houses and rebuilding on the site or whether the houses there could be rehabilitated and modernised. In the first place, the Islington Council thought that they could be rehabilitated, but, after a good deal of technical discussion, it came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was to demolish and rebuild.
So the Islington Borough Council applied in August, 1964, to the then London County Council, which was then the planning authority, for planning permission. It had no reply. After two months, under the provisions of the 1962 Act, this was treated as a deemed refusal, and the council exercised its right of appealing to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The right hon. Gentleman arranged for a public inquiry, which took place in February, 1965. At that inquiry one outside association supported the appellant, the Islington Borough Council, and there were eight objectors, including the Manchester and London Assurance Co., which owned adjoining property, and a residents' association consisting of members owning adjoining property.
The inspector produced a very well balanced and highly intelligent report, if I may say so. He noted that the application for planning permission was for outline permission only, and he came down in favour of redevelopment. That is, he upheld the appeal of the Islington Borough Council. The right hon. Gentleman, as he was perfectly entitled to do, did not accept his inspector's recommendation, and dismissed the appeal.
What is important, in view of what subsequently happened, is the terms of his dismissal of the appeal in the decision letter, which, it is perhaps important to point out, went not only to the appellant, but to the objectors as a whole. The Council on Tribunals attaches importance to its terms, and the House will, therefore, perhaps allow me to quote it. This is a letter in the usual form sent on behalf of the Minister and signed by one of his officers.
that is, the Minister—
is not satisfied, on the details submitted, that the Council's proposals would result in a scheme of the quality to compensate for destroying an estate of the type that many people still find attractive in layout and design. Any scheme which is to be acceptable must produce an environment which would justify the loss of the existing buildings; and it must not prejudice the amenities of the surrounding area. The Minister would want to be satisfied that this result would be attained before he would feel able to decide in favour of redevelopment against rehabilitation. He has, therefore, decided to dismiss the present appeal though without prejudice to the submission to him of another application subsequently; and he proposes to arrange a discussion with the Council about how the kind of layout and design which seem to him to be required here might best be achieved. It would be right that the Greater London Council"—
which had then come into being—
should be represented at the discussion.
The secretary of the residents' group, which, as I told the House, was one of the objectors, feared, apparently shrewdly, that the procedure forecast in the last words that I read from the Minister's decision letter might have the result of excluding representations of the residents' association in respect of the new scheme. So he took the matter up with the Council on Tribunals, and that Council wrote on 24th August to the right hon. Gentleman's Department, sent his letter and asked for the right hon. Gentleman's comments.
This is the first important part of the story, for it is clear than on receipt of that Council's letter of 24th August the right hon Gentleman was aware of two things—the desire of the residents' association to be heard in connection with any new scheme and the interest in the matter of the Council on Tribunals.
On 16th September, no reply having yet been received from the Ministry by the Council on Tribunals, and, therefore, no reply having been sent by it to the residents' association, the association wrote to the Town Clerk of Islington in these terms:
in view of our direct interest in this matter, and in the light of the Minister's decision following the last public inquiry, we should be grateful for an opportunity to examine these proposals so that we may consider them at this stage.
The town clerk replied, with commendable punctuality, the next day, 17th September. It is a very important answer. He wrote:
Amended proposals have been submitted to the Minister but as long as they are under reconsideration by the Minister it would not be proper for the council to publish details. I am, however, sure that they will do so as soon as the Minister gives his clearance.
On 22nd September, in reply to a further letter, the town clerk wrote:
I have no reason to think that the Minister will not give full publicity to my Council's proposals.
It is very important to a judgment of this matter to be aware of the fact that on 21st September the Council on Tribunals sent the Minister a copy of this correspondence between the residents association and the Town Clerk of Islington.
I will not give way at this moment, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me. I am trying to give the facts. I will give way when I get to the comments.
On 21st September the Minister was not only aware of the residents' desire to be heard but he was aware of the fact that, to its credit, the Islington Borough Council had no objection to the residents being so informed.
On 24th September the Ministry replied to the Council on Tribunals' letter which I have already mentioned of a month earlier, setting out a number of arguments as to why the residents' association's request should not be met. The most significant of those in this connection was the one headed (d), which read:
The objectors would have preferred that the properties be rehabilitated, but that issue had been decided against them.
It is not clear when it had been so decided. In the decision letter of 23rd July the Minister had come down in their favour. Since then they had been, despite their efforts, entirely uninformed of the details or effect of any other scheme, and if it had by then been decided against them, it had been decided against them without their knowing of it, and still less having an opportunity to put their point of view.
This is particularly unhappy in view of the fact that the decision letter, which I have quoted, referred and, if I may say so, referred rightly, to the importance in any such scheme of the effect on adjoining areas. That is, of course, the effect on the interests of those living near. So the Council on Tribunals was highly dissatisfied with this reply, and, therefore—I ask the House to note the date—on 29th October it arranged for a meeting to take place with officers of the Ministry.
The meeting was to take place on 24th November. The arrangements were made oh 29th October. On 23rd November, the day before the meeting was due to take place, and three weeks or more after it had been arranged, a letter was received by the Council dated 22nd November, and also sent to the people concerned, saying that the Minister had approved a new scheme submitted by the Islington Council.
That is the factual background. Now I shall make a limited number of comments since I am sure that the Minister, who has expressed his willingness for us to have a debate on this subject at the earliest moment, will want to follow me immediately and deploy his argument, which he has told us he has been longing to put forward. I therefore put the points to him so that he can do so immediately without difficulty, knowing the case that he has to meet.
Apart from the inexcusable discourtesy to the Council by rejecting its views and allowing the new application, by letter reaching it one day before a meeting that had been fixed with his officers for three weeks to discuss this important matter—apart from that, which is a discourtesy unusual in Whitehall—there are more serious questions of substance.
The first question is whether the second application which the Minister approved was substantially the same as the first or substantially different. The Council on Tribunals did not feel it necessary to come to a conclusion on that, and the House may well feel that either way it is arguable. But either way, I suggest to the House, the Minister's handling of it should be subject to criticism.
If it was substantially the same as the earlier scheme, then the decision letter rejecting the earlier scheme was highly misleading. It set out various conditions which would have to be satisfied before the Minister could approve a redevelopment scheme. If the second scheme was substantially similar to the first, which the Minister had rejected, then not only was the decision letter somewhat misleading, but the Minister's decision was completely inconsistent.
Or it was a substantially different scheme, in which case one must ask the question why the objectors, who had been given the opportunity by the Minister's inspector to put, their objections to the first scheme and who had ultimately seen those objections succeed, should be denied an opportunity even to know of, never mind put their objections to, the scheme. Therefore, I take the same view as the Council on Tribunals—whether the first scheme and the second scheme were substantially the same or substantially different, the method by which the decision was arrived at to approve the second was one which should be subject to very severe criticism.
Secondly, why the secrecy about it? The right hon. Gentleman's Ministry knew two months before its second decision letter issued that the residents' association wanted to know the details of the scheme and knew, too, that the Islington Council, to its credit, had no objections whatever to its doing so. Indeed, in the words which I have read out the council indicated that it assumed that the Minister would give his clearance and allow these people at least to know of the scheme. Why was this kept in secrecy until the decision had in fact been reached and promulgated in a new decision letter?
On these points the Council on Tribunals understandably took a critical view and on 2nd February submitted a special report to the Lord Chancellor to which I have referred. In it the council made it clear—and I, too, must make this clear, for I accept the council's view—that it was not saying, and nor do I, that the right hon. Gentleman had exceeded his legal powers. Indeed, if he had, the remedy of those affected might well have been found in the courts. What we are suggesting is that in the exercise of those powers he has treated these people with unfairness.
On that, I should like to quote the very clear and emphatic words which the council on consideration put in its report in paragraph 25:
But the real grievance of the complainants is, as it appears to the Council, that they were denied the opportunity of taking any part in the proceedings on the second application. They were rightly allowed to contest the first application and secured its rejection; and the second application was so closely connected with the first that it was, in substance, a further stage in the same proceedings. By being excluded at that stage altogether the complainants were, as the Council think, less than fairly treated.
In paragraph 27 the Council went on to say:
Whatever the truth of the matter, there has been apparent unfairness to the complainants. Openness, fairness and impartiality—the hall-marks of good administration—are not enough, if they are not all apparent.
The Report was published, as the House will remember, on the morning of 9th February and the right hon. Gentleman,
who, with courtesy, sent me a copy of it, made a statement that day.
I have two comments on his statement. First, throughout the statement he dealt with the matter as though the complaint of the Council on Tribunals was that he had not ordered a second public inquiry. That is to say, he made a powerful defence against a criticism which had not been made against him, in lieu of making a defence against the criticism which had.
This point was made very clearly the following day by the Chairman of the Council on Tribunals in a letter which he sent to the Press saying:
From what was said by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in the House of Commons yesterday it could appear that my Council were at one time of the opinion that there ought to have been a public inquiry into Islington's revised proposals.
In the final paragraph of that letter he said:
How any representations the objectors might wish to make on the second application could best be taken into account has always seemed to us to be a matter for the Minister to decide. In the event the objectors were excluded altogether from the proceedings on the second application.
That, for the avoidance of doubt, as it is said in statutes, is the criticism which the Council on Tribunals has made of the right hon. Gentleman and which I repeat this afternoon.
The method by which these people could have been heard was certainly for the right hon. Gentleman. He may have thought that, in view of their numbers, a public inquiry might be the best method, and I do not think that anyone would have challenged his judgment if he had. But it was not the only method open to him. He could perfectly well have accepted written representations from them, which would not have taken time. He could perfectly well have allowed them to take part in the discussions taking place between his Ministry and the other parties to the application, the promoters, the Islington Borough Council. There were quite a number of methods which he could have used and, above all, apart from that, he could have not denied them knowledge of the contents of this application.
It is the utmost nonsense to suggest that to have allowed them to have known of this, and therefore to make representations which he could then consider, would have caused the slightest delay. I therefore want the right hon. Gentleman to realise that the charge against him is not that which he rebutted so skilfully on 9th February. The charge against him is the more serious one of failure to give these people any opportunity to make their point.
The second comment I have on his statement refers to his attitude to the Report. He will recall that I asked him whether in the light of the Report he would in future cases follow the suggestions laid down by the Council on Tribunals and adapt his methods to the lines which they had recommended. The right hon. Gentleman firmly said, "No". That adds to the general seriousness of the matter, because it takes us beyond the handling of one particular planning application. If the right hon. Gentleman has said, "I am a very busy Minister; I here made some error of judgment, perhaps; the Council having reported—not my political opponents, but the Council on Tribunals—and having criticised me, I see the point and I will do my best to right the wrong I have done and in future I will follow those lines", no doubt he would not have heard very much more of the matter.
But the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has quite clearly indicated that he intends in future to ignore the recommendations of the Council, and that he would again deny what seems to us to be the elementary right of allowing people affected by decisions to have a chance of saying something before decisions are made, and that he persists in that attitude, makes it necessary for us on this side of the House to make it clear that it is an attitude and an approach with which we profoundly disagree.
I am pleased that we are having an opportunity to debate the extremely important question of planning procedure, and, in particular, the delays which so frequently occur and frustrate those who wish to get on with development. A very distinguished builder, Mr. Neil Wates, referred to those delays in a speech reported in the Press this morning. I am sure that every hon. Member of the House would wish to take all possible steps, by way of debate and discussion, to minimise those delays.
What I regret is that in dealing with so important a subject as planning procedure we should do so in the atmosphere of a Motion of censure of the Minister on this issue. One cannot be surprised that the Opposition should have found it necessary to scratch around in the way in which they have in order, in this pre-election period, to find subjects for censuring the Government, and that they should have fixed this subject as something likely to appeal to the innermost hearts of the electors of Durham, Northumberland and the farthest West.
When one looks at the facts one finds that the procedure which has been so strongly criticised is neither wrong nor novel, and I shall be coming to the novelty part later.
If the hon. Gentleman would allow me to continue with my speech I am sure that he will understand that what I have to say is that it is very unfortunate that on a matter of this kind, in which different points of view can be expressed from both sides of the House and not on party lines, it has been found necessary to move a Motion of censure on my right hon. Friend. I say that the Motion is wholly unjustified.
The facts of the matter are that an application was made by a landowner in relation to the landowner's own land. The owner happened to be a local authority, but that was beside the point. That application eventually went to appeal and the appeal lasted for six days, during the course of which all those who had any objection whatever, and they were not owners or tenants of the land concerned, but the people who lived in or owned land adjoining and nearby, were able to express their points of view forcibly and clearly.
The view which they sought to express was not as to any details of the proposed scheme of redevelopment, but as to the principle of whether the land should be redeveloped or whether the existing properties should be rehabilitated. That was the issue, over six days of argument, which was put before the inspector. As a result of that argument the inspector very firmly came to the view that it was right that the area should be redeveloped rather than rehabilitated.
The inspector came to that conclusion on a number of grounds. It is absolutely clear, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, reading the Minister's letter of decision on that inquiry, that the view of the Minister was certainly not to uphold the point of view of the objectors who had contended that rehabilitation was the right answer. He could not possibly have come to that conclusion and in the same breath have said, as he did, in his decision letter that he wished to consult with the appellant local authority and the Greater London Council about the details and the sort of scheme that was specified for the redevelopment of the area, as this was better than rehabilitation. The two things are quite contradictory.
The complaint now being made is set out in paragraph 25 of the Report of the Council on Tribunals to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. This says:
But the real grievance of the complainants is, as it appears to the Council, that they were denied the opportunity of taking any part in the proceedings on the second application.
This is the substance of the Council on Tribunal's comments.
They were rightly allowed to contest the first application and secured its rejection; and the second application was so closely connected with the first that it was, in substance, a further stage in the same proceedings. By being excluded at that stage altogether the complainants were, as the Council thinks, less than fairly treated.
What is being said is that this was a second stage of proceedings, in which the objectors were heard at first, and, therefore, ought to have been allowed to be heard a second time. It is not suggested for one moment that if it were a perfectly fresh application there would be any duty—and there would not have been any such duty—on the Minister, taking the place of the local planning authority, to consult with persons who are not landowners of the land affected. It is said that because this had reached a second stage the objectors were entitled, in fairness, to be consulted.
In my submission, it is entirely wrong and contrary to the practice which has been adopted, not only by this Government, but by preceding Governments. Preceding Governments have gone even further than this and I could tell the House of a case in my own experience. I will not name the area concerned, because it was a case in which I was professionally engaged but I can vouch to the House that the facts are correct. It was a case in which an application was made for development for housing purposes of land which, up till that time, had been used for private open space. The local planning authority refused the application, the applicant appealed to the then Minister—one of my right hon. Friend's predecessors from what is now the other side of the House—and after an inquiry in which there were a number of local objections, the Minister dismissed the appeal.
About six months later an entirely fresh application was made for exactly the same development, with no difference whatever. In both cases it was outline application for housing purposes. The application was again refused by the local planning authority and an appeal was again made. When the appeal was made, the Minister sent the appellant a letter suggesting that written representations by the appellant and the local planning authority would suffice to enable him to deal with the case. Those written representations were sent, no written representations were sought from the people who had objected at the previous inquiry, and on the basis of those written representations the Minister of the day allowed the appeal.
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman say whether, in the case which he has just quoted, there were any people who asked to be allowed to make written representations? That is the point.
They were not given the opportunity. They were not told and they did not know. The Minister of the day did not tell them. The opportunity certainly would have been taken if it had been given. This was quite clear from the strength of their opposition on the previous occasion. That was the view taken by a member of a Government of the party opposite.
The contention of the Council on Tribunals cannot be accepted on any basis. There is again and again the procedure of an application for outline permission which may be refused, which then goes to appeal and on appeal there is a public inquiry and a number of people object. The appeal may be allowed or not. Later, there is very often an application for detained consent. Sometimes there is an application for detailed consent after a refusal without prejudice, as in this case. Sometimes there is an application for detailed consent after the outline application has been approved in principle.
If the Council on Tribunals is right, then, whenever this happens, whether it be the Minister or the local planning authority to whom the detailed application is made, it would be necessary for all the people who might be affected to be consulted. How is it possible to know who are likely to be affected? The people concerned are not landowners. Anybody in the locality who thinks that he has an interest may believe that he is affected. In these circumstances, how is the Minister and the local planning authority to find out who these people are and who would wish to be consulted? In fact, this is not done. So far as I am aware, it never has been done, certainly not in my experience of planning applications.
There has to be some limit to the time spent in dealing with these matters. There has to be some limit to the amount of consideration given to them. After all, the point of these inquiries is to enable the Minister or the authority concerned to be acquainted with all the material facts—that is what the Minister is doing—and if, as a result of six days of argument between developers represented by lawyers and residents represented by lawyers, the Minister believes himself to be fully acquainted with all the material facts, if he has in mind a decision in principle, as in this case, and is concerned simply with the details, it seems to me perfectly absurd to prolong the procedure and to cause more expense to everybody concerned by having yet a further inquiry or further consultation.
Since the Report of the Franks Committee has been referred to by the Council on Tribunals, I would commend to the House some very wise words used in the debate in 1957 on the Franks Report. Having dealt with the criteria of openness, fairness and impartiality, which everybody in the House would support, the speaker said:
The Franks Committee itself volunteered the view that its recommendations are unlikely to contribute towards the speedier dispatch of business. But the delay in settling cases is one of the main subjects of public complaint. We do not want, as a result of our findings and conclusions, to enlarge on what Shakespeare wrote about 'the law's delay' by the delays of tribunals, inquiries and other methods which influence the life of the ordinary man and woman.
Later, the same speaker said:
I must, however, return to a point I made at the opening of my remarks, that we must not complicate the procedures more than we can help. The great majority of objectors and appellants are small people.
Indeed, no doubt many of the people concerned in this inquiry were small people—local residents, and so on.
Quite a few present their own cases without professional assistance and for most people It is essential that the procedure should be simple, intelligible, quick, and cheap, as well as fair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1957; Vol. 575, c. 403–409.]
The then Member of the House who spoke those words was the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who opened the debate on that occasion. I commend those words to the Oposition and to the House.
In these matters we must invariably strike a balance between the utmost dictates of fairness, impartiality, hearing every point of view and the need to go forward quickly so that public confidence in planning is not destroyed. In this case the Minister heard the very fair report of an inquiry which had lasted six days. He came to a conclusion on that report, and then consulted those concerned on the details which followed. I do not see what more he could have done.
I cannot agree with the opinion of the Council on Tribunals, which is a very distinguished body, but the House, the Minister and indeed myself are entitled to disagree with it if we cannot find ourselves in agreement with it. Above all, I feel that the suggestion that this matter calls for censure of the Minister is wholly misguided and wholly misconceived.
The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) quoted what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said in a debate in the House in 1957 on the Franks Report. It so happened that I was with the noble Lord at a later time, and I think that it might be appropriate, as we are considering the function of the Council on Tribunals, if I were to refer to what was said by the present Lord Privy Seal when he spoke from the Opposition Front Bench on the Third Reading of the Tribunals and Inquiries Bill, 1958.
The right hon. Gentleman said:
Speaking for myself I still feel a little anxiety as to whether the functioning of the Council may not be a little too weighted on the side of the tribunals as distinct from the inquiries.
That is significant, because even though he thought that the Bill was weighted towards supervision of the tribunals rather than the inquiries, still to the extent that it supervises the inquiries the Act has been found by the Council on Tribunals to be appropriate for comment in this case.
The Lord Privy Seal also said:
If it is not disrespectful to the future membership of the Council to do so perhaps I may use the adage that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We hope that practice will show and experience will demonstrate that the Council is in a position, in its constitution and in the circumstances in which it works, to exercise the general supervision over inquiries and over the proceedings of tribunals which we hope it will be able to exercise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1958; Vol. 592, c. 831.]
The Council has taken the unusual step of making a special Report upon an inquiry. The Minister thought that this was a serious matter. He made a statement in the House and said, in answer to the first supplementary question put to him. "I consider this to be a
serious matter". I therefore say to the right hon. Gentleman that I think it regrettable that he did not reply at once to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). The House is generous when personal honour or efficiency are involved. None of us like these occasions, I least of all. I have always had an admiration for the rugged vitality of the Minister, even though some obstinacy goes with it. He came to my constituency during the winter and made an enchanting speech to the Parish Councils' Association.
However, the fact that I have some personal regard for the Minister does not prevent me from feeling that on this occasion he has fallen short of the standards at which all political parties were trying to aim when the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958, was passed. Indeed, I think that he has fallen short of the standards which his Ministry and the legal profession and others concerned in such matters have, to their very great credit, built up over the years in which the planning procedures have been evolved.
The planning procedures contain a number of technicalities, but it is the experienced view of nearly everybody who has dealt with those applications, especially where anything of importance and a matter of public local controversy is involved, that "the powers that be" should not hide behind the technicalities of procedures, but should try to look at the substance of the matter and do everything possible to see that justice is done and appears to be done.
I should like to know, if I may have the Minister's attention; he has spent a good part of the debate in what, I am sure, is an interesting conversation with his next-door neighbour, but I should like to have his attention. I should like to know when he proposes to speak in the debate. I will give way to him if he will say.
On the contrary. What I said was that there had been a decision to censure me. I said that I would listen to the censure and, having heard all of it, give a reply. That is a very reasonable thing to do.
I have already made a statement to the House and objection was taken. I presumed that the matter was being debated on censure. I have put my position absolutely clearly and it has been discussed at length by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). What more does the right hon. and learned Member want me to say until I have heard the arguments, when I will rebut them?
My recollection is that when the Minister made his statement he said that he would not deploy his reasons fully because he felt that he should do so when the matter was debated in the House. However, it is no good my bandying words further with the right hon. Gentleman. He has made up his mind. All I can say is that it is both unusual and, in this case, regrettable. As I have said, the House is not ungenerous on these occasions.
What the Minister did in this case in the procedure he followed was not one of those things that were done incautiously or by minor officials doing their best, but, perhaps, making a mistake. What was done was done deliberately, because it is clear from paragraphs 9, 10 and 11 of the Special Report of the Council on Tribunals that the Ministry was alerted and warned in advance. Therefore, having been warned in advance, there is even less excuse for the action which the Minister later took in defiance of the Tribunal.
The reasons that were given for that action were set out at the time in a letter dated 24th September from the Ministry to the Council and they are set out in paragraph 12 of the Report. I do not propose to comment in detail upon every one of those reasons. All I can say is that there is a reliance upon a technicality in every one of the five reasons that were put forward and it seems to me that each of the points that were made was in itself a bad one to which there is an answer.
I refer, however, to the last point of all, because it has a bearing upon the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich. I hope that the hon. and learned Member will forgive me as a member of his own profession in saying that I do not agree fully with the description of the procedures which he has put forward. My disagreement can best be summarised with reference to—
Paragraph 12(e) of the Special Report states:
A discussion of proposals with a prospective applicant was not itself a part of the appeals procedure, but was a proper part of planning.
I do not dispute that discussion between the Ministry and the applicant—in this case an important local authority—was proper; of course it was proper. That does not mean, however, that the results of the discussion should remain secret until after a final decision has been reached, so that any people who might have had helpful, useful representations to make about the subject matter of the discussion had no hope whatever of making them because they did not know what was being discussed.
Is the right hon. and learned Member putting it forward as a general proposition that whenever there is a planning application which may affect a wide variety of people, they should be consulted and brought into the matter? If that is the general proposition, why was this not incorporated into the Town and Country, Planning Act, 1962, which was passed by his own Government?
What was incorporated into the procedure under that Act was a discretion, first, to hold a public inquiry when it comes to light that people have representations to make, and secondly, at that public inquiry, a discretion to allow people other than the planning authority and the applicant to put forward evidence, to make representations, and so on. In the present case, there had already been the public inquiry on the first application, and what had been said by the people who, at the discretion of the inspector, had put forward representations was obviously helpful to the Minister.
That is not denied. What is so extraordinary is that, that being so, and their deep interest and anxieties being known, they were not given a further opportunity of making any representations and that a final decision was reached without their being told what would be in issue other than the very broad proposition as to whether there should be redevelopment or rehabilitation.
Does it follow from that, therefore, that what the right hon. and learned Member is saying is that if objectors have had a full opportunity, of which they have taken full advantage, of making representations against a scheme, they should be allowed another opportunity, but that if they have never had an opportunity of doing so, they should not be allowed any opportunity at all?
The hon. and learned Member must not insult my intelligence! I did not say that, I did not imply it and nobody in his senses would have thought so. The hon. and learned Member's intervention has not added very much to the opinion of the House as to whether or not the Minister was at fault.
I move on to paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Special Report, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames referred in his temperate speech. Those two paragraphs show that the Ministry and the Islington Borough Council between them concluded their decisions and agreed the application behind the back of the Council on Tribunals. That, I must add, was after they had received the warning from the Council to which I have referred.
No; I have given way too much already in a short debate.
Worse than the discussions and application being behind the back of the objectors, the Minister reached a decision and announced the decision while the Council on Tribunals was still considering, with some anxiety, the procedure which he had so far adopted, and, of course, it did not know that he was going on to make things worse by concluding the matter before the Council on Tribunals had had an opportunity of further thoughts on the matter. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman deliberately snubbed and affronted an impartial tribunal established by Parliament with the enthusiastic agreement of all parties, and established by Parliament to secure greater justice in the performance of ministerial powers, and to do so by scrutinising the procedures, especially the inquiries, under which those powers are exercised.
The Times had a brief but valuable comment to make about this matter on 10th February. It said that these procedures of public inquiry
have been evolved to protect people's interest, and to give the citizen a voice in administrative decisions closely affecting him. They should be respected.
It is well known and accepted that it is not only the applicant and the planning authority who are the citizens closely affected. It is now an established practice, as I mentioned earlier in answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), to allow others, tenants of the land in question, owners and occupiers of adjoining land, parish and district councils, and a host of others with a real interest to be heard on a planning application.
What the Minister has done is contrary to the whole spirit of the Franks Report. He sheltered behind the technicalities of planning procedure instead of doing all in his power to see that justice was done and appeared to be done, and that no unfair advantage was taken of the rules of procedure.
I would say this, in conclusion. The doctrine of ministerial responsibility is still part of our constitution today. As I understand that doctrine, it means this, that the Minister is responsible to Parliament for everything done by him, or by his Department in his name; and that if a serious mistake is made by him or by his Department he should resign. He does not resign necessarily because of his immediate personal handling of the matter, but because he is the responsible Minister. For example, we all remember that in the case of Crichel Down Sir Thomas Dugdale, now Lord Crathorne, resigned because of something which had happened even before he became Minister, and while Mr. Tom Williams, now Lord Williams of Barnburgh, was the Minister. But it was a mistake made in his Department. It happened to be a mistake which he condoned, although it referred to matters before his time, and he, quite rightly resigned. He resigned not because he was to blame therefor, but because he was responsible.
In the present case, so far as one can tell, the Minister was personally involved at some stage before the finality of the decision. I think that the House should be told, although I think that he honourably will stand by what his Department did, whether he was personally involved in the handling of this application or not. I think that it is material for the House to know. Of course, if he was personally involved, the question of ministerial responsibility is very much simplified.
I am most grateful. That is what we would have expected of the Minister—to be forthcoming in that way. I am sure that the House is grateful to him for that.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) enhanced his reputation last week as a man of honour by resigning on a matter of disagreement—[HON. MEMBERS: "About policy."]—and he will step on to the hustings as a man with a clear name and a good conscience. All I would say is that I hope that as a result of this debate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Housing and Local Government will still have a clear conscience. But we shall want a very good defence from him.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) has made some very serious charges against my right hon. Friend. He opened by saying that there were no politics in this case and that he had no intention of dealing with it upon any political basis but he went on to accuse my right hon. Friend of acts of omission and likened the case to something which happened at Crichel Down. He drew a parallel between what happened in this case and what happened at Crichel Down, but we know very well there is no comparison between what happened in this case and what happened in the other.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend had ignored and flouted the Council on Tribunals. I am sure that he has done no such thing.
My right hon. Friend flouted the Council on Tribunals? Indeed, I doubt very much whether any hon. or right hon. Member of this House would flout that body. We know it is a body composed of eminent and distinguished persons; we know it has a valuable function to perform in our constitution; we know it acts as a watchdog of what we may call bureaucratic intolerance, or injustice; I am sure that every Member of the House respects that body and hearkens to its advice.
But let us look for a moment at what that body decided on this occasion. Listening to the right hon. and learned Gentleman one would think that the Council on Tribunals in this case and come out with a damning indictment of my right hon. Friend. What, in fact, did
it say? At the end of its Report it said that
there has been apparent unfairness".
Apparent unfairness. That is as far as the Council goes. It says, in relation to my right hon. Friend, that because of the way he handled this matter there is apparently some unfairness. That verdict of the Council does not justify the language used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire. He was making a lawyer's speech, and a political lawyer's speech, this afternoon. There is no substance in the charge that my right hon. Friend has been guilty of anything more than causing apparent unfairness to somebody.
I think that the hon. Gentleman must have overlooked one of the Council's conclusions set out in paragraph 21 of the Special Report, where it says:
Nevertheless, they consider that the complainants have real reason to feel aggrieved.
If that is not a criticism of the Minister, I do not know what is.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is shifting his ground.
What were the words that he used about my right hon. Friend in his speech? He told him to resign. He likened his action in this matter to what happened at Crichel Down. But now there has been a climb down, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about a grievance on the part of the objectors. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not have made the speech that he did. It was unworthy of his profession, because it was a political speech. It was unjustified, and there is no basis for what is said in the Council's Report.
The Motion has been put down by 40 Members of the Opposition solely because the Council on Tribunals found that there was apparent unfairness to the objectors. Even the ex-Attorney-General put his name to the Motion of censure on the basis of a document which merely said that there was some apparent unfairness.
No one is saying that it is not a matter of importance. I said at the beginning of my remarks that the Council is an important and distinguished body and that every Member of the House will harken to its advice. But what we have seen today and in recent days is an exaggeration of its Report, on political grounds, and the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire went further than he should have done in making the accusations that he did and likening the matter to the Crichel Down case.
The entire Opposition Front Bench have put down the Motion of censure on the Minister because there was some apparent unfairness. I am quite prepared to agree that, in the minds of some of the objectors, there was unfairness. When the Minister made his decision following the public inquiry, he turned down his inspector's recommendation and disallowed the appeal. He may have been right or wrong in that, and perhaps some of the words used in his decision were open to more than one interpretation. Perhaps they did give the impression to objectors that their case had been accepted. Frankly, I do not understand that, because it seemed to me that the inspector turned down rehabilitation, and, therefore, the objectors who were standing on the ground of rehabilitation were out of court.
However that may be, the Minister disallowed the appeal against his inspector's advice, and, in the letter in which he stated the reasons why, it may be that there were phrases that could be interpreted in more than one way and, as a result, some of the objectors felt that they would still be listened to in future considerations.
The objectors have had a fair deal. They objected, as they have a right to object. At his discretion, the Minister granted an inquiry, which he need not have done. That inquiry lasted six days so that all parties should be heard. He need not have done that. He could have dealt with the matter himself, without a public inquiry. But he granted an inquiry so that objectors could state their individual cases at length and be represented by counsel, and for six solid days they had an opportunity to state their various points of view.
The Minister and his inspector went further. At their discretion, they allowed every person who wished to lodge an objection to be present at the inquiry and state a case. What right hon. and hon. Members opposite are saying is that the Minister should not have been content with exercising his discretion in favour of the objectors on two occasions, but should have gone further. They say that after the inquiry he should have called in the objectors again and asked them their views upon a revision of the layout of the redevelopment.
There is a limit to the loss of time resulting from planning applications and planning inquiries. In some parts of the Borough of Islington, housing conditions are rather appalling and require immediate action. I will not cite cases, which come to my mind quite readily, but young people get into crime, sexual troubles and devastating social evils because of the housing conditions in some parts of the borough, and we cannot wait indefinitely before clearing away the slums there.
If my right hon. Friend wastes much more time on it, I shall be opposed to him. I shall be one of those who will criticise him. He has delayed long enough already. I should have liked him to deal with the case without an inquiry. However, he waited, and, because he did not extend his discretion in the way that I have described, the Council on Tribunals says that there was some apparent unfairness to the objectors. As a result of that statement, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite try to blow up the case into a political issue.
I am bound to say that I share the surprise of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) that the Minister has not risen earlier in the debate. It seems to me of importance that we should have an opportunity to comment on whatever he is going to tell us. He told us that he relies on the fact that he made a statement on 9th February, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend has already pointed out, that statement did not advert to the issues with which the Council on Tribunals are concerned. It was a statement, the arguments of which were directed to the suggestion that there should be a second inquiry.
As far as I am aware, no one has asked for a second inquiry. Certainly, it is not the core or even part of the criticism of the Council on Tribunals. It is a complete red herring.
The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) gave us what I would regard as almost the standard arguments for not causing further delay. I entirely agree with him, and I have probably said it myself on many occasions. But, with due respect, that is not the issue before us. No one is suggesting that one should inquire indefinitely into the same facts, and no one suggests that there should be no limits to the number of neighbours who have some sort of veto over planning appeals on other people's land.
I do not believe that those are the issues. The issues before us are very much more important than that. The most important matter is not so much the Minister's original statement as the manner and timing of its making.
The Council on Tribunals, as my right hon. and learned Friend has reminded us, was set up as a watchdog over administrative actions and particularly administrative actions such as those involved in planning inquiries, which involve a discretion and which therefore can only be subject to the supervision of the courts in a very limited sense. The function of the Council in that sphere is precisely the same as the function that the Government wish to impose upon their new Parliamentary Commissioner. That was the whole principle of the Council on Tribunals. It was the same principle as that lying behind all the arguments about an Ombudsman.
I happen to think that the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill will produce a pretty weak and negative creature. I do not think that he has enough powers or that his sphere of action is wide enough, but I shall not go into that at the moment. But it is very difficult to place much store on the sincerity of the Government in wishing to establish a safeguard for the individual when they treat an existing ombudsman in this outrageously cavalier fashion.
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. Albert Evans) said that the Minister had not ignored the Council on Tribunals, that he had not ridden roughshod over it, or whatever words he used, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) pointed out, the Council had considered the complaints of the objectors. It had made known its concern with this case to the right hon. Gentleman as early as 24th August. It had no reply until a month later, and as a result of further inquiries and complaints it had asked that representatives of the Ministry should meet the Council.
Is the hon. Gentleman advancing the general proposition that in a planning appeal in which the Minister has a discretion as to whether an inquiry should be granted, if an outside body like the Council on Tribunals indicates that it is interested in the matter, it must follow automatically that the Minister should exercise his discretion to grant the inquiry? Is he putting it that high?
No, I am not, and if the hon. Gentleman would do me the courtesy of listening to what I am saying he would realise that. I am saying that the Council on Tribunals made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman as early as 24th August that it was concerned that things were not going quite right. It got no reply for a month, which in itself does not indicate—
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete my argument. As I was about to say, that does not in itself imply that the Minister held any great respect for the Council. But however that may be, the Council had further cause for concern—whether as a result of its own inquiries, or as a result of further complaints matters not—and it again got in touch with the Ministry, when it was mutually agreed that the Council should meet members of the Ministry on a certain date.
If the Minister really has this easy defence which he is holding to the end until the bell goes, it may well be that had he allowed his officials to meet the Council and explain what was going on we should never have had this Report. If the Minister has this easy defence about which he tells us, to a large extent this debate arises out of his discourtesy, and, I am bound to say, arrogance, because here was a body which was set up with the particular function of watching the procedural fairness and openness of this type of inquiry, and in particular planning inquiries, and it was disregarded.
This is my first criticism of the Minister, and it is very serious indeed, because it inevitably weakens the authority of the Council, and weakens the standing in which it ought to be held by the public and the confidence which the public ought to have in it as a genuine safeguard in these procedures.
My next criticism, which is allied to that one, arises from the fact that under the Statute a special report from the Council is made to the Lord Chancellor. It is made to him in his capacity as head of the British judiciary, and not in his capacity as a party politician. I know that the Lord Chancellor's function is an unpleasant and difficult one—but it is inherent in his office—when he is required to take a judicial view of the actions of a political colleague. It is an unfortunate jurisdiction, but there it is.
We have had no word at all from the Lord Chancellor. All that we have had is a statement in The Guardian that he read the Report with interest, and then we had an arrangement by which, whatever, in fact, happened, all the appearances are that the Lord Chancellor and the right hon. Gentleman got together and arranged that this Report should not be made public until the same day as the right hon. Gentleman was able to get the opportunity to make a statement before anyone in the House, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who had half an hour's notice or so—I do not know what it was—had a chance to see the Report, let alone study and consider it.
This, to say the least, is treating the House with discourtesy, and I would put it stronger than that. It shows once again the contempt which the Government have for the Council on Tribunals, and, what is more important, the principles for which it stands.
There are one or two other matters on the more technical side connected with the planning procedure which ought to be mentioned. The most important is that when the inquiry opened it was mutually agreed on all sides that this should be an application, or it should be considered as an application, for outline planning permission only. This means, if it means anything at all, that the details of any particular scheme are not in issue at the inquiry.
I have always maintained, and I probably have as much experience as the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich in these matters, that this is a silly way of proceeding, because in matters of this sort—and here I find myself in full agreement with the Minister—one can judge the issue whether or not an area like this should be rehabilitated or redeveloped only if one can judge the quality of the proposed redevelopment, and this is what the Minister found. But finding, for some reason or other, that he was not satisfied with the detail—though the detail was not before the inquiry as it was an outline application only—he dismissed the appeal outright, though subject to the proviso that the dismissal was without prejudice to a later application, and so on.
We then move forward to another matter which is a serious criticism, though I would not put it in the same category as the other, and that is that the Minister allowed a further application to come forward direct to him through the accident of the fact that the London County Council had in the meanwhile been cut out as the intervening planning authority. He was aware not only that the local people were intensely interested—he must have been from the first proceedings—but that the Council on Tribunals had written to him to the effect that it was still interested, and from the letter written by the town clerk, which was forwarded to him by the Council, presumably he was aware that the local authority was willing to make public the second application and the details of it.
I have always maintained—and I have said this in the House on many occasions, and I thought that this was a matter on which we were agreed across the Floor—that wherever possible local authorities should give maximum publicity to plans, particularly hard and fast plans, which will affect the whole character of the area, as this proposal must do. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman—and I hope that he will give me his attention—was in support of the principle that local authorities ought to make their constituents aware of what they were doing in their name.
Here we have a situation in which, whatever the willingness of the town clerk may have been, he felt, for some reason, that he had to get the approval of the Minister to make these matters public. The Minister never gave that permission, and the result was that the whole of the second application went through in secrecy.
Does the hon. Gentleman, in this part of his argument, now resile from the position that, from the point of view of dealing with the application—leaving aside for the moment the question of the Council—the Minister did something different from what the hon. Gentleman did when he was in the same Department? What I am putting to the hon. Gentleman is that this procedure is the same as was followed by the previous Government.
The hon. and learned Member must qualify that. The procedure—yes, but in this case there has been an earlier inquiry. I am not suggesting that the procedure has ever been to have two inquiries on the same facts, if that is what the hon. and learned Gentleman is implying. But in this case the Minister was fully aware of the interest of the objectors in the matter and, indeed, to a large extent his original decision must be deemed to have resulted from the valuable help he received from the objectors, because it was only the objectors' evidence which brought before the Tribunal the facts on which he decided he must dismiss that appeal namely, that the quality of the redevelopment was not sufficient to justify the destruction of what many who know Islington would regard as an area of considerable charm. I agree about that.
Surely if, in the course of the first inquiry, the representations of the objectors were very valuable to the Minister, in that they enabled him to decide the kind of redevelopment which was appropriate, all that was necessary afterwards was to ensure that the fresh plans were in accordance with that idea. Was not that precisely what was done?
That is what we would like to know. If the Minister had spoken earlier we might have known it.
It is extraordinary that the second application, which must have been substantially different—because the Minister came to a different conclusion—should have been allowed by the Minister, or indeed apparently encouraged by him, to go on behind closed doors. I have an idea that the Minister issued a circular on the subject recently, stressing the desirability for local authorities not to conduct their business in secrecy, behind closed doors. This is not a matter for censure, but it is still important from the point of view of public relations and administration.
The local planning authority—the Islington Borough Council—said, in its reply to the objectors, that the second application had gone forward after full consultation with the Minister's own advisory officers, and with their help. There is no objection to that. The Minister has some very good advisers, who can be very helpful elsewhere. But it emphasises—in a case like this where an inquiry had been held and the Minister knew that there was a lot of public feeling, and that the public had the support of the local planning authority in seeking publicity—the enormous importance of public relations to ensure that these matters are considered objectively and quasi-judicially at the top.
In other words, that justice is seen to be done, because, right from the start, the Minister can be assumed—because his own Department is involved—to have a bias one way or the other. This, as a matter of ordinary prudence, is something that he ought to be very careful about. We have also had in our constituencies, over and over again, cases where planning officers are allowed to do this, that or the other and there are all sorts of allegations solely because things do not come out into the open.
Finally, the Council on Tribunals was unable to say whether, in its details, the second application was substantially different from the first. We can only assume that it was unable to say so because it was unable to see it. If this is so, it provides yet another proof of the contempt with which the Government and the Minister regarded this body. If this was not so, surely we should have been told, because, on the one hand, we are told in the Report that there are allegations that they were not substantially different and, on the other, we are told that there are allegations that they were substantially different.
This is the simple question which should have been answered so as to clear up a lot of the feeling of grievance that this case has aroused. Like so many other aspects of this case, a great deal that is obscure might well have been a very different look had the Minister waited till his officials could meet the Council on Tribunals.
This is a deplorable Motion, and it was followed by a more deplorable speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). The picture painted in the Motion is one of great injustice being done to the rights and liberties of individual citizens and an abuse of arbitrary power. The Motion talks of the Minister's
failure…to afford to people affected by his decision any opporunity to state their objections to the application which he approved.
Both allegations are quite unjustified by the facts, and the invitation given by the right hon and learned Gentleman to my right hon. Friend to resign—the course that was followed by a former Minister in the Crichel Down case—suggests that far from an anxiety to deal with this matter in its proper perspective the Opposition have been driven, in a pre-election period, to make the greatest fuss they can about something that it not justified by the circumstances.
The position is not that the Minister failed to give objectors an opportunity of stating their objections. That is not true. The fact is that those who are objecting to the development of the area of the estate, are not people living on the estate or having any legal interest in it. They are people either living around the estate or concerned to protect its appearance, like the assurance company that had some interest in the rehabilitation of the estate for business reasons.
When this matter was first raised these strangers to the estate were given full opportunity, of which they took full advantage. There was a six-days' hearing at which all the matters were canvassed relating to the appearance of the estate and to its amenities as it affected outsiders. The questions that were eventually left to the Minister were thoroughly thrashed out by the objectors and their representatives at that hearing. No new matter was before him at the time of the second application and the second appeal to the Minister.
In those circumstances, it is straining language and using what may be legitimate grounds for argument as a bit of political pamphleteering, to talk as though the Minister had refused anybody any opportunity of expressing his objections. One may go round and round arguing about whether or not there might not be new propositions to be advanced, but at the time when the Minister rejected the first application the only grounds upon which he proceeded were that he needed to be satisfied, first, that there was no reduction of amenity by redevelopment, and, secondly, that such change as would be made would be justified by the increase in housing, of which there was urgent need in Islington, as we have been told. In his letter to the objectors he made that quite clear. About this there can be no real argument by any fair-minded man. Once those two matters had been satisfactorily resolved, there was no other matter which the objectors could raise. Once the Minister had been satisfied on those grounds, there was no justification for reopening an inquiry on precisely those grounds.
The whole object of town and country planning procedure is that, once the Minister has sufficient grounds to come to a decision, he should get on with his job. His job in these circumstances was to provide planning permission which would enable the Islington Council in turn to get on with its job, that of providing houses for people who would otherwise be prevented from having decent houses.
The second objection of the Opposition and the second attack on my right hon. Friend is akin to the first in the extravagance of its language and the excessive-ness of its demands upon him. The suggestion has been made that the behaviour of the Minister in doing what he was legally authorised to do, in the manner in which he was legally authorised to do it, is somehow an abuse of arbitrary power. It is a pity that, if the Opposition want a serious debate, they do not word their Motions in measured language.
This Motion is quite unjustified. This is not Crichel Down. There is no comparison between what the Minister did in this case and what the Minister of Agriculture was involved in on the former occasion. This is a case of a council seeking to deal with its own estate. There is no suggestion that improper pressure has been put on anybody to sell. The people who make the objections have no legal interest in any of the issues which are involved. They are concerned about appearance and amenity, because they live in and around the area.
The opportunity was given them fully to express any objections which they might have had to the redevelopment. Once those objections were dealt with, once the Minister had evidence which satisfied him that these amenities were not being improperly interfered with, he was entitled to take the action which he did and they had no further grounds for complaint. Nobody was subjected to a loss of his legal rights. Certainly, nobody's rights and liberties as citizens of this country were attacked by anything which the Minister did.
What the Minister did was to follow the procedure which had been followed by his predecessors in other Governments than this. This is a pattern which anybody with any familiarity with the procedures followed under the Town and Country Planning Act has met time and time again. If, every time a Minister exercised his discretion not to hold an inquiry, an absurd attack of this kind is made on him, the life of any Minister would be utterly impossible.
The other criticism is one which, again, has been blown up like a balloon. This is the criticism of the Minister on the grounds that he has treated the Council on Tribunals with offensiveness. that he has behaved towards it as though he were riding roughshod over it and that the way in which he treated the Council was so offensive to its dignity and to the liberties of the citizens of England that he should therefore be required to resign. The problems of town and country planning are real problems. The conflict between the interests and needs of different citizens puts a heavy burden on Ministers whose task it is to resolve them.
The position becomes not difficult but impossible if, when one citizen feels aggrieved about a procedure which has been properly followed, he is entitled, by making an appeal to some other tribunal, to bring the machinery grinding to a halt. I said that the Minister had his job to do. If it appears to the Council on Tribunals, whether on sufficient or on insufficient evidence, that something has been done to which the Minister's attention ought to be drawn, I make no criticism of the Council if, on such evidence as it has, it draws his attention to it.
However, once the Minister's attention has been drawn to something which, in his judgment is not a matter in which he has abused his power, it would be an impossible situation if he then had to drop everything and take no further procedure lest the Council on Tribunals brought some criticism to his head which may or may not be justified—
Let it be so. If one is talking about the problems raised by the conflict of duties between the Council and the Minister and one were to say that perhaps the Minister or the Council should have done something different, this would be a very different matter. It would be very different from the way in which this subject is being discussed today, with a pistol held at the Minister's head, when the Minister was guilty, even on the hon. Gentleman's own showing, of nothing more than a discourtesy. We are talking at a different level.
If, every time a person feels a sense of grievance against a decision of a Department—even though no injury is done him and no attack made on his rights or liberties as a citizen—he can by making a protest bring the whole machinery of Government to a halt, the situation is intolerable. It is one which no Minister, obviously, could be expected to endure—[Interruption.]—if the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. William Yates) has in intelligent intervention to make I will give way.
We will try to be as helpful as we can. This is a grave problem for many hon. Members with planning problems in their own constituencies. The hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) said that the expressions used by hon. Members on this side of the House have been extravagant. He is now proceeding to further extravagance by suggesting that, every time the Council on Tribunals writes to the Minister, the whole machinery of Government should come to a halt. Nobody said that and nobody means it on this side of the House.
I do not want to labour this point ad nauseam. My point is a simple one. If any complaint to the Council on Tribunals by any objector on any grounds were to have the effect of stopping the administrative process, clearly, that machinery, which is already in some ways too slow and laborious, would proceed as it did in a past age. It would go at steam engine speed. In this sense, the protests about his rights and liberties by one individual could do grave harm and danger to the rights, liberties and privileges of another citizen.
This is sad, because this is a matter on which there could be serious and valuable discussion. The whole question of land development and the problems and difficulties which a Minister faces in trying to balance the weight of one objection against the needs of another are matters on which the time of this House would well have been spent. It is deplorable to think that such an occasion should have been taken to attack the Minister for having to make a difficult decision while having to conduct his affairs within his rights and to do what he thought was proper in the light of the information available to him.
Because my right hon. Friend disagreed with the Council on Tribunals—as I do, because I believe that it took a decision on insufficient knowledge and so one which it was not within its province to take and so it was a wrong decision—and because the Minister thought that the Council was making a judgment on a matter on which his judgment differed, he is being pilloried in this way. I regret that an opportunity which might have been used for a better purpose has been thrown away and, instead, extravagant attacks which are quite without justification are being made.
Having listened to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) and the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams), presumably in their capacity as counsel for the defence of the Minister in this case, I still believe that every word of the Motion is justified.
I am in no way doubting the eminence of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich, but on certain matters on which he spoke on behalf of the Minister one might reasonably say that he had not fully mastered or prepared his brief. And powerful though the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Warrington were, they were really in the form of mitigation in suggesting that the terms of the Motion were stronger than they should be. Certainly, nothing he said amounted to a defence of the charge against the Minister.
The hon. Member for Islington, Southwest (Mr. Albert Evans) made great play of the fact that the criticism was not that the Minister had been unfair to the objectors, but that there was apparent unfairness to the objectors. As I understand, the Council on Tribunals is clearly saying, in the use of the words "apparent unfairness"—one might use the phrase "prima facie unfairness"—that it is unfairness until it is explained and cleared up by the Minister. Therefore, like my hon. Friends, I regret that the Minister has not already seen fit to speak in this debate and answer the charge made by the Council on Tribunals of apparent unfairness.
It may be that when we hear the right hon. Gentleman it will appear that there was no apparent unfairness, as the hon. Member for Islington, South-West suggested, but until we have heard him—until the Council on Tribunals has been given an opportunity which, apparently, it was not given, to consider his side of the case—we are bound, as is the Council, to conclude that apparently he had been unfair, which is the criticism that is made. I will merely say that the attitude displayed by the Minister throughout the earlier speeches in this debate hardly indicated that he will give us a proper and serious explanation of the accusation made against him by the Council on Tribunals.
The charge against the right hon. Gentleman is twofold: first, that he has deliberately chosen to refuse to take into consideration the views and opinions of people who would be affected by the application which he granted; and, secondly, that he has deliberately chosen to snub the Council on Tribunals.
On the first ground of complaint, the hon. and learned Member for Warrington made great play of the fact that the Motion stated that people had not been given an opportunity to state their objections. He said that this was an example of the totally misleading wording of the Motion. I urge him to study the words of the Motion, particularly those which state that the House
…regrets the failure of the Minister to afford to people affected by his decision any opportunity to state their objections to the application which he approved…
There is no doubt that, although the right hon. Gentleman may have allowed their observations to be made on an earlier application, which he dismissed, he refused to allow them to be heard on this occasion.
May I put to the hon. Gentleman a question which I put to his right hon. Friend earlier, but which was not answered? Is he suggesting that, whenever a planning application is made which affects people other than landowners or others with interest in the land, people who may be in any way affected, directly or indirectly, by the application should be given an opportunity to express their objections to it? If so, why did not his party—although he was not an hon. Member of the House at the time—incorporate that in the 1962 Act?
I was saying, with respect, that I believe that the Ministry should continue the conduct which, in practice, to my experience does occur; that where a public inquiry takes place on an appeal against a refusal—and the hon. and learned Gentleman no doubt has more experience of this than I have—the Ministry's inspector almost always exercises his discretion, as he did in this case, in allowing the people who feel that they are likely to be affected by the decision time to have their views heard.
The hon. Gentleman is missing my point. I am not concerned at this stage with the inquiry, but with the terms of the Motion, which
…regrets the failure of the Minister to afford to people affected…any opportunity to state their objections to the application which he approved…
I understood the hon. Gentleman's point to be that an application was made and that the people affected had no opportunity to say what they thought about it. It was in that context that I put my question.
In the context of this case, the answer to that question is, "Yes". The hon. and learned Member for Warrington said that it was unfair to say that an opportunity for people to state their objections was not applied for when the inquiry was granted. I said that the complaint was not quite that, but rather that on the application that was approved time was not allowed for them to state their objections. That still stands.
I turn to the second point, that the Minister has deliberately chosen to snub the Council on Tribunals. I remind the Minister that the Council is a statutory watchdog specifically set up for the purpose of safeguarding the rights of individuals against the powers of Ministries. This is an example—I hope an isolated one—of one month of delay after the first request for information. If the fact that eventually the Minister's decision was announced, within 48 hours of the request by the Council on Tribunals to meet it to discuss its complaints in this matter, is an example of the type of attitude and respect which, apparently, is to be shown by the Government towards tribunals in future, it augurs badly for the likely respect which will be shown to the much-heralded ombudsman, and it brings the cynical attitude that the desire and love of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite for such an ombudsman is no more than a pre-election gimmick.
I wish to concentrate on some of the arguments which the Minister has at different times advanced and I will show that they are fallacious and—though perhaps not intentionally—misleading. The first argument is one which the right hon. Gentleman used in a letter of 24th September to the Council on Tribunals in which he advanced the theory that no harm had been done because if the L.C.C., as the planning authority, had approved the application, these people would have had no opportunity to be heard. I will come to that in a moment.
The second argument is the one to which my right hon. Friend has already referred; the fact that in col. 403 of HANSARD of 9th February last the right hon. Gentleman stated that he had come to the conclusion that it was reasonable to dispense with a second inquiry, and he went on to say—and this, I believe, was wholly misleading—that it was this decision which the Council on Tribunals had criticised.
I come back, as the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) apparently wishes me to, to the comment that if the London County Council had approved this application no inquiry would have been heard. The Minister will accept that if a person makes an application to a local authority for planning permission, the local people have the opportunity, by approaching the councillors concerned, to make their representations. If, in the face of those representations, the planning authority still allows the application, I agree that there is no right of appeal, but they have had the opportunity to make their representations to the people representing them on that body.
But if the application is refused and an appeal to the Minister takes place, it is then right that those people, who have no direct access to the Minister as such, as they have to their local councillors, should have the right to be heard through counsel, solicitors, or in person, in order to present their views to the Minister.
The position in this case is that the London County Council was deemed to have refused this application. An inquiry was appointed by the Minister on an appeal to him. I fully accept that at that stage the residents were heard, but whatever the Minister may have said in the House, or whatever he may have said in his letter to the Council on Tribunals, he cannot possibly, with respect, get away from the fact that that appeal he dismissed and, whether he likes it or not, in dismissing that appeal he gave the impression that the objectors had won.
This is where I suggested that the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich had not read his brief. What was the appeal that was made to the Minister? It was an appeal against a refusal to redevelop. So the question the Minister had to ask himself was: would he or would he not allow redevelopment? What, in fact, he said, was:
The Minister would want to be satisfied that this result will be obtained"—
referring to environment, and things of that nature:
before he would feel able to decide in favour of redevelopment against rehabilitation.
In other words, asked to come down on the side of redevelopment, he specifically refusal to do so—
As did his right hon. Friends before him, the hon. Member talks as though this were the whole of what the Minister said. Let the House and the country know that it was not all he said. The Minister said that he had
…therefore decided to dismiss the present appeal though without prejudice to the submission to him of another application subseqently; and he proposes to arrange a discussion with the Council about how the kind of layout and design which seemed to him to be required here might best be achieved.
This was also a partial dismissal.
But in dismissing this appeal as he did, the Minister specifically chose to remain seized of the application and invited further plans but, with respect, it is wholly misleading of the Minister to have stated in his letter of 24th September to the Council on Tribunals:
The objectors would have preferred that the properties be rehabilitated, but that issue had been decided against them.
It is quite clear on the letter he wrote about the decision he made, that that decision had not been made against the objectors. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman said exactly the opposite, and he was at the least misleading the Tribunal in that letter.
Then we have the position that when the second plan was presented—which, according to someone writing in the Spectator who claims to have seen it, was very little different from the first—he chooses to change his mind. We do not know until we hear him all the grounds on which he made that decision; what pressure, right or wrong, was made against him in regard to that decision; what pressure by means of representations. What we do know is that the Minister chose to change his decision without in fact giving an opportunity if I may put it in this simple way, for the other side of the argument to be heard. If he says that the plans were wholly different, there was even more reason why he should have allowed comment on them by those people who had commented by way of expert advisers on the previous plans submitted.
Turning to another point, I do not deny that the Council on Tribunals made clear in its Report that that which the Minister did he was strictly legally entitled to do, but let us make clear how strictly legal it was, and how technical his argument that he was intra vires rather than ultra vires in his action. Hon. and learned Members opposite cannot deny that if any of those 425 resident objectors had had a legal interest in any one of those houses, and had the Minister chosen, as he did, to hear further representation in private without informing those people what those representations were, in those circumstances, as the House knows, and as the Minister must well know, they would have come under the terms of persons aggrieved, and the court could have refused to uphold the Minister's decision on the basis that it was taken ultra vires. So the Minister's defence that he was strictly entitled to do what he did is based on a very technical distinction.
What I believe the Minister has done is against the spirit of the law and against the spirit and purpose of public inquiries, and I believe that he has relied on legal technicalities so as to prevent an otherwise entitlement to representation by individuals. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of a saying that has already been quoted today, and a saying that is still true and of great importance in this country. It is that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.
I shall not attempt to go into the merits of the architectural arguments on the plans or suggest that justice was not necessarily done, but I do suggest that justice was not seen to be done; that the Council on Tribunals was right in saying that the complainants had real reason to feel aggrieved. I believe that the attitude portrayed by the Minister in this case is in many ways typical of the attitude of the party in Government now. It smacks of the Socialist attitude that "the man in Whitehall" knows best, and that no individual should have the right to question or criticise that which that man does.
This is the second censure Motion that I have heard debated in this House. On both occasions there has been considerable similarity in the matter debated, because on both occasions it has been the Minister's quasi-judicial functions that have been questioned. I shall not go into the merits of the previous Motion, which referred to the previous Home Secretary's making a decision after a public inquiry and then, as a result of private approaches, changing that decision. But there is the obvious similarity that on both occasions there has been a public inquiry which has come to one decision and then, apparently as a result of further information put to the Minister concerned, an immediate change of that decision. It is not necessarily the case, but if that type of thing is happening one cannot blame people if they feel that somewhere there has been some dirty work in the background.
The Minister's conduct throughout this matter has shown discourtesy to the Tribunal, lack of frankness and lack of openness with the House. It has shown arrogance and unwillingness to admit that he has made a mistake. It has shown unwillingness to "come clean" with the House. It is conduct which, unfortunately, the House has become used to expect of the Prime Minister, but not of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
It became clear during the last five minutes of the speech of the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) why we are debating this Motion. His speech had nothing whatever to do with town planning nor with the difficult and delicate balance that always has to be struck on occasions like this. I am sure that, in a saner, wiser and perhaps more humane moment, the hon. Member would admit the difficulty of striking such a balance. A Minister faced with this sort of decision is torn between the desire to see that redevelopment is not unduly held up and the desire—and I am sure that this is shared by both sides of the House—that the rights of the individuals who may be affected are protected and their objections fully heard.
It is a very difficult balance to strike, and I am sure that right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have had to do this sort of work, unlike some of their colleagues, will at least appreciate the difficulties of taking such decisions. They would not, unlike the hon. Member for Runcorn, make speeches so invincibly ignorant of town planning law and, may I say, equally ignorant of the character of my right hon. Friend. This Motion is extravagant, unnecessary and excessive. It is a deplorable Motion and we have heard at least two deplorable speeches—one from the hon. Member from Carlisle and the other—perhaps more importantly—from the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton).
I was astonished by the extravagance of the language used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, particularly in view of what had been said by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in opening the debate. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames made no call for resignation; he did not mention Crichel Down; he made no suggestion of bad conscience or good name, or of my right hon. Friend's honour being involved. All he said was that my right hon. Friend had made a mistake, had been rude to the Council on Tribunals and should have come to the House and admitted it. That was the analysis of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames but not that of the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the House is not ungenerous in matters of this sort. But his generosity seems to be confined to calling upon the Minister to resign and, in the event of my right hon. Friend respectfully accepting the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mistaken advice, to providing flowers upon the coffin.
If that is the best that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can do I do not think that my right hon. Friend has much to fear. What is deplorable is that the Opposition have chosen to further what, in essence, is a planning procedural difficulty, on which the Council on Tribunals has reported, into a pre-election frolic in the hope of smearing the name of my right hon. Friend. I have little doubt that, when it comes to the test, such muckraking will get them nowhere.
What are the facts behind the Motion? If I understand his argument correctly, the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames believes that the Minister should, in some unspecified way or another—for it has not been specified either by the Opposition or by the Council on Tribunals—have re-consulted those people who for six days had put their objections before the Ministry's inspectors at a full inquiry on precisely the same set of facts. Before deciding whether or not that action of my right hon. Friend was culpable or unworthy, it would be a good idea for right hon. and hon. Members opposite—particularly the hon. Member for Runcorn—to read the Minister's letter of 23rd July, 1965, and not just the selective portion quoted in whatever document the hon. Gentleman has before him.
I am in the more fortunate position of having read the whole letter and not just the sentences quoted in that document. Before launching his strictures on my right hon. Friend, it would have been wiser of the hon. Gentleman to get the document. In paragraph 8, the letter says:
The Minister has noted the views of the Inspector. He recognises that redevelopment to the density proposed would result in a greater housing gain than rehabilitation, and also that rehabilitation might well prove a difficult and perhaps not entirely satisfactory business in view of the poor condition of some at any rate of the houses. But he is not satisfied, on the details submitted, that the Council's proposals would result in a scheme of the quality to compensate for destroying an estate of the type that many people still find attractive in layout and design.
Further on, my right hon. Friend uses the sentences quoted by the hon. Member for Runcorn and by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. Of course, one must put great weight on what the Tribunal on Inquiries says in matters of this sort, but—
I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me but I have undertaken to sit down in order to allow the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) to begin his speech at 6 o'clock.
Since this is a public letter, and was sent to the interested parties, it is a pity that some hon. Members opposite did not read it. It is clear to any honourable man who reads it honestly and not in a muckraking spirit that my right hon. Friend was saying that he had come to the conclusion, on the facts before him at that stage, that he was in favour of redevelopment as against rehabilitation. He went on to say that he was not prepared, on balance, to say then that this was the precise way in which the matter should proceed. He was not prepared at that stage to allow redevelopment to proceed on the basis of the proposals then before him. He then spelt out the sort of Amendments which would be needed. Later, certain other proposals are made for redevelopment of the site and upon those he expresses satisfaction and gives his permission.
I would remind right hon. and hon. Members of what my right hon. Friend said last month:
I add one other thought. As a Minister of Housing and Local Government, one has first to consider whether an inquiry is legally necessary. However, even when it is not legally necessary, as in this case it was not legally necessary, a Minister should always choose an inquiry where it is necessary either to elicit the facts or to enable people to protest. But, once that has been done, the need to inquire must be balanced against the need not to have intolerable delay. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the biggest single complaint which I receive from the construction industry is that planning procedures are causing intolerable delays.
…I have to strike a balance between the need to investigate and to give the right of protest, and the need to say that there should be no further delay and that we should get on with the building. I felt on investigation that everything had been discussed almost ad nauseam and that the time had come for building."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 405.]
On the documents I have seen, it seems to me that the matter had indeed been discussed ad nauseam and that the local residents had exercised their right to protest at length. It is a pity that a matter which could have been the subject of a sensible and helpful debate on the details of planning procedure should instead have been used by the Opposition for a wretched and deplorable attack on my right hon. Friend.
It is very regrettable that the usual procedure has not been followed on this occasion in the order of speeches and that we have had to have a debate in the absence of any opportunity of discovering at the beginning what it is that the Minister of Housing and Local Government wishes to say in answer to this Motion of censure.
It will be remembered that when the former Home Secretary was the subject of a censure Motion he answered the debate immediately and then had the right to wind up the debate. It is true that on that occasion he did so through the mouth of the Attorney-General. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General is sitting here, but if the Minister chose not to be represented by him I am sure that the House would have granted him permission to reply by making a second speech.
The procedure adopted has only produced an extraordinary debate in which we have no idea at all of what the Minister's answer may be and, therefore, have been deprived of any opportunity of debating it. That is what we ought to have been debating. As we have been unable to do so, I intend to confine myself to stating again what it is we are complaining about. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) stated it very moderately and clearly and I hope that I can do it quite shortly, too.
First of all, we say that this was a situation in which a Socialist Minister was acting in and about the matters of a Socialist Government and, of course, we would expect him to, and I know that he would, set himself the duty of behaving in that context in exactly the same way as though the interests under consideration were those of a private property company, a private citizen, or any other person whose property was due to be dealt with in the course of planning procedures.
We know that in this matter the Minister acted personally, for he was brave enough, as one would have expected him to have done, to tell the House that he was in close and personal contact with the matters throughout. Our first complaint is that in that situation he proceeded behind the backs of interested parties and deprived those who were genuinely interested in the result of a second application of all information of what was afoot, and in particular of the opportunity to take any part at all in the administrative procedures and especially to make any private representations or to make any public protest before the right hon. Gentleman took the final decision.
This, we think, fully justifies the condemnation of the Council on Tribunals not that there was apparent unfairness, but, as the Council says at the end of paragraph 25 of the Report, that it thought that those who had been excluded from the procedures to the last had been treated less than fairly.
Secondly, in his approach to the Council on Tribunals we say that the right hon. Gentleman acted as though he owed that Council no duty of any sort or description and that the Council had no public duty to perform of the slightest purpose, or which he ought to assist. We say that he hid from the Council on Tribunals, which he knew to be interested, the processes started under his direction and carried on between himself and the Islington Borough Council and that he took his decision two days before a meeting which he knew was due to take place between his officers and that council. And we say that he then successfully deprived the Council on Tribunals of an opportunity to investigate, discuss or protest before the final decision was taken.
Thirdly, we say that in this situation the right hon. Gentleman has expressed neither regret nor repentance. He has not done so to the Council on Tribunals, he has not done so to the interested parties, and he has not done so to the House, and indeed he does not appear even now to be ready to acknowledge that he has made the slightest error of judgment or the slightest mistake.
Perhaps more important than all, we say that the view of the Council on Tribunals that these procedures should be fair, impartial and open is not one apparently to which the right hon. Gentleman accedes for the future, for he has given no undertaking, if he remains as Minister, to heed and follow the advice which that Council has given in this case.
May we consider for a moment the position of the Lord Chancellor who, after all, is the Minister with the statutory duty, not only as head of the judiciary, under the Tribunals and Inquiries Act—and he once said in another capacity that Governments never blush. It would be perhaps too much to expect the present Minister, in his vigorous and efficient bustle, to permit himself a blush. One might perhaps have expected the Lord Chancellor, however, as the guardian of the interests of the citizen and of fair treatment by the Executive to have broken his silence, even if not permitting himself a blush.
All that I was going to say was that not the conduct but the silence of the Lord Chancellor was perhaps the most eloquent thing that this House could have been blessed with, for if he had felt it proper to deny the conclusions of the Council on Tribunals it would have been all too easy for him publicly to say so, because he has the statutory right of commenting on reports of tribunals. He has not done so. He has remained in silence, and we may imagine an embarrassed silence, feeling himself to be unable to support the Council on Tribunals and thus stick a knife in the back of his colleague.
May I address my remarks on the basis that what happened after the conclusion of the first inquiry and the Minister's original decision was that a new and different application was made, that it was a substantially different application from the first, and that it was something which was not merely a reopening of the original inquiry? I take that line, and I think that the Minister may find it the correct one, because one finds from the Report of the Council on Tribunals that it is the attitude which the Minister's officials took when they had discussions with the Council.
One finds from paragraph 26 of the Report that the Council has assumed that the Ministry's officials were correct in suggesting that the second application was substantially different from the first. Therefore, at any rate in their contacts with the Council, the Minister's officials—he being closely interested in these matters—were saying that the second application was substantially different from the first.
I agree with that. The first one was only the outline proposals. The second was the substance of the thing where a real judgment could be made as to whether or not the nature and quality of the total scheme was on balance sufficiently good to justify the development of the area and the destruction of houses which many people think ought to be preserved.
The Minister may say that this was exactly the same, that there was no difference, that it was the same proposal, and, therefore, he had nothing new to do except give approval. If he does, the right hon. Gentleman is faced with a difficulty, for he has already dismissed the original application. He is faced with the dilemma, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames put to him, that either the application is the same and he should not have changed his mind, or that he and his officials were faced with a situation where, one inquiry having taken place, a new application being made, that application is to be regarded as a wholly new proposal.
In that situation, what the Minister did was to deprive those who were vitally interested, and had been from the first, of the opportunity to know what was the nature and substance of those new proposals. I quite agree that there was no statutory right. I am not arguing about that. There is no suggestion here, and we have never put forward the case on such a basis, that there was breach of some statutory duty. We should not be arguing about it here if there had been. It would be in the courts and there would be no doubt about it. But what we say is that fairness and square dealing demand and good and sensible administrative fairness requires that those who are known to be deeply interested in a major project for redevelopment should at least have some knowledge of what is contained in the proposals.
Persons who have a genuine interest in a planning application are entitled by customary administrative concession to appear and to be heard at any inquiry. But there is an important preliminary step before one comes to the inquiry. Is everything to be kept dark unless or until it happens that someone with a legal interest objects? If that is the rigid ground on which the Minister stands, it is a poor look-out for the interests of many societies and civic trusts and all those who are interested in the development of their own towns.
One would hope that the Minister takes the view that good administrative practice requires that persons with a genuine interest in a planning application who have reason to think that a major development affecting a wide area is under consideration should be given some information about that proposal—not necessarily at the first stage, but certainly long before any decision is taken—by the borough council or planning authority which is considering it or, if it has reached him, by the Minister himself, so that, even if there is not an inquiry, they may exercise the right to send in a representation, to write a letter, to make a private representation to the person who is dealing with the matter, or to make, if necessary, a public protest.
This is what these people were deprived of on this occasion. They were prevented from having any knowledge whatever of the processes being gone through between the Minister and the borough council which was interested.
Let us suppose that it had been not a borough council, but a property developer. Would it have been right and fair that neighbours who would be directly and adversely affected by development by such a property developer should be refused all information about what was going on and about how they might be affected? The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) said that there was no right for anyone to know. But, of course, when there is an appeal to the Minister, at least a notice must be put up on the land affected. Interested neighbours will see that notice, become aware that there is an appeal to the Minister, that there is an application in, and then make an inquiry of the local authority or, if it has gone to the Minister, make inquiry of the Minister to know what is going on so that they may see what the project is.
The real complaint here is this. How came it that these objectors and the insurance company through its surveyors were prevented from discovering what was going on until they received the second decision letter on 23rd November? The town clerk wrote that he was very willing that they should be informed once the Minister had considered the matter, but he said that he was unable to give them any information at a time when the Minister was considering it. We learn from the Council on Tribunals that, at the meeting which took place on 24th November, the Minister's representatives told the Council on Tribunals that the Ministry would have had no objection to the objectors being informed of the revised scheme which the Islington Borough Council proposed to submit to the Minister.
Thus, we have the town clerk saying that it is all right for them to see it. We have the Ministry telling the Council on Tribunals that the Ministry would be perfectly willing for them to see it. How came it that the objectors did not see it? I suggest that it was solely the Minister's responsibility. The request for information came from the secretary of the residents' association on 16th September, when he asked the town clerk of Islington for information and for an opportunity to examine the new proposals. Will the Minister tell us whether the town clerk referred that matter to the Ministry before he sent the reply next day? On 6th September, the Minister had agreed with the Islington Borough Council that it should have joint discussions about what was to be done. Therefore, the Islington Borough Council and the Ministry were at that stage considering the matter. We would like to know whether the town clerk wrote his letter without consulting the Ministry at all saying that he could not give any information so long as it was under reconsideration by the Minister?
I thought that that might be so. But what happened next was that, within the week, the letter from the secretary of the residents' association and the reply of the town clerk were sent to the Minister by the Council on Tribunals. This was done on 21st September, and it was then perfectly plain to the Ministry that the town clerk was willing to give the information but was taking the view that the fact that the Minister was considering the matter was some inhibition against doing so.
I am sorry, but there seems to be some confusion. The first request for information was from the secretary of the residents' association to the town clerk on 16th September. On the next day, the town clerk replied that
Amended proposals have been submitted to the Minister"—
that was not quite right because they were amended suggestions under discussion—
but as long as they are under reconsideration by the Minister it would not be proper for the council to publish details. I am, however, sure that they will do so as soon as the Minister gives his clearance.
That reply and the request for information were sent on 21st September to the Council on Tribunals and the Council sent them both on to the Minister. Not only that. In his reply of 24th September, the Minister acknowledged receipt of the Council's letters, not only the one of 24th August which he dealt with in his reply but the Council's letter of 21st September, also. But neither in that letter nor in any subsequent reply did he make any mention at all of the point which was being raised by the Council on Tribunals, namely, "Here is the residents' association asking for information. Why is it not getting it?".
The result was that the Ministry, neither on that nor on any subsequent occasion, not even at the meeting of 24th November, put forward to the Council on Tribunals any reason why this information should not have been given by the Minister to the objectors. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that the town clerk was refusing to give the information. Why did he not tell the town clerk that it was all right by him if he handed it over? Why did he not himself arrange for the information to be handed over to the residents? Why did he not reply to the Council on Tribunals and say, "I note that the residents' association wants this information. I am perfectly willing for it to be given, and I am instructing the town clerk"?
The town clerk of the borough was asked by the objectors whether they could see the revised proposals. At that stage, the town clerk had sent: these proposals to the Minister. Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel that it was perfectly proper for the town clerk, having placed the proposals before the Minister, to say at that stage, "These matters are before the Minister and, therefore, I do not feel free to give you access to them"?
I am not criticising the town clerk. We have not had a discussion about him and we certainly do not want to. But I would hope that most local authorities, even though they had submitted proposals to the Minister, would take the view, in a matter which vitally affected large numbers of their people in the area, that there was no harm whatever in allowing people to know what was being proposed.
I should have thought that this would have saved all the trouble. But when the Minister discovered that the town clerk had taken this view, rightly or wrongly, he did nothing whatever to assure the Council on Tribunals that the people who were requiring information should and would have it either by sending it himself or by telling the town clerk that it was certainly all right for him to hand it over to those who were anxious to know.
This is what has been the cause of all the trouble, and this is why the objectors, until the very last moment, had not the faintest idea what was afoot, had no idea of the discussions which were going on and had no opportunity to see, know about, consider, object to, or produce any representations about the new proposals, of which they had never been allowed to be aware.
Of course, but what they wanted to know was what the proposals were. Their request was to be allowed to examine the new proposals. That is what they wanted, and that is what they were deprived of. They might have liked them very much when they saw them—who knows? They might have objected to them.
But this is where the Minister failed entirely to give people who he knew were likely to object any information on which they could base a new objection. No one else except the Minister, the Islington Borough Council and the Socialist-controlled G.L.C. was allowed to consider or know about the new proposals which were being put forward, and none of them was given the slightest opportunity to express any opinion.
As to the ordinary citizens, I should have thought that the Council on Tribunals was right when it said that in those circumstances they were treated with less than fairness, that it was arbitrary, authoritarian and thoroughly objectionable. As far as the Council on Tribunals was concerned, it is even more surprising that from the time that it first wrote, on 24th August, until the meeting on 24th November it was never told by the Minister or any of his officials anything about the processes which they were then embarked upon. Despite the letter of 24th August and the subsequent letter of 21st September, it was given no information and knew nothing of what the Minister was up to until it received the decision letter on 23rd November.
I should have thought that that was underhand, arrogant and a denial of the authority and importance of the Council on Tribunals. After all, it does not barge around Government Departments every day of the week. The times when it approaches a Minister and suggests that perhaps there is something that ought to be inquired about must be rare indeed. But on this occasion it received neither assistance nor information from the Minister, and for this, also, we think that the House should condemn him.
I said during my statement that I would welcome a day's debate on planning, and I would still say so, and, of course, if we had had one I should have been delighted to formulate our policies first for discussion. What we have had is a personal vote of censure on a semi-judicial decision by a Minister. This is very different.
I shall try, as succinctly as I can, to answer the elaborate web of arguments put up by the Opposition. I will start with a simple point. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said in starting that I had said that I would take no account of what the Council on Tribunals had said. This was not true. The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question, and I replied. I must ask him to read my statement. I said that I had carefully considered the view of the Council on Tribunals, and that on reflection, though I understood its motive, I still thought that I was right in thinking, as I gathered it now did, that no second inquiry was necessary. I made it clear that we on this side of the House who are Ministers take seriously the work of the Council on Tribunals. Indeed, I take it seriously enough.
Immediately Lord Tenby wrote his letter in the Daily Telegraph, I wrote to him saying that I should like to hear very much what he thought I should have done, and asking whether I could see him, and whether we could arrange a meeting and have a discussion of the Packington case and the issues arising out of it. I rather suspect that that discussion will take place in an atmosphere of somewhat greater impartiality than we have had in the last three hours. I say that because it is ridiculous to say that there is any question of our not taking the Council's criticism seriously.
I have reflected on it, and studied it ever since. In what I have to say I shall obviously be partly agreeing with it and partly disagreeing with it, but, above all, I shall be saying, and repeating, that I think that the question of the semi-judicial status of the Minister is one of the most difficult that he has to face. Any Minister will tell one that he will sometimes be right and sometimes wrong. Having listened to a collection of lawyers, as we have done this afternoon—my hon. Friend and I have been the only non-lawyers who have spoken—discussing and arguing the rights and wrongs here, I feel grateful that I am instructed to do my job alone, with nobody to advise me. This is the position that any Minister has to adopt.
I cannot give way. I have been given very much less time to reply than I had expected. The right hon. and learned Gentleman took five minutes of the time that he had promised me. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, I shall not be able to give a full account of the case.
But the right hon. Gentleman insisted on speaking last, and he must at least give way. He said that I had misrepresented him in saying that he did not accept the recommendations of the Council. I would remind him that just after the passage to which he referred the report says on page 405:
But I am very clear in my own mind, after taking into consideration what the Council said, that the decision that I took was the right one.
He was completely impenitent.
This is what the Council has never rejected. It has never said that the decision was not right. It has argued that there are certain points, to which we shall come, about whether objectors had been given their full rights or not. This is the only issue between me and the Council.
The second issue—this is one about which I feel distressed—was the Council's sense that I had committed an act of discourtesy in taking a decision two days before my officials were due to meet it. I should like to start with that, because that is one of the things that I took most seriously when I heard about it. I should intensely dislike to feel that I had been discourteous to the Council. I reflected—with hindsight I can see—that it was bound to think that I had been intentionally discourteous in doing this. All I can say is that it was not intentional. Decision letters go out. I had already signed the letter about a week before, and it came out two days before that meeting. What is true—I emphasise this—is that it was a deliberate action. I will explain to the House why this action was taken by me in this case.
I wonder whether the Council realises that, while it certainly put me in a position where I seemed deliberately discourteous, it by its own action put the Minister in an extremely difficult position. It is one thing when the Council on Tribunals comments on procedure adopted when a decision has already been taken in a case. This process enables the responsible Minister to have the benefit of the Council's advice and to consider with it whether the system needs improvement, and how. No one can say that this post-decision examination of cases—this post-mortem on dead cases—is valueless. For example, the post-mortem on the Chalk Pit affair, which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have cause to remember, led to a tightening up of the rules governing the taking of fresh technical evidence after a local inquiry. That is the normal way in which the Council can be most helpful to us.
It is quite another thing for a Minister to be faced with a complaint which the Council on Tribunals is taking cognisance of while he is still considering his decision on the case. This is a very different position for the Minister. I do not say that it does not often happen. Much depends on the nature of the complaint. If it concerns a trivial matter, it can probably be disposed of one way or the other without much difficulty. If, on the other hand, it is a matter of some gravity—if, for example, the Council were to draw my attention to some clear error of procedure, or some blatant injustice—I would, of course—any Minister would—take steps that were reasonable or practicable to put matters right.
In this case, the Minister had neither something trivial, nor something blatant. The Council on Tribunals did not tell me in precise language what I should have done, but said, " We were worried that the objectors did not have a fair hearing". The Council did not suggest a way, but left it to me to think out some way in which the objectors could put their case. I shall later come to the point of what way, because everyone has to reflect on whether this could have been done in fact without a second inquiry. I will foreshorten the argument by saying that on my considered view it is quite unrealistic in this case to imagine that I could possibly have had either private conversations with some of the objectors or a semi-public discussion, because whatever I had done I would have unloosed a process which would have had to have ended in a public inquiry. The choice was between having a second inquiry or not. That is my personal view. I will substantiate it a little later.
The difficulty was that while we were still proceeding the Council on Tribunals took cognisance of the objectors and began to take a keen interest and to question my officials. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) pointed out, if this were to happen often, if it were the regular thing for a kind of interim injunction to be applied to a Minister by the Council, all any objector would have to do would be to put his case to the Council and the Minister would automatically be banned from proceeding with the case. That would be very serious, and I am sure that nobody wants that. In this case, the objection had started weeks before and if I had done what was asked of me, I should have had to have suspended the case pending clearing it with the Council.
However, on reflection it is quite clear to me that issuing the judgment as we did two days before the Council was meeting my officials was something which could be interpreted as discourteous. I regret that it happened and it certainly will not happen again in that form as long as I am Minister. It was discourteous and we should not have done it. When Ministers make mistakes, they ought to say so. I admit the discourtesy, but a difficult issue was raised in which the course of a Minister's decision would have been held up because the Council was examining a case.
I now turn to the second charge which is levelled by the Council and which concerns the drafting of the vital sentences in the decision letter. Perhaps I can let out a secret of Ministries. I do not disguise the fact that this part of the letter was written in my own fair hand and I bear full and total and personal responsibility for those sentences which I believe one could almost recognise to be mine by the fact that it was not a lawyer but a layman who wrote them—they were so intelligent, they were so intelligible, they were so sensible. They were blatantly those of someone trying to be, using the Council's own words, fair and impartial and above board.
What they did was to spell out precisely what was in my mind, to say that this was not a simple issue and that Islington Council, which saw nothing but the redevelopment of council houses, must not lose sight of what rehabilitation could make of Canonbury. Equally, the developers, the property companies and the residents said that they wanted Packington to be like Chelsea or Canon-bury, which must mean de facto that not one single person among the residents could live there, because the rents would be raised.
An important social issue is thus raised in Islington. The social issue is simple. In Islington there are thousands of people on the housing list and there is very little room for houses. The council's job is to build houses for those on the housing list, and every time a part of Islington is turned into Canonbury, the area on which to build for those on the housing list is reduced. That is the real issue. It has not been thought about outside of the House, as here, by lawyers. It has been thought about by people who care passionately, by the preservationists and the amenity groups, on the one side, who want to save these Victorian houses at any cost and to transform them—and that can be done, for there is no slum which cannot be made beautiful if enough money is spent—and on the other side is Islington Council which, rather late in the day, has been converted—and I am glad to know of any such newly converted council—to the need for building council houses.
The issue was sharp. Nobody would deny that rehabilitation would have meant that 100 fewer housing units could be built, and, as that means accommodation for 400 or 500 people, that means that one-third more people could be housed by the council's scheme than could be housed by rehabilitation. With more housing by redevelopment, more people on the council's housing list are housed, and not those who would be able to buy when the houses had been improved by the property developers.
That was the issue which I tried to express when I wrote these words into the letter:
Any scheme which is to be acceptable must produce an environment which would justify the loss of the existing buildings.
That was to say that the council should redevelop, but must not be ruthless about it, must not put into the area the iron
edifices of industrialised building, but must build so that the environment of the area could be a proper mixture between redevelopment and rehabilitation and not be hopelessly one sided.
I added on the other side:
The Minister would want to be satisfied that this result would be obtained before he would feel able to decide in favour of redevelopment against rehabilitation.
Those are the key sentences which the Council on Tribunals selected to describe as badly drafted.
With hindsight, I now understand what the Council meant. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames knows the problems of Ministers. Of course, it is true that if I had simply taken the inspector's report in favour of redevelopment and had signed on the dotted line and had told Islington to go ahead, no one could have challenged me. There would have been no debate today if I had been completely one sided and safely black and white and if I had not tried to indicate that this was a genuinely finely balanced judgment. I would not have had any problem and the Council on Tribunals, which asks me to be fair and impartial and open, would not have accused me of failing to be those things if I had just closed my mind and suppressed by own doubts and had simply told the objectors that Islington Council was to go ahead and not told Islington Council that it would have to be careful.
Perhaps this is something about writing letters which I shall have to consider. Why did I write the letter in that way? I did so because I did not want to give Islington Council a blank cheque. I was not sure that it would undertake the redevelopment as well as it could unless I took special precautions to make it do a good job. Instead of doing what I normally would have done, which would have been to say, "You can have the planning permission as outline permission and we will look at the detail later", which would have given the council the go-ahead, I said, "I shall be even more careful and refuse Islington Council this plan on the ground that I do not have good evidence that it will undertake the redevelopment well enough."
I decided to let the council draw up a new plan as fast as it could, and to be absolutely above board and overtly to write into the letter that I should be having private conversations with the G.L.C. and with the Islington Council, mentioning nobody else and making it clear that I did not think that we wanted another inquiry but that we wanted a decision and that once we could get what we wanted out of the council to make sure that it had considered the problems of redevelopment and the issues which my architects had listed, we could consult about the plan which it would put up to me, so that after six years—and this matter has been going on for six years—we could go ahead.
This was all spelled out absolutely clearly in the letter. If it had not been spelled out in the letter, I would not have been hauled over the coals by the Council on Tribunals. If I had written the routine letter, which conceals the difficulties and which makes the issue black and white, there would have been no danger. One has to be careful when thinking about being helpful and impartial, and I may learn my lesson and not get into trouble again, because it is easy not to get into trouble by making the issues black and white. I honestly faced the difficulties and tried to do something rather difficult, which was to refuse Islington Council on its first application in order to get a better plan.
What happened after that? Exactly what I said would happen. The council had the plans rejected and I said we would have consultations and we did. We only had one meeting with the G.L.C. Some complication occurred here because the dispute started between old Islington and the old L.C.C. By the time the planning inquiry took place, old Islington existed parallel with new Islington and the L.C.C. still existed parallel with the G.L.C. There was a new Minister, not parallel with the old one. Everything had shifted by half and by the end of the process we had a new Islington, the planning authority meeting a new G.L.C. of different powers with a new Minister.
If there is a certain amount of fluffiness I do not deny that some of it is due to the shifting of the authorities. I was dealing with different people representing different things at different stages. I was now dealing with an Islington which had its own planning powers by which to enforce its own decisions if it wanted.
The G.L.C., when approached, said that we did not need to talk because it did not now object. When the first inquiry took place a remarkable document was produced, and I wish that more Members would read the Inspector's report. It is a very good document and contains everything which one wants to know. In the first inquiry the fact that the L.C.C. was against the council was important. I had to take cognisance of the fact that the L.C.C. planning authority was against redevelopment. When it was reconsidered the G.L.C. said that it was not against redevelopment in any way and it waived its objections.
What was the second thing I had to do? I had listed a number of things which had to be done to the plan to make it worthy to take the place of rehabilitation. I will not go through them all because there is a long list. I had to make sure that this was carried out. My officials went down and talked to the authority. Up till now we had not seen any plans or models so I had them brought into my office. We had our architects in and we made absolutely sure that all that we would require in Islington would be incorporated in the new plans when they were put up to us. There was a wonderful moment in the discussion when I was being challenged from the Opposition benches. Was this second plan a new plan or an old plan? It was new and it was old. It was the old plan revised precisely in the way I asked for it to be revised Every single point I had made was carefully covered. The reason I rejected the application at the beginning was to make the authority produce a plan which had everything covered. That is how we got it.
Perhaps I have dealt sufficiently with the quotation, but here I disagree with the Council. Maybe it is author's pride, but I think that sentence is surprisingly clear and frank, open and impartial, and that is why it shocked the authorities so much, because it is unusual to see sentences of that sort in letters of this kind. I turn now to the substantial question of the right of the objectors. We had had a six-day inquiry in which thousands of words were spoken and which produced a report of some 25,000 words. The inquiry had been conducted extremely well. The case for rehabilitation was put by the insurance company and by the residents in an extremely able fashion. I have no doubt that they know much more about rehabilitation than Islington Borough Council. The case was powerfully put and there were no further facts for me to learn. They had all been established in the first inquiry.
The facts were out. The second question was, if the facts are out, is there a right for the objectors to have a second round of protest and delay? Let us be honest about this—it is delay. I had to decide this. Nobody said that I had to give it to the objectors, everybody said it was within my discretion to give it to them. Now nobody says that I ought to have held an inquiry.
I return to the point, if there is to be no inquiry, what do I do? If I choose the main objectors and exclude others I should be violating every kind of principle. I cannot pick and choose. If I have any objectors then the borough council must be allowed to come in and give its case, and before one knows it, one has an inquiry. This is the central point. I have been thinking about this ever since. How could I have done what the Council asked?
Directly I saw Lord Tenby's letter I wrote to him and said that I wanted to hear from him, because it would be valuable for everyone if he could find a way of letting objectors have their say in a second inquiry without causing the appalling protractedness of the full inquiry process. I said that if he could find a way of enabling me to do this without violating all the rules, which are very narrow for a Minister, who cannot go on seeing everyone, I would certainly consider it.
The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber for long, but I am grateful because he has raised the point which a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have also raised. It is my view that many local authorities would have put up a model of this thing in their town hall so that everyone could see it. I was angry when I saw that the town clerk had told the Council on Tribunals that he had no right to do it. He certainly was not told that by us. Old traditions die hard and this is, perhaps, part of a very old tradition which I hope the new Islington will get out of—secretiveness. Let us be candid. It is something it should have done, but this is not what the Council on Tribunals was talking to the Minister about. The Minister's job is to consider how, and I was not told precisely how, I could enable people to make recommendations and objections.
If I could just finish a sentence before I am interrupted.
One can certainly put up a model in the town hall, but the next question is what does one do when somebody says that they do not like it? How many people have to say that they do not like it before one suggests another inquiry? Generally, this is a sensible practice and I welcome councils doing it. In the case of Lavender Hill, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), the council took elaborate precautions to make objectors aware of what was going on. I do not think that that is what the Council on Tribunals was telling the Minister.
Is it not a fact that there was sent to his Department on 21st September the correspondence between the objectors and the town clerk at Islington on 16th and 17th September? In this correspondence a specific request was made to allow the objectors to be aware of what the proposals were. These were sent to his Department two months before the Minister took his decision. His Department is aware of this, but his Department, and himself, did not allow the objectors to be informed of the proposals, although they knew of the request.
It is completely untrue that we did not allow objectors to be aware of anything. What is true is that we made it clear [Interruption.] I do not conceal things from the House, unlike some hon. Members. We have made it clear that in the new and second planning permission we would have consultations. with the G.L.C. and others and we have not offered anyone else access. We had thought that there could be no inquiry. I have been spelling this out. We did not see how we could let the objectors come in and start arguing this without setting up a formal inquiry.
This is the issue which I hope to discuss with the Council on Tribunals. I want to discuss with it how it thinks that this; can be worked out. I want to get this for a very special reason. It is because I sympathise with the objectors, on the ground that third parties sometimes genuinely represent the general public. If all appeals are just between the applicants, the council and the developers, the general public is sometimes squeezed out.
I am very much aware of that. Not all third parties are like that, but there are some. I agree with the Council that these cases should be considered. We want to try to improve our procedures. All I would say as Minister is that no one has yet found a practical way of doing so. The Council is not able to tell me how I could do it. It is a bit harsh to be told that I have given the appearance of being unfair and non-impartial when all I have done is to carry out the procedure as best I can. Nobody has shown how, in fact and in practice, it could be done any better than I did it.
These were the three points made. First, the question whether we should have published our decision letter two days before meeting the Council. I say that we should not have done. It was discourteous, and I should not allow it to happen again. Secondly, should I have written the piece in the letter. It was perhaps a little reckless and a little foolhardy of me as a layman to write something as frank and honest as that, but I feel rather hurt that I have been accused of lack of honesty in having done it. Thirdly, should we have allowed the objectors some unspecified way of objecting without an inquiry? The answer is, "Yes, if I knew one," but we did not know one and I do not think, since nobody else has discovered one, we can be blamed too much for not knowing one.
In conclusion, I repeat what I said in my statement. When all is said and done, it was 1960 when this land first came on the market. It is now 1966, and still no stone has been laid—after six years. There must be a limit to the amount of time which we spend in these matters. I have listened to the debate for three hours and I am amazed that there has been virtually no reference by hon. Members opposite to the social issue involved. We were concerned with the issue of how to get houses and homes built in London. Whatever one thinks of Islington Council, that is what it cares about. That is what made it mad and feel frustrated by the other side.
A Minister has not to be a preservationist on the one side or a council house builder on the other. In so far as he does this semi-judicial job, this is the part of it which he takes out of party considerations. I resent the fact that no fewer than three hon. and learned Members opposite implied that my decisions should be taken as expressing a general dictatorial view in the Labour Party.
If this procedure is to work at all, the Minister's decisions must be removed from party matters. He must try to do his job. He lives in a very difficult world, surrounded by lawyers and a vast mythology of planning procedures. He has to be fair. Certainly I have tried to be fair. I am a preservationist. I am emotionally on the side of people trying to preserve if they can. But I know that I have to get the houses built as well. My bias is in favour of inquiry. I have a passionate belief in inquiry and discussion. But there comes a time when the inquiry must be brought to an end and a decision taken.
The real lesson of Packington is that the planning inquiries took far too long. The procedures stretching over a period of six years were unbearably protracted. I want to ensure with the Council on Tribunals that the rights of third parties and of the general public are maintained. But there comes a point when the Minister has to balance the advantage of affording them a little more discussion and opportunity for protest with getting on with the job.
I had no doubt in this case that when I obtained from the council the assurances for carrying out everything I ask, the time had come, at long last, when we had a workable plan for redevelopment and to say, "Let us go ahead with it". That is the reply which I would make to this Motion of censure.
I should like to make one or two comments on what the Minister has said. I wish to begin by apologising to him for not being present throughout the debate since I have been engaged on other business in the House. I was present, however, when he made his original statement to the House and I think I have listened to practically every word he has said this evening. There is one point which seems to be of great importance which I should like to raise before the debate concludes.
The Minister has tried to lay the blame on the Islington council for not—
In answer to my intervention, the Minister said, quite rightly, that the council was at fault in not allowing the plans to be shown to the objectors and that in its letter of 17th September, 1965, which is quoted by the Council on Tribunals, it was incorrect in saying that because these fresh plans were under consideration by the Minister it was improper for them to be shown to the objectors. But the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has pointed out that the Council on Tribunals forwarded copies of this correspondence to the Ministry as early as 21st September, 1965, whereas the Minister's decision on the second application was not notified until 23rd November, 1965. Therefore, he had plenty of opportunity to notify the Islington Borough Council that it should at least make available the plans so that
While I think no one could disagree with the Minister when he says that this has been a very long drawn out matter and that it should be brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible moment, there is no excuse whatsoever for the Minister, first, to say that the initial plans did not satisfy him in respect of a number of criteria, which he said were much too long to read out to the House, and then that the objectors were not—[Interruption.] No; that is what the right hon. Gentleman says.
I agree that there were too many things in this list which he objected to in the first scheme for it to be possible in a short debate to read them to the House. That is all the more reason why the right hon. Gentleman should have given objectors an opportunity to see whether these criteria were satisfied.
I think that the Minister has given a very unsatisfactory explanation of his conduct. I hope that some hon. Members opposite who believe in freedom and who believe, as I believe, that planning procedures have to be made acceptable to the public—I do not think that everything done by local authorities should be done under cover of secrecy; everything should be open to the public so that they can make their views known—will come into the Lobby with me tonight.
|Division No. 38.]||AYES||[6.59 p.m.|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Berry, Hn. Anthony||Bryan, Paul|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Bessell, Peter||Buchanan-Smith, Alick|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Biffen, John||Buck, Antony|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Biggs-Davison, John||Bullus, Sir Eric|
|Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.||Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Burden, F. A.|
|Astor, John||Black, Sir Cyril||Buxton, Ronald|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Blaker, Peter||Campbell, Gordon|
|Awdry, Daniel||Bossom, Sir Clive||Carlisle, Mark|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Box, Donald||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Balniel, Lord||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Cary, Sir Robert|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Channon, H. P. G.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Braine, Bernard||Chataway, Christopher|
|Batsford, Brian||Brewis, John||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tuffon||Brinton, Sir Tatton||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)|
|Bell, Ronald||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Cooke, Robert|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Cooper, A. E.|
|Cooper-Key Sir Neill||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|cordle, John||Hooson, H. E.||Peel, John|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hopkins, Alan||Percival, Ian|
|Costain, A. P.||Hordern, Peter||Peyton, John|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hornby, Richard||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Crawley, Aidan||Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Crosthwaite Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Prior, J, M. L.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Iremonger, T. L.||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Dance, James||Jennings, J. C.||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Johnson Smith, G. (East Grinstead)||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Dean, Paul||Jopling, Michael||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Doughty, Charles||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Roots, William|
|Drayson, G. B.||Kershaw, Anthony||Royle, Anthony|
|du Cann, Rt-Hn, Edward||Kilfedder, James A.||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Eden, Sir John||Kimball, Marcus||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Kirk, Peter||Shepherd, William|
|Emery, Peter||Kitson, Timothy||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Lagden, Godfrey||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lambton, Viscount||Smith, John|
|Farr, John||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John|
|Fisher, Nigel||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Speir, Sir Rupert|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir John (S'pton)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stainton, Keith|
|Forrest, George||Litchfield, Capt. John||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Foster, Sir John||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Stodart, Anthony|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Longden, Gilbert||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.||Loveys, W. H.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Gammans, Lady||Lubbock, Eric||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Gardner, Edward||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Talbot, John E.|
|Gibson-Watt, David||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Teeling, Sir William|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Temple, John M.|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||McMaster, Stanley||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Glyn, Sir Richard||McNair-Wilson, Patrick||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Maddan, Martin||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Maginnis, John E.||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maitland, Sir John||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Gower, Raymond||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Grant, Anthony||Marten, Neil||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Mathew, Robert||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Maude, Angus||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Grieve, Percy||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Mawby, Ray||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn, Sir John|
|Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Gurden, Harold||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Wall, Patrick|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Walters, Dennis|
|Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Miscampbell, Norman||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Mitchell, David||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Monro, Hector||Webster, David|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||More, Jasper||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Whitelaw, William|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Murton, Oscar||Wise, A. R.|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Neave, Airey||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Hastings, Stephen||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Hawkins, Paul||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Hay, John||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Wylie, N. R.|
|Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Onslow, Cranley||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Hendry, Forbes||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Younger, Hn. George|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Hiley, Joseph||Osborn, John (Hallam)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Mr. Martin McLaren|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||and Mr. Francis Pym.|
|Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Abse, Leo||Freeson, Reginald||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield. E.)|
|Albu, Austen||Galpern, Sir Myer||Manuel, Archie|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Carrett, W. E.||Mapp, Charles|
|Alldritt, Walter||Garrow, Alex||Marsh, Richard|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Ginsburg, David||Mason, Roy|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gourlay, Harry||Maxwell, Robert|
|Atkinson, Norman||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Gregory, Arnold||Mellish, Robert|
|Bagier, Cordon A. T.||Grey, Charles||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Barnett, Joel||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Baxter, William||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Millan, Bruce|
|Beaney, Alan||Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Milne, Edward (Blyth)|
|Bence, Cyril||Hale, Leslie||Molloy, William|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Monslow, Walter|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Binns, John||Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hannan, William||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Blackburn, F.||Harper, Joseph||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Sheffield Pk)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Murray, Albert|
|Boardman, H.||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Neal, Harold|
|Boston, Terence||Hattersley, Roy||Newens, Stan|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Hazell, Bert||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics. S. W.)||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby. S.)|
|Boyden, James||Heifer, Eric S.||Oakes, Gordon|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Ogden, Eric|
|Bradley, Tom||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||O'Malley, Brian|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Holman, Percy||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Horner, John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Orme, Stanley|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Owen, Will|
|Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Padley, Walter|
|Buchanan, Richard||Howie, W.||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Paget, R. T.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Parker, John|
|Chapman, Donald||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Coleman, Donald||Jackson, Colin||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Janner, Sir Barnett||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pentland, Norman|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Jeger, George (Goole)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Cronin, John||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Probert, Arthur|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Dalyell, Tam||Jones, T. W. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Randall, Harry|
|Darling, George||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Rankin, John|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Redhead, Edward|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kelley, Richard||Rees, Merlyn|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kenyon, Clifford||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Richard, Ivor|
|Delargy, Hugh||Leadbitter, Ted||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Dempsey, James||Ledger, Ron||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Doig, Peter||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Driberg, Tom||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Duffy, Dr. A. E. P.||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Dunn, James A.||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lipton, Marcus||Rowland, Christopher|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lomas, Kenneth||Sheldon, Robert|
|Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Loughlin, Charles||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|English, Michael||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Ennals, David||McBride, Neil||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Ensor, David||McCann, J.||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||MacColl, James||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||MacDermot, Niall||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Fernyhough, E.||McGuire, Michael||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Mclnnes, James||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Small, William|
|Fletcher, Raymond (likeston)||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Snow, Julian|
|Floud, Bernard||McLeavy, Frank||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||McNamara, Kevin||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Ford, Ben||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Stonehouse, John|
|Stones, William||Varley, Eric G.||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)||Wainwright, Edwin||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Swain, Thomas||Wallace, George||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Swingler, Stephen||Warbey, William||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Symonds, J. B.||Watkins, Tudor||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Taverne, Dick||Weitzman, David||Woof, Robet|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Wellbeloved, James||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||White, Mrs. Eirene||Zilliacus, K.|
|Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Whitlock, William|
|Tomney, Frank||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Tuck, Raphael||Wilkins, W. A.||Mr. Sydney Irving|
|Urwin, T. W.||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick||and Mr. George Lawson.|