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No. 80, in page 53, line 29, leave out from 'authority' to 'development' in line 36 and insert
'in exercising their functions on or after the first appointed day, and in particular in deciding whether development land acquired by them should be developed by them or made available for'.—[Mr. John Silkin.]
In this amendment we have our old friend "have regard to" We had a long discussion in Committee about these words and their legal implication. I explained in Committee that the phrases "shall have regard to" and "take into account" are used extensively in statutes and both have exactly the same meaning. However, I accede to some of the criticisms which the Opposition made in Committee that we should be consistent with the phrase that we use. It is desirable for the sake of uniformity—in case there is any misunderstanding on the point—that the same phrase should appear through these related provisions. The opportunity is, therefore, being taken to amend Schedule 3 accordingly.
No. 121 in Schedule 5, page 70, line 12, at end insert—
'(dd) arrangements for the management of land held by any authority pending development with particular regard to the need to encourage the full and proper agricultural use of any farmland acquired by any authority party to the scheme in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture'.
We have made it clear throughout these long proceedings that we do not intend that the land scheme should pose any threat to agriculture. The scheme is not designed—and never was—to affect the rate at which land in agricultural use is taken for development.
We have tried wherever possible to ensure that the protection of good quality agricultural land shall remain a function of the planning system, and that this will continue to be the case long after the land scheme is in operation. This is achieved by saying that all acquisition is justified against a planning background.
I understand that among the farming community there has been an inevitable fear that this might affect them. I hope that we have been able to reassure them a great deal. I will explain the methods that the Government have taken to reassure the farmers. First, we have announced our intention to amend the general development order so as to require consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture where development of a substantial area, that is, an area of over 10 acres, of agricultural land is proposed. Consultations on a voluntary basis have been the normal practice for some time.
The proposed change, which was announced in a Written Answer by the Ministry of Agriculture on 14th May, as those who were members of the Committee will remember, will ensure that consultation takes place on a statutory requirement. The amendment to the General Development Order will be made very shortly.
I undertook in Committee to amend paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 so as to require specifically that the authority should take account of the needs of agriculture and forestry in carrying out its functions of land acquisition under the Bill, and the amendment fulfils that undertaking.
Although I welcome the Government amendment as honouring the Minister's promise in Committee, the words do not go far enough. That is why I have tabled Amendment No. 352 which includes the term "horticulture". Apparently, "agriculture" includes horticulture but not when it is market gardening.
I stress that the advice of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be sought. Until four or five years ago when applications were made for planning permission which involved agricultural land it was a requirement that the advice of the regional agricultural advisory officers should be taken, and that advice was taken into account by planning sub-committees. That provision has been discontinued and usually the Ministry of Agriculture does not now express views on planning applications involving agricultural land. That is not good enough.
I am about to give up farming because I have lost so much money in the last two or three years, but I am giving it up at the wrong time. Within the next two or three years the country will face a food shortage and every acre will have to be put to proper use. The advice of the regional agricultural advisory officers should be taken fully into account before good agricultural land is taken for building purposes. Often the most attractive building land is land of the highest quality. I can think of 100 acres of land near the central market town in my constituency which could be built on tomorrow with no detriment to agriculture as it is heavy clay land of poor quality.
At least if the Ministry were to be consulted there would be somebody to protect the interests of the agricultural community and, indeed, of the country. I am convinced that in two or three years time all land will have to be cultivated and people will be queuing up for allotments. I should prefer the Minister to write into the Bill that the advice of the Ministry of Agriculture must be sought in all applications for planning permission involving agricultural land.
I, too, welcome the amendment, which gives a modest protection to agriculture and which we sought in Committee. I want to ask about the General Development Order. One is always suspicious when one is told that something is to be done "shortly". May we take it that the measure will be introduced in the next session?
I support what has already been said, for I feel that the amendment is acceptable but goes only part of the way to meet the demands of the agricultural industry, which feels that to have it embedded in Schedule 3 is not enough.
The growing importance of agricultural land will be expressed more and more in the House. In Lancashire there are plans to build on green field sites, much to the detriment of the local farming community. The opposition to the use of such sites is growing. Farmers want to have the importance of agricultural land taken much more into account in planning, especially in new towns.
We shall be faced with a situation in which it is essential for the economy that we should forsake the use of agricultural land and instead take much more advantage of land in the centres of our towns which is lying undeveloped and is quite unsuitable for agricultural use but capable of being developed for industry and housing. Anything that can give prominence to the importance of agriculture to the economy ought to be incorporated into the Bill. The amendment goes some small way towards it but we should be aware that the era, in which both parties have been responsible, of taking agricultural land for urban expansion is coming to an end if we are to feed ourselves and make the best use of our own country.
I want to refer to Amendment No. 86, which relates to other factors which have not yet been raised in the debate. It would not only require consideration to be given to the needs of agriculture and forestry in consultation with the Minister of Agriculture but would require that consideration be given to the economic and social interests of rural areas and to the conservation of the environment.
The Opposition believe that these matters are of equal importance to the other matters set out so far in Schedule 3. The schedule seeks to lay down certain criteria to which the local authorities should have regard when considering the desirability of developing land themselves or having it developed by others. There is no mandatory requirement, no directive, to the local authorities. There is simply a request by Parliament that they should take into account certain factors when considering the desirability of developing land.
The schedule lists a number of them—the needs of people wishing to carry on business or live in a particular locality, the needs of builders and developers, all desirable things which have to be taken into account. But so far the needs of agriculture and forestry are not included to the extent we would like them to be. A major defect of the Bill, even after the planning background improvements, is that little or no consideration is given to the preservation of the environment.
During our consideration of this Bill on Second Reading we had a certain amount of teasing across the Floor of the House about the fate of common land and open spaces. On the interpretation of one of the schedules, it is quite possible for local authorities, in exercising their acquisitive and development powers, to override existing legislation which protects common land and open spaces. We received assurances from the right hon. Gentleman, in his usual urbane and suave manner, that, perish the thought, this was not intended in any way and that we should not be over-concerned about this, no matter what the language might be in the Bill.
Here now is an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman, without imposing any binding obligation upon local authorities, nevertheless to make it clear to them that this is an important factor and that when considering the development of land they must bear in mind the advisability of preserving it for enjoyment and amenity reasons. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not reject our pleas out of hand because many people are worried about the conservation of the environment, and I believe that it behoves the right hon. Gentleman to give some consideration to that depth of feeling and to ensure that a criterion of this kind should be included in the Bill.
I wish to thank my right hon Friend for being persuaded—if I may use that un-emotive word—to the sense of this amendment. I share the view of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) about this. Many of us in the Standing Committee would have wished to see a duty laid upon local authorities to consult the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when it is proposed to develop high quality agricultural land, and to obtain consent before doing so. The creation of such a duty remains one of my ambitions for as long as I am in this House, because I believe that we gobble up high-quality agricultural land at our peril. Once it has got cement, concrete, bricks and mortar on it, it is too late. We jeopardise the food supplies of this country at our peril.
I realise that this is not the occasion on which to debate this issue, but the least my right hon. Friend can do—and I know he will accept these words in the sense in which I mean them—is to take note of the unanimous voice of the Standing Committee about the absolute necessity to write into this Bill a provision placing an obligation on those who want to develop land to take into consideration the needs of agriculture and forestry.
What astonished me when the Bill was published was to find that we take into account the development plans of the area authority, the needs of persons living or carrying on business and the other activities in the area, and the needs of builders, and yet we know that the demand for houses, hospitals, schools and roads is gobbling up good agricultural land at a rate which we cannot afford to sustain. Some Government must be brave enough to put a brake on this and get the priority of food production right.
I believe that the National Farmers' Union and the farming community should be pleased that the Government have been persuaded by the Committee to accept the need to write this obligation into this legislation. There was some argument to the effect that this was not the way in which to do it, and that this requirement should be embodied in the planning law. But we do not operate in ideal circumstances. I hope that the agricultural and horticultural interests will recognise that we have persuaded the Government to lay an obligation on local authorities to pay particular attention to the need to conserve agricultural land.
This has given us, if I may so put it, one foot over the fence. I want the other leg to get over as well, but this is a good start which the industry should welcome.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said that on Second Reading I was urbane. Very well—from urbanity to rurality—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Not bad for this time of night, surely.
I take, first, the point made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). I have it on the best possible authority that he need not worry about the definition of horticulture. Horticulture is included in agriculture by virtue of the planning acts. I can think of no higher authority than the hon. Gentleman himself, for he told me so as we were leaving the Chamber a minute or two ago in time for the last Division. I have checked up, and he is right, of course.
I think that I am just about able also to solve the riddle or enigma of the difference between market gardens and horticulture if I explain to the House—this is practically the sole topic of conversation in Deptford, which I represent—that horticulture includes market gardens but market gardens do not necessarily include horticulture.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) and all other hon. Members who have spoken, from all three parties, stressed in one way or another that we must take account of the basic needs of agriculture and forestry. That is exactly what Government Amendment No. 85 is all about. We undertook to do that in Committee. It seemed that the case was strong and unanimous, and we have kept that undertaking. Before I go on to whether or how one might extend it, perhaps I should get rid of one or two points which were raised en route.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) asked for a time when the GDO will be amended. I intend to steal the splendid words of the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg), which he will now see emblazoned in about a dozen places in the Bill, and say "As soon as practicable". But I can go somewhat further than that. Since none of this can take effect before the first appointed day, I have made inquiries and I am assured, and can therefore undertake to the hon. Gentleman, that work is very far in hand and well before the first appointed day the GDO will have been amended.
I come now to the point of difference, if it really be such, raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey. He wanted Amendment No. 86 to be accepted because, while stressing the needs of agriculture and forestry, it goes a little further and refers to the
economic and social interests of rural areas
and mentions conservation.
There is a slight difficulty here. If we were to say that the economic and social interests of rural areas had to be taken into account, it would equally be proper to add that the economic and social interests of urban areas should be taken into account. I am afraid that one would cancel out the other and the effect would be meaningless, yet that would logically be what one ought to do.
The other point made by the hon. Member for Homsey related to the environment and conservation in relation to planning. He is absolutely right. I could not agree more. But, surely, that is what this whole business is about. Administratively this must be seen against the background of the planning frame-work. The longest-recorded Secretary of State for the Environment is my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). Anybody who tries to argue with him about destroying the environment is in for a bad time indeed. I hope that such an attitude will be the prerogative of all Secretaries of State for the Environment.
When we speak of development in accordance with the planning framework, I hope that we are referring not only to planners and the obvious temptations to seize Grade II agricultural land. If they attempted to take such a step, they would find a rough referee at the back of them. That must be fitted into the planning framework. I am not going back on the fact that there must be a firm Ministry of Agriculture hand in the background and that there must be the sort of consultations of what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight spoke, but I would point out that we already have proper protection. Indeed, we have all the matters which I mentioned earlier, we have Amendment No. 85, and we have the determination to make the planning framework ensure that we do not steal the high quality agricultural land that we need environmentally and also for the protection of our future food supplies. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept Amendment No. 85 and reject the Opposition's proposals.
I beg to move Amendment No. 285, in page 53, line 43, leave out
'parish councils or, in Wales'
'local authorities and parish or'.
The main purpose of paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 is to ensure that the authorities operating the scheme, as they build up a monopoly of development land, have due regard to the needs of those who are engaged in carrying out development. We talked earlier about the needs of agriculture and forestry, but this covers not only builders and those engaged in industry and commerce, but also bodies such as parish councils which could find that they could not obtain land for development if all the suitable land in an area was purchased by the authorities operating the scheme.
As the authorities for the purposes of the scheme will generally be local authorities, it may seem unnecessary to include in this list a reference to the needs and obligations of local authorities. There are, however, circumstances which make it desirable to cover this point. For example, where a district council is operating the scheme in an area it will have, in planning its acquisitions of land for private development, to have regard to the needs of the county council—for example, to obtain land for school sites. Similarly, a county council operating the scheme will need to have regard to the needs of the district councils. More widely, county and district councils around the major conurbations will need to have regard to the needs of the conurbation authorities which may be looking to out-county areas to provide some of the land for their housing programmes. An example of this approach is the arrangement that the Greater London Council already has with the Standing Conference for land to be made available in the Standing Conference area for Greater London Council housing.
I gather that the provision may also be particularly apposite in Wales, where the operation of the scheme is in the hands not of the local authority but of the Land Authority. This point was overlooked in the original drafting of paragraph 1 of the schedule, and I hope that in rectifying this the amendment makes a useful addition to the list of matters to which the authorities must have regard.
I beg to move Amendment No. 88, in page 53, line 46, at end insert—
'(2) In Scotland a general planning authority, in acting as described in sub-paragraph (1) above, shall also have regard to the needs and obligations of district councils within their area.'.
The Government wish general planning authorities, when exercising their functions under the Bill, to have regard to the interests of the district authorities which lie within their areas. These authorities, although they have been excluded from the definition of the Bill because they are not planning authorities, nevertheless have important functions involving acquisition and development of land, perhaps the most important of these being their public sector housing responsibilities. It is, therefore, only
right that these functions should be recognised by the general planning authority.
Will the Minister give us some clarification on what is covered by general planning authority and, more important, on what part of the schedule will apply to Scotland. There are two points of doubt. Clause 1(1)(b) says that "authority"
in relation to Scotland means a local authority or a new town authority.
That seems pretty clear. Clause 1(5) says:
In this Act in relation to Scotland 'local authority' means a regional, general or district planning authority within the meaning of Part IX of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.
I should be grateful if the Minister would make clear to the House and to those who will read the report of our deliberations precisely what is meant by a general planning authority in the context of this schedule and whether these provisions apply also to new towns in Scotland. Will he indicate further whether it is right that all reference to community councils in Scotland should be omitted from the amendment although there is a specific reference to community councils in the provisions relating to Wales. Scotland has such councils, too.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) will readily recognise that in Scotland, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, planning authorities are the regional authorities. As I explained earlier, although the district councils have no planning functions they have important functions to carry out, not least in relation to housing.
As I explained in Committee, we were in some difficulties, because when the White Paper on the Bill was published the regional and district authorities in Scotland were not in being and a form of words had to be used to cover the eventuality of the regional and district authorities coming into being with effect from 16th May 1975.
The point concerning community councils is easily cleared up by explaining that in Wales community councils are statutory bodies with statutory functions among which is the holding of land, whereas community councils in Scotland are not statutory bodies. In Scotland community councils are set up not by the Government but by the district councils and, therefore, they are not statutory bodies, they do not have statutory functions and they will not be required to hold land.
The similarity between community councils in Wales and community councils in Scotland ends at the word "community" because there is no comparison between the functions of a community council in Wales and one in Scotland.
With those words of explanation I hope that I have cleared up the points that the hon. Gentleman raised.
If I may speak with the leave of the House, the Minister has said that there is a difference between Scotland and Wales as regards community councils. The hon. Gentleman is right; there is a substantial difference. But will he reconsider what he has said about statutory bodies? He will be aware that unless the Secretary of State approves the setting up of such bodies they cannot come into being. More importantly, I think he will recall that community councils have the power to own both property and land. That is why I specifically wanted this matter to be raised. If the Minister looks at the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 he will find that community councils have the power to rent, to lease and to own property and land.
Further, if the Minister looks at page 2 of the Bill he will see that there is reference to a local authority in Scotland being a regional, general or district planning authority. That is why I should like him to clarify beyond a shadow of doubt precisely what he means by a general planning authority.
The hon. Gentleman has talked about the problems of changeover and transition and how the districts have certain planning powers. That we accept, as we accept that the regions have certain planning powers, but the hon. Gentleman will note the definition of "local authority" which will be used for the purposes of this measure. That will mean that there may be three kinds of authority in Scotland—namely, regional planning authorities, district planning authorities and general planning authorities. The amendment refers only to general planning authorities, and I am unable to find a definition. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me precisely what he means in this context and in all other contexts by general planning authority. It is obviously different from district and regional authorities. I hope he will also explain how new towns fit into this context.
With the leave of the House, the general planning authority in Scotland is the regional council. That is clearly defined in the 1973 Act.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question whether community councils are entitled to hold land. It could well be that I have misled the hon. Gentleman, and if I have I sincerely apologise. As he says, community councils are entitled to hold land and to hold property, but they are not, as distinct from Welsh community councils, entitled to acquire land. Once the community councils have been set up in Scotland, and even in the process of setting them up, there is no question of the councils acquiring land. It would be the district council which acquired land on behalf of the community council and the community council would only hold the land, but in Wales the community councils act on their own account in acquiring land.
There is a distinct difference between the Welsh community councils, which are statutory bodies and which have the authority to acquire land, and the community councils in Scotland, which are not statutory bodies. Despite what the hon. Gentleman said about the approval of the Secretary of State, which I accept, the Scottish councils are not statutory bodies. They do not have the power to acquire land. It is the district councils that acquire land on behalf of the community councils. A community council might hold land but it is the district council that will acquire land. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that explanation.
New towns are in a different category and I shall consider their position, but, speaking off the cuff, new towns are planning authorities in their own right. New town development corporations are planning authorities in their own right not only as regards land but for many other aspects of policy. If I am wrong about that in the context of the Bill I shall clear up the matter in correspondence.
I beg to move Amendment No. 287, in page 54, line 5, after 'disposing' insert:
'or entering into a binding contract to dispose'.
This is a tidying-up amendment which has the effect of requiring authorities to consider prior right applications before entering into a binding contract to dispose of a material interest in land. As drafted, paragraph 2(2) requires authorities to have regard to any prior right application before disposing of a material interest in land. However, in the case of residential land we expect that local authorities will first enter into building agreements with the developer and will only dispose of the material interests to the freeholders.
A building agreement is not in itself a material interest although it is a binding contract to convey such an interest. In any event in most cases authorities will enter into contracts to dispose of material interests before they dispose of them, and they should consider applications before they enter into any contract to do so. Amendment No. 287 therefore inserts into paragraph (2)(a) reference to entering into a binding contract.
I, too, welcome the amendment but I wonder whether the words used by the Under-Secretary are entirely the same as those used in the amendment. He referred to entering into "any contract", but the words of the amendment are
entering into a binding contract.
Once again we are in the area of uncertainty introduced by the optional or conditional contract. I hope it would be agreed that it would be equally wrong for an authority to enter into a conditional contract or to grant an option without first considering the prior right procedure. In that context I wonder whether we have yet got this matter right.
By leave of the House, I believe that we have got this right. I will look at the point again with regard to conditional contracts. I think we have gone far enough when we say "a binding contract".
These are a series of amendments to the prior right procedure. They have the effect of defining relevant applications as those made to the authority by owners and developers before the authority acquired all outstanding material interests in the land concerned. Second, they bring the schedule into line with the concept of "outstanding" material interests in land, at present in Clause 20(7) but to be transferred to Clause 6 by Amendment No. 270. The amendments also require applications to be made in a prescribed form. These are tidying-up amendments dealing with points raised in Committee.
One amendment to which the Minister did not address his remarks was Amendment No. 341, which refers to Schedule 6. It deletes the whole of paragraph 12 of that schedule dealing with the question of copies of applications for planning permissions and the registration of those documents with the district authority so that they can be available for searches. In trying to find the explanation for the deletion of this paragraph in the useful notes on amendments, I derive no assistance, because there is no note on this amendment, although it is listed on the front of the sheet. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to read into the record the piece of paper which he has before him. That will assist those wanting to know why this paragraph should be deleted from the schedule at this stage.
With the leave of the House, the paragraph in question requires a prior right application made concurrently with an application for planning permission to be copied by the district to the county planning authority. Because prior right applications by both developers and owners must now be made before the authority acquires all outstanding material interests and the reference to an application for planning permission has now been dropped, the provision is now no longer relevant.
The hon. Gentleman has touched on an important point, and I should be grateful for a little further enlightenment.
This is the second bite at this aspect of the Bill, because we discussed it in Committee, but, as I understand it and as the hon. Gentleman has just implied, a previous owner is now required to make his prior right application before completion by the local authority of the acquisition of all outstanding interests. That is not the situation in the Bill without this amendment.
This is a little disturbing. I do not see why the previous owner should be required to make his application before the local authority has completed the acquisition of all outstanding interests. I do not see why his prior rights should be extinguished by that action. I do not see why the previous owner is in any position to know when the local authority is about to complete all outstanding acquisitions or what, within the meaning of this subsection, would constitute all outstanding applications. I hope that it is not the Government's intention to reduce the rights of the previous owner. As drafted, this amendment appears to have that effect.
With the further leave of the House, it is not intended to have the effect that the hon. Gentleman suggests. Paragraph 2(3)(b), as drafted, requires developers to make their prior right applications concurrently with the application for planning permission. At this time, developers would not know whether the land would be acquired by the local authority. On the other hand, the paragraph does not specify any time within which the owners should make applications. Consequently, the authority could be on the point of selling to someone else and, at the last moment, the former owner could make an application which the authority would have a statutory obligation to consider. To avoid this, Amendments Nos. 288, 289, 290 and 291 require the former owner, like the developer, to make his application before the outstanding material interests in the land have been acquired by the authority. That is the real reasoning behind the amendments. It is not intended to put the burden on the former owner in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
With the leave of the House, we are grateful for the hon. Gentleman's explanation. But, as he says, in the Bill as it stands, previously the rights of a former owner were stronger than those of another applicant in that he was not restricted, as a developer was, in regard to the time by which he had to apply. The effect of the amendment is to restrict the rights of the previous owner.
I appreciate that difficulty to which the hon. Gentleman referred, in that the local authority might be about to dispose of the land to someone else, only suddenly to get a late application. But I am sure that the Government do not wish to restrict unduly the prior rights of a previous owner. If he has to make an application before the completion of an event of which he has no knowledge and no ability of obtaining knowledge, I should have thought that his rights were considerably restricted. I wonder whether this point could be considered again to see whether there is any alternative formula more satisfactory to the previous owner. Perhaps it could be considered in another place?
I beg to move Amendment No. 90 in, page 54, line 30 leave out paragraph 3.
The Opposition will be delighted to know that we accept this amendment. In Committee my right hon. Friend explained that this was a sweeping-up power in case anything was omitted. He did not advance any specific use for it. Further consideration of the point has led us to agree with the Opposition that we would lose little, if anything, by dropping the paragraph. Therefore, the Government accept the Opposition's amendment and are grateful to the Opposition for laying it.
I appreciate that both the Opposition and the Government appear in support of this amendment, and we are indeed grateful for that. It seemed that, the procedure for offering the property under the previous paragraphs having been laid down, the whole benefit of that was taken away by throwing a doubt on it in the end because the authority had to take into account some directions from the Secretary of State which might not be known to anybody, even to the person who was about to get the benefit of this procedure. We are very grateful to the Government for giving us the concession for which we asked in Committee.