|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Although the wording and tidiness of new clause 5 are better than what is in the Bill, if the Bill had not been rushed through Committee, we might have improved it to the extent that new clause 5 would have been unnecessary. Having said that, it obviously makes a great deal of sense to remove Crown immunity from the Forestry Commission.
I am still slightly concerned that local authorities' role in making tree preservation orders on commission land will be quite impossible, but perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure me on that. Of course, similar provisions apply in Scotland.
On the whole, the commission manages its land pretty responsibly. When I have been involved in woodland grant schemes, among other things, on my own land, those have been administered properly. I would not normally see a need for tree preservation orders in those circumstances. How many orders have ever been placed on commission land? I imagine that there have been very few.
I am delighted to see amendments Nos. 1 and 2 because, as the Minister points out, Opposition Members made a strong case for them. I made a strong case from my experience: having worked for the Property Services Agency and having been subject to the Official Secrets Act, I can see no reason why properly qualified surveyors should not be able to make just as good a case as a legal advocate in cases involving national security. Can the Minister say a little more about how this panel of qualified and suitable people will work? Will they, for instance, have to have signed the Official Secrets Act? That would seem to me to be a fairly good prerequisite. Clearly, in planning matters, it is important that there are no leaks of plans and so on. I therefore welcome amendments Nos. 6 and 7, which, as the Minister says, stop confidential plans being leaked inadvertently into the public domain. I also welcome the similar provisions in Scotland.
On provisions in Scotland, can the Minister say a little about amendments Nos. 66 and 67? I understand that the Crown cannot be liable for criminal prosecutions in Scotland, but he said that an order may be sought that something done by or on behalf of the Crown was unlawful, and that a certificate can be obtained in those circumstances. If such a certificate were obtained, what sanctions would exist against that person acting on behalf of the Crown?
I welcome amendments Nos. 70 and 71. Clearly, any simplification of the Bill must be desirable, so one statutory instrument to deal with two clauses rather than two separate statutory instruments must be good. Again, the tidying-up amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which remove the superfluous word "means", are clearly sensible.
With the exception of the national security amendments dealing with persons who can appear at planning inquiries, and the new clause on tree preservation orders, the amendments are largely of a technical and drafting nature. The Opposition welcome the new clauses and amendments in this group, and we will not seek to oppose the Government on this occasion.
Matthew Green: We, too, welcome both the new clauses and the amendments, particularly amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, are in response to a point that several members of the Committee raised. I am glad that the Government have listened to that and that they have made it clear that it is not just legally qualified people who can be positively vettedthat is the simplest way of putting it. That is a
Keith Hill: I am grateful to both hon. Gentlemen for their support on behalf of their parties for the amendments, which I am pleased to acknowledge that they played an extremely helpful part in securing.
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked two rather precise questions. He asked how many tree preservation orders had been placed on the Forestry Commission. I must confess that I do not have that information at my fingertips, but of course I shall undertake to write to him on that. In connection with amendments Nos. 66 and 67, which concern an application by a planning authority in Scotland to the Court of Session, declaring an act or omission of the Crown to be unlawful, he asked what sanctions were available in those circumstances. There are no extra sanctions, but the provisions give the local authority leverage in getting the Crown to comply, which is their purpose.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the proposed panel. Of course, matters in general relating to the panel are for the Attorney-General, but he asked specifically whether members of the proposed panel will have had to sign the Official Secrets Act, to which the answer is yes.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked for reassurance about the rights of local authorities to make tree preservation orders. Let me say, as I said earlier, that local planning authorities will in effect be free to make tree preservation orders wherever they believe that it is in the interests of amenity to do so, on both Crown land and private land. With those assurances, I hope that he will be content with the proposals.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister will know that in discussions in Committee, the Crown takes many different guises. Sometimes it is land in the name of Her Majesty as well as land in the name of the Crown. Of course, the Crown immunity provisions discussed in Committee by and large treat both categories the same. Can I assume from what he has just said that the provisions in relation to tree preservation orders will treat both categories of land in the same way?
Keith Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. I think that our general expectation is that the answer is yes, but we will have to look at the matter in more detailas he is only too well aware, I do not support the theory of ministerial omniscience. I think that he almost answered his own question in that regardwe will check it out, I think that he is right, but I will write to him on that subject, too.
"162 Tree preservation: Forestry Commissioners
(1) A tree preservation order does not have effect in respect of anything done
(a) by or on behalf of the Forestry Commissioners on land placed at their disposal in pursuance of the Forestry Act 1967 or otherwise under their management or supervision:
(b) by or on behalf of any other person in accordance with a plan of operations or other working plan approved by the Forestry Commissioners under a forestry dedication agreement (within the meaning of section 5 of that Act) which is for the time being in force or under conditions of a grant or loan made under section 1 of the Forestry Act 1979.
(2) A reference to a provision of the Forestry Act 1967 or the Forestry Act 1979 includes a reference to a corresponding provision replaced by that provision or any earlier corresponding provision.".'.[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
'. After section 57 of the principal Act (planning permission required for development) there is inserted the following section
"57A Planning permission for subdivision of agricultural holdings for purposes of sale
(1) Planning permission is required for
(a) the subdivision of an agricultural holding for the purpose of sale; and
(b) the sale of an agricultural holding which has been subdivided since the appointed date other than for the purpose of sale.
(2) In this section
(a) 'subdivision' means land divided into one or more units of less than one hectare, and 'subdivided' shall be interpreted accordingly;
(b) 'agricultural holding' has the same meaning as in the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986; and
(c) 'the appointed date' means 1st July 1993.".'.[Mr. Andrew Turner.]
'After section 219 (Execution and cost of works required by a 215 notice) of the principal Act there is inserted the following section
"Failure to comply with notice to ensure proper maintenance of Green Belt land
(1) This section applies when a notice has been served under section 215 in respect of land which is designated as Green Belt land.
Mr. Turner: Members who attended the proceedings of the Committee will be familiar with my argument on this new clause, so I will not detain the House indefinitely on the subject. I want to start, however, by quoting what the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), said at the end of the debate on what was then new clause 2 in Standing Committee A. I am glad to see her in her place, albeit with a cold, on which I sympathise with her. She undertook in Committee to write to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) on this clause but not more rapidly than on the subject of car boot sales, and I understand that she has written to him on the subject of car boot sales. She went on to say:
Agricultural land is a valuable asset, especially when it ceases to be agricultural. Many people find many ways of using agricultural land by avoiding the planning regulations and, in many cases, the planning process. Although ways have been found to address that, they have not been effective. Indeed, they have been slow and ponderous and have not given confidence to local people that the problem in their backyard or adjoining fieldor, in my constituency, at a number of sites that have been widely advertisedwill be remedied. I look forward to a remedy that will work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere has previously brought the problem to the attention of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) has tabled a new clause that relates to greenfield land in particular. However, the mischief to which I refer takes place not only on greenfield land and areas of outstanding natural beauty, but in other parts of the country. One particular example in my constituency is Alverstone, where 10 acres of the east Yar flood plain have been split into 27 plots, ranging in size from 0.15 acres to 0.73 acres, and
In Committee, I said that Gladwish Land Sales advertised a wide range of sites around the country. People are persuaded to buy them, perhaps because they think that they will obtain some development value in the long term or because they want to situate a caravan there, perhaps to use for holidays. The problem is that planning applications seldom precede such subdivision of agricultural land. A summary of land available, which was taken off the internet in May 2001I have no reason to believe that any less a quantity of land is available todaydescribes the availability of half a dozen plots in Ashmansworthy in Devon; two in Ashwater; one in Barnhurst, near Bexleyheath, which has been sold; 14 in Bellingdon; two in Bethersden in Kent; and several others in Lamberton wood near Bethersden. I could continue through the alphabet.
We have heard about the methods used to address this problem, but they are not working. The Minister made it clear that the amendment that I had tabled would not deal with the problem satisfactorily, but she did not table an amendment that would. I hope that she will give us some comfort on that point tonight, because the practice is spoiling rural areas. Agricultural land is being abused for financial gain. I have no objection to financial gain, but in this case it is being achieved by avoiding the relevant regulations.