Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I regret to say that I am much irritated by the noble and learned Lord, because I have to accept his argument, and that is humiliating. I refer in particular to his remark that "all matters" should be considered equally. I accept what he says. I am not prepared to accept everything else his noble friend is prepared to say, but on this occasion I believe that the noble and learned Lord had the better of the argument. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 13 [Welsh Development Agency: land provisions]:

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 221:

Page 138, leave out lines 32 to 34 and insert--
("shall not be used for any other purpose unless--
(i) the land has been acquired compulsorily for that other purpose, or
(ii) the land has been acquired by the Agency from a local authority which could lawfully have used the land for that other purpose without the need for additional statutory procedures or authorisation apart from planning permission, or
(iii) in any other case, the Secretary of State has made an order authorising that other purpose.
(1A) Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 (special provision with respect to compulsory purchase orders under that Act relating to land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment) shall apply to an order under sub-paragraph (1)(iii) as it applies to a compulsory purchase order under that Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 222 and 224. Amendment No. 221 was moved in Committee by my noble friend Lady Anelay. In response, the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General made two objections: first, he believed that the amendment would inhibit the freedom of the landowner to sell for development land which would accord with the needs identified in the adopted local plan. He argued that it would be inappropriate to extend to land sold by agreement the legislation that applies to compulsory purchase. Secondly, he pointed out that my noble friend had not given full reasons why the extension of the law should be applied.

My noble friend is unable to attend the House this evening. I shall therefore put forward why it is believed that the amendment is necessary. I shall attempt also to explain in more detail than was presented in Committee why an extension of the law should be applied in this case. I therefore apologise in advance for taking more time than I would usually take to move the amendment.

9 Jul 1998 : Column 1463

It is a complex matter, and it is important to put the reasons on record so that the Minister may make a considered response.

The fact that my other two amendments are grouped with Amendment No. 221 will mean that my remarks may be lengthier, but overall I hope that by grouping them I will save the time of the House. I am aware that the Minister and several noble Lords have received advance notice of the argument. The Open Spaces Society has very properly circulated in advance of the Report stage a brief to Ministers and other noble Lords, giving details of the legal reasons supporting the amendment.

Schedule 13 paragraph (2) inserts a new Section 21A into the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. The Open Spaces Society informed me that the proposed subsection (2)(b) of the new section will enable the WDA to acquire by agreement, or, with the Secretary of State's authorisation, compulsorily, land that may be given in exchange for land forming part of a common, an open space or a fuel or field garden allotment, but there is nothing in the schedule or the 1975 Act to compel such an exchange.

The WDA will have complete discretion on whether to use this power, except in circumstances which my noble friend detailed in Committee at col. 1361 of Hansard. However, if the land required by the WDA need not be acquired compulsorily but can be purchased by agreement Section 19 of the 1981 Act would not then apply; and paragraph 8 of Schedule 13 would allow the WDA, subject to planning permission, to use or develop common or open space land for other purposes even if the previous owner--whether a private or public authority--could not have done so without other procedures.

Paragraph 8 is intended to carry forward a power given to the Development Board for Rural Wales most of whose functions are to be given to the WDA. But the comparable provision in paragraph 37 of Schedule 3 to the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976 states:

    "Any land to which this Part of the new towns code applies which is or forms part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden".
That schedule, based on new town legislation, would appear to have its origin in the powers exercised by the land authority for Wales. It may also derive from the functions given to the Development Board for Rural Wales under which it was to establish new towns in areas to be designated as such. A new town is a type of comprehensive redevelopment that almost invariably results in a greater amount of public open space within the site of a new town which existed previously. The WDA is not inheriting powers to establish further new towns and the provision such as is now contained in paragraph 8 has never previously been available for unlimited use.

It is proper to question whether this provision should be available to a body which is not subject to direct democratic accountability and control. I argue that no one, least of all me, is attempting to stop landowners, whether private or public, from selling their property by agreement to the WDA even if it wants the land for

9 Jul 1998 : Column 1464

purposes which are not in the adopted local plan--and that plan does not limit the extent of the ultimate planning permission. However, I recognise that others may have an interest in the land. If they are tenants they have such rights as are contained in their leases or tenancies. But let us suppose they have common rights or are members of the public who use the area for quiet recreation. They would have no say except through the representations that they can make on a planning application.

This type of land is often a site of special scientific interest, or a nature reserve. The Countryside Council for Wales should have a strong influence when a planning application is under consideration. But its view may not always prevail upon the planning authority which, given a permission on economic or social grounds, it might believe overrides any other designation. At present anyone who wishes to erect a building or a fence, or to construct any other work on common land must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State under Section 194 of the Law of Property Act 1925. He or she is obliged to consider the interests of the commoners and the benefit of the neighbourhood. He or she may require a public inquiry to consider various points of view.

Paragraph 8 of Schedule 13 to the Bill would enable the WDA to ignore that safeguard but put nothing in its place. If the local authority wishes to appropriate a common in its ownership for other purposes, it must first obtain from the Secretary of State an order authorising that under Section 229 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Such an order is subject to compliance with Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. The proposed new subsection (1)(a) in my amendment is based on that. I hope that the Minister may either accept the amendment or be willing to recommend a more skilfully drafted alternative. I hope that the Government will bring forward an amendment on Third Reading with the same intention.

I turn now to Amendment No. 222. I shall be brief on both this and my remaining Amendment No. 224. In a number of Acts in recent years, bodies which have been given statutory powers have also been required to think positively about conservation. I understand that Section 1(2)(d) and subsections (3)(h) and (i) of the WDA Act 1975 already recognise the importance of the environment generally. But I am advised that they may need strengthening in line with more modern legislation. This amendment is a simplified version of Section 3 of the Water Industry Act 1991. It has been put in Section 1(4) before agriculture for ease of drafting. As my noble friend Lady Anelay explained in Committee, there is no intention at all of implying that agriculture is lower down the list in the order of importance. The priority is not to rush into a change from the present state which is irreversible.

When my noble friend spoke on this amendment in Committee, the Minister seemed to think that it was intended to duplicate those functions of the Countryside Council for Wales and Cadw. My noble friend stated then that she had no intention of abolishing either of those organisations, both of which she recognised as carrying out excellent work. I am glad to have the

9 Jul 1998 : Column 1465

opportunity to add my congratulations to those two bodies on the quality of the work that they do on behalf of us all. I understand of course that the WDA will remain fully subject to environmental and planning law, but the WDA and planning authorities are subject to many pressures and the proposed additional duty is simply there to ensure that the WDA considers carefully its own environmental responsibilities and does not just leave it to others to raise objections.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 224. This amendment was also moved by my noble friend Lady Anelay in Committee. It seeks to make clear that businesses may include a recreational activity. There can be no doubt that that is a legitimate function of a public authority which will be permitted under the amended WDA Act. It will often be a legitimate commercial activity that can also be encouraged, but occasionally it may be organised or sponsored by a commercial body or a charity in a manner which is not obviously part of the business of that body or charity.

The amendment is put forward solely to remove any doubt which might lead to hesitation by the agency on whether it can support the project or to ward off an unwarranted suggestion that it may be ultra vires. In Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, kindly offered to contemplate that issue further. Subsequently the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, wrote to my noble friend Lady Anelay on the subject and has placed a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

The Minister pointed out that paragraph 10(2) of Schedule 14 would amend Section 27(1) of the 1975 Act so as to define "businesses" as,

    "any industrial, commercial or professional activities (whether or not with a view to profit)".
He states that the intention here is that that the charitable and voluntary sectors may fall within the scope of that definition. Thus he argues that the legislation would not preclude the agency from offering assistance to non-profit-making organisations.

Can the Minister confirm tonight that the charitable and voluntary sectors will--and I stress, again, the word "will"--fall within that definition? I am concerned that this legislates only that they "may" fall within it. It is important for this matter to be absolutely clear. I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to the penultimate paragraph in his letter. I believe that he may have overlooked Clause 126(2)(a) of the Bill, which adds to the purposes of the WDA the "furtherance" of the "social" development of Wales. I question whether that can be achieved without there being a clear remit covering recreation on the face of the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister could address those points.

I appreciate that the amendment may not fully resolve the problems that I have raised, but I shall be prepared to return to these issues on Third Reading if the Minister feels unable to resolve them tonight. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page