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Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 59:


Page 8, line 25, at end insert--
("( ) Before making an order under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult the local authority or other public body whose land would be vested in a regional development agency by such order.").

The noble Lord said: First, I thank the Minister for writing to me about Clause 19, seeking to clarify some of the provisions. In moving the amendment I shall with permission speak to Amendments Nos. 61, 62 and 64.

Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 go together. It is a simple point. Under Clause 19 the Secretary of State may by order vest land which is currently vested in a local authority or other public body in the regional development agency. It would seem appropriate that there should be a policy and procedure of consultation before that takes place; and that the Secretary of State should be satisfied before he makes an order that the regional development agency is not just putting together

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land packages with some degree of wish value attached to them but with a real prospect of proposals being carried through.

Having said that, I turn to Amendment No. 61. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain to us why it is appropriate for land of the kind set out in the amendment to be subject to a vesting order. I might ask why such land should be subject to Clause 20, but that is another issue.

Amendment No. 61 to Clause 19 seeks to exclude areas of national park, areas of outstanding natural beauty or land held by the National Trust. I ask the Minister to tell the Committee why a regional development agency should have land currently under the control of those bodies vested in it. For what purposes are those envisaged? I can understand that perhaps in connection with tourism in a region the RDA might seek to have other land added to the land currently held as a national park or by the National Trust or to an area of outstanding natural beauty. But why is it thought necessary for the development agency to wish to take that land? I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: The power to vest land--the point underlying the amendment--is the most efficient way of allowing RDAs to acquire packages of land from existing public sector bodies for development purposes. The Committee may be aware that the same power was given to English Partnerships by the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. The power belongs to the Secretary of State rather than to the RDA. It is therefore a matter for the Secretary of State to take decisions on the vesting of existing public authority land.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord seek to add a number of additional safeguards. Amendment No. 59 would require consultation with the body concerned before an order vesting land were made. The existing safeguards seem to us appropriate in these circumstances. The Secretary of State would no doubt take into account the views of the body concerned, but we do not see the point in putting that on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 60 deals with the requirement for the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that the RDA had practical proposals for the use of the land to be vested. The Secretary of State would wish to reassure himself on that point, but we do not see the need to include it in the Bill.

The specific point raised by the noble Lord in Amendment No. 61 relates to national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. I agree with him that it is difficult to envisage circumstances in which such land might be required for an RDA development. Nevertheless, there could be circumstances at the fringe of the land, or in connection with certain pockets of land, where this could arise. However, land required by the RDAs in any circumstances, including vesting, will be subject to the normal planning controls. Therefore, the RDA must prove that any proposed development complies with local plans.

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As regards national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, there are additional special provisions already within planning and countryside legislation which protect those areas and there are substantial hurdles to climb. We do not consider that there is need for an additional hurdle here specifically excluding such land. The provisions already exist within planning legislation. I assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State does not regard the National Trust as a public body whose land in particular is inalienable land. It would in any circumstances be vested under Clause 19.

I hope that that deals with the main points raised, in particular the issue of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. They are unlikely to be affected by this Bill, but safeguards already exist.

Lord Bowness: I am grateful to the Minister for his answers. At this hour, I will consider what he has said and perhaps return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 62 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 63:


Page 9, line 8, at end insert--
("(9A) Where the draft of an order under subsection (1) includes land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment, section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 (commons, open spaces etc.) shall apply as if the order under subsection (1) were a compulsory purchase order.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 63, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 65 to 67. They have been sent to me by the Open Spaces Society, to which I am obliged. After I had tabled them I saw an exchange of correspondence between the society and the department. The society suggested that a circular setting out all the policies to be observed in connection with open spaces and similar areas of land would be welcome, involving consultation on the draft. Perhaps the Minister can comment on the possibility of such a circular.

The amendments are a little technical for this time of night and I shall be brief. It should rarely be necessary for an RDA to require the possession of a common or other open space. The concern is that if the RDA does require such an area of land it should not be an easy option--certainly no easier than it is for any other body--to take control. Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, to which reference is made in most of these amendments, relates to compulsory purchase orders and provides that, except in minor cases, the Secretary of State has to certify that he is satisfied that other land will be given in exchange for an area at least equal and equally advantageous to the public and to commoners, or that the land is being acquired to secure its preservation or to improve its management. It is sensible, for such procedures involving careful scrutiny of the transfer of such land would be desirable.

Amendment No. 65 would allow an RDA to acquire land to give in exchange for open space and so on, land which is vested in it under Clause 19 of the Bill.

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Amendment No. 66 again refers to Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 and applies where planning permission is for development involving a change of use from command land and so on.

Amendment No. 67 deals with the extinguishment of public rights of way. This amendment suggests that RDAs--which will not have their own planning powers--should not have powers particular to them relating to rights of way. It is important to ensure that powers of extinguishment and diversion of rights of way are not used to the detriment of the public without good cause. The regulations under the Town and Country Planning Act and the Highways Act require named national and regional bodies to be notified of applications. It seems appropriate that the RDAs should be in a similar position and not be given a separate set of powers with a lesser safeguard of public rights. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the question of the Government and her circular. At the moment the Government are looking generally at policy and law on compulsory purchase. That is the most comprehensive answer that I am able to give her.

I apologise at this time of the night for having to be fairly comprehensive in my reply. There is very little else that I can do. It would be dangerous for me to abbreviate the legal and technical detail.

These amendments seek to apply the exchange land provisions of Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 to RDAs in certain circumstances. As noble Lords will know, Section 19 of the 1981 Act requires that where common land or other protected land is acquired by compulsory purchase order, and subject to some exceptions, either equally advantageous exchange land must be given or the order will be subjected to special parliamentary procedure.

The amendments apply these provisions in two circumstances. First, they would be applied by Amendment No. 63 when an order is made under Clause 19 transferring common land or other protected land to an agency. Secondly, they would be applied by Amendment No. 66 if the agency wishes to develop land in accordance with planning permission, and the development is a change of use which was envisaged when the agency acquired the land. The provisions of Section 19 of the 1981 Act may already have applied if the land was originally acquired by a local authority by compulsory purchase.

The result of these amendments could therefore be to invoke the special parliamentary procedure on three occasions in relation to the same piece of land. First, on compulsory purchase by the local authority; secondly, on transfer to the RDA by order under Clause 19; and thirdly, on the RDA wishing to commence development of the land.

Amendment No. 65 is consequential on Amendment No. 63. It enables an RDA to acquire land to be given in exchange for common or other protected land transferred to the RDA by order under Clause 19. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I point out

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that the amendments do not contain an equivalent provision for the RDA to buy land to be given in exchange for common land to be developed, as would be required by Amendment No. 66.

Where land is transferred to an RDA under Clause 19, the order is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. So there will be an opportunity to debate the order in any event. If it were to include common land, your Lordships would be able to make your views known. I have to say that I do not think it sensible to impose the possibility of special parliamentary procedure on top of that procedure.

Paragraph 4 of Schedule 6 enables an RDA to develop its land in accordance with planning permission, notwithstanding statutory provisions which would otherwise have prevented development. It is similar to Section 241 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which gives the same power to local authorities. The RDA will, of course, have to apply for and obtain planning permission in the normal way. In the event that it wishes to develop common or other protected land, it will be for the local planning authority to consider whether the development should be permitted.

It cannot be sensible to apply an exchange land or special parliamentary procedure on top of a well-understood process which enables local people to make their views known. That would be my view even if I thought that the exchange land procedure in Section 19 of the 1981 Act would work well in this situation, which in fact is doubtful. In whom, for example, would the exchange land be vested?

The overall aim of the amendments is to ensure that, where practicable, common land and other protected land is not developed unless it is replaced by other land. I am not unsympathetic to that aim, but it must be balanced against the objective of enabling efficient land assembly and development by the RDAs. I believe that both local authorities in carrying out their planning functions, and RDAs in undertaking development, can be expected to be sensitive to the views of local people where common or other protected land is involved. I believe that the amendments are unnecessary and undesirable and would hinder the RDAs in their development role. The prospect of two special parliamentary procedures in relation to the same piece of land would daunt anyone.

Amendment No. 67 would introduce new procedures for exercising the Secretary of State's powers in respect of public paths over land belonging to RDAs. The procedures would be based, with amendments, on the ones currently used by local authorities to administer public path orders under Schedule 14 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Applying Schedule 14 procedures as they stand to powers exercised by the Secretary of State would be impossible, because they prescribe in detail the duties of local authorities when making and confirming public path orders and set out the circumstances in which authorities must refer orders to the Secretary of State for confirmation.

This Bill contains provisions for public path orders which only the Secretary of State may make and confirm. There is no role for a local authority. The

7 Oct 1998 : Column 555

procedures in Schedule 6 to the Bill for handling such orders, therefore, apply only to the Secretary of State. They closely resemble the statutory provisions in existing legislation conferring similar powers and duties on the Secretary of State with respect to land owned by English Partnerships.

I acknowledge that the amendment seeks to address this difficulty by providing for adaptations to Schedule 14 to the Town and Country Planning Act so that it can apply to orders made and confirmed by the Secretary of State. But it has failed to describe either the basis for, or the extent of, those adaptations. So on its own it cannot achieve its intended purpose, and a further amendment would be needed before it could have effect.

Removing the references to local authority duties and other irrelevancies from Schedule 14 would be a complex task. Even if it were practicable, the exercise would result in instructions for Secretary of State orders similar to those already in the Bill--so there would be hardly any benefit from the adaptations.

Furthermore, even if the amendment could be made to work, it would require the creation of regulations to define the Secretary of State's order-making procedures. This extra burden of secondary legislation would be pointless, as the Bill already contains a simple procedure with adequate safeguards for the public interest.

Schedule 6 to the Bill contains a range of measures for ensuring that the order-making procedure is carried out fairly. For instance, it requires the publication of orders and notice of the proposals to be given to the proper authorities. There is also provision for objections to be made and for the Secretary of State to offer an objector a hearing by an independent person appointed for that purpose; and he would have the power, if necessary, to hold a public inquiry, which may be attended by anyone with an interest in the proposals.

We cannot accept the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, given that it cannot be made to work without further amendment and would in any event require secondary legislation before it could take effect. And I assure your Lordships that the Bill already offers satisfactory measures for ensuring that public path orders over RDAs' land may be made by the Secretary of State in a fair and open manner.

In asking the noble Baroness whether she would consider withdrawing the amendment, I hope that the detail into which I have gone tonight--and sadly detained your Lordships with--may have led to a shortening of the procedure on Report.


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