§ Mr. Stodart
I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 21, line 28, to leave out 'expedient', and to insert 'necessary'.
This Amendment puts into formal terms a suggestion by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) in Committee. At that time he moved an Amendment of about six lines the purpose of which was to limit the powers of the local planning authority to acquire land compulsorily to cases where the authority had satisfied the Secretary of State that existing access was inadequate and agreement on what was wanted was impossible.
The hon. Gentleman then accepted the principle of the Amendment, but he did not like the drafting and thought it was far too long. My hon. and learned Friend suggested the word "necessary" and the hon. Gentleman said with some reservations that he would consider it. Expediency does not imply a condition of last resort. It is a case of agreement completely failing before compulsion is used. I think that the word "necessary" implies last resort and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I will not say that this is a case of angels dancing on a pinhead, although it is getting close to it. One order has been used under the English National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which we do not have in Scotland. As I have said before, I hope that we in Scotland will use these orders at half that rate—one in 36 years. Therefore, we do not visualise many Orders coming forward, and perhaps in that sense the matter is academic.
However, I have consulted some of my advisers, and I would point out that the local planning authority has to prove, by paragraph (a) of this subsection, that public access to a piece of land is requisite—a delightful word—and, in 1627 paragraph (b), that it was expedient. I agree that the word "expedient" can have a slightly sinister flavour about it, but it has the merit that not all matters which are necessary are in themselves the right way of doing it. There is an element in an expedient matter which certainly contains the meaning of necessary, but is nevertheless a better way of doing it.
I do not know whether I have expressed that too clearly. I think that I said it better in Committee. My first reaction was that expediency had an added virtue about it, not being in a hair-splitting way absolutely necessary; but, on the other hand, given that it is requisite for the public use, it might be better to leave it as expedient.
I have had this argument for too long now among my advisers, and I have discussed it with the Secretary of State several times. On balance, I am sure that we would do better to keep the Clause as it is, with the word "expedient". I would like to agree and accept the word "necessary", as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but, in the remote circumstances of our having an order, it is conceivable that the word "necessary" might not just fit. There might be a better way of doing it, and for that matter, most of the parties might agree to that as well. I ask hon. Members to leave the Clause as it is.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
I quite understand that the Minister of State has studied this matter for many weeks and is, perhaps, a little tired of it. I have the advantage of bringing a fresh mind to the question, not having been a member of the Committee.
I am disturbed by the Minister's argument. As I read it, the present wording of the Clause gives wide powers to the local planning authority, powers which, I suggest, are too wide. If the local planning authority considers that it is requisite that the public should have access to a piece of land, then, having established requisiteness—if that be the word—it has power, subject only to the meaning of the word "expedient", to acquire the land compulsorily.
The word "expedient" does not define narrowly enough the circumstances in 1628 which a compulsory purchase order should be made, and I agree entirely with the argument just put by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart).
The Minister of State used dangerously loose words when he said that he would hope that there would not be many Orders of this kind, he did not visualise many being made, or words to that effect. This is not good enough when we are considering a Clause which raises the possibility of compulsory purchase in such wide terms. I do not understand why the Minister does not accept the much more appropriate word "necessary". It would be far better for the local planning authority to have to prove necessity than to have to prove expediency.
Expediency can be a matter of mere convenience for the local planning authority. If it is convenient for the planning authority to take over land, it can then plead expediency, and a compulsory purchase order would be covered by the Clause. I hope that the Minister will look at the question again. The Clause is far too widely drawn as it stands.
§ Mr. Lawson
It seems to me that the Opposition are trying to nail the planning authority down. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) has spoken of this being the last resort. To revert to what may be seen almost as a hobby-horse of mine, I take the case when there is an argument about access to a hillside being made available to the public—we are concerned here with the public—and there are certain relatively easy routes and certain difficult routes to that hillside. There is a fairly easy way through a piece of land, but the owner or occupier is in no circumstances prepared to allow the public to traverse that piece of land or to enter into any sort of agreement.
The planning authority, with the Commission behind it, and, eventually, the Secretary of State, are compelled to see what can be done, all the arguments and the attempts to persuade having failed. There is a difficult way, perhaps a longer way, perhaps almost inaccessible though not quite. It may be virtually inaccessible for elderly people, it may be relatively dangerous, but it is still true that access to the hillside can be gained by that way.
1629 The local planning authority is put in an exceedingly difficult position. There is an easy and sensible route, and the argument is that that route should be followed. But it cannot argue that it is "necessary", which in this case, I take it, means essential. Let us take it further. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the last resort. The other route is available, but it is available only at considerable difficulty.
We are trying here to serve a public purpose, to make available or accessible what should, surely, be our natural heritage, the open country. In the example which I have cited, the planning authority, trying to serve that public purpose, not to fill anyone's pocket, will find its position made as difficult as it is possible to make it in providing access to the open hillside. This is what hon. Members opposite are seeking to do, in effect. I do not know whether they really want to take it that far, but that is how it seems to me.
If we retain the word "expedient" here, the meaning will be that, from a sensible point of view, taking into account all possible accesses, taking into account the interests of the owner or occupier of the land, the sensible and reasonable and comparatively easy way ought to be taken. That would he covered by the word "expedient". If, on the other hand, the authority has to prove that it is necessary that it be that way and no other, its position could be virtually impossible.
Hon. Members opposite have cooperated very well thus far. I ask them to realise that it is very much in their interests not to press the point. Taking them as, broadly, representative of the country, of the farming and land interests, and taking hon. Members on this side as more the representatives of the towns and townspeople, I ask them to accept that agreement on this point is very much in their interests as well as ours and that we should have good will here. If they stick on this point, they will not be showing the good will which they have shown up to the present.
The word "expedient" provides all that can reasonably be expected from both sides in this case, and I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Amendment negatived.