I appreciate very much that the Minister is trying to tease this out in a constructive way. This amendment is motivated by an overall view, which I think the Minister and other Members share, that the public have a right to information about environmental matters which impinge on their day-to-day life, their well-being, their health or the enjoyment they can have within their own neighbourhood. Under this legislation local authorities will be required to do their survey and put together a register. It is inevitable that in the context of that exercise local authorities throughout the country, but particularly in urban areas where there are major problems relating to derelict sites, will receive representations from people in a neighbourhood who feel that due to the existence of a derelict site their enjoyment of their neighbourhood is being diminished.
This Bill in practical terms will not operate purely on the basis of initiatives taken by local authorities. Local authorities will be stimulated regularly into taking initiatives. They will respond to representations they receive from people who feel their life is detrimentally affected by a derelict site in their area. There is an inevitability about that. In the larger local authorities where resources are scarce and officials feel over-worked, very often the general public will act as a catalyst. The Bill may act as the catalyst for the putting together of the initial register but, as the years go by, additions to the register will be made largely as a result of contact by the general public with local authority officials or members. Individual councillors or corporation members may raise the issue of having a particular piece of land entered on the register.
The local authority will then make a decision thatprima facie it appears this land should be registered and notifies the land owner. If it then makes the decision that the land should be registered, there is a variety of information made available. It is my contention that where it makes the decision, having decided prima facie, it should communicate with the owner. If the owner then communicates with the local authority and his communication is effective in changing the decision of the local authority so that the land is not entered on the register, provided that land owner is being truthful he is in no way prejudiced by his representation being available for examination by the general public. He is only prejudiced if his representation is misleading, and in those circumstances those people who are affected by the state of his land are entitled to know what he said and, by the nature of things, will have an opportunity to correct the record by going back to the local authority. The fact that the local authority might have refrained from proceeding on one occasion does not mean it cannot reconsider the matter at a later stage. I see nothing invidious, in the context of the land owner, in having that representation made public. I can see only that this would be a means of ensuring that the maximum information is made available in the spirit of the approach being taken within the European Community, maximising information with which I am familiar and, within the spirit to which my party and other parties are committed in this House, that is the general idea of freedom of information, be it from governments or from local authorities. I see this not as impingeing on the rights of the land owners but as respecting the rights of the individual citizen to know why his local authority have made a particular decision.
I urge the Minister to accept this amendment. It is an amendment that we take seriously in our party. I would not wish to divide the House unnecessarily this evening; we have dealt with this Bill in a most constructive spirit. I suspect from the Minister's response that he was simply trying to tease out the implications on both sides. It would be my final contention that this Bill is designed to protect the general public against the impact of dereliction on their lives. The public are entitled to know what intervention from a land owner results in a local authority not taking any action. It would seem to me that the balance of advantage is to have as much information as possible made available. I urge the Minister to accept this amendment in the constructive spirit in which it was proposed and in the context of the overall approach adopted on all sides of this House, which is to provide a workable piece of legislation on which there is a degree of public accountability on the part of the local authority that ultimately makes the decisions.
The final obvious point is that if one finds one's land entered on the register, one will be subject to a levy. This is something we might come back to when dealing with the section as a whole. It is not clear under section 2 how the local authority is to deal with the representations. For example if the representation were that the person agreed his land was in an appalling condition but could not afford to pay the levy and pleaded with the local authority not to impose one and not to put the land on the register, would that sort of representation change the mind of the local authority? I do not think it is intended that it would. All I am saying is that by ensuring these representations can be made available it will also ensure that the local authorities are careful in how they assess the veracity and credibility of the representations made to them.