HC Deb 27 May 1919 vol 116 cc1162-5

The council of every borough or other urban district, the population of which exceeds twenty thousand, and any other local authority which the Local Government Board may require, shall, within three years after the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-three, prepare and submit to the Board a town planning scheme in accordance with provisions to be determined by the Board with reference to any land within the area of the local authority.

Major GRAY

I beg to move, to leave out the Clause.

I admit that after the remarks of the President of the Local Government Board earlier in the evening, I am not over sanguine of success for this Amendment. I observe that he is now attaching far more importance to the question of town-planning than apparently he did when the Bill was introduced, for Clauses 40 and 41 were, I understand, introduced in the last days when the Bill was in Committee. Apparently when the Bill was drafted the right hon. Gentleman did not think that these powers were necessary. He was at that stage satisfied with the existing Acts dealing with this subject, plus the provisions in the earlier Clauses of this Bill. I would call the attention of the House for one moment to the very considerable power which the right hon. Gentleman is taking under Clauses 40 and 41. Here within a certain period a local authority, a borough council with a population expressed, or any other local authority, which would include a county council, and would include the London County Council, may be called upon by the Local Government Board to prepare a town-planning scheme for any land within that area—not for land which has been dealt with for rehousing purposes, but for any land. If I succeed in nothing else I should like, if I can, to draw from the President of the Local Government Board an interpretation of these words. Let me put a concrete case. A district which he knows and I know very well would under this Clause 40 have power to call upon the London County Council to present within a certain date, under conditions which would be prescribed, a town-planning scheme for, say, Hoxton. I am quite prepared to admit that a town-planning scheme for Hoxton would be a very desirable thing, but it is impracticable at the present time, and it seems to me that the main object of this Bill is to secure housing accommodation over as wide an area as possible. Is it then desirable, while local authorities are concentrating their attention on housing and rehousing, to call upon them to frame town-planning schemes for areas which are not at the moment being affected by the question of rehousing? I am not an expert in these matters, but I am told by those who are, and I think it was admitted in Committee upstairs, that this question of town-planning is still in its infancy, that authorities are not agreed upon the lines which should be followed, and that among the difficulties in the way has been that of reconciling conflicting interests, there being no general consensus of opinion as to the lines upon which town-planning should proceed.

Are local authorities to be diverted from the primary object of this Bill to a consideration of town-planning so wide as that expressed in Clause 40? If it were town-planning in connection with building, operations which may be now or in the near future in progress, or in connection with re-housing schemes, I could understand it. But these words are very wide indeed, and would enable the Local Government Board, should they think fit, to call upon the council for the administrative county of London to submit town-planning schemes for nearly every one of the boroughs within the London area. I feel quite sure that that is not what is intended or contemplated, but certainly it is possible, and I have been requested by the responsible committee of the London County Council to draw attention to this subject during this stage of the Bill, and on behalf of the council to say that they would very much regret that the Local Government Board should consider it desirable to take such extreme measures in connection with a subject which is not of primary, although it is of great, importance. They would have preferred that their energies should be concentrated during the next seven years on the very important question of acquiring sites, building houses thereon, removing slum areas, and rebuilding habitations which may be made suitable for human habitation, and that they should not have their attention compulsorily diverted to such a large question as that of town-planning, particularly in areas where the housing problem would not be in course of solution. In order, therefore, that I may ascertain whether these words do apply to land associated with the re-housing scheme, I venture to move that Clause 40 be deleted, for the purpose of securing an interpretation, and, if I may, of entering, a respectful protest against the conferring of these large and drastic powers upon a. State Department utterly regardless of any expression of local opinion. A well-known worker in municipal life remarked to me the other day that, if these powers are to be given to a State Department then we may just as well scrap our municipalities and transfer the whole control of public life throughout the country to a State Department, with Ministers, as I will say, of recognised great capacity, and a large army of officials, and abolish local government altogether. May I just remind the House that in the course of a few days the Local Government Board, as such, will have ceased to exist, and there will be a Ministry of Health with the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, as its Chief. It will then be administering the health of the country and will be in charge of the whole of this housing problem, dealing with concrete and adenoids, tuberculosis and the supply of bricks, and will also have within its purview the provision of town-planning schemes in any area throughout the whole country wherever the Local Government Board considers that such schemes are necessary. It seems to me that this is a very large attraction of power from the municipal life of this country to a State Department, and one which needs watching very closely. It has been my privilege to witness the passing of many Bills through this House in years gone by, and an equal privilege to take part for nearly twenty years in municipal life in London in one form or another, and I regard this constant transfer of municipal government to State Departments with some degree of apprehension, because I feel sure that the more we can rely on local effort for the direction of local affairs the better it will be for all concerned.


The hon. and gallant Member does not seem to have read the Clause. It does not confer any new powers on a Government Department which it takes away from a local authority. On the contrary, it authorises the Government Department to call upon a local authority to exercise certain powers. The local authority is going to do the work. If I mistake not, the apprehensions which the hon. Gentleman entertained seems to be a horror lest the position should arise of the Local Government Board calling upon the London County Council to do something. I quite agree that that is what may happen. under this Clause, and I do not mind saying that I think it is very likely that it will happen, either under this or some other Clause. And I do not see any reason why I should be ashamed of it. I am delighted to hear that those for whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks are going to devote their energies to the clearing away of slums and the acquisition of new sites on wall-planned lines during the next seven years. If that is so, nothing will please me better, or will be a better carrying out of the wishes of this House. If that is the case, I am quite sure that those for whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks will have no more enthusiastic friend and helper than myself. But it is quite inappropriate to this Clause. With respect to his later remarks, the Ministry of Health, with the functions which are shortly to be thrust upon it, will have more than enough to do apart from calling upon some authority or other to prepare a town planning scheme—six years hence, be it remembered. There is nothing rash or precipitate about it, anyhow. Has it not occurred to my hon. and gallant Friend that adenoids and tubercule come from slums very often? The very reason they are there, in a large number of cases, is because you have not had proper planning; because you have not had fresh air all round; because you have had some miserable underground dwelling allowed to be inhabited for years and years. That is the reason why these things are there, and that is the reason why they ought to be under the Ministry of Health. I am sorry I cannot accept this Amendment or any other like it.

Amendment negatived.