§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Levy
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day three months."
It is a good many years since some hon. Friends and I tried to find out what all these private Bills really meant, and in a number of instances we have, by negotiation, caused the deletion of undesirable Clauses; and it has been very rare when a Bill has been opposed on the Floor of this House. Certainly it has been very rare when we have opposed a Bill on Third Reading. I do not propose to oppose this Bill in the true sense of the word— [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why waste time?"] The answer to that is that this Bill includes novel provisions, and I think that instead of it going through, as it might have gone through, silently, without the majority of Members knowing of these new provisions, I should point out that the report of the Committee on Unopposed Bills has most properly directed the attention of the House to the fact that this Bill contains provisions of a very novel and unusual character, involving, I believe, an important new principle in municipal powers. I submit that these provisions and this principle are undesirable in a Bill of this kind, and when I say that, I am expressing my own views. The reason is that they hold enormous potentialities for the general extension of municipal trading.
I would ask the House particularly to look at Clauses 5 to 9. Clause 5 empowers the corporation to acquire by agreement land for development, disposal, or utilisation in the provision of sites and premises in connection with the establishment or extension of industries within the borough. This, I submit, is a very great extension of the existing scope of municipal powers. It is true that the corporation may not exercise these powers without the consent of the Minister, but I doubt the wisdom of creating these municipal powers even with the safeguard of the Minister's approval. Clause 6 goes still farther. It 501 provides that if the corporation should not be able to acquire land within the borough on what they consider to be reasonable terms, the Minister may, by provisional order, authorise them to acquire the land compulsorily. Then Clauses 7 and 8 give the corporation, again subject to the approval of the Minister, wide powers of development, including the erection of buildings on the land. But one of the most important Clauses is Clause 9, which gives the corporation power to advance money out of the local rates to the purchaser or lessee of any lands acquired from the corporation for the purpose of enabling him to erect shops, houses, factories, warehouses, offices, or other buildings or to adapt or alter existing buildings. I cannot find that the lending of the ratepayers' money for private industrial enterprise is subject to any approval of the Minister or anybody else except the corporation.
The supporters of the Bill try to justify the Measure on the ground that Jarrow is a special case. I do not deny for a moment that Jarrow is a hard case— [An HON. MEMBER: "You are a hard case"] — a case where a distressed community is entitled to special treatment, but I do feel that this is an instance which illustrates the wisdom of the old saying "Hard cases make bad laws." If the Bill goes through in this form, we shall be creating a dangerous precedent in the expansion of municipal enterprise and trading. It is all very well to say, as may be said, that future cases can be treated on their merits, that the powers given to Jarrow may not be given to other places merely because a precedent has been established, but every Member of this House knows, and every Member who has had anything to do with municipal corporations' Bills knows, how difficult it is to resist the extension of the application of a new principle once it has been recognised and applied in any one case. From my own experience I can easily see a flood of other corporation Bills coming along if this one passes, all of them seeking these powers, on grounds that would be difficult to dispose of once the principle had been established. [Interruption.] I have promised not to take more than eight minutes. I had prepared a speech that would have taken about three-quarters of an hour, but as the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) and the 502 hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) know, we have arranged between us that there shall be no Division on this Bill. I am, however, entitled to express my views, and in order to save time I am dealing with my notes instead of trying to elaborate them. I therefore claim the indulgence that the House gives to an hon. Member in such circumstances.
An important argument for the Bill is that part of the land in the borough is leased in small plots and that this and local circumstances makes the getting of the land for the extension of existing industries and the introduction of new industries difficult and, therefore, discouraging to enterprise. Therefore, it is argued by the Jarrow Corporation that the provision of land must be specially facilitated. But what does that mean? It means that in order to give private enterprise a limited advantage in one direction, that is, by making it very simple to get the land in Jarrow for industrial development, many other forms of private enterprise will be at a disadvantage on account of these wide powers of municipal trading that are given to the corporation here. I hope the hon. Lady will not contend that without these powers land cannot be got in Jarrow at all for private industrial development. The suggestion is that the man who contemplates putting a factory there may think twice about it, that he may be discouraged or go elsewhere, because he may have to negotiate with a large number of people, whereas if this Bill becomes law, as I have no doubt it will, it will simplify matters, because he will be able to deal with one body, namely, the Jarrow Corporation. That argument, which can be and is used, can, I think, be overdone, but in any case we are asked in this Bill— and here I am expressing my own opinion— to create a precedent and to recognise and apply a principle, the end of which no one can foresee, a precedent and a principle which constitute too high a price to pay for the possible advantages that may be given to Jarrow. I say "the possible advantages." They might prove not to be advantages at all, because if such powers were not exercised in the most careful and businesslike way, the financial burdens already placed on Jarrow might well be enormously increased, and its position at the end might be even worse than it is to-day.
503 I have approached this matter from an economic rather than a political point of view, but I am bound to say that I have no particular faith in Socialist municipal trading. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I say that in all sincerity. I have no faith whatever in Socialist municipal trading, and this Bill will give enormous new potentialities. [Interruption.]. I listen patiently to speeches in this House, and I fail to see the object of this barracking. There are things which are done in this House and things which are not done, and barracking in a case like this is something which is not done. There is one last point, namely, that the consent of the Minister to the exercise of these powers is rather a doubtful safeguard. Ministers come and go, and a Socialist Minister will provide no brake at all on these enterprises. I would much prefer not to place in the hands of any one Minister the great powers of authorisation which this Bill provides. In conclusion, having regard to the fact that Jarrow is a Special Area, that it does desire and require sympathetic treatment, instead of opposing this Bill, as we ordinarily would oppose it, and take it to a Division, we are not taking it to a Division; but let it be understood by all Parliamentary agents that if powers of this kind are sought to be obtained in other Bills by local authorities, we will not only oppose them as strenuously as we can. but we will always take them to a Division.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell Fyfe
I beg to second the Amendment.
I want to assure the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) that there is no lack of sympathy for the state of Jarrow, and especially for the unemployment in Jarrow, but we feel that this Bill raises a special point and that it raises also a question of fairness as between areas of severe unemployment inside and outside the Special Areas of this country. By Clause 6 power is given compulsorily to acquire land, under the usual procedure, by Section 160 of the Local Government Act, 1933. That is a procedure which in the ordinary way is restricted to the acquisition of land for purposes of public health and to special statutory occasions. This Bill seeks power to acquire land compulsorily for industrial purposes. I think I am right 504 in saying that the usage in such cases is to confine it to power to acquire specific land or land whose primary use is of a different character. Therefore, we have to consider whether this Bill is justified in the circumstances.
In Clause 7 there are powers to develop the land; the corporation is to be empowered to erect not only ordinary buildings but factory and industrial buildings and the like; and one presumes that after erecting them it would be able to let them to those who desire to use them. In Clause 9 there is the further power to make advances to those who may either acquire or lease the buildings up to three-quarters of the value of their interest in the premises. If they stopped there those would be wide powers, but one has to remember that Section 6 of the Special Areas (Amendment) Act applies to Jarrow, and the industrialist who goes there— for whom the land is acquired by the corporation and for whom the buildings may be put up— may receive an advance in respect of the adaptation of those buildings or receive an advance for erecting buildings himself. He can also go to the Treasury under Section 6 of the Special Areas (Amendment) Act and get a further advance, and further financial help for equipping his factory premises and erecting his plant.
That is a tremendous advantage which is given to Jarrow, and I ask the hon. Lady, who I know feels sincerely about her own constituents, to realise how difficult the position becomes for those like myself and the hon. Member opposite, who represent a city like Liverpool, where there is the most tremendous and grimmest concentration of unemployment that you can find in any similar small area in the country. What chance will areas like that have if Jarrow in addition to the advantages it receives under general Acts dealing with the Special Areas, is to be empowered by private legislation to make the special provisions which I have outlined? The Liverpool Act of 1936, in Section 27, only goes so far as to enable an advance of two-thirds of the value to be made to those who are going to acquire the land and erect buildings there. There are not the other powers which are in Clauses 6 and 7 of this Bill; and, of course, that area has not the general advantages of the Special Areas legislation.
505 Therefore, I hope that hon. Members opposite will appreciate that in raising this point we are not only raising a point of importance, but putting forward for the consideration of the House the position which will arise if the course now being pursued by Jarrow is followed by other areas which are just outside the Special Areas. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will give us some guidance upon whether this policy of compulsory acquisition of land for industrial purposes is to become a general policy. I quite appreciate the position in Jarrow, that the land there is divided into a number of small plots, but the process of acquisition by agreement should go a long way to meet that position. I hope that the House will realise that it is an important aspect of the matter that we have put before it, and that we shall get some guidance from the Ministry of Health not only as regards the case of Jarrow, but as to the method of dealing with similar problems in future.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I do not complain in the least that hon. Members who feel strongly about the new principles which are introduced should bring them for debate in the House, but I would point out that on each occasion when they have met the objectors the promoters of the Bill have done their best to meet the objections put forward. I became really very worried as to whether we were not giving away far too much, and when I knew that I should have to speak upon it, I felt inclined to plead that the Bill, like the chambermaid's baby, was only a very little one. After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) I almost find myself in a congenial position as "flaming in the van of red revolution." Really I do not think the House need get so excited as the hon. Member for Elland would suggest, because the whole purpose of this Bill is to meet a very special difficulty. I say frankly that I do not want to claim for Jarrow a consideration that no other area should have. If any other area wants the same powers my only feeling is to say, "Good luck to you." But that is not my concern. My job is to look after my constituency, and while it is true that hard cases make bad law it is surely true that hard cases need special consideration, and ought to be looked into to see 506 whether something cannot be done to relieve the situation.
If we generalise and regard Jarrow as an illustration of a difficulty, the difficulty of which it is an illustration is that it is a very old industrial centre. Coal was actually mined there in 1612, and it has been an area of continuous capitalist development since 1803. Great industries have been built up there. The Jarrow pit was one of the largest pits in the county. Then there was the great shipbuilding industry, but that was snuffed out by National Shipbuilding Securities Limited. It is an area which, because of its fine industrial position, has been built on and overbuilt on with each wave of capitalist enterprise in this country. And so, in 1931, we have a position where the density of its population, not in its most crowded district but over the whole borough, was 46 to the acre, though in another comparable area it was only 40. It is an urban area where there is no land available for the new industries which they are trying to bring into the town, except the one special site of Palmers' shipbuilding yard. That has been acquired by the Special Commissioner, and for reasons which the Corporation and I think are very wise he does not want that magnificent site, which Lord Runciman described as one of the finest industrial sites in the world, split up into a number of small sites for small industries, when it might be used for a much bigger purpose at some time or other. That is the stone wall which the Jarrow Corporation find themselves up against.
Owing to the vast publicity which Jarrow has had it has received inquiries from people who were willing to start businesses in that area, but the problem was where to put them. There are certain sites in slum clearance areas but they are an eyesore of the worst kind. We have no power to clear them. We have power only to order the landlords to pull down the houses and there they are— brickfields, eyesores. Most of them are not fit sites for houses. The houses are being built on a new estate which is outside the Parliamentary boundary but is now inside the borough. What is to happen to those sites? Are they to remain for ever as an eyesore, just places where the children play and break their knees as they run about on those awful piles of bricks? Is it sense to leave things 507 like that? If not, then what can we do? We had an inquiry for a site for an industry to be set up there, and one of these areas was suggested as a possible place. What happened? It was found that 65 separate leaseholders would have to be dealt with, some of whom had left the town and some of whom could not be traced. It was a most complicated position. No one could expect that an industrialist would want a site when the first thing he would have to do would be to set his lawyers on the job of tracking down 65 leaseholders, in order to buy them out before he could start to put up his factories. We should be in the next slump but one before he had got any further with his undertaking.
Therefore, we say that the job of dealing with this land is one for the town council. If they have compulsory powers they can do things which an industrialist without any compulsory powers, without any powers at all, cannot do. Surely even the most reactionary, shell-back Tory cannot imagine that we could allow the present condition of affairs to go on, saying that in the name of some sacred principle of not extending municipal powers we must leave the present mess as it is. Would the hon. Member for Elland come to Jarrow and say that to men who have been unemployed for 10 years? Would he go into his own constituency and defend having done it at Jarrow? I am sure he would not. But that is the position in which anyone finds himself who tries to apply dogmatically his prejudices to the existing situation.
Is this precedent so dangerous after all? One would have to search with a microscope to find the differences between this Bill and the Liverpool Corporation Bill, 1921. Corporations now have power to apply surplus land to industrial purposes. Several corporations have power to get specific pieces of land for specific purposes. The real difference, the great revolutionary difference which has shocked the hon. Member for Elland to his soul, is simply that we ask that Jarrow shall be allowed to acquire land without having in mind a specific purpose, but for general industrial purposes, and then proceed to develop it naturally. Even so we have tied ourselves up to the Minister of Health until it looks to me as though, when we get on with this particular job, I shall have 508 to spend most of my life on the doorstep of the Ministry of Health, and no one can imagine a worse fate than that. We have to be continually asking for his consent. The thing is safeguarded up to the hilt, and even on top of that the Bill is made temporary. What is the vast revolutionary principle of that? I am very glad that the opponents of the Bill have said that they will not take it to a Division. That takes the sting out of the Debate to a certain extent, and I am really concerned to plead that it is not merely necessary to regard Jarrow as a special case, but to plead with certain hon. Members opposite to live in the century in which they were born and to realise that we have to make alterations, particularly in these industrial areas, to meet the difficulties created by their age and position.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Dennis Herbert)
On these comparatively rare occasions on which as Chairman of Ways and Means it is my duty to address the House, I always think that I ought to explain exactly what is my position. It is my duty in the matter of these Private Bills to see that both sides have fair play, and when the Bill comes for discussion in the House it is also my duty to see that the House has before it the actual issue on which it has to vote, and that hon. Members know what they are doing and what is their duty. In this case the Jarrow Bill, as first introduced, was undoubtedly of a very unusual character, and the Ministry of Health issued a memorandum in regard to it which showed how very unusual it was. As a result of that memorandum the promoters made very extensive alterations to the Bill, and considerable Amendments. The Bill was unopposed, in the sense that there was no petitioner against it, and, as most hon. Members know, unopposed Bills are perhaps looked on with almost more suspicion— if I may use that word — or care than opposed Bills, and it is the duty of the Chairman of Ways and Means to scan unopposed Bills in order to see that there does not slip through some legislation contrary to the general traditions and ideas of the House.
For many years it has been the custom for the Committee on unopposed Bills to be presided over not by the Chairman of Ways and Means but by his Deputy. In particular cases, and the 509 Jarrow Bill undoubtedly was one that I had to regard as a particular case, I have regarded it as my duty to take the Unopposed Bills Committee. No doubt, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, being accustomed to that Committee, was far more capable of doing that work thoroughly than I was, but the Committee did not suffer from the fact that I took charge of it, because the Deputy-Chairman was also present as a member of the Committee. I only mention these facts because I want the House to understand that the greatest possible attention was given to this Bill when it came before the Unopposed Bills Committee.
The Bill came before that Committee with a further memorandum from the Ministry of Health, the effect of which was, shortly, that the Ministry saw no objection to the Bill in its amended form. The Committee, however, being perhaps as suspicious of a Government Department as of promoters or opponents of Private Bills, went into the matter with very great care. As the House will know from the special passages in the report of the Committee, they made certain alterations therein and they made reference in their report to matters to which they thought the special attention of the House should be called. The great point of principle in this Bill, to which my hon. Friend has referred, is undoubtedly the powers which the Bill proposes to confer on the corporation of Jarrow to acquire, develop and dispose of land for industrial purposes. The Committee felt it their duty, and it is of course my duty now, to leave matters of that kind to the House to decide. I hope it will be understood that I am not endeavouring to persuade the House one way or another, or to persuade hon. Members as to what view they should take on the question whether they should agree or not to these powers being given. But it is my duty to point out the special circumstances and the restricted form in which these powers will be given if the Bill is given the Third Reading in the form in which it is before the House.
Incidentally, may I here refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) in regard to the restrictions placed on the exercise of certain powers by the Jarrow Corporation in that they would only be exercised with the consent of the Minister. He seemed to think that was a matter which depended on the 510 Minister for the time being alone. I would remind him, and the House, that the great point of powers of this kind being exercisable only with the consent of the Minister is that they are only exercisable with the consent of a Member of the Government who is answerable to this House, and can be called to account in this House for any consent he may give or refuse and any action he may take in regard thereto. Therefore, when these powers are given subject to the consent of a Minister of the Crown, they are given with a certain preservation of the powers of this House in regard thereto.
As I have said, the principle which this Bill contains, and which is unusual, is that of giving the corporation the power of acquiring, developing and disposing of land for industrial purposes. My hon. Friend has already mentioned some of the restrictions on that power. I should tell the House of certain other restrictions. I would like to tell them shortly, if I may, of the alterations made in the Bill in the Committee stage. In the first place, the Committee required an alteration in the Preamble of the Bill in order to show that the reason for this Bill was the special reason of the condition of Jarrow as a Special Area. In addition to that, they put in the very important proviso that this Bill should only continue in force— subject to a minimum period of five years, which is really necessary for practical purposes— so long as Special Area legislation of the kind which we know about is in operation, and so long as Jarrow is a Special Area within the meaning of that legislation.
The House ought to understand that the circumstances in which the promoters of the Bill have asked for these powers are that they are required for the purposes of one of the duties of the corporation, the amelioration, to the greatest extent that they can do it, of the peculiar difficulties in regard to unemployment and distress in their area; that the powers are asked for subject to certain provisions which absolutely prevent the corporation from indulging in municipal trading, in the ordinary sense of the term, in such a way as to risk the ratepayers' money; that the powers are only given subject to the restriction which has been referred to in regard to the consent of the Minister; and that they are given in such a way that they are limited to the period during which Jarrow remains in the position of a Special Area such as we know it at the 511 present time. I think that is really all that it is necessary for me to say on the subject, and I must leave it to the House whether, in the particular circumstances of the case and with the particular and very stringent safeguards which have been introduced into the Bill, hon. Members will regard this as a case in which these unusual powers should be granted, under special restrictions, for a limited period, and in special circumstances to a local authority which is in the peculiar position in which Jarrow, and unfortunately certain other areas, stand at the present time.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Usually one has to accept what the Chairman of Ways and Means has said with due respect, even when one feels tempted to disagree with him. But I am sure that this evening the House will feel that the right hon. Gentleman has discharged with singular ability and acceptance to the House the difficult duty that the House places on him on these occasions. He has made plain to the House the precise and narrow points which are involved in this Measure. I do not object in the slightest to the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) and the hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Mr. Fyfe)bringing the matter before the House. The circumstances are such that those Members of the House who wish at this hour to be present to listen to our discussion should have an opportunity of ascertaining exactly what the points are that are submitted to the House. This is a Private Bill and hon. Members are free to vote in any way they think fit. I have noticed this with regard to the activities of the hon. Member and his friends, that while there are few occasions on which they stage a Debate on a Private Bill, as sure as my name gets on the back of a Bill they have a Second or a Third Reading Debate. That happened on the Guildford Corporation Bill and on every Bill the Surrey County Council has brought in. The hon. Member for jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) is not the only person who represents Jarrow in this House; I am a kind of sleeping partner in the concern. When I have placed my name on the back of a Bill it seems that it is a circumstance that arouses suspicion in the hon. Member for Elland and in his hon. and learned Friend.
512 I would put this point to the House: I have heard people outside, who do not have the opportunities that we have of understanding the real difficulties of the Special Areas, say, "Why don't these people do something to help themselves?" Here is a case of one of the distressed areas, perhaps the most distressed area of England, attempting to help itself. It is faced with extraordinary and peculiar difficulties. Less than 100 years ago Jarrow consisted of 700 people. The coming of Palmer's shipyard meant the growth of that population to 35,000 people within a very few years. The town was built, as were all the Tyneside towns, with absolute disregard of anything such as we now call town-planning. People were placed on the Tyneside in a way which no one would defend to-day. They were encouraged to buy small plots of land on which to erect their own houses. Then came the time when National Shipbuilding Securities, Limited, bought Jarrow shipyard, which had produced some of the finest vessels that ever sailed under the British flag, and it decreed that for 42 years no ship should be built there. By that one act they destroyed the opportunities for livelihood of every one of the 35,000 people, and not merely theirs but that of other people in the adjoining boroughs along the Tyneside.
That situation presents a problem which none of us would like to have to face, although many of us have had much experience in local government. I hear my friends in Surrey talking about the difficulties and the expenses of local authorities. They have a 1d. rate that produces over £ 50,000 and a rateable value of over £ 10 per head of the population. I sometimes ask them: "If your job is difficult, how would you care to tackle the job of Jarrow and South Shields?" Only the most gallant spirits can continue to struggle against the overwhelming adversities that have, quite undeservedly, fallen on that area. The hon. Member for Guildford (Sir J. Jarvis) during his period as High Sheriff of Surrey, did what he could to assist this town and is still carrying on with some of the work, but it is not sufficient to meet the problem. The hon. and learned Member for West Derby seemed to think that these powers were not necessary. He said that in dealing with these sites you could get a long way by agreement. 513 When you want to acquire a site for industrial development and you come across a plot of which you either cannot discover the owner or the owner refuses to sell and sees his property steadily increasing in value to the prospective purchaser as the adjoining plots round about it are bought, you come to the stage at last when you must have some compulsion to make the job feasible at all. I know also, in negotiation by agreement, the power that resides in you when there is compulsion in the background. I am sure that in the course of his legal experience the hon. and learned Member must have come across cases in which the existence of compulsory powers has enabled a reasonable agreement to be made with a person whom he would not have defended in respect of the price being asked for the last bit of land necessary to round off a scheme.
True, the Jarrow Corporation have gone rather beyond what is usually the practice in Bills submitted to this House. The House will have gathered from the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means that the claims for those powers have been most carefully examined, not merely by the inquisitors who sit in one of the rooms upstairs with the hon. Member for Elland, and call municipalities in front of them and tell them how much they are prepared to let them have, but by the Unopposed Bills Committee, which had the exceptional advantage of being presided over by the Chairman of Ways and Means and being reinforced by the presence of the Deputy-Chairman as well as Members from all parts of the House. After carefully examining the proposals, the Committee has come to the conclusion that, in the special circumstances of Jarrow which I have related and which are well known to the House, it is desirable that these powers should be available. I imagine that we want to see these communities preserved and placed on their feet as soon as possible. It surely can be no offence to Tory doctrine that municipal corporations should preserve themselves and place themselves on their feet by a little self-help.
I suggest to the House that the Bill should be regarded as a sign on the part of the people of Jarrow of faith in their own future and their own destiny. I have spent some time on Tyneside and I know the disheartening effect on men of 12, 13 or 14 years of steady unemploy- 514 ment, especially when they have given much of their lives to the building up of a great industry like Palmer's shipyard and have seen people from an outside district come and destroy everything that made life worth living. I hope that the House will see this Bill of the Jarrow Corporation as an act of faith in their own future and one that deserves our support, and that we shall allow them to have these powers by which they may take the steps they desire to put themselves once again in the forefront of the industrial districts of the country. I sincerely hope that we shall not merely negative the hon. Gentleman's proposal and I make an appeal to him that, having heard the speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means and of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow, he should withdraw his Motion and let the House send a message to Jarrow assuring this depressed district not merely of our interest in her but our pride that she is taking steps to help herself.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
It is desirable that I should express the view of the Government on this Bill because, after all, it is upon the Minister of Health that a great many of these powers are conferred. In the first place, we have every reason to express our gratitude to those who have accorded to the House the occasion for the Debate this evening. It is true that powers of a somewhat unusual nature are being asked for and that, as the Chairman of Ways and Means has said, they were brought to the notice of the Committee by a note from the Minister of Health and to the notice of the House by a note from the Committee. The Chairman of Ways and Means in his speech, quite properly, if I may say so, gave no lead to the House as to whether these powers should be conceded or not, and it is for those of us who are in responsible positions to give such lead as we can to the House on the matter. Admittedly the powers are unusual, but I think it is fair to say that the powers have been modified very considerably as compared with those sought by the corporation when the Bill was introduced, that the corporation have done their utmost to meet all possible objections, and that the reasonable demands which are now brought before the House must be conceded if the experiment is to be tried at all.
515 I come now to the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the West Derby division of Liverpool (Mr. Fyfe). He said that a lead was desired as to whether these powers were to be conceded generally or not. That was the main burden of his remarks. But I think it is clear from the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), from the speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and, indeed, from all the speeches we have heard this evening, that this is not a case of asking for general powers, but a case in which an attempt is being made to clear up a particular problem. The hon. Member for Jarrow stressed that point insistently. We must all admit that, where a large number of scattered plots are spread throughout a town, the problem of the local authority, if they wish to encourage industrial development, is very difficult. We all know that in old established industrial areas the ownership of the land is often divided between the owners of a great number of small parcels which it is very difficult to combine unless some super-authority of one kind or another is willing to undertake the responsibility. In this case, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has pointed out, the Corporation of Jarrow are willing to undertake that responsibility for themselves.
I think it is desirable that these powers should be conceded, and I would invite the House to-night to concede them. The consent of the Minister, which is required, is by no means a simple matter of rubber-stamping. Those who have had to do with local authorities of one kind or another know very well that it is not a question merely of the whim of some particular occupant of the office, but of close, meticulous examination by a great Department acting as trustee, not merely for the interests of the inhabitants of the area, but— and this is the other point— as trustee for the inhabitants of Great Britain generally.
The point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby is a sound one, that, if exceptional conditions are conceded in one area, we must take great care that nothing is done that will worsen the conditions of other areas. Those of us who represent areas which are not in themselves Special Areas, as I do in Glasgow or as hon. 516 Members do in the case of Liverpool, have often felt a certain jealousy when particular powers were given to Special Areas, and, therefore, the possibility of special advantages being given to one area to the detriment of other areas must be considered. In this case there will, in the first place, be the safeguard of the departmental examination; secondly, there will be the responsibility of the Minister; and, thirdly, there will be the responsibility of this House, which, as the Chairman of Ways and Means truly said, can, by virtue of the fact that the consent of the Minister is necessary, challenge any such action if other constituencies feel that they are being prejudiced by the concession of special advantages by the Minister in this respect. The limitation of the powers to the special conditions of Jarrow is also reinforced by the limitation in time, which is a very important factor. The operation of the Bill is bound up with the operation of the Special Areas Act, and a minimum of five years is laid down. The promoters of the Bill have modified the Preamble and have stressed the inter-relation of the powers here sought with the special economic difficulties from which Jarrow in particular suffers. I think one may say that the case for an experiment under these conditions and with these safeguards, both Parliamentary and in regard to time, has been made out.
I quite agree with the hon. Member for South Shields that we should as far as possible send a message of hope to the hard-pressed men and women of Jarrow, and I am sure that the House has examined the problem to-night, not with any desire to withhold any advantages, but with a desire if possible to see whether (a) the Bill would be a real advantage to the inhabitants of Jarrow itself, and (b) whether it would bring any disadvantages to other areas which are almost as hard-pressed as Jarrow itself. I think a case has been made out to show that these advantages can be safely conceded, and certainly we all wish the best of good fortune to Jarrow in the great fight that it is making against the evils which have come upon it in recent years. I hope very much that the House will concede these powers to-night, and I can give an undertaking, as Minister of Health, that I will carefully examine any proposals that may be brought before me under the Bill.
517 I hope it may be possible that my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby may feel that the purpose they desired to serve by bringing these matters under review in the House to-night has in fact been served, and that they will not only not feel it necessary to press their Amendment to a Division, but will be able to see their way to withdraw it, so that the Third Reading of the Bill may go forth as the unanimous finding of the House.
§ Mr. Levy
My only desire was to serve the purpose of bringing these unusual powers before the House. I told the hon. Lady (Miss Wilkinson), who represents Jarrow so well, that I had no intention of taking the Amendment to a Division, and if it is the pleasure of the House, it certainly is my pleasure to withdraw the Amendment. I sincerely hope that the Bill will go forward with good will, and that, as time passes, Jarrow, instead of being a specially distressed area, will become a specially prosperous area.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.