HC Deb 27 January 1943 vol 386 cc557-64

Sir W. Jowitt, I beg to move, in page 4, line 2, to leave out "exercising under the direction of the Minister," and to insert: assisting the Minister in the exercise of his In the Second Reading Debate yesterday, I gave the reasons for this Amendment. Its purpose is to remove any anxiety felt by local authorities, who were very anxious to preserve their right to deal direct with the Minister and not to be put off with dealing with a mere Commission. When the local authorities' representatives came to see me, I indicated to them that I thought they were already fully protected because the rights which they had were statutory rights, and one could not by the passing of an Order in Council interfere with statutory rights unless one took express power to do so, which we have not done here; but they were apprehensive. The people whom I saw were very distinguished people who know much more about the law of local government than I ever knew, and in the circumstances I suggested this Amendment, of which they approved. It becomes quite plain, if we insert the words: If it appears to his Majesty to be expedient to establish any Commission for the purpose of assisting the Minister in the exercise of his functions, that the reason for the Commission is to assist the Minister, and the reason for the Commission is not to interfere with other people, namely, the local authorities. Although I think the Amendment is probably unnecessary, yet it has had the effect of removing apprehensions to which the original Clause gave rise by reason of its wise language, and the Committee would perhaps do well to accept it.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

Although I am not in any way authorised to speak for them, I know that there was a very real fear that the unfortunate things which sometimes happen in dealing with Area Commissioners might be extended. We much prefer our local authorities to continue to have the right of direct access to Ministers. We have given them their powers, and it is only right that these deputies of the House of Commons, which the local authorities really are, should have direct access to Ministers. I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman very sincerely for having met a very real fear on their part and for having made it clear, so that if there is any controversy in the future we may know that it is the express intention of the Government to be in the closest touch with local authorities and not to deal with them through some queer body which may be called "Area Commissioners" or anything else of that kind.

Mr. Tinker

I am glad my right hon. and learned Friend has brought the matter forward. My town council had a fear that their powers were being taken from them and asked me to watch the matter and find out what the position was. I understood my right hon. and learned Friend to say that the Bill could not supersede certain powers which have already been given and do it by Order in Council. I thought an Act of Parliament might supersede anything that went before it. I did not know there was anything in the Bill to deal with Orders in Council.

Sir W. Jowitt

Of course, an Act of Parliament can alter anything that has gone before. This Clause gives power to do certain things by Order in Council. When power is given to do things by Order in Council, unless the Act expressly so provides, you must do it so as not to interfere with previous Acts. That is the point.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

I regret that I was not in the House when the right hon. and learned Gentleman made his statement, but I, in common with others, have some misgivings about this Clause, and some of our local authorities are certainly very apprehensive. I wonder if I might ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman in what way he proposes to deal with this. Local authorities since the war have seen this area form of government developed. We have it all over the country, and they are very apprehensive, and rightly so. I fully realise that under any system of town planning you must in some directions have a wider view than the perspective of a local authority, but we have to recognise that local authorities have been the bulwark of our freedom and progress in many directions for generations past, and one wants to feel reassured that Orders in Council will not be submitted to the House without previous consultation with them.

Sir W. Jowitt

There was apprehension because the local authorities thought that their powers and rights might be interfered with by Order in Council. Whether that apprehension was well or ill-founded does not matter, as, in order to meet them, I suggested this form of Amendment, and they are now quite satisfied that their powers are in no way interfered with. If we wanted to interfere with their powers, we could do it by bringing in an Act of Parliament, but as far as this Clause is concerned they are all now quite satisfied that it does not interfere with them.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

Did I understand the Minister to say that he had met the local authorities this week?

Sir W. Jowitt

Yes. I had a letter from the Association of Local Authorities, and a deputation of three came to see me, including Sir Harry Pritchard. It was to him that I suggested this Amendment. He asked for time to sleep on it, and next morning told me he was perfectly satisfied with the position and asked whether I would put the Amendment down or whether he should. I have heard nothing from any other authority, and I am quite satisfied in my mind that he was speaking for all of them.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Remaining Clauses ordered to stand part of the Bill.

First and Second Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Mr. Bossom

I suppose it is quite certain now that the Bill will become law, and I sincerely hope that the Minister and the Ministry will have a great success, but I hope they will press very quickly for the further legislation which must obviously come forward. There are two matters, though, which give me cause for apprehension. The first is that the officers of the Ministry of Health and later the Ministry of Works and Planning—the same body of men—are to be put into new offices and to sit at new desks and be responsible for the handling of town and country planning under this Bill. Since 1932 more damage has been done, to our countryside and to planning in our towns than at any corresponding time in our entire history, and these same individuals who were in charge of planning in those ministries are to be again responsible for the same work. There will be no additions, because the Bill itself states that the transfer of functions will not of itself involve any increase in the expenditure now being incurred. So there will be no more experts, otherwise it would add cost over the present expenditure. That means that no new minds are to be introduced, and that is in itself a matter of considerable concern. I hope the Minister will take the matter in hand and see that at any rate a new point of view is generated. Much new building in the last 10 years has been unsatisfactory. For example, the building in which the Ministry itself is located, Lambeth Bridge House, is one of the worst pieces of town planning you could find anywhere in Europe, and it was produced during the time these same officials were responsible for planning legislation. At the same time while this bad work has been going on here, Russia, the United States, Italy and Germany have been doing very fine work in the field of town and country planning. I hope the Minister will see that the old situation does not continue. The second cause for apprehension is that the Bill makes no reference to collaboration with other Departments—the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Health.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

There is no question of collaboration in the Bill.

Mr. Bossom

I was expressing my regret that there was no mention of it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That could have been done on the Second Reading, but not on the Third.

Mr. Bossom

Also I was rather surprised at a comment made by the Parliamentary Secretary yesterday, which struck me as rather unusual. He said: The new Ministry will be able to give the Government the considered advice of a Minister who will have become expert in the existing and desirable use of the land of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1943; col. 463, Vol. 386.] I think it very unlikely that the Minister will become an expert in so short a time, especially on a subject which has taken many people a lifetime to master. I hope he will realise that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and that he will make certain he gets good advice before he imparts it to the other Departments. In conclusion, I do trust that the Minister and the Ministry will be really successful in this work, which is much overdue, and will push forward with the new legislation that is essential to make their efforts effective. I hope that when the Minister brings in any further legislation he will give the House plenty of opportunity to consider it carefully and not try to rush us as we have been rushed over this Bill. I asked the Minister-Designate a week ago when this was to be introduced, and he said that it was not coming for weeks. Instead it was suddenly produced, and we have had very little time to examine it. That is not a satisfactory way of dealing with such far reaching legislation. When this Bill and the consequent Bills, to make it workable, have been passed it will take at least two years before the substance can become effective. It takes a long time for local authorities to make their decisions for them to get architects and to have drawings made, and so on. I would, therefore, like to impress the Minister with the need for speed in pursuing all the matters connected with this important problem of town and country planning.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

I do not pretend to have a knowledge in this matter comparable to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom). He is an authority in America, and I saw there some of his work which I admired very much. This, I think, is the first instance of a Bill to deal with the post-war planning era. We hear a good deal about post-war planning, and it is said that the Government are bringing nothing forward to deal with it. This, however, is the first result of their work on reconstruction, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on its introduction. I was one of those who followed very closely the discussions on town planning in 1932. Incidently the proposals then were strongly opposed by the present Parliamentary Secretary's party. We expected a great deal from the Bill that was then passed but I have been immensely disappointed at what has happened between 1932 and 1939. All Departments were concerned with it, and particularly the Ministry of Health, but there has been no tangible change in the last 10 years from the point of view of the pure town planning of this country. I hope that with the new Ministry all that will be changed. The Government will be faced with immense difficulties from all sorts of interests in connection with land buildings and local authorities, and unless more power, drive, vigour and energy are put behind this Bill it will be nothing but a disappointment similar to that which followed the measure of 1932. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has some knowledge of this problem, will with his Minister be able to enthuse a little go, drive and energy into the work so that the land of this country will be transformed in such a way that we shall not have the hideous sights that we see at the present time.

Mr. Henry Strauss

Having regard to the numerous speeches that I have made in the House from 1937 onwards, complaining of the outrageous treatment of town and country in the years separating the two wars, it would be idle for me to pretend that town and country planning had been satisfactory. I shall certainly not do so, but I think that a rather unfair attack has been made on the conduct of the Ministry of Health and on the competence of some of the able civil servants who served in that Department and who will serve the new Ministry. My hon. Friend the member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) is wrong in thinking that there will be nobody coming into our Ministry from outside or that some have not already come into the planning department of my present Ministry.

Mr. Bossom

Will my hon. Friend state a single instance where there has been a protest from the Department about the unsatisfactory work that was going on?

Mr. Strauss

Perhaps we shall get along a little faster if my hon. Friend allows me to reply to what he has already stated. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) said he had been grievously disappointed at what had happened since 1932. So have we all, but do not let us suppose that things would not have been still worse if no part of the country had been placed even under interim control. Under the administration of the Ministry of Health or their successors, some 70 per cent. of the country—to quote a rough figure from memory—has been placed under interim control, but under the Statute under which we are working that does not mean that it is under the control of the central Government. Let me mention the very case referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone, the building in which the Ministry of Works and Planning at present works. I have already expressed in public my opinion of the planning of that bridge-head in that historic part of London, the angle at which the building is set and the inadequacy and muddle of the whole design and layout. The position, however, is that under interim development control under the existing Statute, if the local authority passes an application for development, the Minister has no power to intervene. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone is, I know, eager that that should be altered. I must not anticipate future legislation, but I gather that we shall have his support when we seek to alter it. That is also my reply to the hon. Member for Denbigh. I am not going to suggest for a moment that town and country planning has not hitherto been largely a failure, but do not let us run from that to the assumption that if we had not attempted anything at all things would not have been worse still. Before we blame the Ministry of Health for what has happened since 1932 let us examine whether the powers under which they operated were adequate.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.