§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pym.]
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
It is not my intention at this late hour to detain the House, and certainly not as long as I would have detained it had I been called as I anticipated at a much earlier hour. This matter is not entirely a constituency matter but has wider implications. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) is interested in it and there are other parts of the country to which it will also apply, and so I make no apology for raising it at this juncture. I have been trying, off and on, for 15 years to bring this matter to the attention of Departments of Government, in fact, ever since I have been in the House, and I am only raising it now because I think that public opinion should have some cognisance of the situation as it exists in this part of my constituency and in other parts of the country. I refer to a small seaside resort called Kinmel Bay, in the County of Denbigh, close to the town of Rhyl. It is a beautiful situation, one of the most picturesque in the Kingdom. There is a beautiful stretch of sand, a fine hinterland, with the Vale of Clwyd at the back of it and the North Wales mountains in the distance. It it had got into the hands of the public, or some financiers with some 158 feeling of social conscience, it could have been developed into one of the finest seaside resorts in the Kingdom, but such is not the situation of this little township to-day.
What is the history of Kinmel Bay? In 1925 a Mr. Charles W. Neville bought from 1,500 to 2,000 acres of land for the very small price of £30 an acre, and subsequently sold it at a handsome profit to himself, that is to say, to another company of which he is the moving spirit, a company known as the Kinmel Bay Land Company, of which he has been the dominating figure throughout. I believe, although I have no actual information, that Mr. Neville at the moment is in the United States of America or Canada and has found the climate there more suitable to him during the years of the war than this country. I do not think that he has returned. There were other names associated with Mr. Neville in this company—Lord Teynham and a Mr. Geoffrey Crispin. The company was wound up in 1931 and became the Kinmel Bay Estates Company Limited. The company is now in the hands of a receiver, I understand. The names of the directors given to-day are Charles W. Neville, F. A. Locke and E. F. Locke. The ramifications of this estate company have been somewhat wide. It is connected directly or indirectly with, and has formed or reformed, other estates known as the Peace-haven Estate, the Saltdean Estate, the Sandycove Company Estate, the Sunnyvale Holiday Camp, the North Wales Water Company, and it is or was associated with a company that is or was styled the First Mortgage Co-operative Trust Company.
According to the prospectus issued in 1928 by this company it had since its incorporation in 1925—three years before—paid dividends at the rate of 7 per cent. on its ordinary shares and 50 per cent. on its deferred shares. Now what have these gentlemen done? By specious advertisements—which I have not now the time to show the House but they are contained in wonderful advertisements shown all over the Kingdom—and very cleverly devised contracts they have induced a large number of retired people, some with very small incomes, or small pensioners, to buy land which up to the year 1925 had cost £30 an acre at a price of from £100 a quarter of an acre up to 159 £500 an acre with annual charges supposed to be for roadmaking, sewerage, and so on—a charge actually on the land which will last for all time, with the result that a beautiful site—a place of great possibilities to that part of the world—has been largely ruined and has brought a great deal of misery and discomfort to many people.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
What did the planning authority do about it? Did they do nothing?
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
At the time this estate was started, the authority was a rural district council and certainly had no powers then to deal with the situation, and I understand that the present local authority has not very much power at the present time to deal with it either. It may be that some people would say, "Serve these people right for being tricked in that way." That might be all right for a private individual—if a man is tricked by a confidence trickster it is his own look-out, but certainly no view of that kind could be taken in regard to the spoliation and desolation of beautiful land which is a matter of public concern and public policy, a matter for the Government of the day and a matter for the local authorities.
What is the present state of Kinmel Bay? In a few words I will give it. There is no proper system of sanitation or sewerage. Cesspools are a disgusting nuisance. In some cases they have to be emptied once a fortnight by the householder at an exorbitant cost, sometimes as much as £1 of poor people's money. Ditches have become full. The sewerage in summer months is quite intolerable at times. Instances have been known of crude sewage floating on the surface and actually overflowing into a house in this area. There is no proper system of roads. Those that are made are mainly of twigs or branches of trees, old tin cans, and other rubbish, with a layer of stones on top. Even these roads, of course, are not maintained. Drinking water, at one time brown and muddy, has improved. A new company has been formed, a subsidiary of this very company, which is certainly selling rather purer water now, but at the exorbitant price of a minimum charge of 15s. a quarter to the householders. Of course, the hydrants are quite 160 useless in the case of fire. Now we have here 1,380 acres built over in this scattered and haphazard manner with a population of over 2,000.
I want to ask two or three questions of His Majesty's Government. My hon. Friend is here representing the Ministry of Health, and I am glad to see, also, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is, naturally, interested in a matter of this sort. The first question I want to ask is: Can the Government not inquire into the activities of this company, or any similar company? This company has received thousands of pounds from the purchasers of land. Was it ever their intention to carry out the necessary works for which the money was paid? Is there ground for criminal proceedings, for obtaining money by false pretences with intent to defraud, for fraudulent conversion or publishing a fraudulent prospectus? It may be said that the householders can bring a civil action. But how can poor people bring a civil action against a company which is now in liquidation? Are not the Government in a position to interfere here on the question of a misdemeanour which is "causing a nuisance to the public at large"?
I want to ask whether the Ministry of Health have any powers, under the law as it stands, or the local authority, to compel a development company to construct roads and sewers. If they have not then this is a serious shortcoming in our laws. The local authority has power, I know, under the Private Streets Works Act to do such work, but it can only be done after the buildings are completed. Here, there is a haphazard distribution of buildings, and even if they did it they would then have to charge the frontagers. Must the frontagers pay twice over? They have already paid for the work to be done. Whom is the local authority to recoup the money from? The straggling nature of the buildings here would make it a very heavy burden on the local authority. Further, this company has its own private water undertaking. It can charge anything it likes. It is a matter of contract between the company and the householders. Do the Government intend to let a private water undertaking function without control, make any charges it likes and supply what quality of water it likes, without intervening?
161 I want to give time for the Parliamentary Secretary to reply, so I will cut the remarks I intended to make. In order to carry out the necessary work which is required in this area the local authority would want about £250,000, equal to a 6s. or 7s. rate in the £. I want to know how the Government intend to deal with the matter. I would be glad if the Ministry of Health, in conjunction with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, would send an inspector to this area to find out for himself what the situation is. I want to ask the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether, under the 1943 Act, he has power to deal with a situation like this, and whether this area is a devastated area which comes within the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Bill which was before the House last week? It is not fair that the ratepayers of Abergele should be burdened with this huge charge. There are men who are now with the Army, and they are coming back to this area without any sewerage and without proper roads. They have no intention of remaining there for the rest of their lives without something being done. I feel that the Government must not be helpless and I hope they will take the necessary action.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
With my personal knowledge of this area, I can support what the hon. Gentleman has said. My view is that the estate should never have been approved as a development scheme until provision was made for an improved sewerage scheme. People were advised by extravagant propaganda to go to this new village, which was to be on Peace-haven lines. One can understand what they feel after 14 or 15 years. The infamy of it is that the promoters have been allowed to get away with it. I had a proper scheme to put in, not more than a mile away, but a man whose name I could not very well pronounce, is allowed to come in and take a huge rake-off and walk away with the swag. It is no use saying that the local authority is not to some extent responsible.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
The present local authority had no jurisdiction in the matter. It was then in a rural area.
§ Mr. Quibell
They are very anxious to have an increase in the rateable value. They said this new village that they were going to build would be a great thing. It might have been a beautiful, healthy place 162 and, with proper development and planning, could have been wonderful. The fundamental thing was to get an adequate sewage disposal scheme. In every one of these hundreds of houses the only drainage is a little man-hole with a cover, and the sewage has to be emptied out on to the little gardens. From 1930 to now, not a single step has been taken. What they want to do is to put the raw sewage into the river and ruin the whole of the Rhyl sands. The local authority has not exercised the power which has been given as it should have done. The houses are badly built and it is badly laid out. It is not drained and it is unhealthy. Words are not strong enough to condemn it root and branch.
For the past 14 or 15 years it has been a bad spot left by the people who had no interest in it except the amount of money they have taken out of it. They advertised that people could make a living with poultry farms near the sea, and some have gone out of Yorkshire and invested money in buying a house, but they lost everything owing to the action of these financial sharks who exploited the area.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
In my division there is an area which is known almost throughout the world as a deplorable example of the depths of depravity to which private enterprise can sink in the hands of unscrupulous land speculators unfettered by law or conscience. I speak feelingly because I know the people who have to live in this place, which is the result of our failure to legislate in the past. They have not asked me to speak of their difficulties. I may even get some protests at doing so, but I shall get much more praise. My object in speaking is to do my utmost to make sure that the Town and Country Planning Bill will enable an area with conditions of bad lay-out such as this to receive assistance, and the local authority full powers to put right what is nothing more nor less than a blot on a beautiful piece of countryside. I hope that the attitude of the Ministry of Health in the past will not be pursued. namely, that because a fool and his money are soon parted, he has no right to have any sympathy or protection because he has made a bad bargain by not finding out all there was to know before he got into the hands of the sharks to whom my hon. Friend referred.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
In the few minutes left to me I will answer the main questions raised in the course of the Debate without dealing with the larger question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish). Under the legislation that we have now, as far as we can see this could not happen again.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
It will unless the local electors make the local authority take action.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
I have been told by the Minister of Health that under the present powers he has no power to intrude in this matter.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If the hon. Gentleman will let me continue I hope I shall be able to show him that this could not happen in the future. We are dealing with something that happened in the past. What can we do now? Local authorities ought, before they passed plans, to have seen there was a proper sewerage scheme. In the Public Health Act, 1936, it is laid down as their duty because before that time some local authorities had not used the powers they had of refusing to pass plans unless there was a sewerage scheme.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
But then they had the powers, and it was laid down again in 1936 that it was their duty. It was made very plain in the Public Health Act of 1936, because certain local authorities had not used their powers and did not refuse to pass plans when there was not a sewerage scheme. Now we come to what power we have now. The hon. Gentleman said that inquiries should be made about this company. If any inquiries are to be made about a company, I would ask him to get into touch with the Board of Trade, who deal with company matters. He also said that he was not sure that those who had spent money and signed these documents had even had an honest deal. All I can say is that that matter would have to be taken up through the Director of Public Prosecutions; neither the Ministry of Health nor the Ministry of Town and Country Planning can deal with it. I want to show that that there can be a public inquiry when 164 the scheme for sewerage is put up, and that at that inquiry these people can state the facts.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we could compel the company to provide roads and sewers; I cannot enter here into the details of the agreement that was made between the people who took the houses and the company. I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the council have powers under the Public Health Act, 1936, to make a main sewerage scheme for the estate. They were so informed in August, 1939. We had been prepared to sanction a loan, but the matter had to be postponed in 1939 because of the war. On 25th February, 1944, the Welsh Board of Health asked the urban district council to prepare a scheme for sewering the area and the council's consulting engineers now have the matter in hand. The public inquiry will be held when the scheme is received and the facts which the hon. Gentleman has brought to our notice will no doubt be brought again to the notice of the public in that public inquiry.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
He asked me also about roads and mentioned that it would be very costly for the urban district council to work under the Private Street Works Acts because in a great many cases the people had already paid for frontage for their roads and had not got it from the company and would therefore have to pay it twice over. Again the matter lies with the urban district council. If and when they suggest doing any road work, and put up to the Ministry of Health a road plan, there will again have to be a public inquiry, and those facts can come out. I fully realise the difficulties of the individual people who have signed certain documents and who thought they were to get certain amenities, but I think the hon. Gentleman will see that the main sewerage scheme is already being brought forward, and planned, and that an inquiry will be held. He also mentioned water. The main complaint we have had is about the cost of the water. This scheme is being run by a non-statutory body, but it is again possible for the Rhyl Urban District Council to take it over. That can be done but it lies now with the district council. As soon as their plan for their sewerage scheme comes forward 165 to the Ministry, it will be considered and the inquiry will be held.
I think those are the main points I can deal with in these very few moments. As to whether or not those who have taken their houses have, shall we say, been almost cheated by the company—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Almost? "]—I do not want to say more.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
That matter will have to be taken up separately. It lies between these people and the company. If the hon. Gentleman thinks there has been dishonesty, the people concerned must apply to the law and if there is something that ought to be said about this company, it ought to be brought to the notice of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Will the people who bought these houses have to bear a portion of the cost of the street-making twice over?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I used my words very carefully. I said that if and when the district council put up a plan for roads and streets, it would be considered and there would have to be a public inquiry on that subject. That would be the first step.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
Can the hon. Lady hold out any hopes at all or am I allowed to ask the Minister of Town and Country Planning the question also? Here is a position which everybody agrees is deplorable; can (a) such a position be prevented in the future and (b) can this particular situation be cleared up?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I thought I had made it clear that it can be prevented in the future. I began by saying that under present legislation this situation could not happen in the future. That is quite clear. I have dealt as far as I can in these few moments with sewers, streets and water, which the hon. Gentleman raised and with which I have not had long to deal, except to give in five minutes an epitome of the scheme.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
The hon. Lady failed to say who is to bear the burden of these poor ratepayers.
§ It being half an hour after the conclusion of Business exempted from the provisions of the Standing Order (Sittings of the House) Mr. DEPUTYSPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, as modified for this Session by the Order of the House of 25th November.