HC Deb 09 October 1944 vol 403 cc1471-501

Question again proposed, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)

I hope I may have the sympathy of the Committee if I do not agree with the speeches delivered by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). I have the greatest sympathy for their motives in moving and supporting this Clause. Perhaps the Noble Lady will forgive me for saying that I admire the Plymouth plan, and I hope she will not think that I am in any way opposing the underlying objects of this proposed Clause. I had the opportunity of seeing the Bristol people in the blitz, and I had first-hand knowledge of the courage of the Queen City of the West. Whoever happens to be the Member for Thornbury, is regarded as a semi-representative of Bristol and is asked to their functions and dinners. I hope they will not think that I am biting the hand that fed me when I say that I am sorry that I cannot support this Clause. I doubt if it is wise to introduce into a Bill of this kind a Clause which must forestall a major Measure dealing with a different objective. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport will agree with me that this Clause, if passed, must affect the whole future of local government, and as the hon. Member for Sunderland has said the Minister of Health made a statement, I think on 3rd August, announcing that the matter required reconsideration as regards the adjustment of boundaries and areas, and I understand that conversations have been going on with the local authorities.

Viscountess Astor

I would like to hear from the Minister of Town and Country Planning if he really thinks that a Bill to reorganise local authorities has any chance of coming before us within five years, and whether he thinks when it does so there is any chance of its being passed.

Sir D. Gunston

I appreciate the Noble Lady's fear. That was the point of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport—the question of time. I think we are entitled to ask the Minister if the Government will soon be in a position to make any announcement with regard to dealing with the extension of local government boundaries, and I think that either a White Paper or a statement should be put before the House and we should really consider the whole problem of local boundaries and the question of local government before we can accept a Clause like this. It seems to me if you accept this Clause, excellent as its intentions are it absolutely hamstrings the whole development of local government in the future.

5.15 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport talked about development of the area according to rateable value and population, but I think he will agree that if we passed this Clause, we are driven to accept, whether we want it or not, centralisation based on the big town. Are we convinced that that is necessarily the right solution in the development of local government? I am not expressing an opinion, but I think it would be unwise to drive us to that conclusion.

The right hon. Gentleman, in a powerful speech, avoided one of the great weaknesses of his case, at which I was rather surprised, because he always speaks with the greatest courage and never funks his fences. In this case he deliberately funked his fence. I see by his smile that he knows what the fence was, but for the benefit of those who do not I will say that if we passed this Clause we would take away the protection of Parliament from the small local authority. We can argue whether that is wise or not, but that is what will happen. Are we sure we ought to take away the protection of Parliament from the smaller authorities? Are we sure that the smaller local authorities are always more inefficient than the larger ones, that they do not understand their localities as well as the larger ones do? May I give an example? In my constituency there is the Urban District Council of Kingswood, which is practically in Bristol and is alongside the constituency of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). That Council does very good work. It may be argued that it ought to go in into the City of Bristol. If it did, instead of there being a large number of people sitting on that Council the area would be represented in Bristol by two councillors. I am not arguing that that is right or wrong, but I am saying that under present law, if that local authority objected to going into Bristol, it would not have to unless it had been established by Private Bill procedure in Parliament that it must go in.

I want to remind the Committee, that our Private Bill procedure is very valuable. I do not know whether many Members here have sat on Private Bill Committees. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor)—one can hardly believe it to look at her—is shortly to celebrate 25 years in the House. She has probably sat on Private Bill Committees, and will know that there are no fairer Committees in the world. Both sides give evidence and whether they lose or win they go away knowing that they have had a fair deal. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport—or perhaps I ought to have said "Friend"—wants to sweep that away. He wants to set up a boundary commission. I think we ought to proceed very carefully before we sweep away that protection. It may be cumbersome and expensive, and there may be great arguments for sweeping it away, but surely it can only be done in a big Measure which has had the full consideration of Parliament, and ought not to be done in a Clause like this.

There is one other point I want to put, and it is in regard to rateable value. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport made a great point about the loss of rateable value. It is quite true that if a large city goes outside its boundaries and builds houses and so on it creates rateable value. But it also acquires rateable value and I was astonished to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland talk, about building houses in areas where there is no rateable value. Unless you are to have a jig-saw puzzle in extending beyond your boundaries, you are bound to build and acquire houses where there are other houses near by. For instance, if you extended from Bristol into the Thornbury Division you would be bound to acquire some valuable rateable value. The county has to keep up its roads—I know they get a grant from the Government—but it is the complaint to-day that we subscribe heavily for roads that are used by town dwellers. If you spread beyond your boundaries you would have more people using the county roads and the county would have lost rateable value, thereby increasing the burden on the county. To-day, many people in these areas are not getting the amenities which people in the towns get.

All that shows that while we should not maintain the status quo—of course not—the whole problem requires great consideration and can only be done by means of a major Measure. May I suggest that those who support the Clause would probably be satisfied not to press it, if they could have a satisfactory answer from the Minister in regard to the time it will be before the Government announce their plans about adjustment of local government boundaries. I think they see the difficulties they would get into about the future of local government if this Clause were passed. On the other hand, they are worried about time. I hope the Minister will reassure us that conversations have gone on, and that he will be in a position soon to introduce a White Paper, and that there will not be undue delay, in dealing with local government boundaries on a comprehensive scale.

Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)

In a Clause of this nature, which is applied to a limited number of cities, it is difficult not to come here for special pleading on behalf of the city one represents. This particular problem applies to a limited number of cities throughout the country. They are the ones mainly affected by blitz damage, and they are largely the cities concentrated in the thought of this Bill as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) explained the whole principle so clearly that it seems almost unnecessary to repeat it in detail, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) brought forward many points of detail affecting Plymouth and Devonport. I want to draw the attention of the Committee to Plymouth City itself. Under the Bill, there is compulsion, in order to replan our towns, but this will dislodge a certain amount of population, and accommodation for that population must be found elsewhere. There are circumstances which even aggravate that particular situation. Due to Services needs, a lot of Plymouth might be taken away for other purposes, which will increase the call on land available within the city boundary. In that event, Plymouth would have a special case.

I think that, in the main, disagreement between Members of this Committee, between town Members and those from country constituencies, arises very largely on the question of the financial provisions for local authorities and their rates. It is true that, if the Plymouth population goes out into the country, the rating value in the country will increase, and that in the town will decrease. At the same time, the town will lose rateable value, and it has to plan to incur heavy liabilities in that replanning, which it must do under this Bill. Therefore, I think it is only fair that, if rateable value be pushed out from the centre, in the exporting sense, into the counties, some compensation should be given to the cities for the revenue which they will lose. The best way in which this compensation can be afforded, is by extending the boundaries and allowing the cities to have the rateable value of the populations which are displaced.

If it comes down to that question—and in many cases it must—the whole position must be valued up, and both sides heard, as to what one might lose and the other might gain. So far as Plymouth is concerned, I think it is known that something like 28,000 families will have to be displaced, and that will entail, in later years, a larger number, and the net loss of rateable value must be something like £130,000 a year. The county gains what the city loses, but there is no reason why the county should be compensated for what it would never have had, but for the blitz. I think it is true that every hon. Member agrees that no one should make profit out of war.

Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)

Except the landowners.

Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest

Clearly, I think the county authorities would be making a profit out of the war, and out of the damage which has been done to the city. These blitzed cities have, of course, heavy loans against them. They are going to lose rateable value and thus have less security than that on which they raised those loans in the past. That is a point which must be borne in mind. I hope the Committee will agree to the proposal because this is an emergency provision to meet an exceptional case. In the ordinary event, this position would not have arisen. It is purely as an emergency measure that we ask for this. A Boundary Commission, before which all parties can put their case and compensation assessed for what is lost and gained between town and country arrived at in equity, would, I believe, be an advantage all round.

Commander Agnew

Can the hon. and gallant Member say how, in the Plymouth proposal, when population is taken away from a county authority, the loss is to be made good?

Colonel Guest

I tried to answer that by saying that, owing to the blitz and also to circumstances connected with the Services, the city will lose something like 24,000 or 28,000 families, and their rateable revenue will go into the county. The city will definitely lose the rateable value of that population, because the houses in which they will live will be built in the country, and not in the city. There is no room for them there.

Commander Agnew

But how will the county be reimbursed for the loss of the existing population?

Lieut.-Colonel Guest

They will lose something because of those localities coming into the city. That is a definite value, and it is a value they should certainly receive. But they should not receive compensation for what they have never had, which is the displaced population.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Windsor (Kingston-upon-Hull, Central)

I support this new Clause. When hon. Members are considering this matter, their minds should go back to what is the genesis of such a Clause and the reason for proposing that it should be put into the Bill. Most hon. Members will remember that, a few months ago, the Hull City Corporation introduced a Bill asking for somewhat similar terms, but for greater powers. They asked that they should be given authority to deal with blitzed areas. The Minister, on that occasion, more or less promised, if that Bill was withdrawn, that a comprehensive Measure would be introduced to deal with the problem of the blitzed cities. It was largely upon that ground that the House rejected the Hull Corporation Bill. The Corporation was not given the opportunity to go upstairs to state its case.

This is a most serious thing for blitzed cities. I do not think that there are any other blighted areas involved, but I would remind the Committee of the fact that, in the King's Speech, a promise was made that there would be a Bill dealing with the general replanning of blitzed cities. It has been debated in the other Chamber and in this House for a considerable time, and many local authorities have got thoroughly "fed up" with being put off. It is true that the Hull Bill went further than this Clause, but this would give us some small measure of satisfaction.

What is the situation in Hull? All that has been said about Plymouth, Bristol and any of the other cities, applies to Hull, with equal, if not with far greater force. Hull was a city of 350,000 people. As result of the blitz, it has come down to approximately 220,000. The Minister tells us to get on with planning, and the Hull Corporation is doing its best in relation to that, but, even with replanning, we will still have a surplus of population in the region of 50,000 to 70,000 people. It is perfectly obvious that, on rateable value alone, you are placing a burden on that city, which you have no right to place upon it. If, in expressing the views of the blitzed cities, we are somewhat disappointed with the purpose and intention of this Bill, it is because we maintain that is has never reached them. It is true it is now improved compared with what it was, but I was rather suspicious at the time that we got the promise, that it would not be implemented so as to give the blitzed cities their chance. I hope the Committee will give us our opportunity by embodying this Clause in the Bill.

Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)

I also hope, with the hon. Member for Central Hull (Mr. Windsor), that this Bill will be improved before we part with it, though I trust that the announcement recently made to us with regard to the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow does not portend anything so far as the 1939 ceiling is concerned. I cannot agree with the rest of the speech of the hon. Member. I am not convinced that the Committee is really aware of how serious this new Clause is and the effect it would have on the general structure of local authority government if it were passed. It does, in fact, give complete power to the Boundary Commissioners to extend the area of a local planning authority. It takes it right away from the Minister and from the control of Parliament. Hon. Members have mentioned the possibility of the Boundary Commissioners assessing compensation and all that sort of thing. There is no provision in the Clause for any form of compensation. There is only power to extend the area of the local planning authority concerned with no appeal to anybody; no appeal to the Minister and no appeal to the House of Commons.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does not my hon. Friend recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) said that he was not wedded to the exact wording of the Clause?

Mr. Petherick

I am certainly not wedded to the principle. I will try to give arguments in a reasonable way against the new Clause. I, personally, am not in the least against town and country planning proposals in general but planning with a big P is quite a different thing. This Bill and similar Measures generally envisage the proper lay-out of town and country and the proper relation of the one to the other. That could be accomplished under the Bill as it stands with the compensation Clauses inserted in some form or another.

We have heard a good deal of the City of Plymouth, and I do not want it to be thought in any way that I am making a purely Cornish speech on this Clause. Our relations with foreign powers continue to be friendly. I do not suppose we were ever on better terms with Devonshire and the City of Plymouth. Speaking as a Cornishman, we have the greatest and a most genuine admiration for the way in which the people of Plymouth have conducted themselves through these very hard and difficult years, but that does not say in the least that we necessarily agree with the proposals that are now put forward. Plymouth recently asked for, and got, a large extension of the city boundaries. In 1939 she asked for another 4,000 acres and got them. It is no doubt mainly due to the war, but, as far as I understand, those 4,000 acres have not yet been utilised. Part of the plan, and the immediate plan, should be the instant putting into use of those 4,000 acres before the City of Plymouth comes to Parliament and asks for what, in effect, by means of this Clause, is a large extension of boundaries. There are six or seven cities involved, I believe, in this Clause. The hon. Member for Central Hull has mentioned that Hull is one of them. One of my reasons for opposing it is precisely the same as the reason why I opposed the Hull Bill. I believe that it is not right to extend to six or seven or a certain number of cities that which ought to be part of a general code. Possibly in that code there may be provisions for exceptions and for special treatment of the most badly bombed cities, but I do not think that the general law of local Government ought to be altered in this way in a planning Bill.

The City of Plymouth has recently said —I speak subject to correction by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) or anyone else conversant with the facts—that it did not want any extension of the borough boundaries. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, why it is that they have suddenly changed their minds within the last year and have asked for these further extensions. I do not want to tread on any toes here and I will try to put the point in as non-controversial a way as possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said, quite rightly, as he is Member for part of Plymouth, that it is essential that these great urban communities should have all the powers they need to re-plan their own cities. But they are asking for more powers. They are asking for powers to re-plan the contiguous areas, which is a very different thing. I sometimes feel that people who live in great cities, and hon. Members and right hon. Members who represent them, are far too urban-minded and think far too much of the boroughs of this country and not enough of even dormitory areas and certainly not enough of the rural districts. There would be a great deal to be said for this new Clause if the new planning could not take place without it. We have had no evidence whatever to that effect so far. In Plymouth there is a new town planning committee in the course of being set up, and I see no particular reason why they should not come to an amicable agreement. The contiguous authorities of the county of Cornwall—Saltash, St. Germains and Tor Point—are reasonable people, and I do not see why agreement should not be arrived at with regard to this matter. It has been done so often in other cases in the past.

It really boils down to a question of money; it is a question of raising it. The bombed cities are naturally very anxious lest they should lose a considerable amount of the rates through many thousands of people going to live in contiguous areas. I know that the county of Cornwall will carry possibly higher rates as a result of the large influx of population which may come to them. It is not all one way. It was not always the great cities which were bombed that were affected, but the areas round about. I do not think it is a good thing, on balance, for a great city in one county to be allowed to sprawl into an adjacent county. There is such a thing as county spirit. That does not mean that you dislike your next-door neighbours at all, but the spirit ought to be fostered in every way. It is unfortunate, when there is a great city in one corner of a county, particularly with a river which is the natural boundary on one side, to allow it to spread out into an adjacent county when no great reason for it has been proved. I hope that the Committee will reject the new Clause, but, at the same time, I also express the hope that the conversations which I understand are now proceeding between the Minister and others may be carried on in order that some sensible conclusion may be reached which will not have the effect of undermining either the local spirit, on the one side, or the general power of local authorities, and Parliament's protection of those local authorities, on the other.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. McEntee

I hope that the Minister will not give any support to the Clause and that the Committee will reject it. There has been a good deal of talk about the loss which certain cities will suffer through a removal of population, but I have not yet heard anybody point out that under certain aspects of the change they might easily secure greatly increased assessable value. I remember a very big change in Houndsditch in the City of London. I remember Houndsditch before the change and after the change, and there is no doubt in my mind that as a consequence of the change the rateable value of Houndsditch was increased enormously. Some time ago I stayed in Nottingham. I had seen the centre of Nottingham before it was redeveloped and I saw it after redevelopment, and while I have no figures I feel certain that although there is now a smaller population in the redeveloped area yet on account of the larger and better buildings the assessment of that particular area must have risen enormously. Norwich had a very big redevelopment scheme in the centre of the city, under which small properties of low assessment gave place to quite large buildings, and there, again, I have no doubt the assessable value increased enormously. After all, the great bulk of the people who will go out of the cities of Bristol, Hull, or Plymouth, will be those who had occupied small houses of very low assessment, and I have no doubt that the new property erected under the redevelopment schemes will have greatly increased assessments.

The talk about the loss of assessable values is very largely imaginary, and I think that when we redevelop a place it will be found that instead of a loss there will be a gain, I live in a borough, and I do not think my borough would desire to support this proposed new Clause. Only a comparatively short time ago we were an urban district. We are not as big as we were when we were an urban district, and have lost a considerable number of our people. We as a borough would come under the Clause, but had we remained an urban district council we should not have come in. Why have certain boroughs been selected for this privileged position whereas equally important and equally large urban districts—and somebody has mentioned small agricultural towns—are not entited to benefit under the Clause? I want to see a redevelopment and an entire reconstruction of local government areas, but I want it done in an orderly way, and not in the patchwork manner we get in this Clause. I hope the Committee will not deal with this big question of reconstruction in the way suggested here. While all the talk was going on about compensation I was wondering who would pay the compensation. Who is expected to pay to these selected big cities the compensation to which they appear to think they are entitled? Is it to come from the taxpayers of urban districts which are not to share in the privileges of these cities, although some of them may have suffered a greater destruction than any of these cities? In my town we have had our share of destruction, and I know of urban districts not far away that have had their share, but they get no consideration at all from those who are representing the big cities. I hope the Committee will reject the Clause. I think it is based upon a bad principle, and that it would be doing in the wrong way a big job which I hope will be done under the general redevelopment and re-arrangement of local government.

Mrs. Tate (Frome)

I rise to support the Clause. What we must all remember is that if a bombed city is to be rebuilt it must be rebuilt in as near a future as possible, that it must be rebuilt with vision and imagination and in accordance with modern needs, and that there must be a plan upon which it can build before building starts. The hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury (Sir D. Gunston) exhibited a curiously touching faith when he spoke. He said the Government had promised to amend local government. He and I have sat in Parliament for many years and have listened to many Government promises. I heard the Government promise that this country would have a civil air line across the South Atlantic in the Spring of 1937. Springs came and Springs followed each other, but the air line never materialised, to the great loss of this country, and, unlike the hon. Member, I am not prepared to depend upon Government promises. These cities have to be rebuilt. There is not one of us who has seen a bombed city who has not had a sense of appalling tragedy, but we have also felt that, ghastly as the destruction was, there was one good thing in the midst of that destruction, and that was that property which was often wholly unworthy of our age had been swept away. That was the only good thing. I think that all the seven cities under discussion are ancient cities. They were built to accord with the needs of a time that is past, when people moved very little, when we were far more of an agricultural country than we are to-day, before the internal combustion engine had made it necessary for us to have very wide streets. To-day our needs are different and these cities need to be rebuilt in order that they should be in accordance with the needs of the present. The hon. Member for Penrhyn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) made, I thought, a perfectly staggering statement when he said that it would be disastrous if one county were to spread into another, that at all costs we must preserve the present county boundaries.

Mr. Petherick

I did not use the word "disastrous," I said it would be generally unfortunate if they should do so; nor have I ever in my speech envisaged the possibility that no county boundary should ever be changed.

Mrs. Tate

The hon. Member did most certainly say that it would be most unfortunate if one county sprawled into another. He definitely gave the impression that he wished to maintain the county boundaries as they are at present. To hear that in an age when every day we are told that we must learn to think in an international way—

Captain Cobb

Who wants to?

Mrs. Tate

Every day we are being told that nations must give up their narrow interests and learn to consider the interests of other nations, that Allies must be able to sink their individual interests in order to forward the common good. If we are not willing that even one county should give up an inch of soil to another county, that does not fill me with very great hope that we shall be able to appreciate the needs of another nation. But then perhaps the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth does not wish to think of anything on a larger scale than the individual needs of an individual county or nation. After all, this is not going to wreck England; it will not wreck local government. All that is asked in this Clause is that there should be a boundary commission set up and, if the Government are not in favour of that, it is not beyond their powers to devise some other means whereby the same aim will be achieved. The hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury said how splendid it was when we used to have Standing Committees, on which all these questions could be threshed out. What happens in a Standing Committee? Every Member naturally is there to forward his own interests—

Sir D. Gunston

Surely the hon. Lady has forgotten that these matters are held before Private Bill Committees, and not Standing Committees.

Mrs. Tate

I am sorry. I withdraw my statement and apologise. As I said, however, if the Government do not like the wording of this Clause—and the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) said that he was not in the least wedded to it—at least the Government understand the spirit of it, and unless the Government can promise us something better I, myself, shall wholeheartedly support it.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I hope the Minister of Health is listening to all this. We are told that it is a good idea that this should all be put off until a great comprehensive Measure can be brought in. I think the chances of that great comprehensive Measure have not been greatly advanced by the trial run of it we have had this afternoon. If we do not get this Clause, we shall get nothing. I beg the Committee to be realist in this matter. How long will it be before (a) a great Measure is framed; (b) a great Measure is introduced, and (c) a great Measure is carried? If we have to deal not only with the difficulties over boundaries which we have been considering this afternoon in the case of Plymouth, Hull, Coventry and Bristol, but have to add to those the difficulties of the boundaries of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham and Cardiff, shall we get there any more quickly? I think the arithmetic seems to be a little faulty.

I support this Clause for the very reason that was brought forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest). We are dealing here with an Emergency Measure. I do not think it is a bad thing that England should grow up in a patch-work fashion; it is the way in which England has always grown up. I do not think it is a bad thing that the experiment should be tried out in certain blitzed cities. I think it is reasonable.

I felt great uneasiness when the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) came forward and said he wanted a great comprehensive scheme to apply all over England—and it would have to apply over Scotland and, no doubt, Wales, if such a thing could possibly apply in that country in a neat fashion. We have to consider the possibility of natural growth. Here is an opportunity for an experiment in natural growth. I am not in favour of great cities. I do not think great cities are necessarily desirable. I think when Cobbett spoke of London as the Great Wen, he was using a phrase which is very applicable to great cities in many parts of the country. Here, however, we are dealing with an event which, though not an act of God, might certainly be described as an act of the King's enemies. Here are exceptional circumstances. It is not every day we shall have seven cities burned in England. Suppose somebody had said after the Great Fire of London, "We cannot go ahead because it is a very awkward precedent. We are going to set up a precedent"—

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Molson

That is precisely what did happen, and that is precisely why the re- planning did not take place which was planned by Wren.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Yes, but I was pointing out to my hon. Friends that the thing to do is to go for the novel plan on the understanding that this is an exceptional case. I may have phrased it badly, but what I meant was that in the case of an emergency it is reasonable and right to treat it in an exceptional fashion. Here are seven burnt cities. Surely they are exceptional circumstances. Let us hope it is not an event which will happen every 10 or 15 years. If that were so, then it would be a precedent for something worse than a Bill of this kind. But we are told we must wait for a great Measure. I was looking at the Memorandum to the Bill. It is suggested that the amount involved, will be of the order of £575,000,000. Even in these days £575,000,000 is a very considerable sum. I notice that the total amount payable out of the Exchequer free will amount to something like £50,000,000. I sympathise greatly with the Memorandum from Plympton, in which it is feared that the octopus of the city roundabout will grab their rateable areas. But here is a sum of £575,000,000 to be raised by public loans and £50,000,000 as a free gift from the rest of the country. After all, that does bring the rest of the country in to be sure that this is being utilised to the best possible advantage. So I suggest that, first of all, this is itself a great Measure; secondly, it is a Measure dealing with a great emergency—the blitzing of seven cities in England is a great emergency—thirdly, it is an opportunity for allowing an experiment under conditions which will not prejudice the conditions of the rest of the country, and it is a very reasonable occasion on which such an experiment might take place.

I do not like the wording of the Clause; I fear that it might lead exactly to the arguments advanced by other hon. Members that it should be a precedent—people might suppose that this was the way in which to proceed universally. I do not think that universal reference to a boundary commission is the way. I suggest it might be done by scheduling the cities concerned. I see no reason against saying, "This shall apply only to the cities enumerated in the Schedule, say seven blitzed cities," making clear that it was an emergency which we did not expect to be repeated. It would not pass the wit of man to decide upon and schedule those cities, such as Hull, Bristol, Plymouth, Coventry, etc., and it would preserve the responsibility of Parliament. But to pass this Bill without such a Clause would, in my opinion, be a mistake. This Clause should be limited narrowly, it should be treated as an ad hoc experiment. But I think that on so great an occasion, to wash our hands of it altogether, and more particularly, to wash our hands of it on the excuse that we will postpone the whole of this until some comprehensive Measure is framed and passed in which all the difficulties are brought together, would really be to leave the question too late. Now is the time for action. If we do not act now, then let us admit that we have let this great opportunity go.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I indicated at the outset very briefly and without entering into the minutiae of all the pros and cons which might be urged on a subject which, as our Debate has shown, is well suited to produce very eloquent and interesting speeches, our attitude on this matter. Nobody seems entirely satisfied with the words of the Clause. Hon. Members have expressed their disagreement with it, from the slight matrimonial disagreement of one hon. Member to the addition of various Schedules. We can generally get over verbal disagreements if they exist, but I wish to say why I find it impossible to advise the Committee to accept this Clause. One reason is apparent from this Debate itself. I am unable to report, as a result of what I have heard this afternoon, that there is any unanimity in favour of the proposal. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) must remember, from his own experience as Minister of Health, how very difficult these local government questions are, and how they need to be handled with a good deal of care if we are not to do more damage than good.

It is said that this is not a local government matter; but, obviously, a proposal which has as its very aim and object the alteration of boundaries of authorities is a local government matter. We cannot absorb a rural district into a municipality without profoundly affect- ing the boundaries of the rural district, its status, its importance as a local authority and its financial standing. We ought to give this important matter a good deal more consideration. That there is a case for improvement and changes in the machinery for dealing with boundaries and status I freely admit, but I think most of the Committee will agree when I say, let that be done after full consideration and with the good will of the authorities involved. It is possible, after all the pros and cons have been discussed in a spirit of conciliation, for the mutual concessions to be made which are necessary if a coherent scheme is to be worked, with good will and without rancour. I think that, at this late stage, to spring into a Town and Country Planning Bill a Clause which would profoundly affect this potential controversy would not make it easier to arrive at that solution, on broad and permanent lines, which would be much more desirable. I fear that it would inject into what is always a subject open to controversy a lot of ill-feeling, which we can well dispense with.

Looking at it as a planning matter, I have always said—and hon. Members can bear me out on this—that it is only by accident that the boundaries of a local authority, fixed for its administrative convenience, can ever coincide with the ideal planning boundary. The planning boundary should be considered as a whole, as the whole district, which has within it common features of economics and geography. That may include several administrative units of local government—it must do—and so we have proceeded by the formation of joint committees, which for the past year or 18 months have shown marked cordiality among their constituent members and great advances in planning. But many of these joint planning committees consist of a unit, where some big municipal or county borough is in the centre and around it many rural and urban district councils and county authorities, all co-operating in a joint plan for the proper planning of the land within the area which would be used to receive the surplus population of a great town. I fear that if this Clause were to be adopted without further consideration, and if any rural district council co-operating in a joint plan which agreed that its own area should be selected as an overspill from the great city, got into its mind the idea that, by so hospit- ably receiving what was coming from the city, it might be in danger of setting in train a series of events which might lead to its ultimate extinction as an authority, I should not get that degree of co-operation which is essential.

Take the position of that noble city which has been mentioned so often, Plymouth. Its regional plan consists, very properly, not of an extension or creeping outwards of its black borders, but of an ordered and calculated disposition of its surplus population, some located in centres of present population which could be enlarged, if need be many miles—10 miles —away from Plymouth, with the intervening country preserved as a green belt and dedicated to agricultural use. Is the municipal area of Plymouth to extend over the whole of that green belt of agricultural land? What size of a municipal unit will there be in those circumstances? These are problems which I do not say are fatal, but which have to be carefully considered before we can accept this Clause. The link whereby it is sought with great eloquence and persistence, to join this Clause with planning considerations, is the golden link of rateable value. The argument, in brief, is that if, as a result of the plan, population is to be exported into the surrounding rural area, there is a loss of rateable value, which makes it impossible for the local authority which is planning to face up to the charge. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) pressed that point with great vigour, and seemed to consider that we could not plan really unless we extended the boundaries, and ultimately raked in all the rateable values. I think that underlying that contention there is a profound fallacy, if I may say so with great respect. It does not follow that to lose population from an urban centre means losing rateable value in proportion to that lost population.

Mr. Wilmot

The City of London, for example.

Mr. Morrison

The City of London, for example. But Plymouth has been talked about, and let us stick to this case, because it has been very largely in our minds and we are all sympathetic to it, if it can be done. The proposal is that they are going to lose, as a result of their plan, 40,000 people outside, and then they are to reconstruct the city of Plymouth on a grander and nobler basis. Can anyone tell me, as one who knows Plymouth, that much of the housing of Plymouth which has been destroyed, and will be replaced, was a net gain in rateable income to the authority, or at all, an income which paid for the services which it entailed? I should think not. Whereas, in future, I can see a new Plymouth arising, on a fine scale, with its streets beautifully laid out; with the derelict houses, which are such a drain and no source of income, swept away; with broad streets, corner sites, and every modern convenience of a great city; and yet preserving some of its traditional charm and its old features. I think that the rateable value will be very much higher. There is no connection at all, in the case of a replanning, between loss of population and loss of income. The feature of this monetary discussion is that it is thought that by exporting population into the county you are going to do that most wicked thing, give the county some rateable value. But the county has to provide the services. These considerations occurred to me as Members were speaking. For me to accept the Clause will be impossible. It would entail a great deal of disturbance and trouble in a Bill already cluttered with controversies quite enough.

6.15 p.m.

I should be prepared, if the case of the money were so overwhelming, to do something about it, but the more I have heard the case developed the more I think it needs a great deal of examination. On the credit side of the planning authority there is this new feature introduced by the Bill. There is going to be given real property in the area of bomb damage from the State, which shoulders the burden of the non-remunerative part of their charges for a period which may extend for 15 years, and they will have that real property in their possession for ever. Is not that a powerful stimulus to the whole financial stability? Is the loss of 40,000 persons from Plymouth going for a moment to weigh in the balance against such a permanent asset on the right side of their finances? I should hope not. I should not like my hon. Friends to think that I will not accept the new Clause, because I should not like to assist them. I will only ask them to consider the latter part of my argument on the financial side and see whether they cannot get out of this mood that, because you cannot extend your boundaries you cannot plan, because you may lose some rateable value, or fear that you may, even though on examination it turns out that you will not.

May I remind the Committee how we stand? The attention of the Government has been directed to this matter for some time. The Minister of Health, asked whether he was in a position to define the attitude of the Government in the matter of local government, said the Government did not consider that a case had been made out for any disruption of the existing structure of local government or abandonment of the main feature of the county borough system in favour of some form of regional government: The Government are satisfied that within the general framework of the county and county borough system there is need and scope for improvements, and in particular for amending the machinery of the Local Government Act, 1933, relating to adjustments of status, boundaries and areas. Before putting detailed proposals before Parliament I propose to take advantage of the experience and knowledge of the local Government associations and for that purpose to open discussions with these bodies as soon as may be. My intention would be, in the light of these discussions, to lay before Parliament a general outline of the Government's proposals before submitting actual legislative Measures." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1579.] I understand that those discussions have taken place and, while they have not committed their associations, still less their constituent councils, my right hon. Friend tells me he found a high degree of unanimity on the part of a number of people of experience of local government carrying very considerable weight. He tells me that a short White Paper will be laid before Parliament and it is the definite intention of the Government to introduce legislation on this matter at the earliest opportunity next Session. This is not a matter that you can rush. You want a good solid system with which the House will agree. We do not want Members suddenly called together and find county Members disagreeing violently from the towns. Let us get a basis of ordered progress. My right hon. Friend has dwelt on that need and I should not find it possible, by accepting the Amendment, to do anything which would prejudice the discussion of these valuable and important matters.

Mr. Molson

I think the Committee will have listened to my right hon. Friend's reply with feelings of profound disappointment. He has introduced a Bill to deal with an emergency and to enable a number of heavily blitzed towns to be replanned, reconstructed and rebuilt. And when these seven heavily blitzed towns ask their representatives to bring a Clause before the Committee and say that in their considered opinion it will not be possible for them to carry out the intention of the Bill unless a Clause of this kind is incorporated in it, surely the Minister should not confine himself to criticisms of the proposals which have been put forward but should rather seek to satisfy the Committee that the Bill will be workable even if the Clause is not incorporated. Nothing that fell upon him indicated to my mind that he had really considered whether it was possible for these towns to be rebuilt if nothing were done to assist them. I was not able to follow the line of my right hon. Friend's reasoning about the assistance that was being given to these authorities if they built outside their own area. He said they received assistance from the Treasury and they would then be the owners of the housing which they would have put outside their own boundaries. But this re-housing of working class population requires a subsidy from the local authority as well as from the Treasury. I cannot, therefore, see how it can be argued that the financial position of these blitzed towns is going to be facilitated. They are obliged to provide alternative accommodation and are going to lose the benefit of the rateable value.

Earl Winterton

Will my hon. Friend devote himself to this argument? I am informed by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) that 250,000 people have been moved by the London County Council outside their area. Does not that to some extent affect his argument?

Mr. Molson

On the contrary. I understand that there are cases where it is said that the moving of population results in a burden upon the neighbouring county council instead of a benefit. In that case why should there be all this bitter opposition to the Clause and this unwillingness to consider the matter on its merits? We are not asking that the matter shall be prejudged. We are willing for it to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Fifth Schedule to the Local Government Act, 1933. What has been proposed is that a boundary commission should be set up in which the county borough and the county council may both make their representations. The position would be different if the Minister had indicated that he was not prepared to accept exactly this procedure and had held out some prospect of looking into the matter; or if he had said that he felt a case had been made out and that he was prepared to enter into special discussions with the towns which are pressing for these Clauses; or if he had said he did not believe a Clause of this kind was necessary but that he was willing to hold an inquiry into it.

What is the position as things are? Plymouth has already had experience of this matter on two occasions. On the first occasion, when the boundaries were extended, the area that was included was rural. The court of inquiry which was set up under the legislation of that time held that Plymouth was taking over an area which was so deficient in services that it was taking over a liability. Plymouth was then entitled to receive a payment from the county. On the second occasion, Plymouth did not take action so soon. The surplus population of Plymouth had got outside the boundary, and it was only after the houses had been built, after the burgesses of Plymouth had gone out into the county area, that the boundaries of Plymouth were extended. When the inquiry was held it was laid down that Plymouth must pay about £500,000 in compensation in order to be able to re-embrace inside Plymouth those Plymouth burgesses who had recently moved out. We should be more satisfied if we could have some assurance from the Government that this problem was recognised by them, if they would say that, if an extension takes place at some time in the future, it may relate back to the time when this Bill was passed. Then the position would be reasonably satisfactory from our point of view. My right hon. Friend is here introducing a Bill, the purpose of which is to facilitate the rebuilding and replanning of these towns, and he has himself paid tribute to the scope and imagination of the Plymouth plan. If, when the Minister of Health introduces his new legislation and carries it through the House, if, as the result of this great comprehensive examination of the problems of local government throughout the length and breadth of the country—

Mr. G. Hutchinson

I did not understand the Minister of Health to say that there was to be a comprehensive inquiry into all forms of local government, but only an inquiry into boundaries, functions and status. The general structure of local government is not calling for reform, as I understand it.

Mr. Molson

No doubt that is so, but I should regard it as reasonably comprehensive if the status, boundaries and functions of local government were inquired into. I do not see that much can be excluded. Under the present law, if an expansion of a town takes place before the boundaries are extended, then when extension takes place, the county borough has to pay compensation to the county council which has recently received the population from the borough. Here we are debating an emergency Bill involving the expenditure of £570,000,000 to enable these towns to rebuild themselves on more spacious lines and, therefore, on a far greater scale than ever before. The population from these towns is to be decanted outside into the areas of neighbouring local government authorities. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in every case."]Even if it is not in every case, we ought to have some provision that the effect of the Bill will not be to impoverish the towns which we want to have rebuilt. I hope it is not too late to be reassured by the Government that, if they are not willing to accept the new Clause, they will be prepared to hold even an informal inquiry into what the likely financial consequences of rebuilding will be to these towns, and that they will be prepared to consider making some proposals which will enable this Bill to be put effectively into operation.

6.30 p.m.

Mrs. Beatrice Wright (Bodmin)

I wish to welcome the speech which the Minister has made particularly on behalf of the area I represent, for it is very closely affected by this new Clause. I want to bring before the Committee a point which, although mentioned, has not been sufficiently stressed. There is a real question of principle before the Committee. Are we to become an urban or rural-minded people in this country in the future? Great encouragement would be given to people to live in towns by the carrying of this new Clause. I fully realise the problems confronting those who are concerned with towns that have been lamentably blitzed, such as Plymouth, but I feel strongly that we are in danger of seeing our countryside put into wild confusion in their solution. I do not want to raise the point at issue in connection with any particular town, but I am bound to do so in support of the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick), who has addressed the Committee so ably from the Cornish point of view. I am reminded of what Hitler said when he looked on to the Ukraine, that there were large open spaces before him which could be made great use of.

Without wishing to emulate the parish viewpoint, I feel that the Committee does not realise that there is almost a racial point at stake between Devon and Cornwall, and it would almost require a plebiscite to put it right. I can speak with great feeling on this subject as I am anything but a native of Cornwall, and it has taken me 14 years even to begin to understand the controversies of a local nature and for the people to understand me. I feel that the Committee can hardly understand how deeply the Cornish feel when God has provided thorn with a wide barrier between them and Devon in the form of the Tamar River, over which there is only a single line railway bridge and no other means of communication between the two counties. To over-ride this barrier at this stage would be to transcend the powers of what is realistically possible, convenient and right.

The Cornish feel strongly that it was not put to them that these Clauses were coming up to-day in the House of Commons and that they have had no chance of discussing them locally. We have all had correspondence from the Cornish County Council pointing out, as the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth has said, that they are ready and willing to co-operate in a joint planning scheme and to do everything possible to assist Plymouth. As the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth has said, we are not so difficult to deal with and we ought to be able to get over these problems without having a boundary commission. Surely we can get over these difficulties without removing people from a rural area into a city precinct.

I have noticed in this discussion that many Members have suggested that a city will have to go on providing amenities, and that in one particular area, where Plymouth took in a rural strip of country, they found the amenities to be in a deplorable condition. I would like to remind the Committee that the reason why rural amenities are not particularly good is because we are poor, in the counties. If we removed three of our most populous areas and make them part of Plymouth, it will be removing one of our main sources of income. Time and time again people have said in our Debates that we must give the country child every advantage which the city child has; under the proposed new Clause we should be removing from the county the possibility of providing those amenities in order to encourage the town or city to enlarge itself over a wide area.

I cannot help feeling that this problem ought not to be worked out in the realm of this Bill at all, and that a solution ought to be found which will not be bound up with the problem of income from rates. It should be based on co-operation and on the future which is really envisaged in the Bill, the making of our country not into a string of cities from one end to the other, but into a well-planned, co-ordinated mixture of rural and urban areas. I wish to support the Government's attitude and to thank the Minister, on behalf of the county a portion of which I represent, for the attitude which he has so justly adopted.

Viscountess Astor

We have had an interesting Debate, but I am afraid a rather disappointing one. I realise the truth of what the hon. Lady has just said about local and national prejudice. I have lived in England for 37 years, but I am still a Virginian. Nothing in the world would ever make me anything but a Virginian. I know about the Cornish feeling. I have in Plymouth a remarkable old Cornish woman who is 92 years of age. She has a very brilliant brain, one of the most brilliant that I have ever met. She was very ill some time ago, and I went to see her. I spoke to her daughter, who is over 64, and I said: "You must get someone to look after your mother and help her." The daughter replied: "We can't get any- body here. We're strangers here. We come from Cornwall." "How long ago?" I asked her, and she replied: "Sixty-four years." I know what local prejudices are and no one knows it more than I do.

Surely we want to try to take prejudice out of planning. We ought to think of something bigger than what the local prejudices are. Plympton, for instance; we have all heard complaints about Plympton. We asked Plympton to co-operate in the planning of Plymouth, and what did Plympton say? They said "No." They did not want to. We told them about the devastated area where we have a chance to rebuild under one of the world's best planners, and we asked them to come in. What was their answer? They said they did not want to; their charter was 20 years older than Plymouth's and they were going to have the borough surveyor.

Major Studholme (Tavistock)

The Noble Lady talks a lot about local prejudices; may I remind her that it is often wise to play very carefully, and to be very considerate with them?

Viscountess Astor

I quite agree, but there is a war on.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

There is one on here to-day.

Viscountess Astor

We cannot afford, in these blitzed areas, to listen to local prejudices. The Minister of Town and Country Planning knows all about it. He knows Plymouth's plan, and most of the Government do. They say that the proposed new Clause has to be considered. What is the Government's record on re-planning? Remember the Uthwatt, Barlow and Scott Reports. We should never have had this replanning Bill at all if it had not been for the six or seven blitzed cities who brought pressure to bear upon the Government to replan. What are those cities asking? They are simply asking that the Government should set up a boundary commission to see what is best for the towns and best for the country. Some hon. Members have said that they do not want to see the towns spreading out into the counties, and that is exactly Plymouth's attitude. In Plymouth's plan there is no reckless sprawl. We want to preserve what is best in the county and what is best in the town.

The Minister said that this was a surprise; I am not surprised that that is his point of view, but I am surprised that this Committee should listen to very narrow local prejudices. I was rather amused yesterday when I read a speech by the Secretary of State for War. He said that when the war is over if nations understood how completely they are dependent upon each other we should have made progress towards peace. He went on to say: In terms of communications, means of transport and moral weapons, Europe is to-day no larger than the France of the Middle Ages. Those remarks apply exactly to replanning. The Cornish people and the county people talk as though we were living in the Victorian age, but that is past. Truro can talk to Moscow to-day more easily than it could have talked to Plymouth 50 years ago. The Government also are living in the past. They are afraid to give a lead. They have to be pushed. The Minister of Health has spoken of what can be done in the next three or six months, but we know it will take him years to do it. He is new to his job, but I did not know that he was so innocent.

Mr. G. Griffiths

He is not as innocent as the Noble Lady thinks.

Viscountess Astor

He is very innocent if he thinks he can get rid of all these prejudices in so short a time. I would like to ask hon. Members who have not had their towns blitzed whether they have lived in a blitzed town. Do they know what the conditions are? I do not believe they do. Have they even taken the trouble to see the Plymouth plan? Do they know what they are voting about? I beg them to remember that this issue will not affect only the six or seven cities but the whole of England. If we get our seven cities replanned rightly, taking in what is best for the county and best for the urban authorities, we may be helping on the better England of the future.

If the Minister of Town and Country Planning could have made up his mind some time ago, he would not have got into all the trouble which he has got into since. The trouble with Ministers often is that they do not make up their minds. They go here, there and everywhere; but now the time has come. Have we had a definite promise from the Minister of Health that he will bring in his White Paper next Session? I want to know whether that is a definite promise. I ask the Minister of Health, who is on the Front Bench.

6.45 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

The assurance that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning gave was, I think, in these terms: that a White Paper on this subject is at present in course of being drafted, following on most agreeably unanimous discussions with the associations of local authorities. I cannot give a specific answer as to when a White Paper on that situation will, in fact, be published, but it is my earnest hope and belief that it will be published this side of Christmas, and that legislation will follow in the next Session.

Viscountess Astor

That is a very good promise and we accept it with pleasure. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend gave it, but I really am a little worried about the results. The Minister must have a way with him such as we certainly have not got in Plymouth or anywhere else. We cannot get Saltash, which is absolutely built up of Plymouth people. We have had it from the Cornish Members that they do not really want to co-operate, they are frightened to co-operate. They do not want to lose anything that is Cornish; we do not want to lose anything that is Devon. But the time has come when we have to work together. I should not feel so keenly about this plan if it was not for the appalling conditions in the blitzed cities. Another thing that has worried me all through this Bill is that people who do not want to get on are making every kind of excuse. It is perfectly dreadful when we think of what we are asking the young people of this country to do. We did not ask the young men at Arnhem whether they came from Devon, Cornwall or Leicester, nor did we ask them what class they came from. They went out and fought together for a better England. A better England canonly be built up by getting rid of our local prejudices, and sometimes I really feel that they are more difficult to get rid of than national prejudices.

I know it is hard, but I do beg hon. Members to think, to visit the blitzed areas, to look at the Plymouth plan, and try to do as the Prime Minister said the other day, when he came down and made a plea. I do not know Why he came, I do not know who was after the Government, but I ask this Committee to understand the position. Believe me, the people outside this Committee do not understand. They simply cannot understand. They want a new sort of world, and a new kind of world will go over all sorts of boundaries—counties, further even than England. This world will never be built up if we as Members of Parliament stand up for the vested interests of national, county and town prejudices. I suppose, having got such a pledge, we shall not have to press this Clause. But I ask the Committee to watch the Government well and study this plan, and see whether it is a plan for the future of the young people, because it really protects social amenities. It stops that sprawling-over of which hon. Members have spoken. It will not only rehouse, but it will make it possible for people in crowded areas to get out, and it will be a very good thing for agriculture. Above all, unless the National Government have a national plan and the courage to carry it through, I am sorry for them when the time comes when they have to go to the country and tell the country what they have done at home. They can well tell them what they have done abroad; they have done marvellously. I wish they had had as much courage on the home front as on the foreign front. I ask my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, Do not let us say that all the prejudices are on the other side of the Committee. We in our way are just as prejudiced as they are.

Mr. H. Strauss

I think the Committee is ready to come to a conclusion. I can add very little to what has been said by my right hon. Friend, but I should like to say one word to my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), in addition to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in his intervention. The Minister of Health gave what was, in the opinion of the whole Committee, a very businesslike and forthright statement. I think the hon. Member for The High Peak, as a result of an intervention from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), thought that functions were being discussed in these discussions now proceeding with local authorities. What the answer of my right hon. Friend to a Parliamentary Question mentioned was status, boundaries and areas, but not functions.

There is one point the Committee should bear in mind. A great deal is being said about pursuing rateable value outside the original area, but it is not realised that very often the rateable value is not going to a contiguous or an adjacent area at all but to a far more distant area. That problem can scarcely be dealt with by dealing with boundaries. The final point which the Member for The High Peak mentioned was the question of financial review. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health was here throughout the discussions, and of course will consider all the financial points that have been made, but the hon. Member for The High Peak will not forget that in Clause 8 of the Bill we provide for periodic financial reviews. With that assurance I hope my hon. Friend will be prepared to withdraw his proposed new Clause.

Mr. Storey

The assurance which my right hon. Friend has given us has gone a very long way to meeting the worst fears, from the point of view which we have put forward to-clay. In the hope that the phrase "at the earliest opportunity next Session" will not be too elastic, and so as to expedite the passage of the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.