HC Deb 14 March 1951 vol 485 cc1616-59

Order for Second Reading read.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The purpose of this Bill is to extend the boundaries of the county borough of Sheffield to include land urgently required for housing and for no other purpose. It proposes that 8,500 acres in the West Riding of Yorkshire and in the Wortley Rural District Council area, and 1,425 acres in the Derbyshire County Council area and in the area of the Chesterfield Rural District Council be incorporated in the City of Sheffield. After consultation with interests affected, the promoters have decided to modify the proposals on the Committee stage, and to reduce the area proposed to be taken from the West Riding of Yorkshire to 6,100 acres, which gives 2,261 acres suitable for housing, enough, that is, for 13,500 houses or an estimate of six to seven years' building programme in existing conditions.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

How many acres is it proposed to take from the Wortley Rural District Council?

Mr. Mulley

The whole of the acreage proposed to be taken from the West Riding of Yorkshire is also from the Wortley Rural District Council.

Mr. Colegate

What is the reduced figure?

Mr. Mulley

The reduced figure is 6,100 acres. That is the suggestion which the promoters will put to the Committee, but, of course, the Committee will not necessarily accept that. This will give about a six to seven years' building programme under existing conditions.

We should, of course, like to accelerate the rate of our building programme and on our pre-war record, when we were building 3,000 council houses and 1,500 private enterprise houses in a year, this land would last for only three years. In Derbyshire there are 854 acres of building land which are already owned by the Council, and which are in the course of development.

I give the House these details, but the House knows that if the matter is referred to a Committee, which is the purpose for which we ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading tonight, we shall not only have to establish our claim and need for the land, but also with expert witnesses, who can be cross-examined by the opponents of the Bill—they also can submit evidence—we must satisfy an impartial Committee of this House before they endorse our claim to any particular piece of land. It is the custom of the House to allow a local authority to state its case before the Committee by granting Private Bills a Second Reading. There are further opportunities for the House to consider the Bill on the Report stage and also on Third Reading if it is desired. I wonder if the attempt to defeat the Second Reading is, in effect, an admission by our opponents, and the Wortley Rural District Council in particular, of the strength of the claim which they know we can put before the Committee.

I know that very many hon. Members will think we are asking for rather a lot in asking for 7,500 acres to provide 3,000 acres of building land. But to those who may be unfamiliar with the locality I would point to the special problems of configuration and mining subsidence with which we have to contend. Sheffield is built, I think, on seven hills, and much of the land in the vicinity is impossible for housing purposes and even after its incorporation in the city, if we get what we desire, it will be retained in its existing use.

We have invited the opponents of the Bill to submit alternative proposals as to how we could get this amount of building land without taking in so much additional land, but no alternative scheme has been submitted. No doubt this point will receive the special consideration of the Committee. The House will understand that without maps I cannot develop that further tonight. I would just say that the West Riding County Council, because of the responsibility of providing schools, and so on, are very anxious that that part already developed by the City of Sheffield shall be incorporated within its boundaries, and for that reason I understand are anxious that the Bill should go upstairs to a Committee.

Before turning to a statement of our housing needs, I should like to make a point of substance for our cricket enthusiasts. By extending the boundary of the city into Derbyshire we shall, of course, extend the area of birth qualification to play for Yorkshire. It may be that another Len Hutton, Hedley Verity, Wilfred Rhodes or Herbert Sutcliffe may, in this way, qualify to play for Yorkshire. Incidentally, football enthusiasts may be interested to note that tonight we have the unusual spectacle of "Sheffield United" on what can I think be called "Sheffield Wednesday." The sinking of this rivalry tonight may indicate to the House the importance of this Bill to the people of Sheffield.

I will not weary the House with a long discourse on the Sheffield housing problem, but will rely on the bare facts to speak for themselves. We have an acute housing problem; a waiting list, which was revised as recently as December last, of over 29,000 families; and, in addition, a further 20,000 houses which have been classified as unfit for habitation, and whose tenants are not allowed to be on the waiting list. As many as 12,720 of these houses were condemned at the outbreak of war and another 7,220 have been since classified as unfit. We need a further minimum of 50,000 new houses to tackle the problem, and although last year we achieved our quota, our whole policy depends on acquiring more land outside the city. If this Bill does not go through in sonde form our whole housing programme will be halted in about 18 months' time. If we are given all the land for which we now ask, it would only provide 15,000 of the 50,000 houses we require and a programme, for the most part, of seven years.

I would emphasise the seriousness of the position. Every step to economise land within the city consistent with decent standards has been taken. Many blocks of flats have been built and no suitable sites remain until the condemned houses are cleared, which is now impossible. The only alternative to the extension of boundaries is a continuance of compulsory purchase orders outside the city, that is on the land now proposed to be incorporated. The need to go outside the city boundaries was endorsed by the Ministry of Health on four occasions, when compulsory purchase orders were granted.

The greater part of our building since 1945 has been under compulsory purchase orders outside the city. The experience of Sheffield since 1945 has been that that procedure has two serious conse- quences. The first is delay. Under the procedure of building outside one's own boundaries under a compulsory purchase order, planning permission has to be obtained from the county council and bylaw permission given by the appropriate rural district council. In each case we have experienced delays of up to 18 months in getting these permissions.

Second, and this is a point to which I would ask people who take certain views about big cities, and so on, to give special attention. We need to get planning permission from the county council but the planning authorities insist upon planning the city's overspill population on rural lines. Sheffield has, therefore, experienced cuts up to 25 per cent. on the sites we have planned. The city has been forced to become bigger than it wanted to be, if we had been allowed to develop on our own lines and through our own planning authority. It is the physical fact of building which determines a city's size and not the artificial line on the map which represents the boundary.

I recognise that this creates a problem for the rural authority. It is wrong to assume that the inhabitants of rural districts are always opposed to being incorporated into the towns. I have received a letter from a resident of Wortley Rural District Council, who lives in a district which is not part of, or concerned in, developments by the City Council. I will read a short extract to the House. He says: One of the opposing councils is Wortley Rural District Council, but had they consulted the wishes of their ratepayers they would have found an overwhelming desire on the part of the latter to become citizens of Sheffield. To the best of my knowledge they have not done so. This letter was written on 8th February. It goes on: I have asked a number of people to express an opinion on this vital matter, and in only one instance (the clerk to the local council)…have I found any desire to remain under the Wortley Rural District Council.

Mr. McGhee (Penistone)

May I ask my hon. Friend whether his correspondent is an employee of the Sheffield City Council?

Mr. Mulley

I have only the letter. I have urged my correspondent to communicate these views to his own Member of Parliament, which I believe he has done.

Mr. Colegate

It is the rural district council who are opposing the Bill. Surely it is no use trying to go behind them on the strength of a letter from an individual.

Mr. Mulley

I wish the hon. Gentleman had been a little more patient. I was just going to refer to a petition with 127 signatures which I have also received. These people have only written to me because they know I am taking an interest in the Bill. I think they have also written to their Member, and perhaps he will tell us whether that is so. I believe that meetings have been held in the district, and that my seconder will be making reference to that fact.

This question involves the whole issue of local government. I would ask hon. Members, whatever their views may be on local government, to answer this question before they vote tonight: Which is more important, an acceleration of housebuilding to which both sides of this House are committed, or the uncertainty of local government reform which cuts right across party divisions? I would ask hon. Members to approach this matter not from a theoretical but from a practical and human angle. I would ask any hon. Member who is disposed to vote against us tonight if he will tell the House, in all sincerity, whether he would say to a constituent who brought to him one of the many distressing housing cases which all of us meet in our constituency work week by week, "I cannot support your claim for a house, because it would mean the big city thrusting its tentacles into the countryside." If hon. Members could not say that to their own difficult housing cases, can they expect Sheffield Members to go back and say it to theirs?

Let me put the same point in another way to hon. Members, according to their party political affiliation. Could they go on a public platform and defend the fact that the housing policy and programme of Sheffield had been reduced because of the over-riding importance of local government reform, and because of the need to protect the small authority against the large?

We ask the House to allow us to proceed with our housing programme with the utmost vigour. That is the issue before the House. We ask for the right to submit our claim for this purpose to the full and expert scrutiny of a Committee of this House. Our opponents have an equal right to do the same under the procedure of the House. That is the principle embodied in the Second Reading of the Bill, which I ask the House to approve tonight.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

I beg to second the Motion.

I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) upon his speech and upon the very moderate and convincing way in which he put it over. I submit that a prima faciecase has been made out that the Bill should be sent up to the Committee for further consideration. I would point out to hon. Members who may wish to oppose the Bill that in my opinion the onus of proof is upon them to show that there are over-riding reasons why this House should reject the Second Reading of the Bill and not allow it to go to the Committee for further consideration.

There are three main categories of objection to the Bill. One is from the county council, the second from the agricultural interests, and the third from rural district council interests. In the short time I wish to detain the House, I shall argue that all those interests can well be met by discussion upstairs before the Committee.

The first objection is from the county council. I give it as my opinion, and I stand to be corrected, that the county council of the West Riding does not wish to throw the Bill out on Second Reading. I am fortified in this opinion because I know that the county council introduced an earlier Bill with a provision that some of the land that we are now discussing should be incorporated into Sheffield in the same way as is proposed in the Bill.

Secondly, I want to turn to the question of the agricultural interests. We all appreciate this country's need for the production of food, but that has to be weighed against the other needs of housing and production, and the House must tonight consider where the balance of these interests lies. I want to reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, by telling the House that the amount of agricultural land covered by the Bill originally was considerable, but, owing to pressure by agricultural interests, it has been agreed that, if the Bill goes to Committee, over 2,000 acres will be omitted from the plan. That has been done expressly to meet the agricultural interests.

There was also an area of 800 acres which the city would have liked to have incorporated in the Bill, but, again owing to discussions with agricultural interests, that area has been omitted. Of the 6,000 acres which we are considering in the Yorkshire area, another 2,000 will still remain for agriculture. Although the area is incorporated within the boundaries of the city, it is not proposed to build houses on that land and it will be left for agriculture. The question of the remaining land should be open to discussion on the Committee stage. I submit that there is no special reason why, on these grounds, the Bill should be thrown out on Second Reading.

I now turn to the third category of objectors. They are the rural districts, and particularly the rural district of Wortley. Again, as far as I know, there has been no great public outcry in the rural district. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, said, meetings have been held. One was held just inside the city boundary by the city authorities. It was advertised freely in the area which was to be taken over on three successive occasions in the newspapers, and over 200 people attended it. When the question was put to the vote, only 17 voted against the proposed Bill. I ought in fairness to say that another meeting was held inside the Wortley area under the auspices of the Wortley council, but, unfortunately, no record or vote was allowed to be taken at the meeting. I think I am putting it fairly to the House when I say that there is no great outcry in the areas concerned against the Bill.

I now turn to the wider objection, which hon. Members from other parts of the country may have experienced, and that is that local government re-organisation may take place under the Minister at some future date and it is unwise therefore to deal with such matters as are raised in this Bill at this stage. In reply to that objection, I would say that the former Minister of Health, who is now the Minister of Labour, made a statement on the point on 2nd November. 1949. during the Second Reading of the Local Government Boundary Commission (Dissolution) Bill. He made a point which I am now also trying to make. He said: Where local authorities urgently need to alter their boundaries—that is, where they require to have land in order to build houses —then we have said that, as far as the Government are concerned, we are prepared to support proposals of that kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 517.] I suggest that we must prove to hon. Members that there is an urgent need for housing in Sheffield, and that, if we can satisfy them on that, we shall overwhelmingly have made our case that the Bill should be sent to a Committee. We have listened to the housing facts given by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park—29,000 households waiting for houses, a greater number waiting in overcrowded conditions; and the insufficiency of land within the city—and I feel that he has made that point.

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)

If that is the case, how is it that the Sheffield City Council did not make overtures to the rural district council while building was "stagnant" during the war, realising the necessity for housing which there would be immediately after the war?

Mr. Roberts

That question ought to be addressed to the friends of the hon. Gentleman under whose political sway the council has been organised for a number of years. I would rather not want to make points such as that unless I am forced to do so at this stage.

I want to come to the question of whether or not there is land within the city which might be used by the council instead of going outside the boundaries. In fairness to the House again, I must say that there are open spaces within the city, but I want to ask hon. Members whether they would use those open spaces for the building of houses. There are areas of parks and open spaces for public recreation; there are some heather moors at 800 feet which are not suitable for building; and there are water reservoirs and water protection sites; but, if these sites are excluded, there remain only roughly 300 acres within the city boundaries on which houses can be built and it may be that by the time this Bill becomes law these sites will be used up. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park has dealt with the point about the compulsory purchase orders. Sheffield has had experience of that, and I commend the points he made to hon. Members.

We are not asking for something the planning of which will stretch over a vast number of years. We are not asking for an area which is beyond what is immediately necessary. The demand for houses has been put at 29,000. The number of houses we propose to build under the scheme is over 15,000. The rate of building which the city should pursue is, I suggest, in the neighbourhood of 2,500 a year. Recently the figure has in fact been at 1,500. In this House I have maintained, and I do maintain, that Sheffield ought to have another 1,000 licences a year. Sheffield recently has had another increase of 200 licences, but I maintain that we could build an extra 800 houses a year if we were given the licences. If we divide the total of 2,500 into the 15,000 houses which we propose to build under the scheme, it amounts only to a six-year building programme; and, in the planning of buildings and sites at this stage, it is not excessive to ask the House to give us powers of authority for six years.

When they are considering the City of Sheffield, hon. Members from agricultural or urban areas must bear in mind the thousands of constituents, from the constituents of all the hon. Members from Sheffield, who are living in conditions of overcrowding which are really distressing. Every hon. Member must weigh in his own mind whether the interests which he feels should be represented outweigh the misery and unhappiness which will be caused if the housing problem in Sheffield is not relieved. That is the issue which I put to every hon. Member in the House. The problem is one of a balance of interests, but I submit that the interests of the expansion of Sheffield and the need to get rid of the appalling housing problem override those other interests, and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading so that it can go to a Committee.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. McGhee (Penistone)

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) made one or two slight errors in his speech. He said, for instance, that the interests affected by the Bill had been consulted. That is not true. The truth is that the Bill was drawn up by the Sheffield City Council without any consultation with the Wortley Rural District Council. No consultation took place until there had been some move in the House to oppose the Bill, and then the only consultation that took place was with Ministry of Local Government and Planning officials.

Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)

Does the hon. Member dispute that approaches were made, although consultations may not have taken place, by the representatives of the City Council?

Mr. McGhee

Yes. After the Bill had been objected to in the House, approaches were made on the lines that a new line, drawn up by the Sheffield City Council in consultation with the Ministry officials, was presented to the Wortley Rural District Council. If that is consultation. then I do not know what consultations are.

Mr. Mulley

I understand that approaches were made to the Derbyshire County Council, and that they replied that their policy was not to consult on matters of this sort. There have been discussions with the West Riding. It may be true that Wortley was not consulted until after discussions with the county councils and the officials of the Government Departments concerned. I suggest that it would be pointless to have discussions with the rural district councils until there was a prospeot of the "big guns"— the county councils and the Ministers concerned—agreeing. In fact, the new line proposals were left at the office of the clerk of the Wortley Rural District Council and there was no reply for a fortnight. The town clerk of Sheffield wrote again, and then all he received was a reply that the proposals had been considered and there was no comment to make except for their continued opposition.

Mr. McGhee

We have now had a third speech from my hon. Friend, and the net result is that he admits what I said, that before objections were taken to the Bill there were no consultations with one of the interests affected. I am not speaking for the so-called "big guns."

The object of the promoters is to obtain land for their urgent housing needs. That is the sole object according to a statement issued to Members of Parliament. It has been the whole object stated at the so- called public meetings in support of the Bill. If I can show that Sheffield's urgent housing needs can be satisfied within their own boundaries, then I think I ought to get one home against the Sheffield City Council tonight. It is all very well to say that we should not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, but should let it go upstairs, but a large sum of money is to be spent by the Sheffield City Council, part of which, incidentally, is my money, as a ratepayer. A large sum of money will have to be spent by the Wortley Rural District Council and on counsel opposing the Bill. That is unnecessary, and I am here to save public money.

Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)

That is a new line for the hon. Member.

Mr. McGhee

I want to prevent public money from going into the pockets of wealthy lawyers and land-owners, but not from going into the pockets of the working classes.

The promoters say that they require the land because they have an overspill population of 83,000. I do not want to go into a long list of comparisons of the densities in the various cities of the country, but I would remind the House that the density in Birmingham is 21, in Liverpool 28, and in Sheffield 13. There does not seem to be much need, therefore, for more land.

Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)

Is my hon. Friend telling us that he blames Sheffield for not being as overcrowded as Birmingham?

Mr. McGhee

My hon. Friend, as usual, is a little too quick. I was going on to say that this is what I should have expected in a city controlled for 25 years by a Socialist council, especially when, for the first 12 years, that city was led, by the greatest local administrator I have ever known, Albert Rawlinson. To accommodate this 83,000 they are seeking to take in 6,210 acres, and of that number they are to use only 2,261 for building purposes. The rest is either unsuitable for building purposes or is fully developed. It means, to put it in round figures, that they are taking in 6,000 to get 2,000.

I am prepared to say, after living in Sheffield for 25 years and having heard the views of an expert who has examined the available land in the city within the last few weeks, not as the Ministry of Local Government and Planning did, taking the word of the Sheffield City town clerk—[HON. MEMBERS:"Oh."] Yes. What has happened is that we sent out experts to examine the land and in Sandy-gate, Fullwood, Dore, Totley, Beauchief Greenhill and Gleadless there are 2,493 acres of building land idle at the moment.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

Does not the hon. Member agree that these sites are at least six miles from the other boundary of the city?

Mr. McGhee

I agree with that, but the truth is that these areas are in the west end or the south end of the city and the Sheffield City Council do not want to put working-class homes up against the "snobberies."

Mr. Jennings

It is a Socialist council that the hon. Member is talking about.

Mr. McGhee

I am beginning to be amused by everyone's anxiety. These areas are in the west end of the city, and the people who live there do not want council houses nearby. They are prepared to live and to thrive on the working classes, but they will not live beside them.

Another reason is this. The great hereditary landlords in the City of Sheffield, after the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act, which has not been very successful—[Interruption.] With regard to development charges, it is not very successful. To evade the provisions of that Act, the great hereditary landlords decided that there was no more land to be sold in Sheffield, that for the future it was all to be leasehold; and so they evade the provisions of the Act as regards selling at the present use value. The Sheffield Council will not apply purchase orders against these people as they might well do.

The other argument is that if council houses are set down in the wealthy residential areas, they will depreciate the rate-able value of the city. That is the usual story which we have been told, but it is in direct contradiction to what the late Minister of Health told us when he said that he wants the populations of the great cities to be mixed.

The Sheffield Council are very timid about applying purchase orders within their own city, but when an area is added to the city no timidity whatever is shown. Not only do they apply the purchase orders outside the city, but they go further and apply court eviction orders against sitting tenants outside the city. I have a case at present in which I am asking the Ministry of Local Government and Planning to intervene with the Sheffield City Council, who have obtained a possession order against an old and respected resident of the Wortley area. The truth is that the Sheffield City Council are frightened to apply compulsory orders against the great hereditary landlords—the Duke of Norfolk and Earl Fitzwilliam; but they have no compunction about applying them against the small farmers in the Wortley rural area.

As well as the fact that they have the land in the city, there are other considerations that ought to be taken into account by the House before we proceed to a Division. I say that the Bill will wreck an efficient unit of local government. It will deprive a large number of people of any real form of representation within their local area, and it will inflict a heavy financial loss upon each householder.

Let us see what the proposals would do to the Wortley rural area. If I can show that, in addition to the city having the land, an efficient local authority would be wrecked, then I think that I ought to get the decision of the House. The present population of Wortley is 43,000. If, unfortunately, the Bill is carried, the population would be reduced to 17,000. The rateable value would be reduced from £235,000 down to £139,000 and the product of a penny rate would be reduced from £938 to £557.

After this had been done, we would have the old story of the local rural authorities not being able to carry out their duties; and the reason why Wortley would not be able to carry out their duties is that they would be practically destroyed as a unit. We should have to disperse our present very efficient staffs, whose local patriotism is well known. We would have to wreck our local council, and at the end of the day Wortley rural district would become an easier prey again, either to the Sheffield City Council or to the West Riding.

I should have thought that one of the important things in local government was that councillors should be able to keep close personal contact with their electors, but under the Bill this new area is to be added to Neepsend. I should say that the present Member of Parliament for Neepsend, my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, is the perfect Member of Parliament, and that the councillors who now represent Neepsend on the Sheffield City Council are men with every desire to serve the electors, who do an immense amount of work and who are in every way excellent representatives of the people.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

Is their political party a secret?

Mr. McGhee

No—they are all Labour members. That is why they maintain such close contact with their constituents. At present, however, these councillors in Neepsend represent 29,000 electors, but when this area is added to Neepsend they will [have to represent 44,000, which is almost as big as a Parliamentary constituency.

Mr. Mulley

Will my hon. Friend allow me to mention an important matter of fact, of which he, as a citizen of Sheffield, should be aware? In recent months there has been an agreement by both sides of the council for the revision of ward boundaries, to make an average of 13,000 for each ward, with three councillors. It has also been understood that such part of the Wortley rural district as comes in will have its own ward for its 13,000 electors.

Mr. McGhee

We have had yet another speech from my hon. Friend. We have heard of these promised redistributions. In Sheffield, we now have two local wards approaching the 30,000 number. Why was there no redistribution long ago? Why has it not been done? There can be no firm promise that there will be a redistribution. The decision does not lie with the city council. It lies with the Home Secretary, for his approval, and eventually the House might even reject it. The present position in Wortley is that we have 10 councillors representing the areas to be added to the Wortley Council. We have a county alderman and two county councillors, which is adequate representation; they are able to know the people and to know their desires and their needs. If these people are added to Neepsend Ward they will be completely swamped. As to the promise to repair the damage that the Sheffield City Council is proposing to do, I say it would be far better not to do the damage at all.

As to the financial burden that the new added citizens of Sheffield will have to bear, let me say, first, that Sheffield has nothing to offer us by way of service. A beneficent Socialist Government have nationalised transport, gas and electricity and have promised to nationalise water in the near future. We get exactly the same service, so far as hospitals, medical and welfare services are concerned, that Sheffield can offer us. The only thing we are short of in one small part of this area is school accommodation for the children; and the shortage is not due to any neglect on our part but to the decision of the Minister of Education.

Mr. Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

They are all wrong.

Brigadier Thorp (Berwick - upon - Tweed)

Six Ministers are wrong.

Mr. McGhee

What can Sheffield offer us? Will they be more effective in dust collection? That is about all they will have left to deal with. I can tell the House of two items under the control of the local authority over which we are far more efficient than Sheffield. Housing is one. In Wortley we have built since the war, on the average, one house for every 318 of our population. The best Sheffield can do is one for every 427. We are getting constant complaints, as the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. W. J. Taylor), well knows. Our roads, for instance, in times of snow, are properly cleared. When one comes out of the Wortley or Chesterfield rural area into the City of Sheffield it is like coming into Switzerland after a series of avalanches, because the roads within the city are so bad. For all these great added services the present ratepayers are to be asked to pay on the average 2s. in the £ extra. [HON. MEMBERS:"No."] All right, keep on contradicting.

Mr. Mulley

That is why we want it to go to Committee.

Mr. McGhee

I want to save the expense of going into Committee. The truth of the matter is that the rate for the unit to be added is, Bradfield 16s. 11d. and Ecclesfield 17s. 7d., so in one area it is much worse than 2s., and in the other area it is a penny less than 2s.

Mr. Mulley

Will my hon. Friend also tell the House that the West Riding are putting their rate up by Is. 6d., which will have to be borne by these rural district tenants?

Mr. McGhee

No, we are so efficient in Wortley that we shall absorb that. Obviously, Sheffield City Council appear to think there is something in this case for increased rates because they propose now to put the model clause on differential rating into the Bill. That clause says that if the people added to Sheffield can find somebody to put their case before the Minister and to face the opposition of the Sheffield City Council, they may, for a few short months, get a differential rate.

I do not see these unfortunate people who will be added to the city being able to do it on their own account. because they will have to face the Sheffield town clerk. I want to say here that I do not believe there is another municipal official in the country who serves his council better than the present town clerk of Sheffield. He is unremitting in his services, he has sense, he is sincere, he is efficient. he is distinguished—and he is ruthless. We have been told by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, how they have consulted the interests affected. The only interests who were really consulted were the officials in the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, previously the Ministry of Health.

When the right hon. Gentleman intervenes, will he tell me how this decision was reached? Can I be told why the Sheffield City Council were allowed to send down their officials to consult with the officials of his Ministry and no effort was made by that Ministry to consult the other interests affected? Why could not the Ministry officials consult with the officials of the Wortley Council and give them some ideas? The whole thing has been wrapped in a cloud of mystery and the town clerk of Sheffield has come down disguised as Father Christmas so that nobody would know that he was intriguing with the officials of the Ministry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Has he brought any' reindeer?"]

Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)

Did the Wortley Council ask to see the Minister or did they not?

Mr. McGhee

If the Ministry are deciding the fate—and, obviously, they have done this—of the new line presented by Sheffield to us, surely the interests concerned could have been consulted by the Ministry. I tell the House that the town clerk of Sheffield has evidently mesmerised the officials in the Department of my right hon. Friend. The result is that if any body of electors go to that Ministry to seek a differential rate they will not stand a chance. The town clerk has one fault: he appears to accept bad political advice——

Mr. Taylor

Should they not accept advice at all?

Mr. McGhee

Yes, they should. I am glad to say that both in Wortley and Sheffield the policies decided by the council are not decided by the officials, as would happen in the area in which the hon. Gentleman resides. I hope the House noticed the contradiction in the two speeches in support of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park, told us that they held a meeting in the area affected. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts), told us that the meeting was held within the city boundary.

Mr. Roberts

May I intervene to help the hon. Member? Two meetings were held: One inside the city and one inside the Wortley area.

Mr. McGhee

Where was the second held? This is news to me. I know that the one outside the boundary was held by some residents in the Wortley area who were opposing the Bill. The other one was held in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, in the Meynell Road School. With organising the Meynell Road School meeting, neither the Liberal Party—all three of them—nor the Tory Party, nor the Labour Party would have anything to do with it.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

There would not be anyone there then?

Mr. McGhee

But either the town clerk approached the Communist Party, or the Communist Party approached the town clerk. I do not know; I am not prepared to say, but the great Meynell Road School meeting was organised by the Communist Party.

Mr. Mulley

That is very serious.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

Absolute nonsense.

Mr. McGhee

The leader of the Communist Party has written to me and, if Members are so anxious, I will tell them what he says. The chairman was Councillor Ballard. He is chairman of the General Purposes Committee.

Mr. Mulley

A Communist?

Mr. McGhee

Oh no, he is not a Communist, but when the meeting was being addressed by a speaker, some of the audience protested against the speech and the chairman got up and said, "But our friend now speaking is responsible for organising this meeting," and "our friend" was a Mr. Hartley, leader of the Communist Party in that part of the world. The net result of the meeting is that in their own council area at a meeting at a distance of eight or nine miles from some parts of the area they are proposing to take over was attended by 200 of their citizens out of 44,000 electors.

Mr. Mulley


Mr. McGhee

I have just given the figures. Who said nonsense?

Mr. Crossman

I did not.

Mr. McGhee

Oh, it was my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd). I forgive him, because he does not know anything about it.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

My hon. Friend should accept that the hon. Member for Attercliffe did not make the interjection.

Mr. Mulley

I made the interjection, and the reason why I said "Nonsense" was that I have already had a petition signed by 127 people, with addresses in the area affected, and they were at the meeting.

Mr. McGhee

Yes, but the lady who collected the signatures is the secretary, or some official of the local Communist Party. If my hon. Friends did not know that it shows how little they know of their own area. As a result of this Communist Party-Sheffield coalition—and the members of the Communist Party want to wreck local government anyway —in their own city they had 200 people at a meeting out of 44,000 electors and even then 17 of them voted against.

I say that we ought to wait for the proposals for the re-organisation of local government which are bound to come from the Government. If my right hon. Friend would take a little advice from me I believe that in this close Parliament, in which both sides are fairly equal, we might get a Council of State on the reorganisation of local government and get a decent scheme which would satisfy everyone. But what Sheffield is trying to do is to jump the gun on local government reform. I beg the House to tell Sheffield to use its own land, despite a possible drop in rateable values or difficulties which may be created with their great hereditary landlords. I ask the House not to damage an efficient unit of local government and a good neighbour, and I hope the House will reject the Bill.

The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence ofMr. SPEAKER from the remainder of the day's Sitting:

WhereuponColonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, took the Chair asDEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.

8.5 p.m.

The Minister of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Dalton)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage to indicate my view. This is a Private Bill. No party whips will be on. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will be free to vote in the light of the degree of conviction they have obtained from the three speeches which have been delivered and speeches to be delivered later. I consider that there is a prima facie case for this extension. I commit myself to no details. It would be quite wrong, improper and premature to do so. I consider that having regard to Sheffield's existing housing estates in areas contiguous to the present proposed area and other areas on which it desires to build, this Bill should be given a Second Reading and all the details can then be discussed in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peni-stone (Mr. McGhee) was evidently very anxious to obtain my support by hook or by crook. I am not going to touch on any other references, some irrelevant, which he made to me and my Department, except on one point. The reason the Sheffield Corporation's officials have been in touch with the officials of my Department is that the hon. Members for Sheffield—of both parties—took the initiative in seeking an interview with me. I had a very happy meeting with them and if my hon. Friend had shown equal enterprise, I would have seen him.

Mr. McGhee

Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to assure the House that there was no interview with the officials of the Ministry of Health or of his Department until he was approached by the hon. Members for Sheffield? Is he prepared to say that now?

Mr. Dalton

Certainly not. My hon. Friend is not improving his case by this type of question.

Mr. McGhee rose——

Mr. Dalton

I am not giving way. It is a perfectly simple matter. Any hon. Member in this House interested in local government matters in his constituency is perfectly entitled to see the Minister responsible. The hon. Members for Sheffield—Labour and Conservative Members—came to see me and I was naturally pleased to see them. We had a meeting and they presented their case and I said to them very much what I am saying tonight, that I will not be led into detail. They showed me a map of Sheffield. It is one of my favourite cities and one of the best governed in the country. It has beautiful surroundings and I always enjoyed going there. Hon. Members from both sides of the House came to see me and no party politics entered the discussion. I said, in conclusion, that it would be very much better if an agreement could be reached between the local authorities concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), was there and he will agree that that is what I said.

I said that I thought there was a prima facie case on what they told me for some extension. That is still my view. My officials are always willing to consult with the officials of any local authority at any time. I am the Minister and I take the decision, whatever is said in official discussion, and I am anxious that my officials should consult without any undue difficulty or suspicion being attached to their consultation, whether it comes from Wortley Rural District Council or Sheffield Corporation. I repeat that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone missed the bus in this case in so far as he did not take any steps to see me.

In my view there is a prima facie case for this extension. How far it should go I am not for a moment going to pronounce. All these matters can be considered when the Select Committee is set up if the House decides on a Second Reading tonight.

Captain Duncan (South Angus)

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question? If the extension is granted, will the Wortley Council still be a viable authority?

Mr. Dalton

That obviously is a matter to be argued before the Select Committee. I deliberately make no answer. It would be very improper for me to answer on this matter on which evidence can be deployed. My hon. Friend, and the officers of his Corporation, or any legal officer they hire will be able to present their case when the Select Committee is set up.

The other thing to which I wish to refer is the question of local government changes. I think it would be a mistake to hold up all proposed extensions because at some later stage some change in local government may take place. I have here what was said by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Health on this subject. It has already been quoted, but he never took the view, and I do not and the Government do not, that there should be a complete standstill of alterations of local boundaries pending some larger reconstruction. My right hon. Friend said that he thought it reasonable that the extension of local boundaries at this stage should not be greater than could be reasonably justified on the urgent needs of authorities seeking the extension. They should not be excessive, but that there should be some extension was, he thought very often very reasonable.

I think my hon. Friend was perhaps not quite right in his belief that this Par- liament, by reason of the narrow balance of parties, is best able to deal with major matters of local government brought before it. I believe the contrary, and on the cold view of political realities there seems no prospect of a major Measure of local government reform passing through this House of Commons in this Parliament. I suggest we take the proposed extensions as they come; judge each of them on its own merits, commit ourselves to no detail; but if aprima facie case is shown, let there be a Second Reading. I shall vote tonight for the Second Reading.

8.13 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I think the Minister gives wise counsel to the House that these matters can be discussed when the Bill is before the Select Committee which this House will set up to examine it. We cannot carry out all these examinations on the Floor of the House; and to avoid overloading the House with this type of discussion, machinery has been devised which before the war was operating to a very much greater extent than it has been able to do since.

Other matters have come before the House which I myself would desire should also have the consideration of a Select Committee. I would not complain that too many, but rather that too few of these Measures were going before a Select Committee. This local government system of ours is not a machine, but a garment to clothe a living body, in this case the living body of England. Unless adjustments are made to meet the rapid changes of population in our country, the garment will be unable to cover the body which it is intended to cover, and indeed to adorn.

I think the Minister is right when he says that in this narrow Parliament it is unlikely that a major Measure of local government reform will be introduced. Indeed the former Minister of Health said that a Minister introducing a Measure of that kind would have to seek a long period of exile abroad immediately, and that showed what he thought were the chances of such a Measure going through. That brings us back to the cold political realities. Either we freeze local government indefinitely or we make adjustments according to the tried practice of this House over many years. I say that the machinery should have an opportunity of operating. Let the case be argued.

The only point of substance contained in the advice of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee) was that this would cost money. Well, it is an Englishman's privilege to go to law if he feels like it, and if we freeze everything by saying nobody should go to law because it costs money, it would cause more injustice than we should remedy. Therefore, my counsel also would be that we should let this go to the Select Committee where all these issues which are of great importance can be discussed, and if it goes to a Division, I shall vote for it.

This is not only a non-party matter but a case for individual decision. Each Member of the House will decide for himself or herself. I am not committing any hon. Member on my own side, I am merely giving my own impression as one who has had charge of these matters in my time. I say that to arrest the adjustment of local government would be a bad step for this House to take, and therefore I would certainly vote for this Bill going to a Select Committee.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)

I was rather shocked at the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee) because a very large proportion of it had nothing to do with this Bill at all. Although I am not of the same political opinion as the majority of the members of the Sheffield Council, I think the criticism of them made by the hon. Member for Penistone was very unfair indeed. He not only criticised members of the Sheffield Council, but he also criticised members of his own Government; and a great deal of that criticism was quite irrelevant to the contents of this Bill.

There are one or two points he raised which I feel I should like to put in the right light. I have before me a letter from the Wortley Rural District Council dated 28th February, and I should like to read it on the point of whether any conference or consultations had taken place with that authority. The attitude of that authority has always been that they were opposing this Bill, and that no good purpose would be served by having any conference at all. This is the substance of the letter to the Sheffield Town Clerk:


Sheffield Extension Bill.

Thank you for your letter of the 26th, received today. The Council have now considered the blue line shown on the map which you left with me. They have decided to continue their opposition to the Bill. I do not think there is any more I can usefully add."

That has been the attitude of that Council from start to finish. How could the Town Clerk of Sheffield have any consultation with an authority which took that attitude?

Mr. McGhee

I would like to know if the hou. Member for Hall am (Mr. Jennings) knows when the Bill was presented? What I was protesting against was that there was no consultation before Sheffield had decided. It is no use having consultations after they have come to a decision. When was the Bill presented?

Mr. Jennings

As a matter of fact, tentative proposals were drawn up and it was upon those tentative proposals that consultations were sought with this local authority. The local authority, under no consideration, would enter into any discussions at all. So I think that the local authority can blame themselves if there has been no consultation up to the present time.

Mr. McGhee

Will the hon. Member please tell us whether he even knows when the Bill was presented?

Mr. Jennings

As to the date when the Bill was presented, I must tell the hon. Member for Penistone quite frankly that I do not know; but my instructions are from the people who have been trying to seek consultations. My information is that right from the very start this local authority took this dog-in-the-manger attitude, and said, "We are opposed to this Bill or any Bill you care to bring forward, and no useful purpose will be served." His point about consultation with the local authority falls to the ground.

Another argument was that Sheffield had a large area of land ready for building purposes. I have it on good authority from the local officials that there is no land in Sheffield available for house building. If land was available, I should see what I could do to ensure that it was used for that purpose.

Mr. McGhee

Why does the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) tell the people of Sheffield that, if private enterprise was allowed to build, they could build so many houses, when he says now that there is no land on which to build, except land owned by the city council, on which they could not build in any case?

Mr. Jennings

I shall not fall into the trap and bring this Bill within the sphere of party political strife. Every hon. Member must form his own opinion. The hon. Gentleman's speech was completely political, and it did not do his case any good. I do not propose to fall into the trap which he has set to make me argue this matter on a political basis. I should not support this Bill if I were not satisfied that we had no land available for building purposes within our boundary. We have open spaces and land which the local authority holds under bequests by people who wished it to be used for certain purposes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that we should get rid of the open spaces in Sheffield in order to build houses.

I appeal to all hon. Members to support this Bill, because in Sheffield there is a grim human problem. Many people live in very sad circumstances without houses. Every hon. Member who represents a large industrial city will know as well as I do of the painful circumstances in which thousands of people have to live. I maintain that we should be given land so that we can provide houses for these unfortunate people. I do not believe in taking too much agricultural land, but, in view of the distressing housing problem, and as I am assured that this land is not of first-class high production value, I feel justified in supporting the Bill.

I believe that the right attitude to adopt is to realise that there are many arguments which hon. Members and outside interests want to raise against this Bill. It is right and proper, however, that a Measure of this kind should be sent to a Committee so that the agricultural problem can be fully considered as well as the various questions of rating. I think that when the hon. Member for Penistone sees the result of consideration in Committee, he will find that the rating point will be non-existent.

Mr. McGhee

Fully met?

Mr. Jennings

I should not like to be unfair to the hon. Member. I cannot say that it will be fully met, but I think that it will be met to a large extent. In any case, it is up to the hon. Member to see that the matter is considered. I suggest that this House would be doing the wise thing in giving this Bill a Second Reading. Many of the major arguments can be given full consideration in Committee, and I ask all hon. Members to support the Motion.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Grossman (Coventry, East)

I am grateful for a chance to intervene, in spite of the fact that it means that somebody from the Midlands is coming into what appears to be a local dispute between hon. Members from Sheffield and the surrounding constituencies. It is perfectly, true, however, that everybody who represents a county borough has a vital interest in this Bill. I represent a county borough, and we in Coventry have a vital interest in the precedent which is being set today in the treatment of this Bill.

I must say—speaking for Coventry, where, sooner or later, we shall be concerned with the development and extension of our city boundaries—that it does not seem to me to be a very good precedent for a calm and objective discussion to have it carried out on Second Reading when it should be carried out in Committee. I think that for that reason, if for no other, everybody who really wants orderly Parliamentary control of this type of Bill should not welcome the type of discussion that we have had today.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should be allowed to get away with that. I recall that in the last Parliament I moved the Second Reading of a county council Bill asking for housing powers, and it was the A.M.C. which organised the opposition of hon. Members in this House, which refused to give that Bill a Second Reading.

Mr. Crossman

I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned that. I would equally oppose their behaviour on that occasion and their behaviour on this. It is wrong, whether it is the A.M.C. or anybody else. This type of detailed objection should be done in Committee. It is far wiser for the House to let the Bill go through on Second Reading and have in Committee the type of objection which the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee) argued. The hon. Member could be there and able to argue his point. This is not the type of procedure which gives Sheffield, or any other place, a fair chance of having the subject discussed on its merits.

It does not seem to me that the details of this Bill and of the dispute between the rural district council which my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone represents and those in Sheffield is a subject we should discuss here. Those things should be left for the Committee stage. That is the reason why, whether one represents a county or urban area, it is essential that we should give this Bill a Second Reading tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone said that there might be a reform of local government and that we should not allow Sheffield to jump the gun of that reform which can now be carried through because with the parties evenly balanced in the House we can behave as a Council of State. As I listened to my hon. Friend I wondered whether there was ever any chance of this House behaving as a Council of State. Vested interests are very strange things. I never thought I should hear levelled by a Socialist against Sheffield charges of snobocracy," f pushing housing away from the fine suburbs, of Sheffield people being in the power of dukes and at the same time being Nenni goats led away by Communist agitators.

I suggest there is no chance whatsoever of anything but either a coalition Government, during a war, or a Government with an overwhelmingly large majority, being able to carry through any drastic measure of local government reform. I fully agree with my Front Bench. What the Minister said is absolutely realistic. We all know what happens when we do anything sensible about changing local government. We saw it this evening. When something sensible was done an hon. Member normally sane became insane, and became wild in his allegations against people he normally looks upon as comrades. In ordinary circumstances they are his comrades, but tonight they became conspirators, out to destroy the rural district council.

It is quite obvious that if we wait for reform, we shall freeze the local government boundaries in a state which will have an utterly disastrous effect upon housing areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone accuses Sheffield of keeping much more land than they should and, at the same time, does not give them credit for maintaining a green belt. That seems to me obviously a frivolous criticism. On the ground that there is no precedent for discussing these things on Second Reading and that the Bill should go to the Committee stage, where its merits can be discussed, I suggest that we give the Bill a Second Reading by a large majority.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. York (Harrogate)

I agree with both points raised by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) but I do not think he was right on the question of Second Reading debate. So many interests are at stake that it is right that we should discuss some of those factors which affect some large or national interest. It is for that reason that I am intervening for a short while.

When I first heard of this Bill, I was very suspicious for the simple reason that I thought it meant another heavy loss to the food production areas of the country. We in the West Riding have suffered as much as and probably more than any other area of the country from the depredations of the various land grabbers, many of whom are doing a necessary job but nevertheless taking an increasing quantity of land from the food production areas of the country.

We in the West Riding have lost hundreds of acres of land for a long time to open-cast coalmining and various types of local authority work. All the time, and one might almost say in increasing quantities, we are losing land to the large cities for housing purposes. I, and the National Farmers' Union, who object to this Bill on the ground of the needs of agriculture and food production, fully realise that expanding cities must find accommodation for their population. The question I ask myself, and which I think the House should ask, is where this accommodation is to be found.

As I see it, there are in this case, at any rate, three alternatives; first of all, within the existing boundaries. We cannot, however, discuss that point here; it must be discussed in Committee. Secondly—and this is a much more important point—there is the land which is of low food production potentiality. It is on that point that I am most disturbed by this Bill. There is another alternative of building in height rather than spreading over a large area of ground, and here is a point which I believe we should discuss on Second Reading. It is essential in our present circumstances and, so far as we can see the future, in all future circumstances, that we should constrict the area of land used for housing by building higher so far as possible.

I believe the Government Departments themselves ought to be cogitating on this matter very deeply so as to ascertain what the possibilities are and whether it is possible to induce local authorities in these very large cities to take a more lenient view with regard to erecting high buildings. In Sheffield I believe there is a case for building more houses within the existing boundaries. I am even more convinced from what I have heard that it is possible to select land outside the existing boundaries which has much less food production value. I would instance Wharncliff Wood and Greenwood. I do not know the latter place, but I am informed that it is a similar area. I believe both should be considered as possible development areas for Sheffield.

I am very glad to hear that the demand on agricultural land is materially reduced. It helps a great deal to hear, for instance, that the total area has been reduced by some 2,500 acres. I am even more glad to hear that some 2,000 to 3,000 acres of good agricultural land is not going to be built upon. I hope the Committee will seriously examine whether it is necessary to include those 2,000 acres within the city boundaries. There is always the trouble that where an area of land is provided for in 1951 as agricultural land, the men who farm that land cannot tell at what future date some newly-constituted city council may say, "We cannot now allow this is to remain agricultural land and we shall build on it." We need a continuity of forward planning extending over 5, 10 or 20 years when we are considering the question of including agricul- tural land within the boundaries of a town.

I am assured by hon. Members representing Sheffield constituencies that they will seriously consider during the Committee stage such alterations as I have suggested, so as to prevent building on good agricultural land, and I hope that will mean that further contractions in the boundaries of the proposed extension, including this 2,000 acres, will be agreed during the Committee stage. If that is so—and I have reason to believe it is so —I am prepared to let this Bill have a Second Reading.

But the essence of the argument, as I see it, is that we must not concentrate on these petty local quarrels but must consider the question from the wider aspect of the national need. So far as the agricultural aspect is concerned, here it is the national need which is important. I would put this to the House. People must be housed, but before they are housed they must be fed; and I should like to see city councils, and in particular the Sheffield City Council, recognise that in our lifetime Britain will never be free from the necessity to grow more food at home. By demanding more good agricultural land for building, city councils are reducing the ration of their own ratepayers.

I hope that in time that point will sink home not only with borough councils but also with Ministers and Government Departments. I want to see a "grow more food" complex in the system adopted by Government Departments, in that way not permitting local authorities to select the best agricultural land for housing, as they have often done in the past. If Sheffield accept that principle, I am prepared to support them in their efforts.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. Henry White (Derbyshire, North-East)

We have listened to the views of Yorkshire for some time and, if one knew nothing about the Bill, one would think it concerned only the Sheffield City Council and the Wortley rural area. But this Bill also makes preparation to take in a portion of Derbyshire which is in my constituency.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), pleads that we should not have adopted this procedure this evening I would remind him that the responsibility is not altogether upon those who are opposed to the Bill. Certain things were submitted to us on both sides of the House which created within our minds the feeling that we ought to oppose the Bill strongly, if not as vigorously as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee).

It is not my desire or intention to pursue the question of whether satisfactory consultations took place either before the Bill was produced or afterwards. I am not convinced that satisfactory consultations did take place. Nor am I here this evening to argue against the decision of Sheffield to build houses for its population, because if I lived in Sheffield I should be happy to have a house either in Green-hill, where they have already extended the boundary, or on the Trecheville and Gleadless sites, where they intend to extend the boundary.

Bearing in mind the map of Sheffield, I am still not convinced, by what has been said tonight, that the area available for housing is insufficient for the time being. I think further development should take place in the area represented by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). If one travels around that area, which was in my constituency and was a great gift to him, one finds that development could take place there on a greater scale than in the past.

Mr. P. Roberts

I believe that there are plans for building a large estate of some 2,000 houses in the northern area.

Mr. White

Yes. I would not dispute that for a moment, but I believe that the Sheffield City Council themselves have not taken any action with a view to building any large estate in that area.

However, I have not risen for the purpose or arguing about that. My chief point is that I believe that the boundaries that have been drawn in this Bill are wholly artificial and unsatisfactory as far as the Derbyshire side is concerned. They cut across the brow that leads from Gleadless across to Beighton parish, to the little village between Trecheville and Beighton parish. I believe that the line has been purposely drawn on that land so that it will bring within the city's bounds those lands that are the most easily and the most inexpensively developed.

I protest against the fact that it is proposed to take that course. If the Corporation want that portion, they ought to be whole-hearted in the affair and take the flooded lands in Beighton parish as well. My point is that they are taking the best part of this particular area, and that they are not taking the rough with the smooth. These cases, Greenhill and Trecheville and Hackenthorpe are self-contained communities, with their own churches and schools. In Trecheville and Gleadless we have two of the most up-to-date schools; and the rural district council have been progressive in providing facilities there.

I think this is an inappropriate time for this plan. I think we should wait for the Minister to deal with the function and structure of local government generally, although I do not want to go into that now. All I want to say now is that the proposed alteration of boundaries, as it affects the Derbyshire side, is such that not only do the Corporation take the best houses, the best schools, and the best sites in that particular area of Derbyshire, but along with those they will take third-class roads and put upon them a great and heavier traffic for which the county council will have to meet the bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone has made a lone protest with which I associate myself but, having said that, I ask that an opportunity should be given for these authorities to state their case by our sending the Bill to Committee upstairs.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

As this debate has proceeded, it has, I think, become abundantly plain that this dispute raises important local questions; but it raises no exceptional consideration that would justify the House in taking a course upon Second Reading different from the course which we normally take with Bills for boundary extensions, that is to say, sending the Bill to a Committee upstairs where the rival cases made by the various parties can be fully investigated with assistance which is not available to us in this House.

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee) made a formidable case. I think it would have been more formidable if it had been a little less political, but it was a formidable case. All the matters to which he referred, which are no doubt of great importance in the districts concerned, are the common features of every boundary dispute in which I have ever been concerned. Each side claims that there has been inadequate consultation; each party produces letters which the other party says were in fact written by employees of the local authority on the other side; each party claims that crowded meetings have been held at which everybody voted in favour of their own proposals. That is the common character of disputes about boundary extensions.

All those matters, important as they are in their bearing upon these local questions, are really matters which are better determined in Committee upstairs. In a Second Reading debate, this House ought not to be invited to enter into the merits of the case. Let us send this Bill upstairs where all these things can be fully investigated; and let us refrain at this stage of the proceedings from expressing any opinion upon the merits, except the opinion that has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that aprima facie case for an extension has been made out.

I should like, if I may, to turn for a few moments to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that there was no prospect of a major measure of local government reform in the present Parliament; but I understand that Bills for the extension of the boundaries of county boroughs will be allowed to proceed so long as those who are claiming an extension can base their claim upon their needs to meet the housing requirements of their districts. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if the fact is that there is no prospect of a major reorganisation of local government in the present Parliament, why should the power of local authorities to readjust their boundaries, or indeed to readjust their functions, be restricted in the way he has indicated? If boundary extensions are needed for certain purposes, (I would say that equally a redistribution of functions is desirable before administrative systems become too firmly established.

Hon. Members may recall that last year I was responsible for moving the Second Reading of a Bill promoted by the borough in the constituency which I represent. The borough council were very anxious to become a county borough. I think it was generally conceded on all sides of the House that judged by any normal standards they were fully entitled to county borough status. But on that occasion the then Minister of Health advised the House to reject the Bill upon the ground that we ought to wait until some general reorganisation of local government became possible. The right hon. Gentleman now seems to say that we may have to wait a long time. I put this to him. If an adjustment in one direction is necessary, it is equally desirable that adjustments should be made in other directions. I hope that in this matter the right hon. Gentleman will not follow the course of his predecessor and advise the House to reject all Bills which are promoted by local authorities desirous of altering their status.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he considered that no agreed Measure for dealing with the reorganisation of local government was possible in the present Parliament. I asked the right hon. Gentleman this question: what are the changes which he has in mind for which apparently a substantial Parliamentary majority will be necessary? I should have thought that there might have been a certain measure of agreement between both sides of the House about at least some aspects of local government reform. I am bound to say that the treatment which the local authorities have received in recent years, in the progressive withdrawal of major services from local government, does not encourage me to think that the measure of agreement between the two sides of the House is likely to be very substantial.

It is, I think, rather an alarming prospect that the proposals for the reorganisation of local government which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind are apparently so drastic and far-reaching that they can only be undertaken by a Government which has a substantial Parliamentary majority. That is a prospect which, I think, will not arouse any great sense of confidence in the local authorities. Indeed, I think that it will give rise in their minds to a feeling of apprehension. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he is in fact contemplating far-reaching changes of this character, some indication should be given to the local authorities of what is in store for them. They should not merely be told, as he has told us tonight, that there is no prospect of any major Measure of reorganisation in the present Parliament.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)

I want to follow the sentiments expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) and to say quite frankly that this piecemeal dealing with the position is detrimental and fatal to achieving the necessary reorganisation of local government., In that connection, I blame to some extent the Government of 1945–50 in accepting the previous Government's proposals for the appointment of Royal Commissions. In accepting the principle of a Royal Commission on the re-distribution of seats instead of on the re-distribution of boundaries the tail wagged the dog. Unfortunately, that is an accepted fact and we have to acknowledge it. Another grave mistake was in not having both Commissions working in co-operation with one another. I am satisfied that if that had been done a lot of these problems would have automatically solved themselves.

Turning to the Bill, I am dismayed and disappointed with the local government representatives of the Sheffield City Council. I will accept the challenge of the hon. Member for Hallam (Mr. Jennings), but I do not want to become as acrimonious as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee) in dealing with local government officials, including the town clerk of Sheffield and the clerk of Wortley rural district council. With a fair experience of local government, I say that it is a tragedy to have to bring this Measure to the Floor of the House when an agreement ought to have been reached without dragging in lawyers. Members of the House, who have to deal with their own problems and settle them in their own way, are being asked to decide this issue, when many of them do not know the area at all, do not know the internal or external workings, and do not know the outlay of the city and its environs, whereas a little common sense would settle the whole problem.

The argument of the promoters of the Bill is that the land is primarily for housing. We will accept that. We know that the housing of the people of this country is paramount and No. I priority. With my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone, I am perfectly satisfied that the Sheffield Corporation and the engineering staff have not taken the fullest advantage of the land within the confines of the city. The fact is, whether we like it or not, the councillors of that city are endeavouring to extend their sway over an area over which, ultimately, they will not be able to have proper and effective control. I could say the same thing about the West Riding County Council, but we are now dealing with the City of Sheffield and that city's extension Bill.

It has been said that there is no land available for housing inside the city. I am sure that no hon. Member in the House would debar the people from having a green belt, a recreation ground, an open space, and so on. That is what we fought the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut-Colonel Elliot) on, when he was Minister of Health. We wanted increased open spaces and playing fields, but, unfortunately, we more often got "nay" than "yea."

In Sheffield, we are told there is no land. The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. York) spoke about the necessity of growing more food as more important than the extending of the boundaries of the City of Sheffield. The argument about there being no land available in the city does not hold water, because there are 8,961½ acres of farm land inside Sheffield. Thus it is not incumbent upon the Corporation of Sheffield to go to Eccles-field for more land. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this question by people who do not know the area concerned. When it is said that only 2,000 acres are to be taken, that may be literally true, but it will be found that it does not work out anything like that. In all probability, if the Corporation succeed in this Bill, they will be taking better farm land from outside the city than they have within it.

I do not want to delay the House unduly, but it is a tragedy that local authorities cannot meet and settle their grievances from a commonsense point of view without wasting the time of hon. Members of the House. I have been asked by my rural district councils to oppose the Measure, but I do not know much about it at all. Those who live in the vicinity ought to have been made acquainted with such things. It is all right to be briefed, but when one comes to talk and introduce a Measure—well, I have sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) in his sincerity. When he says that if this extension is granted there may be Bills for extensions to other areas, the matter becomes a farcical comedy.

I want to express my profound regret about this matter, because I disagree with this extension of the city area. The city is spreading too far and getting too much. This is a definite indication of overspill, where a new town ought to be built. I do not accept, regardless of what my right hon. Friend says, that we must have a big majority for this Bill. I am not satisfied that this is a clear-cut matter. I would not say "clear-cut," because it is a rather involved problem. If we can get a majority at all, and if we have a firm conviction that we are on right lines, by all means let us bring in a general Measure. I would rather do that than deal with the matter piecemeal.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Gunter (Doncaster)

I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I notice that there is a consensus of view that a Select Committee should deal with this matter. I wish to speak as one of that body of people who will have to assume responsibility in this matter. My hon. Friend who has just spoken reveals great faith in human nature, when he talks about local authorities agreeing. If he sat upstairs for a few days and heard their learned counsel pleading on behalf of corporations, perhaps of the same political view, he would realise that local government seems to dominate the situation.

I would address a few words to the Minister. The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut-Colonel Elliot), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, pleaded that this was a matter—and I agree with him—that should come before the Select Committee. He dealt with the fact that we use this machinery to a far greater degree than formerly. The circumstances under which the Private Bill Committee is now operating on extension Bills is somewhat different from what it has been before. No Corporation has much hope of promoting a Bill except with the consent of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but negotiations go on for a very long time to determine the most urgent need for housing. If a local authority promotes a Bill to enable it to prove its case for the acquisition of 2,000 acres for urgent housing needs it gets little consolation from the Minister.

The Private Bills Committee is being asked to determine the urgency in housing; and it is a most bewildering problem. One extension Bill comes before us and it is pleaded that a 10-year programme constitutes urgency. In the case of another Bill, seven years may be argued. I do not argue that the Minister should define what is urgent—I suppose that is a matter which the Committee itself must face—but there appear to me to be conflicting principles in this determination of need.

There is some responsibility upon the Minister to tell the promoters of the Bill what is their actual need. I do not know whether I shall earn a reproof for mentioning this, but the position is that the Minister or his Department submits a memorandum to the Private Bills Committee, which does not take things very far. The Department accepts, in effect, the responsibility for determining what the urgency is, but does not tell the Committee in the memorandum why it has arrived at its decision. Another difficulty is that we are unable to call the representative of the Minister or his Department as a witness. I agree that the proper place to deal with that is in the Private Bills Committee.

I would urge upon the Minister that attention ought to be paid to the submission from his Department of memoranda fully setting out what is, in his opinion, the justification for the case which has, in effect, been imposed upon the local authorities by his Department. I believe that it is quite impossible for any local authority to introduce a Bill for an extension today unless it has the support of the Minister. If that be the case, the Minister has a responsibility to "come clean" with the Select Committee and tell them upon exactly what grounds he justifies his proposition.

9.13 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I believe that the case for submitting the Bill to a Committee by giving it a Second Reading was conclusively put by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). That was practically the whole case that need have been put, and I think it was conclusive; but, as a number of other considerations have been raised, I should like to deal with some of the points, and I hope I shall not be considered to be trespassing upon what are in fact Committee matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) made a very vehement speech in which he showed that he was utterly opposed to the whole proposition in the Bill and to what he called cities getting their tentacles into the country areas. In doing so, he ably supported what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McGhee). The position is that, on the one hand, we have representatives of one point of view, and that, on the other hand, there are those who have expressed themselves from the other point of view; and it has been crystal-clear, at least so far as the hon. Member for Rother Valley is concerned, that there could be no question at all of getting local agreement on this and that it must be settled in discussion in Committee in the House of Commons.

In regard to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Henry White), I very much appreciate the fact—so will all hon. Members from Sheffield—that he has at least taken the sensible course of recommending that the Bill be given a Second Reading so that the actual problems can be dealt with where they ought to be. The only comment I would make on what he said is that, in objecting to Sheffield's proposal, he suggested that we had been taking only the best parts of Derbyshire and that we ought to take the rest. We did endeavour in the West Riding area to take a wider part of the territory precisely for the purpose of embodying what is unsuitable land for any other purpose than for fitting in as part of a green belt alongside the new housing developments. We were persuaded to drop a great part of that unsuitable land in order to reduce the total acreage in the interests of the Department. That argument would apply equally in the south.

Now if I may come to what has been said by the hon. Member for Penistone, I think he was fully answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East. His speech, in so far as it was not just an outright indictment of the Sheffield City Council and of the Government—I had thought he was a supporter of both— was a conclusive case for giving a Second Reading to the Bill. He raised a number of dubious and controversial points which we clearly cannot dispose of in a Second Reading debate, and which can only be satisfactorily disposed of in Committee. I will refer to one or two of those in passing, not to examine them fundamentally, but merely to show how impossible it is to deal satisfactorily with such matters in this fashion.

His main submission was that there is already sufficient land in the city of Sheffield to enable us to overcome all our building problems. Yet it has been emphasised over and over again that the main purpose of the Bill is to enable Sheffield to overcome an enormous housing problem which, even if the city were twice the size it is, I question whether we could overcome within a reasonable time.

The total housing figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), were these. We have a housing list of 29,000 people which is periodically checked and is a firm list of families who are not tenants of houses. It does not include all those tenants of houses who are overcrowded and anxious to obtain better accommodation. That is the basic minimum of the non-tenants living in parts of houses. In addition, there are 12,000 houses which were condemned in 1939, and an estimate of another 7,000 condemned in 1947—a total of about 50,000.

It is true that if the condemned houses were pulled down we could build new houses in their place. To that extent I give my hon. Friend the point that there is land in Sheffield on which a number of houses could be built. But there are 19,000 houses condemned, and it should be borne in mind that the rebuilding of these areas would not relieve but would intensify this problem, because in those slum areas houses were built at 50 to 100 per acre, whereas modern conceptions of housing provide for 10 to 12 houses per acre. I would say to the hon. Member for Derbyshre, North-East, that the Sheffield City Council is seized of the importance of vertical building and the development of flats. Indeed, they will have no other outlet after they have had the maximum extension of the city boundaries, because of the pressing problem.

Over 50,000 houses are urgently needed, with a basic immediate minimum of over 29,000. Because of the rate of building that has gone on in Sheffield, we have had our allocation increased from 1,200 to 1,700 within the last two or three months. That gives a total building capacity of 3,000 for the next 18 months, and then the whole of the available land will have been exhausted. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone suggested that that was not the case. I should like the House to appreciate that the position in Sheffield is so serious that the city council have had to try to build on quite unsuitable patches of land here and there within the city, most of which is unsuitable because of the danger of subsidence and other things, and that a large number of these houses have already had to be reinforced at an extra cost of £90 per house. That is the desperate situation into which we have got. It is not an economical proposition, and is not a good proposition from any point of view.

My hon. Friend referred to the fact that we are apparently taking 6,000 acres in order to get 2,000, but he knows the answer to that. He knows that the 2,000 acres is the minimum upon which we can build effectively within that particular acreage; that we are not particularly anxious to have the additional land but that it just happens according to the layout of the land, which is mountain, rock and quarry, that a large part of that acreage simply cannot be used, although it would be quite stupid to leave little circles of houses here and there without any connection or contact of any kind. It may be unfortunate from our point of view that this additional land has to be brought in, but it is no disadvantage to the rural council area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone made allegations about 2,000 odd acres of building land in Sheffield. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) replied in great part to that in pointing out that most of that land is valuable agricultural land, which the Minister of Agriculture and other interests will not permit to be used for housing. It is not the case that the land which is proposed to be taken in the south of Sheffield, outside the city boundaries, is good agricultural land, because we have purposely avoided the best agricultural areas and other places which could be used better for other purposes, in order to minimise the disturbance to agricultural and other activities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone referred to areas at the west end of Sheffield—Dore, Gleadless, and so on—where we ought to be acquiring land and building the houses, but where, he said, we are not doing so because the city council would not be prepared to build council houses in these west end areas. That is not the fact, for there are council houses in most of these areas already. The reason why it is not possible, for the purpose of easing the housing problem in Sheffield, to use to any great advantage land at such points as Dore, is that it is too far distant from the east and centre of the city where the work is done. There are already considerable protests from the workers in the east and in the centre of Sheffield at the high cost of travelling to and from these very distant points.

The suggestion that the Sheffield City Council are afraid to take over by compulsory purchase the land of the hereditary landlords—the families of the Dukes of Norfolk and Fitzwilliam, etc.— also is completely incorrect. I am not proposing to go into these things in detail. I merely raise these counter-arguments to show the necessity of the whole thing being thoroughly examined in Committee. But my hon. Friend knows quite well that most of the land in Sheffield belonging to the two particular families to which he referred has already been taken over by the council. He is aware, for instance, that one of the largest estates in Sheffield is the Manor Estate, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). I hope that the House will realise the significance of the term "manor," because it got its title from the fact that the manor of one of these families was situated on that land. These are practically all Committee points, and I have only briefly answered the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone in order to emphasise this.

My hon. Friend said also that there would be no benefit whatever to the residents in the Wortley rural area by the proposed incorporation within Sheffield, because they are already getting better services than they would do within Sheffield. This is not the place, and I do not desire, to go into detail in comparing the respective services because, whatever may be said about our unfortunate town clerk in Sheffield, I have no desire to cast aspersions on either the character, the objectives, or the capacity of the chairman of the rural district council, of whom I know nothing. He probably is an excellent man. But there have been a number of letters I have received from residents in this area expressing their desire to be incorporated precisely because of the better services provided within the Sheffield area.

I will not go into the question of the meeting at Meynell Road School, except to say that that school was chosen because it was the most central point for the residents of that area. If there were not 40,000 residents there, that is because the schoolroom has not the capacity to hold them. It was crowded and extra chairs were brought in. The meeting was not organised by the Communist Party, but was publicly advertised by the city council on three occasions and was open to everyone and only 17 out of the total attending voted against incorporation

I think the question of waiting for local government reform has been adequately dealt with. If the Bill obtains a Second Reading tonight—and I think we may be fairly confident it will—and is referred to a Committee, it is probable that not before April, 1952, will it become operative. In the meantime the whole of the land inside and outside the city boundaries will have been developed, Sheffield's house building will have come to a stop and we shall have a most deplorable situation. We have to take this opportunity, when there is no early prospect of any local government reform, to get the Bill on to Committee so that all the points argued this evening—quite wrongly I think—may be thoroughly investigated and a decision taken.

There are many interests to be taken into account. This is not really a matter of Sheffieldversus the rest. There are agricultural interests to be considered and most important of all there is the housing position to be considered. It should not be a question of town against country, or rural council, or county council. It is essentially a question of a responsible Committee of this House weighing up all these considerations and, in the interests of the nation at large, reaching the most sensible and practical conclusions in order that this tremendous question of housing and of agricultural development of the country can be given a satisfactory answer. I therefore hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill by an overwhelming majority.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

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