HC Deb 25 February 1952 vol 496 cc723-73

Order for Second Reading read.

4.15 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

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

The town development plan, for which I am asking the assent of the House this afternoon, marks a new stage in a long series of attempts to deal with a difficult and baffling problem. It has its origin in the work of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Industrial Population which sat under the chairmanship of Sir Montague Barlow before the war, and reported in 1940. That report received widespread approval. Broadly speaking, what Sir Montague Barlow's Commission recommended was decentralisation and dispersal. That was their remedy for the disease of over-concentration and overcrowding.

In pursuance of that purpose, much action has been taken since, but mostly negative in character. I think there is general agreement that disorderly expansion of great cities into the countryside was a process which had gone too far before the war, and it has been the object of the various planning authorities to prevent this bulging out on the fringes of already overcrowded communities, and to provide some kind of green belt around them. Hence the various negative controlling actions which have been taken by the public authorities concerned with planning, including my Ministry.

Since the population of overcrowded towns and cities must be given accommodation somewhere, it has now become plain that negative control is not enough and that some positive action must be taken. In other words, if towns are not allowed to swell they must be encouraged to hop.

There are two main methods by which such a solution can be sought. They are the expansion of existing towns, and the creation of new towns. I would remind the House that in Professor Abercrombie's Plan for Greater London, which was produced as long ago as 1944, three times as many people from London were to be accommodated in town expansion as in new towns. A number of the latter are now well under way, and it is high time to give an impetus to the first method, on which I think we must rely for the main contribution upon expansion.

Meanwhile, I should like to say something about the new towns. Many people have had misgivings about the wisdom of launching such a policy without some pioneering experiments. There are bound to be mistakes and misfits, but I should like to pay my tribute to the energy and enthusiasm of those who are serving the new towns, which have already made good progress. I think they will soon make rapid progress. After all, the first of the new towns round London was only effectively started in 1947, and the last of them in 1949. Like any other large development, they have had to undertake major works such as water supply and sewage.

There were bound to be teething troubles, but these are largely in the past, and I feel confident that the new towns will be able to make a substantial, perhaps even a spectacular contribution to the housing needs of Greater London in the future. At any rate, it is my intention to assist and further their work by all the means in my power.

We must now begin to make progress. Perhaps the more vital of the two needs is that some simpler and less drastic cure for overcrowding must be found. We require a remedy capable of more general and more flexible operation for, after all, the designation of a new town is a large and ambitious enterprise involving very heavy expenditure of public money and creating special local problems. Yet the general purpose for which new towns were created must be carried on with a fresh momentum and on a wider front. The natural tendency of the large towns to swell must be controlled and some stimulus must be given to a form of development which will meet their individual needs without damaging the interests of their neighbours.

For many centuries historians and critics have deplored the growth of the great wen of London, and it has long been clear that in the case of London and other great cities, if the populations of these overcrowded towns are to be provided with the appropriate conditions of life, some limit must be put to their growth.

The unhappy feature of the first attempt to deal with overcrowding was the development of the purely dormitory area. This involved immense transport problems and created almost as many new social problems as those which it attempted to cure. Following these early, and in some respects unfortunate, experiments there is now general acceptance of the idea that not merely should a population be exported, but that its industry should be taken with it or fresh industry attracted so that the new organism may be a balanced and healthy creation capable of varied life and employment.

This Bill is founded on this basic principle. It will also try to restrict the unhealthy growth of what I would call absentee landlordism by one great authority in the area of another. At the same time, while it preserves local rights and local authority it will seek to promote the solution of this problem by agreement and by co-operation.

Broadly speaking, the purpose of the Bill is that the large cities wishing to provide for their surplus populations shall do so by orderly and friendly arrangements with neighbouring authorities. For convenience the town or city wishing to solve its own problem of overcrowding is termed the exporting authority and the county district, which is acting as its partner in this undertaking, is called the receiving authority. I want to make it clear that it is our purpose that all these arrangements should be reached by friendly negotiation and not imposed by arbitrary power.

I also want to emphasise that the main object of the Bill is to assist the receiving local authorities to build up their own areas, for this is to be the normal method. After all, it is only right and natural, for we must look first to the local authority which is responsible for the district into which the people and industries are to move. First of all, they are on the spot, they are in full and active operation, and if they are able and willing to do the job they ought to have the opportunity and the responsibility.

At the same time, there may well be occasions when the receiving authority—the county district—would be wise to make use of the building organisation or the special experience of the exporting authority. Such an agreement might take several forms. The exporting authority might act in its own right in agreement with the district council or as agent for the district council. I am thinking, so far, of agreements between county boroughs—the exporting authorities—and the district councils who are the receiving authorities. This is the normal pair in contact for this purpose.

But we must not forget the county councils in which the receiving district councils are situated, for they also are vitally concerned. The receiving county councils, under the law, are the local planning authorities and, as such, they will be deciding the areas which are to be expanded. We must look to them to see that the development is well and truly planned, with due provision for industry and due provision for social needs.

This will be the main role of the county councils. Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that the Bill gives them for the first time actual housing powers. Thus, should it prove necessary, they can take a hand in seeing that the development plans are actually carried into effect.

There is another difficulty which has to be faced and I will not hide it from the House. However willing the receiving authorities may be to undertake these often onerous responsibilities, and however friendly and co-operative the district councils and the county councils may prove; however reasonable and generous the exporting authority may be—that is to say, the overcrowded town or city—there are often burdens to be borne which put too heavy a strain on any or all of these purely local resources, at least in the initial stages. In other words, they require a sweetener, and such a sweetener the central Government should, and by this Bill, is empowered to provide.

Hon. Members will observe that the language in which the Bill is drafted is sometimes, as in all modern legislation, a trifle obscure, but our purpose is plain. And our intentions, I hasten to add, are strictly honourable. Of course, in the role of fairy godmother the central Government is not quite what it used to be. We cannot shower the gifts that used once to fall so easily from the Exchequer, for the fairy godmother is a bit down at heel herself. Indeed, I ought to express a real sense of gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the sympathy and liberality which he has shown in support of this Bill. In return, we must try to ensure that in the widest sense we get real value for our money.

Perhaps hon. Members might like to know next to what sort of service it is proposed that the central Government shall contribute. The first and the most important is the acquisition of land and the cost of site preparation for housing, shops and industry and the cost of main water supply and sewerage. These are the essential preliminaries to development, for without water and sewerage there can be no large-scale development, whether residential or industrial.

But these are not enough. Land must be made ready for building and it may have to be levelled, estate roads have to be made, and water, sewerage and other services provided to the individual building plots. This is what the private estate developers on the big scale have always done, so as to have an uninterrupted run of houses. Local authorities will have to do the same if they are to attract development to the places where they want it. In the same way, they must be able to attract industry by the offer of fully prepared factory sites.

We are also providing some help to be given in appropriate cases towards the cost of building houses. In the main, it will be for the services I have described —the acquisition of land, preparation of land, water, sewerage and so forth—but in certain cases we are taking power to give help in the actual building of houses. This will take the form of a contribution towards the statutory rate charge.

But I want to make it clear, and indeed to emphasise, that it is no part of our intention that the Exchequer should shoulder a liability which should rightly fall upon the exporting authorities. Those authorities have a responsibility for housing their people, and they ought not to be relieved of it by the mere fact that the houses have to be built within the area of another authority.

After all, it is no new experience for local authorities to build houses outside their areas and to bear the whole cost of buying and making ready the land and building the houses, except only for the statutory Exchequer contribution.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

Does the right hon. Gentleman con- template that the scope of the Bill shall be limited to cases where the exporting authority and the receiving authority are contiguous? The Minister has mentioned the great London wen. Let me take as an example the Black Country wen. Supposing that area exported to the delightful county of Montgomery, would the Bill apply?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes. They need not be contiguous they can go across the county borders. I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked that question. In-county moves are a different point, but the question asked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, of course, covered by the Bill. As I have said, the exporting authorities are expected to assume that responsibility, and they do so. I think that the exporting authority must normally carry their responsibility, whether the receiving council do the work for them or not.

I do not think there will be difficulty about this, but we are taking the power in the Bill to give rate support to the house building only in certain circumstances, which, roughly, are these: where it is the only way in which we shall get the houses built in the right places, and where it would not be reasonable to expect the exporting authority to pay the rate contribution.

It is difficult to lay down any hard and fast rule, because the circumstances will vary a great deal, but some developments will be carried out not very far from the exporting areas. Others, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has envisaged, may be at a considerable distance. In some cases, local employment will already be available and so make it easier to arrange that the houses are allotted simply upon the basis of housing need and nothing else.

In other cases, of course, industry will have to be brought in to keep the balance, which is so important, and which, indeed, is the whole purpose of the Bill. In those cases, houses will have to be allotted with some regard to the industries' need of particular types of worker, as well as to the general rule of housing need. That is essential if we are to get the kind of industries we want, and to get the moves which are so important.

But in all cases, the general principle will be that the exporters will contribute to the statutory rate charge broadly to the extent that their own urgent housing needs are directly relieved by the houses that are being built. In other words, they will be responsible to the extent of the relief they get for the people from their own housing lists, and we shall do our best to deal fairly with the authorities on the merits of each case.

Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

May I ask a question regarding the overspill that is likely to arise and the population going from, say, the City of Liverpool? Is there any reservation to the Minister under the Bill whereby we shall not be denuded of labour or left with empty sites in the city? Will the right hon. Gentleman see that these are filled up before we are able to build satellite towns outside the city?

Mr. Macmillan

I am glad that the hon. Member asked that question. It is one to which I have, naturally, given urgent attention. I am very pleased with the results from the local authorities to whom I have spoken on this matter. They are fully cognisant of the importance of filling up their vacant sites. That was the first question I have asked them, and I have been much impressed by their response. There are, however, some difficulties, and the hon. Member, from his long experience, will agree that if one re-develops an area or clears a slum, one is not, alas, able to provide in that area the same population that is taken out of it. There is always this problem.

As regards vacant sites in London, for instance, the Metropolitan boroughs have been given by the London County Council the responsibility of smaller sites. The L.C.C. are working hard, and I have seen their plans for developing the vacant sites. In some cases, a certain amount of demolition is required to make a proper development; but with all the good will in the world the figures that are shown to me make it clear that this process of what I would call building up the smaller towns into bigger towns will still have to be carried out, and is the right way, instead of the bulging overspill which has been followed up to now.

I should like to come now to the question of the principle on which the central contribution is to be assessed. It is, perhaps, misleading to say "on what prin- ciple." In practice, it will be what is necessary to get the job going. The circumstances of cases vary so widely that it is very hard to make hard and fast rules, and the amount of help that will be given by the central Government will be settled ad hoc in negotiation with the authorities concerned, exporting and receiving, and with the county councils; and we must try to find, in practice, a middle course between being too niggardly and too lavish, too prodigal or too miserly.

It will be necessary for the Minister to be satisfied that there is a real need to contribute to an undertaking of this kind before he makes any financial contribution. If it was of a very small character, comprising just a few hundred families, I should not regard it as a scheme of this kind; nor would a contribution be given where it was clear that the cost of the scheme was not beyond the resources of the receiving authority. On the other hand, when the plans are on a large scale, or put a burden upon those concerned which, we feel, the national Exchequer ought to pay, we shall certainly, as we take power to do under the Bill, make our contribution.

There are two kinds of contribution which, it has been suggested, we ought to make and which we do not think we ought to make. The first is a contribution to the county services which will be necessary to deal with the additional population. The main service concerned will be education, and we think that these services ought to be provided by the county council, even for the extra populaiton, in the future, as they have been provided by them in the past. In the past great movements have taken place—during and between the two wars—from the overcrowded towns into the adjoining counties. It is true that these movements were often badly planned and the development often wrongly sited, but the intention of the Bill is to prevent the repetition of these mistakes.

It has always been the responsibility of the county councils to provide for the education of the immigrants they receive. After all, fairly generous assistance is available by way of grant from the Ministry of Education and, of course, in certain circumstances, further assistance may be forthcoming from the Exchequer Equalisation Grant. This position we do not think is altered by this Bill. It is the provision of water, sewerage and of houses which make, in general, the heaviest demands on capital expenditure and have to be financed over a long period of years, before they can bring in any substantial return. Moreover, these services are part of a single whole; the houses cannot be built unless the water and sewerage are provided. They are part of housing and this Bill is primarily to promote housing and re-housing.

There is another form of contribution for which we have been asked, but which we do not think we ought to give. I must be frank about it because I think there is some feeling of disappointment. That is a contribution to a move which is wholly within one administrative county. Grants in this field are only made in the case of transfer across administrative county boundaries. In other words, it will apply from a county borough to a county, including cases where that county happens to be the old historical county from which the county borough sprang. For instance, there is the case of Salford to Worsley, because Salford is a county borough on its own and, therefore, it is a move across a county boundary.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

As one of the hon. Members for Salford, I am very much concerned that the right hon. Gentleman should suggest that it is not part of the County of Lancashire; it is a very definite part of it.

Mr. Macmillan

That is why I said there is some misunderstanding. There is an administrative county boundary between the county borough and the County of Lancashire. Why I said I thought there was some confusion was that it does not cover in-county moves, but it does cover a move from county boroughs. It would cover a move from Liverpool or Salford into Lancashire, but not an in-county move within that administrative county. There has been some misunderstanding because, as the hon. Gentleman says, Salford is in Lancashire. It does apply from a county borough to a county, including places where that county is the old historical county out of which the administrative county borough has been carved.

It may be asked why there is this limitation. I know, for instance, that in Essex perhaps that is the most pressing of the problems; and where we are not dealing with it there is some concern. One of the chief problems which we are trying to solve is that of the large county borough, the large city and the overgrown town and, of course, the London County Council itself. These are the towns and cities which have insufficient ground in their own areas to provide houses for the existing population. Therefore, they must go outside. The figures make clear that they must go outside to meet their needs. They must spill into the area of another county. That is the typical and urgent case with which we wish to deal. The great majority of the moves contemplated and the schemes supported will be moves of that character.

Acute overcrowding leading to the bursting of the boundaries is very unusual in the case of a county district, that is to say, in a non-county borough or urban district council area. Generally, it has more room to expand within, or at any rate, close to its own boundary and usually there is a choice of housing sites. There is no necessity or compulsion to go some distance outside, as is the case with many county boroughs. That is why we have thought of this problem primarily as moves across administrative County boundaries. I know there are some cases—they are very conspicuous in Essex—where overcrowding and congestion in the inner areas will necessitate a movement of population and industry into outer areas—a move perhaps comparable with some of those with which I am dealing under the Bill—

Nevertheless, I think that when the Minister asks Parliament for authority for financial assistance he ought, as far as possible, to limit and define the cases in which assistance will be given. We must draw the line somewhere. It is in the nature of the case with which this Bill is dealing that we cannot define, or even tell, Parliament the precise amount we are to spend, or ask to spend. Therefore, I think we ought at least to try to define the cases where assistance would be given. The only frontier which we have been able to find to rest upon is the line between within county moves and moves across an administrative county boundary. Most of the former will be of a minor character and most of the latter will be of a major. Moves within a county will be wholly planned by a county council and a county council already has the power, if it thinks fit, to assist any of its district councils in providing for overspill coming from another of its districts.

Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)

The county borough of Croydon and the non-county borough of Epsom are almost contiguous with the green belt, or almost completely built up, and they will probably have to overspill into the same area. Will that not give Croydon an advantage over Epsom in that Croydon will be eligible for a grant, whereas Epsom will not?

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

May I make the same point? West Ham and East Ham are overcrowded, but so are Leyton, Walthamstow, Dagenham and Barking and they are very much in the same position in the outer London area. The fact that no new county borough can be created is a big disadvantage in these areas. A town like Croydon, or East Ham, or West Ham has a great advantage over its neighbours. Is not that very unfair?

Mr. Macmillan

I will try to answer both hon. Members. I do not want to get drawn into the question of the ban on the creation of more county boroughs.

If this Bill were to give automatic grants I do not think we could justify laying down any line of demarcation, but it only gives the central Government discretionary power. The most important thing it does is to give the right to make agreements, most of which, I hope, will not have to be supported by the central Government with money at all. That may be an advantage because the county itself will probably be willing to make such an agreement with a county borough. If there were an automatic attraction of some subsidy, I think it would be possible not to draw a line, although it would be very embarrassing to have the field so wide.

As the support of the central Government is not based upon a principle but on the ad hoc agreement of the Minister, the sweetener is necessary to help to do something we very much want done. I think we must draw a line, at any rate for the initial stages, because the work that has to be done under this Bill is a big job. The major part of what we want to do is to facilitate agreements on the lines I have laid down. That is a point which will no doubt be pressed, perhaps in the Committee stage, and my hon. Friend and I will, of course, consider any further representations upon this issue.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

Arising from the same problem, the other way round, can the Minister assure those county boroughs which are unable to extend their boundaries that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them from continuing to build outside those boundaries where that is desirable because industry, etc., cannot be moved, and that if the rural authorities try to prevent that extension he will not give his sanction to that attitude?

Mr. Macmillan

The mood in which that question is asked is just the sort of mood we do not want in approaching this problem. I am trying to approach it, as I think we should all do, with a view to getting agreement between those authorities as to how they can mutually solve each other's problems. After all, this is one country, we are all the subjects of one Monarch, we are neighbours one with another. If the attitude is to be that everyone so dislikes everybody else that the whole question is simply that of one kind of authority trying to attack and injure another, we shall not make the progress either under this scheme or with housing, for which the whole country is looking with anxiety.

I will go further and say that this Bill is merely a machinery Bill plus a certain amount of Government assistance in respect of certain things done within the existing framework of planning. It does not in any way override it; it does not weaken it or strengthen it.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

Is it clear that this Bill neither detracts from the right of a county borough to come to this House for an extension of its boundaries nor the right of a rural district council to defend itself if it wishes to do so against such a proposal?

Mr. Macmillan

My hon. Friend has put the case exactly. The House will judge any Measures put before it, and all the ordinary planning operations will continue as now.

I should like to give one or two examples. This is a rather complicated subject and I apologise to the House for the length of my speech, but I think it is important to get on record what we are trying to do. The movements with which we are trying to deal may be quite large, almost the size of a new town, involving perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 people, or they might be much smaller, amounting to 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 people.

An example of the first might be that of Leyland, in Lancashire, while an example of the second might be that of Bletchley in Buckinghamshire. It will be seen that what we are trying to do is to achieve the objective which has long been agreed upon, and towards which the new towns provide one, but only one, kind of solution, over a much wider area and under much more flexible and simple machinery. I stress that this method is, in differentiation from the new town method, one that makes fuller use of existing local machinery.

It is our firm intention that the new receiving authorities shall not merely be the recipients of a dormitory population from another authority. Those who go to them are not expected to travel daily backwards and forwards across the green fringe. They are expected to settle and make a new life, with their industries and employment, their social activities, their churches, their chapels and their clubs in the areas into which they are to be asked to move.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

Would the Minister say how he proposes to bring that about—how he proposes that industry should be taken to these expanded areas?

Mr. Macmillan

The purpose, first of the agreements, then of the grants and then of the development of the estates, the water, the sewerage and all the heavy capital grants is to apply the same principles which we have tried out in one large set of experiments—the new towns —in a much wider and more flexible way over a much larger number of smaller areas.

The purpose of this Measure is to stimulate the growth of smaller towns rather than to allow the great towns to swell still further their unwieldy and amorphous shape. Moreover, this method —I lay stress on this—will allow the receiving authority to play its proper rôle, for it has the primary responsibility. I hope we shall thereby avoid some of the difficulties which have arisen in the new towns, where a corporation is nominated and not popularly elected, and there are accordingly bound to be certain strains. This new system will proceed within the established framework of local government.

I have tried to explain the purpose of the Bill. There are a large number of detailed points which can be more suitably dealt with in Committee. I do not think it is necessary to trouble the House by going through the Bill Clause by Clause, but I must say something a little more precise about the machinery. What we propose is perhaps a little unusual in administration but I think it is very sensible.

We shall try to promote friendly relations between the exporting and receiving authority wherever possible. We shall look, in the first instance, to the receiving authority, but where it cannot or will not do the job there is the exporting authority or the county council—I stress that—in whose area the receiving county district council is situated. Any of these authorities may come into the scheme. They may act singly or in a combined effort; and the exporting authority or the county council may act on behalf of the receiving district. Two or more exporting authorities, two cities or two county boroughs, may, if they wish, be joined together in a joint body to carry out a scheme or share in one.

We hope that in every case these arrangements may be made by means of mutually satisfactory negotiation. It is true that we reserve the power of the Minister in default of agreement to make an Order; but I hope this power will be regarded as being one in reserve and seldom if ever brought into play. In any event, we have provided that where an Order is made in the case of disagreement between authorities, the Order shall be subject to negative Resolution procedure so that the rights of the House of Commons may be preserved—

Mr. Sparks

But does not that power already exist under previous Acts, whereby local authorities may jointly develop an area in another part?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, but there are so many much more complicated things that they have to do that it is necessary to have this Order-making power. Otherwise, I Would not trouble to put it in the Bill. This Order-making power is in Clause 9, which I think has caused some apprehension from a somewhat different angle. I wish to say a word about that. All that an Order under this Clause can do is to say which authority is to carry out a development where there has been a failure to agree with the receiving district council.

It does not enable the Minister to give any planning approval to a particular proposal. It simply says that if something that already has planning approval is to be done and there is no agreement as to the arrangements, he has the right to make an Order. Planning approval must be obtained under the procedure of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. That is absolutely untouched by the provisions of this Bill. Therefore, there can be no by-passing of the local planning authority which is, of course, the county council.

If there is a dispute about whether or not the proposed development is in the right place objections may be heard at an ordinary public inquiry. In other words, all planning issues will have to be settled before there can be any question of the machinery of this Act being brought into operation. I hope that by this explanation some apprehensions may be allayed.

In certain cases Orders to carry out these agreements may be made without any appeal to the House of Commons, but those are very limited cases. In every case they are purely formal. They are merely Orders to make legal and effective agreements into which everybody has entered, and I did not think it convenient to use the negative Resolution procedure. In every other case where there is any disagreement between any of the people concerned there will be an appeal to the House of Commons.

Indeed, in two instances we have provided for affirmative Resolution procedure. The first is in Clause 13. That is where the point is reached where some of these transitional schemes must be brought to a final conclusion. That stage is reached when the receiving authority is able to stand on its own feet and carry the whole burden without assistance either from the exporting authority or the central Government—in 10 or 15 years or whatever the period may be—when the process is complete. That is the point when the receiving authority takes over the whole responsibility.

The House will realise there may well be a division of opinion and even dispute about the precise conditions of the take-over, or the value of the inheritance, or whether the time is ripe for the "heir," the receiving authority, to step into the inheritance; or whether the estate is an asset or a liability. If there is a disagreement the ultimate decision must be made by the Minister but the Bill provides that an affirmative Resolution be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

In Clause 15 that is done again; where the same sort of consideration may lead to disagreement on the joining up of neighbouring sewerage schemes and the value of contributions, and so forth. There, again, an affirmative Resolution will be required. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members may feel that we have tried to preserve Parliamentary control as much as possible, and, indeed, more than is sometimes the case.

There is one further Clause which I wish to mention on which there may be disagreement, namely, Clause 17. Under the Town and Country Planning Act local authorities have the right to lease land or buildings, but they may not sell the freehold of land or buildings, except in special cases. But under the Housing Acts they have the full right to sell without any curtailment or circumscription by any proviso about special cases. In all cases the approval of the Minister is required.

Frankly, I am not very clear on what principle exceptional cases ought to be administered. I think my predecessors have approved the sale of land for a church as such a case, but disapproved the sale of land for a factory. There is confusion and I certainly do not want to raise this matter as part of a wide ideological dispute between the advantages of freehold, leasehold or any other system of tenure. Flexibility and variety are needed in this as in many other things.

In a number of cases local authorities have told me that they would like to attract into a developing area an industrialist who is not prepared to undertake the cost of building on a leasehold, but would prefer freehold. There are cases where they feel there is no particular advantage in retaining the freehold and that it is not worth the heavy administrative burden to them to do so. The Minister will retain the power to give assent, but I would give him discretion to consider the merits of each case and to pay regard to the views of local authorities.

I would thus widen the scope in which he is trusted to carry out the broad purpose of strengthening the growth of a healthy and diversified community. In other words, I would give the same amount of discretion under the Town and Country Planning Act as he has under the Housing Acts and I do not think that is an unwise or an unreasonable thing. I know that it meets quite a number of requests which I have received.

This Bill, coming in a mild interval between other parts of our business, raises no partisan conflicts. Its broad outline took shape under the Administration of my predecessors and its drafting began under their instruction. I would express my obligation to the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and his Parliamentary Secretary for this inheritance. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand me when I say that this is the most important of the Measures open to us, even more important than the new towns, because of the greater variety of usefulness. I Count myself fortunate that this first Measure which it is my duty to present to the House today is of a non-controversial character.

I am anxious to meet many of the points of detail which will doubtless be raised during the later stages of the Bill. It is commonly said, and, I think, with truth, that the centralising tendencies of the age are continually reducing and circumscribing the sphere and responsibilities of local government. Whether or not it will fall to my lot to be able to make some much more radical contribution to the cure of this evil I cannot tell.

But, meanwhile, I feel that there are held out in this Bill new opportunities for local authorities for valuable and creative work together by their efforts and by mutual co-operation. For all these reasons I commend the Bill to the House in its broad principles as a valuable piece of social machinery, and, above all, as an indispensable instrument in the promotion of an expanding housing policy.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I wonder if my right hon. Friend has considered the difference of responsibility between the central Government and the receiving and exporting authority. Has he considered where the Board of Trade will come in? If he wishes to get industries into other areas he must have the Board of Trade working with him, otherwise industrialists will be reluctant to come or may even be encouraged to go elsewhere as has happened in the case which I have in mind.

Mr. Macmillan

All that, of course, is very true. The changing situation and conditions ought to affect the objects and even the pressure which Government Departments bring upon industrialists—

Mr. Sparks

They take no notice—

Mr. Macmillan

—when new industries are to be created. I know the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me because he has had experience of the same old special areas which I know so well. It was quite right that there was pressure by Governments on the location of industries to try to get them into what we called the old depressed areas. Whether that has gone too far I do not know. I think perhaps it has. But it is equally important that we should use the movement of any industry for the purpose of better planning and safeguarding of towns.

With the armament programme and the export programme a Government Department has considerable influence in deciding the allocation of steel supplies and other raw materials, and I think we have to try to secure co-operation between Government Departments and industries to achieve our main purpose, which is to develop an industrial community and not a mere dormitory.

Mr. W. A. Burke (Burnley)

If there is no industry available to go there, does it mean that there will be no housing? The right hon. Gentleman has said that housing and industry should go forward side by side, but how is he going to get the industry as well as housing, and what powers will he have to compel industry to go there?

Mr. Macmillan

I think the hon. Gentleman is pressing the point a little beyond reason. It does not mean that, if there is no possibility of bringing in any particular industry, there will be no housing. Everybody must be aware of this movement that has been going on, and I saw it myself in a new town where, out of an overcrowded part of London, an industry was being moved in, and the workmen and members of the staff were being consulted as to whether they wanted to go or not.

Very good propaganda work is being and can be done in this direction. I have even known of a case in which the wives of the men concerned were taken out there and shown what the place would be like. There may be difficulties; of course, there will be. I am not going to say that there will be no housing without movement of industry, but the sooner we can get these plans pushed forward the better it will be for the country.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)

I should like to begin by disclosing an interest which has already been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Macmillan). I am the father of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman discovered a lively infant on his arrival in his Department and he has completed the clothing of it. I am not committed to all the details of the clothing, as embodied in this Bill, and there will be many points to be examined in Committee, but I am committed to the principle that this is a sound infant whose life should be encouraged and preserved.

The main purpose of the Bill, as we who took part in the late Administration contrived it, is to bring about a state of affairs in which more people in this country will be living in the smaller towns and fewer people will be living in the larger towns—in other words, a diffusion of population gradually brought about from these horribly over-concentrated areas of population which are one of the fruits of laissez-faire in the miserable 'twenties and even earlier—and a more healthy spread of the population so that people will be able to get into the countryside and enjoy the reasonable amenities of the countryside without having to undertake long and costly journeys from the places where they live.

Its aim is also to provide that these people shall live reasonably near their work, and shall not spend a large part of their time, substance and nervous energies in travelling to and from their work as "commuters," as our American friends call them.

Therefore, the purpose of this Bill is a worthy and desirable one, though when we come to the Committee stage various reassurances will be sought. I will not go into them in detail now, but will only say that some local authorities will be concerned about the Bill, which explains why hon. Members in various parts of the House have been rising like fish at eventide. It is because they have received from some of the local authorities' associations a number of suggested doubts which they are anxious to have dispelled, and I hope they will have them dispelled.

As I understand them, the three principal doubts which they are anxious to have dispelled are these. First, there is the doubt whether what I may call the normal housing operations of the normal local authority will be interfered with, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to reassure them on that point. Now that he has won this remarkable series of victories over his colleagues in the Cabinet, on which I congratulate him, I hope he will carry the matter a stage further and jolly along his colleagues, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if necessary, into an acceptance of the proposition that, over and above anything that is done by this Bill, the local authorities will continue to receive full support for their own normal housing programme. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he has a flexible ceiling and that he is not limited to 200,000 or any fixed number of houses, and therefore I hope he will be able to say that there is no conflict between action under this Bill and action by local authorities in their normal housing activities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), has asked some questions. I got into trouble some time ago for saying this, but the Sheffield authority is a good one. They want to be assured—and this is the second doubt— that, if they come along in the future with a reasonable case for the extension of their boundaries so as to include some of the housing estates which they have already established outside their boundaries, that case will not be prejudiced in any way by anything contained in this Bill. I hope that that assurance can be given, and that it will reassure Sheffield and other authorities similarly placed. Whatever the principle may be by which the right hon. Gentleman will determine requests for extensions of boundaries—and I am not concerned to say more than that they will persist—it should not be altered by reason of anything done under this Bill.

Mr. Mulley

I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for putting the case of Sheffield, but what we are concerned with is the antiquated procedure which has to be followed in regard to local government boundary extensions. The Sheffield Corporation succeeded in persuading this House of its need, but was unable to secure the approval of another place. We are anxious that nothing in this Bill shall prevent us from carrying on new housing development in the areas of other authorities because we cannot get an extension of our boundaries there.

Mr. Dalton

The Sheffield case has now been put both by myself and by my hon. Friend, and I hope it will be sympathetically considered.

Thirdly, some local authorities are concerned with a very much broader question. They want to be assured that, when the right hon. Gentleman has taken his decision regarding the large matter of local government reform—I do not know how near he is to doing that—it shall not be altered in any way by reason of the provisions of this Bill. I hope that he will be able to reassure them on that point.

These are three of the principal preoccupations of the local authorities, and I hope they can be met. The right hon. Gentleman has made some reference to new towns, and I hope that any apprehension about them is not firmly based. It is that these new devices might interfere with the forward drive to build the new towns and bring industries into them. I rather gather from what the right hon. Gentleman said that that is not so. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has said that he hopes the new towns will help substantially by making a spectacular contribution to housing development and the placing of industry in the right places. I hope that nothing within the terms of this Bill will set back the new towns drive.

It is, indeed, immensely important—and I said this when I myself occupied the position now held by the right hon. Gentleman—that we should have no more of these miserable dormitory communities, in which the vast majority of the people spend their time, money and nervous energy in travelling to and from their work. More and more people should live reasonably near their place of work. Industry must be infiltrated into these new communities, broadly in phase with the housing developments, and, in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley who put some questions to the Minister, I would say that if the Government will try to do that, it can quite easily be done.

Provided that Ministers do not fail to check obstructive tendencies, provided that they do not give encouragement to those tendencies, of which there are very many, this can easily be done, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be backward in pushing any obstructionists, in any place or at any level, in the direction which we desire. We must prevent a situation arising in which a factory, vacated by an industrialist moving out into a new town, is occupied by another industrialist coming, perhaps, from some place where it would be much better if he stayed. We were thinking along those lines in the late administration.

I do not know how far the present Government have gone, but I was wondering whether, for example, if a factory became vacant in London, Birmingham or any other big town through putting work and industry into a development town, it would be possible to use that vacant factory for storage, for which there is a great need under the re-armament programme, instead of allowing bricks and mortar and other building materials to be used for the creation of new storage premises elsewhere. That seems to us to be most wasteful and uneconomic, and it would be very advantageous if we could get those vacant premises used for some other purpose than the continuation of industry.

I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is looking at that.

One or two places were mentioned by him in which he thought that these development towns might be established, and I hope that he will act in a fairly wide geographical sense in this connection. It is not only in London that too many people are living too close together. The same might apply to Birmingham, where there is a great cluster of population in and around that city, the West Riding towns like Leeds and Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, and so on. If this is to be attempted at all, it must be attempted on a wide scale, and efforts must be made to get the population and the industry to move out from all these places where now too many people are living too close together. That is the fundamental objection to the present state of affairs.

At this stage I shall not say anything about the other points mentioned, except that they will require consideration in Committee. I merely say that the fundamental idea of this Bill is very sound and very important, and I and some of my colleagues take full responsibility for this initial idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), announced in the House when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry the lines on which we were intending to proceed.

If there had not been an unfortunate change in the composition of the House, although not in the majority of voters in the country, this Bill would have been introduced approximately at this time and maybe approximately in this shape by the late Government. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friends to support the Second Reading of the Bill today, although they will be active in Committee and will watch closely any illegitimate threat which may here lie to any legitimate local authority activity.

5.24 p.m.

Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)

I rise with considerable diffidence because this is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing the House, and also because I am a little uneasy about some of the results which may flow from this Bill. So while I ask the House to extend to me the usual courtesy and to be indulgent towards my shortcomings, of which I am fully conscious, I must also ask for a measure of sympathy in the position in which I find myself. Perhaps it would have been prudent to keep silent, but I have had to consider the extent to which this Bill is in the real interests of my constituents. Perhaps it may be that those interests will not be very much affected one way or the other.

It seems to me that this Bill has to be looked at from three different angles. The first is the need to provide a solution to the difficulties of rehousing the overspill of congested cities; the second is the effect upon the finances of the exporting and receiving authorities; and the third is the social and economic implications of the policy behind the Bill.

As regards the first, it seems quite clear that the success of my right hon. Friend's housing programme will depend in part upon the immediate availability of land on which to build. This Bill should do much to check the constant sprawl beyond their boundaries by county borough councils. This is at the moment one of the main ways by which county borough councils obtain building sites and this method leads to interminable disputes because naturally county and county district councils do not want to lose rateable value. The Bill should remove this obstacle to the availability of land, and for that reason its provisions are to be welcomed.

It is essential that building programmes should not be held up by the inability to obtain land. On the other hand, let me say that the picture conjured up in one's mind of planners sitting in their offices in every county borough in the land, poring over maps and searching for little inoffensive country towns upon which to pounce and to expand into what they like to call a balanced community, is a dismal one. I have an innate distrust of planners at whatever level they operate. This distrust probably dates from the occasion when a planner told me that if I wanted to build a cottage for an employee, I must build it in the middle of my kitchen garden or not at all.

I turn now to the possible effect of the Bill's provisions upon the finances of the exporting and receiving authorities. No doubt it would be unwise to generalise in too great detail because of the variation in local conditions, but on the whole it appears to be certain that the receiving county and county district councils will have to insist that the whole of the rate fund contribution of £5 10s. a house is met, in respect of each house built under this Bill, by the exporting authority, or by the Exchequer or by both. On the basis that this provision is made it seems reasonable to hope that the increase in the rateable value of the receiving district, together with the increase in the capitation payments, will more or less cancel out the increased liability for providing essential services which will fall upon the receiving district council.

On the other hand, in the case of the receiving county council, the provision of additional services, particularly education, will mean an additional burden upon the ratepayers of the county as a whole. Of course, this burden will be offset to a certain extent by the fact that the county will be gaining and not losing rateable value.

On the whole, therefore, it seems to me that for county councils the financial results of development foreshadowed in this Bill will be preferable to the financial consequences which occur when county borough councils develop land immediately outside their boundaries, because, when they do that, sooner or later they are given permission to expand their boundaries to take in the land which they have developed. Then they grab the rateable value of these areas at the expense of the county and county district councils. It is a great merit of this Bill that it does not make possible further grabbing of rateable value in this way.

From the point of view of the Exchequer, an additional liability is assumed which would not arise if the development were to be carried out by the exporting authority. Yet we find—and, if I may say so, I think this is perhaps a weakness of the Bill—that the Bill does not define at all clearly the amount of assistance which will be provided by the Treasury in aid of the receiving district.

But I am sure from what my right hon. Friend has just said, that he realises that county councils will be very much concerned to see that the Treasury make adequate contributions. I also ask my right hon. Friend if, between now and the Committee stage, he will consider strengthening the provisions of Clause 4 so as to oblige the exporting authority to make a fair contribution towards the relief that it is going to receive. When a county borough exports its overspill, it is, in fact, getting rid of that section of its population which represents its heaviest liability, while at the same time it is retaining all the high rateable value which is represented by the shops and offices and other business premises.

The third angle from which the Bill has to be examined is that of the social and economic implications of its policy. There is much to be said—and it has been said—for the argument that development by the process of suburban sprawl is undesirable because it results in successive rows of dormitory estates in which people live but do not work or seek recreation or live any social life at all. But it is to be noted that these objections do not apply to sprawl as such but only to the sort of sprawl which provides houses but not work and amenities as well. To solve that problem it is unnecessary, therefore, to develop existing small towns. That particular problem of suburban sprawl would be solved if the sprawl were made to include new factories, new shops and amenities as well as houses.

I am a little uneasy because of the potential threat to the legitimate interests of those who live in and around the small country towns which are to be expanded and because of the scope which the Bill gives to the planners. Planners are astonishing people. It is fascinating to observe how even the wisest and most enlightened of men, once they have anything to do with town and country planning, become tickled to death with the idea and quite convinced of the rectitude of their theories and their decisions. What a paradise there will be for them if they are to be permitted to expand a small town until they have achieved their idea of a balanced community.

But the small towns of the English countryside are very well balanced already. They do not need to be told, and do not want to be told, how many plumbers they are to have or how many clerks or retired Army Officers. They are perfectly happy as they are, and as they always have been, meeting all the requirements of the agricultural economy of the countryside.

The threat to agricultural land is plain enough for anybody to see, but maybe there is an even greater danger—that new light industries in the expanded towns will attract labour away from agriculture and horticulture. That would be a very serious matter, and I suggest it is one to which the Minister of Agriculture will have to give serious consideration.

I do not imagine that any county council or county district council will want to see the London County Council or a county borough council building within its boundaries. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Local councils will prefer to do the necessary building themselves. But my right hon. Friend must be prepared for some recalcitrance. After all, every existing town has its own housing problem already and its own waiting lists, and countrymen are not always going to take kindly to the rehousing of strangers in their midst under the best possible modern conditions when they themselves are still wanting houses badly and their villages are still waiting for piped water, sewers and electricity.

I hope that the powers provided in Clause 9 of the Bill will be used sparingly. I have no fears of what will happen so long as my right hon. Friend is the Minister. But one of these days we may have a change of Government, and what will happen then? Well, optimism is not encouraged by the experiences of my own county of Hampshire at the hands of the late Government in the matter, for instance, of the siting of the new Caltex oil refinery or in the matter of re-housing the overspill of the city of Portsmouth. But the small towns of the English countryside are part of our national heritage and it can never be right that the legitimate interests of those who live in them and in the surrounding villages should be neglected or despised.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

I most sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh) upon his maiden speech. We were all struck by the ease of his manner and his imperturbability, which, looking back upon our first efforts in this House, I only wish that I and some of the older Members here could have displayed. He was very right in choosing as the subject of his maiden speech a matter with which he is very familiar. He has already made himself an authority on local government and we have listened with interest to his first speech in this House. I sincerely con- gratulate him, and I hope very much to hear him again.

I think it is a very good rule of the House that when there is complete agreement between the Front Benches, then is the moment when hon. Members should examine a Bill with even greater care than usual, especially when one finds there is almost agreement as to how the Bill came into existence. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) claims the paternity and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government claims the maternity, and they are both very proud of this Bill. There can be no doubt about the purpose of the Bill. It is a purpose which should command the wishes of all that it should be carried into effect. Whether this Bill will achieve that purpose remains to be seen. I hope sincerely that it does.

About a fortnight ago I was addressing this House on the question of the rural areas, and I pointed out that the tragedy of the rural areas was the fact that there was a continual exodus from those rural areas into the congested areas. I gave the figures for my own county, with which I am most familiar. The recent census, figures of which were published in the middle of last year, showed that in the rural areas the fall in the population between 1931 and 1951 was no less than 12½ per cent. and that in my own county there had been a steady loss of population over a period of something like 70 or 80 years, so that we are a purely agricultural county with a smaller population today than we had in that county in 1800.

That is the tragedy of the countryside. But there is an equal tragedy here in these congested areas. One has only to look at what is happening here in London morning and night to see the tragedy of it, with the tired people pouring into the railway stations in the evening, having done a full day's work, and then having to strap-hang all the way until they reach their stations, with then a walk, or possibly having to go by bus or tram again. The same thing happens in the morning before they begin their day's work.

I happen to live near Victoria, and I see the thousands pouring out between half-past eight and half-past nine in the morning, and if I happen to be going home at about this hour I see again the thousands flowing back again. That cannot be good for the health of those people or the health of the nation, or of its production. Here indeed we have the dormitory system.

I had the honour of being asked by the late Government to preside over two committees whose work related to London. One, the first committee, had to inquire into whether the Abercrombie Report could be accepted by the then 145 local authorities. I am pleased to say that with certain amendments they did accept it. Then I had to preside over another committee which had to decide what was to happen to the plan which had been accepted.

We were all agreed that it was impossible to leave it as it was, and that there ought to be a regional authority who should see that that plan was being carried out. We only disagreed as to what should happen in the interim, whether there should be a joint authority or whether the interim period should be covered by an advisory authority. But we were all agreed that somebody should be responsible for carrying out the plan. So far as I know, nothing has happened since. That Report has been pigeon-holed.

I have been reminded of the need for some action. I have heard tonight from hon. Members who represent county boroughs that they are anxious that there should be no limitation upon their power to extend their areas. That is happening everywhere I would remind hon. Members that the danger in all these places is megalomania. There are any number of towns where it has been agreed that the population should be limited to, say, 100,000, and there is not one of those towns which did not object and say, "Why should we not go up to 250,000?" That is happening all the time.

I ask hon. Members to recollect that within 30 miles of this House is one-fourth of the population of Great Britain—11 million people. The most complacent people I know are the people of London. They put up with conditions that I do not think anybody else would tolerate, and they make no complaint. Even we Welsh people insist upon having one day on which to discuss the affairs of Wales. There are only 2½ million of us. The Scottish Members insist upon having much more time for the discussion of Scottish affairs. I do not complain. But where are the London Members, bearing in mind the million people for whom they are responsible? Why are they not asking for more time in which to discuss their own particular problems, which are very vital?

It is essential that one should recognise the conditions in which these people are living today—this tremendous congestion, this conglomeration of people—and all the time they are pouring in from the countryside. We did our best to limit the number; we stated that there should be a limitation on the numbers coming into this 30-mile area of London, and especially into the inner circle of London. But in they keep on coming, regularly—not only year by year and month by month, but day by day.

Will this Bill do anything real to solve this tremendous problem? That is why I was asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he visualised the extension of this far away beyond contiguous areas, where the receiving area is close to the exporting area—the kind of thing of which many of these towns have already had experience. I remember when I was holding another inquiry, one of the towns that suffered most was Llanelly—a very small area with a very excellent council who were anxious to improve their housing conditions and to get open spaces for their people, and especially for the children. All it had to do was to go outside into the rural areas of Carmarthenshire, pull down its own slums, reduce its own rateable value and increase the rateable value outside. I take it that this Bill would apply to such a case as that.

But that is not enough. I instanced to the right hon. Gentleman the Black Country as it is called, and that conglomerated area beyond Birmingham, Wolverhampton, South Staffordshire and Warwickshire. He himself mentioned what used to be known as the distressed areas, which are now known as the development areas. It has been the policy of successive Governments since 1944, when we had the Coalition Government, to encourage people to go to these development areas, to push them in and increase the difficulties. If anybody wants to build a factory and has not got enough capital, he has only got to go the Government and they say, "Oh, you go to one of our development areas. We will do our best for you. We will lend you money. We will actually build the factory for you. If you want a siding from the railway, we will put it down for you. If you want a new road we will build it. We will do all these things to encourage people to leave the countryside, give up the healthy conditions and pour into this area once again." Is that also still to be the policy pursued under this Bill? Because if we are to do that, this Bill will be useless.

Mr. Colegate

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to intervene? I wish to get this argument clear. The idea of encouraging factories to go to development areas—I was concerned with one in South Wales—was to employ labour unfortunately unemployed in those areas.

Mr. Davies

By all means deal with the people already there, and find work and industry for them—for those already there but why go on to encourage people who live in rural areas to go to those other areas? Why not encourage industries to go into the rural areas as well, so that those people there would remain there? I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has gone, because I have in mind one instance in which we brought a deputation to see him when he was President of the Board of Trade. It was about the need for helping the small market towns, to which the hon. Member for Petersfield referred.

Those towns have been, by trial and error, for centuries the centres of vast areas—the centres of culture in those areas. We want them to be maintained. We want our people to go into them, and not to go farther. The right thing to do would be to encourage industry and to encourage better housing in those small towns. The case I have in mind that we took to the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland was that of Welshpool. A definite promise was then made. We so impressed him that he said, "I will do my very best to get industry to go into that town." Nothing was ever done, and many years have since elapsed.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

How far does the right hon. and learned Gentleman take this argument? Let him consider the case of my own constituency, which has a shortage of labour. Is he prepared to see the heavy chemical industry exported into the rural areas?

Mr. Davies

The first thing is not to encourage people to go where there is already congestion. If we can possibly put industry elsewhere, let us by all means do so. If we can put industry within easy reach of a growing rural population, let us put it there. Nowadays it is realised that the economic unit of an industry is roughly somewhere about 250 to 300.

That being so, what I want to know is whether this Bill can be used to encourage industry to go from the congested areas. Or can new industries be discouraged from going to congested areas and encouraged to go rather to the old market towns, to keep the people out from the conglomerated areas, and to encourage them to remain closer to the places of their birth? If the Bill will do that, then it will accomplish the purpose which, I hope, the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, and it will do a considerable amount of good not only to industry but for the health of the people of this country. Did the hon. Gentleman want to ask me a question?

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I just want to be clear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant when he was talking about the economic unit being 250 or 300. What exactly does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by the "economic unit"?

Mr. Davies

That would be in most industries—not in the very big ones, of course—

Mr. Blackburn

A unit within industry?

Mr. Davies

Yes; it would be the usual, ordinary industrial economic unit. It is recognised that it is somewhere about 250 to 300 in the ordinary county and market town.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) for having pointed out that it is high time that the House devoted some hours longer than we have tonight to discuss the overspill population problem of London. My one desire is that this Bill, which will obviously need careful examination in respect of some Clauses in Committee, shall facilitate smooth working arrangements between those large cities that have an overspill problem which everybody must recognise and sympathise with, and the country districts or small towns, some of whose people may desire a larger population, while others may, at first at any rate, regret the prospect of city people coming and spreading houses over their fields. This is a national problem, and jointly we have to work out solutions to it.

My own regret is that this Bill was not produced earlier. I represent the only London borough which actually has a higher population now than before the war, despite considerable destruction by bombing. We Londoners look back and remind ourselves of the words which were used by the then Minister of Town and Country Planning almost six years ago, on 5th March, 1946, when, speaking of the decentralisation of London, he said: The intention is to make provision for about a million persons and concurrently a related quota of industrial firms to be accommodated farther out—mainly in a few new towns and in selected existing towns within 20 to 50 miles of London's centre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 190.] We need not argue today whether the figure of a million is correct, but in the six years there have been two bitter disappointments to us. One is that the new towns have up to the present produced fewer than 4,000 houses—a very different result from the picture which was placed before us in 1946. The second, as my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh) said in his admirable maiden speech, is that no solution is possible unless industrial movement is co-ordinated with human movement.

The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), sitting opposite, will confirm it when I say that an all-party deputation went from the London County Council three or four years ago to the then President of the Board of Trade to express London's deep concern at the Board's complete failure to assist firms and industrialists desirous of developing new factories in close proximity to the new centres of population which were growing up around London. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this Bill, for all its good intentions, may itself fail unless he can secure the full and practical good will of the President of the Board of Trade in encouraging and assisting the movement of industry.

My own feeling is that the London County Council now has reached a most dangerous situation where it is rapidly running short of available housing sites, though I am sure it is the intention to build on blitzed sites in London that are available. Personally, I think that London should have made earlier contacts with some of the towns around, so that in those areas friendly schemes of housing expansion might have been worked out. This Bill, I grant, will facilitate that, but I wish myself that bigger progress had been made meanwhile.

I hope that we shall make sure in Committee on this Bill that, while it facilitates smooth arrangements between local authorities, it will not interfere with the proper independence of local government. The local government machine must operate the Bill. The Minister may be able to help with the lubricating power of his money, but if we were to let the administration of the Bill get altogether out of the control of the locally-elected people of the country, we should be doing a very bad thing for the future.

There are three or four points which perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could clear up if he is to reply to the debate. First of all, what meaning is to be attached to the word "overpopulation"? The word "congestion" is fairly familiar on the Statute Book, but how will an authority have to prove that it is over-populated? Will it be by reference to an approved development plan, or what? Secondly, among the services to which the Minister can make contributions are water and sewerage. There is no mention of equally necessary services such as street lighting. Can we consider whether all the right services are included here? I am sure that that should be carefully examined in Committee.

A third point which is bound to cause concern to what I might call the exporting authorities, unless the Parliamentary Secretary can clear it up for us today, is what will be their position with regard to Government grants if, taking advantage of the Clauses of the Bill, they begin to exercise outside their own boundaries powers—other than housing powers—which up to now they have had authority to exercise only within those boundaries? Should they reach an agreement with a receiving area to pay for doing certain things for which they would normally pay within their own areas with the help of grant aid, is it guaranteed that they will receive the same grant aid for what they do under the Bill?

Fourthly, I think both the exporting areas and the receiving areas will be keenly interested to know how any new development under the Bill stands in relation to development charges. If I remember rightly, provision is made in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act relating to the incidence of development charge for the New Town Corporations. I think development charge is not levied in that case, but some payment in lieu is made. Is a similar arrangement contemplated here and, if not, how is the development charge to fall? It strikes me that, unless some special provision is arranged, it may easily deter authorities from being as anxious as we should wish them to be to try and use the Bill.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I have compressed my remarks to the utmost. I greatly hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading this afternoon so that these and other matters can be examined in Committee.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

I ask the indulgence of the House for just a moment or two. Indeed, I should not have intervened at this stage had I thought it possible to obtain the Second Reading of the Bill today, but I doubt very much whether it will be possible to do that in view of the large number of hon. Members who wish to speak and the other business which is shortly to take place.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Although the House did not suspend the Rule for this Bill, we make up afterwards the time which is lost. The time on the Adjournment is not taken out of the time for Second Reading.

Mr. Bevan

But I understand that there is other business. I listened with great interest to the speech of the Minister outlining the Bill. He commended the Bill to the House on the ground that he had inherited it from his predecessor—and that now appears to be a favourite Government argument. It enables us to say that what is commendable in what the Government are doing is by imitation of their predecessors, whereas what is evil is by their own invention.

We have been told by the Government that the Bill was hatched by the previous Minister of Local Government and Planning. I am familiar with many of the problems with which the Bill proposes to deal, but I must say that I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has taken so pessimistic a view of the future of the Conservative administration. A large number of the problems with which the Bill deals arise out of the existing structure of local government.

Very many of these problems would fall to the ground at once if there were a radical re-organisation of the local government structure, [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh; they may retort quite easily, "Why did you not do it?" The answer is quite simple. If they look back over the records they will find that I probably introduced more major Bills in one Parliament than have been introduced by any one Minister in any one Parliament over the last 50 years; and I could hardly strain the patience of the House by introducing still another.

But hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have told us that they propose to stay in office for three years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Five."] I see; as anxieties increase, their ambitions mount. In that case, surely the Government and their supporters have plenty of time in which to consider the re-organisation of local government. Why bring this niggling thing before the House now, when a major operation could solve many of the difficulties with which the Bill proposes to deal?

As the right hon. Gentleman has been searching around in the pigeon holes in order to find out for what inventions we had already been responsible, let him search around a little more. There are one or two quite interesting ideas about the re-organisation of local government which he will discover in his Department if he looks for them; and if he will bring them forward, I will bless them.

There is no need for the right hon. Gentleman to plead that no thinking has been done on this matter, because a very great deal of thinking was done upon it. Indeed, he need do no thinking on the subject himself; it has all been done for him. All he needs to do is to imitate and to say, "After all, this is not my Measure: this is the Measure of my predecessor."

If, therefore, the right hon. Gentlemen have plenty of time, they also have the ideas—which they also inherited from their predecessors; and there is nothing at all to prevent the Minister from dealing with a vast number of problems raised by the Bill and a large number, indeed, not dealt with in the Bill but which could be met by the re-organisation of local government.

Mr. Colegate

Surely the right hon. Gentleman examined this matter very closely himself. Did he not tell the House that he could not see any sort of solution to the local government problem which was likely to go through the House in the near future?

Mr. Bevan

I said I saw no possibility of a solution to the local government problem which would go through that Parliament in the near future, because we were coming to the end of the Parliamentary period. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are at the beginning of a Parliament.

Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

The right hon. Gentleman should not make a statement which he cannot substantiate. The statement to which my hon. Friend refers was made during the Second Reading of the Ilford Corporation Bill, and was made in the first few months of the 1950 Parliament.

Mr. Bevan

The first few months of the 1950 Parliament? Of course, but I should hesitate to suggest that the re-organisation of the local government structure of this country could be undertaken at the beginning of a Government with a majority of six.

We know how ardent and devoted are hon. Members opposite, with their majority of 17. Hon. Members have told us that they propose to remain in office for five years. Are we, therefore, to conclude that during the whole of those five years we are to see no radical re-organisation of local government? We are now being told that they are going to be there for five more years, and still these problems are going to be left untouched. I must say I am rather depressed—and local authorities outside will indeed be depressed—at the lack of invention and also the lack of courage which the Government benches are showing on this matter.

One of the main difficulties that have to be dealt with by this Bill and which this Bill approaches tentatively is the making of local government housing grants mobile from one local government authority to another. There is a fixed and limited local government structure and, because that structure does not meet the proper industrial requirements of the country, housing subsidies that alight on one particular authority have to be made mobile to another local authority if populations are to be enabled to move at all.

This is a very serious part of the problem but, nevertheless, the Bill does approach that problem in the manner in which we have discussed it on several occasions. I doubt whether this will ever be effective. I doubt very much whether the exporting authorities will be sufficiently induced by these provisions, and I doubt very much whether the importing authorities will regard the financial provisions as adequate for the purpose. All this Bill does is to take the existing overall Treasury commitment and make it available to other local authorities who otherwise would not be able to obtain it. It imports little or no new money.

The Financial Resolution is vague because one does not know what local authorities will do, and therefore one cannot estimate beforehand what the amount of money will be. If the amount of money were considerable the Treasury would obviously insist on some figure being put in. The reason why the Treasury does not do so is because the Treasury knows it is a very small amount of money that is involved. From my own experience of the Treasury a very small amount of money indeed would be involved. That means that a very small amount of activity will be undertaken; so, what we have here is a nice, charming piece of window-dressing that does not in fact deal with the problem at all.

There was one very serious problem with which we were concerned, which I discussed on several occasions with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, to which we were making a tentative approach at that time. It was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). The problem is this: If a factory in a congested area is vacated—if an industrialist proposes to accept a factory in a new town, a satellite town or one of these developed towns—what guarantee is there that someone else will not take over the factory which is in the congested area and maintain it? It is a very serious problem.

If a factory owner is unable to dispose of the old factory on terms which are attractive to him he will be reluctant to go out. If he disposes of the factory on attractive terms, that means that somebody else has taken it over, from inside or outside, and the position is back where it was before. This is a problem arising directly out of the maintenance of property rights. We have heard hon. Members opposite deplore the activities of the planners. They have talked all the time about the traditional inheritance of the British countryside; but the countryside is not the only traditional inheritance of Great Britain; there are the Liverpools, the Gorbals, the Poplars and the Stepneys. They are also the inheritance of Great Britain, and the problem we are faced with is that of dispersing the population much more widely over the country so as to reduce the slums and bring a breath of fresh air into the centres of our cities.

The solution of that problem has over and over again been prevented by the assertion of private property rights. [An HON. MEMBER: "Communism."] Hon. Members may talk about Communism as much as they like, but here is the manifest conflict between wise social living and predatory property claims. If we did our job we should make it impossible for an industrialist going out to sell the old establishment for industrial purposes.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

If that was what was required, why did not the right hon. Gentleman see that the Government of which he was then a Member—though he subsequently resigned from it—brought in legislation to that effect in the Act of 1947, instead of attaching full compensation rights to an existing use?

Mr. Bevan

The answer is that at the moment we are dealing with a problem which has accumulated as the new towns have grown. This is a real problem; it is not a theoretical problem. To be frank, this particular difficulty did not occur to the framers of the new town legislation, but it was in fact becoming increasingly apparent as we saw the new towns growing up and found it impossible to persuade industrialists to go out unless they were allowed to sell their own premises.

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared, during the Committee stage of the Bill, either to frame or accept a Clause to deal with that problem. Unless it is dealt with the most important problem will be outside the frontiers of this Bill. It will not be sufficient to plead private property rights in this case, because no private property rights ought to be maintained if their maintenance means the continuation of slum conditions and slum property in the hearts of our great cities.

In their own legislation before the war hon. Members opposite extinguished the property rights in slum property. Therefore, if one has slum industrial property, or industrial property in the hearts of our great cities—which means that slums are contiguous to them—these property rights should be extinguished there also. In some cases there may be a great deal of local and personal burdens, and I do not leave out the possibility of some compensation. Nevertheless, I do not consider that compensation claimed in this case ought to result in the perpetuation of slum conditions. This particular problem, which is one with which we are all concerned, is not contained within the four corners of this Bill, and I hope it will be considered before all the stages have been completed.

There is one feature of the Bill of which, to be quite frank, I approve very much, and that is the extended power to sell land outright in the new towns and development towns, and on housing estates. I do not consider that we ought, where we can prevent it, to perpetuate all the evils of leasehold, and I see no reason why a local authority should be a leaseholder any more than a private person.

I do not believe in the leasehold system. I believe in the freehold system, and when I was at the Ministry of Health I made my views known to the local authorities. I informed the local authorities on several occasions that where they wished to dispose of land freehold I would approve the sale. I did not agree with the argument that the maintenance of leasehold was necessary for good town and country planning development purposes.

There are other powers which local authorities can exercise to see to it that property is properly looked after and that the buildings are in accordance with good town planning. It is not, in my view, essential to retain leasehold rights in order to bring that about. Therefore, I heartily support the proposal that the Town and Country Planning Act should be amended so as to give powers that I obtained from the House for housing purposes.

This evening and on the Second Reading the argument has been used—it is the general argument that ought to be used and not the particular one, to which we come in Committee—that there is something wrong with this Bill because it will mean a dispersal of a large number of artisans in the countryside, and thereby suck from the farms the agricultural labour which the farms need. I believe that to be a shallow argument; I believe it to be unfounded, and I believe it to be contrary to the facts.

The central fact about the countryside in this respect is that if there is a wholly rural countryside without urban amenities we shall not keep the agricultural population there. The central fact is that the womenfolk, in particular, will no longer put up with the absence of urban amenities, which countryside work involves. In fact, because of this it was laid down as part of the housing programme that we should discourage the building of isolated agricultural workers' cottages. I always thought that hon. and right hon. Members opposite were wrong in insisting in giving farmers housing subsidies in building isolated cottages. What we wanted to do was to try to build communities so as to provide the agricultural worker with all the facilities of urban life.

It is no use hon. Members romanticising about the attractions of rustic life. Most of those who romanticise about them are always able to avail themselves of urban amenities as well. We have passed the day when we can talk about roses round the door and drawing pails from a well. The agricultural worker and his wife now insist that they should have exactly the same sort of life as, and perhaps rather fuller and wider than, the town worker is able to obtain.

I do not believe that enlarging the small county towns would result in sucking any labour from the farms. On the contrary, I believe it would add labour to the farms, because just to the extent that they can become the hubs of rural life, people travelling to and from the farms and the agricultural gardens, and the villages, we shall have a mixed community, and to that extent we shall keep the workers on the farms. We shall not keep the workers on the farms by hanging on to a tradition which no longer cones-ponds with the psychology of the agricultural worker.

Therefore, in so far as the Bill will affect this dispersal and redistribution, I am heartily in favour of it. I believe that it will not have a substantial effect. It will ease things here and there. It will get rid of an anomaly I always thought was undesirable in local government development, and that is one local authority leap-frogging over several local authorities, acquiring land in another local authority area and building and managing townships there. Because of that, when I was at the Ministry of Health I told my friends in the London County Council that I could not approve the acquiring of any further land outside the county area by the London County Council. It was becoming an outrage against good local government outside London.

In so far as this Bill enables population to move from the centre of great cities and live under the control of local governments in the reception areas, I think it is a good thing. I therefore think that the Bill ought not to be opposed. We should do our best to amend it and, I hope, improve it in Committee but I regret very much the lack of ambition the Government have shown at this early stage in facing one of the most difficult problems—the re-distribution of population in Great Britain.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm McCorquodale (Epsom)

As a great many hon. Members wish to speak, I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few moments. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the interesting arguments he has adduced to the House. I must say that at one time I thought he was straining rather far in endeavouring to bring something like political partisan prejudices into an otherwise peaceful debate; while at another time he appeared to be extremely slighting and rather patronising about the claimed offspring of one of his erstwhile colleagues.

I should like to congratulate the Minister, not only on the happy way in which he introduced this Bill, but also on the stimulating and refreshing vigour with which he is promoting his great housing campaign. In so far as this Bill helps to build more houses for our people, it will have the support of us all.

There is just one point I wish to raise, which I think should be mentioned on Second Reading, and that is all I wish to say about the Bill. The Minister said that the Bill provides, for the very first time, except so far as the L.C.C. is concerned, for county councils to enter into the sphere of building council houses. I must say that I cannot help but regard this step with some apprehension. I do not believe that the county councils are at the moment suitable people for building houses. They are relatively remote from the public; and indeed have a great deal on their hands already—some people think almost more than they can perform.

In my judgment, housing is essentially a service which requires the closest and most intimate connection with the public concerned. Apart from that, the county councils have not at the present time, I would assume, such staffs and personnel as would be required for the building of council houses, and the only way in which they could get them would be by robbing other authorities who are already building these houses.

The small commitments in this Bill would not justify county councils setting up house building departments, and they would therefore be clamouring that their powers should be extended and that the service that they were inaugurating should be used more extensively. I think that this might be regarded as the thin end of the wedge which would open the way to permitting county councils to enter sub- stantially into the house building programme. That I do not think would be desirable, and I trust that the Minister will be able to make quite plain that this Bill will not support general housing activity by the county councils.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

The right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) said he felt that the county councils should not be the authorities to undertake these projects. Something can be said for that point of view, but it cannot be strongly upheld in relation to an authority such as the London County Council, which is confronted with one of the most grievous problems of any authority in the country. That is why this Bill is very welcome.

All hon. Members intimately concerned with this problem will judge it more or less from their own experience, and in the county in which I live the Hertfordshire County Council, of which I am a member, has special problems. I shall try to outline one or two of them to the Minister. Although of a minor character, it is very essential they should be dealt with to remove some of the pin-pricks which are the constant concern of the authorities who receive these surplus people.

The position of the Hertfordshire County Council is perhaps unique in connection with the establishment of new towns, in so far as it has a bigger intake of new towns than any other authority. Until recently, it was largely an agricultural county. The burdens which will now be placed upon it by the provision of services will be considerable, especially as the County of Hertford has only one town which can be said to be a highly-industrialised centre. That town is Watford. Almost three-quarters of the Watford rate is precepted by the county authority; a tremendous amount of money. The rest of the county is composed mainly of small urban towns and villages. Desite that, we have willingly shouldered the burden of these new towns. Central Government finance, however, does not provide for the relief of the services which are now needed.

One particular point, which I ask the House and the Minister to bear in mind, and on which we cannot afford to fall down, is in the provision of schools. This County, which, in the past, has been predominantly Tory, had been backward in the provision of new schools until after the war. The county architect's department now has this problem constantly before it, and has done splendid work. Since 1945, it has built 40 schools chiefly by prefabrication, which is a wonderful achievement, and we cannot, despite the requirements of re-armament or anything else, back down upon this particular programme in Hertfordshire, for reasons which I shall try to outline. The incoming population requires the building of larger school-rooms. There is a shortage of teachers and of all the planned services that go with schools, especially transport, and this has placed on the county a problem of the utmost magnitude.

The main towns in the county have not yet qualified for the equalisation grant, and I hope that the Minister, on the Committee stage of the Bill, will give consideration to trying to alleviate some of the problems which will fall upon this county, which was mainly agricultural. The school position is most acute. One peculiar feature of the housing situation there is that the people coming into the new towns are mostly of the artisan and low-income group. By reason of the high cost of living, it has become more and more necessary for married couples to go out to work, and in many cases they have to travel to and from London. This cannot be helped, but it means that the children left behind in the schools often have to stay there long after school hours, sometimes until their parents return from their employment in London.

This is a very grievous problem. That is why we must push ahead as fast as we can with the establishment of play centres, communities centres and the amenities which go with the development of new towns, which must not be sacrificed for the sake of economy in the national Exchequer. The provision of teachers and houses for them are additional great problems. I ask the Minister to consult the Minister of Education to see if a direction cannot be given to the London County Council—because that is where most of these children are coming from—to release a number of their licences for the establishment of teachers' homes in Hertfordshire. If that is not allowed, we want the position to be rectified, because at present we are not able to staff the schools because houses cannot be found for the teachers, and they will not travel to and from London.

The same thing is applicable, in a lesser degree, to the police and fire services. With regard to industry, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), I doubt whether, after making a survey of the new towns, enough industry can be established there to support the working population within its boundaries, without their having to go to London to seek employment. There has not been a great expansion or direction of industry to this county. We cannot transfer from any part of London or anywhere else so many skilled engineers into a new town in Hertfordshire. We have to take the population as we find it, and we cannot say that certain industries shall follow.

Therefore, there can be no essential building up of an industrial population on a skilled basis. The problem is to get the skilled workers into the right industries at the right time. All these problems which are connected with this Bill will depend upon the extension of an adequate transport system. When one makes a survey of the railway position in the county, one realises that the people there cannot be adequately served by transport facilities without the integration and re-organisation of the railway services of the county. It needs a tie-up not only with the authorities concerned, but also with the Minister of Transport.

If the Minister will see that in the counties which are providing the main services for the new towns there are no reductions in the essential services, especially schools, the Bill will have achieved its object. I ask him to examine the proposal, because we shall not have happy people moving from slum conditions to happy homes unless we have happy children in happy schools. I beg the Minister to give this matter his earnest consideration.

6.41 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)

I find it very difficult to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), because I hardly heard a single word of what he said, in his inaudible monologue.

I should like to welcome the Bill straight away. Its object can be simply and plainly stated to be to provide homes for our people. I represent a county constituency. I hope it will not be considered that I am speaking too much from either the county or the country man's point of view. I want to consider the Bill, as we all do, from the angle of what is best for the nation as a whole.

When the Bill becomes law—I hope it will be amended considerably before it does—I trust there will be a better understanding between the town councils and the county councils. Some town councils are of the opinion that whenever they want to build homes in the country the county council says, "Go away. You cannot have that area. It is good agricultural land."

In the case of Cheshire, that is certainly not true because Cheshire has already provided an excellent development plan, which I understand is now in the hands of my right hon. Friend. Cheshire is in exactly the same position as other county councils. It has accepted the problem of housing the overspill and is willing to assist in building homes to house these unfortunate people. All that the county councils are concerned about is that the houses should be built in the right places; otherwise, if good agricultural land continues to be taken away and destroyed, as has been said, houses will only be built for the people to starve in.

On the other hand, some county councils feel that certain town councils do not care what good agricultural land is destroyed and that all they want to do is to spread outwards and grab more land from the county. Wherever that attitude exists, I hope that when the Bill becomes an Act it will softly and silently vanish away like the Boojum.

In general, it is strongly felt that the Bill gives far too wide powers to the Minister without sufficient right of appeal for interested parties, and also that it subjects local authorities to excessive interference from Whitehall. In his excellent maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Legh) said something that we constantly hear and that has almost become a platitude. It is not that we are not fully confident that the Minister will give wise and fair decisions; but Ministers come and Ministers go, and one day another Minister will reign in the stead of my right hon. Friend, and another Minister might misuse the dictatorial powers given under the Bill. It is not what the Minister will do which worries us; it is what any Minister can do under the Bill which causes our anxiety.

I should like to ask this question. Will the Minister of Agriculture be consulted on each and every occasion on which an Order is made or contemplated under the Bill, and in case of disagreement, who wins—the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Minister of Agriculture? Shall we ever have any means of knowing how the Minister reached his decision or shall we be handed the well-known bromide, "My dear fellow, Ministers cannot quarrel in public. We have made our decision, and that is enough"?

I urge the Minister of Agriculture to use all his influence with the Minister of Housing and Local Government, because there is always bound to be a tremendous temptation to grab the best agricultural land, for four reasons—first, it probably does not involve any difficulty in clearance, it is reasonably level, it is well sited, and it is well drained.

According to Clause 1, "town development" is the provision of accommodation for residential purposes and it may include the provision of industry or other activities, public services and "other incidentals needed." By "incidentals" is meant, I suppose, anything which opens and shuts. Apparently the Minister can, by Order, expand an existing township or create a township on virgin land without recourse to the New Towns Act, 1946, and if this is so, it must surely be wrong.

What provision is there that town development shall conform with the development plan of the area concerned? It seems that under Clause 8 the Minister can authorise, and under Clause 9 compel, development in an area which the development plan indicates should not be developed. Therefore, it seems that a development plan which has been carefully and maturely considered can be entirely vitiated in respect of the area concerned or radically altered without compliance with the procedure laid down in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Is it right to give any Minister such powers?

Clause 9 contains the cause of the greatest anxiety. Apparently no consultation is required with either the receiving authority or with the county council before letting in a stranger authority. Is that a fact or is it not? If it is a fact, surely it cannot be right or fair. If it is a fact, I hope the Clause will be amended to provide for such consultation and that it will be made obligatory on the Minister, if the county council is willing to act in place of the receiving authority, to authorise them to do so before considering the claims of a stranger authority. The claims of the county council in matters of this kind have always been paramount.

What provision is there under Clause 9 to prevent compulsory acquisition by the stranger or overspill authority, of land of good agricultural value, contrary to the development plan of the area concerned, and against the wishes of the receiving authority, the planning authority and the county authority concerned, whether their objections are reasonable or otherwise? By this Clause, apparently, the Minister of his own volition can flout the opinions of those authorities, and the only safeguard appears to be by Prayer. There is no provision for consultation with the Minister of Agriculture, the National Farmers' Union or other bodies who may be interested. No mention is made of any inquiry. It is left solely to the Minister to decide whether the authority has hampered or impeded development.

I find it terribly difficult to understand this Clause and, therefore, when I went back to my constituency this weekend I had an example given to me of what the Minister can do under this Bill. Three independent legal experts confirmed it. Here is the example. A town might say to a county council, "We want site A for town development." The county council might reply, "We cannot let you have site A. It is unsuitable, it does not fall in with our development plan, it is good agricultural land, and it is not in the interests of either the county concerned or the country to have it. Therefore, we give you an alternative. We offer you site B." The town can reply, "We do not want site B. It is not suitable for our requirements. What we want is site A, and we are going to take it."

This problem is then put to the Minister for decision. Under this Clause the Minister can reply, "I am satisfied that this is a proposal for town development on a substantial scale; I am satisfied that the county council are unwilling to take action in such development; and, therefore, I order that the town shall take action and develop site A." That is the opinion I have, and the Parliamentary Secretary will, no doubt, tell me whether the legal advice which I have had is correct. There is to be no public inquiry, no one is allowed to raise objections, and the only method to get justice is by a Prayer for an annulment of the Order. We know how much change we get out of Prayers. In that event, how can all the evidence be produced by Prayer, and how can the objections of the interested parties be raised?

If I am right in this example, what is the alternative to what I have been saying? I have an alternative proposal to make. In such a case of dispute, an independent tribunal should be appointed by the Lord Chancellor to hold a public inquiry into the matter and report to the Minister. That report should be published, and, if the Minister decides to make an Order under Clause 9 following that inquiry, it should be subject to an affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. By this means not only will justice be done, but justice will appear to have been done.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I am very glad to have this opportunity of saying, briefly, a few words on this Bill, because it affects very considerably my own constituency, which is heavily industrialised, overcrowded, and unable to solve its housing problem within its own boundaries. We must realise the limits to which this Bill goes, because we would be most unwise if we thought that it goes to the root causes of our troubles about congestion and overpopulation. From my experience and that of my constituency I know that, unfortunately, it does not.

The Bill is designed to relieve congestion and overpopulation. What are the causes of congestion and overpopulation? In most cases they are due to over industrialisation, and unless we can deal with the causes we cannot hope to provide the remedy for that evil. I do not think that the Bill goes anywhere near far enough to deal with the root causes of congestion and overpopulation. It has been stressed by one or two previous speakers that the Bill does nothing to decentralise industry. When I put a question to the Minister about this during his speech, all he was able to say was that he hoped that as a result of Government action they might be able to persuade industries in congested areas to leave those areas and to go to other parts. That just will not wash at all.

In my constituency—and it is a small constituency—there are at least 500 factories and industries, both small and large. We are near to the new town of Hemel Hempstead, but it must be admitted that that new town, which was designed to reduce congestion in Acton and the inner urban areas, has not achieved its purpose. We have been unable to persuade any industrialist of any size within my constituency to transfer his enterprise from the congested area to the new town of Hemel Hempstead or, indeed, any other new town.

So we have this position—that, while many of our people are going outside the area to be rehoused, the industries remaining in the town, being short of labour, automatically draw into the area almost the same number of people as those who have departed to be rehoused elsewhere. It is essential, therefore, to remember, when considering this Bill, that we cannot hope to effect a dispersal of population from the congested areas of our towns and cities if, at the same time, we do not devise ways and means of reducing the industrial concentration which has given rise to the problem of over population and congestion in many of our towns and cities. I believe there is a serious weakness in the Bill in that it omits from its provisions any real attempt to bring about the decentralisation of industry, which is responsible for over-population and congestion.

There is another weakness in the Bill. It does not give to the local authorities of congested areas the power to control factory accommodation in order to prevent new people coming into a congested area to take the place of those who have departed elsewhere. This Bill will very likely have the effect of stimulating the emigration of people from congested areas, but will do nothing to prevent the immigration of new people to maintain the—

It being Seven o'Clock and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on definite matter of urgent public importance) further Proceeding stood postponed.