§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, at the end to insert "or."
Perhaps it would be convenient if we were to discuss at the same time the Amendment in page 2, line 12, as the two are linked together.
The Amendment results from a long and interesting discussion which we had on the Committee stage dealing with rather special cases which were not otherwise covered by the terms of the Bill. It may be remembered that the main purpose of the Bill was the contemplation of moves from a county borough into another area. It was argued, however, that there were some authorities which, owing to the war, to the long delays in attempting to make new demarcation of boundaries, and to the difficulties and delays in any proposed local government reform, would perhaps have been in the position of other county boroughs which were ruled out of the possibility of obtaining benefits by that mere fact.
Hon. Members who were in the Committee will remember that specific problems of this kind were brought very forcibly before us and that I undertook to look into the matter and to see whether something could be done to meet that 56 kind of case. The purpose of the Amendment is to meet the promise which I then gave and to make possible Exchequer help for in-county moves which are part of a large conurbation. It will deal with that kind of problem that was put to us. It will deal with London and with some of the problems near London—for example, Essex and the like. It will deal with some of the problems of the great conurbation of Lancashire.
I think I may say—I hope, with the support of all Members—that the Amendment meets the major part, at any rate, of the case that was then made. It will bring into the sphere of the potential recipients of Exchequer grants, for the purposes for which the Bill exists, a number of authorities which were ruled out as the Bill was originally drawn by the mere fact that although they were large authorities in that kind of category, they would be not officially county boroughs; and therefore, the in-county move would have ruled them out of the possibility of benefit. I hope that the Committee will feel that the Amendment carries out the purpose of the major argument that was put to me.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The Amendment carries out to the full the undertaking given by the Minister during the Committee stage, and for that reason those of us who were involved are grateful. It does not, however, go quite as far as it should go. It is true, as the Minister has said, that it meets by far the larger portion of the cases that are likely to be dealt with.
It was pointed out during the Committee stage that the county which represents the best example of the hardship that was created by the Clause as it was originally drafted was Essex. The Amendment certainly meets the point so far as London and large county conurbations are concerned, but it does not meet the case of the small country town which is hinged by common land and which, for one reason or another, it is undesirable should get any larger and which ought to export population.
I should like the Minister to explain why it is necessary to put down these words, even granting that they meet the undertakings which he gave during the Committee stage, when a simpler method would have been to adopt the procedure which is suggested in a later Amendment, but which, by Mr. Speaker's Ruling, will 57 not now come before the Committee. If we were making it possible for the district councils who are involved to be authorities for dealing with an export of population, we should have dealt with the matter properly. Nevertheless, I agree that the Amendment meets 99 per cent. of our problem from the Committee stage, and we are grateful to the Minister.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) that this is a very useful Amendment, but it still leaves in the Bill a difficulty which some of us visualised in the Committee: that is, that no attempt is made to define "overcrowding" and "congestion." It will be remembered that during the Committee stage I moved an Amendment which was designed to try to provide that definition; and we suggested that if an area was overcrowded on the basis of its town plan, which had been drawn up and carefully considered and accepted by the Minister, it should qualify under the terms of the Bill for assistance if it had to move population.
It is very much to be regretted that the Minister has not taken advantage of the opportunity to clarify the point. I know from experience that local government administrators are concerned about this, and would like to have a definition of the meaning of "congestion" and "overcrowding." We certainly do not want the definition of "overcrowding" as it is under the existing law: that if there are not more than two persons to a room, reckoning every room in the house, there is no overcrowding. By such a standard there could be very considerable overcrowding, even under present conditions.
We thought, therefore, that the sensible thing to do would be to adopt the plans made by a local authority under its town planning powers, defining "congestion" and" overcrowding" for its own purposes and under its own scheme, and to include a reference to that in the statute to make it quite clear that the Bill was intended to assist with the problem of overcrowding as it is understood by those who have to deal with it. I regret that the Minister's Amendment has not done that. Otherwise, it is an improvement and will probably be of some assistance to some of the areas to which we referred during our discussions in the Committee.
§ Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
These Amendments have been introduced to meet a matter which I raised during the Committee stage. All that I desire to say about them this afternoon is that my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated upon having found a solution which adequately meets the difficulties of the authorities in question. The difficulties of these authorities were, I think, the major problem which the Bill presented in the form in which it was originally drawn.
The Amendments will certainly meet the case of large boroughs like the Borough of Ilford, the representation of which I share with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper), and of the other large suburban boroughs in Greater London. It was in those boroughs that this problem was particularly acute, I hope that the effect of the Amendments will be to facilitate the solution of their housing problems and that it will be reflected in reduced rents for the council houses which they may build with the help which they may receive under this Bill.
I cannot agree with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren). He put the case of what he described as the small county towns. This Bill ought not to be applied to the small county towns. If a small county town no longer has sufficient room within its boundaries to re-house the natural increase in its population its proper course is to extend its boundaries.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
By a proper boundary extension. County councils can do it. That is precisely the case where one ought not to apply the procedure contemplated by the Bill.
My right hon. Friend is taking the right course in restricting the extension of the Bill, which is involved in these Amendments, to those places where the problem is really exceptional and acute, leaving outside the scope of the Bill those other places whose difficulties ought to be met in another way. I thank my right hon. Friend for the course he has followed in this matter.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
The proposed Amendment is good as far as it goes, but it certainly leaves a lot to be 59 desired if it is examined in connection with that part of the Clause to which it is supposed to refer. This is an Amendment of paragraph (b)of Clause 2 (1). The essential part of the paragraph reads:That the provision of the accommodation will relieve congestion or over-population in"—and it then goes on to specify three categories:
Our problem in Committee was the fact that the Clause left out of the consideration a county district within a county area where development was taking place and prevented it from participating in the financial benefits of the scheme. In other words, if development were to take place in a county area, and any population were to go from another part of the county where overcrowding existed, the Minister would be unable to make a financial contribution to the scheme. To enable him to make financial contribution, the only county district who could send their surplus population would have to be a county district from outside the county area. If it were a district inside the county area, the Minister could make no grant.
- "(i) a county borough,
- (ii) the administrative county of London, or
- (iii) a county district outside the county in which the development is to be carried out."
I think the Minister could have made this change very much more simply had he deleted from item (iii)the words after "a county district," because even his own Amendment is very hazy about the latter portion of the subsection.(iii)a county district in an area of continuous urban development adjacent to the administrative county of London. …In a sense, that is fairly clear—adjacent to the administrative county of London.But then it goes on to say,or in an area of continuous urban development adjacent to another big centre of population,".If that big centre of population is not a county borough it is automatically ruled out and the Minister is unable to make a financial contribution. There are many big centres of population which are not county boroughs but are county districts. If we had a county district adjacent to another county district which was 60 a big centre of population, the Minister would be debarred from making a financial contribution. He cannot make a contribution to a county district within a county area which is exporting its population to the area where the development is taking place.
I appreciate the Minister's difficulties in finding precise words. It is perhaps to some extent easier to define the administrative county of London, but if the wordsof continuous urban development adjacent to another big centre of populationcould be defined, perhaps defining what we mean in terms of local government status by "a big centre of population" the position would be very much clearer.
At the moment it seems to me to perpetuate the old grievance which we complained about in Committee, that the Minister is not given power to grant to a receiving authority that financial assistance which it should have if it receives population from another county district within the county area. I hope that the Minister will be able to clear up that very important point before we approve the Amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I want to add my thanks to those of other hon. Members to the Minister for putting the Amendment on the Order Paper. He will remember, and hon. Members of the Committee will remember, that we were subjected to a certain amount of verbal bi-play in Committee as a consequence of our having withdrawn our Amendment.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and I are very pleased that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) took the stand he did. It has done us a great deal of good in the division, because now the local Labour Party will have to eat humble pie, which is something of a meal I am sure they will not digest very readily. We are grateful to the Minister for meeting us in this very satisfactory way.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
There is a very small and drafting point I should like to be considered. I am not altogether clear from the Amendment on the Order Paper—that which which inserts paragraph (iii)at the end 61 of line 12—whether it replaces a paragraph, or comes before the paragraph in the Bill, or whether paragraph (iii)of the amended Bill has to be re-numbered. We have now given permission for the Bill to be recommitted, and I think the intention of the Amendment on the Order Paper should be cleared up so that we know exactly how many paragraphs there will be to the Clause.
§ Mr. Christopher Hollis (Devizes)
I think it might save time if I reminded hon. Members that the argument of such hon. Members as the Member for Clap-ham (Mr. Gibson), about defining the phrase "over-population" or defining what is meant by "a big centre of population," would be very pertinent, as was said over and over again in Committee, if the Clause were putting upon the Minister an obligation to give assistance to these various areas. But, of course, it is not doing so. It is merely giving him permissive power to give assistance to these various districts. That being so, it would be of no advantage to anybody to have an exact definition; it would merely limit the class of places that might get assistance.
I shall be interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say on the point made by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), that there were places worthy of assistance which would perhaps still be excluded by the working of the terms of the Amendment. I cannot think of any likely places that would not come under the definition ofan area of continuous urban development adjacent to another big centre of population,which would be at all likely to qualify for assistance under this Bill. There is no point, as my right hon. Friend said again and again, in simply widening the class of cases that can receive assistance under the Bill as the amount of money to be available is limited, and it would simply mean that a larger number of places would have to be ruled out.
§ Mr. Donnelly
The hon. Member for Devizes said just now that he could not think of any large populated area which would not be covered by this Amendment. I understood that to be the gist of his argument.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I note that the hon. Member agrees with me. I put it to him and to the Committee that a place such as Luton is not covered by the Amendment. Luton is not contiguous to London, it is not part of the London conurbation, it is separated from it by a large Green Belt. Yet it is a big industrial town which is already far too large.
It should not be allowed to expand any further because its population is comparable to that of Ilford, and it is a typical example of the kind of place which my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) and I had in mind in the Committee discussion upstairs when we suggested that it would be far better to have left out the words from "district" onwards, as my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) has already said this afternoon.
Places such as Luton will suffer great hardship. The Minister has come only half way towards meeting us instead of viewing the problem as he should have done and, having conceded the principle, conceding the whole of the case. He has met the case of the large conurbation. He has met many of the problems which arise. Having done so why should he have not gone a bit further and taken into consideration these few other places also? The right hon. Gentleman will probably be receiving rude letters from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food if the latter shows more courage than the two Members for Ilford showed in the earlier stages of the Committee discussion.
Having said that, I welcome, within the limit of what it does achieve, the Minister's Amendment, for no other reason in that it has brought a spark of real pleasure to the heart of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson). I never hoped before to see that happen in this House. I was extremely glad to see the hon. and learned Member so positively happy as a result of the Amendment proposed by his right hon. Friend.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
I can assure the hon. Member that his observations in the Committee gave me the greatest satisfaction.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I am delighted to hear it, and the hon. and learned Member has very good reason for that appreciation 63 as it was because of the stand which we on this side of the Committee took that the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward this Amendment today. Accordingly, there is every reason why that should give some pleasure to the hon. and learned Member.
There is a dark secret which should be disclosed to the Committee, namely, why the right hon. Gentleman has put down this Amendment at all. Perhaps I might recall to the mind of the Committee what happened earlier. The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) and the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) all made vehement fiery speeches—as fiery, that is, as the hon. and learned Member is normally accustomed to make—saying that there was no sense in the Bill as it stood. That is what the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South said.
As a result of these speeches it was felt that the Minister might give way in the early stages of the Committee discussion. He did not do so, and the Members for Ilford and Wimbledon had to eat humble pie and spend a great deal of time working their passage and in making their peace with their makers—their constituents.
The right hon. Gentleman has now come forward with this Amendment, which is dear to the hearts of the two Members for Ilford. I suggest to the Committee seriously that the reason why the right hon. Gentleman has done so is the startling result of the Essex County Council elections, which has shown exactly what will happen to the two Members for Ilford should they have to face the Parliamentary electors at any near date.
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The hon. Member should not allow his sense of disappointment to get the better of him.
§ Mr. Donnelly
That is as good a one as I have heard for a long time.
The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman has seen the nakedness of the two Members for Ilford, their abject political cowardice when they appeared before the Committee, and he has been providing them with some clothing so that they can 64 face their electors at some future date. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that this kind of machination is far too Machiavellian. The British public like to see people stand by an Amendment when they have put it down. Nevertheless, I am glad that the two Members for Ilford are looking so pleased about it all. They will not be looking so pleased for very long in the future.
I wish to turn to another point which has disturbed me about the non-acceptance of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and myself in the early stages of the discussion in Committee. In the course of the discussion in the Standing Committee, the Minister said:I do not promise that we should be able to accept the Amendment in this form or in any particular form, but I will consult the Chancellor to see how far we can meet the case which has been put."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 25th March, 1952; c. 101.]As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough said, the Minister has done very well for us. He has come here and put forward an Amendment which meets some of the difficulties which we outlined to him earlier. But the right hon. Gentleman disclosed a very serious constitutional state of affairs in his remarks when he said that he would have to consult with the Chancellor.
As I said in the earlier stages of the discussion in Committee, that is a very serious matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has repeatedly said that the powers of the Treasury far exceed the normal powers which we should accept as belonging to the Treasury. Here is the Minister of Housing and Local Government having to go cap in hand to the Treasury to ask them to determine a vital part of town planning policy. Here is the Treasury deciding whether or not people in the East End of London, Ilford, or Luton or anywhere else are overcrowded or not, whether they should be transplanted to another part of the country or not.
The right hon. Gentleman has shown quite clearly by that statement that as Minister of Housing and Local Government he may make recommendations but that it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who decides whether anything is to be done. This revelation, which is only one of many which we are constantly getting, 65 is a striking example of the way in which policy decisions are being made behind the closed doors of the Treasury. I wish to register my protest against the disgraceful way in which the Treasury are usurping many of the functions of Government and determining many actions and policy decisions which are far beyond their competence to judge satisfactorily.
I think it is wrong that the Minister should have to go cap in hand in that way, as the kind of tyrannised tool of the troglodytes in the Treasury, who have little or no idea of the living or working conditions of ordinary people in many of the great cities in Britain. The right hon. Gentleman should get some stiffening, and face the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and tell him that at any rate we in this Committee—however pusillanimous some of his hon. Friends may be, including the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North—are not agreeable to the Minister of Housing and Local Government being the play-thing of the troglodytes in the Treasury.
I think many serious ramifications are exposed by the earlier admission by the Minister, and by the fact that he has come back here having got the patronage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the fact that he is able to move this Amendment. I do not wish to keep the Committee. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) is anxious to make his contribution to this debate——
§ Mr. Donnelly
My hon. Friend says he is never anxious. It is the spirit of great duty which moves him. We appreciate his disinterested purpose, and the way in which he forces himself to speak on rare occasions in this Committee.
I commend the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry he did not propose it before. I am glad that it will bring hope and happiness and a chance of a new and better life to many people in many of the great cities who would not otherwise have experienced it; that is, if the right hon. Gentleman does something about it, having got this Bill on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Hale
I always appreciate any testimonial which I receive from either 66 side of the Committee, but I received that commendation from my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) with slightly mixed feelings, because my main purpose in rising is to find out how this affects Oldham, West, and I am still unable to find that out.
I do not approve of the somewhat dubious claim of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) to the paternity of this Clause and the respect in which he based his claim, having moved an Amendment and voluntarily withdrawing it and having refused the support of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. I do not propose to challenge the paternity of this Clause. I consider it a bastard Clause, well conceived but ill-delivered. I doubt very much whether it conveys what the right hon. Gentleman intended that it should convey.
I usually listen to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) with respect and attention, but on this occasion I do not think he had thought over the problems. Or perhaps he had thought them over in relation to Wiltshire but not Lancashire, which, obviously, has special problems in this connection. I would like some clarification. On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) made an intervention and received some elucidation from the Minister, in which it was said that Sal-ford was a county borough, as is Oldham, and therefore the crossing of the county boundary merely occurred once one moved out of Oldham into Lancashire.
So far as a county borough is concerned it can have a receiving district in the same county under the Bill as originally drafted——
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged for the confirmation of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren). That makes it much more sure than had I merely received nods from one side of the Committee.
I would put this seriously to the right hon. Gentleman, because it is a serious problem. It is a very unusual one and a rather special one. The new Clause refers toan area of continuous urban development.That itself is very vague—and here I would like the attention of either the 67 Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary who are engaged in conversation, because this is a point of some importance.
Oldham had a population of 140,000 some 20 years ago. Today, it has a population of 120,000. Can that, by any stretch of the imagination be described as an area of continuous urban development? I know what the right hon. Gentleman will be thinking. Indeed, I see the Parliamentary Secretary leaping to the bait. He is saying, "Of course, this is a county borough and this Clause does not apply to county boroughs." But the wording of the Clause governs the adjacent county district.
In my division there is the urban district of Chadderton, with a population of over 20,000; and the other qualification which Chadderton can have is that it is a county district in an area within the definition of the Clause, an area of continuous urban development. In other words, it is adjacent to Oldham; or, if the Committee wishes, to use a term which I, and I am sure the Minister, use with reluctance, adjacent to the conurbation of Lancashire.
Through no fault of its own, and through a succession of Tory Governments, Oldham lost 20,000 of its population who were driven south seeking work during a period of unemployment and semi-starvation. Can that be claimed to be an area of continuous urban development? It may be convenient to deal with this now because it is a point of substance in this matter. Oldham is adjacent to Yorkshire. Almost immediately over the county boundary are the Yorkshire moors. At the moment, to use another beastly word, there is an overspill population in Oldham, even with the diminishing population.
I think the Parliamentary Secretary will be sufficiently well acquainted with the place to know that what I am saying is true. The circumstances are that the medical officer of health in Oldham has said that 10,000 houses ought to be condemned forthwith. That represents something like 25 per cent. of the houses in Oldham. One in four of them ought to be condemned.
It is true that one might argue that the population in 1923 was four per house and that today it is three per house. But 68 the houses have deteriorated very progressively and there are houses now, back-to-back houses, in Oldham which are still being occupied. I do not want to exaggerate but I would sincerely like to show the Parliamentary Secretary some of the houses in Oldham which are still occupied, and also houses in the Chadderton county district, which has more reserves of land.
Let us take the problem as it now exists. There is no ground anywhere in Oldham on which a housing scheme could be carried out; and so, at the moment, the overspill has gone into that very narrow section of Lancashire right by the boundary which separates Oldham from Ashton-under-Lyne. An hon. Member opposite, I think it was the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, said that the job of a county borough or county town which wished to build outside its area was to apply for powers to extend its boundary. I will not dispute that for a moment—[Interruption.] I think the hon. and learned Member used an expression something like "county town." He made clear——
§ Sir G. Hutchinson
The expression was used by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), who spoke of a small county town or a non-county or a county borough.
§ Mr. Hale
I am obliged. I think the term small or county town conveys the picture and I would not challenge that.
When the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was Minister of Health he said, and the House agreed, that on the whole it was to be regretted that so many extension Bills went through before we had an opportunity to consider the whole structure of local government. It was not fair to murder small county districts one by one by extensions, and so on. I had 25 years' experience as a member of a midland county council and I know that this is a very serious problem. It is serious when big central towns like Leicester can be extended to take more rateable value, and a greater burden goes on the inhabitants of the county.
§ Mr. Hale
Yes. This is a serious problem. I do not dispute what was said by the hon. and learned Member for 69 Ilford, North. I sympathise with him. But there are material, political and sociological reasons why the Committee does not wish to encourage towns to expand. On the whole, extensions should be limited to the intake of the limited areas on which building is taking place on behalf of the town. One of the objects of this Bill is to prevent that continuing even to that extent.
Under the Bill the housing estates can be in an adjacent or a remote area. The Minister, in answer to a question by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) on Second Reading, said that the overspill of the Black Country could be located in what was naturally referred to as the delightful County of Montgomery. That is a long way away, with two or three other counties in between. It may be that that is remotely possible under the wording of the Bill, but it would involve some difficult considerations in the way of location of industry and transport.
Let us consider the basic problem in Oldham. Can it be said that it is an area of continuous urban development, or that the whole conurbation of Lancashire is an area of continuous urban development and that, therefore, Oldham is part and parcel of it? If we consider the matter on the basis of the conurbation of Lancashire itself, we come up against some real problems in considering whether this Amendment is adequate. I have referred to the extensions which Oldham has now in Lancashire in the limited area available. When that area is built up, it will become necessary to go into Yorkshire.
Oldham has to the west six miles of continuous road into the heart of Manchester and, to the north, many miles of continuous road over the hills right through Burnley to Nelson and Colne. In almost every direction it is part of an immense conurbation of factories, houses, industrial plant, and so on, running higgledly-piggledly together so that it is impossible for anyone to now when he has left one town and gone into the next. If we are to have any benefit under this Bill, we must go into Yorkshire.
Then we come to the problem which is in my mind. The urban district of Chadderton is in my area. One always has proposals for amalgamation, but I should be the last to make any observation 70 about that. There is a good deal of interest in the parish pump in Lancashire, and a great deal of difficulty in getting one pipe and operating two pumps. But, certainly, in this field of housing there might be a desire to co-operate. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that it might be good to have co-operation.
If two or three neighbouring units can concentrate and develop one big site we can provide the necessary social and public services much more economically. We are not talking about building a new town under the New Towns Bill but about developing an area in the best interests of the inhabitants and trying to provide a housing scheme which will give reasonable amenities.
As I understand the position, there is a fear that the urban district of Chadderton may not come within this Clause because, although it is not a county district it can be argued that it is in a county district and an area of continuous urban development. That would be a tragedy. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give an answer on that point. If he cannot answer now, I hope that he will be able to reply before we leave this Amendment.
There is another vital question. I have talked about the conurbation of Lancashire, but within a distance of 12 miles the great conurbation of Yorkshire starts. When we talk about reception from a county district, we realise that it is exceedingly unlikely that the County of Yorkshire would want to give any preference or special help to the overspill from Lancashire before it has made provision for its own overspill. To make sure that I am impartial in this War of the Roses, let me say that the County of Lancashire would take the same attitude about overspill from Yorkshire.
What means has the Minister of seeing that there is a substantial measure of cooperation between the northern counties in trying to make this additional provision adequate? I do not think it could be argued that Oldham is not part and parcel of a big centre of population. I should have thought that a population of over 100,000 would be within the terms of this Clause. I have several times asked the Parliamentary Secretary to answer the 71 fundamental point about the area or continuous urban development. I am entitled to know whether this Bill applies to the area of Oldham and Chadderton or whether it does not. I have given the facts with complete accuracy and I have several times asked for a reply on this question. Is an area which had a population of 140,000 in 1920, and which has a population of 120,000 now, an area of continuous development or is it not? Surely I am entitled to an answer.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The reception given to this Amendment has been friendly and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) and others who have spoken. There is one point which I should like to clear up before I come to the points of substance. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) asked how this paragraph would appear if it were inserted in the Bill. This Amendment is designed to insert a new paragraph (iii) in subsection (1). If this Amendment were carried then, on the Bill being reprinted, the existing paragraph (iii) would appear as paragraph (iv). That is the normal procedure.
There has been a general view that we have tried in this Amendment to meet the main questions raised in Committee. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) raised a question of great interest, and I waited until he had finished what he had to say so that I might give my mind to the point he put. As he appreciates, under the Bill as drafted, and without this Amendment, Oldham is one of those districts already dealt with as possible recipients of Treasury assistance if it were not to expand—not to swell, as we use the expression—but to hop into another area where it was regarded as beneficial that development should take place.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the adjacent urban district of Chadderton 72 would come within the terms of this Amendment. That, of course, would depend. I am not sufficiently well acquainted with the precise character of the area to say whether it is an area of continuous urban development, but the question of what we have in mind was answered by the hon. Gentleman himself. I think he said that there was land ready for development in the immediate area of Chadderton.
§ Mr. Hale
Let me put the point again. In Oldham, there is no land at all. Chadderton is quite an extensive area in which there is a fair amount of land, most of which, curiously eought, is unsuitable for the purpose, because it stretches into the hills. What I have in mind is the possibility of Chadderton and Oldham going in for the development of a combined scheme, either in an adjacent Lancashire area, or, much more likely, an adjacent area in Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Oldham would be covered by the Bill, whether the development was in Lancashire or in Yorkshire. Whether the hon. Gentleman wants to amalgamate Chadderton with Oldham I am not quite sure, but I thought I saw the beginnings of the Special Bill procedure in what he was saying.
If Chadderton has land, it is quite right to develop it in the ordinary way, and it is not necessary to make this hop. This Bill is intended to provide for the kind of case where the whole area is built up, and the Amendment provides for the case in which only a county district is considering building and finds it impossible to carry out the development within its own immediate sphere, in which case it ought to have some advantage of the kind which is contemplated in the Amendment.
I am grateful for what was said by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. He has said that the Amendment gives him 99 per cent. of what he wanted. In human affairs, if one can get 99 per cent. of what one wants one does not ask for the odd 1 per cent., which has caused a lot of trouble to many people from Napoleon to Hitler. So perhaps the Committee would agree that, having conceded 99 per cent. of what was asked by this Amendment, it is reasonable that it should be incorporated in the Bill.
§ Mr. Hale
I am very grateful for the Minister's courteous explanation. I did say that the question in regard to Chadderton is phrased in very wide terms in the Bill. Everyone appreciates that it is as well, in dealing with a particular matter of this kind, that the Minister should have a wide discretion and fairly wide powers, but I do suggest that, at least, we should be able to say what the words in the Clause are intended to mean.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on asking for wide powers of this kind, and I suggest that, earlier, he took the middle of the way, but is now beginning to get more and more to the Left, so that his many Socialist admirers refer to him as a Liberal and some of his Conservative friends regard him as a Socialist in introducing a measure of Socialism of the kind indicated in this Bill.
However, I do ask the right hon. Gentleman, between now and the end of the day, to see if he can give us a further assurance. There is a genuine problem here, not merely the case of providing a couple of houses here and there, but of trying to provide a really first-class housing estate with all proper services. I appreciate the Minister's courtesy, and although I do not press the matter further now I hope that he may have something further to say in the course of the debate.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 12, at end, insert:
(iii) a county district in an area of continuous urban development adjacent to the administrative county of London or in an area of continuous urban development adjacent to another big centre of population, or.—[Mr. H. Macmillan.]
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
I beg to move, in page 2, line 15, after "such," to insert "local government."
This is a drafting Amendment, consequential on the introduction of the new paragraph (iii) to which the Committee has just agreed. This Amendment is intended merely to clear up to what the word "areas" properly applies.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I beg to move, in page 2, line 16, after "may," to insert:in pursuance of undertakings in that behalf given by him.I suggest that this Amendment, the next one to line 17, and that to leave 74 out lines 20 and 21 should be taken together, as they all run together. Their effect would be that the first sentence of the subsection would read as follows:The Minister may, in pursuance of undertakings in that behalf given by him, with the approval of the Treasury, make contributions to the council of a receiving district towards expenses of any of the following kinds incurred by them in relation to development to which this section applies.The purpose really is to simplify the subsection, and bring it into line with the structure of Clause 4. It deals with a point which was raised in Committee as to whether the Minister should be expressly requested to fulfil the undertaking which he gave. The Clause, as amended, follows common form by empowering the Minister to make contributions in pursuance of these undertakings.
It was always the intention, and it was accepted in Committee, that the amount of the contributions should be a matter for the Minister's discretion, and it is obvious that, if he gives an undertaking, he will, in fact, honour it. I think that these three Amendments merely improve the actual wording of the Clause.
§ Mr. Lindgren
These Amendments, as the Minister has said, cover a point which was raised in Committee, but I should have thought that the Amendment to line 18 would also have been taken at this stage. As the Clause was originally drawn, there was the word "may" in line 16 and there is the word "may" in line 21, and we had a discussion in the Committee stage as to whether or not that wording was grammatically correct. Certainly, we raised the question whether the second "may" should not be "shall." I accept the Amendment which has been moved by the Minister, which certainly improves the Clause, and makes redundant certain other Amendments which might not have been called in any case.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 17, leave out "undertake to."—[Mr. H. Macmillan.]
§ Amendment proposed: In page 2, line 18, after "incurred," to insert "or to be incurred."—[Mr. H. Macmillan.]
§ Mr. Hale
The Minister, in moving the last series of Amendments, excluded reference to this one, but it seems to me 75 that there is some point in suggesting the inclusion of the words as originally drafted, because, as the Clause has been amended, the words "or to be incurred" may now be found not to be quite suitable. As it has now been amended, the Clause will read:The Minister may, in pursuance of undertakings in that behalf given by him, make contributions to the council of a receiving district towards expenses of any of the following kinds incurred or to be incurred by them. …The words "to be incurred" are not governed by the undertaking, but by the contribution itself, and, if that is so, this is a very wide power indeed which the Minister is taking. I have left out the words "with the approval of the Treasury," because I have an Amendment down on the Order Paper for the Report stage for the omission of those words.
The Clause now provides that the Minister shall have power to make payments in respect of obligations to be incurred, and I should have thought that that provision goes much further than his present powers, I may be wrong, but I have always understood that housing grants are made on the issue of a certificate or a report by an officer of the local council to the effect that the council had already spent so much money.
§ Mr. Lindgren
As one who raised the point in Committee, I would point out that, of course, there are expenses in connection with works other than housing, and the Minister may make a grant towards the development of a reservoir or a sewerage works. I think it is correct to say that he should have in mind not only what is being done at the moment, but what that council is likely to have to meet in the near future and the expenses it has incurred or may be incurred.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hale
I am not sure whether we are in agreement or not, and I ask my hon. Friend to assist me here. What I am saying is that, while no undertaking 76 is given here which would bind the Minister, as I understand it, these words would enable him to pay money over before work started. I should have thought that was something new. I speak with some hesitation on this subject after the interjection of my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), but it seems to me a very wide power and I should have thought, particularly with regard to a reservoir, that some time should elapse before——
§ Mr. Lindgren
If my hon. Friend will excuse me, I am sure that with his local government knowledge he will appreciate that to give an undertaking that a contribution will be made does not mean that a contribution will be made before the actual expenditure is incurred. It would be new for a Government Department to make an actual contribution towards expenditure before that expenditure was incurred. I think it is quite within the rights of a Government Department, and it is to be encouraged, to say that, in the event of a particular type of development being undertaken, they will make a grant towards the expenditure.
§ Mr. Hale
I am in complete agreement with my hon. Friend and I was referring to the Amendment on the Order Paper and to the Bill. It will be seen from these that, if this Amendment is carried, the Clause will read:The Minister may, in pursuance of undertakings in that behalf given by him"—that is one of the Amendments we have just agreed to—… make contributions to the council of a receiving district towards expenses of any of the following kinds incurred or to be incurred. …In other words, the words "to be incurred" cover the making of the contribution and not the giving of an undertaking to the undertaker. That is precisely the point I am making. It may seem to be a small point, but it is of constitutional importance.
If it had been the practice to make payments in advance, there would be no force in my argument, but certainly in my experience that is not so. My hon. Friend was gracious enough to refer to my local government experience, and I might add, by way of explanation, that it was by being a member of a county council that I got my experience of local government, and such a body is not a housing 77 authority. I have not had any experience of membership of a housing authority. My experience is limited to the other side of the table, because I have some interest in the building industry.
I always understood that payments from Government Departments were made on certificates. I do not want to challenge for a moment the right and duty of the right hon. Gentleman to give undertakings in respect of all such services as the construction of reservoirs, the provision of roads and so on, but I should have thought that to give an undertaking to pay towards expenses to be incurred was going perhaps a little too far. I am dealing only with the date of the payment, and I suggest that the Minister should not be empowered to make substantial payments to local authorities who are proposing to construct reservoirs until at least someone has cut the first sod and is able to report some work done and and some progress made.
It is a small point and I do not want to labour it. That is why I started off by pointing out that the words "to be incurred" would have been perfectly appropriate had they been in the Clause as it was originally drafted. In the amended Clause they considerably widen its powers, and for that reason I should have thought that some explanation was necessary. I hope we shall have an answer from the Minister.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I thought that this matter was being settled by internal arrangements in the party opposite. This wording is in common form.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 2, leave out lines 20 and 21.—[Mr. H. Macmillan.]
§ Mr. Macmillan
I beg to move in page 2, line 45, at the end, to insert:(f) payments made by virtue of this Act to a river board or drainage authority in respect of expenses incurred by that river board or drainage authority in the execution of works rendered necessary by the carrying out of the development.This Amendment enables the Exchequer contribution to be made where the local authority carrying out town development contributes to the cost of drainage works consequential upon that development. The power to contribute to 78 the expenses of land drainage works will be conferred if the Committee agrees to a new Clause which we shall consider later entitled "Contributions to expenses of land drainage works." This Amendment is really in anticipation of that new Clause, and must be taken in connection with the new Clause in order to put the Bill in order.
The circumstances envisaged by the new Clause were those which the Heneage Committee had in mind in their Report on land drainage legislation, that is to say, where large-scale development gives rise to land drainage problems in neighbouring areas. We have had some experience of this in the new town of Crawley, where the Thames Conservancy have spent a considerable sum of money improving the River Mole in order to take the effluent from the new town of Crawley.
Heavy expenses for this purpose may be necessary early on in development before the product of the development becomes apparent, and it is hoped that it will prove useful for the Exchequer to help authorities which have to meet these expenses at early stages. It will be similar to the need for helping towards the expenses of sewage disposal, for which the Bill already makes provision, and this merely completes the plan already approved by extending this power for Exchequer contributions to be made for drainage purposes as well as sewage purposes. It is, therefore, a logical extension of the principle of Clause 2.
§ Mr. Lindgren
This Amendment is gladly accepted. It will make it easier for these authorities to assist river boards to deal with river pollution, and, in fact, it would be very necessary expenditure unless someone in those areas who was not really affected by the development would bear the cost. I think it is a good addition.
§ Mr. Benn
The point I have to raise is a small one, but it occurs to me that the words "incurred or to be incurred" ought appropriately to be here, because the expenses of a river board or drainage authority for heavy works of this kind would be such that a small town would be committing itself to great expenditure in advance, and it might be wise for the Minister in this case, as he has done in the other, to give an undertaking to make 79 a contribution in advance of that expenditure. Possibly he could introduce some Amendment on the Report stage to meet this point.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Lindgren
I would not have intervened at this stage but for the fact that an Amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) has not been called on account of a Ruling given by Mr. Speaker earlier this afternoon. That Amendment referred to putting the county of Middlesex on the same standing as the county of London as being an authority able to undertake housing activity and to amalgamate the activities of the district authorities within its area.
I know that it can be said that London is London and there is nowhere quite like London, but that is not exactly true in so far as the general problem of development within the county of Middlesex is concerned. I ought to make it quite clear that I speak now not as one associated with Middlesex but as one associated in local government with an authority which might be a receiving authority from Middlesex. Under this Clause as now amended, the various housing authorities within the county of Middlesex——
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Gentleman is developing an argument on an Amendment which was not called. If that be true, it would be out of order on the Question that the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The last thing I would wish would be to get out of order if I could help it. I was trying to see whether on this Question, I could ask the Minister to allow for a voluntary arrangement within the county of Middlesex. If I could develop that argument perhaps you could consider then, Mr. Hopkin Morris, whether it would be in order.
The Amendment not having been called, it would be out of order. We can now discuss only what is in the Clause as it stands.
§ Mr. Hale
I want to speak on the Question that the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill, and to raise what is in a sense a rather similar point. The Bill has been re-committed and we are now on the Committee stage, and we are considering whether this Clause should stand part of the Bill with the omissions about which my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) is complaining at the moment.
I submit, with respect, that there is no authority whatsoever laid down to say that if a matter be perfectly within the rules of order on discussion of the Question that a Clause, as amended, stand part of a Bill, the fact that it has not been discussed previously because Mr. Speaker has made a Ruling previously is a reason why it should not be raised on the Question that the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hale
Precisely. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough is saying that he is in some dubiety and difficulty as to whether he ought to support the Clause when it is going forward with that omission, and the comment he is making is that he would support the Clause if it had been submitted in that way. We are on the Committee stage and not the Report stage, and I should have thought there was nothing wrong in saying that the Clause would be very much better and would stand part of the. Bill very much more effectively if it had certain additions to it.
I think the hon. Member is now saying what I said. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) can touch upon and not develop the argument.
§ Mr. Lindgren
As I was about to say, there are in the County of Middlesex 26 housing authorities, of whom 22 have their areas almost absolutely built up. They are authorities who in fact will now have to make arrangements for their population to be accommodated within various boroughs and urban districts outside the county. The county with which I am associated in the field of local 81 government—Hertfordshire—will be a natural outlet for quite a number of these authorities and we shall be delighted to have these people.
It will have been noticed that during the Second Reading of this Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) congratulated the counties of Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire on the manner in which they co-operated with the London County Council in the reception into those counties of the population from London. We were very grateful to him for the compliment which he paid to us and we can return it and say that the L.C.C. were quite a good authority to deal with.
It was a tremendous advantage to us in the receiving areas that we had the London County Council to deal with rather than 28 Metropolitan Boroughs, which would have been an impossible, or at least a much less satisfactory, arrangement. At the moment we are dealing with this problem very satisfactorily indeed and the London County Council, with their vast resources and very competent staff, have been able to assist the Hertfordshire County Council and their officials in development in a very fine way.
I do not wish to suggest that the borough or urban districts within the County of Middlesex have not competent officers and staff or would not be amiable people to deal with, but if in Hertfordshire we are to receive the overspill from 10 or 15 areas on the Hertfordshire side of Middlesex, surely it is common sense that there should be some arrangement for collective negotiations with us in Hertfordshire on schools and other facilities.
Industry does not in any way associate itself in London or Middlesex with the homes of the people and that is the problem of transport in London. If there is a factory in a borough or urban district in Middlesex, the people working in it may be living in 10 or 15 different Metropolitan Boroughs. If we are to deal with the overspill of Middlesex and are to relate it to industry, the workers associated with the industries which are moved must come from a large number of urban districts and boroughs within that county and even within the County of London.
82 Therefore, I should have liked this Clause to include the possibility of Middlesex having the same standing as London. That is not possible now because we are discussing the Question that the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill, and the Amendment to which I have already referred has not been made. But I should like to ask the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary whether or not Middlesex County Council, who have a very effective planning authority and have a very fine record in a very difficult situation in the planning of Middlesex, could be encouraged to make some collective arrangement within the county for collective development outside the county in the receiving areas.
That would not be by any means as effective as would be an arrangement whereby Middlesex would be the statutory authority; but it would give an opportunity for having some responsible collective organisation and it would enable the planning authorities in the reception areas to have some general responsible authority with whom they could talk on the basis of joint planning and detailed application. I should be glad if that could be done.
§ Mr. Gibson
This Clause deals with the Exchequer contribution for the real core of this Bill. If no money is provided nothing will happen, and if very little money is provided very little will happen. To make the Bill a success and to deal effectively with this problem of overcrowding and congestion in our great industrial cities, a lot of money ought to be provided.
In Committee upstairs, some of us were pressing for the fullest possible application of these grants to housing authorities. I admit that this would have resulted in the necessity for a larger sum of money to be provided by the Treasury, but we insisted on this in order to deal with a very bad problem, not only in London, but in Oldham, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow, and similar large and over-populated cities. Time after time we were informed by the Minister that he did not envisage that this would help very much. In Standing Committee he said:I did not want to hold out exaggerated hopes,"—83 I think it was a pity to put it in this way—and I think of this Bill in terms of houses to be built each year. I cannot think that in the next three or four years the expansion is going to be enormous."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C;18th March, 1952, c. 44.]That depends entirely on the Minister and the success with which he presses the Treasury for money. It is obvious that there will be no large attacks on the problem of overspill population unless very considerable financial help is given. The financial problem is enormous even for wealthy local authorities such as the one to which I have had the honour to belong for 25 years, but even there we are governed strictly by our finance officers, because of the enormous cost of building estates outside London.
I should imagine that towns with a much lower rateable value than London, even if they had not got such an enormous housing problem, would find it extremely difficult to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill to overspill their population into towns which can be developed, where there is room for development, unless they can get considerable financial assistance. It was because I felt the Minister had been a little too cautious about this aspect of the Bill that I took the opportunity to press him in Committee on more than one occasion, though I cannot say with very great success.
It is quite clear that, unless there is to be a large sum of money provided in the way of grants, there will not be any large-scale re-housing of people under this Bill and it will, therefore, be a failure. I think it would be a mistake if the country got the impression that in passing this Bill we were solving the overspill population problem in our great industrial areas. We are not. The Bill provides machinery for doing the job a little more effectively than it is done at the moment under the existing law. It provides the chance to oil the machinery by Treasury grants; and unless the oil is there the machinery will not work.
I am not suggesting that the local authorities ought not themselves to bear a fair share of the burden. I do not believe in the State providing all the money for the local authorities. I think that we probably tend to reduce the sense of re- 84 sponsibility of even the best local authorities, such as my own. They must provide some money. In the present financial situation, faced with the present housing problem—the problem in London, for instance, which not only has 170,000 people——
The hon. Member is making a Second Reading speech which is not directed to this Clause.
§ Mr. Donnelly
With great respect, Mr. Hopkin Morris, may I submit that Clause 2 is the operative part of the Bill and deals with Exchequer contributions to receiving districts? May I respectfully submit that my hon. Friend's remarks come within the ambit of this Clause?
§ Mr. Gibson
I was trying to show that the problem with which Clause 2 purports to deal is a big one. That, I think, is admitted, but it will not be solved unless the Exchequer contributions provided are available in large amounts.
Time after time in the Committee upstairs the Minister made quite plain that the Government themselves visualised this, not as a first-class measure aimed at trying to do something in a big way, but as a small thing which would help to ease the problems of a few towns here and there and would not cost very much money. I think it would be a mistake for the country and for the local government representatives who are so enthusiastic about this problem to get the impression that, by using the provisions of this Bill in their future housing work, they will be able to make any large-scale impact on the enormous problem of congestion in our large towns.
§ Mr. Sparks
In spite of any limitations there may be in the Bill as a whole, I am sure the Committee will welcome the improvements that the Minister has suggested by way of Amendments. They have been improvements, although, in the opinion of some of us, their effect is very limited. The Amendment to incorporate areas of continuous urban development adjacent to the administrative county of London will to some extent help the problem of Middlesex, which was dealt with earlier.
85 It does not concede all that we would like in respect of Middlesex as a county, but it certainly gives to most of the county districts the power of participating in the scheme, so far as development within the county of Middlesex is concerned. Obviously it gives to the county districts of Middlesex the same status as a county district of any other county in so far as they may go outside into another county area and, in conjunction with the receiving authority, participate in a scheme.
But there is one great weakness about this Clause. The Minister, on the one hand, has been kind enough to enlarge the scope of the Bill, and this Clause in particular, with regard to county districts adjacent to the administrative county of London, but the Clause itself places them to some extent under a financial handicap, because, as will be noticed, the provisions of subsection (2) of the Clause lay down the kind of expenses which the Minister will consider in making Treasury contributions to councils and receiving districts.
There is a great omission here, and I think the Minister ought to have been prepared to include the participating authorities in addition to the county receiving districts. Some of the county receiving districts to which he has referred are very small authorities. They could not possibly develop a scheme within their own locality. Some of them have only part-time clerks who work a couple of hours a day. They have no technical staff at their disposal. It might well be that an exporting county district was equipped with the technical means of developing such a site, and the receiving authority might say to them, "You have the technical knowledge and the technical staff. You can do the job in our area."
If that is done the exporting authority is under a financial handicap, because the kinds of expenses enumerated by the Minister in paragraphs (a)and (c) are to be denied to the exporting authorities who may undertake this work in the area of the receiving authority. In order to be quite fair to all concerned, the Minister ought to consider, at a later stage, whether he should make the terms of subsection (2) applicable not merely to the receiving districts and to county councils, but also to the exporting authorities, who might themselves carry 86 the responsibility for development in the area of a receiving authority.
If it is thought proper to make a contribution to the receiving authority on the basis of paragraphs (a)to (f), it is equally just that that contribution should be available to the county district—the exporting area—which is carrying the burden of responsibility for developing the scheme. I do not know why he distinguishes between the receiving authority and the exporting authority in this matter, because it is obviously an unfair distinction.
I hope that the Minister will look into the matter and see whether he can balance this Clause fairly as between receiving and exporting authorities, based on the question of whichever one takes the responsibility for actually developing the scheme in a particular area.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
If I may refer for a moment to what my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) has said, I thought that Clause 7 did intend to do something in this connection. If it does not, I shall be rather surprised. I thought it was the intention that where the exporting authority was undertaking to do the work they would be in the same position as the receiving authority. If I have misunderstood the position, perhaps the Minister will be good enough to make it clear afterwards. If I am right, I think my hon. Friend's point is met.
The provision contained in Clause 7 is an important one, because it applies not only to an exporting authority but to the county council of the county district in which the area is situated. I thought that Clause 7 had widened the scope fairly well in order to permit a lot of people to come into the scheme for the purpose of development.
§ Mr. Sparks
That may be so with some authorities, but the financial contributions from the Treasury are based on Clause 10, which excludes county districts.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I thought that county districts would receive the advantage of these contributions. It is obviously the intention that the money should go to the area where the development is carried out, in order to meet the expenses of those who actually incur the expenditure. It would be quite illogical to make a contribution to an authority which had not incurred expenditure. I hope the Minis- 87 ter will make quite clear where the exporting authority comes in on this matter.
With regard to the question of the Greater London area and the limitations of Clause 2 in this respect, we have to recollect that the more completely developed the area immediately around the Green Belt the better it will be. It seems to me that the number of areas which will be available beyond the Green Belt will be extremely limited.
I hope that the Minister will find it possible to say that on this particular question, where there are likely to be a number of local authorities competing for a relatively few areas, he will issue the type of advice, in sufficiently strong terms, which will encourage a measure of co-operation between them to ensure that the best development takes place, in order that it shall not be limited to one lucky authority which may not necessarily have the most difficult problem, but shall be spread out over all the authorities in such a form that they will all be able to get some relief.
If one takes the area of Middlesex, beyond the Green Belt, it can look only to a relatively limited number of areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) has referred to the fact that there are 26 authorities in Middlesex who will be able to compete to go into the surrounding area. I do not wish to repeat the figures which I gave to the Committee in relation to the problem of overspill; but that problem is linked up with the question of good planning. While the Clause might have been strengthened by the inclusion of Middlesex, I think the object can be achieved by a good, strong directive suggesting that co-operation and joint consultation should take place. It would at least help to make the Clause operate rather better than it would do at present.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I apologise to the Committee for not having been here for the whole of the discussion on the Question that the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill. If I may make one or two points to follow up what has been said by my hon. Friends, I should like to say how much I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) has already said. He has been a great champion of the people of 88 Middlesex and he has done a great deal for them. The work he has done on the Middlesex County Council and his great experience of their problems show that what he says is very relevant to the administration of this Measure, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to accept all the suggestions which my hon. Friend made earlier and which he has been making again this afternoon, because they come from someone who knows much more about town planning than either the right hon. Gentleman or myself.
I think there are three very disturbing points about this Clause. They are disturbing not because of the legislative effect of the Clause but because of the indications of the administrative action which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) quite rightly spotlighted the shortage of money, about which the Minister has always moaned in the discussions on this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he is going to waste the time of this Committee by producing a Bill which he does not mean to implement because he has not the money, or whether he does mean to do something about it.
The right hon. Gentleman, in talking about spreading the butter thinly, and the small amount of the Exchequer contribution under Clause 2, has given this Committee no satisfaction, just as he gave the House no satisfaction on the Second Reading. There is no indication of what we are doing. The House of Commons has grown up with its powers because of its control of fiscal policies. It has had the central control over moneys voted by the British people to the Crown, and yet the right hon. Gentleman has the gross impertinence to come here and produce a Bill without giving any evidence of what he proposes to do. He should think again, because this is not the right way to treat the Committee.
Before we agree to this Clause, we should get some indication from the right hon. Gentleman as to his intentions. I know it is very difficult to get nothing out of nothing; but if he has something in his head about this matter I think he should be able to produce some kind of answer which will tell the Committee 89 exactly what they are doing when they agree to this Clause.
Secondly, I should like to press again the question of the unfair penalisation of some areas which do not come within the ambit of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman did not accept the Amendments we put down in the earlier stages. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) and I put down an Amendment today, which for reasons into which I need not go now has been ruled out of order. That Amendment would have brought into the orbit of this Clause many areas which do not come in even as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
Earlier in the discussion on the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman, I mentioned the example of Luton, which does not seem to be covered by this Bill at all. There is a great manufacturing town which has been penalised. There are many other areas, great, growing industrial centres, which the right hon. Gentleman is penalising because he is not prepared to accept in practice what he has already accepted in principle and to extend this Clause to include those towns.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and I am grateful to him. We feel that Luton is sadly in need of good Parliamentary representation and it is hard that Luton's claims should have to be pressed by my hon. Friend and myself. They should not be allowed to go by default. I feel that in some respects we shoulder the burden of trying to see that Luton is not forgotten.
The hon. Member should direct his attention to Clause 2, which is the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I am grateful to you, Mr. Hopkin Morris, but my complaint was that Luton was not included in Clause 2.
If the hon. Member had been here earlier he would have heard me point out that we cannot 90 discuss what is not in the Clause, but can discuss only what is in the Clause.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I apologise for saying that it would be desirable to have it in the Clause. I will try to keep in order for the rest of my remarks.
There seem one or two administrative problems which arise as a result of the fact that the county of London, quite rightly, is given special powers under the Bill, but the county of Middlesex is not given such powers. I wish to reiterate the plea which my hon. Friend the Member for Southall made about the need to see that the claims of Middlesex are not allowed to go by default. I am not asking now that they should be written into the Bill as a legislative act, but I am saying that, administratively, we should see that those claims are looked at under the Clause as it stands.
There are many other problems about which the right hon. Gentleman has been extremely vague. Some of the wording of the Bill seems a little difficult to understand. For instance, subsection (3) of the Clause reads:Contributions under this section which are towards annual rate fund contributions falling within paragraph (a)f the last preceding subsection, or towards periodical payments falling within paragraph (e) thereof, shall be by way of corresponding annual or periodical payments, and in other cases shall be by way of such lump sum or periodical payment or payments as the Minister may determine.I want to know why only the Minister has powers to determine that. Most towns want to know how they will stand. Before they put up schemes to the Department, they want to know what are their chances of receiving any grants for the schemes and proposals they make. They do not want to go to the trouble of negotiation and to raise high hopes and create a general atmosphere of enthusiasm and then find their hopes dashed.
The right hon. Gentleman could give a clear indication of his general policy during his tenure of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and of his intentions in assisting towns seeking to expand and what kind of towns he proposes to help. He should give a general indication to many local authorities in the possible receiving areas and large conurbations, whether or not it is worth while going ahead and producing proposals to help revive or assist their localities, to prevent a drift of population and also to help people coming from 91 crowded areas, slums and over-populated districts of London, Manchester and other cities.
Another point is the problem of the small country town in the midst of very good agricultural land. If the town expands it has either to increase its boundaries or the population has to go elsewhere. I can think of half a dozen country towns in the centre of fertile agricultural districts where it is extremely undesirable that the boundaries should be extended. If there is an overspill of the population it should go somewhere else altogether. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to correct me if I am wrong, but I understand those towns do not get help under this Bill. Can he propose any administrative action, within the terms of Clause 2, to help these country towns?
There seem to be three problems. We have no indication from the Minister of how much money is to be voted, how it is to be used and what is to happen to it, nor of what his general policy is to be. Yet he has the colossal cheek to get as far as this stage in this House without producing a single tangible expression of policy. I appreciate that there is a great shortage of policy on the benches opposite. That is one of the chief difficulties facing right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but I think we should get an expression of policy on how the Clause is to be implemented.
Secondly, I think that once more the right hon. Gentleman ought to have brought to his notice the protest we make against the number of omissions from this Clause, which might well have been avoided had the right hon. Gentleman been ready to adopt a slightly more tolerant attitude and shown himself willing.
Thirdly, I think the Minister ought to look at the problem of the small country towns with their real needs. There are very bad slums in these small towns. Picturesque exteriors may hide shocking conditions. The right hon. Gentleman, who wrote that admirable book, The Middle Way" which showed a great feeling of humanity for his fellow men, should go back to his middle way and think of his fellow men now that he is in a Ministerial position in which he can help them. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to show that he has some 92 policy, to show that he means business and is not wasting the time of the Committee.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
I am in something of a difficulty. If I abide by your Ruling Mr. Hopkin Morris, I must discuss what is in the Clause. But I shall then be in the difficulty that I shall be hardly able to answer any of the points raised in the course of the discussion because they are not in the Clause. Either I shall be accused of discourtesy for not answering, or I shall be ruled out of order for answering; but perhaps I may be allowed a little lattitude to answer one or two of the points without trespassing too far one way or the other.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) made a point about the main feature of the Clause which is, as it always was in the Bill from the start and in the whole plan of the Bill, to give support to those receiving authorities which could not carry these burdens themselves. That, after all, is the purpose of the Bill—that the money should go where the money is going to be spent; but there are, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), I think, pointed out, some provisions in Clause 7 which to some extent meet the point the hon. Gentleman had in mind.
The hon. Member for Southall, who always speaks with authority on these matters, and who, in the Committee, helped us very much, made an appeal to me to give helpful advice to the local authorities as to how this Bill should be used. That, I am sure, we shall be able to do. My officers are in constant touch with the local authorities, and are always discussing where expansions or housing problems should be assisted in one way or another, and once this Bill becomes an Act they will go on doing so. Indeed, they are already doing so hoping it will become an Act, and we are holding those discussions with the local authorities. If there is anything more I can do to help, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not fail to get in touch with me on specific questions.
The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) made a point again that he made in Committee. He said that this was not a great Bill; it was not going to do immense things; it was not going to cost vast expenditure of money on the building of houses. As I 93 pointed out to him in Committee, he cannot have it both ways. I understood that it was the whole line of his party that it was physically impossible to build more than 170,000 to 190,000 houses a year in this country. Now they are attacking me because I am not doing more than I am; now the hon. Gentleman says we should build hundreds of thousands more houses and spend millions of pounds. I shall do all I can, but the problem is not one of money provided under the Bill. The problem, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and as we all know, is how the whole resources of the country can be so adapted as to produce the maximum possible results.
As for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), I should have made some reply to him, but he was good enough to say he did not expect any reply, because, he said, nothing comes out of nothing, and so I would not try to match his vast intellectual powers by anything that would come from my vacuous mind. All I can say is that, if most of the things he said were irrelevant, all the rest were offensive.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), as usual, made his point with great firmness and skill. I do not want to go into the Middlesex argument. I do not know whether later Amendments will be called or not. I think the hon. Gentleman will admit that, with the Clause as now before the Committee, with the Amendment we have accepted, we have gone a long way to help the Middlesex position, because in the event of a moving of population from Middlesex into a neighbouring county it would be a movement out of one of the constituent county districts, and therefore that position will be covered by the Clause as amended. I think that that will, at any rate, help to meet some of the points the hon. Gentleman has in mind. That is quite different from the later Amendments. However, I think the Clause moves a little in the direction of meeting his difficulties.
I hope that the Committee will feel that this Clause ought to be agreed to. I should be sorry if the Committee thought it necessary to divide against the Clause. I am sure it will be useful. Indeed, it is the predominant Clause of the Bill. I do not claim that we shall be able to make vast, fantastic progress; but 94 I think we shall be able to make useful progress, and that, whatever may be the numbers of houses that can be built in the next five or 10 years with the resources available, this Bill will help to see that they are built in the right places—and that, after all, is as important as is the number that is built.
§ Mr. Hale
Let me say at once that the right hon. Gentleman is under a complete misapprehension as to what hon. Members on this side of the Committee have said in general about the housing programme. It really should be put right. The Committee will remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), when he was Minister of Health and responsible for housing, said that the need for priorities was the need of Christianity. There was a limit to the building force. It was not a question then of money, but of men and materials. We could build schools, we could build hospitals, we could construct electricity generating stations, or we could build houses.
Somebody had to make the wretched decision, which was to have priority, which was to have the most substantial proportion of the building force—how much of the building force and of the materials should be allocated to repairs under controls, how much should be allocated to new construction, how much should be allocated for the rebuilding of the devastated areas, how much should be provided for the motive power of industry, and so on.
That was the tragic decision that had to be faced by any Minister. The right hon. Gentleman, for purely party electoral purposes, said we should build no schools or electricity stations but rely on those the Socialist Government had already provided, and that we should cut down our expenditure on everything.
§ Mr. Hale
I entirely agree, Sir Charles, but I should not have had to make these observations if it had not been necessary to correct the obvious misapprehension in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not take the same view of his intellectual capacities as that expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), and I am perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman has 95 apprehended by now what I should have said if I had been able to conclude this particular dissertion, as I should have done but for your well-timed intervention, Sir Charles.
But there are some points about this Clause which need elucidation, and I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he must not just say to the Committee, "I am not prepared to tell you anything about my intentions. I am not prepared to give you any guidance or assistance as to how the Government will read this Bill. I am not prepared to say anything of the legislative priorities. I am not prepared to say whether we are going to implement this with priority in the development of the new towns. I am not prepared to say anything but that we just take general powers."
I concede at once—in so far as I have the right to concede anything in the course of the argument; and I use the word only in so far as my own contribution to the discussion is concerned—that, in a matter of this kind, the Minister must have wide powers. We Socialists always have accepted the view that the State must have wide powers in planning and control, but no Socialist has ever said that Parliament should surrender altogether its duty of watchdog over public expenditure, or that Parliament should abdicate its right to watch how and when public money is expended.
A great number of the points that have been put so ably by my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee have not been answered at all by the right hon. Gentleman—not answered at all. He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke of rudeness. My hon. Friend is perfectly competent to defend himself on that charge if he likes, but the right hon. Gentleman did not make an attempt to answer the very reasonable arguments my hon. Friend put so ably—and those arguments came from one who has had very long experience of town planning and who has very special knowledge of town planning, so that his arguments, one would have thought, would have been treated with more respect that they were.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) raised an important question—and here, perhaps, I rather part company with him in the argument—that small councils have not the services of 96 full-time experts, but, perhaps, only of part-time clerks, and part-time sanitary inspectors, and have not really skilled surveyors to help them. It may be difficult for them to carry out a scheme of this kind, or, indeed, to formulate one.
My own view is that when we come to consider the whole question of local government some of those authorities will have to go. In part, they are already going through expansions that are taking place. There is a case in Lancashire, that of Lymehurst Rural District Council, which is losing a bit to Ashton and a little bit to Oldham, but is still maintaining an individual existence on what territory it has left. We are entitled to know what the Minister's intentions are under Clause 2.
I do not agree that Clause 7 provides the machinery for giving the sort of assistance that my hon. Friend the Member for Acton had in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke referred to subsection (3) of this Clause. It is a sorry and unhappy task to discuss the activities of the Parliamentary draftsman. Everybody knows that he faces tasks of very great difficulty, and that he brings to them very great ability. But when we look at this very long Clause it would seem that it started as an idea and developed into a curious combination of almost incomprehensible sentences.
The Clause does not say anything at all in the end. We are given a fantastic list, now extended by the addition of drainage, sewerage, and so on, of the sorts of things to which the Minister can contribute. Why it did not say that he could contribute to the services of a housing estate—to the building of houses, and so on—in one generic Clause I do not know.
In subsection (3) we get this extraordinary wording:Contributions under this section which are towards annual rate fund contributions falling within paragraph (a)of the last preceding subsection, or towards periodical payments falling within paragraph (e)thereof, shall be by way of corresponding annual or periodical payments, and in other cases shall be by way of such lump sum or periodical payment or payments as the Minister may determine.'What that means technically is that for some reason the Minister has said in respect of paragraphs (a)and (e) he will make periodical payments and he undertakes to do so. There is not the slightest 97 reason to say that. He could make them periodically without binding himself to do so in the Clause.
The rest of the Clause really means that the Minister can make contributions in any way he likes, either by a periodical payment, or on an architect's certificate, a work's certificate, a certificate of development, and so on. Why statutes do not use perfectly simple and homely language and say, "It is a matter for the discretion of the Minister" and leave it at that, I do not know. That sentence would cover the lot.
§ Mr. Hale
Yes, but I am not at all sure that I want to let any Conservative Minister do as he likes. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the Clause would be just as effective, would mean just as much and would not actually give the Minister any wider powers than he has already got under the Clause.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) both raised the question of how the Bill is to be implemented. Surely, before we leave this Clause, which governs the main question of the Government's contribution to the actual working of the scheme, the Committee are entitled to be told something about the Government's intentions.
Let me remind the Committee of the position under the Clause. The contributions to which we are referring in this Clause do not involve any extra contribution by the Exchequer at all. The extra contributions would come under Clause 10, as I apprehend the Bill. In the main, the sort of contributions we are talking about under Clause 2 are mere transfers, as it were, from the payments to be made for the Oldham County Borough Council for building within their own area to the Lymehurst Rural District Council, which is undertaking a building scheme on behalf of Oldham and will allot the houses to Oldham people.
The grant given to the receiving area in respect of the exporting area involves no extra expenditure on the Exchequer. That, of course, is not completely true, because in dealing with a large housing 98 estate outside the area there is some extra expense, extra planning, and so on. But in the main, under Clause 2 the expenditure envisaged is merely a transfer from one authority to the other, so even if we face the implications of this Bill really being introduced with the intention of dealing with this very substantial and serious question of overspill in the great conurbations of the country, even if we accept that the Government are serious in their intentions, under this Bill there really is not a very wide additional obligation being placed upon the Exchequer.
Surely, therefore, we are entitled to be told by the right hon. Gentleman how he proposes to administer this Clause. At the moment I am referring to Clause 2, and Clause 2 only. That is the Clause which imposes the obligation to make the initial payments, to pass initial schemes, to consider the initial proposals. It is well known that there are many schemes already in existence and formulated for dealing with overspill. It is well known that there are many areas already in need of assistance and guidance.
Will the Minister not tell us what his intentions are with regard to those? I know that under this Clause the payments have to be made with the approval of the Treasury. I have on previous occasions objected to that, and have indeed tabled an Amendment for the Report stage of the Bill on that matter, although it is for you, Sir Charles, to decide whether or not it can be called.
The right hon. Gentleman should tell the Committee whether he had seen the Treasury about this. Has he got a clear understanding of the Treasury's intention? Has he been given general authority to go on with this method, if it be for only six or seven months? Has he power now to say to the Committee, "Certain proposals are already approved in principle, in respect of which I intend to formulate undertakings under Clause 2 of the Bill."
There is no question that the information is available in the Department. There is no question that these matters have been subject to discussions between the exporting councils and the receiving councils. Indeed, the very necessity for the Bill arose when it was found that some of these schemes could not be carried out under the existing law merely because of this extraordinary technical 99 difficulty which Clause 2 is designed to remedy—the right which did not previously exist under any statute to make these grants to an area which was receiving houses on behalf of another corporation, instead of the normal method of making the grant to the area actually doing the building in its own area. That is the problem.
I do not want to labour the matter, and I hope I am not labouring the matter. But this is an important Clause; it is the Clause which provides the whole machinery. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, agree at once that if this Clause goes the whole of the Bill goes; the rest of the Bill becomes meaningless and quite impracticable.
Therefore, I submit that at this stage the Committee is entitled to say to the right hon. Gentleman, "We ask you now to give us some information." If he refuses to give us that information, then, I suggest, we have a right to doubt his sincerity in introducing this Socialist Measure at all. He himself defended it on Second Reading by saying that, after all, it was on the stocks; it was already drafted; it had already been considered by the previous Government, and that it was therefore being introduced for this purpose.
Is this Bill being introduced sincerely with an intention of trying to give help to the industrial areas of Lancashire and London, to the big overcrowded areas of the country, or is it not? If it is, what possible reason can there be for the right hon. Gentleman not being forthright about it, and not coming to the Committee and saying what no one would blame him for saying, "I am not going to be precise and specific about this. I am not going to give you the precise details about everything I am going to do, but I am prepared to say that I have discussed this matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as a result of those discussions I am now in a position to say that in the main we can allow a sum of £5 million or £6 million out straight away in doing this; that in the main we are prepared at this moment to give some words of encouragement to harassed county boroughs so that they can come forward and formulate proposals at once with some hope of getting them approved."
100 If that were done it would mean that here and now, at this very appropriate stage of the year—because two months' delay in building now is a very serious matter—these harassed boroughs, who at the moment cannot go forward with their schemes until the Bill is passed because there is no chance of getting a grant until we have got Clause 2, would be in a position to formulate proposals at once and come up and see the Minister and say, "Here is our hard case. Can we go on and have a general undertaking? Can we get on with this mighty job?"
I think it important that that should be done, and I hope that the right hon. hon. Gentleman will do it. I have never accused him of discourtesy. I have always said that he is very courteous. But I think it would be discourteous to the Committee if, at this stage, he did not give us much more information about the intentions of Her Majesty's Government than we have had up to this moment.
§ Mr. Benn
It is at a moment like this that we could wish that we had a coordinator dealing with the work of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. Although we have had no answer from him, if he had been subject to the supervision of a co-ordinator in another place we might have heard something about the Government's intentions, and as likely as not they would have conflicted with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, which might possibly have led to a statement from the Prime Minister and to the resignation of the Minister, and we might have seen a little more clearly in the end what were the Government's intentions.
I join with my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), who are both lawyers, in criticising the drafting of this Clause. My two hon. Friends make their living by explaining and interpreting the nonsense which we enact. I must say that when I look at some parts of this Clause, that, for instance, dealing with sewerage, I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not tell the hon. Member for Pembroke that he was introducing the development of main sewerage or those things which, in the opinion of the Minister, are deemed to be sewerage.
101 At any rate, as a complete layman, I must accept the wording of this Clause. It is not for me to query it. It seems a little strange that there should be all these complicated provisions laid down when it is far from clear, as many of my hon. Friends have stressed, how much money is going to be made available. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is going to be easy to get money out of the Treasury, then I think he must be very much mistaken. The Minister of Education has such a reputation for cutting out frills that I believe that she would approach a Bikini bathing suit with that intention. We have seen with what hard hearts the Treasury can turn their attention to such problems as blitzed cities, and we have been told that if we are to lead a housing crusade something else has got to go.
This Clause has been amended in one respect which seems to me to be important. Whereas before the Minister might, with the approval of the Treasury, undertake to make contributions, now, we are told, the Minister may, in pursuance of undertakings, with the approval of the Treasury, make contributions. I do not know whether my interpretation of that subsection means that in future the Minister can make an undertaking without the approval of the Treasury but will be dependent on the Treasury's approval to pay the money, or whether it is simply another of the drafting jungles which I do not understand.
It seems to me that it is on that point that we have the key to the whole problem of Treasury control. If this Clause were to say that the Minister could make undertakings to pay the moneys in accordance with certain schemes to be approved, but that the moneys would not be forthcoming without Treasury approval, I do not think that many hon. Members would disagree with that arrangement. Obviously, the Treasury must control the amount of money to be paid out.
What we have protested against again and again on this and on other Bills is that some troglodyte in the Treasury should have the right to vet the schemes. I hope that when this matter is discussed, or if it is discussed by the hon. Member for Oldham, West on the Report stage, we shall have some assurance about that from the right hon. Gentleman. At any rate, it is a question of finance which is 102 going to condition the success or failure of this Bill, and also, I suspect, the success or failure of the right hon. Gentleman as Minister for Housing and Local Government.
For the Minister, who is supposed to be leading a housing crusade, to stand up at that Box and say that he expects this to be a big Bill, but that he can only build 180,000 houses is like St. George protesting that he could not kill the dragon on the ground that previous attempts had failed. The right hon. Gentleman is expecting to make use of the methods contained in this Bill in order to increase the number of houses built in this country, and also to adopt a system which is rather more satisfactory for dealing with the overspill of which we have all complained in the past. I hope that he will be able to bring his influence to bear on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that the money is made available.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget
I ask the Minister, now that we have gone all through this, to have another look at this Clause from a drafting point of view to see whether we cannot have something better. Perhaps it is too late for that to be done here, but it might be done in another place. This Clause has grown. It has been referred to one Department, which says, "Let us put this in," and to another Department, which says, "Let us put that in," and it has got longer and longer and more meaningless as it has gone on. To require one and a half pages of Statute to do what this Clause intends to do is fantastic.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give me his attention for a moment, and to go through this to see how much of this verbiage is really necessary. It starts off:This section applies to development to be carried out after the passing of this Act.…Then in subsection (4, a,)we have:For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section—(a)development carried out between the thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and fifty-one, and the passing of this Act shall be treated as if it had been development to be carried out after the passing of this Act if the Minister is satisfied that it was carried out as part of, or with a view to the future carrying out of, such development as is mentioned in the said subsection (1). …I ask the Minister: why not cut out all of paragraph (a,)and simply say: "This 103 section applies to development to be carried out after the thirty-first day of July, 1951"? That is what we want. Why have about 10 lines of not very elegant language instead of putting what he wants to say in the first sentence? What is the difficulty about it? Perhaps someone on the Treasury Bench will tell me?
Then there is subsection (1, a):that it will be town development within the meaning of this Act on a substantial scale. …That seems to be all right. Paragraph (b)states:that the provision of the accommodation will relieve congestion or over-population inTo which we have certain additions and Amendments today:
- (i) a county borough,
- (ii) the administrative county of London, or
- (iii) a county district outside the county. …"… a county district in an area of continuous urban development adjacent to the administrative county of London or in an area of continuous urban development adjacent to another big centre of population. …What is the limitation? What has he cut down—the general meaning that the provision of the accommodation will relieve congestion of population? What do we intend to cut out? Will the Minister tell me that? We have three subsections getting wider and wider. What do they now omit? They have no meaning if they do not omit something. What population, what congestion and what overpopulation is not to be relieved? Can the Minister tell us that? If some congestion and some over-population is not to be relieved, why is it not to be relieved? Why not simply leave out subsection (1, b,)sub-paragraphs (i), (ii), and (iii) and simply have: "the provision of the accommodation will relieve congestion or over-population"?
What is the difficulty with that? Can we have a reply? I will give way to the Minister if he will tell me what the difficulty is. I know that I have not had the advantage of hearing the earlier part of this debate, though I have read all that was said in Committee, but I had to attend a Select Committee at that time. Perhaps the Minister will tell me why he wants these three paragraphs.
104 Then we come to subsection (2):The Minister may"—Then we have the Amendment which has come in today:in pursuance of undertakings in that behalf given by him with the approval of the Treasury, make contributions to the council of a receiving district towards expenses of any of the following kinds"—Why not "of any kind"?incurred by them in relation to development to which this section applies.Then what is the point of:The said kinds of expenses. …If they have any meaning at all they are words of limitation to make the general words of the Clause mean less than they otherwise would. What does the Minister want to exclude? Why does he wish to limit the powers here? When one looks at paragraphs (a,)(b), (c), (dand) (e)and the latest addition (f), it would appear that they cover everything one could think of. If the object is simply to write down everything the Minister can think of, what is the point of writing it down at all when it is only a limitation? I am sorry if I am being a little long, but when one gets no reply it is always apt to make one a little longer.
§ Mr. Paget
That is a difficulty when one is coping with this sort of thing. We have paragraph (a):annual rate fund contributions under the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946, in respect of houses provided in the course of development. …Here are the things described:(b)expenses of acquiring land on which any of the development is carried out, or of acquiring land in substitution for land on which any of the development is carried out;(c) expenses of site preparation and other works for making the area of land within which the accommodation is to be provided suitable for the provision and use thereof;(d)expenses of providing, extending or improving, in the course of the development, main water supplies, main sewerage, or sewage disposal services:(e)payments under section one hundred and twenty-three of the Public Health Act, 1936, or under section thirty-six or thirty-seven of the Water Act, 1945 (which sections relate to the giving of undertakings by local authorities to suppliers of water for payments in connection with action needed for making 105 supplies available) in respect of action needed for the purposes or in consequence of the development.Apparently the Minister thought he had left something out, and so today we get an addition, and that is:(f) payments made by virtue of this Act to a river board or drainage authority in respect of expenses incurred by that river board or drainage authority in the execution of works rendered necessary by the carrying out of the development.What does the Minister mean to leave out? Unless he means to leave out something there is no point in having any of that at all. It would be amply sufficient if we confined it to the words "make contributions to the council of the receiving district towards expenses of any kind incurred by them in relation to development to which this section applies."
What are the expenses incurred by them in relation to developments to which the Clause applies with regard to which the Minister does not want to have power to make contributions? Can the Minister tell us that? Unless there is something which he deliberately wants to exclude, there is no point whatever in the whole of that. It can come straight out because it has no meaning except as words of limitation.
We now come to subsection (3):Contributions under this section which are towards annual rate fund contributions falling within paragraph (a)of the last preceding subsection, or towards periodical payments falling within paragraph (e) thereof, shall be by way of corresponding annual or periodical payments, and in other cases shall be by way of such lump sum or periodical payment or payments as the Minister may determine.We have had no inkling of the point of putting that in. Will somebody tell us? If we leave that out, the Minister can make his payments in any form or way he likes; there is nothing to prevent him. Therefore, there is no point in the subsection unless one wants to stop the Minister making payments in some way. Will the Minister tell us in what way he wants to be stopped from making payments?
Unless the Minister tells us that there is no point to the subsection and it is simply words of limitation. It does not explain anything and it does not give him any additional power. The general power gives him the ability to make his 106 payments how he chooses. The subsection cuts down. What form of payment does he not want to make if he wishes? Can he tell us that? Unless there is something which it is intended to cut out, the subsection is unnecessary.
I have dealt with subsection (4, a). Why cannot that simply occur as a single date in the first line? There may be a reason, and I should like to hear it. It seems unnecessary to have a separate subsection with a paragraph of great length when a single date in the first line would provide all that the subsection provides.
Finally, we come to paragraph (b):the reference in paragraph (b)of the said subsection (1) to the county in which the development is to be carried out shall, in relation to development partly in one county and partly in another, be construed as a reference to the county in which the part of the development which is in the opinion of the Minister the more substantial is to be carried out.Why on earth have a special subsection to tell us that a previous subsection does not mean what it says instead of simply making it mean what it says? Why not say, "the county or the county in which the most substantial part of the development takes place…"? What is the objection to inserting those words and having subsection (1) say what it was intended to mean, instead of putting it in the form in which it does not mean what it was intended to mean and having another paragraph of great length later on to tell one that it means something else? With a great economy of words, one could do it all in the first paragraph.
One has seen progressively worsening drafting here. This Clause has meandered into a tangle of incomprehensible verbiage. It has spread, as everyone has got another idea and another idea, until it has become a veritable absurdity. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at this in the light of what I have said and to introduce in another place a nice simple Clause which will give him all he wants in about one-tenth of the space. Remember that each one of these unnecessary additions—[Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman may laugh, but surely he has the experience to show that wherever anything unnecessary is put into an Act of Parliament it is never known what trouble it may give, what difficulties it may introduce into the courts and what thousands of pounds in expenditure may 107 be involved in construing words which ought never to have been put there at all.
If it is left open we may do the things that we want to do in this Bill, but if we try to describe every circumstance we are certain to miss the one which we want to include just because we did not think of it at the time. All this description is a waste of time and an embarrassment. I know it has grown to the point where simplicity does not occur to anyone, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter and see whether he cannot simplify this Clause.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I shall not keep the Committee for more than a minute but I want to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if he thought I was being offensive. Nothing was further from my mind and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that. I apologise and I am extremely sorry if I hurt his feelings. However, we ought to press. this point about the money.
We ought to know what we are doing, and we ought to have an answer from the right hon. Gentleman. I saw the Minister of State for Economic Affairs come into the Chamber a short time ago. Unfortunately he is no longer with us, but at one time he was Chairman of the Council of the Town and Country Planning Association. I know he had to give up all thoughts of planning when he joined the Government, but that is neither here nor there. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary, whose bicycling feats I always admire, would go and fetch the Minister.
§ Mr. Donnelly
I am sorry I did not notice the right hon. Gentleman, and I apologise again. The bicycling will not be needed after all.
I think we ought to have some answer about the extent to which the Government 108 propose to make private grants under this Clause. We want to know where we are going, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not think we are unreasonable if we insist on some kind of an answer, because we should only be moving in harmony with the traditions of this Committee and with our duty to the people who sent us here. We do not mind if the answer is not detailed, but we want some answer, because we want to have some idea what we are doing. It may be fashionable these days not to know what we are doing, but we should like to know and we press the right hon. Gentleman on this point.
I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman is not going to make the same speech over again, for that would be repetition.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I could not resist such an appeal from the hon. and learned Gentleman, even though he has only been here for a short period during the discussion on the Clause. He made a long speech in favour of economy of words, and he made an appeal for this Clause to be re-drafted and then by general agreement brought back from another place in the shape of an Amendment. I never before had the experience of introducing a non-controversial Bill which is supposed to have the general approval of all sides of the House. I am bound to say that after this experience I would rather have a solid, controversial Bill where we could get on. This is a Bill with which everybody agrees. I hope that in that spirit we may make progress.
I will strike this bargain with the hon. and learned Gentleman. If I can make 109 an arrangement for the Bill to be completely re-drafted to meet the wishes of the Parliamentary draftsmen and to be introduced in another place, dealing with all the things which ought to be in the Bill, and can have an assurance that it would be carried by the whole House without further ado, then I will try to meet him. What he was saying probably was that the modern practice of Parliamentary drafting might perhaps be simplified and shortened. All I can say is that this Bill was drafted in the way it is because I am advised by those whose advice I must take that it is the proper way to draft it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.