HC Deb 10 June 1952 vol 502 cc153-65
Mr. Hale

I beg to move, in page 3, line 27, to leave out from "as," to the end of lice 29, and to insert: may be reasonably necessary for securing the intended relief from congestion or over population in the area to be relieved and the making of any necessary provision for accommodation for carrying on any industrial or other activities and the provision of any necessary additional public services in the receiving district. This matter was raised briefly on the Committee stage on a Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), and it was also raised in discussion on Clause 1 when I recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) made a powerful appeal which went unanswered.

As I understand, the view of the Minister is that as some words in Clause 1 refer to "with or without industrial activities," that gives sufficient power to raise this exceedingly important matter. With respect, I would venture to cross swords with him and to doubt the accuracy of the advice which he has been given. I am glad to see that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is present. This is a legal matter and it is a general principle of legal contracts that if there is a series of general words followed by a series of limitations, the limitations themselves will, of course, overrule the generalities of the preceding Clause and we should be bound by the limitations.

I consider it by no means certain that phrases in Clause 1 can have any meaning in relation to Clauses 2 or 3 unless they are specifically inserted, particularly after the details in Clause 2, to which reference has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). This is a very serious matter. It may indeed prove to be the most important Amendment—if I may say so of an Amendment in my own name—which we shall discuss. The whole principle and nature of housing development in connection with overspill population is bound up with this particular proposition. Are we to be limited to housing or are we to be able to evolve a scheme for the provision of accommodation with the necessary amenities? This is vital.

In Lancashire it might suit one or two areas to combine in planning the accommodation of their overspill in one area, so that there would be a bigger and more effective scheme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, to provide houses without any amenities, without clubs, churches and chapels, is to destroy the value of the scheme. But the Minister, in answer to the intervention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) talked, it may be jokingly, about Black Country overspill being accommodated in Montgomery.

That may be a pleasant exaggeration, but the right hon. Gentleman has always talked of this as a Bill in which one can hop from one area to another, whether they be separated by a green belt or by a range of mountains or moors unsuitable for development. In the latter cases the population will be sent a long way from the parent town.

It is a tragedy that Parliamentary draftsmen in Whitehall are apt to consider the problems of London and not those of Oldham. But let us remember that if the Oldham population is to have a housing scheme for overspill in an area of Yorkshire over the hills, there will be no railway service at all and that today the provision of a railway service is virtually impracticable. Will these people have to rely on road transport for all their needs or will occupation be provided in the new town?

All those interested in the future of Lancashire will know that one of the tragedies so far as employment is concerned is what used to be called the "black, satanic mills" of three and four storeys which have long since ceased to be suitable for modern productive effort. I had the opportunity in Australia some years ago of seeing a modern mill where there was ample ground available and where every process was done under a series of adjoining roofs. There was ample space and facilities for the recreation and the feeding of the staff, and so on. It is with that sort of factory that Lancashire will have to compete in future in the old upright mills carrying out one process on one floor and another up above.

I am told that in Lancashire mills which made huge profits last year are sacking their men and selling looms and machines for export abroad. We have to face the needs of the Lancashire of the future. We really cannot do it on this basis unless we are serious about the question of employment. We cannot be serious about the question of employment unless we are serious about the provision of modern facilities for employment, modern factories and places of work.

This is not merely the problem of the textile industry. I am glad to see present my hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams). He will know of these facts. For the last three years there has been the dreadful threat of a move by Platts, Bros, and Co., Ltd. who employ thousands of engineers. There has been the threat not because there is not sufficient work or because relations are not good between management and men, but because the factory is old and derelict, and involves so much extra labour due to its lack of communications and planning, that the company want to move to Barton on the other side of Manchester where there is a big modern factory at their disposal. These are vital matters.

I have the greatest admiration for the Minister, but I do not think that he is talking seriously this afternoon at a time when we are dealing with the whole future of our people. I am dealing with a town that is particularly stricken. He must face up to this problem. A few minutes ago we had an appeal that we should be brief. That appeal was supported from the opposite side of the House by long speeches. Every speech made from this side has been interrupted by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson). I counted seven or eight interventions on his part during that discussion. Why blame us if the discussion took some time? Certainly, it was prolonged by the wholly inadequate and very unfortunate answer which the Parliamentary Secretary purported to give.

9.30 p.m.

In dealing with this Bill, we have to reconsider to some extent a good deal of our housing policy. We planned, in a period of full employment, to build decent houses and ample accommodation—three-bedroom houses in which a family's needs would be met—and I have always supported that.

I am now facing the tragedy—and it is a tragedy—that people cannot pay their rents and that rents are going up. People who have waited for years, living with large families in overcrowded conditions, are now withdrawing their names from the housing lists because they cannot face the financial burden. We ought seriously to consider either the provision of full employment again or some modification which will try to meet these conditions in the areas affected.

If we are planning to build a large number of houses, we ought to think of a central block of buildings which will include guest rooms in cases where houses are fully occupied and which are available for use at short notice and at a low rent, and we must also think of providing canteen facilities. These things are much more vital to a housewife in areas where housewives themselves frequently work than the provision of other amenities to which we have given consideration. We certainly ought to have a library in the centre of a big estate.

The first and most vital consideration, however, is that, where we are taking people a long way, we have to provide employment for them and must provide opportunities and space for industries of the type to which they are accustomed. This has more than one implication, because, of course, this is the vital prelude to the town planning of the old towns, which will, at some time, have to shed some of these bad and broken-down mills and factories and let them go. Before we embark on the town planning of our old towns, let us be sure that we have the alternative provisions ready.

Mr. Gibson

I beg to second the Amendment.

This really raises a first-class issue. We have had a discussion today on the possibility of this Bill becoming an effective Act, on large areas of houses being built and on a large number of families being transferred to these new estates, but, time and again, it has been complained that housing authorities like my own have built large estates without finding employment for the tenants who went to live on those estates. That never was completely true of the L.C.C., but it is a criticism which could have been made at one time, and which can be made even now of many local housing authorities.

I suggest to the House that it really is vital that if, in the development of an existing town, large numbers of people are brought from other towns, we should make sure as far as we reasonably can that there are opportunities for employment for the men and women, the boys and girls, who may be brought into that town. If they do not do that we shall fail in one of the essential objects of town planning, and create a problem that will raise fresh difficulties both for the receiving and the exporting authorities.

I have had experience of the way this is working out. I have myself been concerned with a number of large housing estates outside London. I have in mind one at Woking, which is now being developed. Before a final decision to purchase the land was made, inquiries were made about the possibility of industrial development there to provide employment.

There turned out to be some industrial development. We were able to make additional arrangements for further industrial development, and when that estate is created there will be a fair amount of employment for the boys, girls, and women, and a good deal for the men, who will be transferred there from London. The only trouble is that the Board of Trade take such a long time to make up their mind about the permits for firms willing to transfer establishments to such districts. I have strong feelings on that, but it would be out of order to discuss them now.

I mention all this to show how important is this Amendment, which provides that one of the conditions to be laid down shall be, that with the land for building houses there must be also provided land upon which industrial and other developments can take place, so that employment may be provided—and not only employment, but public services such as swimming baths or tennis courts or libraries, about which there has always been great difficulty in getting sites.

I should have thought that this was one of those Amendments the Minister would have been very glad to accept. It seems to me in no way to detract from the Bill—or from the money to be provided under the Bill, although, so far, we have not been able to discover how much money is to be provided, or, indeed, whether any at all will be provided. I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.

Mr. H. Macmillan

There is. I think, very little difference of purpose between the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and myself. As he said at the beginning of his speech, when he was more concerned with the Amendment, and before he got on to the more rhetorical part, it is really rather a legal question as to the meaning of these words or of other words. The hon. Gentleman doubted whether I had been well advised by those whose duty it is to advise me. I shall refer mainly to that point, because I have absolute sympathy with what he wants to do. Industrial development is one of the main purposes which can be assisted by the town developments here contemplated.

However, I think that in this Clause what we really have in mind is conditions which the Minister may make. They are not conditions about the objectives of the development. That is all laid down in Clauses 1 and 2. What we have in mind here is the laying down of conditions about how houses should be dispersed, what payments should be made, how accounts should be kept, and, generally, the working condition of the scheme, not the objectives of the scheme but the working arrangements for the scheme, which are something quite different. I think it would be quite inappropriate here to say that when he is making these payments he can make conditions, and then bring in all this, which is simply another way of drafting what we have tried, perhaps wrongly, to do in Clauses 1 and 2, which concern the main purpose and objective of the whole development.

In Committee we spent a good deal of time on Clauses I and 2 in trying to draft what was really the purpose of the thing. We did not altogether agree, but I think that we ended up by agreeing that Clauses 1 and 2 set out what we were trying to do. Clause 3 has in mind conditions of a quite different kind which the Minister would make; what I would call the operating conditions in order to see that any scheme was properly carried out by the authorities. All the things the hon. Gentleman wants done are fully covered in Clauses 1 and 2—industrial development, and all the rest—and I think it would be foolish to tie the Minister to making conditions for securing the implementation of the objectives laid down in Clauses 1 and 2.

Mr. Hale

What is in Clause 2?

Mr. Macmillan

All the things that can be done.

Mr. Hale

That is the whole point I am making.

Mr. Macmillan

Clause 1 is for the purpose of providing accommodation for residential purposes (with or without accommodation for the carrying on of industrial or other activities …). Clause 2 lays down all the various things for which contributions can be made. Then we come to Clause 3, which concerns the conditions for operating the scheme. That is what we had in mind, and, although I agree the Amendment is another way of trying to describe what we would like to do, I think it would not come properly within Clause 3.

Mr. Hale

Clause 3 specifically says that the Minister may lay down, as conditions to which payment of the contributions undertaken to be made is to be subject, such conditions as it may appear to him to be expedient to impose for securing the intended relief from congestion or overpopulation. If that is the type of condition, why not relief from unemployment, and so on? Surely this is the only place where it can go.

Mr. Macmillan

The conditions would be the laying down of how the scheme is to be carried out. I cannot make a scheme for doing something quite different, for providing something not for the purpose of that relief. It is merely limited to that. The purposes we have in mind, are, I think, laid down in Clause I. Those words are put in to refer back to that; in other words saying, "I could not make conditions about a scheme to do something entirely remote from this purpose of moving population."

I think we agreed in Committee that this was not the Clause where the definition of the objectives should be put. Whether we define them rightly or wrongly is another thing; we have passed that. This is not the Clause which would be suitable for this purpose, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that, in my view, that is the proper reading of the Clause.

Mr. Donnelly

I am a little confused. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Of course I am confused if I have to look at hon. Gentlemen opposite for most of the day. Who would not be? I am a bit confused by the Minister, because an hour or two ago he was telling me that this was primarily a housing Bill when I pressed him on the question of industrial development, and after a lot of persuasion and coaxing I managed to draw him to the Dispatch Box to give me some elucidation of, I think. Clause 10 in Committee.

Now he comes along quite blandly, having read another page of his brief, to find that the Bill contains industrial development proposals, as a result of having to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale).

Mr. Macmillan indicated dissent.

Mr. Donnelly

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. He complained earlier on about my being discourteous. He must be very discourteous if he has not read his brief all through before he started on these proceedings today.

9.45 p.m.

The question which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West has so rightly raised is very important and it is doubly important after the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), both of whom, I imagine, are now licking their wounds after the remarks made about them from this side of the House.

They, and one or two other hon. Gentlemen, during the Committee stage upstairs, have all tried to whittle down the powers of the Bill, restrict the effects of the Bill, or restrict the duration during which the benefits of the Bill can actually be received by the local authorities. With these doubts created in the minds of myself and my hon. Friends on this side of the House, we want to tie the Minister up a good deal more.

I have always felt that the right hon. Gentleman was a very good Minister. He is extremely well-intentioned and quite sincere in his advocacy of many of the proposals we are discussing. I hope that he does not think that I am presumptuous in saying that, because I do not mean to be when I am speaking about him. I feel that to some extent the right hon. Gentleman is the prisoner of the gombeen men behind him. I see the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) looking rather surprised and I urge him to look up the definition of gombeen men in the Oxford Dictionary, because it is a good old Irish expression.

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing about gombeen men in this Amendment.

Mr. Donnelly

I was protecting the Minister from the attack of the gombeen men, and all I am anxious to do is to see that the right hon. Gentleman is sufficiently strong and armoured by the powers of the Bill to ensure that industrial development goes side by side with housing development. That is all that we are anxious to do. While I accept the remarks he made in the course of his reply to the Amendment which has been put forward by my hon. Friend, I urge him to look at this matter again, because industrial development is the key to any decentralisation which may take place under this Bill.

It is no good taking houses to a place unless we take work alongside the houses. Work is the magnet which attracts people, and which has made London, Birmingham and Manchester too big, and it is the transplanting of this magnet to the receiving areas which will determine the success or failure of the whole of the Town Development Bill.

It is because of that, that my hon. Friend has put forward this Amendment, and because we are absolutely determined that this Bill shall be used in that sense so far as it lies within our power so that we would like the right hon. Gentleman to look at this matter again to see if he cannot, in some way, strengthen the marriage of housing and industry, which go together, in the decentralisation which takes place, so that there may be no room for doubt, and no prospect of any future Minister of Housing and Local Government allowing housing to go without industry or vice versa.

For instance, if the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North ever became the Minister of Housing and Local Government goodness knows what would happen, but while the Ministry is in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman I am sure that we are all satisfied about this particular point. We would, however, like it tied up so firmly that there can be no possible room for doubt of any kind.

Mr. H. Macmillan

With the leave of the House, I want to make this matter quite clear. We discussed a good deal of this in Committee. There are some places where there are plenty of industries and where houses are wanted. If we said that there must always be an industrial move before there were houses that would not work at all. Ellesmere Port was a classic example of large-scale industry where we wanted to get homes built instead of people having to travel 20 or 30 miles a day to work. I really think it is better to give the widest powers, with or without, and then use them to the best purpose.

Mr. Benn

I do not doubt that the Minister intends the best in this respect, and I certainly should not have risen to speak if Clause 3 had simply given him power to lay down such conditions as necessary to secure general development. But it seems that the intended relief from congestion or overspill is the only thing on which he can lay down conditions when loaning money to local authorities.

On Second Reading the Minister spoke about sweetening the local authorities, especially in the receiving areas, to make them interested in plans of this kind. Industry will also need some sweetening to persuade it to move to these towns. It will not be an accident that the industrial development of some towns will come as a result of an artificial Measure like the Bill instead of as a result of years of industrial development. It is no accident that the big industries have moved to the cities where they have moved; these cities have been attractive to them for well understood economic reasons.

If, as is likely, most of the people interested in moving to the new towns are the younger people, they may not be as attractive for the industrialists as are the development areas where there are reserves of manpower, some of which is skilled, whereas in the towns which have been developing the economic attractions in terms of manpower, transport, and so on, will be far fewer than in the other areas.

There could be no possible harm in the Minister taking powers under Clause 3 to remind local authorities when giving them their grants that it is their duty to make the development in the towns attractive to industry. Local authorities, particularly those in the receiving district, if representing an attractive country town, will be more interested in getting the housing and seeing the town flourishing with new people than in having new industries.

The new industries will themselves face considerable problems, for they will be further from their markets and the ports where they get their raw materials. The Minister can help considerably by taking these powers—even if he finds later that he does not need to use them—so that he can remind the local authorities in the conditions he lays down that it is their duty to make the receiving district attractive to the new industries which might be brought into them. He might find it useful later on to have these powers.

Mr. Paget

I am sure that the Minister's intentions are the best, and it might be a good and convenient thing that we should reassemble on this Amendment when next it appears on the Order Paper so that the right hon. Gentleman may have the opportunity of discussing the matter with the Law Officers and deciding whether or not these words or some such words are necessary.

Mr. Hale

They are very good words.

Mr. Paget

My hon. Friend remarks, in a manner which is justifiably self-congratulatory, that they are very good words. I agree with him, but the Parliamentary draftsmen do not always agree as to what are the best words. Here we have the difficulty which we really have to contemplate. If Clause 3 (1) were to read: When giving an undertaking under the last preceding section, the Minister may lay down, as conditions to which payment of the contributions undertaken to be made is to be subject, such conditions as it may appear to him to be expedient … and we stopped there, there would be no difficulty. But he goes on to say: to impose for securing the intended relief from congestion or over-population. The Minister has explained what his intention is, but, unfortunately he does not interpret the Acts. The courts have to interpret them if necessary. He told us that this intention is merely to lay down the conditions as to how the accounts are to be kept and what the machinery should be.

The right hon. Gentleman may not be fully aware of the difficulty that arises here. In Clause 1 there are the words: … providing accommodation for residential purposes (with or without accommodation for carrying on of industrial or other activities, and with any public services and other incidentals needed). … There we have very wide words and that is the enabling Clause. It provides for two purposes, the purpose of providing houses, which deals with congestion and over-population, and the ancillary purpose of providing for industrial activity.

In a later Amendment the right hon. Gentleman sought to leave out certain words and insert other words which would be quite unnecessary in certain circumstances. Therefore, it seems to my hon. Friend that it was highly desirable that these words in this Amendment should be added as a matter of caution.

We are almost at the end of our day's work, and I agree that for the moment I am rather spinning words. It would be bad for the right hon. Gentleman not to have an opportunity of discussing this with the Law Officers. If the Law Officers take the view that neither these nor any other words are necessary we shall be content and shall not press this Amendment. The whole of this Bill would have been very greatly facilitated had the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity of having the advice of the Law Officers, because it is an extraordinarily complicated matter. But the words When giving an undertaking under the last preceding section. … mean that it is Clause 2 and not Clause 1 which decides between the primary housing purposes and the ancillary purpose of industrial development. "The last preceding section" is Clause 2, which deals not with the definition of an undertaking for that occurs in Clause 1 but with Exchequer contributions. Therefore, when one comes to a Clause which seeks to separate the two matters quite gratuitously and we agree——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.