HC Deb 10 June 1952 vol 502 cc113-7
Mr. H. Macmillan

I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, after "incurred" to insert "or to be incurred."

The purpose of this Amendment is to bring the Clause into line with Clause 2. as we have just amended it.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Hale

Clause 4 is important, and I want to raise one or two questions on which we should like the help of the Minister. No one objects to the generality of the provisions of the Clause, which gives power for the county borough and the exporting authority to negotiate with the receiving authority and to enter into agreements which may be financial in their implication; and it enables the county borough to pay out of the rate fund of the borough contributions to the receiving district. It will make these payments subject to the approval of the Minister. It is eminently reasonable that the Minister, who has to consider all these matters and has to make contributions, should have some consideration, but I am not quite sure for what purpose the approval of the Minister is necessary.

What is expected? Is it that the county borough will pay too much out of the rates, or too little, or that the receiving districts will be led into unprofitable agreements? I do not know. I rise to ask the Minister to tell us, and through telling us tell the county boroughs, the general principle along which he wishes to operate the Clause. What type of contribution is envisaged? Is it within the power of the county borough, as I apprehend it may well be, to agree with the receiving district that they will make such payments as they will have to incur in respect of building houses in their own areas? What proportion of the burden is it contemplated should be borne by the receiving district?

The matter is obviously exceedingly complicated, because the rate income will go to the receiving district and will be lost to the county borough. Therefore, any computation will have to allow for that loss in taking a general view. In the consideration of these schemes the corporation is entitled to have a chance of saying in these discussions, "To try to negotiate with an area outside would involve us in this obligation. The kind of thing we have to submit to the Minister to get his report, we understand from his statement, is so-and-so. These are the lines on which we are told it will happen."

The Minister will be able to balance the advantages of trying to replace condemned houses, of building outside on land allocated for housing purposes, of embarking on the schemes envisaged under this Measure. I say that the exporting area should have some clear information as to the type of obligation they will be expected to embark upon if they are to participate in such a scheme. Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some information as to what is envisaged shall be done.

Mr. Benn

I should like clarification on one point. The Clause lays down that the exporting authority may be paying money to the receiving authority towards expenses incurred by them in relation to development. Are they themselves allowed to impose any penalties in the event of a breakdown in the good relations between themselves and the receiving district? The previous Amendment we were discussing dealt with the powers of the Minister to withhold payment if the receiving district was not behaving properly.

I can conceive of circumstances in which a county borough which is exporting population to a receiving district might have a dispute with them about whether the arrangements are being made properly—if, for instance, the main services are being provided. One of the first things the councillors would think of would be whether they could prevent money from going to the receiving district. I presume that the permission of the Minister would be necessary to enable them to make payments to the receiving district; otherwise, the whole scheme might break up perhaps for no more reason than that there was a fractious majority on the council. I should be grateful if the Minister can clarify that point.

Mr. Donnelly

I want to reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). There is a good deal in this point, which is similar to the one I tried to press on Clause 2.

The local authorities want to know where they stand and we want to know what is the general policy of the Government. A number of local authorities have been far-sighted in their pioneering of town planning schemes beyond the boundaries of their own local authorities, and have been ready to make contributions. For instance, Tottenham pioneered the idea of a new town at Harlow. West Ham was another. A Question was asked in this House which led to the announcement of the introduction of this Bill this Session.

These local authorities are anxious to know whether or not they can do something about housing their people. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to get these schemes under way. In fairness to those local authorities, and to facilitate the working of his own Department, the right hon. Gentleman should make a pronouncement of policy so that the local authorities can know what is acceptable to the Macmillan regime and what is not.

I agree that the Minister may not want to tie himself too much, and we would accept that, but he ought to look at this not as a partisan point raised in a debate in this Committee but as an effort to facilitate the administration of the Bill. It is raised in an attempt to bring better living conditions to the people, to facilitate the administration of the local authorities, to enable their architects, planning officers and engineers to prepare their plans, to be able to submit them to their committees with some knowledge of what financial provisions will be necessary, and for the councillors themselves to know what they are discussing, so that they will not be doing it in the dark as we have been this afternoon on Clause 2.

Mr. Paget

My hon. Friend asked what would happen when two local authorities working an agreement of this kind failed to agree. I gather that something in addition is to be provided on the Report stage, but the Amendment which we may see on the Report stage will provide only for conditions being laid down—I see that you are getting nervous, Mr. Hopkin Morris, so I will not go into that. I was only observing, to anticipate what may be an answer, that neither the Clause, nor any addition which we yet wot of, makes any provision as to the enforcement by the exporting council upon the receiving council if the former should not make the agreed use of the houses.

On the previous Clause the right hon. Gentleman observed that he did not anticipate that it would lead to litigation because he had powers and control—I am sorry, it was the Parliamentary Secretary who said that. The hon. Gentleman said that it would therefore be difficult for the local authority to go to law with him. I think that is so, but it certainly is not so when one is dealing with two local authorities. In our experience local authorities are the most persistent litigators. My profession does very well out of inter-local authority litigation. They never seem willing to stop anywhere short of the House of Lords, and I feel that to provide rather vague provisions of this kind to govern litigable relations between local authorities is somewhat rash.

Surely the Minister requires under this Clause better control of these negotiations. After all, we have recognised that housing is a national problem. It is not a local problem. It is not the problem of a number of districts and towns. It is a problem of the nation, which is dealt with by the local authorities as agents.

7.30 p.m.

Surely, when the Minister is dealing with the local authorities, whose instrumentality he is using in a national policy—that is what it really amounts to—he should have more control over this sort of arrangement than is given him by the Clause. If a town—it may be Northampton, practically the whole of whose area is now either built up or planned—wishes to develop a reception area in the adjoining county, and if it cannot come to terms with the adjoining county about it, surely the matter should go to the arbitration of the right hon. Gentleman, who should impose agreement if agrement cannot be come to openly.

Sir G. Hutchinson

Surely, in those circumstances the council can make a compulsory purchase in the usual way, as has been done by many local authorities when confronted with that difficulty.

Mr. Paget

Yes. But what the hon. and learned Member does not seem to realise is that a compulsory purchase carried out in that manner retains every objection which the Bill is designed to obviate. The rates of the new area are collected by the receiving authority; the services are provided by the receiving authority. The very evil which the Bill is designed to obviate is retained in those circumstances.

Sir G. Hutchinson

And the Minister can make a contribution to the receiving district under the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Paget

If that is the view taken by the hon. and learned Member, what is the object of the Clause? The Clause is to provide for the case of arrangement being made between two local authorities; but if they fail to come to agreement, I should have thought that it would have been highly desirable for the Minister to have power to arbitrate between them and to impose, by arbitration, the agreement contemplated by the Clause.

In a problem which is dealt with nationally, as this problem is being dealt with, perhaps the Minister will tell us how it is contemplated to deal with that sort of situation. He may feel that his good offices and his general powers are sufficient to obtain the position of arbitrator, even if it is not given to him expressly by the Bill. But can he, and will he, and is it his intention to, exercise his influence, if we may put it that way, to bring about these agreements and to get them working under the Clause if there are difficulties in negotiations between two authorities?

Certainly it has been my experience, as, probably, it has been the experience of the hon. and learned Member, that local authorities do not find it easy to work out agreements between themselves. They are always the most troublesome things. I hope that it is the right hon. Gentleman's intention to have some form of good offices commission, if one may so call it, to facilitate the operation of the Clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.