HC Deb 10 June 1952 vol 502 cc125-53

Unless Parliament shall otherwise determine this Act shall not apply to a town development unless before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and fifty-eight, the Minister has undertaken to make contributions in relation thereto under section two of this Act or has approved the making of contributions in relation thereto under section four thereof.—[Sir G. Hutchinson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir G. Hutchinson

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

Its purpose is to limit the period in which the Minister may agree to make contributions or approve of schemes of arrangement between local authorities to a little more than five years. In the case of those schemes in respect of which the Minister has already agreed to make contributions, or where arrangements have already been reached between local authorities, such contributions will go on and such agreements will be carried out.

The new Clause will have the effect of preventing the Minister from agreeing to make further contributions or approving further schemes after the lapse of a little more than five years. This Bill really aims at meeting what is a temporary difficulty which has arisen out of the emergency of the war and the conditions which have followed upon that. It was never part of our scheme of local government that local authorities should be encouraged to become landlords of housing estates in the areas of other local authorities.

Mr. Hale

I hope the hon. and learned Member will deal quite clearly with this point. The whole question of whether the Clause has any point or not depends on the information about the speed at which the schemes with which this Bill deals can be carried out. Has the hon. and learned Member the information that these schemes will be carried out in five years, that enough money is available for that to be done, and that its use for that purpose will be approved by the Treasury?

Sir G. Hutchinson

The hon. Member ought to try to exercise a little patience about these matters. Of course I have not got information, nor has anybody else, about the speed with which these contributions can be promised and these agreements made. If at the end of the period which I suggest—little more than five years—it is still found that the need for this Bill exists Parliament can extend it for whatever further period is thought to be necessary.

8.0 p.m.

The point I was about to make was that it has never intended that one local authority should be encouraged to become the landlord of a housing estate in the area of some other local authority. If land is available adjacent to the boundaries of a local authority which may be used to accommodate the overspill which cannot be accommodated within its boundaries, the proper course is to extend the boundaries of the local authority to include the area which would enable it to accommodate the natural increase in its population.

In the case of those local authorities—and there are many of them, my own borough of Ilford is one—where no land is available for the accommodation of their overspill the overspill ought to be accommodated in the new towns when those new towns are ready to receive them. This Bill has been produced to meet what is an emergency which arose at the end of the war, when new towns were not available. There was no alternative but for local authorities to go out into the areas of other local authorities and there to create new housing estates of their own.

That has been an effective and convenient means of relieving the congestion in congested and over-populated areas. But it ought not to be treated as a permanent means of relief. The proper course is the normal method of adjusting the boundaries of local authorities so that they can accommodate their own population.

Mr. Gibson

In London?

Sir G. Hutchinson

The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) knows very well that London presents a special problem. The overspill population of London ought to go into the new towns or the permanent "out county" estates which the London County Council have created since the war. I make no complaint about that, it was a necessity. As Sir Patrick Abercrombie said in the County of London Plan it was a necessity of the moment. But the point I am making is that it ought not to be accepted as permanent.

Mr. Paget

What about Manchester, and Lancashire?

Sir G. Hutchinson

If the hon. and learned Member would have a little patience I will endeavour to come to those points. He is anticipating my argument.

The overspill from London ought to go to the new towns. That was the proposal in the County of London Plan and in the Greater London Plan. It is the solution which was accepted by the London County Council, and, as far as I know, by the former Government and by this Government.

Mr. Sparks

The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) is telling only half of the story. If he reads the Greater London Plan he will find that it proposes the accommodation of London's overspill not merely in a limited number of new towns, but in a large number of expanded towns which this Bill is designed to supplement.

Sir G. Hutchinson

I am, of course, perfectly aware of that fact. But the towns to which the surplus population can go have been defined, as the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) knows. Their capacity to absorb population has been fixed, and I anticipate that it is those towns which will receive relief under this Bill within the next few years. At the end of a period of five years, which I suggest is a reasonable duration for this Bill, the Minister will have already considered the position of those expanded towns, to which the hon. Member for Acton has referred, and in suitable cases will have agreed to make suitable grants. The London problem in so far as it consists of exporting surplus population to extended towns ought at the end of five years to have been dealt with.

It would be very undesirable, in my opinion, that this Bill should remain permanently on the Statute Book. Today, as we all know, local authorities are badly in need of a readjustment of boundaries. If this Bill came to be used as a means of defeating the legitimate expansion of towns it would defeat the purpose of the reorganisation of local government which eventually will have to be undertaken.

Local authorities are very apprehensive that that may be the result of this Bill. They welcome the Bill in its present form as a means of meeting the existing emergency. But they are apprehensive that if it became a permanent part of our law, it might be used to prevent the legitimate expansion of those towns which otherwise could look forward to an extension of their boundaries to enable them to accommodate their surplus population within their own areas.

We had a brief discussion about this on Committee stage. For various reasons we did not reach a conclusion, but so far as it went it roused no opposition. I hope that it will not rouse any serious opposition tonight. My right hon. Friend was good enough to invite me to put down this Clause again at this stage and I hope he will be able to give us an indication that the Clause will be favourably received.

Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)

I beg to second the Motion. I hope that the Minister will consider this new Clause favourably. On a number of occasions during the progress of the Bill through the House the Minister has said that it was rather a stop-gap Measure. He said it was an emergency Bill to deal with special difficulties. He also said: It is intended to fill a gap before any such large measure of reform can be introduced and passed through Parliament, and It is providing for the exception and not for the rule."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C; 25th March, 1952, c. 96.] I hope, therefore, that he will consider sympathetically what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson).

We agreed on Committee stage that it was largely as a result of the failure of the Boundary Commission, a few years ago, that this Bill was brought in at all, and that a new arrangement of boundaries might make its provisions unnecessary. I have listened to a great deal of criticism of the Bill which does not appear to be very popular among hon. Members opposite. I hope, therefore, that we shall have their support in our efforts to limit its application.

As my hon. and learned Friend has said, it is bound to cause some friction and impose a strain on those local authorities who suddenly are called upon to work together in operating this scheme. As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has reminded the House, such local authorities are not averse to litigation. This may cause friction between local authorities, and that is undesirable.

If this Bill is allowed to continue in force as an Act for too long it may militate against better provision being taken to solve the great problem of how relief can be given to the great towns with congested populations in amicable conjunction with smaller towns in the rural areas. These smaller towns would be willing to help, but they would like to see a plan worked out, based perhaps on a better arrangement of boundaries, to allow the exporting areas to do more for themselves in these matters without so much help from others.

Mr. Lindgren

I rise early in this debate so that perhaps I can facilitate the progress of our discussion. I hope that the Minister will emphatically reject this new Clause. It would be unfair to attribute to the right hon. Gentleman the views of those who sit behind him. We are not always responsible for what our colleagues say from time to time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Parliamentary Secretary can cheer. It is true that that remark is not applicable only to one side of the House.

When hon. Gentlemen opposite say that this is a temporary stop-gap Measure brought about as a result of the war, one wonders whether they understand the conception of this Bill. This is not a temporary problem. It is one which will continue. Towns will continue to grow. There will always come a time when a town ought to grow no more and some of the people ought to go somewhere else.

The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson), has a great knowledge of local government, but his is very much the townsman's view of local government. To have bigger and better county boroughs is not the solution. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Gentleman says that it is a part solution, but let us look at our towns. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) mentioned Luton——

Sir G. Hutchinson

I said that it is part of the solution.

Mr. Lindgren

Look at Watford. Everywhere we can see that towns are getting as large as they ought to be if they are not to become places of ugliness and sordidness. We ought to have smaller towns with a relationship between a person's home and his work. We should do away with all this burrowing through the ground like worms, coming up for air from time to time, as we do in the tubes. Then we should not get all this trouble about the finances of the transport system which we get because workmen get annoyed when fares go up. The real way to overcome the transport problem is to make the town a unit in which work and home are within a reasonable distance of each other.

This problem has not arisen as a result of the war. For years before then it was apparent. Those associated with planning in the old Ministry of Health were considering this problem before the war. Propaganda organisations outside the Ministry, and even outside political parties, were considering it. The Coalition Government set up the Ministry of Town and Country Planning during the war, and since then we have had the Town and Country Planning Act.

8.15 p.m.

That Act required a survey to be taken showing the anticipated development and other details so that the trend could be plotted. That Act was not a temporary Measure. The Ministry are now receiving the plans of planning authorities, county boroughs and county councils, for the next 20 years, split up in stages of five, 10 and 15 years.

It is possible to handle the major problem of the decentralisation of population in two ways. There is the natural development of a town within a county district where there is sufficient space for development. There is the small town of 20,000 or 30,000 population which, though it is a community, does not enable the local authority to provide all the social services necessary. The local authority cannot provide open air and indoor swimming baths, a small theatre as well as a picture house and decent recreation facilities such as parks and open spaces.

There are those towns which could develop from their own natural resources, because they had the local government skill and the space; but they were to develop, as the Minister said on another occasion, not on the basis of their own natural growth but on the basis of taking over a responsibility from some other authority. If those areas are to develop, there should be some resources available to them. A contribution should be made, both from the national Exchequer and from the local exchequer of the exporting authority, to assist them to take on a responsibility which is not naturally theirs and which would force upon them a faster rate of development than would normally have been the case.

I suggest that that type of development is better, saner and much more proper than the A.M.C. attitude of developing the fringes of existing county boroughs, applying for borough extensions, and going into the areas of rural and urban districts and gradually swallowing them up.

Sir G. Hutchinson

If the overspill population is to be accommodated in an area which adjoins the built-up area, then the right solution is an extension of boundaries. If it is to be right outside the urban community, surely the right solution is a new town.

Mr. Lindgren

That is the point. The hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that the right solution is the development of an area on the immediate periphery of a county borough and then the absorption of that rural or urban authority within the county borough. That is what has happened in London and in Birmingham, and what do we see? Nothing but streets of houses for miles and miles.

We are not very proud of London and its development, because London ought to have stopped building years and years ago. In fact, one of the things done by the London County Council, in whose work the hon. and learned Gentleman has played a notable part as a member, to its very great credit, was the execution of the conception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) by the L.C.C. of that time in the purchase of the Green Belt round London in order to prevent this gradual sprawl of town all the way. I can remember the time when, having reached Golders Green, we were in the country, but, now, of course——

Sir G. Hutchinson

I was not suggesting that that was always the right solution, but it is the right solution in many cases. In the case of London, the surplus population should go to the new towns.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. and learned Gentleman has interrupted me, and I do not object to that, because he was subject to a certain amount of interruption in his speech, and he is always courteous and always gives way, but these interruptions do take the point out of one's mind.

Now the hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the new towns. The conception of the new towns came into existence because the resources of certain local authorities were not sufficient to enable them to develop as they should do. I myself, and the majority of my colleagues, do not like the idea of an independent corporation, not responsible to the local electorate, developing a town. I would much prefer that the local authority, which is there to respond to the will of the electorate from time to time, should be the body responsible for town development, but there were places in Essex and Hertfordshire where the resources of the local authority were not such as would enable that authority to develop the area, and so we had to bring in these corporations to do the job.

In the old days it was private enterprise. From this side of the House we say much about private enterprise, but we have never denied it the credit which is due to it in that the initial experiments in planning garden cities like Letchworth and Welwyn were undertaken by philanthropic people and private enterprise, who did a first-class job. By their ingenuity and enthusiasm they showed the way, and by the risks they took they showed what could be done, while they also showed the impossibility of this being done by private enterprise in the future.

I have said before that Letchworth was really saved by the 1914–18 war. It was developed by Ebenezer Howard and the Quakers associated with him in the early 1900s, and they did a very good job, but later on they never knew from day to day whether the whole thing was going to collapse around their ears. Then came the 1914–18 war, and factories were required, and so both the population and the industries of Letchworth were saved.

Likewise, Welwyn Garden City met with tremendous difficulties after the initial stage, and in meeting that problem Sir Theodore Chambers and those associated with him deserve all the credit one can give them for the fact that they hung on grimly and saved the project, though mainly by public finance through the Public Works Loans Board and the Ministry of Health, because the Ministry had lent so much money to the scheme that they had to lend still more in order to save what they had lent in the first place.

So we come to the position in which it is accepted that we have to have some sort of body to deal with the development of an area where the local authority resources are not capable of permitting it, and we come to the subject of the new towns. The new towns themselves are not in dispute; they are going along, and we have already passed a Measure extending by £50 million the money available to be spent upon them. This is the alternative. It is the one in which one expects the existing local authority to do the developing, and I should much prefer that that development should take place through an existing local authority, whether a rural or urban authority or even a small borough, than by some county borough adding to the problems of transport and all the other considerations which are raised in this question of development.

I want to make it quite clear that we on this side of the House will oppose this new Clause tooth and nail. In our view, if it were passed, it would wreck the intentions of the Bill, and, that being so, we ask the Minister not to accept the proposal of his colleagues behind him.

Mr. Donnelly

Normally I should have thought that any new Clause moved by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) would have been non-controversial. Certainly, they put it forward in a non-controversial manner, but I think it is a perfectly monstrous Clause.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that an emergency arose at the end of the war and that this proposal was made to meet it. He asked questions about the new towns and the more permanent method of de-centralisation, and then he went on to say that this was preventing the legitimate expansion of many local authority areas which, in the normal course, would have been allowed to take place. Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman also said, it would prejudice local government reform. Finally, he said that it ought not to be treated as a permanent method of relief.

In the course of his argument in slow motion, he was asked about Manchester, but the hon. and learned Gentleman did not get that far. I did not hear him say any more about Manchester. He told us that we were impatient, but our patience was not rewarded, and I express my disappointment, though it does not in any way affect the argument which he put forward.

The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead said that this was a stop-gap Measure, and that, if it were made permanent, it would cause friction between local authorities. What a fantastic argument for any hon. Member to put forward. I suggest that hon. Members opposite, in putting forward this new Clause, are undermining the whole purpose of the Bill, that they will hamstring any possible permanent developments under it, and that they will destroy the whole social values of all that we have been talking about both in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House.

This is not an emergency Measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that this Bill was not introduced as a stop-gap Measure in an emergency. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well there have always been two possible vehicles for decentralisation from great cities—the new towns and the development of country towns. The whole purpose of the development of the country towns and of the town developments in the terms of this Bill is to use many of the existing facilities, such as roads, sewers, electricity supplies, and so on, so that it will not be necessary to undertake any major measure of capital expenditure to de-centralise a few thousands of people. Obviously, this Measure is as important as, if not more important than, the New Towns Act, and it is important that this Measure should be permanent, so as to bring permanent benefits.

8.30 p.m.

The hon. and learned Gentleman would do well to look to the 1943 conference of the Town Planning Association. I was secretary of the Country Town Committee of that Association after it was set up. I do not take any particular credit for this, but it was as a result of the pressure of that body, and of bodies like it, that this Bill was first accepted as a Measure by the late Government—and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) was a member of that Administration—and it has been inherited by the present Minister. We in no way intended that it should be a temporary Measure. We attach great importance to it.

Of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like the idea of planning. If the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North does not want to make any success of this Bill, if he does not want it to succeed in any way, that is another matter; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman does not want any success for the Bill, any success in its administration, he had better tell his constituents once again. If he tells that to the homeless and to those in bad living and working conditions in Ilford, he will find a nasty day of reckoning coming to him. He will not be the hon. Member for Ilford, North: he will be merely the member for the A.M.C., and he will find that his constituents will know what to do with him.

I think this is a scandalous new Clause to bring forward. It is preposterous that it should come from the hon. and learned Gentleman representing that great, overcrowded borough and representing those people longing for an opportunity of decent living conditions. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman, having attempted to work his passage with the Amendments which he had to vote against earlier on, now stands completely exposed as an opponent of planning, and an opponent of any decent living conditions for his own constituents, and an opponent of all that we have been talking about.

Mr. Marples

I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not think me discourteous if I rise now, but I think it may be of convenience to the House if I do now make a, few observations on this new Clause. I think that the real fear that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) had when he moved this new Clause was twofold; first, that the Bill would be used to delay local government reform, and second, that the county councils would be allowed to use the Bill to try to prevent legitimate housing expansion in the normal way—by extension of boundaries in legitimate circumstances and proper conditions. If I understood his speech aright, those were the two major points he had in mind. They were certainly the two major points he developed. He did not develop some of the arguments the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) spent so long in demolishing. The hon. Member for Pembroke erected those arguments himself prior to demolishing them again.

My hon. and learned Friend is not the only one who has expressed these fears. I think they are apprehensions that have been felt by local authorities. However, my right hon. Friend is not sure that this new Clause would dissipate those fears, anyhow. I should like to prove to the House that my hon. and learned Friend's points were quite good ones, because these fears have been expressed since the very first speech made from the benches opposite on this Bill, on the Second Reading in February.

It is of no use the hon. Member for Pembroke saying that these fears are not real ones, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) on Second Reading made three points. He asked three questions. He said: First, there is the doubt whether what I may call the normal housing operations of the normal local authority will be interfered with. … They"— that is, the local authorities— want to be assured—and this is the second doubt—that, if they come along in the future with a reasonable case for the extension of their boundaries so as to include some of the housing estates which they have already established outside their boundaries, that case will not be prejudiced in any way by anything contained in this Bill. So the right hon. Gentleman did share that fear of my hon. and learned Friend. The third point the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made was that the local authorities— want to be assured that, when the right hon. Gentleman has taken his decision regarding the large matter of local government reform—I do not know how near he is to doing that—it shall not be altered in any way by reason of the provisions of this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 742…3.] Therefore, the fear of the local authority associations and the local authorities is that this Bill might delay local government reform and might prevent the legitimate expansion of boundaries in proper cases.

The three points made by the right hon. Gentleman were powerfully reinforced from an unusual quarter when the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) again voiced the fear that this Bill might be used to prevent local government reform. He said: A large number of problems with which the Bill deals arise out of the existing structure of local government. Very many of these problems would fall to the ground at once if there were a radical re-organisation of the local government structure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 758.] It is clear that those two points are legitimate ones, and at that time my right hon. Friend was so impressed by the fear of the House on them that he asked me when winding up the debate to give specific assurances on his behalf, which I did by saying: there is nothing in the Bill which would delay local government reform. In my opinion this Bill may even accelerate local government reform, which would be a very good thing. The second assurance that I gave on behalf of my right hon. Friend was this: Nothing is further from my right hon. Friend's intention. Housing authorities have (heir responsibilities, and where it is appropriate—I emphasise the word appropriate—that houses should be built as a physical extension, it ought to be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 881.] Therefore, on Second Reading we gave the assurances for which my hon. and learned Friend has asked.

Then in Committee upstairs we had those apprehensions brought forward again. It was quite clear that the local authorities were still not satisfied with those categorical assurances, and the assurances were repeated in Committee. As my hon. and learned Friend has introduced this new Clause, it is clear that they are not satisfied even yet with the assurances that have been given, and, as I understand it, they want specific assurances on those two points. It is also clear that if local government reform were carried through there would inevitably have to be many adjustments to this Bill, the extent of which would depend upon the scope and scale of local government reform.

Local government reform is not easy—and I remember some very wise words on this point from the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), which impressed me greatly when we were discussing the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill. It is not easy, and when local government reform comes it may be necessary to amend and alter this Bill. But my right hon. Friend agrees with the sentiment that nothing should delay local government reform; he agrees that nothing should delay legitimate expansion in proper cases, and he gives the categorical assurance that, as far as he is concerned, his intention is that this Bill should not do either of those things. Even if we decided to implement the categorical assurances which have been given on many occasions by means of a Clause, I do not think that this new Clause would do because, as drafted, it would do too much. It would, for example, stop my right hon. Friend acting under Clause 17, which is not my hon. and learned Friend's intention.

My right hon. Friend hoped that the categorical assurances he had given would be sufficient to cover those two points—because they are the only two points my hon. and learned Friend has in mind. On the other hand, if they are not sufficient he would like to look at it to see whether he can go further to meet the legitimate fears on these two specific points—because they are legitimate fears.

I would, however, ask my hon. and learned Friend to withdraw this new Clause, because we have tried to meet him on the points he raised by giving categorical assurances. We want to look at it again to see whether we can reinforce it in some way, although I do not know whether that is possible. In any case, this new Clause as it stands could not be accepted because it goes much wider than the intention expressed by my right hon. Friend. With that explanation, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will withdraw his new Clause.

Mr. Hale

Before the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) seeks leave to withdraw this Clause, there are one or two matters which have been raised in this discussion which should be dealt with. I do not dissent from what has been said. I think that both sides of the House realise that they are facing one of the real difficulties in connection with this Bill. I accept what the Parliamentary Secretary has said that the county boroughs genuinely fear that the Bill will delay or frustrate their legitimate ambitions for extension of their county boroughs.

I do not challenge the sincerity of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but if the Parliamentary Secretary gives undertakings like that, and gives them, with determination to implement them as soon as possible, we at once frustrate the cooperation of the rural districts, who will then be alarmed by the possibility of embarking upon these housing developments in co-operation with the county boroughs and be frightened that the whole lot will be taken over as part of the normal expansion. That is a serious problem.

Mr. Paget

One point is worrying me. Supposing a receiving area builds for an exporting area, and then the built up area is transferred to the exporting area, what happens to the subscription of payment then?

Mr. Hale

That is a matter for detail under the Act which gives the power and introduces the measures of local government reform. I should have thought that there would have been no question that the receiving area would have been compensated for the expenditure they had incurred, and that would be taken into account. I do not think that anyone would dispute the propriety of that, and it would be a tragedy if the receiving areas thought there was any possibility that they would not get proper compensation.

It seems to me that there are two points of real importance that arise on this new Clause. That is why I rise to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give the most categorical reply, that he will not merely consider this or try to do something about it, but that he will say that this is quite impracticable.

The second point was largely covered by the speech of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) who spoke with ability, eloquence and sincerity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say that with very real sincerity. I think that the hon. Member for Wellingborough made by far the best speech of the afternoon. He spoke with great knowledge and I am sorry that some hon. Members were not present to hear his speech. If they had been, they would not have doubted the sincerity of what I am saying. I am paying a legitimate and genuine tribute to someone who spoke with great knowledge on a subject in which he is profoundly interested and on which he feels very deeply indeed.

I interrupted the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North quite early in his speech, and I thank him for giving way, because I felt that I could have dispensed with this speech altogether by making a simple point. He first urged me to have patience and then he did not reply to me at all. What he did say was, "Very well, if the situation is different in five years' time, we can pass another Bill." A whole lot of Parliamentary mechanism, the advice of counsel, the studies of the Department, and consultations with the Association of Municipal Corporations, with the county councils, and the local authorities themselves have all gone on.

We have been upstairs in Committee for six or seven days, and we have discussed this for the best part of this afternoon. Now it is said that to gratify his desire we should not let it last too long, that we should cancel the Bill before we know whether it is to become effective, and, if necessary, pass another. That is not facing up to the problem I put. Is it seriously suggested that we can deal with this problem in five years? Has any Minister ever suggested that there is a hope that in five years we can deal with the problems of overspill in the over-populated conurbations? No one suggests it. I am certain the Minister would not like to give even the slightest indication that he had hopes of any such possibilities.

8.45 p.m.

I now come to the second point about the Clause, and it seems to be a serious one. Let us face the problem in Oldham again. Let us imagine that Oldham was about to embark upon a large housing scheme under the provisions of the Bill. I believe it could be done in co-operation with other adjoining boroughs. I believe a comprehensive housing scheme is very much better than a whole series of small schemes because of the importance of the ancillary services. Where we have had small housing schemes, unlike the schemes in new towns or in dormitory areas, we have failed because of lack of full ancillary services.

In such circumstances Oldham would have to negotiate with the Yorkshire County Council, the Lancashire County Council, and local councils and so on, and it might be necessary to apply for compulsory powers to acquire the necessary land from private interests and to go through all the procedure of inquiries. Even if Oldham were the first in the queue, how long would it be before they could lay the first brick of the first house on the great new estate? Local government consultations often take much longer than would a couple of business men who were able to make decisions without reference to the electors, Acts of Parliament, the Ministry and so on. Even if Oldham were first in the queue it might be many months before the first brick was laid.

I see the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Major Markham) shaking his head. If he wants to intervene I will give way. Apparently he does not wish to do so. His shaking of his head is the sole oratorical contribution which he is making in the course of the afternoon.

When there was a Tory council in Oldham—I am not making any party comments about the Oldham council, for I never do that—it was 18 months before we had a hope of laying the first brick on the housing estate.

The Chairman

The new Clause deals only with making contributions.

Mr. Hale

It is designed to say that all this has to be done in five years, and I am addressing my remarks to the impossibility of its being done in five years. It might be at least two years before one even started on the scheme. I may be told that, if an undertaking has been given, the Clause covers future activities, but, as I understand the meaning of the words, that would apply only to the preliminary operation of the activities in respect of which the undertaking had been given.

In the case of large areas, no council would commit itself for a long period in the future, certainly no council which has had to face the disasters which Oldham has had to face in the last six months, when the demand for houses has receded because over 30,000 people have been out of work and people have had to withdraw their names from the housing lists because they can no longer afford to pay the rents. Such a council would decide to build 400 or 500 houses in a year and to ask the Minister for an undertaking in respect of that scheme. Such councils could not commit themselves, certainly not under the present Government, to building the thousands of houses which are needed and to attempting to carry out the undertakings before 1958 to comply with the new Clause.

For these two reasons, it would be a disaster if the Parliamentary Secretary left it that he would consider the matter again and try to do something at some future stage or in another place to give the slightest indication that the proposal is a temporary and stop-gap Measure and will be administered by the Department as such a Measure and that the intention is that it should not continue. This is the most serious proposal we have had in the course of the afternoon and it should be opposed with all the strength of those of us who really want to see housing estates deal with the needs of these over-populated areas.

Sir G. Hutchinson

The assurances which the Parliamentary Secretary was able to give will allay the apprehension felt about this Bill. I welcome the suggestion that if there is any further step which he can take and which will allay the fears that this Bill has aroused in certain quarters not only on this side of the House but on the other side as well, he will not hesitate to take them. We shall be very grateful. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.

Mr. Gibson

When the Parliamentary Secretary was dealing with this new Clause I was inclined to say that this was the end of the Bill, and he completely spoiled what he said by promising to reconsider. To reconsider what? Assuming that the principle is accepted which will enable the Bill to end in five years, what effect will it have on the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)?

Sir G. Hutchinson

What I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say was that he would consider any further steps which he could take to make it plain that this Bill will not be used as a means of preventing the legitimate expansion of towns. It was on that assurance that I have asked leave to withdraw the Clause.

Mr. Gibson

I have no doubt that that assurance will be taken by the local authority associations and that it is the point. As I understood it, what the Parliamentary Secretary said—and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West confirmed it—was that an undertaking was given to look at the thing again if possible to see if some steps could be taken to meet the point put by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson). The whole point of this new Clause is to limit the law for five years, and in moving it the hon. and learned Gentleman made it perfectly clear. He also made the point that there was not much use for the Bill, because the problem will be solved in five years, and if it were not it would not take long to pass another Bill.

We are entitled to ask the Government to give us a clear answer to our challenge in view of the attempt to get the Bill limited to five years. We want these powers to continue. The problem of congestion and overcrowding in our large towns is with us for several generations at least. The more our industrial economy develops the more will the towns develop and unfortunately the rush for the higher wages to be earned in London will continue. If this Bill is abolished in five years, it will not help the overspill problem in London. Today, if a housing scheme is started, a brick cannot be laid on the site for 18 months or two years, so half of the five years will almost be gone before building begins.

The real point is that this is a lasting problem for all our big industrial towns, and there ought to be permanent legislation on the Statute Book to provide the means whereby the receiving authority can get some financial asistance to meet the extra burden which inevitably is laid upon it by receiving these additional people. I am rather surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has a special claim to speak for one of the local authority associations, should want to limit this Bill in this way.

I feel that that expresses the dislike of some people living in the rural areas to those who live in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and so on. Lack of patriotism and bad citizenship exist, and we ought not to encourage them by limiting the Bill in this way. I hope that the proposed Clause will be rejected in toto.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The difficulty in which the House is now arises in part from the nature of the reply which was given by the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not think there is any feeling on either side that where a local authority, a county borough generally, builds just on the fringe of its own area, that is a legitimate ground for thinking that the boundary should be altered so as to bring in that new housing estate. I hope that the Bill will not be used in debates on Private Bills for borough extensions as an excuse for objecting to Bills which only aim at that.

I do not think the problem of local government reform is bound up with what I regard as the most beneficent purposes of the Bill. Over the greater part of England and Wales there exist a number of comparatively small towns of some antiquity, with a well-developed social life and an individuality, and which are surrounded by areas which might be developed to deal with populations that have to be decanted from big towns. These are not places near enough to the big towns to warrant being brought into the local government system of the big town, but they are a valuable means of receiving a population that has to move.

One of the difficulties that confront everybody who has to deal with a new housing estate of any size is to get a sense of community and to develop social interests within that community. We know of places where there are no churches, no publichouses, no clubs, no social amenities at all, and they present a very serious social problem for the people.

Where a small town is capable of receiving such people it can be used advantageously as a social nucleus, but it may be overwhelmed financially by the problems of providing the necessary public services for the new town. The difficulty of sewerage works in anticipation of the population, and of other small social services, are a serious problem, which will remain after reform of local government, on any scale that has been contemplated so far as I know, and will require the kind of assistance that the Bill aims to give.

I hope that we can be assured that the Parliamentary Secretary's answer did not mean that any doubt will be put in the minds of receiving authorities of that kind that any undertaking made by the Minis- try or by the exporting authority will be subject to any time limit like that expressed in the proposed new Clause of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson).

Sir G. Hutchinson

I never suggested, and I was careful at the beginning of my speech to point this out, that any undertaking within the period of five years would not be affected. Any contributions which have been begun to be made during the period of five years would continue after the period of five years had elapsed.

Mr. Ede

I was not dealing with what the hon. and learned Gentleman said but with the unfortunate impression created in some minds by the terms of the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. I hope that it may be clearly understood that the somewhat vague references he made to "further assurances" and so on will not invalidate that part of the provisions of the Measure.

9.0 p.m.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can make any further statement on the situation that has been reached with regard to local government reform. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, on a Private Bill, dealing with Ealing, I think, I made some suggestions about local government reform to which the Minister gave a friendly reply. I had hoped that by now we might have had some consultations to see whether it is not possible, even in this Parliament, to get on with an agreed project of local government reform that would enable these fears to be largely dissipated.

If we could feel that some active steps were being taken, I am sure it would give a reassurance that would help the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North and the local government associations. I am quite certain that if they ever thought that a Minister was determined to get on with the job, they would find it far easier to reach agreement than they do when they regard the matter as something in the far-distant future. If the right hon. Gentleman can persuade the Chair to let him make a statement on Third Reading, I hope we shall be able to hear something substantial tonight.

Sir G. Hutchinson

I asked leave to withdraw the Motion, but I am not quite sure how I stand now with regard to that situation.

The Chairman

I did not put the Question because an hon. Member stood up to speak.

Mr. Sparks

I have sat throughout the debate on this new Clause, Sir Charles; I have risen on most occasions, and I feel that I should say a word in regard to the principles of this Clause and support particularly the criticisms advanced by my right hon. Friend. It was disturbing on this side of the House to hear the Parliamentary Secretary assuring his hon. and learned Friend that by the withdrawal of the Motion he had not much to fear in regard to the main direction of his criticism.

I listened attentively to what the hon. and learned Gentleman said and he was not so much concerned about local government reform. As my right hon. Friend said, any reform of local government will not dispose of the necessity for a Bill of this description. As the problem affects Greater London and the large towns and cities of our country, it is a serious matter to contemplate the limitation of this Bill to a five-year period and from thence to have nothing in its place.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that it would be possible at the end of five years to renew the Bill if necessary. If that is the only argument there is no need for this Clause because the Bill could be repealed simply by any succeeding Government, which would be a short and effective way of dealing with it if the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to limit its terms and duration. I can assure the House that anybody who knows the problem, particularly of Greater London, would look with great concern at the prospect of a Bill of this description being limited to a period of five years.

The hon. and learned Member in putting forward his case for the Clause based his argument on the fact that if there were a local authority area that was congested and over-populated and had land near to it, the solution would be to extend that authority's boundaries. Then he went on to say that where an authority had an over-population and was congested but had no land, the correct way to solve its overcrowding problem would be by developing the new towns.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is, I am sure, aware that that is not a proper solution of the problem, particularly as it affects the Greater London area. Under the Greater London plan, just under 700,000 people have to be de-centralised from the London area. The existing eight new towns cannot hope to take, at the very maximum, more than about 350,000 to 400,000 of them. That leaves a balance of about 300,000 persons, who, if they are to be accommodated at all, must be accommodated in expanded towns under the provisions of a Bill of this kind, for without a Bill of this kind there is no legal authority and no procedure which can be utilised and developed for the express purpose of re-housing this balance of overspill from London and the immediate Greater London area.

Sir G. Hutchinson

The last Government reduced very substantially the number of persons who were to be accommodated in expanded towns on the ground that they ought to be dispersed into the new towns.

Mr. Sparks

Yes, but the hon. and learned Member is misinterpreting the point. The new towns having been the first development under the principles of the Greater London plan, it was obvious that the new towns would have to get under way first and get going before the secondary step could be taken of the expansion of existing towns.

I do not know what population limit the hon. and learned Member proposes to place upon the new towns. If he envisages new towns of the order of anything from 100,000 population upwards, there might be something in his case, but nowadays no one in his senses wants to encourage the development of great towns of that size. The best kind of development is not the creation or the multiplication of huge towns and huge populations, but rather the dispersal of the population into smaller towns. Therefore, the principles of the Bill provide for doing precisely that, rather than centring all our people in large areas and large towns and cities, and for dispersing them in smaller units, where, of course, development is far superior and the amenities and the surrounding conditions which the population may enjoy would obviously be very much better.

There is, too, another factor which has to be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) said that the problem of overspill in London would not be solved in five years, as the hon. and learned Member said that it could be. The hon. and learned Gentleman shows a great ignorance of the problem of London by saying that its overspill problem would be solved in five years. London's problem is almost perpetual. So long as we have centred here the great docks, transport termini, warehouses and the other great industrial concentrations, we shall always have a vast population gathered around London. In course of time the natural increase in population maintains and perpetuates this system of overspill.

The only way in which we can radically and effectively deal with it is to take up a part of the docks and move it to somewhere else, or take one or two of our railway termini away to some other part of the country. But that is quite fantastic; we cannot remove great industrial concentrations like that in a matter of a few years. It must be realised that this problem of congestion and overspill in Greater London—and this applies to many of our great cities—is more or less permanent, so long as we maintain the vast industrial concentrations which give rise to it. We must therefore make some permanent provision in our legislation to deal with overspill, as provision is made in this Bill.

I know that the Minister said in Committee that there is not likely to be much money forthcoming for the development of the principles of this Bill, but I would remind him that his party may not be sitting—indeed, will not be sitting—on that side very much longer. The late Labour Government can rightly claim the authorship of this Bill, and I can assure him that it is our intention to make it an effective Bill to deal with the problem of overspill not only in London but in the other great cities, too. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that, although he may not want to use his powers as widely as possible, we, on our part, when we take over office, will be grateful and thankful to pick up the Bill from where he has left it, and make it an outstanding success.

I hope the House will register an objection to the principles of this new Clause in an emphatic manner, and that we shall make the Bill a permanent Act on the Statute Book, because it is only through a Bill of this description that the hopes of many hundreds of thousands of people may lie in solving their housing problems and providing their children with better conditions.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I want to respond to the appeal of the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) by appealing to him and his hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman says he is keen upon this Bill. If so, perhaps he would try to help us to get the Bill. I was glad to hear a tribute to it, because that tribute has not been so apparent hitherto. The hon. Member for Acton talked of his party as the party of the future, but the great leader who will lead his party in the future has called this a niggling little thing.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked leave to withdraw the new Clause. There are Amendments, but of no considerable importance, and if we all want the Bill it would help if we tried to get it as quickly as possible. In view of the fact that no one wants to press the Clause, it may be possible to reach a decision.

Mr. Benn

The right hon. Gentleman could assist to get the Bill by making the statement which we all hoped he would make—that he wants to see the Bill as a piece of permanent machinery. When we asked, earlier in the debate, how much money would be available, he was not able to tell us, and although we were disappointed we well understood that, who ever was in power at present, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be likely to be sticky when appeals were made to him for money.

But if the Bill is to be denied money which we might be able to use, and if the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry is to be denied money it might be able to use under the provisions of the Bill, and if the Bill is to last only five years or is not to be regarded as a permanent Measure, then it really becomes a niggling Bill. We on this side believe that if it were regarded as a piece of permanent legislation, with the wholehearted support of both sides of the House, it would be of considerable value in tackling a problem which will continue far beyond the period of five years. The re-adjustment of our industrial pattern of society, with the advent of atomic energy and power, will create problems which the machinery of this Bill should be able to tackle in the future.

9.15 p.m.

It is very strange to us, when we hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) claiming paternity of the Bill, and the Minister also claiming paternity of it, that, when an hon. and learned Member asks how long it is to live, the Parliamentary Secretary says he will consider strangling it at the age of five. That is not the view we have of the future of this child, born of such remarkable parents.

The Minister is asking us to get on with this Bill. He could dispose of that problem at once by getting up and saying that he heartily disagrees with his hon. and learned Friend who asks that it shall come to an end in about five years, and that he is willing to give the assurance for which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked about the future consideration of the extension of boundaries and also that local government reform will not be prejudiced.

Mr. Paget

Cannot the right hon. Gentleman give the assurance which has been asked for? Surely he has now realised that this is the last Bill which we wish to obstruct. The right hon. Gentleman appears to murmur, but that is the sort of thing he has been saying. He seems totally unable to realise that we regard this as a Bill which is important, which we wish to see improved and which we wish to see work.

The Minister cannot realise that. He mumbles and looks ill-tempered and says he is being obstructed. There is no obstruction here whatever, save by the Front Bench opposite, a Front Bench which adopts the attitude that it will not co-operate with the House in improving this Bill, which we wish well.

Let him realise the alarm felt on this side of the House when the Parliamentary Secretary, speaking from the Government Front Bench, expresses sympathy for a proposal that this Bill should be terminated in five years. If that is the sort of way in which this Government look at this Bill, it is indeed a niggling little Measure. The Bill is simply an enabling Bill. It can be a great instrument in the welfare of our country or it can be nothing. It depends entirely on how it is to be administered, and we are not to be told that.

We have pressed and pressed to be told what the Government intend to do with these powers, how they intend to use them. The only answer we get, after pressing for a whole day, and while time is wasted by the Government's refusal to disclose their intentions, their continual concealment of what they intend to do, is at last an indication that the Government look sympathetically towards the idea of bringing this Bill to an end in five years. Is the right hon. Gentleman really surprised that we should be alarmed by this, because we wish this Bill well, and for no other reason?

I come from a county which I hope will be a receiving area under this Bill. We have, in South Northants particularly, and in East Northants to some degree, towns which could do with expansion—Brackley, Daventry, towns which are too small for their countryside. Can the plans for developing that area of Britain, placed between the great towns, with good communications, and which are good for their own countryside, be worked out in a matter of five years?

Sir G. Hutchinson


Mr. Paget

The hon. and learned Member says "Yes." I will give way to him immediately if he will tell us how. How does he propose to deal with Daventry and Brackley?

Sir G. Hutchinson

When the late Government were in office, it may be that those things would have taken five years. They will take a much shorter period now.

Mr. Paget

They are taking a very much shorter period during the time the party of the hon. and learned Member is in office because that party will be in office for such a very short period. We fully appreciate that. It is not that we are seriously contemplating that the party opposite should end this Bill in five years' time. They will not be in a position to do so. What we are afraid of, and what is causing us such anxiety, is that they are thinking about it and are proposing to administer it, while they are in a position to do mischief, as if it were the sort of Bill to be brought to an end in five years. That is why we are concerned about the cavalier attitude displayed by the Parliamentary Secretary.

This is a permanent planning instrument for the development of this country, a development made more difficult by the scarred and injured countryside, so much of which has been destroyed by private enterprise development. Now we have gone into the era where the country is of value because it is regarded as belonging to the community and not to the individual who wishes to exploit it. This is an instrument within that legislation for the development of a planned society and a planned countryside in an England which needs to be preserved. I pray the right hon. Gentleman not to treat it as a mere transitory thing. This is something to be taken seriously and to be made real use of. The right hon. Gentleman apparently does not realise how fortunate he is to be the inheritor of such a valuable Measure.

Question put, and negatived.