HC Deb 31 March 1952 vol 498 cc1264-308

Order for Second Reading read.

7.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

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

This is a two-Clause Bill, the purpose of which is to ask Parliament for a further £50 million on account of expenditure under the New Towns Act, 1946. It flows naturally from the original Act, which, with its 26 Sections, set out machinery for establishing and administering the new towns. It placed at their disposal a first instalment of £50 million.

In 1946, the then Minister calculated that this first instalment of £50 million would last approximately five years; that is, from 1946 to 1951. In actual fact, it has lasted almost six years—until 1952. The main reason why the money has lasted an extra year was that constructional work did not proceed as speedily as was originally planned. It was thought that Parliament would be asked for a second instalment in 1951, whereas, in fact, we are asking for it one year later in 1952.

At this point, hon. Members will probably wonder what will be the final cost of the new towns when all are completed. Estimating the final cost is perilously like conjecture, as former holders of this office will know, but, for what it is worth, I am told that the final cost to the Exchequer, under the New Towns Act, 1946, and all the new towns Bills which may flow from it, will probably be between £225 million and £250 million, and that the expenditure of this money will be spread over 20 years. But I would not like, in future, to be bound by that estimate; it is merely given to assist hon. Members. No estimate can be really accurate, because there are quite a number of incalculable factors—

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

Is that estimate made assuming that there will be no more new towns, and on the basis of the existing ones?

Mr. Marples

Yes, on the basis of the 14 areas already designated, but even this is problematic, because local authorities may decide to take a larger share under the New Towns Act, 1946, and under the Bill now presented, which means that the Exchequer share would be correspondingly reduced.

The 1946 Act provides for repayment over 60 years of all sums advanced, and for the payment of interest at the same rate as that payable by local authorities for housing. Under the original Act, Parliament provided a first instalment of £50 million, and, at the present rate of expenditure, this will be exhausted by July, 1952, so that we now ask for a second instalment of £50 million, which we hope will be spent in two years.

Hon. Members will probably ask what is the reason for the acceleration in expenditure. It is that in all constructional work progress in the early stages is slow. Sites have to be obtained, plans have to be prepared and in many cases hutments have to be erected to accommodate labour, and so on. There is a great deal of unproductive work with very little apparently to show for it in the early stages of large constructional schemes. In the 14 areas now designated that period is largely over and in the next two years the rate of development will increase and we hope to build sufficiently fast to have committed the £50 million for which we are asking by July, 1954. The Government will then have to seek Parliament's consent for a further instalment of money.

At this point it might be for the convenience of the House if I gave a brief account of the progress made to date on the new towns as a whole. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss new towns individually because they publish an annual report which gives a full and detailed account of their activities and progress. Fourteen areas have been designated as new towns and 13 new town corporations have been set up to administer them. One corporation is running two towns, at Welwyn and Hatfield. Eleven are in England, one is in Wales and two are in Scotland. Altogether, they have been designed to cope with about 480,000 new population, which gives an average—though averages are misleading—of about 34,000 population for each town.

Eight of the 11 English new towns are near London and are to help provide for excess population in the London area. Ninety per cent. of the first £50 million spent or committed to be spent was for housing and main services such as sewerage and water supplies. Hon. Members probably will be most interested in the number of houses actually produced. In England and Wales at the end of February, 1952, 3,666 houses had been completed, 5,802 were under construction and contracts had been let but not started on a further 3,769. But now that the preliminary contracts are well advanced house building is proceeding more rapidly. In just over five years, up to February, 1952, 3,666 were completed. In England and Wales we hope to complete 3,810 houses in the next six months alone, which is more than were produced in the first five and a quarter years. That will give the House some idea of the quickening pace of house building. In a year or two we hope to reach a rate of well over 10,000 houses a year in the new towns in England and Wales.

I turn now to progress made in industrial development. Any hon. Member who has taken part in these discussions on new towns, on town and country planning and on the Town Development Bill will know it is essential that new towns, as well as existing towns, should be balanced communities with, broadly speaking, sufficient industry to provide employment for a large part of their population. At all costs we must avoid having masses of people travelling many miles each day to work. It is costly—and now more costly than it used to be—frustrating and tiring to spend hours travelling each day.

The remaining 10 per cent. of the first instalment of £50 million has been committed mainly to industrial purposes—shops, commercial buildings and the site works necessary to open up new industrial areas. A modest start is also being made this year on some of the town centres. General development expenses are included in this 10 per cent. These general development expenses are initial expenses on setting up a corporation, preparing for development and administering the project until sufficient building has taken place to produce adequate revenue.

These are the bare outlines of the picture of the new towns as a whole and I would commend to hon. Members the excellent annual reports which are published by the new towns and which can be obtained at the Vote Office.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

Can the hon. Gentleman say if the up-to-date annual return is now available? I believe it is about due now.

Mr. Marples

I should not like to say that it is out for all the new towns, but the reports to which I am referring are the detailed reports by each new town in which is given a complete report of their activities during the preceding year. They give a wealth of information which I am sure the hon. Member will enjoy if he wades through all the reports in the Vote Office.

There is no controversy about the general aim and principle of the new towns. In 1946 the New Towns Bill received a Second Reading without a division. Of course, we may disagree on a number of points. Some hon. Members say too many schemes have been started and others say too few. We may disagree on the details of the administrative set-up. We may argue about the siting of some of the new towns—for a wide variety of reasons not all hon. Members are in agreement with the sites originally chosen. We may think that the logical step was that expanded towns should come first and new towns later. But although we may disagree with the method of carrying out the principle of new towns we are all agreed on general policy and to that policy we are all committed.

Once these huge schemes have started and are under way it behoves all of us to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has frequently expressed his keen interest in the new towns and he will do all in his power to see that they are a success. He has seen quite a number of them since he took office and he hopes to see them all in the next few months.

I shall assist him, as much as I can, to attain administrative and technical efficiency. I say that for the reason that hon. Members opposite have frequently thought that we on this side of the House were against the principle of new towns. That is not so. What we were concerned with was that they should have the maximum administrative and technical efficiency, and some of us thought in the past that they had not reached that efficiency.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

What do hon. and right hon. Members opposite think now?

Mr. Marples

I am asked what we think now. I think they have improved steadily since my right hon. Friend took over, and in the next three years they will improve further—with the assistance, I hope, of the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend is particularly anxious to accelerate the pace of building the houses, for certain reasons which are well known to hon. Members. We are trying to do that with the £50 million we are now asking to give us. My right hon. Friend commends the Bill to the House, and I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

Can the hon. Gentleman say how building in the new towns will be affected by the general capital investment cuts and whether the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January is having any effect on building new towns or not?

Mr. Marples

The pace of building in new towns will accelerate for the next two years for the simple reason that the contracts are already let and the materials are flowing in. We hope to spend £50 million in the next two years against £50 million spread over five years in the past, and if we can go faster than that we shall do so. We shall be affected to some extent by the shortage of steel, but not by shortage of capital. Steel for flats might cause a hold-up in some of the new towns where they are erecting high blocks in the centres of the towns—that is supposed to be the latest feature in town planning. But the capital investment cuts will not affect house building, or roads and sewerage schemes which are largely provided.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

We on this side of the House give this Bill a very hearty welcome and we are glad that, through the Parliamentary Secretary, the Government have emphasised that it is their intention to carry on with the general policy of the new towns as envisaged in the New Towns Act.

There is one point about the new towns which the Parliamentary Secretary did not mention and about which perhaps we may be given some information before the debate concludes. It is that Congleton was designated before we left office, and we should be glad of an assurance that that new town is to go forward, thereby relieving the congestion in Manchester, North Staffordshire and the Pottery areas.

Because of the business before the House this evening, I intend to be brief, but that brevity does not in any way indicate any lack of enthusiasm for new towns, which, I think most hon. Members will appreciate, have been among my hobbies for many years. The Parliamentary Secretary rightly said that these new towns must be balanced communities, and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) interjected a remark towards the end of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech about facilities for industry and other commitments likely to be cut under the capital investment programme.

There is some fear—whether it is well founded or not I am not sure—that there is likely to be a slackening of industrial, social and educational development in the new towns. I hope that we shall be given an assurance that development of these activities will continue without having to suffer cuts in any shape or form; if not, progress in the new towns will be very much restricted.

Most of the people going into the new towns are coming from places such as London and large towns in other parts of the country. They are, in fact, townsmen; they are not countrymen. They must have the facilities of an urban area. If people are to be moved into an area where there are no social amenities when they have been used to such amenities, and where the educational facilities are likely to be fewer than those in the existing areas, progress in the new towns is likely to be restricted.

I should be glad if the Minister will give an assurance on those two points when he replies, and I conclude by again welcoming the Bill, and reiterating that the brevity of my speech is solely to facilitate the business of the House.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

The Parliamentary Secretary introduced this as a Bill of two Clauses. I should like to suggest how it could be improved by adding one more Clause in the Committee stage. We are perpetuating the appearance of Parliamentary control over the policy of new towns, but, in fact, we have not yet got the substance. There is a misleading element still in the policy. This is a chance to put it right.

Section I of the 1946 Act gives the Minister power to designate new towns in unlimited numbers, provided that he is satisfied that it is expedient in the national interest, and that he has had consultation with the interested local authorities. Hon. Members will notice that local inquiry, but no Parliamentary inquiry, is necessary. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, 14 new towns have already been designated, and they are to cost about £250 million or perhaps more. Therefore, we are already committed to spend a far larger sum than the £50 million which we are discussing tonight. It makes this debate academic.

I am not sure that it is right, however great a respect we have for the Minister, that we should give him power to designate towns without coming to Parliament for the final sanction and, in fact, committing this country to the expenditure of very large sums of money on his authority alone. It is quite impossible to see how the House could possibly refuse to grant the money to complete a new town once started. I am not hostile to the idea of new towns. I have always supported the idea; in fact, during the last year I have taken the trouble to visit three of them. But I do think that we ought to take this opportunity of putting right what I am sure hon. Members will agree is a very weak point in the original Act.

Later this week we are to be asked by another Minister, by affirmative Resolution, to approve a fertiliser scheme. Yet this Minister can designate as many new towns as he likes, each costing something in the nature of the groundnut venture—and surely we spent enough time talking about that last year. I should have thought that if it was really necessary for my right hon. Friend to come to this House with an affirmative Resolution before a fertiliser scheme can be put into operation, it ought also to be right for any Minister responsible for the time being for new towns, to come to the House with a similar Resolution before designation. I am sure that it would be better if he could do that, and I hope he will be able to say, during the Committee stage, that something on those lines can be done.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I am very glad to be able to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I am sorry that more time is not to be made available for its discussion because, though very small in number of Clauses, it is nevertheless very important, particularly to people in London and the Greater London area, as well as in the great towns and cities of our country.

Before I proceed I want to make a complaint about a matter which closely affects my own constituency. The Minister has seen fit to make a number of changes in the personnel of development corporations, and he has given no adequate reason for displacing in some cases very competent persons and putting in their places others about whose competence many of us know nothing at all.

I want, therefore, to remind him in particular about a Question which I put to him on 4th March about his displacement of the chairman of our local planning committee at Acton, who was also a member of Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation, by declining to renew his term of office on the Development Corporation. The right hon. Gentleman's answer was totally unsatisfactory. When I asked him that Question, he said that the rest of London was also interested in this new town, and he gave that as a reason why he displaced the chairman of the local planning committee of the Acton Borough Council.

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman has got the right conception of these new town development corporations. He will find that each of these new towns is linked up to a definite congested area, and the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation in particular is linked up with Acton, Willesden, Wembley, Hendon and Harrow. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in the first place, before the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation was designated at all, the Acton Borough Council was interested in the development of a housing scheme at Hemel Hempstead because we are a built-up area in Acton; we have no land on which to build more houses; we have 15,000 too many people living in the area, and we have a housing list of well over 4,000 people in a population of just under 70,000.

We went there and we were in the process of negotiating with the Hemel Hempstead Urban District Council for the acquisition of a site on which to build 400 houses, when along came the Minister and designated Hemel Hempstead as a new town, thus preventing the Acton Borough Council from continuing its original intention of providing 400 houses at Hemel Hempstead.

However, the Minister realised the importance of Acton's interest in the development of Hemel Hempstead, and the chairman of our local planning committee was constituted a member of the Development Corporation. Consequently, we have been very closely linked with Hemel Hempstead. Many hundreds of our people are looking forward to new homes at Hemel Hempstead, and this action of the Minister in cutting off our Acton member from this Development Corporation has led to a lack of confidence in the prospects of many of our people being rehoused there.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to give some reason why he has displaced really good, first-class men from these development corporations. Is it because they do not carry the political label of his side? He has got rid of quite a number of really good fellows who happen to be of our political frame of mind rather than his. I should like some answer from him on that.

I turn now to one or two other matters arising from the Bill and the purposes for which it is presented. First of all, it is important to realise that what the Parliamentary Secretary has said about the increasing momentum of development now taking place is very important, and it has a direct relationship to the amount of money proposed in this Bill, which I think is quite inadequate. In the first three years of the Act just over £6 million was expended by the development corporations; up to 1950, that is, roughly four years after the Act, £11,362,000 was expended, and up to 29th February, 1952, roughly six years after the main Act, no less than £22 million has been spent by the development corporations in development schemes.

As the Parliamentary Secretary said just now, the expenditure already approved for developments up to the end of July this year is no less than £50 million, and if that rate of momentum is to be maintained in the next two years the right hon. Gentleman will find that this additional £50 million is quite inadequate to finance the programmes of the development corporations. Bearing in mind the fact that this £50 million has a much lower value, measured in terms of development, than the original £50 million has, because of the rise in prices, particularly building costs, I doubt whether this £50 million is worth more than about £35 million or £40 million comparing its value with that of three or four years ago.

If the development corporations are to do their job in the way in which the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated and this gathering momentum in development is to continue, I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that he will require much more than £50 million in the next two years unless there is some intention to reduce the pace of development.

The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) raised the question of the capital investment programme and whether it is proposed to permit the development corporations to develop as speedily as they can or to make some reduction in the rate of development. That is very important. I think it would be entirely wrong for any steps to be taken by the Government to restrict the development programmes of these development corporations, because they are carrying out very important and very urgent tasks.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that of the expenditure already incurred by the development corporations 90 per cent. was expended upon housing and the main services and roughly 10 per cent. for industrial and other purposes. In the matter of the 90 per cent., the Parliamentary Secretary failed completely to give any clear indication to the House as to the effect upon the housing programme of the development corporations as a result of the rise in the interest rates upon advances from the Public Works Loans Board. We know the rate of interest has gone up from 3 per cent. to 4½ per cent. What has that meant to the development corporations and particularly to those people who are going to live in the houses which these development corporations are building?

That is a very vital point. If the House will bear with me, I will illustrate that by some figures which prove conclusively that the burden, in the shape of rent now being charged to people going to the new towns, is growing to such a point that development corporations may not succeed in their purpose in attracting people to live there. The development corporations have completed and under construction 8,486 houses to house just under 30,000 people.

If we take a house, the capital cost of which today is £2,050, which is a very fair average, it will be found that the annual charges to be met on that house are £94 14s. 6d. for loan charge, £5 for supervision and management, and £25 for maintenance and repairs; so that the annual charge is £124 14s. 6d. Side by side with that figure, by way of deduction, there is the Exchequer contribution, which amounts to £26 14s.

It must be remembered that the development corporations have no means of contributing a rate subsidy as the local authorities have, so there is no local rate subsidy or rate contribution. The only deduction one can make is the Exchequer Grant, which leaves a figure of £98 0s. 6d. a year as the net rent which any person would have to pay in taking up a house in the development corporation area. At the old loan rate of 3 per cent. and the old rate of subsidy that net rent would be £87 7s. 9d. In other words, as a result of the increased rate of interest charged by the Public Works Loans Board, the rent of such a house would have increased by £10 12s. 9d. a year, or about 4s. 1d. a week.

But that is not the whole story. The position is far more serious than that, because a house of the type I am talking about, three years ago would have cost £1,650. It has risen in cost by £400 in the last three years. Three years ago that type of house could have been let at a net rent of £57 19s. 6d. a year. Today it would be £40 1s. 0d. a year more. Put in a simpler way, the net rent of such a house three years ago would have been 22s. 3d. a week; today, on the basis of the old interest rate and the old subsidy it would have been 33s. 7d. a week; but with the increased interest charges and the higher rate subsidies it would cost 37s. 8d. a week.

So, in three years, the rent of that type of house has increased by 15s. 5d. a week. Added to these figures are the rates. It will be found that the rental being charged for the houses of many of these development corporations are becoming excessive and it is time the Minister did something about it; otherwise we might have lots of houses going up which people will be unable to go into because they cannot afford to pay the rent.

Another important aspect of the Bill is in industrial development. We all know that unless there is an adequate development of industry in the new towns, we cannot hope to hold the population who are going there to live. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a Question which I put to him on 18th March, gave details, in addition to the number of houses built and under construction, of the industrial establishments in the new towns. I was surprised at the very small number of industries that have been completed and are under construction in the new towns. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to 13 new town development corporations.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I do not think the hon. Gentleman is in order in dealing with industrial development. The scope of this Bill is very narrow. It merely adds a further £50 million to the development corporations.

Mr. Sparks

This money is to be used not only for the development of housing schemes but for the development of buildings and factories. These new town development corporations spend this money to build factories which are let to industrialists at a rent, so, with very great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think that you will find this is strictly in order, because at least 10 per cent. of this money will be spent on the building of factories and on industrial development.

The point that I want to emphasise is this: I do not think that the industrial development in the new towns is sufficiently rapid because, of the 12 new town development corporations, particulars of which the Minister supplied to me—the Parliamentary Secretary talked about 13, but I do not know where the other one is—in five of the 12, Aycliffe, Corby, Cwmbran, Peterlee and Stevenage, there is no industrial development completed or under construction.

If we compare the number of persons who have gone there to live and are expected to go there to live, particularly if no new industry is being developed in the area, we see that the time has come when something must be done to speed up industrial development at least in those five areas where at the moment there is no industrial development whatsoever. In a further two, which makes seven out of the 12, there is only one industry established, and, in one of those two, that one industry is only just under construction. If we take the other five we find that the pace of industrial development is very slow indeed.

I will not weary the House by giving figures, which I could do, to prove that what I am saying is correct, but I would like to draw the attention of the House and of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to the last report of the new town development corporations, dated 31st March, 1951. I was hoping that an up-to-date report would be available for this debate, but apparently it is not. The Minister will find if he looks through the report of the new town development corporations that there is a consistent complaint about inability to bring to the areas new industries which are willing to come but are unable to get the necessary industrial certificate and the building licences from the Board of Trade.

I think that it is time that the Minister of Housing and Local Government looked into this matter, because the rate of industrial development in the new towns is lagging seriously behind, and unless some steps are taken by him to persuade the Board of Trade, who are the responsible body for issuing industrial certificates, and the Ministry of Works, for building licences, to take a different attitude to industrial development in the new towns he will find, as time goes on, that this will create very great difficulties in holding populations in areas where there is no work for them.

I can speak for my own constituency which is very heavily industrialised with over 500 factories great and small. Only one small factory has gone out of the area to a new town. Cannot something be done to persuade these industries and factories in congested areas to go into the new towns? There is evidence in the reports of the new town development corporations that they could get more industrial development in the new towns if only the Government Departments concerned with the issue of industrial certificates and building licences would be a little more realistic in their concessions to those industrialists who want to go to the new towns and provide work for the populations there.

My final point is in regard to the transfer of workers to new towns. I will give an illustration of what I am trying to emphasise. In my own constituency, there is a very important factory which wanted to expand. It could not expand within the borough, and it had to go to Hemel Hempstead, where it has built a new factory.

There are a number of workers in my constituency working in the main factory, who have been on the housing list for many years and who are badly housed, but, for some reason, the Hemel Hempstead Corporation debar them from going to the new town, and are only prepared to take into the new town people on conditions—in the case of a man, that he goes into this factory at Acton and trains there for three months, then goes to Hemel Hempstead and gets a new house.

Consequently, in this particular factory at the present time there is a great industrial unrest, because the men there are expected to train these outsiders in specialised jobs, so that they may go to new towns and have a new house, while they themselves are debarred from transferring to the firm's new factory at Hemel Hempstead.

I had a number of letters from fellows in this factory. Some of them have been on the Acton Council housing list for some years—in one case eight or nine years—and I think that there must be a fair method devised of transferring workers from the congested areas of our towns and cities to these new towns.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have no doubt that the matters to which the hon. Member is referring are important matters, but I fail to see how they arise on this Bill at all. This Bill provides for capital expenditure for housing.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

If you will look, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, at the constitution of the new towns set out in the 1946 New Towns Act, you will find that the new towns are empowered to build factories, and this money is to enable them to build factories and houses.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not the point which the hon. Member is dealing with. He is dealing with the transfer of workers.

Mr. Sparks

With all due respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the new town development corporations are definitely responsible for using this money which we are raising tonight for building factories, and they are the people who decide who are to go into the houses which they are building to service the new industries which they, too, are developing. This, I realise, is more an administrative point than anything else, but I want to mention it tonight because it is a burning question in areas like my constituency, and we must insist that those who are transferred from the congested areas to the new towns are people with the greatest need for housing accommodation and must be the people who have the skill to do the jobs in the new towns where the new industries are being developed.

I must apologise for taking so long, but this is a very important Bill, and it is all very well to try to rush it through in the matter of an hour or so. This is a vitally important Bill and one which affects all the great towns and cities of our country. I think, therefore, it is important that we should emphasise, as well as we can on this occasion, because we do not have an opportunity very often, these problems which come before us from time to time.

I hope that the Bill will receive a unanimous Second Reading, as I feel sure that it will, and I trust that during the Committee stage the Minister will see his way clear to improve it still further.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)

I am afraid that I cannot share the unqualified approval which the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) gives to this Bill. When one considers the magnitude of the task undertaken in the New Towns Act, 1946, and the vastness of the sums of money which are being spent, it is a very remarkable fact that, apart from the Adjournment debate which I initiated in May, 1950, the subject of new towns and the way in which the New Towns Act, 1946, has been operated has never come under discussion in this House.

We have had very little information about the new towns except in so far as we have had from time to time nicely presented annual reports from the development corporations. If the new towns have been doing well, we have not heard much about it; if they have been doing badly, any attempt at criticism at Question time, certainly in the last Parliament, was quickly thrust aside.

Only a few hon. Members have new towns in their constituencies, and only two hon. Members, the hon. Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) and I, have new towns where there is already a very large resident population, with all the peculiar problems which arise from that fact.

Mr. Lindgren

Surely the hon. Member does not suggest that Corby is not a town of considerable size?

Mr. Braine

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am thinking in terms of an existing population of 20,000 to 25,000 people, which is a very substantial number. If it is decided to plant a new town on top of them, it is not surprising that a number of difficulties—to put it mildly—arise.

The Minister comes to the House today and seeks to increase the amount of money to be spent on new towns. I think I shall be in order in saying that before we agree to give the Bill a Second Reading we should satisfy ourselves that the money already spent has been wisely spent, that the policy is sound and that any doubts and fears which may have arisen in the past are likely to be removed in the future.

It is fantastic, but true, that under the 1946 Act, which advanced a sum of no more than £50 million, the Minister could designate as many new towns as he liked without coming to the House to ask for leave. Bismarck would have been delighted to have had powers of that kind. The result was that my right hon. Friend's predecessors were able to commit the nation to a capital expenditure, in respect of the 14 new towns which they designated, of not far short of £300 million, although the sum which Parliament voted them in the first place was not more than £50 million.

There are very grave doubts indeed whether the powers granted under the previous Act have been wisely used, and it is high time that the House had an opportunity of knowing exactly what has been done in the darkness of the last few years. There was the new town of Peterlee, sited on top of 30 million tons of good coal. After designation it was discovered that the coal lay beneath.

I would refer the House to the 1949 Report of the Peterlee Corporation: There are about thirty million tons of coal under the designated area; and it was early appreciated that a realistic master plan depended on an agreed solution of the problem of co-ordinating surface development and underground mining. It would have been better if this area had never been designated at all. The Report goes on to say: … on the Minister's instruction, an outline for a master plan was prepared on the purely theoretical assumption that the problem of coal did not exist. What was the result of that? I turn to the Annual Report for 1951, where we see: As the whole of the designated area lies over several seams of coal which are in the process of being worked, progress at Peterlee is to a great extent hinged on the co-ordination of surface planning with underground working. The result was that during 1950–51 there was a ding-dong battle between the Development Corporation and the Coal Board. Apparently houses can only be built if coal is sterilised or the density of housing is lessened, so that houses have to be built on concrete rafts to avoid the risk of subsidence, all of which causes increased costs.

The Corporation go on to say: The Coal Board's concessions to the new town involved the unavoidable sterilisation of just over one million tons of coal. The loss of coal involved is very much regretted by the Corporation. I should say it is. It is a crying scandal that this area should have been designated as a new town in these circumstances, and I think hon. Members opposite would agree with this.

Then we have the new town of Bracknell—

Mr. Lindgren

Is it to go on record that the hon. Gentleman does not believe that the miner is just as much entitled to a decent home, in decent surroundings, as any other member of the community? Peterlee is providing decent homes where successive Tory mineowners caused men to live in hovels not fit for animals.

Mr. Braine

The hon. Gentleman would have been wiser not to make that intervention. He completely misunderstood my point, which was that this site was unsuitable for a new town. Neither in this House nor elsewhere have I ever opposed the principle of new towns. On the contrary, I think it is a noble idea. But the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues failed to pay sufficient attention to the early planning considerations.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one cannot build a new town in Durham without encountering problems of subsidence?

Mr. Braine

The responsibility for selecting a suitable area is not mine. This was a case where an area was selected where it was proposed to build houses on top of 30 million tons of good British coal. As a result the cost of that new town will be very much greater than originally planned. [Interruption.] There is no point in arguing about it; the mistake has been made. My point is that the House should have an opportunity of understanding what other mistakes were made before we go any further.

I turn to the question of Bracknell. Many hundreds of acres of some of the finest agricultural land in Berkshire were included in the designated area. As a result of the very proper protests that were made a public inquiry was held and the land in question was excluded, with the result, as everybody, including the Corporation themselves now admit, that the remaining area is too small on which to build a satisfactory and balanced new town.

I come now to the new town of Basildon, in my own constituency. Here a site was chosen astride the main road and rail links between London and Southend, which is the largest town in the eastern counties. Here the planners ran riot. They first of all decided upon an optimum population of 50,000. Later, they changed their minds about it. It was now to house a population of 80,000. In their last Annual Report the figure of 90,000 is mentioned. Originally the sewage was to be taken to the River Crouch, but as a result of this vastly increased population and of other difficulties it is now to be taken southwards to the River Thames, with the result that it is to cost an additional £250,000. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. It makes me question whether the figures which my hon. Friend gave to the House as to what the new towns are ultimately to cost are at all accurate.

How are we to be sure, when so many mistakes have been made, that they are accurate? At every turn it has been found necessary to recast plans and ideas, and we are entitled to wonder what these things are going to cost. All these difficulties have arisen out of the failure of those who designated these new towns. Yet many of these difficulties were clearly foreseen by the Reith Committee.

It will be remembered that that Committee actually warned against the siting of new towns anywhere near small towns, and preferred the idea of developing relatively undeveloped sites. They said: We think that the difficulties which will arise in carrying out the major extension of a small town, such as the interference with existing interests and relationships, have not been fully appreciated. If that Committee had been able to look into the future, it would have seen the very difficulties which it warned against being ignored by the predecessors of my right hon. Friend.

The Reith Committee gave a clear-cut warning to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) to avoid, as far as possible, designating built-up areas. If he decided to take the risk there was a duty upon him to mitigate the hardship that was caused. Nevertheless, the fact is that Hemel Hempstead, with an existing population of 21,000, and Basildon, with an existing population of 25,000, were designated as new towns. It is quite impossible to build new towns in those areas without causing a great deal of disturbance and hardship to the people living there.

The Basildon Development Corporation's first Annual Report mentions that the effect of various enactments governing the compensation to be paid by the Corporation for vacant possession inevitably restricts the sale within the designated area, and in certain cases causes genuine hardship thus hindering the Corporation's efforts to win the confidence and co-operation of the inhabitants. Let me take this opportunity of putting something else on record. It was the doctrinaire attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland and his Friends, when they sat on the Government benches, on the subject of Basildon, which caused a great deal of distress to my constituents.

In an Adjournment debate on 15th May, I asked if a freeholder whose land and property was left unaffected by the master plan would be left in possession of his freehold rights. I asked a clear cut question, and the hon. Member for Wellingborough, who was then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, said in reply: There will be no fears set at rest on the basis of allowing the existing freeholders to remain, because, in fact, that could not happen. It would be impossible to create the new town and allow the freeholders to remain. A little later the hon. Gentleman said—and he repeated it several times to make it absolutely clear— This area will become a leasehold area but a leasehold from the community, the community owning the land. He ended this part of the speech with this declaration: I said, and I repeat, that for the purpose of creating a new town it is necessary to have single ownership of the land of the area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 965–968.]

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Braine

I am glad to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that statement because, subsequently, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland went out of his way to try to explain away the statement of his Parliamentary Secretary.

That statement depressed the value of property throughout the designated area and caused a great deal of unhappiness to people, some of whom, normally, are keen supporters of the party opposite. Moreover, feeling ran particularly high in Basildon and Hemel Hempstead, because powers of land acquisition were being exercised by a public corporation which was not representative of the people on the spot. It is one thing for the local authority to exercise compulsory powers of purchase; it is another thing for a nonelected body—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have listened for some time to the hon. Gentleman. He is really discussing past administration. That is not in order on the Second Reading of a Bill.

Mr. Braine

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I submit that before the House gives the Bill a Second Reading and gives approval to the expenditure of a further £50 million, it should have an opportunity of deciding whether the policy so far has been wisely carried out and whether there is not reason to believe that if the Bill is given this Second Reading these difficulties will arise again.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That was the purpose, originally, of the hon. Gentleman's argument. He was saying that the original £50 million was not wisely spent and, therefore, that there should not be this further demand for another £50 million, but he cannot go into details of past administration.

Mr. Braine

Is it not permissible for me to inquire whether, in the expenditure of the future £50 million my right hon. Friend considers that a development corporation is the best agent? I take it that I should be in order if I raised that particular point. I do so for the reason—it is a most interesting one—that, in the Town Development Bill, which is now in Committee, the task of developing an expanded town has been entrusted not to a development corporation but to the local authority.

In this connection, I should like to know the distinction between a new town and an expanded town. In many cases the new towns, like those at Hemel Hempstead and Basildon, are also expanded towns. They are new towns grafted on to towns which already exist. Take some of the towns which have already been scheduled as expanded towns, such as Witham in Essex; what is the distinction between them and the new towns? If it is possible to carry out the development of a town like Witham or Wickford in any constituency by using the existing local authority, why is it necessary to employ a development corporation in building new towns such as those I have mentioned?

Mr. Lindgren

Surely the hon. Gentleman has sufficient local knowledge to know that, as far as Basildon was concerned, it was designated as a development corporation at the request of the Essex County Council and Billericay Rural and Urban District Council because there was such a terrible mass of shacks, and so on, in the area that it was beyond the local resources to put matters right.

Mr. Braine

I agree with the latter part of the remark, namely, that it was beyond local resources to put matters right. I also agree that the decision to designate the area as a new town flowed from the request of the then Labour controlled Essex County Council and the then Labour controlled Billericay Urban District Council. At that time the full implications of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, particularly its financial provisions, were not properly understood. It would have been a different story, if they had been. However, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I know you will call me to order if I follow the red herring drawn by the hon. Gentleman.

How soon are areas like Basildon and Hemel Hempstead, with large resident populations, to get properly constituted local government? Already there are many difficulties arising out of the operation of two authorities in the same area; one a properly elected body in the case of Basildon, the Billericay Urban District Council, and the other a non-elected body nominated by the Minister, the Basildon Development Corporation.

Here there are two authorities with overlapping powers. In the field of physical development they have identical powers. In the field of public health and sanitation and certain other matters the powers are with the local authority but the burden could be—I do not say that it is—increased by the operations of the Corporation. In the field of finance the Corporation secures its income from ground rents, but it cannot levy taxes by way of rates, while the local authority can levy rates but cannot draw on ground rents.

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) raised a most important point when he spoke a little earlier about rents. Let me give the House an idea of the anomalies which exist in this respect. At Cwmbran inclusive rents have been fixed provisionally at 36s. 6d. by the corporation. Yet nearby an identical house of exactly the same dimensions erected by the rural district council is rented at 21s. 8d. and there are people on the waiting list of the rural district council who have a right, as the result of an agreement between the two authorities, to go into the houses of the corporation. But many say they cannot avail themselves of this opportunity because the rents are too high.

Let us look at the difference between the rents of local authority houses and those of the corporations. At Stevenage the rents of a three bedroom terraced house small type are 34s. 3d., large type 39s. 5d., and 40s. 11d. for the end house in a terrace. I agree with the hon. Member for Acton that these rents are far beyond the capacity of the poorer families to pay. If we are to attract lower paid workers into the new towns—and we must do that to have properly balanced communities—something must be done about the rents.

As the House knows, the reason is that the Corporation cannot keep the rents down by contributions from the rate fund or by raising the rents of a pool of houses built in an earlier period when costs were lower. I am not saying that the rents in the new towns are excessive, but there is the difficulty that in the future we may have a problem arising in respect of lower-paid workers. For instance, I am told that at Stevenage they cannot get dustmen because suitable people cannot pay the rents of the houses erected at the present time.

I say, therefore, that there is a considerable volume of argument in favour of one body in the new towns having the total of powers and finances now shared by two, certainly in areas where large populations already exist. The present system is wasteful in the extreme. In one new town of which I know, 28 consultations and approvals must precede the execution of plans and 11 separate authorities' plans and projects have to be co-ordinated with those of the corporation. This means waste of money and staff.

There is one last point to which I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention. There is no more burning question in new towns than that of freehold compensation. Under the 1946 Act, when land was required for purposes of development a man's freehold property could be taken and he could only be given a leasehold in exchange, except by consent of the Minister, given only in exceptional cases.

My right hon. Friend's predecessors always declined to use their powers under Section 5 (1) of the New Towns Act, with the result that people who wanted to build on their own freehold land or on another freehold site—and there have been scores of cases in new towns—have been prevented from doing so. I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to one curious anomaly. In the Towns Development Bill, it is intended to give power to local authorities to dispose of the freehold of land. Supposing the Town Development Bill becomes law—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is getting back to administration again. We have passed from that.

Mr. Braine

May I put this point very shortly to my right hon. Friend, because it is a matter—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member can put it shortly if it is in order, but not if it is out of order, however short.

Mr. Braine

I know that there is a great deal of business to be transacted and I do not intend to detain the House more than a moment or two, but purely as an illustration perhaps I may point out that if the Town Development Bill becomes law, there would be the extraordinary situation that in Basildon—a new town—it would not be possible for a freeholder whose land is being acquired to be given a freehold plot in exchange, but that at Wickford, just over the border, which is scheduled as an expanded town, it would be possible.

I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, to look into this matter and to see whether it is not possible to amend the Bill at a later stage, or, perhaps, without amending the Bill, to use the powers which he already has under the 1946 Act, to make freehold compensation possible. If he gives an assurance on these lines, it would go a long way towards reconciling freeholders in Hemel Hempstead and Basildon towards the idea of new towns.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and the hon. Member for Wellingborough always thought that this was a small matter, but it is not. Indeed, if this great social experiment of new towns is to succeed, as it must, it has to be founded upon a basis of justice and it must carry the existing inhabitants of these places with it. I am sure that that is what my right hon. Friend wishes to do.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

I will not keep the House very long, but I am very glad to have an opportunity of following the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine). I agree with his peroration, but I cannot say that I agree with very much else.

The hon. Member began with a rather strange constitutional proposal which had earlier been made by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane). In effect, it was a vote of censure on his right hon. Friend the Minister. The hon. Member, evidently, did not have any confidence in his own Minister of Housing and Local Government undertaking new town developments in desirable places.

There is one Motion already on the Order Paper demanding the dismissal of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that there will not be any further support for such a proposal from hon. Members on the Minister's own benches, because I have a very great personal affection for the right hon. Gentleman. He will need it in the coming months.

The hon. Member for Billericay spoke in the main about three new towns—Peterlee, a few perfunctory words about Bracknell and a few more words about Basildon. I do not know whether he knows County Durham at all. It is an area of straggling mining villages, with no social amenities of any kind, where people have been living by pitheads for generations—a downright disgrace to the Industrial Revolution and the coal masters who perpetrated them. The whole object of this new town of Peter-lee was to give to the miners of Durham, of Britain, the best living conditions that Britain could give, but the hon. Member has come to criticise the proposal and gone on record as saying that the new town of Peterlee should never have been designated at all. Those were his words.

Mr. Braine

The hon. Member must not put words into my mouth which I did not utter. What I asked was, would it not have been possible to find some other site than one which planted a new town on 30 million tons of coal? I did not for a moment suggest—if I did suggest it to the hon. Member I now correct it—that miners of Durham should not have a new town. Let us build new towns all over the place without misusing the resources of coal and good agricultural land, which were misused by hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Donnelly

I think the hon. Member must be wanting to build towns in the air, perhaps in the hot air that he has been giving the House. The whole of East Durham is a coalfield. It extends over the whole area where a new town could be built if the miners are to be able to go to and from their work, and obviously the site of Peterlee is the best site which could be selected.

On the question of Basildon, I do not know whether the hon. Member has visited his own constituency. If he has, he is doubtless aware of the deplorable living conditions, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) as "shacks," with unmade-up roads, a dreary and almost desolate area in the Pitsea-Laindon area. All my right hon. Friend the previous Minister was doing was to provide decent living and working conditions for the constituents of the hon. Member. I hope he will not go on record against that also, as that would be a great pity if he did visit his constituency, because he might have difficulty in facing his constituents—

Mr. Braine

I live there.

Mr. Donnelly

The hon. Member says that he lives there. I hope he will continue to live there in safety. The hon. Member talked of the inequities of the leasehold system in new towns. I well remember him initiating an Adjournment debate in 1950. I am very much against the leasehold system perpetrated by Tory landowners in South Wales, but the hon. Member will appreciate that the whole system of financing new towns cannot be undertaken without the public ownership of the land in those areas. It is tied up with the whole administrative system of land ownership. He will also appreciate that if we are not to waste the £50 million we are voting, it is imperative that the land should be in public ownership so that the land values created by the activities of the corporation shall be recouped for the benefit of the community as a whole.

Mr. Braine

I wonder if the hon. Member will make one thing quite clear? Does he mean to say, as his hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) said in 1950, that even though a man's freehold property is not required for the purposes of development of a new town, nevertheless it should be acquired?

Mr. Donnelly

If the hon. Member will look into the matter carefully in the interest of saving public money, he will appreciate that if a new town is to be built the land values will be increased. Then, it is obvious that the development corporation should be in a position to recoup those values.

Mr. Braine

The hon. Member is only displaying an ignorance of my constituency, which is not unnatural. The whole point of my argument is that in new towns, such as Basildon, the value of property has decreased as a result of the policy of the former Government.

Mr. Donnelly

No, I think that all that happened there was a temporary depression as a result of the speeches of the hon. Member, and once his constituents experience the actual benefits which will accrue to them, there will be a considerable rise.

There is, I think, only one real reason why the hon. Member for Billericay is so opposed to this proposal and works up so much synthetic indignation whenever the subject is mentioned. It is because he is afraid of new towns and of people coming from the East End of London to live in his constituency who will remove him from this House. The hon. Member thinks that that is a kind of sword of Damocles hanging over him. One day it will fall and chop off his head.

Mr. Braine

Was that the motive for designating this new town?

Mr. Donnelly

I think the hon. Gentleman overrates his own importance.

But let me come to what I was proposing to say. There are two points which I wish to make. One is the question of rents, about which the hon. Member for Billericay spoke, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks). Let us not condemn what the hon. Member for Billericay said in this respect just because he said it. It is quite a valid point which he made.

The problem of rents in the new towns is very real. There is a story in today's "Daily Express" about a new block of flats at Stevenage where the rents are £4 5s. a week, and where the only tenant is an American officer, because he is the only chap who can afford the rents in this new block of flats. I know that this is not a criticism of the Minister, it is a criticism of previous Administrations as well, but I should like an assurance that this kind of monstrosity will not be perpetrated in the future and that careful consideration will be given to such proposals as that block of flats for Stevenage, and the whole question of the economics of such flats, before any public money is spent on building them in the future.

There is another point which concerns me. I have been visiting a number of these new towns recently and have seen, as has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members, the problem resulting from not being able to increase the rents by the new town corporations. They are tied by the Rent Restrictions Act, whereas local authorities are not. I am not suggesting that rents should be raised; I suggest they should be lowered. But the practice has grown in a number of new towns—I do not know whether the Minister is aware of it—of taking a symbolic rent for the first week, say for the sake of argument £4 a week, and then once the precedent is established a new town corporation is able to lower the rent to 30s. or 32s. a week—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am loath to interfere, but I fail to see what the question of rent has to do with the capital sum.

Mr. Donnelly

I would submit to you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we shall lose all the capital sum and will not get any return on it if we are not able to run the new towns on an economic basis. I wish to draw to the attention of the Minister this precedent which one or two new town corporations are setting. I know they are in a jam and it is difficult to do anything about it, but I think it undesirable that public bodies should be using this kind of device to get round the law in circumstances such as this.

I wish to mention one other point which has already been made adequately by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton, and that is the question of industry in the new towns. The Fourth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts published on 24th July, 1951, went into this matter and drew the attention of the House to some difficulties existing in the new towns on which satisfactory settlement is absolutely essential if the new towns are to be successful in the future. On page 30, the Report states: … some firms who were willing to establish industries in New Towns could not get the necessary permission from the Board of Trade, or, if they got it, they might be told that they were not important enough at the moment to qualify for a building licence. This is the policy of the Board of Trade, apparently, and not the policy of the Department of the right hon. Gentleman The Report continued: Already commitments of over £200,000,000 have been incurred in the building of new towns, and Your Committee are apprehensive lest the success of the towns and the possibility of getting an adequate return on the public money invested in them may be prejudiced by the failure of the towns to attract industries necessary for their full economic development. I draw the attention of the Minister to that. It raises a very serious problem. Here we have one public department opposing the policy of another public department. We have the Board of Trade taking one line and we have the Minister of Housing and Local Government doing all within his power to try to promote the satisfactory development of new towns.

I have always taken the view that we shall never get anywhere on the question of the satisfactory location of industry until the location of industry comes under the right hon. Gentleman's Department. If we are to have housing under one Department, then we must have industry with it. The two go side by side. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter again. One or two new towns have been fortunate enough to get industries easily, such as Hemel Hempstead, but other new towns are desperate, Harlow in particular. Only recently, thanks to the efforts of one member of the corporation, a change has taken place there. I urge the Minister to go into the matter generally.

The right hon. Gentleman heard the criticisms on the Second Reading of the Town Development Bill, and he has heard the criticisms from both sides of the House today. The success or failure of the new towns depends on getting industry to the new towns and industrial certificates issued whenever they are required.

The trouble is that the Board of Trade are becoming like the Treasury. They are only interested in getting right what they think is the policy, even though the facts may be wrong. The Board of Trade will ruin the right hon. Gentleman's good intentions, and a great deal of public money will be wasted, unless immediate steps are taken to see that some co-ordination between the two Government Departments is introduced. The best and most satisfactory co-ordination would be the handing of the location of industry section of the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

My last point is the impact on new towns of the raising of the rates of the. Public Works Loans Board. In one or two of the new towns which I have visited, extreme apprehension has been expressed about this. It has led to a very great problem in one new town regarding the rent of the industrial estates. This will be a deterring factor to anybody considering setting up new industries in the new towns, because of the increased rents as a result of the policy of the Treasury in raising the rate of interest of the Public Works Loans Board.

I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about this. Although he may have won a victory over his colleagues on the question of the housing subsidies, we should like to know what he will do about the effect of the raising of the rate of interest on the new towns and other public works.

With those few words, I hope that the House will not think that I am in any way opposing this Bill. I am very much in favour of it though, like my hon. Friend the Member for Acton, I do not think that it goes far enough. We should like the right hon. Gentleman to know that while we are vigilant and critical, we urge him to greater efforts and to greater successes in the building of the new towns. I assure him that what I have seen of the new towns in the last few months, particularly in Harlow, has led me to believe that a great deal is already being done and that a great change is taking place in the countryside to the benefit of the people who will live there.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

Like the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), I am a friend, in principle, of the new towns. Like him I am a member of the Council of the Town and Country Planning Association. Unlike him, only because he was not here in those days, I commended the principle of new towns in the debate on the original Bill in 1946, though I had something more critical to say, both about the detailed siting of towns and also the degree of preparation, or rather the lack of preparation, which preceded the choosing of sites for some of these new towns.

I want this evening to make two short points, the first of which has already been touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine), who has given the House a characteristically vigorous speech and has emerged unscathed from the ripostes of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly).

The first concerns the question of the designation of future new town areas in regard to which some of this money may be spent. It is said by my hon. Friends that it is not right that Parliament should have no control over the designation of these sites, and I subscribe to that view, more particularly—and this point has not yet been mentioned—because the inquiry which the Minister has to hold under the 1946 Act has turned out to be peculiarly ineffective for the purpose for which it is designed.

It has been held by the House of Lords, in the case of Franklin v. the Minister of Town and Country Planning, generally known as the Stevenage case, that the Minister, in making an order designating an area as the site of a new town, is acting in a purely administrative capacity, and that no judicial or even quasi-judicial duty is cast upon him.

If a Minister acts in a purely administrative capacity, it must follow, according to our constitutional doctrine, that he has a direct responsibility to Parliament. It is only where he acts in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity that he can be or should be relieved of that responsibility.

It follows from this that one or both of two things should be done; either, as my hon. Friends have suggested, there should be a true responsibility of the Minister to Parliament in regard to the designation of any future areas as sites of new towns, or that Section 1 and the First Schedule of the 1946 Act should be amended so as to provide for an inquiry in which full force and effect can be given to these matters.

Possibly, the best course would be to take both remedies—to make the Minister responsible to Parliament, but, at the same time, improve the procedure for inquiries so that there can be a detailed sifting of the evidence in a quasi-judicial capacity, so that mistakes are not made in regard to the designations of sites for new towns, and so that full effect be given, which has not always been given in the past, to considerations of water, sewerage, transport and other vital considerations of that nature.

My second point relates to the effect of the new towns already designated on adjacent areas to them, because, of course, it is very important for this House, in approving the expenditure of this vast sum of money, to be spent in the short space of two years upon the new towns by the development corporations, to have regard to whether it is to be done at the expense of the adjacent areas. Though it is a very good thing to have new towns, it is a very bad thing to arrest the natural progress, development and provision of amenities for old towns or villages in the adjacent areas.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) stressed the necessity of having up-to-date urban amenities for the new towns, but I hope he will not be backward in saying also, that there should be provision of up-to-date amenities for the already existing communities which are adjacent to the new towns, but do not come within the designated area.

My own constituency happens to be a particularly good example of this because, without having any new town within its area, it is ringed about with them. Harlow, Stevenage and Hatfield-Welwyn all immediately surround my constituency; and in that part of Hertfordshire, of course, we are very much affected by the impact of the development programmes that are being carried on, in and for the new towns.

More particularly is this the case with sewerage schemes, on which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary touched in his opening observations this evening. This immediate post-war period should have been a period of great and rapid progress in the eastern part of Hertfordshire in the provision of sewerage schemes. It is certainly not the fault of the local authorities that this has not been so. It is rather due to the preference given to the schemes of the new towns corporations and the uncertainty into which all has been cast by reason of the time which the corporations have taken to make up their minds as to what they require, and to plan the projects to implement those desires.

On this point, I should like to cite one very brief matter by way of illustration. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government knows that I have previously referred to other aspects of this problem within that part of Hertfordshire. The only aspect to which I will refer this evening is one which is a striking example of the impact of the new town operations on the provision of amenities in the adjoining areas.

In the rural district of Ware, as long ago as February, 1946, commendably soon after the war, the local authority submitted a scheme for the disposal of sewage in the three parishes of Wareside, Hunsdon, and Widford. This matter was progressing when in April, 1949, the Harlow New Town Development Corporation stated that they were contemplating obtaining a water supply from a site adjacent to the proposed disposal works at Widford. There we have a direct conflict of interest between the new and the old; and there is some responsibility upon the Minister to see that the needs of the old are not sacrificed to the more grandiose and spectacular concept of the new.

What happened? In December, 1950, when the party opposite were in office, the Ministry agreed to call a conference of the interested local authorities and representatives of the Harbour Corporation. That conference has not even yet been called and the local authorities are still waiting for the Ministry to give a decision on the application in respect of the sewerage scheme. Meanwhile, the Harlow New Town Development Corporation, who found that the well at Widford was insufficient for their water supply, are now applying for approval for the sinking of trial bore-holes in other villages in that part of Hertfordshire. As my right hon. Friend knows, there has already been a very expensive inquiry into this scheme. This will necessitate a further inquiry, further expense upon the rates and further delays to the projects of the local authorities.

As I have said, I am by no means opposed to new towns; in fact, I am strongly in favour of the principle, and I appreciate as well as any one that there are difficulties in these matters. But it is a long time since this Act came into force; it is now nearly six years, and we really should have got past these growing pains which, indeed, are so much more painful for the neighbours of the new town corporations than they are even for the corporations themselves.

I appreciate, of course, that in this as in other matters my right hon. Friend has a legacy which he has inherited from his predecessor in the late Administration; and, of course, a lot of these matters date back to those days. But in approving this very large sum for new town corporations we look to see the balance held more fairly and more evenly between new and old by the Government which is now in power. Representations have been made to me from time to time by my constituents, and I could not and shall not remain quiescent when representations are made on matters vital to their well-being.

Whatever the physical state of development that can be achieved by these new towns, they cannot prosper as an isolated and privileged community receiving preferential treatment at the expense of those around them. They cannot, in other words, thrive if they are constructed on a basis of injustice. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend not to tax the good will and enthusiasm that I, among others, feel for the principle of new towns, by making things difficult for the old communities which live adjacent to them.

I ask that sympathetic and urgent attention be given to problems of the sort that I have brought to my right hon. Friend's notice this evening, so that we may have not only progress in the new towns but progress which is long overdue in those communities that live alongside.

9.18 p.m.

Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)

The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) referred to the legacy that had been left to his right hon. Friend by the previous Administration. I think that the Minister, instead of receiving a legacy as suggested by the hon. Gentleman, has come in for a good inheritance. My reason for saying that is that I come from a county that was known at one time as a distressed area. That is the county of Durham. In that county we have two new towns, Aycliffe and Peterlee. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) made great play of the fact that a million tons of coal had been sterilised in order that a new town might be built on top of 30 million tons of coal.

I want to give the hon. Member some advice. If he reads the new coal plan for the whole of the country, he will see what will happen in the county of Durham so far as the new town development of Peterlee is concerned. There it will be noted that men have to be brought from the west of the county to the east, where this new town is being built. It is impossible for the Minister or the new towns development corporations to begin to build the new towns on the East Coast on top of the sea and even on top of the pit heaps.

I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree—because he knows the county very well—that a very good job is being done in Durham by the development corporation. Aycliffe, which is in my constituency, was allocated 10,000 inhabitants in the first place, and there is every prospect of that figure rising to 20,000. We have people moving there from all parts of the county and one of the reasons why we have had such a migration is because Aycliffe new town is in close proximity to the Aycliffe Trading Estate. Many of its inhabitants have come from the South and from the Midlands to take up employment there; but the greater percentage of the people in residence in this new town are coming from the west of my county because of the depression which is now presenting itself there.

One of the greatest difficulties experienced by our people is that which has been stressed by other hon. Members who have spoken in connection with this Bill, namely, the rents being charged. It is folly to think that the average person with a family can afford the high rents which are being charged by the corporations in these new towns today. I am not seeking for one moment to blame the development corporations for that. They are in a similar position to that of a private builder. Their houses, like council houses, are subject to the Rent Restriction Acts, which means that once the rents are fixed they cannot be increased, and in fixing them allowance must be made for the continually rising cost of labour, materials and maintenance.

If the new towns are to develop in accordance with the ideals set up under the New Towns Act, the cost has to be more equitably distributed. Those of us who have these new towns in our constituencies know that these problems are worrying the corporations very much indeed. If costs increase as they are doing at the moment and high rents are to prevail, instead of having a mixed community within our new towns we shall have new towns which will become purely residential areas.

While I welcome this Bill in its entirity—because I know full well what is happening as far as the new town in my constituency is concerned—I visualise the time when such development as is taking place will be of greater advantage than it is at the moment. I hope that the Minister will give every assistance he possibly can in the matter of these rents, which are becoming so high that they are almost impossible for our people to meet.

9.24 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I join with my hon. Friends in welcoming this Bill. Before I deal with certain points which I know are worrying quite a number of hon. Members on this side of the House, I should like to deal with a point which has been raised by two hon. Members opposite.

The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) suggested that when there was a Labour Government in this country it made a muddle of these new towns. He has not stayed to find out if there is any answer to the allegations he made. It surprises me very much that someone should come into the House, make a speech and hurry off.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

The hon. Member wished me to apologise for him.

Miss Herbison

The new towns which were really thought out and begun by this side of the House were a great conception. They meant for many of our people good homes in pleasant surroundings and with work near at hand. That was the conception, and in the last few years much has been done in the new towns to carry out the things in which we believe. There is still much to be done in the new towns, but I am certain that with such a promising beginning the end will be good.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) does not seem to know very much about the mining areas of this country. I myself come from a very big mining area, and I know the very great difficulty which has always been experienced in finding a site even for a small housing scheme. I also know what happened in my mining area, and in mining areas like Durham, in the wonderful days of private enterprise. Peterlee was really based on a book called, "Farewell Squalor." Let us see what has happened in Peterlee and compare that with what has happened in the big mining district of Lanarkshire where I live.

The hon. Member for Billericay was worried about one million tons of coal being sterilised. That is very serious. No one on this side of the House would wish one ton of coal to be sterilised if that could be prevented, but in the area from which I come millions of tons of coal were sterilised in the days of private enterprise because the coal owners worked the rich seams and left the others, which are under water at this present time. Not only that. Our local authorities when they wanted to build in these mining areas after the First World War could not find any land under which there was no coal or, where the coal had been taken, full subsidence had not taken place. They then had to go to the coal owners to obtain land upon which to build houses, and they had to pay many thousands of pounds for that land because of the sterilisation of the coal. For this million tons of coal that has been sterilised for Peterlee, the development corporation has not asked for one penny from the National Coal Board. That is my first point.

The second point is that Durham is a very big mining area. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) has explained very carefully that there is a movement of the mining population. In that area it would be quite Impossible to find any site for a new town which would not inevitably mean the sterilising of some coal. If one wants to develop that area and our miners to live in houses that are worthy of them and not in the shocking squalor and one-roomed and two-roomed houses which I have still in my mining village, then everyone ought to be proud of the steps taken by my Friends in the late Government to ensure that Peterlee would have success. I hope we shall not find the hon. Member for Billericay making the same sort of criticism inside or outside the House about Peterlee as he has made tonight.

Mr. Vane

Leaving coal on one side, will not the hon. Lady agree that the great danger of Peterlee is not that it will develop as a new town in the way she has described, but that it will simply become another great suburb to Horden and the other collieries?

Miss Herbison

I was dealing with the criticism by the hon. Member for Billericay about the foolishness of sterilising one million tons of coal. There may be other criticisms—I have not time to deal with them tonight—but it is certain that this site was chosen because of the great need not only for houses for miners but also for diversification of industry in that area.

Mr. Braine

I wonder if—

Miss Herbison

I am sorry but I cannot give way. I have to speak and the Minister has to reply. I want to deal with one or two other points, and I am glad to see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in his place.

Mr. Braine


Miss Herbison

I am sorry, but I have not one minute in which to give way.

I should be grateful if the Minister who is to reply will deal with this. We are proud of what has taken place at East Kilbride, one of our two new towns. There we are providing a place where the people of Glasgow, many of whom have been living in overcrowded conditions and thousands of whom have been living in slum conditions, will find the type of home about which I spoke at the beginning. Great strides have also been taken in the diversification of industry there.

Scotland has another new town at Glenrothes, and I am not quite so happy about what is happening there. That new town is not unlike Peterlee. There is a very big mining development there. What is worrying me is whether we shall have in Glenrothes and in the surrounding area what we who have come from mining areas have always known. Is there to be the diversification of industry which we all want, not only in Glenrothes but in every new town, or will Glenrothes merely provide houses for the miners who are already living there and for the miners who will be moved from Lanarkshire?

Until industries were brought into Development Areas, there was no work in mining areas for the daughters of miners and none whatever for the sons of miners who did not want to follow their fathers and become miners. Can we be certain that everything will be done to bring into Glenrothes a diversification of industry to ensure that the daughters of miners will have work and be able to stay at home and enjoy the comforts of home and that there will be a choice of work for the sons and that they will not be forced willy-nilly into the mines?

If that is the wish of the present Government, there are one or two things which they must take into consideration. The cut in capital investment will hit very hard any attempt at diversification of industry, which means the provision of new factories, in these new towns in Scotland or in England and Wales. Even in the Development Areas we are already finding that the increase in the bank rate is making it impossible even for factories which have already gone into the Development Areas to carry on. This increase in the Bank rate is reflected in the increased interest which the development corporations will have to pay on the money which they borrow from the Public Works Loan Board. It is because of that that I feel, although we are now going to vote another £50 million for our new towns, it may be sabotaged completely by the previous actions of this Government.

I would say to the Minister of Housing and Local Government that it is not enough to get an extra £50 million for these new towns for the next two years. If he and his colleagues are really interested in the development of these towns, they will make representations to the Chancellor to show him clearly the effect on these new towns of his decision to raise the Bank rate. I hope some of these points will be dealt with by the Minister.

9.36 p.m.

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

It is normally the purpose of a Government to get their Bill and normally the object of the Opposition to delay or prevent it. Today it seems that this has to some extent been partially reversed, and, therefore, I must first of all resist the temptation to talk out my own Bill. If I am not able to deal in any great detail with many of the administrative points that have been raised, I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House will acquit me of any discourtesy. I should be very happy to discuss details with hon. Members personally and separately, and if I am not able to refer to them I will write to them on detailed matters.

The object of this Bill is to vote another £50 million in order that the work of the new towns should continue. It is perhaps a convenient occasion for some general discussion of the new towns, but, as Mr. Deputy-Speaker reminded us earlier, a detailed discussion of the administration of the new towns would not strictly be in order. Therefore, I shall keep myself strictly in order to conform with the views of Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

There are a number of matters to which I hope I may be allowed to make one or two observations. First I should like to welcome the speech with which the hon. Member for Welling borough (Mr. Lindgren) opened the case for the Opposition. I was very glad indeed when he assured us we were to get this Measure quickly. I understood that he had some other reason, for I saw hovering about one or two of his colleagues who were interested more in steel than in new towns, but they will no doubt appear on the scene when the curtain goes up for that part of our night's entertainment.

Meanwhile I welcome the hon. Member's support and will answer his questions. The first was the position regarding Congleton. He said it had been designated a new town by my predecessor. Perhaps I might refresh his memory. That is not quite accurate. The formal designation had not been made by my predecessor, and, indeed, he had only held informal discussions with some of the authorities. An inquiry had not been held and, therefore, no question of designation existed. I have not pursued for the moment this matter any further except again informally. For one thing, I would rather like to get this Bill and the £50 million for these new towns.

There are various methods by which the purposes underlying the new towns are now being approached. In one way or another, these areas will, I feel certain, have to, and be glad to, contribute to the problems of overspill populations from the great cities. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to leave the point there, because it would not help to get what we both want if I were to go further into it at this stage.

He spoke about the progress at Acton. If I had not got to know him so well, although so recently, on the Committee upstairs, I would feel that he was always trying to depress me. I have discovered that that is not his object. He asked me whether I wanted to make progress with housing in the new towns and he asked for a pledge that we should build speedily and rapidly, that nothing would stand in the way and everything would be swept aside for a great, powerful drive to build up the housing of the people. He and his Friends were always telling us that it was impossible to increase the housing. I am trying to, and I want to do so very much.

I have watched with very great interest the development of the new towns. They are convenient pitches upon which I hope quite a lot of runs may be scored, and that they will be applauded, if we are successful, equally by him and his Friends and hon. Members in other parts of the House. The doubts and scepticisms being expressed as to whether it can be done have been coming not from this side of the House but all from the hon. Gentleman and his Friends.

Mr. Sparks

There has been a change of Government.

Mr. Macmillan

That is why I am getting on with the job. He asked me about one or two substantial points, which I must mention. With regard to Hemel Hempstead, any changes in the personnel of the Corporation has no such purpose as he has in mind. It is true that in one of the earlier conceptions, perhaps the first conception, of the particular new towns, the idea was to tie or link them with particular towns in the London area, or just outside London. He mentioned Acton, Willesden, Wembley, Hendon and Harrow. If it was a reason for having one member to represent them on the Corporation, it seems to be a reason for having them all. I know the difficulty of the rival claims.

We have considered the new towns in the London group, serving not merely this area or that particular borough but serving the London County Council as well. I was very much oppressed by both these sets of claims, and I shall try to see that a fair balance is kept among them all in regard to the overspill population as a whole. That is wiser than trying to associate them too closely with any particular borough. It would make the industrial problem more difficult on this narrow field.

I was asked whether there was any political label in the changes that are being made. I altogether deny that any form of such change has been made for any such reason. In the new town of Peterlee, I have appointed a very distinguished opponent of my party to take the place of the retiring chairman. I do not want to go into this point further. If there had been any question of political favouritism it would be in the past rather than in the present.

I was asked about industry by the hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) and by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) said that no industries are coming to four of the new towns. That is true, but in the case of Corby one could almost say the industry is there on so huge a scale that it is of rather a different character from the other new towns. Peterlee must always be mainly a mining town, and this applies equally to Glenrothes.

I was speaking only today to one of the members of the Peterlee Corporation about the possibility of getting a light industry employing 30 per cent. of women and 70 per cent. men which would make it possible to employ as a reserve older men or those of insufficient physical strength to go into the mines. Glenrothes is rather better off, because in addition to the work in the mines there is substantial development on a paper mill which provides just that amount of extra employment that we would like to see as a stand by. Some £1,350 has been authorised, and new building is about to commence. So there we have exactly the kind of thing that the hon. Lady and I have in mind. I had a great deal to do with Aycliffe when there was a R.O.F. factory there. It is therefore the basis of an industrial estate and we hope it will develop in that way.

We should not be too pessimistic about the London towns. Progress has been quite substantial and, although it is true that there are rival claims, yet there is a background to that which we cannot altogether forget. I remember very well the days of the distressed areas which became the special areas and then the development areas. It is difficult to resist the claims, though it may well be that in the allocation of industry the Board of Trade have gone too far and that some correction is required in favour of the new towns. Nevertheless, some progress is being made.

There are substantial industries—31 completed in the London towns and 21 now building. In Harlow there are at the moment seven firms occupying 80,000 square feet and 12 new firms about to occupy 140,000 square feet, so in that case the progress is fairly satisfactory. There are some advantages, as well as some disadvantages in the present position. The very fact that so much weight has to be given to export or to re-armament needs gives the sponsoring Departments working together that much more opportunity for guiding industry where we want it than in days when capital investment is absolutely free. So we have opportunities which, if we can take them, may be of advantage to the working of the new towns.

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine)—

Mr. Sparks

Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about—

Mr. Macmillan

—made an interesting and spirited speech. He asked a number of questions and reflected upon the history of the new towns. He will forgive me if I am careful not to raise any passions or emotions which might lead us astray and delay my Bill. I will only say that there was a fair and good debate about the past. However, I share a number of his views in a general way which I do not wish to discuss tonight because we want to build for the future. A tremendous amount of mistakes have been made, of course—I think hon. Gentlemen on both sides will agree about that—and there are still some theoretical follies in my view which are making ideology of what should be an instrument to do what we want.

I am not going to enter tonight into the argument about freeholders and leaseholders. I am always encouraged when one of my predecessors, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), is always attacking the leasehold system and saying how much he prefers the freehold, and so I have prayed him in aid for one particular Bill, to which my hon. Friend calls attention, which is now before the Committee upstairs.

Broadly speaking, however, my hon. Friend and my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) and Westmorland (Mr. Vane) asked me much the same question: what am I going to do about the new towns. It was stated in the debate that on a purely theoretical assumption the coal problem does not exist. I must not fall into a similar mistake. I must not fall into the purely theoretical assumption that the problem of the legislative programme does not exist.

There is time and only time, for me so far as the new towns are concerned, at this moment to ask the House to pass this one-Clause Measure. But I assure my hon. Friend that that does not mean that I, naturally, am not considering, contriving and wondering by what means, administrative or other, we can press on to get the full reward and development of these ventures. If it should be possible or necessary, I should not hesitate to ask the House to pass legislation to improve or alter the position, but I do not think it right or possible to do so at this point in the session with so crowded a programme.

Perhaps, therefore, my hon. Friend will allow me just to say in conclusion what is the answer to the problem posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and other hon. Members: Have I, the Minister, the right to designate any number of new towns I like? Is there any real inquiry, or am I the judge and the jury? Is this a satisfactory situation? I can only answer that in my view—I did not take a very great part in this legislation when it went through—It does not seem to me very satisfactory. Indeed, all, and far more than, this money is committed by the designation of the towns themselves. It is not a satisfactory situation. I certainly do not intend to make use of it in this way. I shall decide, perhaps, some day to see whether this can be tidied up and strengthened, but meanwhile we must go on. These houses are going to be built, and these factories are to be built.

All these matters are in my mind, and if I have an opportunity I shall certainly not hesitate to ask this Parliament, as it would be natural to do after a review of a machine which has been working satisfactorily for a certain time, to see whether changes are needed in order to strengthen it, but certainly not in order to destroy it. I hope that with that broad and general gift to all sides of the House, hon. Members will now agree to vote us the Bill.

Mr. Sparks

Will the Minister say something about rents? He still has seven minutes left.

Mr. Macmillan

I have the great danger of the Financial Resolution. Really, that problem would come under the whole question of rates and rents and the effect of the money policy on costs, all of which are an immense field. I think that would be better discussed on the Second Reading of the Housing Subsidy Bill, where we would have a very good run and which we hope to have soon after Easter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Oakshott]—for Tomorrow.