HC Deb 30 June 1953 vol 517 cc207-66

Order for Second Reading read.

3.37 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 short two-Clause Bill asking Parliament for a further £50 million on account of expenditure being incurred on the new towns. Parliament has already incurred £100 million expenditure. The 1946 Act raised £50 million, the 1952 Act a further £50 million, and this Measure is asking for a further £50 million, three instalments which make £150 million in all.

This Measure is purely a money Bill. The 1952 Measure was precisely the same. The machinery for establishing and administering the new towns was set up in principle in 1946. It might be convenient if I dealt first of all with the financial implications of the amount of money for which we are asking, and secondly made a brief progress report of a general character—brief from the point of view of time because, as I understand the position, not much time is allowed for this debate, although hon. Members on all sides of the House wish to take part in it. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will wind up and will try to answer specific questions which hon. Members raise.

There are 14 areas designated. Hon. Members, and indeed the public, will ask what the cost is finally going to be when the 14 areas are fully developed. When the 1952 Act was going through the House, I gave a rough estimate. Like all prudent politicians, I added some prudent words—I quote from HANSARD—which were: I would not like, in future, to be bound by that estimate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,31st March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 1264.] I made that qualified statement because there are many circumstances quite outside the control of the Government, so much so that an estimate becomes almost a matter of conjecture. It might be helpful if some picture were given to the House, however inaccurate it might be and for which I take no responsibility.

The total cost in the new towns of the 14 designated areas will be about £250 million, and of the £250 million we have already sanctioned £100 million. We are now asking for a further £50 million, making £150 million in all. The expenditure to date can be divided under two heads. First, there is the expenditure to which the Government are committed, and second, the expenditure which the Government have actually incurred, that is, in cash disbursement. The Government are committed by way of contracts up to date to £87,500,000. By the end of 1953 they will be committed to an expenditure of £100 million and that exhausts the present sum which Parliament has allotted to the new towns.

The Government have spent £55 million in cash of the commitment of £87,500,000 and they will have disbursed in actual cash £100 million by the summer of 1954. If we continue at the present rate of progress, without any acceleration or deceleration, the present £50 million will last for an additional year from about today. So in 12 months' time we shall have to have a debate in the House on new towns and ask for a further £50 million, £60 million or £70 million as the Government of the day decide. The reason we ask for the money slightly earlier this year than we expected is that there has been an accelerating rhythm in the house building section of the building industry, inspired and led by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. This has meant that we have spent money and incurred commitments, translated into bricks and mortar, much more speedily than we expected.

I should like to make a brief progress report. First, we must not lose sight of the magnitude of the operations in the new towns. Most people tend to think that a new town can be started and completed in a short space of time. That is impossible. Fourteen areas have been designated, 11 in England, one in Wales and two in Scotland. Eight of the 11 in England are for the London area. The total population which we expect to house in the new towns when they are completed is 480,000.

I should like to present to the House progress reports on houses, industry. shops, offices and community centres. There are some schools of thought who consider that houses and schools which are started are the criterion of progress made. I belong to another school of thought, because I think that a house or a school is not much use until it is completed. So I deal here only with completed houses.

Up to the end of 1950, that is, from the passing of the 1946 Act and the commencement of operations, in possibly 1948, we had completed 592 houses. In 1951 we completed 2,534 houses. In 1952 the number was 5,852 houses and in the first five months of this year it has been 3,176 houses. It has always been a forward rate and the total of houses completed to date is 12,154. The peak will be reached in about two years' time when it is hoped to be building at the rate of 13,000 houses a year, of which 10,000 will be in the eight towns which are being built to serve the London area.

Allegations have been made that in the new towns there is low density planning which is wasting valuable land, some of it agricultural land. That is not so, because the new towns as a whole are planning at least 13 houses to the acre and in many cases the current proposals are more than that figure. Whilst it may be said that perhaps in the early stages the new towns were designing and constructing houses on a rather extravagant basis, it can no longer be said that that is the case.

I turn now to industry. The aim and policy of the Government are to see that in the new towns there is a balanced programme and a balanced community. Hon. Members may ask what we mean by a balanced community. It means that the people who live in the new towns are balanced by class, which may be by income groups or occupations, that they should be a mixed community, and that industry must be introduced into the new towns to match the progress that is being made in houses. It would be folly and a failure on the part of the Government if they were to make these new towns into dormitories for London where people would live but would come to London to work. It may be desirable that some inhabitants, such as solicitors and accountants and other members of the professional class, should commute, but generally speaking it is desirable that facilities should be provided for the majority of the population to work and live in the new towns.

Up to the end of May, 1953, there has been provided 1,236,000 square feet for factory space, and work has been provided for 6,018 employees. We have under construction at the present time an area of 1,351,000 square feet which will pro-vide for 6,859 employees. So we have under construction now a programme which will more than double the space for factories which we have at present. What is even more important is that the sites available for factories are serviced for sewers, water and foundations and have access roads—which are most important to factories. That means that factory building can proceed at an accelerating rhythm compared with the past.

Even so, it may be asked, quite rightly how this matches with what the new towns want. One must be quite frank and say that the flow of industry into the new towns is not satisfactory, except in two cases, and I appeal to industrialists to investigate thoroughly the advantages that may accrue to them in the new towns. First, the workers are well housed in a satisfactory community. Second, the factory may well be financed by the Development Corporation and a short lease or a long lease, according to the negotiations, may be granted to the industry which comes to the new town. Third, these industries may find that they have a nucleus of good, efficient workers waiting for them.

I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is in his place. He knows that in Easington there are a number of women workers who could well be employed in a factory in Peterlee. It may be that some industrialist who could use the nimble fingers and skilful labour which the ladies of Easington can provide might consider going to Peterlee to see whether he could take advantage of the opportunities offered there. I appeal to industrialists to explore the possibility of taking factories to these new towns.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his observations, but is he aware that we have been pressing the Board of Trade on this matter for some considerable time, with no effective result?

Mr. Marples

The Board of Trade are not industrialists and unless an industrialist really wants to go to a new town no Government Department will force him to go there. The object of my appeal is to inspire the chap who is to go there to produce the goods.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

In some cases the Board of Trade have refused to issue certificates to firms which want to go there.

Mr. Marples

If the hon. Member will send me details of any refusals made in respect of Peterlee, I shall go into them.

Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)

As one who was once President of the Board of Trade and who had something to do with these affairs, I would ask the Minister not to under-estimate what the Board of Trade can do in influencing industrialists, in conversations and in other ways. They have often been most helpful in these matters. I had a lot to do with the case of Easington when I was in the Department which I held recently, and in that and one or two other cases the Board of Trade have not been very alert to the requirements. I hope, therefore, that a certain amount of interdepartmental prodding may take place from the hon. Gentleman's Department to the Board of Trade.

Mr. Marples

It is a question of interdepartmental co-operation rather than prodding. However, I shall bear in mind the wise words of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who has occupied many offices with distinction and has a great knowledge of these affairs.

I wish to make a wider appeal. I want the industrialists to explore the possibilities of going to the new towns and to apply for certificates, and then bring to bear on the Government all the pressure they can. The initiative and inspiration must come from the industrialists. We have not been unsuccessful in getting factories in the new towns, but at the same time we have not been frightfully successful. I should not like to claim the credit for what is being done. We are not satisfied; neither are we complacent.

Turning to the question of shops, there has been some criticism in another place about the number provided. It is very difficult to generalise about shops, because each new town is different. Some have all the facilities there already, having been built round an existing town; some new towns are quite inadequate, and others are completely new town centres. They do not conform to a general pattern, and it is not possible to generalise on this question. It is possible to particularise in certain cases, however, and if any hon. Member has a particular complaint and brings it forward today, my right hon. and gallant Friend will deal with it when he speaks.

At the end of May we had 83 shops completed and 126 under construction. The provision of new shops is advancing rapidly. Not very much attention has been paid to the question of offices in new towns. My right hon. Friend believes that not only factories but large commercial offices are necessary, because that, more than anything, will provide the mixed community of industrial and office workers, which is most desirable. So far, we have provided only 28,750 square feet of office space, but if the economic recovery under my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer continues the Government intend to drive forward with their plans for inducing industrialists and commercial undertakings to take their head offices to the rather more agreeable surroundings of the new towns, away from the congested surroundings of London and the conurbations that we are trying to relieve by building the new towns.

With regard to churches, my right hon. Friend has seen many of the clergy, who have made representations to him that not sufficient places of worship are being provided in the new towns. One church has been completed so far, but there are another nine under construction. Two church halls are under construction, and we hope to start further ones shortly.

From churches I turn to public houses. I hope I have the order of sequence correct. At any rate, it will meet with the approval of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). In this connection I should like to depart from my own speech to read from the prepared official brief of the Department. As the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) knows, on these occasions the Department prepare an official brief. Looking through it recently I found these words in regard to public houses: Incoming populations in new towns must have public houses. That is the first sentence in the brief, and I include it in my speech.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

What sort of public houses?

Mr. Marples

I presume the hon. Member is asking whether they should be tied or not tied. Two or three brewers have combined together to see that they are not tied to a particular brand of beer. It is always unwise to accept official briefs without looking at them carefully. There was the occasion when a Parliamentary Secretary in another place was sent an official brief. He read it out word for word, even including the last sentence, which said: It is not much of an argument, I am afraid, but it ought to be good enough to convince their Lordships' House. I shall not make that mistake. Three public houses have been completed, all in new towns which are designed to relieve the pressure on the London area.

Mr. Dalton

Which three towns?

Mr. Marples

Harlow, Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland now knows where to go when he is on his walking tours.

Mr. Dalton

When are they going to be completed in County Durham, either in Peterlee, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easing-ton (Mr. Shinwell), or in Aycliffe, which is nearly in mine?

Mr. Marples

I am not able to answer that question without notice, but I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Shinwell

I understand they are getting along very well.

Mr. Marples

They have not yet obtained licences, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet taken intoxicating liquor in that new town.

With regard to schools, nine new ones have been completed, including one technical school, and 17 schools are under construction. Here again, it is the number of completed schools that count, and we must try to press on to complete the 17 under construction. If we start any more we must make sure that we have a balanced programme.

I want to say a word about community facilities. It is necessary to create a spirit in these new towns. It is much easier to develop building work and houses round an existing town than to create an entirely new town, where there is no nucleus; no rateable value, no church, no shopping centre, and no real spirit. My right hon. Friend's view is that we must provide community centres, where people can get together for dances, concerts, whist drives and the affairs which make up the life of a town. My right hon. Friend is firmly of the belief that local community associations should inspire this community spirit and get assistance by way of a capital grant from the Ministry of Education.

In all the community centres I have seen, both here and abroad, the flourishing ones are those where the people themselves have played an important part in their creation. They feel that they are part of the show and not that it has been imposed upon them by an hierarchy or a remote organisation. In some cases we are providing, in addition, an adult wing to secondary schools. With regard to these community centres, in 10 of the 12 new towns—excluding the two new towns in Scotland—a start has been made or is soon to be made.

At Harlow, for example, they have adopted the old vicarage and added a hall to it. The community centre there is flourishing to a greater degree than I had expected. In addition, they have placed strategically—from the geographical point of view—small buildings, which are called tenants' common rooms. I do not like the term, but they are small buildings where the tenants of a particular locality can get together and mix freely, as they do.

Playing fields are in the same category as community centres; they are coming along, but not at the rate which we should like to see. I am afraid that playing fields and public parks must be the last of the things in a new town.

Mr. Dalton


Mr. Marples

It is sometimes not easy to do these things. At the moment the emphasis is on housing. People say bring forward the factories, but that is not easy, because once we start erecting the factories faster, we find they cannot go ahead without houses. Thus, what must first be provided in the new towns are houses where, for instance, the building labour force can live. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if it is possible it should be a balanced programme in which everything is level. In theory that is a good thing but in practice it is not so easy to accomplish.

We have been asked whether there should be more new towns. Do the Government propose to have more new towns? The Government think, first of all, that we ought not to bite off more than we can chew. They think it would be very much better if we first made a good job of the existing new towns before we embarked on any new ventures. Secondly, the Government have in mind that there is now an alternative available which was not available when the 1946 Bill was put on to the Statute Book—and that is the expanded town technique. This does not involve setting up ad hoc bodies which are outside the local government structure.

Unfortunately there has been some friction in the past because Development Corporations are accountable only to the Minister and not to the electorate. They need take little or no heed of what the local authorities say, although in practice they have tried to co-operate. In some cases there has been friction, unfortunately, although that friction has died down.

The Government therefore take the view, first, that we must make a good job of the existing new towns to see how they go before we embark on any further new towns. Secondly, we must try the expanded town technique first and expand suitable towns where there is an existing community life and existing centre. Thirdly, we should not overload the programme. It takes a long time to build these towns and it is quite easy to start a project of any sort but sometimes very difficult to finish it. It is easy to spread our efforts too thinly on the ground with the result that technically we work most inefficiently.

Mr. Dalton

When I left the Ministry we had not decided on a new town at Congleton in Cheshire, but plans for it were very far advanced and a number of local authorities, notably the Manchester City Council, were taking a keen interest in it. Could the Minister give us a progress report on that? Has the idea of a new town at Congleton been completely abandoned or is it to be treated as an expanded town?

Mr. Marples

The answer to that is very short. First of all, my right hon. Friend is still considering the question of Manchester, where they are very short of building land. Secondly, certain possibly delicate negotiations are now proceeding. While I would not say that that project has been abandoned, I am giving the general principle over the field of new towns, which is that except in possibly the most urgent cases, my right hon. Friend is of the view that we ought first to try the expanded town technique before we go ahead with more new towns.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

The question of expanded towns is very relevant to how many new towns we have. Can the Minister say whether any progress has been made in selecting areas as receiving areas for de-centralisation from bigger cities?

Mr. Marples

Nothing has yet been settled, but the various officials of the L.C.C., whom I have met lately, tell me that they have the greatest hopes of the expanded town technique and are conducting negotiations in many places. I think they attach at least as much importance to this technique as to the new town procedure—possibly more importance.

My speech has been longer than I had hoped and there is not much time for hon. Members on both sides of the House to take part in the debate, but my right hon. Friend has asked me to say that he would welcome constructive suggestions from any part of the House on the way the new towns are going. He himself has visited every new town and, under his instructions, I have visited most of them but not all. We have tried our best to make them a success and we will continue to do so. The project was started by the party opposite, and it is our duty to complete it as quickly and as efficiently as possible. My right hon. Friend has asked me to commend the Bill to the House.

4.6 p.m.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

In my opinion the time is long overdue when we should have a full-dress debate in the House on the progress in new towns. Under the last Government, because of pressure of business from both sides, we did not have a debate on new towns, nor have we had one since this Government took power; and I understand that the brevity of today's debate is on the understanding that comparatively shortly, by arrangement through the usual channels, we are to have a debate on the general progress in new towns.

As the Parliamentary Secretary said, this debate will be short in order to facilitate today's business. That brevity ought in no way to prevent one from appreciating that the new town experiment has been a tremendous success. From what I regard as a number of ill-informed circles, there has been an attempt to discredit new towns and new town development, but in my opinion this development has been a huge success. Like every other piece of good work, there are some things in it which could be improved.

I refer the House to the excellent letter in "The Times" today from Sir Thomas Bennett replying to what, for "The Times," was rather an ill-informed leading article some days ago. Had we more time I would have dealt with some of the points which Sir Thomas has made, but at least I should like to take this opportunity of saying to Sir Thomas Bennett and the other chairmen of the New Town Corporations that this House and the country are indebted for a very fine piece of work in developing a wide range of different types of town.

They have developed such towns as Basildon, which was clearing up a mess from a long period; a completely new town in virgin land, like Harlow; almost a company town, like Corby; and a very excellent experiment of providing good facilities and good living conditions for miners in Durham, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, at Peterlee. They have done an excellent job over a wide range of towns with comparatively little experience to follow.

We appreciate the work of those chairmen and, particularly, that of Sir Thomas Bennett. I understand that he is giving up the work at Stevenage, Which he undertook at the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), very much against his own wishes and very much to the detriment of his own good health, at a difficult time. He took it on in addition to the excellent work he was doing at Crawley, and that was a fine piece of public-spirited work. My right hon. Friend and I, and I am certain the present Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, are very grateful to Sir Thomas and hope that he will get back to his full health in a very short time.

I said that the new towns were an experiment, but perhaps that was not altogether the right word, because earlier experiments were carried out by those who developed Letchworth and Welwyn. Whenever anyone is engaged in experimental work, mistakes are made. Letchworth made a number of mistakes which we tried to correct when we came to develop Welwyn, and at Welwyn we thought of some mistakes which had not occurred to Letchworth. When we came to the New Towns Act, 1946, we tried to avoid the mistakes made at Letchworth and Welwyn, and in that Act we made some other slips which ought to be remedied. In the light of experience, those changes should be made.

One of them arises from costs. It is undoubtedly true that in new towns rents are high. I am not one of those who complain against the payment of a correct and full rent for accommodation available. When I was Parliamentary Secretary and visited the new towns, I observed that the people living in them, in the pure air, with green fields around them, and close to their work, were fully satisfied because of the facilities, although they were paying higher rents than they had been previously. The only query they had was about what would happen if we returned to the days of unemployment, and to the difficulties consequent upon it that were so common in working-class life.

At the present time, because of the Government's actions and policy, the costs are rising quite steeply. It is not only a question of the rents as such. I have heard comparisons made, which I think are unfair, between new town development and local authority development. Let us make it quite clear that a development corporation, like a Government Department, has to carry out the Act of Parliament. It is not a criticism of the present Government—it is, perhaps, a criticism of the New Towns Act—that included in the rents in new towns of development corporation houses are factors that a local authority would not include in a rent but carry on another account.

A development corporation has no rate fund it can fall back on to meet a deficiency. Take street lighting, for instance. A local authority carries the cost of it on the lighting account. A new town development corporation, which has to work as an estate developer and a local authority as well, has to provide street lighting and all the initial arrangements for it, including lamp standards, and all the costs have to go on to the rents.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to playing fields. They are essential in new towns where young and vigorous populations go. The people who go there are not those who are getting past their sporting days, or whose sporting activities tend to take a less vigorous form rather than a more vigorous one. The Parliamentary Secretary is a hill climber and a mountain climber. He will take to walking on the flat in a comparatively short while. He shakes his head, but we all tend as we get older to be a little more careful and not quite as vigorous in our outside activities. The populations of the new towns are young and virile, and they are child-producing groups of the population, and not only they but their youngsters want playing fields. Therefore, the development of playing fields is absolutely essential. Unless they are provided people will be deprived of facilities that many of them enjoyed in the places where they lived before, although the facilities were, perhaps, quite limited in such cities as London and Manchester.

As I was saying, many of the costs of development, such as street lighting, the roads enterting a new town, as, for example, at Harlow, are borne on the rents of the houses in the new town. Therefore, I think that the costs of parks, open spaces, recreation grounds, street lighting, roads, ought to be taken off the rents which have to be charged by a development corporation to cover its costs. As I have said, it is not the fault of the present Government, it is the fault of the New Towns Act. In the light of our experience, I think that a slight amendment of it is called for.

The Parliamentary Secretary said almost with pride that the Government were increasing the density of the housing. I do not think that there is much to be proud of in that. After all, many of us who have been engaged in local authority work and who are Londoners are engaged in new town development in revolt against the conditions in which we had to live. The Government are urging the development corporations to develop at 16 to the acre. We were propaganding before the war, and even succeeding, in getting the housing down to 10 and 12 to the acre. Here we have the Government forcing it back to 16 to the acre. It is just not good enough. Many who go out into the new towns want gardens. As I see in the new town in which I live, and more so in the neighbouring new town at Hatfield, the gardens being provided are now so small that one could not swing a cat round in them. Not that one ought to indulge in swinging a cat round one's garden, but these gardens are very small patches, and there ought to be a decrease in the building density.

There is also a lowering in the standards of the houses, which I think is very unfortunate. I appreciate the factor of cost, but the Parliamentary Secretary referred not only to costs but to the saving of agricultural land. As to costs, good, open development in new towns is nowhere near as costly as the fantastic costs of subsidies for flat development in exiting towns. The cost of good, open development in new towns is almost infinitesimal compared with the costs of subsidies paid in London for the building of flats.

When we talk about saving agricultural land, I sometimes tend to get a little cross, because it seems to me that we get all this talk about saving agricultural land and crowding the workers up to 16 to the acre from people who live in houses surrounded by gardens of five, six, seven or eight acres, and perhaps a park, and who have, very likely, flats in town, too. I shall be a little more impressed by this talk about saving agricultural land, particularly by some agriculturists, when they themselves start to accept living in the rather crowded conditions which they are urging on other people.

I hope the Government will give up this urge to increase the building density in new towns. They are piling up the potential development, not of slums, but of houses which it will be difficult to maintain. They are piling up difficulties against the maintenance of a good type of population in the new towns, because although people are now anxious and glad to get houses in the new towns even at the increased building density, in a few years' time, when the housing situation is easier, they will tend to move out from the new towns into more open areas and to wider spaces in which to live. This talk of saving agricultural land is, to my mind, being rather overdone by people who themselves take a rather larger amount of land for their own domestic living conditions.

The Parliamentary Secretary talked about correct or balanced development. I agree entirely with his general outline of what ought to be the simultaneous development of housing, industry, schools, and social amenities. In spite of the difficulties which they encountered in the early days, the Labour Government did very well indeed. It was not altogether a complete success because one never gets complete development on almost simultaneous lines, but in our view it was done very well indeed.

Since the present Government came into power, there has been a definite slowing down of certain of these activities. Let me take one—that of education. The Parliamentary Secretary, with great pride, referred to the technical school in the new town of Hatfield. The present Government can take no credit for that. That school was planned in 1938 and the land for it was given before the new town was designated. The de Havilland Company helped the Hertfordshire County Council to develop the technical school in association with their works at Hatfield, where the new town is now being developed in order to provide housing accommodation for the thousands of workers who are working there.

There has been a definite slowing down of school building in the new towns. I am associated in another capacity with the Hertfordshire County Council, and we have a wonderful record of school building since the war—75 new schools since the war. In the new towns in Hertfordshire we managed to keep pace with the incoming child population, and in fact we were criticised because the education authority, in conjunction with the new town development corporation, worked so well to that end that in Welwyn and Hemel Hempstead we had vacant school places; but we have not vacant school places now.

The present Government delayed for six months the starting of even those schools which had been approved by the late Administration and which were actually ready for work to commence on their construction. They also cut the future programme by one-third. In Hertfordshire we have four new towns and two large L.C.C. estates and a large proportion of those new schools were going to be in the new towns and estates in order to deal with the incoming population and the young children which it brings with it. In Hertfordshire we are now getting to the state in which we have not only overcrowding but dangerous overcrowding, and as an authority the Hertfordshire County Council are getting very worried about what is to happen in these new towns. Therefore, I urge the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister, who is now here, to realise that schools are just as important as houses in the development of these new towns.

There has not been a drift back from the new towns. What we read in the Press about people going back is all wrong. The number who have gone back is exceedingly small. The drift back is only a small fraction of those who went back from Welwyn when we were developing it in pre-war days. That drift back will grow if educational facilities are not provided for the young population. I am proud of the fact that the worker in the factory and workshop is anxious that his children should have the opportunity of an even better education than he had. Everyone agrees with that attitude of mind. We are encouraging young people to go to the new towns and if their children are not going to get the opportunity of the education to which the parents think they are entitled and which is available to them in the towns from which they come, then the best type of that population is likely to drift back.

When we consider town centre development, we realise that again the Government have slowed down that activity. I think that we ought to place great emphasis on town centre development, shopping facilities and social activities in these new towns. If we do not get that, I am afraid that people who have been enjoying some of these facilities may tend to go back to the areas from which they came. This lack of facilities will certainly deter industrialists from going to these new towns. The industrialist wants to keep his worker. One of the problems in the early development of Welwyn and Letchworth was that we could not get industry to go there because the workers were not there. The industrialists would not come because industry was not there. Neither workers nor industry will go to these new towns unless there are social amenities, shopping facilities, playing fields and educational facilities.

I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will have a change of heart in regard to the type of slowing down which they have been doing over the past 18 months. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the question of cost. This talk of cost is sometimes overdone. On the local authority side sometimes I hear talk of the cost to the local authority of the development of new towns. As I said just now, in Hertfordshire we have four new towns and two large L.C.C. housing estates. The cost to the Hertfordshire County Council last year was £40,000. That is the actual cost to the county of the facilities which the county had to provide over and above the income which they get back on the rates levied on the properties in these new towns.

The Hertfordshire County Council is a Tory county council on which there are comparatively few members representing Labour interests, and because that county council is trying to do its job its capital expenditure this year is £3 million. The present Government put up the Bank rate from 3 per cent. to 4½ per cent. That immediately cost the Hertfordshire County Council £40,000 on a capital expenditure of £3 million. Which would we rather have—£40,000 in the pockets of the bankers or £40,000 in providing four new towns and two L.C.C. housing estates? I do not claim to be a high-falutin financier, but as a local authority administrator, I much prefer the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who gave us an opportunity of using money at 2½ per cent., than the present Government's policy of dear money. That dear money policy has added to the cost which has to be borne in connection with these new towns.

To sum up, I should like to put the following points to the Minister. From the point of view of the 1946 Act, I think that there should be consideration given to an amendment which will facilitate the taking away from the cost of housing of a number of charges which really do not directly relate to housing itself, although they are associated with it. These I have enumerated—street lighting, parks and open spaces, recreation grounds and the cost of road developments, which are very expensive in the new towns. So far as the present Government are responsible, there should be greater development of educational facilities in the new towns, development of town centres, social facilities, and, if it is possible, the making of money cheaper to the new towns.

On that basis, because we want to facilitate the business of the House today, we eagerly give this additional money to the new towns. We are appreciative of the way in which the new town experiment has been carried on, and we will do everything we can to assist the Government in making it a still further success. We hope the Government will take notice of the criticisms which have been and will be made in this short debate.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Cough (Horsham)

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) raised our hopes in this short debate by promising to be commendably short in his remarks. I hope he will not think I am offensive, however, if I say that he was at the wicket for a longer period than our leading batsman. I propose to bat more in the Lindwall than the Lindgren tempo and wish to address my remarks to reminding the House of the original purposes of these new towns.

I think they can be put under three headings: first, that there should be dispersal from very large, densely populated areas, mainly London; secondly, that they should eventually be self-supporting; and thirdly, that they should be what has come to be known as balanced communities. The hon. Member mentioned the excellent letter in "The Times" this morning from Sir Thomas Bennett, the Chairman of the Crawley Development Corporation, but he did not mention another very interesting letter in "The Times" yesterday from the rector of Crawley. I happen to live in the new town of Crawley, which is in my constituency, and I should like to use that new town as an example because I know a little about it. If Crawley came under the new Measure, it could be described as an expanded town. It was not voluntarily expanded as new towns can be, but was compulsorily expanded under the Act.

I want to say a word or two about the people who are not very often thought of in these debates—the inhabitants of a town which has been chosen to be turned into a new town. Before it was converted into a new town, Crawley was a small country town. It had a farming community mainly, with horticulturists, and a few small businesses and shops. The people who inhabited Crawley at that time voluntarily made a sacrifice, and I feel that their sacrifice and that of similar towns should be justified if this new town experiment is to be really successful.

The first point I want to mention is dispersal. Sir Thomas Bennett mentioned in his letter that in Crawley today there are 17 factories employing 1,480 people. In addition, there are 11 factories in course of erection, and they will employ another 1,800. Negotiations are going forward for three more factories, which will make 31 factories, 17 of which are actually working. On 31st March, 1,640 houses had been erected and were occupied. All those factories take up a great amount of space and all those houses have taken families from London. What has happened to all the factory space and houses in London vacated by people who have come to Crawley and other towns?

Mr. Sparks

I think the general answer is that those vacated places have been filled by persons coming into the area and by the extension of factories already in the locality.

Mr. Gough

That is precisely the point and I am grateful to the hon. Member; but that has not fulfilled the original object of dispersal and will not fulfil it in relation to the growing problem of London and the London County Council in dealing with what they call their overspill. Unless we address ourselves to that problem, which I know is a difficult one, I do not think that the sacrifices of the inhabitants of country towns such as Crawley will be really justified under that heading.

On the subject of their being self-supporting, at the moment the new town of Crawley is in a very difficult position, as I expect are many other new towns. It is no longer a small country town but has not yet become a completely balanced community. Therefore, no one would expect it at the moment to be self-supporting. I feel that that point should be kept in mind, and for that reason—possibly for that reason alone—we should go ahead as fast as we can in putting these new towns, Crawley in particular, on their feet, so that they will be able to pay for themselves.

The third, and possibly most important, point is the balanced community and all that it stands for. We on this side of the House are extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for having made it possible at last for people to buy their own homes in these new towns. I do not think that party politics should come into the question of new towns, but if we are to have a balanced community we have to face the fact that people who become managers, directors of companies, and so on, want to buy their own homes. Many workers also would like to buy their own homes if possible.

In his letter to "The Times" the rector of Crawley also dealt with this point. He said that unless we can get this balanced community and get those in charge of factories—managers, directors, foremen and so on—to live in the new town, leadership will not be forthcoming, and community life will be quite impossible if we do not get leadership in that sphere.

Mention has been made of education. In Crawley the local county council have done a very good job. There are many critics on the question of schools in these towns but the difficulties of the local authorities should be put on record. The new towns have a very much younger population than towns of similar size in other parts of the country. Having a younger population, obviously they are mostly young married couples with children. We in Crawley have a great problem which I think is being very well handled.

To sum up, first, old inhabitants—farmers who have had to be dispossessed and people with shops which date back three, four, or five generations who have been forced to sell their freehold and so on—have made great sacrifices willingly and are co-operating in this great venture. But I feel that, because they co-operate in that way, there is a great responsibility imposed on the exporting areas. It really is no good enough for the exporting areas to send all these factories and people to new towns and then allow the spaces vacated to be filled by people coming into them, thus completely vitiating the essential purpose of this experiment.

Although speed is desirable in order that these new towns shall be self-supporting as soon as possible, it is most important that speed should not outrun the community life of the new towns. I agree with the hon. Member for Wellingborough about playing fields and was sorry that my hon. Friend said what he did about them. I think it most important to get playing fields, swimming pools, and so on, established as soon as we can, for if we do not get the community life operating from the beginning, it will be all the more difficult to establish it later.

In the final analysis these new towns have got to stand on their own feet and they have to have their own local government as soon as possible. It is only in that way that they can develop their civic pride and community sense which alone can justify their existence.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I should like to comment on one point which the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) stressed, because I think that to some extent he has hit upon a weakness in the remedy which the New Towns Act was intended to achieve so far as exporting or congested areas are concerned. As the hon. Gentleman said, the new towns were designed mainly to relieve congestion, both industrial and population, in our great towns and cities, and particularly in Greater London. They have to some extent achieved their valuable purpose by drawing to them people and industry which otherwise would concentrate themselves still further in the already congested areas. Therefore, the fact that we have been able to attract to the new towns a limited measure of industry and a limited number of people to that extent eases the problem.

Something more must be done, however. What is the use of exporting 1,000 people from a congested area to a new town if their accommodation is immediately to be taken by other people from outside? We find in my own locality that, although we send people out to the new towns, we merely maintain the status quo as to congestion. We have been seeking powers from the Government to control that tendency, but the Government will not give us those powers.

As for industrial concentration, there are very heavy financial commitments involved in endeavouring to control the vacated accommodation resulting from a factory or an industry going to a new town, because if a local authority took action to prevent vacated premises from being utilised by another industrial development they would have to pay to the owner the market value by way of compensation for his inability either to continue his enterprise or to let it or sell it to somebody else.

In the congested areas the cost of industrial land is very high and, indeed, it is prohibitive. It is beyond the financial ability of the local authorities to pay the heavy compensation that would be required by the owners of vacated factory premises. But sooner or later we shall have to deal with these causes which are perpetuating both industrial and population congestion, if ever we are to put our congested areas into something like order and provide better living space for the people who are there. The only way in which we can readily achieve a reduction of congestion in our congested areas is by devising means of persuading industry to leave those areas and go to the new towns. I am very much afraid that if a measure of compulsion is not exercised by somebody somewhere, we shall never solve the problem.

While, on the one hand, we complain about industrial congestion and concentration, the Board of Trade are busily engaged on granting additional certificates to intensify the industrial concentration which already exists. There should be closer co-operation between the Ministry responsible for these new towns and the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade should cease granting the volume of certificates that they are granting for the expansion and development of industry in the already congested and overcrowded areas, because unless we can de-centralise some of the industrial undertakings we shall never solve the problem of congestion and overcrowding.

Wherever the factories are there are the jobs, and wherever the jobs are there are the people coming to take those jobs. It is, therefore, essential that ways and means shall be found to encourage and give to local authorities certain powers of priority to ensure that industry is decentralised more than it has yet been to the new towns so that any space vacated by them shall not immediately be re-occupied for an industrial purpose. As I say, there are financial implications which the right hon. Gentleman should face with the Treasury, and he should secure for local authorities that financial support in order that they may reduce the industrial concentration in their areas and thereby reduce their overcrowding problem at the same time.

The Parliamentary Secretary, with just pride, referred to the number of houses already completed in the new towns—12,154—and he said that in two years we should reach a peak of roughly 13,000 houses a year being completed. The hon. Gentleman did not tell us much about the new policy of his right hon. Friend. His right hon. Friend has been going round the country advocating concentration on the building of flats, including multi-storeyed flats, in the new towns and in other parts of the country. That is really a most reactionary proposal. It is merely repeating in the new towns the problem with which we are faced in the already congested areas where we have skyscrapers shutting out the light and the air and considerably accentuating the congestion. He is proposing to repeat exactly the same thing in the new towns and the country areas. That is not at all a good proposal.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) said, the people who are going to these new towns are mostly the younger people whose lives are before them, many of whom expect to raise families. It is not fair to children to bottle them up in multi-storey flats. There must be decent living accommodation for the children if we are to hold them in the towns of their birth. What is better than a little house with a nice garden and congenial surroundings of that kind where the children can run and play to their hearts' content, instead of being bottled up in a flat rather like rabbits in a hutch?

The whole thing is fantastic, and I am more than surprised that the right hon. Gentleman if he has any real interest in housing, should go round the country retailing that most reactionary of all the Government's proposals in regard to housing. I ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate to give us some indication of what part this new development in housing, namely, the building of multi-storeyed flats, is to have in the future development of our new towns, because it is very important that we should know exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Again, I stress this question of interest rates. Anyone who has read the last annual reports of the corporations of the new towns will find that in almost every one stress has been laid on the additional disadvantages to the development corporations as a consequence of the rise in interest rates. The amount of money advanced by way of loan to the development corporations covers all their activities—not merely housing, but a host of other items of necessary capital expenditure—and to increase the interest rate from 3 to 4½per cent., which is an increase in the interest charge of 50 per cent., is a very heavy additional financial burden. To say that we have modified that burden by increasing the Exchequer subsidy on housing is only a part of the story, because the rents which are charged have to bear the additional cost of the increased interest rates, and the subsidy is not adequate to cover this increased cost of loans raised by the corporations.

This brings me to another very important point. The rents of houses in our new towns are far too high for the average working man with a family to be able to afford. I believe that we have almost reached saturation point. There are cases where men have been unable to go from the congested areas to the new towns, although there have been jobs there for them, because, first of all, the rents of the houses have been far too high, and secondly—and what is of equal importance to them—their rates of pay are lower in the country than they are in London. Since wage rates in country districts are lower than those in London, and since most of the new towns are located in country districts, where wage levels are lower, it often calls for a very considerable sacrifice on the part of a working man to take his family to a new town, where he might perhaps pay twice as much rent as he did before—admittedly, the accommodation is better, but it is still a question of finance—and where his wages are lower than before.

So we are finding greater and greater difficulty in securing the transfer to the new towns of precisely those people for whom the houses in the new towns were designed, namely, those people living in overcrowded conditions and unhealthy surroundings. Of course, people with money can afford to pay the higher rents, and the hon. Gentleman who preceded me rather welcomed the idea that people can now buy their own houses in the new towns. I think we all agree that there should be proper facilities for the purchase of houses for those who are able to rehouse themselves in this way, but this development should not overshadow the essential purpose of the New Towns Act, which was to de-centralise people from the congested areas to the new towns, because most of those people cannot afford to buy houses, not having the amount of money to pay by way of deposit; and, even if they had, they would find the repayments far too heavy for them.

Therefore, it is important that the right hon. Gentleman should preserve a proper balance between those houses that are for sale and those that are to be built to rehouse workers and others from the congested areas. I am quite sure that, despite all the criticisms that we have had to offer, we will all agree that the development of new towns has been of the greatest credit to this House and the country. Had these new towns not been provided, there is no doubt whatever that the congestion in London and our great towns and cities would be far worse than it is at the present time. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends will speed up the development of our new towns, and that he will put greater pressure upon the Board of Trade—and the key to this problem is very largely in their hands—to grant more freely certificates to those industries from congested areas which are willing and prepared to transfer to the new towns.

I feel that the right hon. Gentleman's energies will be very well spent if he can speed up the process of development in our new towns, if he can do something to bring down the rents of houses to a more reasonable level, and if he will try to persuade the Treasury—and I think the new towns have a case, apart even from that of the local authorities, for some measure of preference or priority—on the question of low-interest loans in order to speed up development. Unless we can do something to bring rents down to more reasonable levels, sooner or later we shall find that the main purpose of the New Towns Act is not being achieved.

We must be careful that, in the development of the new towns, we achieve the main purpose of this project, which was to rehouse ordinary men and women and their families now living in congested areas and in bad and overcrowded conditions. Most of these people are not receiving high wages, but just ordinary average wage rates. These people are anxious to get out into the new towns and begin a new life for themselves and their children, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make it possible for them to achieve that desirable objective so that the men and women themselves, and more particularly their children, may grow up in better surroundings to be healthier and more useful citizens of our country.

4.59 p.m.

Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)

This is a very short debate and many of my hon. Friends who have special claims to speak because they represent new towns or expected new towns want to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, so I shall be very brief. I want, in the time I have, to deal with one aspect only of this problem, namely, the great need for more buildings for community use in these rapidly expanding towns. This problem was emphasised in almost all the reports on the new towns. I do not propose to read long extracts from those reports, but some of them may be quoted as being typical of others.

In the report on Newton Aycliffe it is stated: Apart from the small Community Centre in an ex-cow byre, provided with the Corporation's help three years ago, and now entirely inadequate for the many activities which the residents wish to pursue, the town is devoid of many of the public services and of any of the places of assembly for entertainment or for cultural and educational activities which are necessary in an urban community. Of Basildon, it is said: The urgent need at present is for a building where new residents can meet together for recreation and mix with the older residents. Of Crawley, it is said: The existing halls and buildings in Crawley which were being used to full capacity are now inadequate. The Harlow report says: There is an insistent demand which cannot be met for committee rooms, halls, etc., for various organisations. Of Peterlee it is reported: During the year the Corporation became increasingly concerned at the fact that despite our rapidly increasing population it has not yet been possible to provide a building for social activity or religious purposes. And Stevenage regrets the difficulty in obtaining financial approval for buildings for community use. I do not intend to expand on that, except to say that perhaps it is natural that the emphasis during the first expanding years should be upon the building of houses and of industrial facilities.

The erection of amenity buildings is not keeping pace with the growing population. The new inhabitants in almost every case have displayed ingenuity and resource. Prefabricated huts have been made useful for every kind of purpose; they have been churches on Sundays, places for meetings of the British Legion, the Women's Institute, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides; they are used for whist drives, dances, and so on, but in many cases these are the only facilities for anything of a recreational, cultural or entertainment nature. Greater emphasis might now be placed upon the building of community centres even at the expense of new houses.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has told us that in 10 of the new towns a start has been made, or will be made very soon, on making provision for community centres or halls. Lord Mancroft, in another place last week, indicated that licences to the order of £1½ million would be issued during the next 18 months for such buildings in new housing centres, but, as I understand, that provision was not in respect of new towns only but of housing centres wherever they might be. I doubt whether, in view of the great need, provision of that order is sufficient.

The new towns are growing rapidly. Up to 2,000 houses a year are being erected in some cases, which, in terms of population, means an increase of about 7,000 persons a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) has already quoted from the letter in yesterday's issue of "The Times" from the rector of Crawley. I doubt whether a sufficient proportion of voluntary workers with the time, money and experience necessary to cope with the immense amount of organisation which is required to enable the social life of the new towns to keep pace with their physical development is coming forward at the present time. Naturally, the lion's share of such organisation has fallen upon the churches and other voluntary bodies. These voluntary bodies cannot, in so short a time, command the funds to meet these artificially created needs.

The new towns are a national conception. In my view, a proportion of the funds available for their growth ought to be made available to provide for the establishment of their social life. Ten days ago a meeting was held in London under the aegis of the Town and Country Planning Association, which was attended by representatives of the voluntary organisations from nearly all the new towns. That meeting came to the unanimous conclusion that much could be done administratively in two ways which I want to mention, in conclusion.

The first was this. It might be possible for the machinery of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, to be used for the making of 75 per cent. grants for the establishment of social and community buildings and playing fields in the new towns, the development corporations being permitted to operate the Act without having to show a financial return on their expenditure. Secondly, it was thought that the local education authorities should be encouraged to use the powers given them in the Education Act, 1944, to assist in the maintenance of facilities provided in this way.

I do not press for an answer upon that point this evening, but I ask the Minister to give his consideration to the problem and see whether it is possible for help to be given for the communities in the new towns in either or both of those two ways.

5.7 p.m.

Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)

We have become accustomed in this House to a particular phenomenon. When a Bill like this comes before the House, it meets with general approval, but one hears nothing but criticism of the general facilities provided by the Bill. That naturally is almost inevitable, and the saving factor is that each speaker concludes his speech with a welcome to the Bill and to the new facilities which it provides. From the point of view of a resident in a new town, I want to add a few criticisms, but I hasten at the beginning to express my approval of this Measure and my appreciation of the conception of the new towns and the management and work of the development corporations.

Perhaps I may be permitted at this stage to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). I was in agreement with practically every word he said. I should like to follow it up by referring to the public square in the town in which I live. One side of that square was very properly planned as being the site to be taken up with buildings of community interest. There was a church to be planned, a public hall and a "pub." It may be an interesting commentary that the "pub" was the first one finished, which it was last Christmas. The church is to be opened next Sunday, a little more than six months later, and the public hall will not be completed until October.

There may be some justice or some social urge in that order of priority, but the fact is that already those buildings, which seemed to be adequate at the time of planning, are now inadequate, all three of them. One of them of which we have experience is inadequate for the population, another—the church—is proving to be much too small, and we need three public halls in order to cope with the demand of growing community activities in a live, young and virile community. So there is justice in what the hon. Gentleman said. Other places have not yet provided even those elementary facilities for communal life. Communal centres, in the sense that we understand them when we use those two words, are not yet provided, so far as I know, in other new towns, and that represents a great gap in the social life of these new communities.

The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) mentioned the point of view of the existing communities around which new towns have been developed, in particular the new town of Crawley in his own constituency. He mentioned that the established residents of the older communities have made sacrifices and they feel that many of those sacrifices have not been repaid in the development of the new towns.

I want to put another point of view. I do not think that the sacrifices which the older residents have made have been as great as the benefits they have received. Tradesmen in the established part of the new towns have had a large increase in their trade, turnover and profits—no doubt also in their Income Tax. To them the advent of those thousands of new residents to the area has been a good thing. Indeed, the replanning of the town, the provision of new facilities, the widening and opening out of new vistas, all have been of inestimable benefit to the old part of the town and override the few disadvantages that have come to a small percentage of the older residents.

May I make a plea to the older residents not to look upon the newcomers as interlopers, not to regard them as a mass invasion from the slums of the big cities, as many of them do in a rather snobbish way, I am sorry to say, but to regard them as new neighbours, to welcome them, to join in their activities, and to realise that some of the new ideas that are being brought into the new towns are perhaps better than the older and slower ways to which they have been accustomed for so long.

We who are new residents appreciate the point of view of people who find their quiet, orderly lives suddenly upset by this mass invasion by so many newcomers, but we would prefer them to accept it as inevitable. In the first place, most of them chose to live in those towns because the towns were within reasonable distance of a large metropolis. It is for that very reason that the new town has been so developed in the same area. We hope, therefore, that they will not continue to regard us as unjustified and unwelcome interlopers.

The continued influx of new people into a new community creates problems for the shopkeepers inasmuch as goods that are in short supply normally throughout the population are in even shorter supply in the new towns. Apparently sufficiently good arrangements have not yet been made between this Ministry and the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Fuel and Power with regard to a sufficient increase in rationed foods, in foods and goods in short supply, in coal, coke and other things of that nature. It is more difficult, therefore, in a new town than anywhere else to secure bare rations, and it is almost impossible to secure any more than the bare ration, although in many other communities that is a possibility, as we all know.

Therefore, we shall be grateful if the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend will look at that aspect of the problem to see whether it is possible not only to speed up the supply of goods in short supply to an estimated increase of the population, which I believe is now being done and which is proving to be inadequately done, but to look ahead and make still further provision for an increase per head of the population.

The same might be said about transport, both road and rail. It is a special grievance of new town residents, especially around the perimeter of London, who are used to frequent buses and underground services every few minutes, to find that the bus passes only once in a half-hour and is overcrowded at that. There is a case in practically every new town in Great Britain for a closer liaison between the development corporation, the transport undertakings and the residents, so that their point of view as users of transport may be considered.

Everyone who has experience of new towns is aware of the great shortage of rail extensions, both electrified and steam, and of the slowness of rail communications in catching up with the extended need for rail development in those areas. It is, of course, a special problem for Members of Parliament, particularly for one who has to sit on this front bench on odd occasions and has a job to do which entails him staying here as long as the House sits, to find a lack of transport which necessitates recourse to other means of transport which we thought we had given up 30 or 40 years ago. Well, we cannot expect transport undertakings to provide special facilities for the queer and ridiculous hours of Members of Parliament.

Schools have been mentioned. In my neighbourhood unit there are two beautiful and excellent new schools, a primary school and a modern secondary school. It was a great joy to me and to my family to come from a top flat in a Glasgow tenement into the open air and surroundings of this new community, with a new and modern school within two minutes' walk for my youngest son. Yet his class in Glasgow was regarded as overcrowded with 40 pupils, whereas his class in the primary school now has over 50 in it and there is a continual influx of new pupils into every class almost daily. The school is already overcrowded and, so far as I can see, there is as yet no provision for another new school to relieve that overcrowding in a new area.

There is, therefore, a really serious problem and I want to underline the pleas made by hon. Members from both sides of the House in this debate not to regard a new town as merely a desert of houses, and not to make the same mistake as we made in earlier experiments, for example, in Becontree. Let the other facilities of a really balanced community march side by side and in step with the provision of houses in these new areas.

I have one other remark to make, and possibly this is the most important. I am not so sure that the standard of houses has not suffered very gravely within the last year in the new towns. It may be the fault of the incentive system that applies. I have heard it argued, and I have seen it to some extent demonstrated, not only in new towns, that the incentive system encourages shoddy work. I may be on dangerous ground, but when we find that building operatives who are engaged in the building of houses are reluctant to occupy the houses which they themselves build, because they think the standards are not good enough, we ought seriously to look into it and see whether an improvement cannot be made.

I believe that those standards, in little matters of detail, in trifling, niggling and irritating economies, are having a bad effect on the builders of the houses. Their work tends to become more speedy and less carefully executed. I do not think that the contractors are giving the attention to the job or to its progress that they gave 18 months or two years ago when the concept of new towns was fresh.

Mr. Marples

As the hon. Member has alleged that the building work in new towns is in effect sub-standard, would he be kind enough to specify in what respect he thinks it is sub-standard so that the allegation may be dealt with?

Mr. Taylor

I tried to be extremely careful. I did not use the word "substandard." I was very careful to say that I had the feeling that the quality of the work had been inclined to suffer during recent months. I am not saying that it is the fault of the present Administration. I was inclined rather to blame the system of incentives. There is, however, a general feeling amongst the building employees, and certainly amongst the community that I Know best, that the work is not quite as good as it ought to be and that they are not allowed to put into it the best work that they might do. If the Parliamentary Secretary reads what I have said, he will see that I have chosen my words with some care, merely in order to draw attention to what may be a great danger. I am pleased that his reaction was such that he immediately got up and tried to pinpoint the matter, and I hope that this indicates that it will be looked at. No one will be more pleased than I shall be if the charges I have made, as guardedly as I could, prove to be exaggerated.

There has been mention of the question of rents, which undoubtedly are inclined to be high. The fact that rents are so high is detrimental to further development. Sufficient has been said about the reasons and I will not labour the point, but I hope it has been noted by the Ministry so that an attempt may be made to bring down rents to a figure more comparable with those of similar types of housing accommodation in other new communities which are not designated as new towns.

Finally, I should like, as other hon. Members have done in their closing remarks, to pay tribute to the new town idea. To my mind, it is the most spectacular as well as the most successful and most socially beneficial piece of capital development and public extension that the country has indulged in during the post-war years. I believe that as it was excellent in conception, on the whole it has been faithfully carried out. Its future will, I believe, be to create what the original Act intended, as long as we do not draw back from those original ideals and from the conceptions which motivated us over the many years during which we have been preaching this idea. I believe that the Bill which we are discussing with such unanimity today will help towards that end.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Græme Finlay (Mr. Epping)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) took the line that he did towards the inhabitants already in the new town areas, because, otherwise, I agree with very much of what he said. It seems to me that the relations between town and country will not be improved by taking the sort of attitude which the hon. Member took. I do not know in which new town he lives. At any rate, I can tell him that I represent Harlow, which is the largest and most advanced new town in the country. It also happens to be very much a new town "out in the blue." That is to say, we had only a very small country town, unlike Crawley in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), when the town was started.

It is not at all true that there has been no hurt to the inhabitants already in the new town areas, and any reflection will convince a townsman that that is so. It is true, as the hon. Member for West Lothian said, that by reason of the great influx of population there is more room for shopkeepers and commerce, but it does not in the least follow that the small country shopkeepers in, for example, the various areas in my constituency, will benefit by it. I will tell the hon. Member the reason.

The Harlow Development Corporation have recently made a compulsory purchase order in respect of a number of small country shopkeepers in Potter Street. The reason advanced by the development corporation is that they wish to prevent any speculation, any cashing in, on the new town and its influx of population.

Mr. J. Taylor

The example which the hon. Member is giving is hardly a general one. His new town of Harlow has been built on green fields. There was not always a community in the area around which the new town has developed. It was the other kind of new town of which I was speaking.

Mr. Finlay

I am glad that the hon. Member accepts my new town, because I can speak more for that one than for the rest. At any rate, it had a small town of 4,000 inhabitants. I assure the hon. Member that the shopkeepers, so far from benefiting, stand in danger of being deprived of their properties under compulsory purchase on terms which are not at all favourable. I am extremely worried about it and have made representations to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

In addition, the farmers have been hurt as well. I do not know whether some hon. Members opposite appreciate the difficulties which are caused to working farmers and tenant farmers by the development of the new towns. I see the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) in his place. He takes this matter in rather cavalier fashion. He seems to think that it is simply a matter of rich people, who have flats in London and country houses with a good amount of land around them, grumbling. After all, the farms exist to provide food to feed the children who will inhabit the new towns, and it is about time that some hon. Members opposite appreciated this.

I will get on to the question of densities——

Mr. Lindgren

My complaint is that in some of the new towns, because of the urge of the Government and largely because of the talk of agricultural land, we are now going back to housing and space and density conditions of building against which we revolted in the inter-war years and which even Tory Governments would not tolerate. It is a bad policy, and I am yet to be convinced that by development on a basis of good gardens which provide greenstuffs and vegetables we do not get even greater agricultural production than by the rather lax methods which some farmers use for some of their land.

Mr. Finlay

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the lax methods of some farmers. In my area they are not lax, they are very active in the promotion of agriculture. As regards the rest of the hon. Gentleman's assertion, he said that there was a lack of understanding on the part of Members on this side of the House because they probably had comfortable acres themselves and a flat in town. Leaving that assertion aside, there are genuine agricultural difficulties which anyone who reflects about the matter for a moment will appreciate.

A farm cannot be run in a convenient way to suit development by a development corporation. This development goes by fits and starts and the phasing does not go entirely smoothly, as the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate, and it is very difficult for the farmer who is subject to a development order. He does not know, for example, how much stock he will require and how he is to equip his farm mechanically so that he is not over-committed on the one hand or in a position which represents underinvestment on the other hand. I hope that I have persuaded some hon. Members opposite that there are genuine difficulties for the farmer.

Even if one is a householder in a new town area it is also difficult. The effect of the making of the designation order has been such as to sterilise the prospective market for purchasers in the new town areas. There are, all round, a great number of difficulties for the existing inhabitants. In my constituency there are, not far from the new designated area, small villages where there is practically no sanitation and where the water supply is not very good. The people there do not grudge the rehousing of people who come from congested areas, but they see that those people are getting a very large amount of the nation's capital expenditure. I do not think I should be doing my job as a Member for both those kinds of constituents if I let the case of one side go by default when the other side has been mentioned to such an extent.

These new towns are a tremendous achievement. They represent a great chance which I think the architects have been ready to seize. There are in my constituency excellent illustrations of modern development. Some have followed traditional lines, others have followed new modern conceptions of architecture. There are, I regret to say, some extremely bad things. Again, one is trespassing on matters of taste, but there are some very ugly things indeed. There are things which resemble nothing more than rather squat garages. One cannot describe them as anything more than that.

I hope that that kind of freakish architectural development will not be given over-full sway in these new towns because in days to come people will be looking round and saying, "What sort of places did they build in the new Elizabethan era? "It is to be hoped that, looking at the new towns of Harlow and Crawley, they will not say, "Those new Elizabethans were proud of themselves, but they did not develop in the most desirable way that they could have done."

On the whole, we are doing distinctly well there. What is being done represents a great improvement on the past. There is, as the hon. Member for West Lothian said, and as I regret, some evidence of shoddiness. I hope that not only the managers but the workmen and everybody concerned with the promotion of these new towns will realise that that is a reflection on something which sets out to be the smartest development of the country at the present time.

I am worried, as are many speakers, including the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), about the Box and Cox game going on. The principal object of the new towns in the Home Counties at any rate is beginning to fail. Instead of the density in London being eased it is being found that more businesses and more inhabitants move in as fast as businesses and inhabitants move out to the new towns. It goes to the whole root of the matter. It is no use pretending that we are easing the problem when this game of Box and Cox is going on. What does the Minister propose to do about it? One suggestion is that it might be possible to give some financial inducement to housing authorities to acquire the sites evacuated by industries going to new towns and use them to the best possible advantage, having regard to building density.

As regards the social consequences of what is happening in these new towns, people forget that the whole thing is so sudden. If we are to build towns of 80,000 inhabitants, which is what is to happen in Harlow and Basildon, it is an extremely large development—the most rapid development, from the planning point of view, in the history of this country. From the point of view of the inhabitants, whether they are at the receiving or at the sending end, it is a very startling business; it is difficult for both sides to get acclimatised. The new inhabitants going to the new town, where there are modern architectural conceptions, come from friendly congested areas in London and take a little time to get used to their new environment.

The hon. Member for West Lothian has just said that one finds people there grumbling because they have not got the transport facilities to convey them easily to the shopping facilities. That brings me to the question of density. Some hon. Members take the view, rather leaving out of account the economic aspects of the problem, that there should be as much room as possible round these houses. In an ideal existence that would be an excellent thing, but if a town spreads out a long way the question arises of having to travel quite a long way to the shopping centres. I meet housewives in my division who complain that it is a long way to the shops. It is very difficult to reconcile that with the desire to have spaciousness and a lot of space for gardens for the children to play in. In the new Harlow we have flats which have convenient gardens adjacent to them which are quite suitable for children to play in.

I join with those other Members who have put in a plea for all possible capital to be deployed in amenity building because, as a writer in "The Times" indicated the day before yesterday, we cannot decant great numbers of people without providing for them in a proper manner; to do so means carrying out the experiment in a one-handed manner.

I will do no more than refer to the question of ancillary services which are rather lagging behind. Anyone who is occupying a home in the new town of Harlow and the other new towns is grateful to my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary for the way they have accelerated matters in this respect. But if one relieves those people of one great problem it may be that a number of other smaller problems occur. I find the educational problem arising rather acutely. One finds a peculiar age structure—a great number of very young persons and a great many families which are, naturally, capable of increasing.

Having said that, I wish to say one or two words on the need of the middle income groups, as they are euphemistically called. One cannot buy the freeholds of houses. Harlow Development Corporation have recently announced that they will sell the leases for 999 years. Why are they to sell leaseholds and not freeholds? I should have thought that a Government which believes in the promotion of a property-owning democracy should go the whole hog and not stop short in that way. I cannot see why the Parliamentary Secretary is so shy about having accountants and solicitors in the new towns——

Mr. Marples

I said that it would make for a better balanced and more mixed community if some professional men lived in the new towns and travelled to work outside. I think I carried the House with me in that respect.

Mr. Finlay

I misheard my hon. Friend and I was rather mystified by what I misheard. If that is the case, all well and good. We hope very much that this question of the people in the middle income groups will not remain an academic matter, but that the terms offered by the development corporations will be sufficiently attractive to get people to go to the new towns. One of the reasons people have not been attracted to the new towns is that there has not been sufficient publicity. Arrangements have been made for six months, but no one seems to know about it.

I wonder whether it would be possible for prospective purchasers to select their own designs and to employ their own architects and builders? The question of industry has been mentioned and one wonders why some new towns are not getting all the industrial development they require. Is it because rents for houses are so high that employers do not feel they can afford them or is it because communications have not been made available? I throw out these questions because I think they go to the root of the problem. We cannot expect to attract industry without the provision of these things.

I hope that those in charge of the development corporations will not think only of catering for the inhabitants in their area, but that they will extend some sympathy to the point of view of people who happen to be living in the adjacent country.

5.42 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

A remarkable thing about our debates on the new towns is that they are conducted always in such a thin House. Considering the housing problem which confronts us, one would think that hon. Members would be present in large numbers. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that the London County Council has a waiting list of a quarter of a million people. The list is divided into three categories. In category A, the most urgent, there are no fewer than 70,000 families awaiting accommodation and the London County Council is building at the rate of 12,000 houses a year. It does not need much arithmetical calculation to realise how long it will take to dispose of that waiting list.

It should not be imagined that the planning of new towns is finished. A great architectural and social programme has been arranged and on paper it would appear that all the contingencies have been catered for; but problems are being met as we go along. Each area has its own problems according to its industrial, geographical, agricultural and rateable assets, and these problems differ from town to town.

I wish to speak about Hertfordshire, which has more new towns than any other county, and two L.C.C. housing estates at Boreham Wood and Oxhey. There are 12,000 houses being built in the new towns and the original estimated cost was £300 million over 15 years with an extra grant on the special account if necessary. We have discussed the refusal of the Board of Trade in certain instances to grant a certificate for industry to move into the new towns. We have experienced this in Hertfordshire to some extent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) inferred, it is not much use moving an industry from a slum factory in London unless a closure order is made against the premises which are vacated. Unless that is done another industrialist immediately takes them over.

There have been difficulties with the Ministry of Transport about roads and with the Ministry of Works over the refusal of licences for building. One of the most alarming features is the way in which costs have risen. If, in 1948, the expenditure on a given project was £400,000, the price of the same project today would be £500,000. Due to the increase in the Bank rate—and this is where the shoe really pinches—interest charges have mounted from £12,500 to £21,000 in 1953.

With these problems piling up in a county which is primarily agricultural, one can see the effect upon the county and the penalty being placed upon the inhabitants. Even so, I know it is cheaper to have these new towns than to build expensive blocks of flats in London. In my constituency I have the greatest conglomeration of flats in London and, while they house people, one cannot say that they do any more. It costs about £10 million to £15 million more, on a comparable estimate, to build blocks of flats in London than to build such towns as Hemel Hempstead.

What we have to do is to try to tie the house rents to a true economic system which takes into account the Exchequer subsidy and the local authority subsidy. One of the great difficulties is the question of rents. It is not so much a question of industry which will either go to the new towns of its own accord or be compelled to go. The increasing weight of the burden has not been fully felt. It has been delayed because the capital expenditure on new towns has also been delayed. The county council have not yet had to pay for any of the sites to be occupied because the price of the land has not been fixed.

When it is recalled that in Hertfordshire there is Stevenage, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead and the other estates, it is not difficult to visualise the big bill with which the county council will be faced in the future. I know that the Minister commissioned a working party to go into this problem, but I do not know whether we can expect relief sufficient to ease the burden. I should think that under the equalisation grants with regard to rateable value, about 65 per cent. of the boroughs in the country are receiving benefit and the rest are not. There is an inclination among boroughs receiving value to disregard the people who are not and that is one of the problems which must be solved by the Ministry.

There is also the question of rateable value. The rateable value works out at £6 per head in the new towns, but in the satellite estates of Oxhey and Boreham Wood it is only £4 10s., so that the problem is becoming more difficult year by year. It is not encouraging to people who have lived in villages in Hertfordshire for years to see new towns with new schools and other amenities while their children have to occupy dilapidated schoolrooms. But that is happening, and is the cause of friction and jealousy. That problem can be overcome in time but it is with us now, and so long as we have this imperfect form of equalisation grant as applied to rates and education we shall always run into these difficulties.

If a county council has no hidden assets, then it is the one that bears the biggest burden. Some county councils and municipal boroughs have hidden assets which they can call upon, but most are well below the average. The equalisation grant as it affects education hits a county like Hertfordshire harder than most counties where new towns have been developed. The general problem is great chiefly because we were an agricultural community and we did not need to develop a rateable value on the basis of big towns. So long as both systems of rating depend upon a uniform system of valuation, I do not think that we can go very far to solve the problem in Hertfordshire. The education grant was designed to iron out differences in rateable resources. The question is, taking it county by county and authority by authority—and they all have diverse problems—whether it ought to apply. If it did not apply in Hertfordshire, it would mean at least a 7d. rate to us.

In joining with other hon. Members in giving a general welcome to the Bill, I stress the necessity for granting as many Board of Trade licences for industry in Hertfordshire as is possible. Employment in the county is based chiefly on two industries, printing and aircraft. We do not want to be dependent only on these two. While it is right to direct industry to such places as Peterlee and the other new towns, I suggest that some should be sent to this area in view of the close proximity of London with its vast housing problem. The people of London will always want some affinity with the Metropolis. Therefore, I urge that as many certificates as possible should be granted to allow industry to develop in Hertfordshire.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)

Like the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), I wish to draw attention to what I believe to be the crux of the new town problem, and the crux which the Government have so far evaded, namely, the provision of industry in these growing and expanding centres of population. I welcome the fact that we have at last had a statement of Government policy. I hope that when we come to a full-dress debate on the subject we shall have a clearer and fuller statement. We need to know what the Government intend to do to get industries to the new towns and, if they fail to get industries to go to them, what they intend to do with the new towns themselves.

There are cases—and, inevitably, my interests are concentrated in Scotland—where the resources of wealth are already on the spot. I cannot help but think of the new town at Glenrothes, where there are rich seams of coal. There an abundant industry is assured. But in my constituency a very different picture presents itself. It is one to which, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows, I have directed attention frequently.

We have the difficulty that at East Kilbride, and at the majority of the new towns, industry has not appeared or has appeared only in very small and meagre quantities. In certain cases, and that at East Kilbride is one, perhaps a major industry has been induced to establish itself on the site. We are confronted with the inevitable consequences of such a development. At East Kilbride we have the danger, which cannot be merely written off by words about American orders and off-shore buying, that a big motor industry at present making aeroplane engines may perhaps not find a sufficient demand in the future.

Be that as it may, I submit that the Government in formulating their policy must make up their mind and tell us clearly what their mind is about the attraction of industry to these places. One hon. Gentleman opposite suggested earlier in the debate that industry must be forced or driven, so to speak, to the new towns. I question whether that is a wise purpose. I believe it to be dangerous in terms of the national economy, and if, for whatever reason, industry refuses to go to the new towns, what then? At East Kilbride major firms seeking as much as 3 million square feet of factory space have been to inspect the site. In the past year firms seeking as many as I million square feet have been to look. But so far—and I am speaking from memory—little more than 500,000 square feet of factory space has been taken.

I was told, in answer to a Parliamentary Question the other day—an answer for which I am profoundly grateful, because it enlightens the whole matter—that according to the industry at present available in the new town at East Kilbride it is thought that a further 3,700 houses will be necessary. But suppose that by the time these houses are built the industry, for some reason, has taken a blow. Suppose there are no subsidiary industries to help overcome an adverse trend in the trade cycle. That is the danger I see looming ahead.

We have, relatively speaking, a high cost of housing. The reason for that high cost has been adumbrated very fully this afternoon. But when that high cost stands side by side with empty factories, or factories that are slowing down—and this can happen: it is no good blinding our eyes to it—that is the picture of a new slum. My fear is that the new towns, instead of being the brilliant symbol of the new age of enlightenment and renaissance, will be the sepulchre of our hopes and perhaps prove to be gigantic slums, more sprawling and more tumbledown than any we have so far known.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) a little while ago in very careful phrases—he is, after all, a tenant in a new town—made reference to shoddy building standards. If either the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government or the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland wishes to have any evidence on that subject, I have a memorandum which reached me this morning, signed by 70 members of the Murray Residents Association at East Kilbride, on that very point. To deny that there is shoddy building is to turn a blind eye to the facts. To deny that development corporations, no doubt harassed by a job which is perhaps too big for some of their personalities——

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Will the hon. Gentleman be specific in giving us details of where, in the new town of East Kilbride, slum conditions prevail?

Mr. Maitland

I am sure that the hon. Lady realises that I do not want to speak for too long. I am not trying to evade the issue when I say that the danger is that high-cost housing accompanied by any decline in employment may lead to slum conditions. I do not say that slum conditions exist at present in the new town of East Kilbride.

It has been argued over and over again that industry does not come to these towns because labour is not available. The hon. Lady will bear me out when I say that there is a good deal of surplus, if that is a word we dare use, a good deal of unemployed labour, in Lanarkshire today. I totted up the figures at a number of adjacent labour exchanges a little while ago. My inquiries have shown that about 5,000 workers are available now who would gladly work in East Kilbride if industry would go there. It is not a question of shortage of labour. It is because the site is unsuitable.

Whether or not any particular site is unsuitable, I submit that Government policy must be clarified on the central issue of how we are to get industry to these places and, if we do not get it, what the Government propose to do with the houses. Are they to continue to build what might degenerate into a slum or dormitory town, or to concentrate on that happy facet of Government policy adumbrated today, the expanded towns policy? I therefore hope that before we come to the full-dress debate this aspect of the problem will be seriously considered and that the Government will take note of the very serious sociological consequences which can arise from putting expensive houses where factories will not arise.

6.1 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

Something has been said specifically about some of the other new towns, so I want to add one or two words for the Parliamentary Secretary's ear, and ultimately for his right hon. Friend, about Corby.

Corby is a new town built where there was a largish town composed almost entirely of new houses when the new town itself began. These new houses were built orginally by Stewarts and Lloyds, the large iron, steel and tube making firm, which was engaged in exploiting the iron ore field of Northamptonshire. Following that, there came a substantial number of council houses. The latest development is that of the development corporation houses. The problem of the differences in rent between the tied houses of Stewarts and Lloyds, the council houses which followed them and the development corporation houses, which are now going up to the exclusion of the other two types, is exceedingly critical.

I say "to the exclusion of the other two types" because the urban district council is being forced, by the well-known difficulties about the level of rents and rates in such a town, to slow down, and, for the moment, practically to discontinue its housing programme. The development of the town is highly desirable in the national interest, for otherwise the very modern and successful steel and tube works there cannot be operated and the exploitation of the iron ore field in that part of Northamptonshire will become impossible. For that reason it is indeed a national necessity, but it will be impossible to continue getting recruits for the works and for the exploitation to continue if the development corporation rents remain at their present high level, and the probabilities are that unless legislative action is taken they will rise rather than fall.

I say to this Government, as I would have said to any Government, that I can see no solution to the problem unless a substantial contribution is made out of public funds to put development corporation houses on the same footing, in effect, as council houses. If the Government will not face up to it, then not in the long run but in the fairly early future they will find that the industrial advantages, which are sought for the country, and the very considerable social advantages, as a result of the development of the new towns, will be frustrated by the simple question of rents.

Secondly, we have heard about the relationship between industry and new towns. In this case the industry was there first and the new town had to be put there because, otherwise, the manpower needs of the industry could not be met. So far so good. But we have had experience in other parts of the country, notably in some of the L.C.C. estates, such as those in connection with the Ford works, at Dagenham, of the risk that one invariably runs if one puts a man-staffed industry like iron and steel in a centre of housing development with high rents.

The first risk is that if anything happens to the industry, the town gets the kind of depression about which everyone in the House knows and on which I shall not dwell now. The next thing is that there comes a demand for light labour, particularly for women and some of the other people in the town, which cannot be satisfied in a one-industry town. Something has been done in Corby, but in my view, and in that of the responsible inhabitants, including the council itself, not enough, by way of providing—I hardly call it "ancillary"—secondary industries in connection with what looks like being a large one-industry town.

That is linked with the question of transport. What is expected is that the women and other people who are not engaged in the steel works should seek the work that they desire in neighbouring towns, in this case particularly in Kettering, where there is scope for a considerable amount of labour. I understand that attitude, but if it is to be persisted in something special will have to be done to keep down transport costs—in plain English, the bus fares—in that part of the country. I believe it could be done on the basis of having special competition and keeping an eye on what is going on. The transport company concerned—I know that this is the business of the licensing authority—is not doing at all badly, and I see no reason why special efforts should not be made in a case of that sort, if a secondary industry cannot be provided in the town itself, to cheapen the transport used by workers seeking employment in the immediate neighbourhood.

Thirdly, the development corporation, under directives issued by the Ministry, are at present bound, if they follow the directive, to overcharge for certain public buildings which are required. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say that Hertfordshire had had its county council buildings on credit, and I hope that will work out well enough. The more cautious county of Northamptonshire has not gone into its buildings on credit and has been faced with what it can only regard as exorbitant demands by the development corporation, demands which under the directive the development corporation is bound to make, as far as I can see.

Questions which need attention are those relating to the value that can be obtained for the land and of not standing in the way of public buildings such as schools, police stations and markets which ought to be provided in the new towns in the best place for the purpose. We ought not to have public authorities who are carrying out obviously necessary functions being driven to carry them out in unsuitable places because a Ministry has issued directives which oblige a development corporation to ask excessive prices for the most suitable sites.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)

We have had a very pleasant and quiet debate. There has been a good deal of unanimity on both sides of the House. It has been so quiet that at times it has been a little disturbing.

Three things can be said about the debate on the credit side. First, there has not been a great deal of support for the rather Bloomsburyish attitude expressed in an editorial in "The Times" last week. Secondly, we have been spared a speech from the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine). I am sorry he has now left. I could not help feeling deeply sorry for him when he sat listening to the earlier part of the debate alone and palely loitering, a very different figure from the bellicose person who used to talk about new towns when the Labour Government were in office. Obviously, the hon. Member has been subdued by the Whips and what was proper in the days when a Labour Government were in office is no longer possible because he is disowned even by his own party. I should not be at all surprised if the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was able to tell us that the hon. Gentleman had actually gone down to the Tate Gallery to pose as an exhibit in the Unknown Political Prisoner's Exhibition.

The thing which I think is also on the credit side of the debate—and I am sure this will be agreed by hon. Members on both sides who have taken part in town planning debates in the past—is that we are not very late today, mainly because we have not had a speech also by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson). That has enabled us to keep more closely to the time-table than usual.

I now come to the debate itself. In opening the debate, the Parliamentary Secretary said that we were going to stick at this number of new towns for the moment; that we would get these established first before embarking on any further projects. He also said a bit about the possibilities of utilising the Town Development Act, 1952, and expanding the existing country towns as a means of receiving the overspill from the big cities.

I should like the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to go into a little more detail, because, although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government said that discussions were under way with the London County Council and how important the London County Council thought this proposal, we have been talking about the subject for a very long time. I remember that when Lord Silkin was Minister of Town and Country Planning we talked about expanding Ashford and St. Albans and one or two of the country towns which might be suitable as receiving areas. We are still talking about it under this Government of lightning administrators. We want to see something done about it.

Perhaps the Minister, when he finishes his search for political popularity and is prepared to step down from the rôle of a sort of political co-respondent trying to seduce the electorate by his 300,000 houses proposal to home-hungry housewives, will pay some attention to this acute problem which is the basic question of how to provide decent homes for Londoners and people in other big cities Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give us more details about it if he has any.

Unless the Government come forward with a good deal more useful information, I must warn them that when we have the full-dress debate on the new towns some of us will be very dissatisfied and will make things awkward for them. In any case, I think that the idea of sticking at nine new towns is a defeatist policy. The houses have to be built somewhere. Therefore, let us build them in the right places. Likewise, the schools have to be built somewhere. The Government will certainly have to pay attention to that matter after tomorrow's debate. Why not build the schools in suitable areas near the houses?

The Government must also do something about factories, because after the temporary lull and the feeling of satisfaction resulting from the Coronation is over, we shall be up against the hard reality of earning a living in a difficult world, and our success or otherwise in that matter will depend upon whether we have the factories with easy production lines which do not end at the factory gates, ready supplies of raw materials and the nearby workers available to give of their best in order to get the necessary production. We should like more details now, and also at a future date.

The next point which has been dealt with at some length during the debate is the question of amenity. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), in a very good speech indeed, referred to this problem, as, indeed, did one or two other of my hon. Friends, and the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) spoke about the conference last week at the Town and Country Planning Association. It is a very difficult problem to which we must give some thought.

However, I am not entirely in agreement with either the findings of the conference or with the letter from the rector of Crawley which appeared in "The Times" yesterday, because I often wonder whether or not, in the case of voluntary bodies which are promoting voluntary activities, it is best that they should be spoon-fed. I feel that in many cases the cold wind of adversity is one of the most successful ways of making voluntary societies function satisfactorily. If the people concerned have to work for something, then those societies are very often more effective, more alive and more useful than they would be if they were receiving Government grants or assistance from outside.

There are great opportunities in these new towns for building a new cultural life, and, very frequently, because there are so few cinemas in the new towns, there are better opportunities for building up the voluntary societies. They have to live first hand instead of indulging in vicarious vitality at the movies. I believe that a good deal more is done by local initiative than by Government assistance. However, there is an argument to be put forward in favour of both sides, and it is a case of having wise administration and sympathetic assistance wherever a situation may arise where a little help or guidance may be necessary.

I was struck the other day when going round one of the new towns at the large church buildings that are being erected there at the moment. This is digressing a little, but it is an issue to which, I think, the Government and the new towns corporations ought to give some thought. I hope that my remarks will not be construed as anti-churches or anti-organised religion of any kind. Very often we build churches in these new towns as though visualising huge congregations. It might be better, first, to establish the need for these churches, or to start with smaller buildings which might, if necessary, be adapted later to some other kind activity rather than build large edifices just at this moment.

It is very important that we should not build churches in the second half of the 20th Century in the belief that we are living in the first half of the 19th Century, and thus build great hulks riding the fairways of new towns and which will not be occupied. We must appreciate that times have changed. It is far better for the churches to have smaller and more sympathetic buildings in which it is much easier to preach a sermon to a few dozen people in a relatively intimate atmosphere than have to bawl at the congregation across great voids and down great empty pews, and it would certainly be more economical. I object to Christianity at the shout.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if that policy had been followed in the past, we should probably never have had one of the greatest glories which this country possesses—her cathedrals?

Mr. Donnelly

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right. All I am saying is that at the moment these new towns are in the process of being built. We are not building these churches as cathedrals of the future, and there are many priorities which might come first. On the other hand, we could build smaller buildings which might, as I say, be adapted at some future date when the circumstances change. Of course, the cathedrals, and so on, are the great pride of British architecture and are lasting tributes to people who built them at a time when nothing was known about stresses and strains or about Chancellors of the Exchequer and the capital investment programme. They went ahead and built them. I am just thinking aloud about something to which we ought to give more attention in the future.

Several hon. Members have talked about the need for more industry in the new towns. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some figures which sounded very impressive, but when we get down to the question itself I think we find that they are far more impressive. In one or two of the new towns, the industrial question is a very real problem indeed, and the real trouble is the over-departmentalised bureaucracy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Board of Trade lives in a self-contained compartment in blinkers and spends a great deal of time issuing licences, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), which increase still further the amount of industry in London and the traffic congestion caused in getting raw materials to the factory gates and transporting the manufactured goods from the factories.

If the Board of Trade continues this policy, sooner or later some of the inhabitants of that Department will find that they cannot get to their work in order to carry on that policy. That may be a good thing of course. The traffic jam will be so great in London that nobody will be able to get through at all. The last few weeks have demonstrated the huge problem which will arise in the future. It is the duty of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to draw the attention of his colleagues to the transport problem in the big cities. In part it arises from the fact that the President of the Board of Trade persists in issuing industrial certificates in the great conurbations, very frequently using the only criterion at the moment: "How soon can they get manufacturing industry on its feet" without realising that industry will have to fight in a difficult world in the years ahead and will be facing very real problems.

The Government are entirely failing in their duty in this respect of trying to get a plan in these matters. The Minister of Housing and Local Government is not to blame, because I recognise that he is a kind of political prisoner in that Government. It is not entirely his fault, but he might at least draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade when the Cabinet meet, although I believe it is difficult from time to time to arrange a meeting in these days.

Perhaps he will draw these matters to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade and will say to him: "A great deal has been done for the development areas." Most of that stands to the credit of my right hon. Friend whom we call the "Bishop of Auckland." I am not going to indulge in any canonisation of my right hon. Friend, but that work will always be associated with his name. "We have reached a peak in some of the development areas at which we do not any more need light industry and a good deal of it might be redirected to the new towns." It might be a declared object of Government policy to see that the new towns and the expanding country town receive equal priority for light industry with the development areas, who have reached saturation point.

A great deal has been said about density, and there was reference to the leading article in "The Times" last Wednesday about it. The article was answered last Saturday in an admirable letter by Mr. F. J. Osborn. We have to preserve an attitude of reality. The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) in a very able speech, but also an extremely dangerous speech, was rather following the steps of the hon. Member for Billericay, only on a slightly higher plane. The hon. Member ought to bear in mind that if he hopes to represent the new town of Harlow for very long he must see that there are decent living conditions in the town. It is no good agitating for higher density in Harlow because he is only creating trouble for himself in the future. He may depend now to some extent upon farmers' votes but sooner or later he will depend upon the support of the people of Harlow. I urge him not to court any short-term popularity because we would like to hear many of his remarks in the future.

There has been a great deal of overstatement of the farming cases in regard to new towns. Of course we want to preserve good agricultural land, and it is vital to produce more food, but we must keep a balance in these matters. Some of the new towns will become great industrial towns in the future upon which this country will be equally dependent. Whenever we go to build anywhere it is always said that it is on the most profitable agricultural land in the area, always the best, although very frequently it is not. Mistakes have been made sometimes, and I agree that we ought to keep a watchful eye on the matter, but we must preserve a sense of proportion.

The agitation for the preservation of farm land has only come about in peacetime since the Labour Government of 1945. In the old days farmers were only too anxious to sell every scrap of agricultural land they could to any speculative builder because they could not earn a good living on it. It is important for us to keep a sense of balance so that we do not go too far in this respect or give way to vocal sectional interests. We must bear in mind the needs of the national economy.

There is one other point which it is very important to remember, and that is the object of these new towns, which is to decentralise people from the great cities and give them a better opportunity for life and bring them to homes which are nearer to their work by reducing the length and the cost of the journey, and where the children can grow up in decent living conditions and healthy surroundings. That is the object of the original conception of Ebenezer Howard in "Towns of Tomorrow." It is very good that we should be discussing this subject in the year of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the first new town, the private enterprise effort at Letchworth.

It is a great tribute to the achievements of the Victorian Liberal reformers of the day that we have gone so far along that road that new towns are an accepted matter of national policy. It is important to see that these towns are recognised as social ventures and not as architectural ventures, as "The Times" in its leading article, envisaged. The new towns will stand or fall on whether people in them like living there, not whether they please the architects or the architectural papers. They must provide light and fresh air. Decent homes and schools and short journeys to work. As machines for living in, the new towns must be efficient so that people can live their lives in them. We must continually bear that point in mind. Density is the key to result.

That carries with it the conclusion as a logical corollary, the improvement of living conditions in the big cities from which the people go to the new towns. A good deal has been said about taking people from the big cities to the new towns., but nothing has been done about stopping the infilling when people leave the big cities. People can always come in and take the factories and other premises. That is a problem which the Government will have to answer sooner or later. It is no good talking about town planning unless we see that the vacated places are not filled up.

I hope that when we come to the full-dress debate on the new towns we shall have a clear statement of Government policy on this matter, because in it lies the key to the whole problem. It is of no use to pay lip-service to town planning and not pay attention to the realities and to the central problem—unless we are to repeat in the future the mistakes that previous generations made. The problem is becoming doubly acute and urgent, and something to which hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House must turn their attention if we are not to break faith with all the high hopes, grand promises and great plans which followed the 1945 period.

6.30 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)


Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman replies, may I put two questions to him? None of my hon. Friends on this side of the House from Scotland has caught the Speaker's eye today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Not in regard to any Scottish question. [HON. MEMBERS:"Yes."] Except perhaps the hon. Gentleman who dealt with the Scottish new towns, and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). [HON. MEMBERS:" No."] I mean from this side.

Anyway, I do not want to delay the House but only to put two questions. My hon. Friends have exercised a self-denying ordinance. Everybody wants to get on to the next debate and to shorten the time on this one. I should like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say whether the existing new towns are the only ones in contemplation with this new grant of money, or whether the Government are considering new towns, for example to relieve Glasgow's problem. There are rumours of a new town at Cumbernauld and one at Houston. Can he tell us whether these matters are still under consideration, and give us an outline of the Government's plans in regard to this money? We hope to take part in a debate in the future which will deal with this matter in a rather wider sphere. All I want, therefore, is some explanation of these points tonight.

Commander Galbraith

The purpose of this Bill is to authorise a further £50 million for our new towns. I gather from statements which have been made from the Front Bench opposite that they are satisfied that this money should be forthcoming, and for that I am indeed very grateful. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government gave a very full and detailed report of the progress that has been made with the new towns during the past year. I thought that the House was very grateful indeed to have those details so that hon. Members would be enabled to concentrate on certain major problems.

Undoubtedly the House has attended to those major problems, and three or four of them in particular. I should like to join with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) in congratulating the new town corporations on the very excellent work they have done and the manner in which they have got ahead with their work in recent months. I am sure that that is also the wish of my right hon. Friend. Some concern has been expressed by the hon. Member for Wellingborough about the increasing density of houses. He suggested that it was the aim of the Government to increase the density to 16 houses per acre. That is not the case. The density at the moment is running at about 13 houses per acre. That compares very favourably indeed with densities in modern urban development, and I do not think that it is too great a density at which to aim.

The hon. Member was also concerned about the slowing down of the provision of new schools, but I think that we should leave that question to the debate tomorrow when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will deal fully with that matter. The question of the higher rents which are paid in these new communities was raised by two or three hon. Members and explanations were given of why the rents should be somewhat higher than those of comparable local authority houses. But, of course, there are certain counter-balancing factors which we ought to take into account. There is the fact that people working in the new towns should not have to spend anything like so much on bus, train or underground fares to get to work, particularly those who have come from London.

There is no evidence whatsoever in the new towns, so far as I know, to show that people are not willing to pay for the better amenities and facilities which they are receiving. Certainly at present there is no general indication that the higher rents are either stopping a sufficient flow of people into the new towns or when they have settled down make them feel impelled to move back to the towns from which they came. That is very satisfactory.

Mr. Sparks

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman read the annual reports of the new towns? He will find that more than one report states specifically the difficulty that the new towns are experiencing in getting people to take new houses on account of the high rents. In my constituency a number of people have declined to go to new towns because they cannot pay these rents.

Commander Galbraith

That may be so in certain cases, but what I have said is true. There are still more applicants than there are houses to put them into.

I fully appreciate that the old inhabitants of some of these old communities make appreciable sacrifices at the same time as they gain certain advantages. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) took up my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government wrongly when he spoke about playing fields, because my hon. Friend appreciates, as do all of us on the Government Front Bench, the importance of playing fields for these communities.

That brings me to the point which has been raised time and time again about the so-called failure to provide various amenities as these houses go up. The Parliamentary Secretary explained very carefully in his opening speech that it was the aim of his right hon. Friend and of the Government to develop a balanced community as rapidly as possible, to see that the houses were matched by factories, public buildings, schools and playing fields and all the other amenities that are necessary for any properly balanced community. I assure the House that that is the aim of the Government today.

On the subject of industry I should like to give a word of advice, if I may, to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland). I suggest that he should not be so despondent about the future. It is no good trying to build anything if we are always looking over our shoulders and seeing disaster just round the corner. I assure him that we have every reason to be thankful about employment in the new town of East Kilbride. We believe that employment there is secure for a good many days to come.

Specific questions were put to me by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has informed the local authority who have written to him on the subject of rents that we would gladly arrange for a local deputation to be received to discuss that subject.

Mr. Mitchison

Unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman added that there was no money coming, and that is what they want.

Commander Galbraith

The hon. and learned Member really must not expect too much at once. My right hon. Friend has said that he will be glad to receive a deputation. The hon. and learned Member also asked about the cost to be paid by the county council for sites for public buildings in the new town of Corby. I understand that the present state of negotiations indicates that the parties are getting very close to agreement on price.

We had a very interesting and amusing speech from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). I can assure him that in my own part of the world we find that very great pressure is put on us to provide churches for these new communities. These churches are being much used. I suggest to the hon. Member that he should look at the new type of church that is being built both in England and Scotland. It provides for public use during the week a most commodious hall which can be rapidly converted for church purposes on Sunday. I am sure that he would be very interested. I have answered most of the questions which have been put to me, and I commend this Bill to the House.

Mr. Woodburn


Commander Galbraith

I am sorry. I had forgotten the two questions which were put to me at the last moment by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). I apologise. I was not endeavouring to dodge the issue. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, these new towns in Scotland are concerned chiefly with the area of the Clyde basin. In that connection, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has invited the Planning Committee for that area to go into the question and to advise him what they think is the best procedure to relieve the congestion which exists in the City of Glasgow today. Until their report is received I cannot say anything further on that subject. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put. and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee Tomorrow.