§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. W. F. Deedes)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a modest Bill, asking for a substantial sum of money. Its purpose and scope are fairly summarised in the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum printed on the front of the Bill. Three preceding Acts in 1946, 1952, and 1953 have provided £150 million for the development corporations of the 12 new towns in England and Wales and the two in Scotland. Of this, £141 million of expenditure has been approved—£127 million in England and Wales and £14 million in Scotland.
We now seek to increase this total of £150 million to £250 million. That, it is estimated, will be sufficient to meet fresh commitments for at least two years. In fact, we are asking for £100 million of new money. That will be regarded as arithmetically fairly straightforward, but I think that the House would wish to hear on this occasion something of how the money has already been spent and is now being spent, and to have some account of past, present, or prospective programmes, and to consider the problems which are quite inseparable from a gigantic undertaking of this kind.
It is not difficult to see why this initial period involves for the corporations heavy outlay and small returns. That was only to be expected. Nevertheless, I think the House may expect at this stage some estimate of the ultimate commitment. In the annual accounts of the development corporations for the year ended March. 1953, one reads that the potential Exchequer commitment would be in the region of £250 million to £275 million, although it may be more. That was some months ago and the question arises whether these figures should be revised.
Any estimates must be largely guesswork, because a number of quite unknown factors are at work. These towns are not yet half finished, and it is exceptionally hard to forecast the final 1292 cost within narrow limits, but it looks as though the ultimate total of Exchequer expenditure may be about £300 million, or it may be £325 million.
This increase is mainly accounted for by the greater share likely to be taken by the corporations in remunerative classes of development, such as town centres and so on. The more remunerative the development in which the corporations invest, the greater, it is fair to hope, will be their ultimate return. The new figure does not diminish, but rather increases the prospects of eventual solvency.
I want to say one word on past expenditure. In round figures, £141 million has already been approved, and this includes £105 million for housing, £15 million for main services and £15 million for industrial development. The balance of £6 million has gone on preliminary and miscellaneous expenditure.
It has never been the policy of this or previous Governments that these towns should be entirely financed from the Exchequer. Local and other public authorities and private developers all have contributions to make. But in the early stages, it has proved inevitable that the corporations should provide main services, such as water and sewerage, or contribute large sums towards their provision. They have had to undertake nearly all residential development.
On balance, there has been greater willingness by private developers to carry out commercial and industrial development than housing. But corporations are still left with a substantial part to play in the commercial and industrial field; and that is of benefit, because it is essential to have something to provide an eventual set-off against the heavy cost of pioneer work.
In contemplating the Bill, the House will want fairly solid reassurances of the stewardship to date. I will turn next to the structural progress of the new towns, which is substantial and now on an ascending scale. The rate of house building has increased and is increasing. Industry is flowing in and there are heartening signs of the way in which this is becoming a team job.
The corporations deserve immense credit for their work. There are others—and this is a healthy sign—who are increasingly deserving of credit. Local 1293 authorities and private enterprises are now making their contribution, and the new towns will be, as it is intended, a blend of many elements. Although we are today considering the means of priming the pump, it is right to take note of the sources from which these new towns will eventually draw—and must draw if they are to become self-sufficient.
Let me turn next to the structural progress, which—and I apologise to the House for it—does involve statistics. In the last three financial years, housing has increased from 3,024, to 6,830, to 8,430, and, by 31st March next, in the present financial year, should be about 10,000. We estimate that we shall reach a maximum of about 13,000 houses a year.
A month ago there were 25,000 additional dwellings, housing 80,000 people, and about half as many as that were being built. Some private housing is going on, notably in Crawley, where my right hon. Friend is today. But I have to add that the new towns have not attracted the private developer as might have been hoped.
Industry has begun slowly, but is now making strides. A month ago 118 factories, covering 3 million square feet, were employing 16,000 people, and another 74, which may employ 11,000 people, were being built.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say up to what date he is basing these figures. Is it on the 1953 Reports?
§ Mr. Deedes
That was a month ago, on figures available to the end of October.
Broadly, this industrial flow is satisfactory, but we are aware it must not suffer a check and it requires constant co-vigilance between the Ministry of Housing and the Board of Trade. By all accounts, industrialists who went to the new towns early on have no cause to regret their foresight. They have easier labour problems, and, incidentally, labour has very much easier travelling problems than elsewhere.
1294 There is still less diversity than we should like to see. Controls over building licences, now abolished, tended to encourage engineering and electrical industries—quite naturally—and discourage other and more varied industries.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
Has the Parliamentary Secretary any figures of the number of people who have taken houses, worked in local factories, and then left the factories once they had the houses?
§ Mr. Deedes
Later, I am coming to figures which will bear on the point which the hon. Member has raised.
Construction of shops in the town centres and neighbourhood centres is moving forward; 291 have been completed, and 276 are under construction. Office building has been slow because of a disappointing demand, but 70,000 square feet are completed, and 63,000 under construction. School-building progress is good, and a tribute is due to the local education authorities, who have not had an easy time. There are 37 schools completed, with 17,200 places, and 36 schools are being completed, with 17,560 places.
§ Mr. Sparks
Could the hon. Gentleman possibly break down those figures? When he says schools, he presumably includes primary, secondary modern, secondary grammar, and secondary technical.
§ Mr. Deedes
I may be able to do that later. I have tried to avoid burdening the House with too many statistics which a breakdown of figures would inevitably involve. One can give too many figures.
On community buildings, I will say a word a little later. Nine public houses have been built, and 10 more are being built. Cinema operators have not proved very enthusiastic, but talks are going on which I hope will lead to better results. That really is a summary of the structural progress. No doubt hon. Members will require more details, which I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) will provide.
I now turn to problems which I know are exercising the minds of a number of hon. Members. Here I am in some difficulty because both those areas which 1295 are exporting and those which are importing have their problems. I can only anticipate some of the principal sources of interest and anxiety. The rest, as I say, will be dealt with at the end of the debate by my right hon. and gallant Friend.
On the question of land use, perhaps I should say that up to now the Minister has approved the acquisition of 23,000 acres of land by the corporations. That is just under half the area designated of 50,000 acres. The corporations have acquired 16,000 acres of undeveloped land at a cost of £1,415,000, and 1,700 acres of developed land at a cost of £2,800,000. That is, as it were, the land commitment.
There has 'been criticism on the subject of rents on the ground that corporations generally charge a rent higher than elsewhere. Including rates, the rents range from 33s. to 40s. a week, or even more, for the subsidised three-bedroom house. It is fair to mention here certain factors which work to the disadvantage of the corporations generally. Firstly, almost invariably the contractor has to import his labour, which means paying travelling time, and that might add anything up to 10 per cent. to the price.
Secondly, the very nature of this development means that there has to be a new provision of all the main services instead of an extension of existing services. Thirdly, local authorities, by raising rents on pre-war houses, can use a small surplus to relieve charges on the new houses. That, of course, is not open to the corporations.
There is one counterbalancing factor—
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Am I not right in saying that it is only the last of those three points which affects a comparison between council houses and development corporation houses in the same area?
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. I would refer him to my second point, the provision of, as it were from scratch, all new services and not merely an extension of existing services. That is essentially a different situation altogether.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
The hon. Gentleman has given us the rent for three-bedroom houses. Can he give us the rent for one- and two-bedroom houses?
§ Mr. Deedes
I will leave that question to be answered by my right hon. and gallant Friend, because otherwise I fear that I shall weary the House with a weight of statistics.
The counter-balancing factor to the rent is that tenants save on fares to and from work, which can represent a substantial part of the budget of the commuters, even for short distances.
§ Mr. Deedes
It applies generally as a counterbalancing factor.
There is, broadly, no sign that these high rents are proving unduly discouraging. The corporations have the power to charge differential rents within each scheme. So far they have not tried to do that, but have tried to meet the requirements of those with the lowest incomes by providing houses as cheaply as possible, and by acquiring older properties for letting at lower rentals.
The development corporations have agreed to dispose of houses by sale, by freehold, or long lease. Frankly, the results have been disappointing. Up to the middle of this year they had sold 57 houses and 348 sites. I think the main reason is that the loss of subsidy makes the weekly repayment far more expensive than the subsidised rent.
I now wish to say a word about community buildings, concerning which there has also been some anxiety. I think it is recognised that the development of these new towns cannot be measured only in material terms. If they are to become communities in the true sense of the word, there must be more than bricks and mortar. There must be the provision of places where people can get together.
It is true to say that this has not been easy. It lies with the local education authorities, not with the corporations, to provide community facilities, and until recently restrictions have imposed some handicaps. In this period, the corporations have been allowed to make modest provision, but, though quite modest, it 1297 has not been insignificant. They have built 26 community buildings at a cost of £100,000, and there are eight more now being built at about one-third of that cost.
It will be recognised that the situation has now changed significantly. Within the last 10 days—after the announcement of the Minister of Education—there has been a relaxation of the restriction en direct grants to the capital cost of village halls, community centres, and youth clubs. The development corporations and the local authorities can now meet and consult on future needs, which I have no doubt will be done without delay. That should fill a gap about which I know there has been some anxiety.
That also applies to playing fields. The Ministry of Education has agreed to a resumption of expenditure by local education authorities on school playing fields. My right hon. Friend will, of course, also be prepared to consider applications for grants under the: Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, for the development of playing fields. That will prove of great assistance to the corporations.
I am afraid that this account has taken a little longer than I intended, but I will now try to sum up the main outline for the future of these towns. As we are aware, they were founded for two main purposes. The first was to provide—in four instances—towns conveniently near existing industry for which housing and social facilities were not available—that we might term the centralising function—and, the second, was for the relief of London's sprawl and overcrowding.
Many hon. Members will view this prospective additional expenditure in the light of progress towards these aims, particularly the last one. The London group is designed eventually to provide for a population of 430,000, and the remainder for 115,000. The extra population housed since designation is 80,000. It is too early to judge the measure of success by reference only to London. Every effort is being made to link future growth directly with London's overcrowding, in co-operation with the London housing authorities.
The principal instrument has been the Industrial Selection Scheme, which is designed, first, to ensure that families moving out are in most urgent need of 1298 houses, and, second, that they can take the jobs available in the new areas. That, as I think some hon. Members are aware, is based on the classification by trade or employment of registrations of people in housing lists who are willing to move. Seventy-six London authorities are participating by making the rate contribution for emigrant families.
To the middle of this year—and I think this answers one point which has been raised—16,618 flats and houses were let in the London group. Of those 13,516 were occupied, at that time, by Londoners. It is true that only 481 of those families had gone under the Industrial Selection Scheme, but that scheme was then in its infancy.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Did the Parliamentary Secretary say "Londoners"? If so, does he mean those in the Metropolitan area or in the Greater London area?
§ Mr. Deedes
It means, I think, those in the Greater London area.
There have been suggestions that the present arrangements are not working quickly enough to provide direct relief of overcrowding in London, and that the emigrants to the new towns are not sufficiently those with the greatest housing need. It is inevitable, at this stage, when the London group of new towns is housing barely one-fifth of its ultimate capacity, that some of the overcrowded London boroughs should be showing very natural restiveness at the rate of increase.
There has even been a suggestion, made by those in the nearest new towns—those situated from 20–22 miles of London—that they should be used more as dormitories, thereby allowing the Londoner to return daily to his work in London. That would be a major departure from policy, and, even if practicable, might imperil the new towns. The ultimate contributions that the new towns can make to London's chronic social problems should not be exaggerated—and I am anxious not to raise false hopes. But it is safe to say that, from now on, the new towns idea will show an increasing dividend.
The expensive and essential preliminaries are nearing completion; the outward flow, as we have seen, is increasing in volume. There are many problems—it would be astonishing were there not in these circumstances—and, as 1299 they are solved, new ones will take their place. But the corporations have shown themselves equal to meeting them, and a willingness to tackle them sensibly.
Although we are asking for a heavy advance of capital, I am satisfied, as I hope the House will be, that, from now on, the investment will show an increasing return. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
We on this side of the House are delighted to give this Bill its Second Reading. May I compliment the Parliamentary Secretary on his statement? There is no need for him to apologise for taking up the time of the House or for going into detail, because here we are dealing with real human problems and the satisfactory development of our own country.
No one could have read the reports of the new town development corporations, to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred, without feeling a great deal of pride in the achievement of a most distinguished and inspiring feature of Britain's housing and planning programme. It is a feature which has earned the admiration of other countries, and we can, perhaps, even boast by saying that it is the most advanced in the world.
On behalf of my colleagues, I should like to join the Parliamentary Secretary in complimenting the boards and staffs of the development corporations on a very excellent job. In my reading the other day I came across a paragraph which has reference to the Parliamentary Secretary's closing words:Do we want to continue London's evolution as a monotonous, solid conglomeration; or do we want to break it up into a province of new towns? Without hesitation I plump for the second. Today's London is absurd. Half of its workers spend hours travelling to and from their places of employment.Those words were written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) in an article in the "Star" in August, 1918. Of course, it has taken 30 years, a war, and a Labour Government, to give effect to the vision he then had. Those words show that, as in so many matters, my right hon. Friend was seeing a long way ahead.
I agree entirely with the Parliamentary Secretary regarding the social advantages 1300 of the development of the new towns. I emphatically associate myself with him when he says that a departure in policy which would make dormitories of them would destroy the whole purpose of the New Towns Act, 1946, and the whole conception of the garden city movement and of new towns as we know them. Their conception is of workers living and working in ideal surroundings. Quite apart from the social advantages which we get in new towns, I am convinced also that this development is the most economic, financially and in land use, of any of the many possible forms of development.
Having said that, I wish to put a few questions to whoever is to reply to the debate, and, perhaps, to be a little critical, too. I must admit that the Parliamentary Secretary has faced up fairly well to the matters about which criticism can be made. I hope that that means that in his Ministry, with his right hon. Friend and himself having newly come to the Department, there will be a new outlook on the development of new towns.
My first point is that the New Towns Act, 1946, was not passed for the creation only of the 14 towns which the Labour Government set up. The Parliamentary Secretary quite rightly—and I join with him—spoke with some pride of what has happened in these 14 new towns, but his Government have been in office for three years and not a single additional new town has been designated. There was to have been a fifteenth new town, where the designation was all ready and the possibility of its establishment announced by the Labour Government. I refer to Congleton, which was to deal with the overspill from Manchester and the Potteries. The hon. Gentleman's predecessors in the Department quashed the Congleton new town, and we have no new town whatever announced. Nor, even today, have we had any statement of policy regarding their creation. We 'have not dealt with the problems of congestion throughout the length and breadth of the land simply and solely by the creation of the 14 new towns which were started.
We are here dealing with a contribution of another £100 million. The effective and economic use of that money will depend to an extent, of course, upon the guidance and good management of the chairman and members of the boards 1301 of the new corporations concerned, but largely its full economic use will depend on the technical skill and quality of the technical officers within the development corporations. From the conception of a new town to the laying of the first brick, anything from three to four years may be spent in public inquiries, surveys, getting the staff together, etc. All that sort of work takes a very long time.
One of the most difficult of those jobs is the appointment by the development corporations of the technical staff. Those people have a very fine job to do. They are fortunate inasmuch as they are doing a job of great social value, and I am certain that many of them have taken positions in the new towns at lower salaries than they could have got in private competitive employment. They have done that because they understand the social value of their work and they enjoy it. They came into the new towns because, with the Act on the Statute Book, they could see that this was a developing service. They came from local government and from civil engineering, and they have done a first-class job up to now.
With the tendency under this present Government which indicates that there will be no more new towns built after the 14 are completed, these men, who are now five years older than they were when they first came into the industry, can see their jobs drying up in five or 10 years. It is quite natural that such men will get back into local government and civil engineering, so that slowly the competent staff which the development corporations have been able to build up will slip back into their pre-1946 occupations, because they, like others, desire security of tenure of employment.
The situation is even worse than losing the existing staff. If one is recruiting new staff, it is not unreasonable for a person entering an industry to ask, "Where is this going to lead me? How long is the job going to last? What are the prospects of promotion?" People entering an industry such as new town building under this Government, with no declaration of policy about the future, will be going into an industry which will wind itself up within five or 10 years, or at the maximum 15 years. That is not the way to get the most economic use of this £100 million which we are voting today.
1302 I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who I understand is going to reply, to give a firm statement of policy about new towns, not only for London's overspill but for the whole of England, Wales and Scotland. Scotland is perhaps even worse than England in some of the social conditions in the big cities. [An HON. MEMBER: "An understatement."] I always make under-statements. It does not do to exaggerate too much, although I have been accused sometimes of exaggerating.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to social amenities. I agree that in the new towns, or in any town for that matter, work and home alone do not make the towns. They require schools, shops, pubs, clubs, churches and so on to make the real community life. The Parliamentary Secretary carefully glossed over this fact. I cannot blame him, because-he was not in office and neither was his right hon. Friend, but the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary who were in office deliberately cut down the programme of social amenity development in the new towns from 1951 onwards. I hope that what we have heard today from the Parliamentary Secretary means that he and his right hon. Friend are now going to give a greater degree of freedom to the development corporations to develop these social amenities within the towns in order that they may be places of unity and community feeling.
This is not a plea just from this side of the House, although as we are the creators of the New Towns Act, 1946, and have the conception of new towns in our blood, we are anxious to see them succeed to the full. After all, there are hon. Members opposite who represent new towns. They, with hon. Members on this side of the House, some few months ago met representatives of the residents of new towns. They were mainly representatives from the new towns around London. Here they were, Londoners, young, virile people with young families, who had left the community in which they had been brought up and to which they had some attachment, and had gone into God's green fields in such places as Crawley, Welwyn Garden City, Hemel Hempstead and Harlow, away from all their associations, the Sunday schools and clubs, to start a new life, and there was no 1303 possibility of them getting that community life which they desired.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary's statement means that, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, under the provisions of the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, the Department is going to consider the question of the development of these social services. It is easy for Government Departments to play off one against the other, by saying that this is the responsibility of the local authority, or of the Ministry of Education, or of the Ministry of Agriculture, and so on. I hope we shall have no more of that. We built new towns and set up new town development corporations because the local government machine was not extensive enough, either in the competence of its officials or in its financial resources, to be able to undertake the task itself. If a local authority was virile enough, we always envisaged that the New Town Development Act was going to be used.
In one of the new towns the parish council is responsible for playing fields. It is limited to a 4d. rate, through the good offices of the county council. The rural district council has no responsibility or power to deal with playing fields. Here we have the development corporation willing and anxious to provide the playing fields, to give the equipment for those playing fields, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government saying, "This is the job of the parish council." A 1d. rate brings in about £35. That was a foolish feature, and while I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for it, I hope his statement today means that we shall not have any more of that type of activity which was so frequent during the period of office of his predecessor, who was more concerned with playing politics with numbers of houses on sheets of paper than with the lives of the people who were going to live in these houses.
The other feature that we ought to criticise, because on this depends whether we shall get the full value of the money which we are going to vote today, is the quality and standard of the housing and the density at which it is provided. The Parliamentary Secretary is new in office; he is a very pleasant person, and we on this side of the House will give 1304 him all the help possible in his job. But I would like to invite him to make a tour of the new towns, and I would be delighted to go with him. It would certainly save the petrol in my car if we could use the Minister's car. If we had that tour of the new towns, I would point out that the development under the Labour Government was such that the country had every right to be proud of it. Side by side with it, we see the development which has taken place under the Tory Government during the last three years, with lower standards of housing and an increase of density.
I live in a new town, Welwyn Garden City, and I have spent the greater part of my life in local government helping to build that new town. Reading my local paper last week-end I saw banner headlines about a deputation to the Ministry. I know that it is easy for local editors or even editors of national newspapers to make banner headlines, but the fact is that from Welwyn Garden City, a new town which was started by private enterprise and which set up glorious standards which were the basis of the 1946 New Towns Act, we have the local authority leading a deputation to the Minister—which I hope will be effective—because of the abominably low standards of the new houses which the Minister is forcing on the development corporations. They are houses of a standard which the local authority has refused.
In a garden city, we have enthusiastic gardeners—as ought to be the case in a new town—who have to wheel manure through their houses because there is no back way to the houses. We call this type of house the "People's House." I hope that type of development will cease under the new régime at the Ministry.
I have been in local government for a long time, and a good deal of my attention was given to housing in the old days, and even under pre-war Tory Governments we secured, after successive deputations and arguments, the right to build local authority houses at 10 to 12 to the acre. The Parliamentary Secretary is now compelling new town development corporations to accept development at 16 or 17 to the acre.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Quite possibly, but I was dealing only with facts within my own knowledge.
The present situation is not good enough. We have young and virile men and women going into the new towns who look forward to a new home in good surroundings, with a garden, and to a life about which many of them, in London, have only dreamed; and yet we are huddling them together at a standard of density as bad as that which exists in London.
People talk about the economic use of land. New town development is the most economic use of land, and a lot of bunkum is talked about the food-growing value of land lost through housing at reasonable standards. Because of statements made about housing and its effect on agriculture and the use of land, I understand that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has carried out a survey into the results of the cultivation of back gardens and the growing of vegetables for the use of the family. I believe that the Department has compared these results with those for the same land before the houses were built.
The results have been startling, and I hope the Ministry will publish them. The back garden of the ordinary worker, under reasonable conditions, is one of the most profitable uses of land we can find and one of the best examples of intensive cultivation. That is not only because of the physical recreation which it gives to the worker but also because of the food value and the freshness of the food which he produces for his family, quite apart from the saving to them in their day-to-day budgets.
Dealing, lastly, with the question of rents, I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that, with the exception of Welwyn Garden City, none of the new town development corporations has pre-war houses to use as a pool. It is true that the corporations have no rate fund, either, from which to make up any difference between rent income and loan charges. I also agree with Mm, and would emphasise, that the development corporations have had a difficult job, because their labour costs have undoubtedly been higher than those of local authorities.
1306 I would remind my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that during the lifetime of the Labour Government we gave a pledge to local authorities that contractors going to work in the new towns would take their labour into the towns and so not deprive the local authority of the labour already engaged on local houses. We gave that pledge because we did not want to interfere with the development of local authority houses. As a result, development corporations have undoubtedly had to face an additional cost.
They have also had to provide specific pieces of capital development, such as roads, sewers, and water supplies, in advance of the use of the land, and I think that the rents carried an unduly heavy charge, particularly in respect of roads, in the initial years. I did not clearly understand the inference which can be drawn from the Parliamentary Secretary's concluding words on this subject. I hope they mean that he and his right hon. Friend, appreciating the difficulties under which development corporations are working, particularly in the early years of their development, intend to give the corporations a greater degree of freedom in balancing their accounts, especially in the first few years.
Taking the long-term view, as the Parliamentary Secretary rightly said at the close of his speech, they can more than balance their accounts, because they will have the advantage of the increased values of land, whether on freehold or leasehold sale, which the community will create in those areas. I contend that it is being a little ultra-pure to require development corporations, in the early years, to come as near as possible to balancing their accounts year by year. They ought to have a greater freedom to take an easier line and they ought to be relieved of a number of charges, such as those for roads and street lighting, which are included in the rents but are not included in the rates of local authorities.
If, on that basis, we can persuade the new regime at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to give new towns an extra urge forward and to create more new towns, then we on this side of the House will gladly co-operate not only in the Second Reading of the Bill but in facilitating other good works, too.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Græme Finlay (Epping)
May I join with the hon. Member for Welling-borough (Mr. Lindgren) in a general welcome for the objects of the Bill? If, subsequently, I express some criticism about new towns, it is only because I feel that in their case the standards should be of the very highest. Like Caesar's wife, they should be above suspicion.
I sit for a division which contains the new town of Harlow and since I have been a Member of Parliament I have seen that new town grow from its initial nucleus of a small market town of 4,000 to a population of about 19,000. Originally, there were only a few houses in the little market town. Now there are about 5,000. I think it is true that if we look around the new towns, both those around London and those elsewhere in the country, we can see that the development corporations have done a great deal of useful work. In Harlow they have provided a very wide variety of architecture, for there are about 230 types from which to choose, which surely should be a wide enough choice for most people. Some, of course, are more pleasing than others.
If I have one criticism to make, it is that some of these 230-odd varieties err on the side of lack of gracefulness. Rather like a certain portrait recently presented to the Prime Minister, they are powerful rather than graceful. Perhaps some of our architects in the modern era could study with advantage the methods followed by their predecessors. Opinions differ on matters of artistic taste, but I would rather, from an architectural point of view, have lived in the time of William and Mary or the time of Queen Anne. The functional buildings being produced in new towns are somewhat angular, somewhat severe and the colouring is sometimes somewhat crude. They are reminiscent of the formal lines of a battleship rather than those of a happy home.
There are, however, many excellent things being done. We have had a concentration in the new towns of the best architectural advice in the country. I think the 14 new towns which have been developed will provide a very valuable pilot scheme, an arsenal of architectural ideas from which the whole country can draw inspiration. If that is not the case, 1308 the very great sums of money we have been spending will not have been well spent.
There have been mistakes in layout, notwithstanding the concentration of experience from an architectural point of view. For example, in Harlow what is called the neighbourhood shopping centre known as "The Stow," is built on a right-angular basis. On a busy shopping day we find that place produces confusion and crowding which one would not find in some of the best kinds of Regency architecture. Any one who examines the Promenade at Cheltenham, built in the early part of the last century, finds spaciousness, grace and room for people to do shopping in the utmost comfort. I think we have something to learn from the older examples.
In his opening remarks, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the de-congestion of London. At one time we were worried because this fundamental objective was not being accomplished. What seemed to be happening was that industry was being attracted from London to the new towns and the industrialist had to sell his site in London but another industrialist with another lot of workmen moved in. A kind of circular game resulted which did not bring about the necessary de-congestion of London. I hope that the industrial selection scheme mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary will arrange priorities in such a manner that the new industry goes to new towns and not an industry which exists in London and has to be followed by another industrialist who buys the site.
§ Mr. Daines
Does the hon. Member realise that that would automatically rule out a number of London boroughs getting any relief of housing needs?
§ Mr. Finlay
I can see that they should seek the best in that requirement. It is important to balance housing and industrial requirements adequately and see that if one industry moves out it does not get replaced. That does not help but merely leaves the problem in a static condition.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough mentioned the standard of housing in new towns. Last February I had to ask the predecessor to the Parliamentary Secretary a Question about defective standards of workmanship at Harlow. He was able 1309 to give certain assurances about remedial action being taken. Unfortunately, complaints have been made to me that even after the improvement following that Question things are now slipping back. I have, therefore, required evidence of an explicit character about this problem. I hope that on examination these complaints will prove unfounded. If I find specific evidence I shall have no hesitation in asking for an inquiry, because the new towns are meant to set an example and to illustrate the best in English housing. If they do not do that they are failing very badly.
I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary speak of the arrangements for increased educational grants for the purpose of community buildings. At one time requirements for spiritual, athletic and other purposes were not being met. That was illustrated in a letter written some time ago by the Rector of Crawley. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government made a reasonably good reaction in all the circumstances. It is true that it could not fully meet the need, but with its resources it did what could be done. In Harlow it did very well because it produced eight community centres and is building three more.
In all, I believe that £100,000 was spent on the provision of community halls, and so on, and something like 38,000 halls are being built. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, this machinery could not be operated fully because it depends on educational grants, and the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, could only be operated by local educational authorities. It is a matter of congratulation to the Parliamentary Secretary that something is to be done. I hope we shall see this work functioning effectively so that people can have adequate athletic facilities provided.
I join in the general welcome to the Bill. I think the development corporations are putting up a very commendable house building effort. I hope that when the serious difficulties to which I have referred have been ironed out, their efforts will be continued unabated.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) speaks as a representative of one of the new towns on the perimeter of London. I propose to add a few words from the 1310 point of view of a resident of another new town on the perimeter. There are one or two points at which we shall find our orbits crossing, particularly on the remarks of the hon. Member about the need for a continuous review of standards, and endeavours to prevent those standards of housing from being lowered.
I do not think any hon. Member would find any fault with the standards of new factories which are being built. I do not think it has been mentioned in these debates before that it is natural that new factories should look new and be modern, good, decent places to work in. The factories which have been built are of a high standard of construction, have a high standard of amenity inside, and seem to be meeting with the complete satisfaction of the workers who work in them.
In an earlier debate, I complimented the General Post Office on the standard of the local post offices in the new towns. I wish that I could be as complimentary about the housing standard. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) mentioned the reduction in the standards that we had seen, and I will not labour that point.
From the point of view of a resident who has to look at these places, however, I join with the hon. Member for Epping in expressing the hope that the design, particularly of the flats that are being built, will be improved, and that there will not be in future so many hundreds—literally hundreds—of residents of blocks of flats complaining of minor difficulties and niggardly little deficiencies in the construction of these flats, complaints which the new residents continually have to make.
I remember making a similar criticism when we passed the previous Bill a year ago, and the then Parliamentary Secretary responded with hair-trigger reaction. He evidently had a guilty conscience. He was up in a moment, and challenged me to state where sub-standard building was going on. At that time, I had at my own house a queue of builders waiting to see me about a number of little things, and I was tempted to take up his challenge. However, I did not do so on that occasion.
I hope that the new Parliamentary Secretary, whom we in this House all like 1311 very much, will continue in accordance with his excellent opening speech this morning. After the passing of the previous Bill last year, we who were residents in the new towns saw almost immediate results. No sooner had it received the Royal Assent than there was a great increase in activity in the new towns. Indeed, a very large amount of new work has been going on. We have had community centres, and other developments, and some of these new towns have become completely self-contained neighbourhood units. I hope that, with the passing of this Bill, we shall see a similar increase in activities in the new towns.
I suppose that I ought to declare an interest when talking about rents, because, if there were a reduction in rents, I should be one of the persons who would benefit from it. I therefore declare a sort of inverted interest in this subject of rents. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that in the new towns the rents of three-bedroom houses varied from 30s. to just over 40s. These are, of course, higher rents than are paid for comparable accommodation under local government.
It might be mentioned also that those of us who are renting subsidised houses realise that the rents for non-subsidised houses in a new town are very much higher than those paid for comparable accommodation under any other provisions. The rent of a three-bedroom house, including rates, varies from £4 to £4 10s. a week, which is a bit steep. These are what are universally called managerial-type houses.
One finds, round the London perimeter, that the new factories moving to the new towns at the moment are, in the main, factories which have moved out from the one part of London. For instance, in the new town of Harwell, I believe that most of the new industries there have moved out from the north-eastern side of London. In Hemel Hempstead, where I reside, most of the new factories there were previously sited in north London.
Some of the managers of these factories already resided further out from town than the site of their own factory in the new area. Therefore, they have just as far to travel from their homes as they originally had. Whereas previously they travelled south to the old factory, they now travel an almost equal distance north 1312 to the new factory, and consequently there is no demand on the managerial side for the houses provided for them in the new town. That is the reason why I, as the Member for a Scottish constituency, became a resident in a managerial house in a new town on London's perimeter. The very high rents that are charged make it difficult for development corporations to let these houses
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that there was disappointment at the small number of houses sold. Obviously, when the selling price of a three-bedroom house with a rather small garden, but admittedly with a garden, is £3,000 to £3,500, then, in the present state of the market, few people are likely to purchase that property. In the town in which I reside. I believe that only two or three houses—two or three, not dozens, or scores, or hundreds—have been sold. The reason is that many houses with similar accommodation can be bought elsewhere, nearer London, at a lower price.
It is true that in the case of such cheaper houses there are no charges for roadmaking and for other amenities—and this applies to houses to rent as well as to houses for sale. But the resident in a new town has certain advantages and amenities which very few other residents have. There is an adventure in going into a new area. There is the advantage of living in a young community, with young residents, the delight at seeing new playing fields, in going to community centres, and of being in an area with clean, new, smokeless factories.
These are worth something, and I do not think that any resident begrudges the extra which he or she pays for those amenities; but the difference between rents is more than it ought to be. I am certain that the residents would join with me in asking the Government and the development corporations to try, in future, and possibly as the result of the provisions of this Bill, to find some means of decreasing those costs.
It would not be out of order, because of the general range of this debate, and the very few opportunities which we have of discussing these matters, important as they are in the social life of the country, to mention transport. I sometimes wonder whether there is not a plot between the two forms of transport—rail and bus transport—to work 1313 out a schedule whereby users of transport are put to the most inconvenience.
Buses invariably miss trains and trains invariably miss buses by a minute. This applies not only to my own new town. I have discussed this matter with other residents, and we have had the joint experience and chagrin of sitting in a train, and, as we near our station, seeing the bus which we would have liked to catch going off just before the train arrives.
I have also noticed that 90 per cent. of the people who live in the new neighbourhood units are Londoners. I speak for the moment of the seven or eight new towns around London. The people have been accustomed to a frequent transport system, without the need to refer to timetables. They have been in the habit of waiting at the end of the street for the bus, knowing that if they had just missed one, another would follow very soon.
But in the new towns, the people find that there is a half-hourly service, and they get into the habit of looking up the times of the buses. Even when three or four routes pass the same stop, the services are in many cases so badly planned and timed that all three or four services pass the stop one after another, at the same time. As a result, anybody who misses one convoy must wait for half an hour for the next.
I notice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are becoming restive, and I gather, therefore, that what I am saying is not altogether in order. So I shall refrain from going into further detail on points which are, perhaps, a little wide of the Long Title of the Bill.
Both the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough welcomed the Bill, because it is a further stage in the great scheme which was envisaged in the immediate post-war years, when we were planning this new kind of social development. It is an important step, and a large sum of money is involved, but I doubt whether for a long time the House of Commons has passed £100 million which represents a better capital investment than this one will prove to be. I am certain that not only will it be returned in cash as the houses, factories, shops and offices are built as a result of this money, but that it will represent a good return in the shape of the other benefits that we shall derive.
1314 I should like to have said a word about the desperate need for hospitals in the new areas, but I must close. Both the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough have paid tribute to the development corporation members and their chairmen. I do not recall in previous debates tribute being paid to the managers of the corporations, and I wish now to repair that omission by paying this tribute. I notice that nearly all of them are colonels. I do not know why that should be so.
§ Mr. Taylor
There are more than two if we include the development corporations all over the country. The majority of the managers, I think, are colonels.
At any rate, every one whom I have met has been a gentleman, keen, enthusiastic, interested in his job, and fascinated by the tremendous range of activities and the excellence of the work which he is doing for his community. That is the kind of service that we look for, and I underline the remarks of my hon. Friend in asking the Government not to make this a blind alley occupation, but to make it a continuing endeavour in the work which we are doing in the rehousing of our people.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill because it will assist in providing houses for the people who, though now fewer in number, still need them. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary referred to it as a modest Bill, dealing with a large sum of money. It is modest only in the small number of words that it contains. It deals with important considerations which we cannot pass over at all lightly.
To begin with, some £250 million, which will rise to at least £300 million, is already involved, and that is not a modest sum. It deals with 50,000 acres of land—and if the blandishments of hon. Members opposite were listened to, the area would probably be much greater. One must never forget that whereas by increased taxation or other means or by national prosperity we can increase the amount of money available for projects, we can never increase the 1315 amount of land that is available; and 50,000 acres is a very great area of land.
We are entitled to ask whether the best value is being obtained for the £250 million that is already committed. I do not suggest that good value is not being obtained, but I should like to know what steps the Government take, when they advance this money, to see that it is put to the best use. That it should be advanced is perfectly obvious, because no estate, whether large or small, can be developed without capital. In these circumstances, it is right that the capital should come from national funds.
I should like to know whether any form of inspection is undertaken to ensure that houses which are provided as a result of these moneys are properly built. Are the costings examined so that the Government know the costs of construction of the different types of houses? If so, I for one would very much like to know the actual costs of construction in the new towns, as distinct from charges for drainage services and matters of that nature, and how the figures compare with construction costs in other parts of the country. Are we getting true value for our money?
It is very right and proper that as the houses are built, open spaces must be provided to go with them. We do not want the country to be covered with a succession of lines of bricks and mortar, yet at the same time we must be satisfied that the best use is being made of the very large number of acres utilised for these purposes. What steps do the Government, as opposed to the development corporations, take to ensure that the most economical and satisfactory use is made of this land in the new towns, which represents a high proportion of the available land of the nation? It was the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), I believe, who asked about the quality and density standards of the new town houses. I put the same question, although, perhaps, for different reasons.
The Bill is referred to asA Bill to increase the amount of the advances which may be made to development corporations.That is a proper purpose. What provision is being made for the return of this money when the houses and services have been provided? As soon as a house or 1316 factory is constructed, it attracts an income, a proportion of which must, or should, be placed in some form of sinking fund for the repayment of the capital charges which the money represents. At some time in the future, is Parliament likely to be told that for some reason or other this money should be written off because the development corporations are not in a position to repay part or all of it? Any Government which made such a request to this House would encounter considerable difficulty or, at any rate, considerable criticism.
We appreciate at this stage when the money is being advanced that it might be some little time before repayments commence and that we must wait until after the houses are built, but I should like to know what provisions are made for repayment. We are, after all, the custodians of the finances of the country, and it is, therefore, very pertinent at this stage, before an attempt is made to write any part of the expenditure off—though I do not say that it will be—to ask for some information now, because if we are told that no arrangements are being made, that the matter is being left to the future and to luck, it will be necessary at an early stage and before the money is spent to propose some check upon the outlay of further sums.
There is a third matter we have to consider which, I think it is fair to say, has been only lightly touched upon in the debate so far. It is the matter of the people who go to live in the new towns. Two of them are Members of this House. With all due respect to both those Members, I should say that they are not the people whom we want to go outside the Metropolis to live in new towns, because they—not they themselves, by themselves, of course—and people like them—
§ Mr. Lindgren
I would assure the hon. Member that I have been living in my new town for well over 25 years. I was there long before I became a Member of the House.
§ Mr. Doughty
The hon. Member has been a strain upon the transport services for 25 years, and the other Member has been putting a strain on them for a far less time. The provision of dormitories outside London places a heavy strain on the transport system, whether it be road or rail, between the dormitories and 1317 London. The transport system by both rail and road between the new towns and the Metropolis is already overstrained. If anybody likes to challenge that I invite him to go to London Bridge, for instance, in the mornings, or on to any of the main roads into London, or even into the streets of London to see the cars parked. I say that as the transport services from outside the Metropolis to it are considerably overstrained these new towns should be occupied very largely if not entirely by people who work in the immediate neighbourhood of the new towns.
How are the people reacting in the new towns? Do they go to them and then not like the change of environment and return whence they came? In other words, what is the permanent population of the new towns as distinct from the transitory population? What is that permanent population likely to be in the new towns? Are the houses being let, or are they being left on the hands of the development corporations? If the situation should arise in which the houses cannot be let, or can be let only at reduced and uneconomic rents, should we not devise some means whereby the House could control and curb further building, when there are houses built that are not occupied or being built that are not likely to be occupied?
Any private developer who has difficulty in letting or selling houses he is building stops building until the slack is made up. Is that the position arising in the new towns? I do not say that it is. I am only seeking information. Let us be certain about this before we take on further liabilities, proposed by some hon. Members opposite simply, it would seem, to keep the staffs of the development corporations in employment. I am not quite certain that the corporations are not over-trading, a practice which reduces many private companies to bankruptcy. We do not want to support such ventures with public funds.
I hope that some at least of the questions I have put will be answered when the debate is wound up. I finish as I started by saying that with the general principle of providing houses, otherwise than merely at the extremities of the big towns, I entirely agree, but because we have a good principle which should be encouraged do not let us run headlong upon paths which lead private developers 1318 to bankruptcy. Do not let us waste either the capital or the land of this country. Let us here in Parliament keep a watchful eye on the way in which our money is spent and our land is used.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)
The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) is more like the old pre-war brand of Toryism than that to which we have become accustomed in recent months. I do not propose to devote much time to it because, as was rightly remarked in an interjection by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), if the hon. and learned Member had read the development corporations Report he would have found the answers to most of his questions, and if he must Rive expression to his natural Tory fears I am the last person to stop him.
§ Mr. Doughty
Does the hon. Member not agree that sound economy in the use of money and land is good, apart from any political views?
§ Mr. Daines
I am the last person to question that, but what I was calling attention to was the fact that a number of the questions the hon. and learned Member posed were answered in the Report, and I suppose that he was expressing natural Tory instincts rather than seeking after light and truth.
I want to address myself to the subject of industrial selection—if I can get the attention of the House, which is difficult today because, with about one exception, everyone here is a potential speaker, and there is no worse audience to whom to try to put one's point of view than an audience of hon. Members all of whom are competing for the time of the House. I would say to some of my hon. Friends—comrades, dare I say?—that I feel quite certain that by the time I have finished they will think that, despite what I have said to the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East on being a Tory. I am a conservative in my approach to this problem.
As I said, I want to speak about the industrial selection scheme. I see the Minister looking at me with some amusement. I know that he has heard it all before, when I had the honour of leading a delegation of authorities of East London who are very concerned about 1319 the working out of the industrial selection scheme. I repeat today what I said then, speaking for the Borough of East Ham, and also, I think, on this point for a number of other local authorities that supported the delegation, that we do not quarrel with the principle of the industrial selection scheme. We believe that it is a perfectly sound concept. What I want to do is to ask the House and the Minister to face up to how it is working out.
I do not object to a fair element of planning. I believe, contrary to many hon. Members on the other side, that in some spheres of social and economic activity we cannot obtain a right result without a considerable measure of planning. However, I think we should remember, particularly in the development of new towns, that it is not only the words on paper and the graphs that are drawn that matter, but how the people themselves act and react to the conditions in which they are placed. People will not necessarily conform.
I am informed by the borough authorities that there are many families who moved into the new town of Basildon, took jobs in the new town in order to get houses, remained on the job sometimes for two or three weeks and have then gone back to their old occupations. I am informed, and I do not think that it can be seriously questioned, that that practice is widespread. It is very natural that it should be so, because there is a substantial difference in wage rates. I am informed, and I know from personal investigation and from a substantial amount of evidence, that there is not only a difference in wage rates, but that the difference in some cases is a difference of £2, £3 or £4 a week in total earnings. Therefore, however much we may dislike it, however much we may want people to conform to our ideas of planning, the fact remains that a chap who, on moving to a new town, gets a job at £8 a week, but can go back to his former job and get £11 or £12 a week, is practically certain to do so.
I am not asking that we should make new towns dormitory towns. However much we may want to be idealistic and however much we may not want people to travel, it is a fact that they are develop- 1320 ing in that way anyhow. Basildon is plumped down between London and Southend, and Southend is a quite well-known dormitory town, the majority of its people earning their living in London. Therefore, the idea of using the place as a dormitory does not strike the people of Basildon as very foreign and, in fact, they do not think that the journey to London is excessive. I am not justifying that attitude but merely attempting to express it. All I want is that we should face the facts.
I do not question that given 15 or 20 years one can build up these new towns so that their inhabitants form a self-sufficient community, but the type of surgical social-economic operation under the industrial selection scheme will cause considerable distress to our people and will not fulfil its purpose, because those who are affected will take steps to see that that purpose is not fulfilled. I believe that these towns should be a living community and I agree absolutely with what the Minister seeks and what the Labour Government sought. But how is this thing working out in practice?
I take the example of my own borough. It is a very small borough in terms of land. It is completely built up and we have hardly any land left. Where can we turn for the housing of our people? It is true that we have two small out-borough schemes, but I would call attention to the fact that Professor Abercrombie, in page 37 of the Greater London Plan called for a new town solely on the ground of the housing needs of East Ham, West Ham and Leyton and the immediate neighbourhood. He called not for the building of a new town for industry, on the basis on which we are now proceeding, but for new towns the building of which was justified solely by the housing needs of East London.
We have tried to play fair with the Minister, with Government Departments and the Corporation, in the matter of shifting our people. We approached the large numbers whom we have on our register and 4,500 families indicated that they were prepared to move out of the borough if housing was available. Of these, 2,652 have opted for Basildon. That is a purely housing need problem, but of the 2,652 who were prepared to move, only 387 were willing to work in Basildon in order to obtain a house. 1321 That places us in a completely impossible position and I submit to the Minister that we should be well advised to go slow and give some little easement on housing need.
The position in my borough is hopeless from the point of view of shifting industries out of the borough. We cannot shift the docks, and the rest of the people who do not work in the docks or in industries around the docks work in the City. This problem will intensify, and I am not merely speaking of the East Ham problem. Boroughs like East Ham and West Ham will be placed in extreme difficulties over the Minister's action with regard to de-requisitioning, and we shall have to face shortly the question of pulling down the pre-fabricated bungalows. All this adds up to a terrific pressure which we cannot withstand. All these awful cases of housing need which tear at our emotions are coming up with as great intensity as ever.
I plead for reconsideration on the question of timing and I repeat that we do not quarrel at all with the conception of a self-contained, economically balanced community. I plead for a little margin during these years of terrific pressure so that we can achieve the same object and have eventually a healthy socially and economically balanced community.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Under the arrangements which prevail from time to time in the House, I am one of those who have agreed to a voluntary limitation of my remarks and my speaking time. In the main, my remarks will be devoted to underlining two statements which were made by hon. Members who opened the debate—one by the Parliamentary Secretary and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren).
The Parliamentary Secretary indicated that it would be a great breach of and departure from policy to insist upon dormitory towns instead of new towns. My hon. Friend called attention to the fact that the 14 towns of which we were speaking this morning were those designated by the Labour Government, and that in three years no other towns have yet been designated.
Clause 1 of the Bill refers to Section 12 (1) of the New Towns Act, 1946. I 1322 have taken the trouble to look that up. It states:Provided that the aggregate amount of the advances made under this subsection, including advances made under this subsection in its application to Scotland, shall not exceed fifty million pounds.I want to ask a series of questions on that point.
How much was allocated to Scotland of the original £50 million? How much was allocated of each of the subsequent increases under the 1952 and 1953 Acts? How much is allocated under this Bill, which is appropriating another £100 million? We have two new towns in Scotland—Glenrothes, in Fife, and East Kilbride, in Lanarkshire. How much money has been allocated already to those new towns?
The Financial and Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill indicates that expenditure amounting to £141 million has already been approved out of the £150 million which was provided under previous Acts. Is the Secretary of State for Scotland completely satisfied that the proportion of this £100 million for Scotland is an adequate sum for the urgent need of more new towns? If there is any region which requires the dispersal of industry and population into new communities, with schools, shops, and other amenities, it is the Clyde Valley area. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough referred to that fact in his speech, and I want to underline it.
In the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum, it is stated, in paragraph 4:… it is estimated that the increase in the amount for which the Bill provides will be sufficient to meet new commitments undertaken over a period of at least two years.It is here that my remarks have particular reference to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough. What new commitments has the Secretary of State in mind? What new towns, if any, does he propose to designate, for instance, for the Glasgow overspill.
He will know only too well that four or five possible sites were mentioned some time ago, four of which I can recall. One was Lugton, another was Strathaven, another Houston, and another, which is very much in the news at the moment, Cumbernauld. I am taking part in this Second Reading debate to raise the issue of Cumbernauld, and to ask the Secretary 1323 of State, what stage the negotiations have reached. He will recall that I have taken an interest in this matter on former occasions, because I have addressed questions to him on the subject.
Last night, the Secretary of State issued a statement to the Press concerning Cumbernauld. I have no intention of entering at this stage into the merits of that statement. I am only exercising my privilege as a Member of this House to raise the question of new towns generally, and to express the hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Joint Under-Secretary of State, will be able to give us a firm assurance that he is not allowing the pressure of the Treasury to violate the terms and conditions of the New Towns Act passed in 1946 by the Labour Government.
The suggestion which has been made about Cumbernauld seems to be a cross between the New Towns Act and the Town Development Act. The latter applies only to England, and not to Scotland. There is no other Act, as far as I know, under which new towns can be built. New towns need industry. Indeed, I was very glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say this morning that industry was tremendously important in the constitution of new towns and I want to stress that the statement by the Secretary of State last night does not include the word "industry": it dwells specifically on housing and housing problems. That is, indeed, a startling omission, and an indication of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman is thinking in the matter of the formation of future new towns.
What, in fact, he is proposing at Cumbernauld is not a new town but a dormitory town, the very thing which the Parliamentary Secretary this morning said would be a deflection from the main purpose of the New Towns Act. If that is correct, it will perpetuate the horrors of the past, including the transport difficulties about which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows—and none better—for they exist in connection with the transporting of people in his own constituency to the centre of Glasgow.
The original purposes of the New Towns Act were three in number. They were, first, to deal with dispersal from the large and densely populated areas to the new towns; second, that the new 1324 Towns should eventually be self-supporting; and, third, that they should become balanced communities. The suggestions of the Secretary of State, as contained in his statement to the Press last night, do not measure up to those conditions.
In this connection I want also to refer to the speech which was made last year by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, now the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill. This is what he said: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 the facilities should be provided for the majority of the population to work and live in the new towns."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1953; Vol. 517, c. 209–10.]That is an admirable statement of the position in the new towns. The hon. Gentleman was then making a statement of policy for the Government, and I want to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, whether that is still the policy of the Government. Do they still accept that there should be balanced communities in the new towns, or has there been a change? On one's reading of events, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that there is a tendency to dilute the aims and objects of the New Towns Act.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)
I wonder where the hon. Gentleman got that idea from. I cannot comprehend it.
§ Mr. Hannan
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot comprehend it, the point is, briefly, that the proposals of the Secretary of State for the new town at Cumbernauld deal only with 1325 housing. There are no proposals or suggestions about industry or balanced communities. It seems to me that that is completely at variance with what was said over a year ago by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. To me it seems there is a lowering of standards, and I want to put one question to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, to which I hope he will give an answer without equivocation—is the New Towns Act being abandoned in Scotland?
I could go on and refer to the London position, but I do not propose to do that. It would not be in order, and I will simply conclude by hoping that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will try to allay some of the doubts prevailing in Scotland, and that no definite decision will be taken in this matter until after further talks and negotiations.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I shall do my best to compress as shortly as possible what I have to say. I represent the new town of Corby, Northamptonshire, which is certainly not merely one of the new towns to decentralise London. My view about the New Towns Act always has been that too many of the towns round London were put up to too little purpose. They cannot solve the London housing problem, and I believe it would have been better if we had faced the problem involved in putting the new towns further away outside the reach of commuters so that people would have had to move with the industries to the new towns. Corby was such a case, and there have been other cases.
I am certain that something will have to be done about development corporation rents. The position at present is that about half Corby is built, and, out of nearly 6,000 houses, fewer than 1,000 have so far been built by the development corporation. One of the two other large groups is the tied houses built by Stewarts and Lloyds, which are the best houses, but if a man loses his job he loses his house, and he cannot quarrel with the foreman about that. The other group is the houses built by the urban district council. They are rather better than the development corporation houses, which have reverted to the terraced system.
1326 The development corporation has economised, making a saving of £100 or £200, but this has only succeeded in making the houses rather an eyesore and a good deal more uncomfortable to the inhabitants than they need be. That type of building is called the "people's house"; it is not popular. At present it has a rent running between 8s. to 10s. more than the corresponding type of council house in the same place. There is, broadly speaking, the same type of contractor, although not always the same individual. There is the same type of contract labour. It is only the key men who come from London. There is a similar position about the main services.
The substantial point is that the urban district council used to be able to get some rate support in addition to the statutory support. The development corporation, on the other hand, has had to borrow under a dear money policy and, consequently, at a high rate of interest from the Treasury. It gets nothing whatever to help it. The net result at the present time is that the rents are too high by comparison with the council houses. They are so high that men who want to work in the place—that is the object of Corby—are having to refuse the houses because they cannot afford the rents. If one wants to provoke an almost unheard of thing in the iron and steel trade, a wages dispute, the position in Corby is a good beginning for it.
The position is the same in plenty of other new towns. This was mentioned in former Reports, but it does not appear in the current set of Reports. I do not know why that should be. I do not think it can be the case that the development corporations have had a hint that they had better talk no more about it. Perhaps they regard it as a problem which is at once intolerable and insoluble. At any rate, something will have to be done about it. I am sure that there will have to be a special contribution for the Government.
I also want to talk about the links in the new towns with various Ministries. I will first take education. No one in his senses would suggest that one could have an education programme within the compass of a new town. It must, of course, be a county programme no one will dispute that. However, I suggest that when schools have to be provided for such very special places not enough 1327 attention is given to increasing the amount allowed for school building in the county programme. In some cases the amount spent on schools in new towns in an area has been above half the total county programme and sometimes it has been just below it. The figures vary from area to area, and it is extraordinarily difficult to get a very clear picture from them. A special allowance ought to be made in the educational building programme for the exceptional needs of the new towns, and there ought not to be an opportunity to whittle down the educational programme required for the rest of the county.
There ought to be much better liaison between the new towns and the road authority, whether the Ministry of Transport, the county council or whatever it happens to be. Corby has good roads inside it. No one has yet tumbled to the fact that the roads approaching the place must be improved. Harlow built roads up to its standard, but the county council refused to take them over for a long time. I do not know what has happened finally, but there was a hitch somewhere.
I will next deal with social and educational activities. I hope that proper attention will be given to playgrounds, not at schools and not necessarily in the way of playing fields. The authority is the housing authority: in the sort of case I am talking about, it is the urban district council, and it ought to be given help and encouragement not only to get such places started—the development corporation will see to that—but to take on the responsibility for maintaining them.
The trouble at present is not with the development corporations; it is with the local authorities which are unable to face up to the question of taking over, equipping and maintaining the playing fields. What is wanted is playing fields in neighbourhood units, comparatively small things, for children, not only playing fields at schools or large football pitches.
Next comes the question of halls and community centres. These places differ enormously. Harlow is pretty well off for them, but at Corby there is practically nothing. Steps ought to be taken to ensure that the facilities, which I hope will be provided through the Ministry of Education, are actually used and that 1328 authorities are not allowed just to put off the problem. I believe they have tumbled to it now. They were discouraged much too much by the Minister at first. I hope we have now seen some signs of repentance.
I want to quote one sentence from the end of the Corby Report. We have the Report and then there is something like a company of actors bowing themselves out from the stage. A little bow is made, by way of conclusion, to what is in the Corby Royal Box. The Report says:In conclusion, the Corporation wishes once again to acknowledge the helpful co-operation which it has received throughout the year from your officers"—No one would dispute that—and from Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd., whose business forms the mainspring of Corby and all that revolves within it.That seems to me to be a trifle too obsequious. New towns are not housing estates. They are not a means of providing housing for one large company. They are communities and they must be treated as communities. They ought not to hang in that way around the neck of an existing undertaking.
This denationalised queen of the steel trade may be very well run, but it is not good enough to have a whole town hanging on one single enterprise. If there is any trouble, there will be trouble in Corby. The Government have not gone far enough—nor have previous Governments gone far enough—towards providing some alternative employment in that town in case there is unemployment or short time.
We ought not in any circumstances to have what are substantially one-industry towns if we can possibly avoid it, and there is no real excuse for it there. It means enlarging the size of the town, but it ought to be done. The older people in Corby were among the ones who severely suffered from unemployment around Glasgow in the 1930s and they know the risks they run under present conditions.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
May I support what has just been said? I live very near a new town, and when there is even the smallest wave of unemployment arrears of rent become positively alarming and are a source of worry not only to the corporation but to the tenants. Rents are high, and it means 1329 that within a few weeks a very large amount of arrears is owing.
I do not want to intervene for more than a few minutes. It is nice to welcome a Bill which is short and to the point and which I, at any rate, can understand, even though it does involve spending £100 million. I want to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor), who said that he hoped the jobs of the managers of the corporations would not be dead-end jobs but continuing occupations.
I rise to put a contrary point of view. I hope that these corporations will not exist indefinitely. I am not suggesting that they should be brought to an end at once, in view of the fact that we have only 80,000 out of 400,000 houses planned for the new towns. I hope that the new towns will not grow to their logical size if it is found that local authorities and private enterprise are able to provide the number of houses which are required throughout the country as a whole.
Secondly, I hope that the Government have it in mind eventually to bring these corporations to an end and pass the houses which they control to democratically elected bodies. I am one of those people who has a permanent dislike of corporations. I dislike them because, as has been said so many times for so many years, they have neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned. If they do anything that is not liked, they cannot be got at except through the Minister, and there is no better brick wall than a Minister when he wants to be.
I am well aware that local authorities at the moment have certain duties to perform in the new towns, because the new towns are generally built around the nucleus of a local authority. Local authorities have the job of lighting the streets and collecting revenues and eventually, I suppose, of seeing to drainage.
As things are envisaged for a great many years to come, these houses will be owned by public corporations. But the Government should be thinking of handing them back to local authorities in due course, because, if people are to live in these houses, they should have the chance of saying something about who is to be their landlord.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I suppose the hon. Gentleman has heard of the New Towns Act, 1946. If he had read it, he would have found that all those provisions are included.
§ Mr. Harris
I hope that as soon as possible we shall give them back to the local authorities. I have no doubt that the Government have an answer to this point; possibly it is something with which they could not have dealt in the Bill. But it should not be forgotten.
I hope that, although it is necessary to subsidise some of these houses—and some are subsidised and some are not—the subsidy will not be paid where the tenant is well able to pay the economic rent. There is a principle which I want to see extended to the whole of local authority houses. We cannot this afternoon talk about local government houses, but we can talk about new town houses.
In my own local authority a scheme has been tried—and it could be tried elsewhere—under which every tenant has to pay the full economic rent, unless he chooses to make a claim to the local authority for a rebate in his rent owing to the fact that his income is not above a certain amount. In principle, I think it wrong that subsidies should be paid where that is not necessary. If that applies to local government, it applies equally to the new towns. I hope that the Government will bear that point in mind.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)
I disagreed with the statement made in the early part of the speech of the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris), when he seemed to suggest that new towns were merely a housing project. Of course, that is one of their functions, but I submit that unless we appreciate another function besides that, we have missed the whole point of the new towns. New towns are an attempt to create a new community, not only to relieve the congestion in London, but to provide the amenities, facilities, and suitable environment for a new community in which housing is but one of the fulfilments.
For boroughs like Leyton, much more is required to meet our acute need than merely to look with envious eyes towards any new towns some 20 or 30 miles away. But, having said that, I would add 1331 that, nevertheless, a large number of us in Leyton are particularly interested in the new towns of Essex—Basildon on the one hand, and Harlow on the other. Here I must apologise to the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay), in whose constituency Harlow is situated, if I appear to direct my remarks to a town in his constituency. I do so, first, because I have been interested in Essex for 40 years, having sat on its county council; second, because Harlow is the new town nearest to my constituency; and, third, for the reasons to which I have referred.
Some of my constituents, having nowhere else to go will be going to this encouraging enterprise. I am sure the hon. Member for Epping will appreciate that all the new towns are not merely the concern of hon. Members in whose constituencies they are situated, but that we are all vitally concerned with this new, exhilarating, exciting venture. I am sure we can all appreciate that it is the very opposite to the old reckless, lurching sprawl. With dignity, its efforts to resettle a whole community as far as both the housing and amenities are concerned are infinitely superior to the methods of the 19th century.
I have visited many of these new towns, but the one in which I am particularly interested is Harlow. When I was in Malaya recently, I was impressed to find that outside Kuala Lumpar they are building a new town, the inspiration for which has been derived very largely from Harlow and other new towns in this country. That shows how much the experiment in which we are engaged at present has a world-wide effect, and I hope that more than the 1,200 visitors who went to Harlow last year will come to this country to see what we are trying to do, and the example we are setting.
There are, of course, very great difficulties and burdens, some of which have been mentioned. Perhaps the greatest of these burdens is rent. I trust that very particular attention will be given to that because, otherwise, we shall find many who have gone to the new towns—particularly those round London—with high hopes and expectations, will, nevertheless, have cast over them the shadow of this excessive rental burden.
Apart from that, we surely derive some encouragement from the fact—if I may 1332 quote Harlow—that the difficulty of attracting industry to that new town appears to have been overcome, at least in some measure. I am glad the Minister was able to tell us today that industries were flowing into many of the new towns. I know, for instance, that in Harlow, not only has 403,000 square feet of factory space been provided, but that another 315,000 square feet are under construction and 740,000 square feet projected.
That is most important, because, certainly, no one wants these new towns to be converted merely into dormitories. We want them to be self-contained towns, in which the people shall work and live and enjoy their lives in the fullest sense. If they are to be dormitories, their real meaning and significance will be entirely defeated. I trust, therefore, those industries already attracted to the towns will settle down, and that their factories will be extended. By so doing, industrialists will perform a most noble service, not only to the people in the locality but to the country as a whole.
I should like, particularly, to stress the needs of the coming generation. In all these new towns there is, inevitably in the circumstances, a large proportion of children. Not all is being done that should be done to meet their needs for playing fields, etc. Beyond this, however, we must remember that these children will grow to adolescence. There is only a small percentage at present, but many of the children will be adolescent in a few years. I am not satisfied with the preparations that are being made for their needs.
Already in many new towns, including Harlow, there is very great pressure on the accommodation already provided for recreational and cultural purposes. I am sure that the hon. Member for Epping will not mind my saying that the Moot Hall at Harlow is already overcrowded. There are more than 60 voluntary organisations—to the very great credit of the people there—but they can scarcely find space to meet. If we are to foster and nourish this brave enterprise, we should provide, not only four walls and a roof for people to live in, but should deliberately spend money to provide amenities to meet their spiritual and mental, as well as their simple physical, needs. I hope that the money which is being sanctioned this afternoon 1333 will be well used, in part, to provide community centres, libraries, local common rooms, and extra playing fields—not just for the immediate, but for the potential, demand that is there.
One could also say a good deal about the need for more adequate hospital and clinic services, for roads and transport facilities, reference to which has already been made, but I would say only this, in conclusion. It is certainly encouraging to realise that at Harlow—I take that town merely as a sample, and hope that other areas will follow suit—although there has been, up to now, accumulative interest charges amounting to £68,445, there is now reported, for the first time, a small surplus of £2,649, and every prospect that this will increase in future.
I mention that particularly, because there has been some criticism on the ground that part of the money extended to the new towns development corporations has not yielded an immediate return. We all know that, in its early days, any venture frequently needs to have capital sunk in it on which there is no immediate return. Here we have at least a prospect of an increasing surplus in regard to one new town, and the prospect of the accumulative deficit being wiped out entirely.
My time is up; I throw away all my other notes with which I had hoped to embellish my remarks. As I have said, we must not think of the new towns merely as housing projects. We should look upon them as we looked, in bygone days, on the ventures of our citizens in lands overseas. They are making new communities. Let us look on those communities with pride, give them encouragement, and, when we visit them, we find inspiration in these days when so much is cynical and frustrating.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
The time at my disposal, like that of previous speakers, is very limited and I will, therefore, confine what I have to say to a few short words.
I think we are all very pleased that we have today an opportunity to discuss the New Towns Act and its operation. Generally speaking, both sides of the House are anxious to see the success of this very great experiment in development which has been a great example to 1334 peoples of other countries who are trying to find the way to develop new towns with modern conveniences and amenities.
There are, however, one or two matters connected with new towns to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister who is to reply, because I think they need special attention from the Government. The new towns have been responsible for housing about 74,000 people in roughly 26,000 houses, but so far there has not been provided in any one of them new hospital accommodation. It is obvious that one cannot bring 74,000 people together in 14 new towns—in one of them an additional population of 12,000—and expect such a large number of people to be satisfied with existing hospital facilities which in many cases were totally inadequate for the original inhabitants of the area.
For instance, at Welwyn and Hatfield, the development corporation have been responsible for bringing 7,000 people to the area in the last few years, and the total population now in that district is 33,000. All they have is a little cottage hospital with 20 or 30 beds to cater for that population which is now 7,000 greater than it was a few years ago. One can run through the list of new towns and point out where no hospital facilities whatever have been provided, although their populations are increasing by 40,000 a year.
The Minister may say that this is nothing to do with his Ministry. But it is due to the policy of the Government, because as far as I can gather, their policy of restriction on capital development has hit the Ministry of Health very hard. Although I think the Minister of Health is anxious to provide full hospital facilities for new towns, he finds himself tied up by a programme which has been forced upon him by the Government, which does not allow him the resources to provide hospital facilities which are so much desired. I hope that as a result of our discussions, the hon. Gentleman will do his best to persuade the Government to place more resources at the disposal of the Minister of Health in order that he may do more for the new towns than he has yet been able to do.
For instance, there is one regional hospital board not far from here, which is responsible for five new towns, and their allocation for capital development in the 1335 present year is £500,000. Apart from the need for the extension of the existing hospital facilities in other areas, what can they do with such a small sum of money to provide the necessary hospital facilities in the new towns? Obviously they can do very little.
It is vital that the Government should take steps to provide hospital facilities in all the new towns, because we want to encourage those who go to live there to remain there, but if they find that the new towns have none of the services to which they have been accustomed—hospital facilities, clinics for child welfare, maternity services and services from the medical profession—then those deficiencies must have a very depressing effect on newcomers to the areas. Many of these people make very great sacrifices in order to go to live in the new towns. They pay much higher rents—most of them do not mind that—but, in addition, often they have to accept lower wages because the industrial rates are so much lower than they are in London and the large towns.
I want to turn to the question of educational facilities. The Parliamentary Secretary gave a figure for the number of schools which have already been constructed in the new towns. According to my information, about 30 new schools had been completed in the new towns at the end of December, 1953. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would break down the figures into the various types of schools, because that is important. In the new towns there is a varying age population among the children. When we provide educational facilities we have to provide not merely a primary school but also a junior, a secondary modern, a secondary grammar and a technical school.
As far as I can gather, the new towns are sadly deficient in school facilities. From my study of their reports I find that the Government's standstill policy in 1951, when they called a halt to school building, amongst other things, hit the new towns very hard, and only now, about three years afterwards, are they beginning to recover from it. During that time the children in many of the new towns have had to go to school in overcrowded conditions. They have been pushed into old schools, which existed before the new towns were built, 1336 and also have had great difficulty in taking advantage of the higher standards in secondary and technical education, for the simple reason that the secondary and technical schools do not exist.
I therefore draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the educational facilities in many of these new towns are inadequate. At Peterlee, where the population has increased from 200 to 4,500, not a single school of any kind has been provided so far. If time allowed I could give a number of other examples of new towns where, although houses have been built for thousands of newcomers entering the district, only one school has been provided.
If the hon. Gentleman told me that that one school was a comprehensive school, I should be more satisfied, but the chances are that it is a primary school and that no provision has been made for secondary modern, secondary grammar or technical school facilities. The Government say that they want to see our new towns succeed, and they should therefore try to take up the lag over the last few years in the provision of hospital, medical and educational facilities and in the provision of other amenities which help to make life in the new towns something better than was previously experienced by those who have gone there to live.
If both the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government do their best in their Departments to make good the leeway which has arisen in recent years, they will be doing a good job for the people of London and of many of our other great towns and cities who look forward to a solution of their housing problem by going to live in the new towns.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I do not propose to detain the House at this late hour, although, as eight of these new towns are supposed to be very largely concerned in helping to solve London's housing problem, I think we might have had this debate at some other time than on a Friday when two Bills are being taken.
Broadly, I wish to support what has been said from this side of the House about the rent problem. Speaking from 1337 the experience in my constituency, I know how difficult it is to persuade people to go to new towns when they consider the high rents they have to pay. Some have come back from these towns, not only because of higher rents, but because if they change their workplace to a new town they always find there is a lower rate of wages than in London. There is a double reason for not going to the new town. The Government and the new town corporations will have to give consideration to seeing whether we cannot get lower rents. If that means additional subsidy, it should be faced. When they present their annual Reports the corporations might be persuaded to give a list of rents charged, as do local authorities annually, and also many charitable housing trusts.
Another point is the question of community centres. Unless we can build really good social life in the new towns, they will fail. If facilities for that social life are not available, there will be all sorts of trouble, as some of us who have been chairmen of housing committees know from experience. The Minister referred to this as being a problem for local education authorities. Legally, I suppose it is their problem under the Physical Training and Recreation Act, but surely a corporation has a responsibility as a good landlord. In many towns, certainly in London, good landlords provide sites—sometimes buildings—in which people can get together for various social activities
Not only my fear but my experience is that if this is left entirely to the local education authority under its legal powers, the probability is that it will not be done, or, if it is done, that it will be done only after very serious social discontent in the district. The corporations might be encouraged to go into the question of developing the social life of the new communities a little more vigorously, not merely in the sense of a large central community house in which all local organisations can meet, but by having smaller rooms included in the neighbourhood centre. I quote from the Report of the Harlow Development Corporation, because Harlow has made some effort to meet this problem in its new town:The Corporation's policy in providing tenants' common rooms early in the development of each neighbourhood has resulted in a rich diversity of opportunity and social activity.1338Five new common rooms have been opened during the year and are already being used for a wide range of activity including children's clubs and parties, young wives' circles, socials, clubs, hobby groups, drama rehearsals, Sunday schools and meetings of all kinds"—including, I have no doubt, political meetings. That kind of social life, without which any community is dead, is missing in many of these large towns.
I plead with the Government, therefore, to give every possible help to the corporations to allocate sites, as the large local government housing authorities do, and to build common rooms, as they are called in the Harlow district—centres in which meetings, socials and dances can be held. I am sure that there will then grow up from the beginning that social life which will avoid many of the troubles of which some of us have had experience in the past.
I have, as chairman of the largest housing committee in the world, tried out this experiment. At one time, the L.C.C. merely provided a large centre. Since the war, we have provided, on every one of our large estates, local club rooms, often by converting old rooms. In one case, we converted a large air-raid shelter into a social club room. This has been of inestimable benefit in helping people to adapt themselves to their new circumstances, because the uprooting of people from their old attachments brings them into a completely new life. They have to make new friends and contacts and find new ways and means of getting the social life working. If the facilities are there, this can be done. We have found, from practical experience, that these small halls or common rooms in the neighbourhood unit are of the greatest benefit in getting people together, in developing social life, and in preventing the growing up of grievances which might otherwise lead to explosions in one way or another.
This ought not to be left in the new towns to the local education authorities. My plea to the Government—and I stress this very strongly, because the Parliamentary Secretary, I thought, rather threw cold water on the idea by his suggestion that this was a matter for the local education authorities under the Physical Training Act—is that they should encourage the corporations to allocate sites in all their planning and to build—because it does not cost an enormous amount of 1339 money—comparatively small common rooms in each neighbourhood unit where the spontaneous social life of the people, adults as well as youths and children, can be gradually built up. I hope that this debate may result in some expansion of that activity.
Finally, I regard this new towns drive as a very great and exciting social experiment. I am glad that we are providing some additional capital for the new towns in order to enable them to go ahead, without any fear of being short of capital for the next year or two. I do not agree with the suggestion which has been made that the wrong people may be getting into these towns. I do not see why M.P.s should not live there if they wish to. The idea of the new town is to get a mixture of social elements of all income groups, as they are called.
§ Mr. Doughty
I did not criticise any hon. Member for living in a new town. I am only referring to the strain on the travelling facilities.
§ Mr. Gibson
Nevertheless, I think that it might be a good idea if we had a few Tory M.P.s as well as Labour M.P.s living on these estates. That might stimulate political life. The point I am making, however, is that steps should be taken to mix the various social grades, and I think that we are doing that with some success. We ought, therefore, to give this our encouragement, because it is a good idea. My only caveat is that it would be a mistake to imagine that this will solve our housing problem during the next 10 or 15 years—it will not; but it will make a great contribution to it. For that reason, I welcome the Bill.
§ 3.35 p.m.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)
As my hon. Friend said in opening the debate, the Bill is really a very small one, but a big amount of money is involved in it. Amongst the things which have emerged from this debate is the fact that, in principle, hon. Members accept the Bill wholeheartedly; that is the view of everyone, I think, who has spoken today.
The other point on which there is no doubt whatever is that the House as a whole wishes the new towns to be proper, 1340 balanced communities. We do not wish them merely to be dormitories, but want them to be provided with everything which is essential for a healthy and active community life. This was expressed very strongly throughout the debate, and by almost every hon. Member who took part.
I thank all those who have spoken for the helpful contributions which they have made. The Bill has provided an opportunity for Members who have experience and a keen interest in the new towns, and for Members like the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), for instance, who has great experience in housing, to give us their views of the progress that is being made, and to say in what directions, if any, we are falling down, and where we should be going ahead faster. On the whole, however, there seemed to be general satisfaction with the progress that is being made.
I wish to deal with as many as possible of the points which have been raised during the debate, but, unfortunately, the time available is not too long. Earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) asked for a breakdown of the schools into various types, and the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) mentioned the same subject. I am sorry that I simply have not that information at the moment, but I will make certain that it is provided to those hon. Members who raised the matter.
The next point raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough was in relation to rents. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government had quoted the rent of a three-bedroom house, and he was invited to give the rent figures for the one- and two-bedroom houses. My information is that the rents of the one-bedroom house vary between 21s. and 25s., and those for the two-bedroom house between 25s. and 35s.
That is gross.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough desired to have a statement of policy. He felt that it was unfortunate that no new towns had been designated during recent years. I would merely refer him to what the present Minister of Defence said some little while ago: that what we should be doing at the moment was 1341 to proceed with the new towns already designated and in course of construction before going further ahead. From this morning's Scottish papers, however, hon. Members will see that there is at least a good deal of speculation as to whether another new town is not required in the fairly near future, in the vicinity of Glasgow.
The question of amenities and of playing fields has been referred to time and again, and I think that my hon. Friend dealt with the matter in his opening speech. Responsibility rests fundamentally on the local authorities. Of course, we know about the financial restrictions, but the new policy of the Minister of Education provides for the resumption of expenditure by the local authorities, and the provision, not only of school playing fields, but also of playing fields for other activities within the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937.
I hope that the development corporations will not think it their duty merely to provide houses. I have not heard that that is their view. I know that in Scotland the development corporations are thinking of other essentials in considerable detail. The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) talked about halls being provided. In at least one of our two new towns in Scotland, the development corporation has recently taken over an existing hall and is modernising it for the use of the community. I think, as the hon. Member said, that these halls are absolutely essential for any real community life.
§ Mr. Sparks
Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say something about the provision of cinemas? I understand that there is only one cinema, and that a temporary one, in all the 14 new towns.
I understand that the hon. Member is quite correct, and that there is only one cinema at the moment, and that it is in a building which could later be converted into a factory, if that were desired. I am told, with what justification I do not know, that the residents in the new towns up to this moment have not shown a very great desire to visit cinemas
No doubt, as the new towns grow the cinematograph 1342 industry will take good care to see that they are provided with that form of entertainment.
A good deal has been said about rents. I normally deal with rents in Scotland, and as rents in England are outside my sphere, I cannot speak very much on that subject. But I am quite sure that the remarks that have been made on it will be fully considered by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and by the Parliamentary Secretary.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough raised the question of density, and he said that he understood that development was going ahead on the basis of a density of about 16 or 17 houses to the acre. My information is that the normal density is about 13 houses to the acre, and I would invite the hon. Gentleman, if he knows of cases where the density is from 16 to 17, to be good enough to let my hon. Friend know where those cases occur.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay), in an interesting speech, talked about various types of architecture that were to be found and about the standard of workmanship. I hope there will be architectural developments, and that good houses will be provided. There is no excuse at all for a fall in the standard of workmanship.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) spoke of the high standard of factory construction and amenity, and I would certainly support him in what he said about the design of the factories in the new towns. I take note of his wish for an improvement in the design of flats. Of course, flats are somewhat of an innovation in what were country districts before the new towns were begun. A good deal of thought is required about their design.
The hon. Member also spoke of rents, and of there being no demand for managerial houses. I should have hoped that we should have found in the new towns the mixed communities which we all wish to see there. If the managerial element is not to be found there we shall not get those mixed communities we desire, and so I hope that as the towns grow, and as industry is intensified within them, the managerial people will discover that they can make as happy lives in the new towns, amid as fine comradeship as they 1343 can find elsewhere, and that it is to their benefit to live in them.
I sympathised with the hon. Member when he spoke about transport difficulties, but I find those difficulties here in this great city of London. What is called the "convoy system" comes along, and if one misses that, one has to wait a long time, particularly, I find, if it is a wet and windy night.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) asked about planning approval. In relation to new towns, that is given by the Minister, and not by the local planning authority. My hon. and learned Friend was very anxious that we should see that our money was spent to the best advantage. I can assure him that tenders and plans for houses in the new towns are scrutinised and approved in the same way as tenders and plans for housing built by local authorities. Approved use of land is covered, as the Minister scrutinises and approves of those plans as well. I hope that that reply allays to some extent the fears of my hon. and learned Friend.
As to the recovery of money advanced to the new corporations, of which my hon. and learned Friend also spoke, the Act provides that sums advanced shall be repaid on terms laid down by the Treasury. Those terms provide for repayment over 60 years, with interest rates which are the same as those for loans by the Public Works Loan Board to local authorities. Repayments are being received each year, and over £200,000 was repaid last year.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) spoke about new arrivals in new towns obtaining a house and then leaving their jobs and returning to work in London. He said that they were travelling daily in large numbers. While I have heard of this before, it is a fact that not a single case has been reported by any of the corporations to the Ministry. It may be that there is no need for them to do so, but if the hon. Member has a number of cases in mind it would be interesting if he informed us about them.
§ Mr. Daines
That, of course, is the last thing that I would do. After all, I have sympathy with these people in their housing needs. I shall certainly not "shop" them. The Parliamentary 1344 Secretary knows very well from the deputation which he received that there is substantial evidence from all local authorities on this matter.
I was not asking the hon. Member to give names of individuals. He might say that he knew of X cases in which this happened, and that those concerned had not been very long resident in the new towns, or something of that nature. No doubt the hon. Member will take such steps as he considers to be in the interest of his constituents to inform my right hon. Friend of the position.
The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) wished to know whether Scotland was having a fair deal. I can assure him that Scotland is being fairly treated in relation to the money which is being advanced for the new towns. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, the total sum approved is £141 million, and out of that sum £14 million is devoted to the two new towns in Scotland. While £87 million up-to-date has gone to England and Wales, £10 million has gone to Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman asked me how much of the £100 million now being voted would be devoted to Scotland. I can tell him that the figure will probably be about £10 million. He then went on to refer to the new towns in Scotland, and asked whether we thought this sum would cover our needs in connection with those that might be designated. I should have thought that the sum of money I have mentioned would meet any commitments which we can foresee.
At considerable length he questioned me about the negotiations in relation to Cumbernauld. I should have hoped that the information which has been sent to Members of Parliament about that matter would have been sufficient. All I would say about it is that the Secretary of State for Scotland has done everything in his power to help the Corporation of Glasgow to deal with its overspill problem. He has made suggestions to them, and those suggestions are still under consideration by the corporation. My right hon. Friend recently saw representatives of the corporation, and he is now awaiting a further reply about those suggestions.
How the hon. Gentleman got it into his mind that my right hon. Friend was 1345 thinking only in terms of a dormitory town and not of a new town is something I simply do not understand. He said it was because my right hon. Friend, in the paper that had been handed to Members of Parliament, had said nothing about industry. Of course, the steering of industry to various places is, to a major extent, the responsibility of the Government. It is not, in the main, a matter for a local authority. My right hon. Friend was dealing with the Corporation, and he was concerned with questions which are principally the concern of the local authority and not of the Government. I would assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government's aim and policy is exactly as was described by the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, now the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. There has been no deviation from that
§ Mr. Lindgren
Can we take it from that that the Government are still prepared to deal with this problem of Glasgow's overspill by the definite creation of a new town?
Negotiations are in progress at the moment, of which the hon. Gentleman may or may not know. It all depends on the co-operation which my right hon. Friend gets from the various authorities interested in this question of Glasgow's overspill as to the methods which will be adopted to deal with it.
The recommendation of the Clyde Valley Planning Advisory Committee is that there should be a new town at Cumbernauld. My right hon. Friend has investigated the site to see if it is suitable, and he is in negotiation with the principal authorities concerned, including the Corporation of Glasgow. He will later have conversations with the County Council of Dunbarton, which is also very interested in this project. More than that I cannot say at this moment.
§ Mr. Hannan
I thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for what he has said, but will he not agree that a difference is being made in Cumbernauld as a new town in that the local authority of Glasgow is being asked to accept one-third of the total deficit, which is quite 1346 different from what has happened in the formation of other new towns?
I do not want to go into details on that point, but I will say that in my opinion Glasgow has got a very good bargain and is being relieved of a great liability. I only hope it will join my right hon. Friend and the County Council of Dunbarton in a partnership to see that a new community is created.
§ Mr. Sparks rose—
If the hon. Member is rising in connection with hospitals or education, I have noted his point, and will ensure that the Minister of Health is informed of the remarks that he has made, and, indeed, will consider them in due course.
I regret that I have not been able to answer all the questions which were raised, but I have done my best in the time available, and I now 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. R. Allan.]
§ Committee upon Monday.