HC Deb 16 December 1958 vol 597 cc979-90

Considered in Committee [Progress, 1st December].

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Question again proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make, as respects England and Wales, new provision in place of section fifteen of the New Towns Act, 1946, as to the disposal of the undertakings of development corporations and other matters arising when a development corporation has achieved or substantially achieved the purposes for which it is established, and to amend the law relating to development corporations in other respects, it is expedient to authorise the making of provision for the financial purposes mentioned below, that is to say,—

1. As regards the disposal of undertakings of development corporations and related matters, provision may be made—

  1. (a) for defraying out of moneys provided by Parliament any charges for the remuneration, pensions or other benefits payable for a person's service on any new Commission established to take over assets and liabilities of development corporations;
  2. (b) for making to any such Commission out of the Consolidated Fund advances for capital purposes or to meet revenue deficits, but so that—
    1. (i) the advances made for capital purposes (except in respect of liabilities originally incurred by development corporations) shall be subject to a limit of five million pounds on the amount for the time being outstanding; and
    2. (ii) the advances made to meet revenue deficits shall not exceed one million pounds;
    and for raising the amounts of those advances by borrowing, and for the payment into the Exchequer, and application in reducing debt or meeting interest charges on debt, of repayments of principal and payments of interest in respect of those advances;
  3. (c) for requiring surpluses arising to any such Commission to be paid into the Exchequer, and treated in whole or in part as repayments of such advances as aforesaid;
  4. (d) for the making to any such Commission out of moneys provided by Parliament of such payments in connection with housing activities of the Commission as correspond to those payable to development corporations under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1958, together with certain additional payments (not exceeding eight pounds for any one year in respect of any one dwelling), for the transfer of those payments in certain circumstances to local authorities, and for the recovery from local authorities and payment into the Exchequer of part of any such additional payments;
  5. 980
  6. (e) for the continuation after the transfer to any such Commission of a development corporation's property of all such payments as might but for the transfer be made in connection with housing activities of the corporation or otherwise to or by the corporation, the Minister of Housing and Local Government or any local authority, but with the Commission replacing the corporation, and for the Minister's payments to be made out of moneys provided by Parliament and his receipts to be paid into the Exchequer;
  7. (f) for the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any administrative expenses of that Minister;
  8. (g) for the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase in the sums payable by way of rate-deficiency grant or Exchequer equalisation grant under the enactments relating to local government in England and Wales or in Scotland, being an increase attributable—
    1. (i) to any expenditure of local authorities in respect of payments under the provisions authorised by paragraphs (d) and (e) above; or
    2. (ii) to any expenditure of local authorities under provisions relating to sewerage or sewage disposal undertakings carried on for the purposes of new towns developed under the New Towns Act. 1946;

2. As regards other amendments of the law relating to development corporations, provision may be made—

  1. (a) for increasing to four hundred million pounds the aggregate amount of the advances which may be made to development corporations under subsection (1) of section twelve of the New Towns Act, 1946; and
  2. (b) for authorising the making by development corporations of contributions towards the provision of amenities for the new towns, and the consequent increase in their expenditure in respect of which advances may be made to them under subsection (1) of the said section twelve or grants may be made to them out of moneys provided by Parliament under subsection (2) of that section.—[Mr. H. Brooke.]

4.57 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I want to raise one short but not unimportant point on the Money Resolution. The Resolution does not seem to cover any dealing in Committee with the rights of persons who have been employed by development corporations and may lose their jobs in consequence of the Bill. We had a very similar case in the Local Government Act, 1958.

Section 60 (2) of that Act provided in terms for compensation to or in respect of persons who are the holders of any such place, situation or employment…and who suffer loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments which is attributable to the provisions of any such order or scheme…. under the Act.

That was laid down by regulations.

All we know here is that on Second Reading the Minister said of the new body that It should be ready to recruit from all the development corporations. That does not mean to say that anybody in the development corporations can count upon a new job, but these people will have the sort of experience which will undoubtedly be of value to the new commission. The existing staffs of the new development corporations are covered by pension schemes which give them pension rights, which they can carry with them elsewhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1958; Vol. 596, c. 955.] That is a slightly different point. It is true that when one looks at the superannuation schemes contained in Statutory Instrument 1273, Local Government Superannuation Benefits (New Towns Staffs) Regulations, one finds that some of them, though called superannuation benefits, are intended to a limited degree to deal with redundancy. My point is that we are apparently not to be allowed to debate the sufficiency of these provisions in Committee, nor will it be open to us, as I read the Money Resolution, to introduce the more comprehensive type of compensation which was provided in a similar case in Section 60 of the Local Government Act.

5.0 p.m.

I do not want to discuss the merits of the matter here, but I hope that if the Parliamentary Secretary cannot assure me that we can discuss those matters in Committee, and can introduce a new Clause to the effect I have indicated, he will at least be able to assure me that arrangements can and will be made to give the personnel of New Town corporations the same protection on the same lines and for the same reason as those who suffer loss of employment or diminution of employment in the similar case where there is a change of boundaries or a change of districts—in fact, a change of units—in the Local Government Act, 1958.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that if he cannot do that, however good his intentions anti however comprehensive his Regulations may appear to him to be, he may be risking—at any rate, without the benefit of advice from members of the Committee—doing considerable injustice to people whose services to the new town corporations we all agree have been very valuable and who came in the majority of cases out of local government service, some of them in responsible positions, others in less responsible positions. They ought not to be prejudiced by the fact that they have had the enterprise to lend their skill and experience for a period of years to these new towns, the importance and value of which we all know so well.

It is on those broad grounds that I ask the hon. Gentleman, first, am I right in thinking that these matters are outside the Money Resolution? Secondly, if I am, can he assure me that these people will be no worse treated than local government servants who lose their jobs or suffer in connection with their jobs under the provisions of the Local Government Act?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

The position is briefly that, in accordance with the Second Schedule to the Bill, the hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the liabilities of the development corporations taken over by the Commission will include their liabilities towards their staffs under existing contracts of service and, of course, superannuation arrangements as well. That can be considered in Committee when we reach it.

It is true that in practice some of the staffs of the development corporations will find work with other employers as the work of the respective corporations is slowed down. I imagine that will be especially true of technical staff as the tempo of new works in the new towns falls off. On the other hand, a number of the existing staffs of the development corporations will no doubt be taken over by the Commission. Some of the rent collectors, clerical workers and so forth, will find employment with the local organisation of the Commission in the new towns themselves.

I should point out that if, instead of transferring the assets to the Commission, they had been transferred to the local authorities in the new towns, there is no reason to think that those local authorities would have absorbed more of the employees of the corporations than will be absorbed by the Commission. However, I understand the feelings of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I say to him that the development corporations, especially those which are approaching the point of dissolution, are doing all they humanly can to place in other employment such of their staff as they feel will become redundant. As the Committee knows, there is a Whitley Council functioning in this respect, and its secretary is associated closely with local government. Efforts will be made to find alternative employment in the local government service for any of these men who are redundant.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me what will be the position of the staffs in the new towns who become redundant in spite of what I said earlier. They will be protected as far as possible within the framework of existing legislation. Broadly speaking, those declared redundant will fall into two categories. In the first there will be those who came from local government service in the first place and have remained in the Local Government Superannuation Scheme. In the second there will be those who have joined the New Towns Pensions Fund.

As regards the first category of employee, the Local Government Superannuation Benefits (New Towns Staffs) Regulations, 1948, contain a number of detailed provisions with which I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is familiar, and I will not go over them now. This is the more important category of people, who came into the new towns service from local government and have since remained in the Local Government Superannuation Scheme.

The second category of case is comprised of those people who have come to the new towns not from local government but from other work, and there the New Towns Pensions Fund will operate. Broadly speaking, that type of officer has the choice of one of three courses. He can take a lump sum in cash, consisting of the bulk of his contributions plus interest, or he can take a deferred payment at normal pension able age of a pension calculated on the full amount of his own and his employer's contributions, or he can have transferred to another fund covering his new employment the full amount of the contributions paid in both by himself and by his employer.

Mr. Mitchison

May I ask one question here? Is this pensions fund a liability of the development corporations, so that it can be considered when we are dealing with the question of transfer?

Mr. Bevins

That is fairly clear from the Second Schedule, which states: ..every agreement to which the development corporation was a party immediately before the transfer date…shall…have effect…as if…the Commission had been a party to the agreement… I should think that will be debatable when we come to the Committee stage.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to give me the assurance for which I asked. This was that the new towns staffs, in matters of redundancy, should not be treated worse than the staffs of local authorities which disappear, or are merged, under the provisions of the Local Government Act. It is hard to appreciate now what the difference will amount to. It is hard, too, to see how much we can deal with the matter in Committee. There may or may not be a considerable practical difference. I see no alternative at the moment but to accept this Money Resolution under the protest I have made, and to ask the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend to consider sympathetically the position of people who may be suffering under this Bill and whose rights we may have been debarred from debating to some extent.

Mr. Bevins

I am advised that compensation questions can be debated in Committee if the Amendments are correctly drafted. There is no need to cover them in the Money Resolution which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, relates solely to expenditure by the Minister and not by the Commission.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has thought it right—certainly I would not complain of it—before authorising the Government to raise and spend the money covered by the Money Resolution to seek to be satisfied about the suggested incidental injustices which may be involved. I do not know whether he is satisfied with the answer that he has been given, but at any rate, if the Minister is right, he will have the opportunity of dealing with it again during the Committee stage of the Bill.

I want to raise a point about the Money Resolution which would certainly be out of order when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill. If it can be raised at all, it can be raised only now I find that paragraph 2 of the Money Resolution reads: As regards other amendments of the law relating to development corporations, provision may be made…for increasing to four hundred million pounds the aggregate amount of the advances which may be made to development corporations under subsection (1) of section twelve of the New Towns Act, 1946 I realise as much as any other hon. Member the useful work that has been done by the development corporations, and even in certain cases by the building of the new towns, and in principle none of us would be against the granting to the Government of powers suitable to increase the expenditure upon constructive objects of that kind, but what is involved here is to some extent a question of priorities. For my part, I am not satisfied that as against other competing demands for public money in the way of the housing of the people and the redevelopment of industry this is quite the right time to increase the amount of money spent on new towns.

The House has had the spectacle in the last few days of having petitions from some old towns. On Thursday last there were some sixteen mayors of boroughs from the Lancashire cotton belt sitting in the gallery with a number of chairmen and deputy chairmen of rural and urban district councils in the area. Six or seven further petitions have been added to the four which were presented on Thursday last. I suppose that there are already about 100,000 signatures to those petitions, and I am informed that there will be a number of other petitions over the coming days and weeks, so that in the end there may be 500,000 or 750,000 people in Lancashire petitioning Parliament not to allow their towns to become derelict and getting a very dusty answer if any answer at all.

It seems a little ironic and paradoxical to be raising and authorising the Govern- ment to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on building, largely in the South of England—not entirely—great new towns in order to draw people away from overpopulated areas—from conurbations, the ugly word which has become fashionable in recent years—while all the time the drift of population from the north is allowed callously and without help or even comment from the Government to go on.

All the towns concerned plead in the prayers they have submitted to Parliament to be helped so that they shall not become derelict. We shall need far more than£400 million if all Lancashire is to be depopulated and we have to build new towns for its population. Is it really wise, with our resources as they are now, to put into this utmost priority an increased amount of money to spend on new towns while all the social capital that has been built up painfully and devotedly over a century and a half in the north of England is allowed to go to waste?

5.15 p.m.

Before they ask the Committee to authorise them to spend up to an extra£400 million on new towns, cannot the Government say a word about what they are proposing to do to preserve the towns that we have already, to bring comfort, aid, consolation and help to those concerned, and to preserve the towns where they live and prevent further waste of all the amenities, such as houses, hospitals, schools, factories, machinery and skilled labour?

The Chairman

As long as the hon. Gentleman keeps to the point that the£400 million should not be spent on new towns it is all right, but when he gets on to the old towns there is nothing about them in the Money Resolution.

Mr. Silverman

I appreciate that. Sir Charles. It is because there is nothing about them in the Money Resolution that I am not prepared to vote the Government the Resolution. That is exactly my point. We are being asked to vote the Government a further£400 million for purposes which seem to me to constitute an inadequate method of dealing with the problem which the Government have in mind. If there were something in the Money Resolution to enable the Government to spend part of the money on preserving the towns that we have I should not be making this speech.

The Chairman

That is my point. There is nothing about that in the Resolution.

Mr. Silverman

Surely I am entitled to explain to the Committee, Sir Charles, why I am not prepared to grant the Government this money for purposes limited to the purposes set out in the Resolution? I am against it, and I am explaining why I am against it. I want the money not to be spent in so limited a way.

I do not want to prolong the discussion too far, but I want to make my point, because I believe it is one which will find echoes throughout the country. I am sure that millions of people in the country are thinking of this plan for new towns, and the increased expenditure on them to be authorised by this Money Resolution in exactly the same way as I am thinking about it and in the way that I am trying to express to the Committee. We might be reconciled to the proposal, for we are not in spirit or in principle against the new towns or the spending of money upon them, and we might be reconciled even to accepting the Resolution, with its limitations, if the Government could advance one crumb of comfort to show that the towns that it is our duty to help can be offered some help from the Government or even a single word to show that the Government had even begun to appreciate what the problem and the looming tragedy is.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I wish to put a simple question to the Parliamentary Secretary. First, I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has said about Lancashire. I would go all the way with him on that, but I do not want to stop what is happening in the new towns.

The Commission is taking over all the responsibilities of the new town corporations as they come to the practical end of their present work. That means that it must either take over all the staffs, which are now fairly large—and that is rather doubtful—or it must take over some. Some of those who will become redundant are covered by the local government superannuation schemes. They carry their benefits and rights to their next employer, if it is another public authority, although I do not know what happens if they go to a private employer.

But many other people who are employed by these corporations are not covered by these schemes; in fact, none of them will be covered unless he was already covered by an existing local government pensions scheme. What happens to those people? I am thinking not only of the surveyors, engineers and architects, but of the ordinary workmen employed by these corporations. If they are made redundant, should not they be entitled to some form of compensation? The nationalisation Measures always contained a special Clause to cover these people.

It would be unfair if the Bill went through with this Money Resolution and, after all, nothing was done for those members of the staffs of the corporations who are not covered by existing pension schemes. It would not be fair for them to be thrown out upon the street, especially in view of the fact that during the next year or so it will not be easy for them to find employment. Unemployment is increasing, and I see no signs that it will decrease in the next six, nine or twelve months. Unemployment in the building industry seems to be increasing steadily month by month, and if that trend continues many people who are now employed by the corporations will not be able to find employment except in some other industry or trade.

These people should be protected, but I see nothing either in the Bill or in the Money Resolution to provide that the new Commission shall compensate those who lose their livelihoods.

Mr. Bevins

I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that point is appropriate for discussion in Standing Committee.

Mr. Mitchison

I not only agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said about Lancashire, but I am sure that I am not the only person in the Committee to feel the warmest sympathy for the human and social needs which he so eloquently described and which most surely need attention. I differ from him only in that I do not believe that the needs of Lancashire, or the old towns, or the North country—however one likes to put it—must necessarily prevent the final completion of the new towns, and it is for that purpose that the£400 million is to be provided.

Mr. S. Silverman

I much appreciate what my hon. and learned Friend has said, and I know how sincere he is in saying it. My point is that if the basement is getting overfull we can clear it as much by turning off the tap as by pulling out the plug.

Mr. Mitchison

Turning from basements to new towns, I feel that the provision of this money ought not to interfere with, and is really not directly related to, the proper provision for the needs of old towns such as that which my hon. Friend represents, and in respect of which the Government are now encouraging local authorities to spend more money on various social projects. Hon. Members on this side hope that the Government will pay heed to what my hon. Friend has said so eloquently and feelingly, and provide on some other occasion fully and properly for the needs of the part of Lancashire which he represents, and for many other parts of Lancashire and areas near Lancashire which are in the same position.

We do not object to this allocation of money for new towns, but we earnestly hope that more money will be provided for the other purposes which my hon. Friend indicated.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

I intervene only to press the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). The Parliamentary Secretary replied to him by saying that that point was a subject for Standing Committee, but we cannot pass a Money Resolution unless we know that sufficient money is provided to pay compensation for those people who will be declared redundant. I am talking not about those in executive or administrative posts but those who are employed mainly on manual labour by the development corporations, and who may not be working for them as a result of the passage of the Bill.

May we be told whether, in the amount for which the Government are asking in the Money Resolution, a sufficient sum is included to pay compensation to the people who will not only find themselves out of jobs, but will be placed in a very difficult position in connection with their homes? In the main, they live in homes which they have obtained by virtue of their being employed by a new town corporation. If we could have a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary I should be satisfied to agree to the Money Resolution.

Mr. Bevins

I do not think that I can add to what I have already said. I have dealt with the categories of compensation to which people in the employment of the development corporations will become entitled in circumstances of redundancy. If there are any questions of detail which I have not filled in it would be appropriate for us to discuss them in Standing Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.