HC Deb 03 February 1960 vol 616 cc1077-84

Amendment made: In page 5, line 22, leave out from "any" to "in" in line 23 and insert "development district".—[Mr. J. Rodgers.]

Mr. J. Rodgers

I beg to move, in page 5, line 30, to leave out "any" and to insert: the provision of facilities for transport (whether by road, rail, water or air) or of power, lighting, heating, water, or sewerage, and sewage disposal facilities, or of any other".

Mr. Speaker

It may be convenient with this to discuss the Amendment in page 5, line 31, after "facility", insert "whatsoever", which is not selected.

Mr. Rodgers

In Committee, the party opposite moved an Amendment whose object was to specify in virtually the same terms as appear in Section 3 (2) of the 1945 Act the basic services for which grants or loans may be made. We believe that the creation since 1945 of the nationalised corporations responsible for transport, electricity, gas and so on, makes the listing of the services less appropriate now than it was then in 1945. For that reason, the general definition contained in the draft Bill— any service or facility on which the development of the locality in question … depends"— is preferred by us. But there is no objection to meeting the wish of hon. Gentlemen opposite that these services should be specified.

The Amendment meets in essential the wishes of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and differs in only two respects from the Amendment which they themselves proposed in Committee. One is that water, sewerage and sewage disposal are specified and they were not mentioned in the 1945 Act, but are in fact the services for which grants have been made under that Act and are most likely to be made in future.

The other is that housing and health, which were mentioned in 1945, are omitted. As my right hon. Friend pointed out in the debate in Committee, we think that it would be wrong to include housing, since the Ministers concerned already have power under existing legislation to assist the provision of houses to meet the urgent needs of industry. Most of the public provision of health services is now financed through the National Health Service and such part of the service as is run by local authorities is included in the General Grant. On that ground, therefore, both housing and health are already covered under existing legislation.

The Amendment does not speak of services in or affecting the locality, as was proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The reason is, I am advised, that those words add nothing. The question is whether the services would assist the development of a listed place and, as my right hon. Friend made clear, it is only local and not national facilities which will be assisted under this Clause.

Mr. Jay

The Parliamentary Secretary has very largely met the point we put forward and has now included a list of facilities. The only anxiety we have is whether, by including these individual items, he may, on a legal interpretation, be excluding some item not specifically named. We had it in mind, therefore, to suggest that the word "whatsoever"- should be inserted which, so I understand from those more learned than I in these matters, would ensure that nothing was unintentionally omitted.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that he is achieving by the form of his Amendment what I think we all want to achieve, or would the insertion of the word "whatsoever" help?

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

In Committee, I asked about recreational facilities. Do the words "or of any other" at the end of the Amendment cover recreational facilities?

During our previous discussion, the President of the Board of Trade promised that he would look at the matter and, by the Report stage, if it was not covered, would do something about it. I still wonder whether this Amendment will cover recreational facilities in addition to what is actually laid down here.

Mr. J. Rodgers

Inasmuch as I am not blessed with legal training, I really could not answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) about whether the word "whatsoever" would have the significance which he attaches to it. I assure him that I will take it up with my legal advisers and, if it is necessary, as he suggests, we shall introduce an Amendment in another place.

We have power under the Bill to provide moneys for recreational facilities if they meet the overall purposes of the Bill in providing further employment and attracting industries to the localities in the designated list.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I am very much concerned about housing. Housing is not covered in the Bill, but the Parliamentary Secretary says it is covered by our housing and health legislation. I implore him to be perfectly sure about that.

North of the Border, we have experienced great difficulty, when endeavouring to induce industrialists to come to the areas hardest hit by unemployment, in persuading the Scottish Department of Health to allow the local authority to provide houses for this very purpose. I readily agree that, in respect of other services, our distribution of industry legislation does work. I recall one of the largest water reservoirs in Scotland being grant-aided under the old Distribution of Industry Act.

Unfortunately, I can see nothing in writing which would in any way govern housing. This is a very serious problem, particularly in my part of the country. We have there what is estimated to be one of the largest industrial estates in Scotland, known as Newhouse—the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland knows the area very well—but there has not been a single house built for any part of that estate. It took a long time to induce the Department in Edinburgh to allow us to build houses for some of the other parts of the county of which I have the honour to be one of its representatives.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary assure us that he is absolutely convinced, without any reservations whatever, that housing for this purpose will be covered by our ordinary housing legislation? I ask him to say that in order to clear the air and convince everyone that the Scottish Department of Health has ample powers to provide for this need or agree to such provision on representations made by the appropriate local authorities.

We have experienced tremendous difficulties. It took us years to persuade the Department to allow us to provide some houses which were urgently required. We even asked our own particular Scottish institution, the Scottish Special Housing Association, whether it could provide houses. The Department refused. These houses were required principally for industrial workers, not for the general needs of the community, yet the Department still refused to allow our own Association to provide them.

It is plain that this matter must be clarified before the Bill passes to its next stage. I hope the hon. Gentleman will assure the House that there will be no deterrence from the housing administration if we are, indeed, to fulfil the objects of this part of the Bill by allocating appropriate housing accommodation to meet the requirements of industry.

Mr. Ian Fraser (Plymouth, Sutton)

There are certain dangers in specification. I should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary if he would give an assurance to the House about roads. One of the most important matters in operations to be carried out under the Bill after it becomes an Act will be the provision of roads to sites and road facilities on sites. Can my hon. Friend assure us that this form of words will, in practice, cover the provision of a new road to a site and will include the improvement of an existing road? These are some of the practical questions which will agitate county borough authorities in particular when dealing with operations under the Bill.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I support the plea made by my hon. Friends. We must have a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary which will satisfy the House and also an undertaking from him about how the matter will be approached.

It is well known that one of the most serious problems with which Britain is now faced is the imbalance between North and South. In the South, generally speaking, there exists a great shortage of manpower. There is enormous industrial capacity, and this capacity is, in the main, being used to the maximum extent possible at the moment. But, if it were run really as it should be in order to achieve the best results, the maximum number of people should be employed on either two or three shifts. This, however, cannot, in many instances, be done because of the shortage of manpower in the South.

In the North, there is a relatively large number of unemployed and people on short time. Therefore, one of the most urgent needs in the country today is to introduce a greater mobility of labour. When I was younger I was prepared to travel anywhere and prepared to move Provided that suitable housing was available. In the main, there was. In these days, as is well known, no matter how magnanimous employers may be in incentives to their workpeople to move, there is the fundamental stumbling block of a shortage of houses.

In the administration of the Bill, as I say, one of the basic needs will be to introduce in some way—I am glad to see that the Minister of Labour is here—greater mobility of labour. We cannot, however, expect people to move unless, within reason, they are provided with incentives. Most British people are reasonable people, and, provided they are treated fairly and given a square deal, they will respond to the needs of the situation. But we cannot expect young people, in particular, to move to places where there is not housing accommodation.

7.30 p.m.

My area has relatively the finest housing record in the country. It is true that we are now building very few houses, but this is because we are subject to the most reactionary Minister of Housing that I have known since the end of the war. Housing policy is now more reactionary than the policy of any other Minister in this or any other Government. How the Minister of Housing and Local Government can answer the Questions which he does—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Member to bear in mind the Amendment to which he is speaking, although it may be argued that the word "housing" should be expressly included in the Amendment.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I respect the Chair, Mr. Speaker, but I have the Clause and Amendments before me. The Amendments deal with the provision of lighting, heating, disposal of facilities and the question of derelict land. In the area of which I am speaking there is a large amount of derelict land, and I was about to suggest that this derelict land should be used for housing purposes. Would that be in order, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

In so far as the question of housing can be said to arise, I think that the real issue appears to be whether or not there is need to make express provision in the Amendment relating to housing with the Minister saying that there are other powers so that, therefore, the provision need not be there.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. It was on those lines that I proposed to proceed. Maybe I had slightly irritated you, Mr. Speaker, by speaking of the Minister in the way that I did, but I make no apology for that because it is what I really believe. It is not my intention to go out of order in any way, and therefore I shall not pursue the matter any further provided everyone remembers what I said about that Minister.

We have a large amount of derelict land in our area. No one knows that better than the Minister of State, whom I am glad to see in his place. He will remember, in the days when he travelled North, the terrible eyesores of derelict land. I should like him to remember the scenes which he passed when travelling in the train between Kidsgrove and Stoke-on-Trent. There is derelict land which has been there for over fifty years. Nothing at all has been done about it. We want houses built in this area and we want to attract more industry.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consult his right hon. Friend about what I am saying. [Interruption.] Is he not right hon. yet?

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)


Mr. Ellis Smith

He is well on the way to it. Provided that he carries on as he is at the moment, step by step, it is only a matter of time. However, I must bear in mind Mr. Speaker's advice and keep to the point.

When the Parliamentary Secretary replies I hope that he will have consulted his hon. Friend, who, I hope, will confirm what I have said about derelict land. Land in this country is too valuable to be left derelict. Now that we are taking steps to deal with it, I hope that it will be levelled out and that lovely houses will be built on it. I hope, too, that, as a result of the passing of the Bill, and especially if the Amendments are accepted, the situation in the area about which I have been speaking will be improved.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

I wish to comment on the Amendment in page 5, line 30. In my constituency, we are faced with a very large unemployment problem in the shipyards. Part of it is due to the fact that builders are unable to quote for large ships and have to depend on the building of small ships. If the waterways could be widened—and it is quite on the cards that that could be done easily—shipyards would be able to quote for much larger ships.

I hope that, as a result of the Amendment, special provision will be made in respect of aid to carry out such basic work as the widening of waterways. If that were done it would make a very considerable difference to the unemployment position in my own home port of Lowestoft. I hope that my hon. Friend will pay attention to this point and that, when we make our application after the passing of the Bill, he will receive it favourably.

Mr. J. Rodgers

By leave of the House, I will answer the points put to me by various hon Members.

I do not think that there is any need to specify housing in the Amendment because, as I said in moving it, the Ministers concerned have appropriate powers under existing legislation. There is nothing to prevent a housing authority providing houses for existing as well as prospective tenants. I am confident that at present there is no need to include such a provision in the Bill.

In answer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. I. Fraser), private approach roads would be covered in the Bill but not the main road system.

We have power under the Bill to deal with derelict land if it would add to the amenities of the area and make it more attractive to industrialists to locate their industries in it.

The question of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is one which I cannot answer immediately. The prime test whether those projects of which he spoke would qualify for assistance under the Bill is, of course, whether they would provide employment or would relieve the unemployment problem in the area and whether the money so expended would be commensurate with the amount of employment provided. I shall be willing to look into any individual cases which my hon. Friend may send me.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 5, line 31, leave out "locality" and insert "district".—[Mr. J. Rodgers.]