§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The only thing wrong with the Bill is that it ought to have been introduced years ago. For years past a gathering office boom in London, which the previous Government failed to control, has teen extravagantly increasing employment in the area, sucking in population from the rest of the country, de-populating other less fashionable areas, and imposing intolerable congestion of all kinds on those who live in and a round London.
Indeed, during the past 10 years the unbalance between Greater London and the rest of the country has been pushed to extreme lengths. From 1953 to 1963 as much as 56 per cent. of the total rise in employment of all kinds in Great Britain was crowded into south-east England, though that area contained only 35 per cent. of the population. Employment in the London conurbation as a whole rose between 1951 and 1961 by about 400,000, and even in Central London—that is defined as the area enclosed by the main line stations—by over 200,000.
Only one-fifth of the total rise of 400,000 was in manufacturing industry; and in Central London 150,000 of the 200,000 new jobs created were in offices. It is certain that the proportion of people employed in offices in Central London is well over half, and maybe as much as two-thirds, of total employment.
This extreme concentration on the Metropolis has occurred particularly in the last five years. The South-East Study, which was prepared by the last Government, who could not conceal the facts, even though they did not act on them, said this:Over the last decade more than 150,000 more office jobs have been created in the central area alone. Over the three years 1959–62, nearly 200,000 new jobs were created in the conurbation as a whole, and over four-fifths of 734 these were in service employment (which includes office jobs).The House will notice that the intensity of the pressure on the South-East has culminated, on the evidence of the South-East Study, in the years 1959–62. It is in these years that the damage has been greatest. We on this side are not being wise after the event. We were wise before the event. Speaking with all the irresponsibility of opposition, I was rash enough to say this on the Second Reading of the Local Employment Bill on 9th November, 1959, having shown that employment was already rising by 15,000 a year in the L.C.C. area alone:Does not that make it perfectly clear that we need just as tight a national control over office development as over factory development? … We should now consider whether it is not now time, by some machinery, for the I.D.C.s to cover office and commercial as well as factory building, and the whole of the control to go into the hands of the Board of Trade."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1959; Vol. 613, c. 141.]But, of course, we were told by the then Government that this was quite impossible. Now the impossible is being achieved by a not very complicated Bill, after five years in which the difficulty of the problem has been enormously aggravated by the inertia and the timidity of right hon. Members opposite.
For the wild speculative office building in Greater London during the last six years has been one of the main magnets sucking population into the South-East. The previous Government's very candid South-East Study admitted that, on top of the natural increase of population into the South-East during the years 1951 to 1961, there had also been a net immigration of 413,000 people, or 41,300 people a year. That, clearly, was one of the main reasons why the population of Scotland and the North-East, and parts of Wales as well, was dropping annually in those years.
This drift to the South-East, however, has not merely accelerated the depopulation and deflation of the North and West; it has also imposed intolerable congestion on London and much of the south-east of England. It is a major cause of the shocking housing conditions against which almost every hon. Member in Greater London is fighting every 735 week a losing battle in his own constituency. Naturally, if the population of the South-East increases faster than the houses can be built, overcrowding must get worse and not better.
Local housing authorities in the South-East cannot of themselves cure the shortage, because they cannot check the influx of population. Trains and roads get even more insupportably overcrowded, whatever the transport authorities do. Industry in London becomes hampered and impeded by labour shortage, which slows down our whole economy. Indeed, the public services themselves, including London Transport, in the end also become cramped by labour shortage; and the hold-ups and delays in the London docks for Christmas were unquestionably in part a symptom of the general congestion.
Another effect of the geographical unbalance is this. We are repeatedly forced into the dilemma of either allowing excessive economic pressure in the South-East to provoke bottlenecks, shortages and high prices, or else to slow down an already under-employed economy in other parts of the country. I remember the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) once admitting that he understood this point very clearly. Indeed, it is one of the handicaps of hon. Members opposite that the right hon. Member for Barnet has made so many intelligent remarks in the past that he makes it rather harder for other hon. Members opposite to revert to their natural normal level of argument. At any rate, we intend now to extricate ourselves from this dilemma by checking the congestion at its most inflated points.
The Bill, I believe, has both short-term and long-term merits. In the short term, by imposing a virtual standstill on office building in the most congested parts of the South-East, we ease the pressure on resources this winter at the most strategic point. The more we are able to relax this pressure, the more likely we are in months ahead to increase exports and assist the balance of payments quickly. By checking office employment in the longer term we also release both building labour and land for housing purposes, and we curtail the growth of employment which must otherwise in turn intensify irresistibly the 736 demand for houses, transport, schools and labour.
If the then President of the Board of Trade had taken this action five years ago we should not be so desperately searching for housing land in the South-East now. Because we are taking it today, the housing shortage five and, indeed, 10 years hence will not be so acute as it would have been if we went on drifting now. But I ask the House not to underrate the already pressing urgency of the situation or the load of extra employment which is already inevitable from the new office projects which were going ahead in Central London last November.
In Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh today, there are about 7 million sq. ft. of office space in each city. In Central London, before the war, there were 87 million sq. ft. In Central London now, there are about 124 million sq. ft. That is over three times Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh put together. Worse still, the South-East Study reported that the L.C.C. was already committed by the existing law to agree to another 25 million sq. ft. in the central area, not yet built, which would increase employment in Greater London alone by another 170,000 people.
We therefore decided last October that it was time to do something, and that this last forbidding figure made it essential to check schemes already proposed but not yet actually going ahead in London. That was one partial reason for ensuring that the control operated from November. The other was the obvious prospect, as so often in these matters, that if a control was announced and not enforced until the Bill received the Royal Assent, an open invitation to accelerated building in London would have been issued which would have aggravated instead of lessened the evil. When a malady of this kind is allowed to fester unchecked for so long, as is so true of many of the last Government failures, the remedy, when it comes, has to be more decisive.
What the Bill does, therefore, is this. It applies the control initially to Greater London and the outer Metropolitan region. In Greater London an office building project cannot go ahead unless planning permission had been granted and an office building contract had 737 actually been concluded before 5th November last. Clearly, this is the area where congestion is worst and most needs checking.
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
While accepting the necessity for the Bill, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that it will not adversely affect new buildings, such as universities and hospitals, some of which may include office accommodation.
§ Mr. Jay
I am coming to the policy that we shall follow in exercising the control. At the moment, I am explaining exactly what the control consists of.
That, I think, is the essential need in the Greater London area. In the rest of the Metropolitan region, which is an area extending about 40 miles from Charing Cross, schemes may not go ahead without a permit unless they had already received planning permission by 5th November last. In the rest of Great Britain the Board of Trade will have power to apply control by Statutory Instrument subject to Parliamentary procedures if necessary, but the control is not immediately applied by this Bill outside the Metropolitan region.
I should expect that it will be unnecessary over the greater part of the country, but there may be some areas, particularly on the fringes of the Metropolitan region, where the very control enforced within the region might promote too much development just on the fringe. If so, the control would be applied locally, but otherwise there will be no obligation on developers to obtain the office development permits which will be needed in the Metropolitan region. That will, I hope, keep the administration necessitated by the Bill to the very minimum. So, also, will the decision to exempt altogether office projects of less than 2,500 sq. ft.
I am sure that it is right that this form of planning should be administered by the Board of Trade, which will thus have responsibility for the distribution of new office as well as industrial employment over the whole country, including Scotland. It is neither possible nor reasonable to expect London local authorities to check this mischief by town planning powers alone, because they have no 738 responsibility for employment over the whole of Great Britain. The Location of Offices Bureau, which was set up by the previous Government, has certainly done a useful job of education and advice, but this problem is much too big, in view of the figures, to be solved by persuasion alone.
We propose to make the procedure as simple as we possibly can. Ordinary planning applications under the existing law, therefore, will, as a result of the Bill, not be effective in the case of offices unless an office development permit is also obtained in the relevant areas; and, therefore, there will not be any need for enforcement procedure even in those areas other than that which applies already.
Even in the congested Metropolitan region, of course—I think that I am now coming to the point raised by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden)—there will be no absolute ban on office building. But I must, nevertheless, warn the House that the backlog—or, if hon. Members like, the pipeline—is so formidable that this control will really have to be tough or we shall not improve in any way on the record of hon. Members opposite.
The up-to-date facts now are that in the Metropolitan region as a whole—which is really the relevant area for estimating pressure of demand on housing, transport, and so forth—there are 6 million sq. ft. of offices now completed and vacant, another 18½ million sq. ft. under construction, and another 23½ million sq. ft. with planning permission already given, making, 48 million sq. ft. in all. If everything were allowed to rip, according to the sacred principles of laissez-faire in which I believe the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who is not with us today, still believes, an extra employment of over 300,000 office workers, on a generous estimate of floor space per worker, would confront us. Indeed, probably the total—
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what estimate of floor space is taken as a calculation?
§ Mr. Jay
I think that it is 150 sq. ft. per worker. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, will correct me if I am wrong. It is a fairly conservative figure.
739 Probably the total amount of office developments already in the pipeline and beyond the control of the Bill anyway in the G.L.C. area is about 25 million to 30 million sq. ft. Therefore, about 200,000 extra workers will anyway be put into office space now ready and unoccupied or soon to be available in the G.L.C. area. That would mean an expansion of office population in that area of nearly 20,000 a year for the next 10 years, a rate, incidentally, nearly as great as the annual emigration from Scotland. That is the measure of the neglect of the problem in the past. It is worth recording that already at the moment the number of people entering Central London every day between 7.30 a.m. and 10 a.m. is 1,350,000. It seems to me, therefore, perfectly clear that if we are serious about planning at all we must be resolute in applying this control.
Applicants, therefore, will have to satisfy us, first, that the activity cannot be carried on elsewhere and that no suitable alternative accommodation can be found, and, secondly, that unless the project is so small that it would not add materially to congestion or pressure on labour in the location proposed, it is essential in the public interest. Mere inconvenience or extra cost cannot be accepted as grounds for granting permits.
In general, we do not propose to apply the control less stringently in the outer Metropolitan region than in the Greater London area. But there will be two exceptions to this. First, where the local labour and transport situation is easier a development will not have to pass so strict a test of public interest as in Greater London. Secondly, we shall be ready to look at applications from firms moving out of London to the outer Metropolitan region if arrangements are made to ensure that the office space left behind is not to be used for office purposes. But both these exceptions, frankly, are likely to be very limited in scope.
In addition, provided that the control is not frustrated as a result, we do not want to prevent a limited amount of rebuilding or modernisation of offices which are inefficient or out-dated. We should have to be sure that this would not expand employment, and the applicants would have to give up the Third 740 Schedule rights, inherited from past legislation, which have so aggravated the present congestion. In some cases the applicant would have to accept a reduction in office space.
It may also be necessary to agree to a very limited amount of office building in what are called comprehensive redevelopment schemes, though even there we should have to look closely at each scheme and sometimes cut down, or even cut out, the office content. We shall have to apply the same criteria to Government or local authority projects as to private developments. The Crown itself, as always in these legal procedures, is not formally obliged to obtain permits, but the Board of Trade has already made arrangements with other Departments to ensure that Government policy is observed by all.
The Board of Trade, with the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Treasury, is now reviewing all current proposals for Government offices against the new standards proposed for the statutory control. Any further proposals by Departments will be thus examined. Already over three-quarters of civil servants work in regional and local offices and plans are being carried out for the movement of a further 18,000 from London. It is essential, at the same time, that plans for office dispersal to areas right outside the South-East, including the development districts, should be pressed ahead.
As with the present industrial development certificates for industry, I believe that this policy will be perfectly workable if all the relevant factors are carefully weighed and each case is judged on the facts and decided in a spirit of common sense. Distribution of industry policy, I believe, here as in the control of industrial building, is an art rather than a science; and if we treat these powers in this way I think that they will be successful.
Clause 1 brings within its scope any development creating office premises—building or rebuilding, extensions, alterations or change of use. This means that the control applies to office premises whether in an office building or not, for we cannot afford to accept automatically offices linked with other types of development. In some cases the offices could be located elsewhere without loss of efficiency.
741 Clause 2 provides an exemption from the control for small offices, but we are also ensuring in the Clause that "creeping development", as it is called, is not allowed to recur through the obvious device of a series of small schemes each below 2,500 sq. ft. but linked together. Clause 3 makes the control effective in the Metropolitan region from 5th November, 1964 in the way I have explained. Existing planning permissions caught by the Clause are not, however, revoked. They are put into suspense.
The Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill is perhaps ambiguous in one respect. It may have led some people to believe—and I am sorry if they were misled—that if in Greater London a building contract was concluded before 5th November, but without planning permission having been first obtained for the office development concerned, the development is not caught by the control if planning permission is secured before the passing of the Bill. This is not so.
The Memorandum, for greater clarity, should better read:In Greater London, any planning permission granted before the passing of the Bill for office development creating office floor space in new buildings or extensions is put into suspense, unless the planning permission was obtained before November 5th and either the building was erected before November 5th or a building contract was made before that date.It sounds complicated, but if those words are examined it will be seen that the meaning is plain.
Clearly, the Board of Trade cannot grant or reject permits until the Bill becomes law. It has no power to do so, but we are most anxious to minimise inconvenience to applicants and we therefore propose this. We shall start considering applications for permits informally before the Bill has finished its passage through Parliament, and we shall shortly announce the information needed and the address to which letters should be sent. I regret any trouble caused to developers by the period of waiting, but we must remember, also, that, from the point of view of the national interest, a pause in the pressure on building resources in London this winter is in many ways very desirable.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not 742 saying anything about compensation? Is this suspense into which existing planning permissions are to be put to be indefinite? What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do by the Bill for a person who, for example, bought a site with existing planning permission for offices and who will now find that permission put into indefinite suspense?
§ Mr. Jay
No question of compensation arises because, as I said, the planning permission is not revoked, but put into suspense. This is a purely temporary Bill.
I was about to say that we are achieving one other necessary reform by the Bill, that is, to grant to the Board of Trade power to vary by Order from time to time the minimum in terms of square feet above which in any area an I.D.C. must be obtained for factory development. This part of the Bill, unlike the rest of it, applies to factory development. In the original Distribution of Industry Act of 1945 and subsequent town planning Acts, the minimum was set at 5,000 sq. ft. because building below that level appeared trivial, and there it has remained ever since. This limit has applied indiscriminately in all parts of the country, including Scotland and the North-East where, in fact, an I.D.C. is hardly ever refused.
It has always surprised me that, over 20 years, so little evidence, apparently, came to light of the extent of industrial building below 5,000 sq. ft. Such evidence has, however, now emerged, and recently it has become overwhelming. In the Midlands and the South-East, in 1963, for instance, under 10 per cent. in number of industrial planning approvals were supported by an I.D.C. More surprisingly, in terms of square feet, in large parts of the congested areas the industrial floor space approved without the need for an I.D.C. was actually greater in total than the space under control.
The only possible inference from these figures is that a large amount of industrial building is escaping the I.D.C. by slipping through below the exemption limit. Industrial estates have been built up out of these small units giving in total employment for several hundreds of people. This may be one reason why former Presidents of the Board of Trade 743 repeatedly protested the resolute toughness with which they were applying the I.D.C. control, while it became obvious to the naked eye, and from the statistics, that the situation was getting worse and worse.
We propose, therefore, when the Bill becomes law, to introduce an order providing that, in the London and southeast, eastern, and Midland regions of the Board of Trade, the limit should be set at 1,000 sq. ft., but that it should be left at 5,000 sq. ft. in the rest of the country. This will, incidentally, have the added merit of differentiating between the congested and under-employed regions. This does not mean, of course, that all building above the 1,000 sq. ft. will be prohibited in these areas any more than it has for building above 5.000 sq. ft. in the past.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify that? What is to happen where contracts have been entered into for building above 5,000 sq. ft.? Will they automatically be subject to restriction?
§ Mr. Jay
No; there is nothing retrospective about this. It will apply simply from the time when the Bill receives the Royal Assent. From that date, the figure will change from 5,000 to 1,000 sq. ft. in the specified areas.
Proposals for new factories will, naturally, under this scheme, be examined still more critically than for small extensions to existing factories. The decision will, naturally, depend also on whereabouts in the congested regions the development is proposed. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is writing to local authorities in the areas I have mentioned drawing their attention to the Bill's provisions and to the Government's intentions and asking them to consider applications for planning permissions for new building with special care from now on, until the Order is made.
I believe that the Bill will prove a solid contribution to the replanning of regional development all over the country, to the restraint of the accelerating drift to the South-East. and to the restoration of full employment and the full use of productive capacity 744 all over these islands. It will make a little less difficult the task of the housing and other departments of local authorities in the South-East.
But, of course, it is—I claim no more for it than this—only one part of the whole replanning operation. We must also complete the review of the South-East Study which is now going on and the surveys of other areas. We need steady new industrial developments by advance factories and in other ways in the development districts. We need better housing, better transport and more urban renewal over very wide areas.
Together with these policies, the Bill should help us materially to correct both the congestion at one end of the country and the neglect at the other, which are among the worst of the legacies left to us by the previous Government's inertia and mismanagement.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
I must begin by apologising to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House if, by reason of suffering from the fashionable cold, I am not quite so audible as usual.
The House listened with the greatest interest to the explanation of a Bill which is not too easy to follow. We are grateful to the President of the Board of Trade for clarifying a point arising on Clause 3 which had given rise to some misapprehension. The right hon. Gentleman said at one point that the Government were achieving the impossible by the introduction of this simple Bill.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)
We have not said that it was impossible.
§ Mr. Hall
The right hon. Gentleman himself said, as I understood him, that he was achieving the impossible, by introducing a simple Bill. Of course, it is easy to introduce a Bill. The difficulty is to introduce a Bill which will work, and we shall examine is most carefully from that point of view.
I compliment the right hon. Gentleman, if I may, without in any way trying to be patronising, by saying that I thought that he read an extremely good Departmental brief very well. He read it a little too fast for me because, having a cold, I am a little more slow-witted than usual 745 and I found it a little difficult to pick things up as he went along. But, nevertheless, it was very good. The only occasions when the right hon. Gentleman went wrong from time to time were when he interjected some of his own comments into the brief, which made it appear as though he had not studied the South-East Study very carefully.
I come now to my main remarks about the Bill. To begin with, it is not inappropriate that, after a week when the Palace of Westminster has been the centre for a pilgrimage of many thousands of our fellow citizens, of all parties and of none, we should take up our interrupted business by considering a Bill which, whatever else might be said about it, is unlikely to arouse fierce party passions, although, I know, the right hon. Gentleman will not expect to escape all criticism. It is a matter of common agreement on both sides that the growth of new office space in London has created for the City and for the whole Metropolitan area formidable transport and housing problems. We both agree about that.
§ Mr. Hall
If I may continue my speech in my own way, I will tell hon. Members opposite what we achieved in office.
It was a matter of common agreement that the rate of growth must be checked, that offices must be better distributed over London as a whole and further afield. Where there is room for considerable disagreement is in the means chosen to give effect to the policy of checking growth in a particular area and encouraging the growth elsewhere. The House will want to know a great deal more about the way in which the Bill is to work before it accepts that the Government's proposals are fair and equitable and likely to be effective.
The idea of introducing an office development certificate is not new. It was considered by the previous Government and referred to in Command Paper 1952 of February, 1963, which was laid before Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) when Minister of Housing and Local Government. 746 The reasons for rejecting the idea were given in paragraphs 17 and 18 of that White Paper. Briefly, they were that the conditions governing the erection of factories and offices were not the same, that the basic information necessary to a Minister for an office development certificate system was not readily available, and that the introduction of such a system would be neither effective nor equitable.
Immediately following the introduction of that White Paper, the Government introduced what is now the Town and Country Planning Act, 1963, which made the planning control of office building still more effective by clearing up certain planning and compensation difficulties which were created by the Third Schedule to the 1947 Act. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties in the Act which the Labour Government of that time introduced.
The other constructive proposals contained in that White Paper resulted in the setting-up of the Location of Offices Bureau—to which I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman pay a well-deserved tribute—which opened its doors on 1st October, 1963, and also in the publication of the Fleming Report, and it was following the recommendations contained in that Report that the then Government aimed to move out of London some 50,000 out of the total of about 130,000 civil servants who work in inner London. I gather that the Government intend to pursue that policy and carry out those recommendations.
It might be interesting to know where it is proposed to locate the additional staff which will be required to administer the Bill. As I understand the financial provisions, about £100,000 a year is estimated as the additional cost of the staff required. The staff will require office accommodation somewhere, and it would be nice to hear where they are to be housed. [An HON. MEMBER: "And whether a certificate will be issued for the accommodation."] It is a little more than 16 months since the Location of Offices Bureau started work. It has been consulted by 784 firms, representing 82,000 office jobs, which are seriously considering moving outside London, and of that number some 116 firms, representing 12,100 jobs, have either already 747 moved or are proposing to move within the next 18 months.
This is apart from those firms which have already moved or have been considering moving and which have not even approached the Location of Offices Bureau. I know of certain cases, including a firm with which I am concerned. The first annual report of the Location of Offices Bureau states that it considers that the task of moving out of London about 20,000 jobs a year is possible on present trends. That figure is in excess of the number of new jobs being provided year by year in London at the moment.
The excellent work that the Bureau has been undertaking has been brought to a halt, perhaps only temporarily, partly because many firms which were proposing to move from the centre to the Metropolitan region have, as a result of the White Paper and the Bill, decided to stay put, and partly because firms which had made a decision to move out to the Metropolitan region and had obtained planning permission for the erection of new offices there found, or thought they found, until we had the explanation this afternoon, that the whole project was frozen, and until now, at any rate, it has been impossible to get a decision out of anyone.
The right hon. Gentleman knows this, I am sure, because he has had cases brought to his notice where firms which want to get ahead with building offices for which they have planning permission in the Metropolitan region have been unable to proceed because no one has been in a position to give them the go-ahead. I am happy to know that an organisation has been set up before the Bill becomes law which will help in that direction.
The first effects of the Government White Paper on Office Building and the introduction of the Bill, like the effect of so many statements and actions since the Government came to office, have been to create a great deal of chaos and confusion. The movement out of London has been checked, and those who were on the verge of moving have been discouraged. Let us consider the position that existed before the White Paper and the Bill were introduced. Planning authorities had, as far as I can ascertain, all the powers they needed to 748 restrict office building and to keep it within acceptable limits.
§ Mr. Hall
That is how I understand it. There was no reason why the planning authorities should not restrict the growth in any way they liked. The problem arose out of compensation.
The proposals to remove from London selected Government Departments accounting in all for about 40 per cent. of the civil servants now working in London and the activities of the Location of Offices Bureau, together with the increasing economic and staffing problems which will be faced by firms working, or considering working, in London, have operated to force more and more firms out of London, and all these influences are likely to have a cumulative effect in checking the growth in the centre in the next few years. In other words, already the measures taken by the previous Administration were beginning to have their effect. Why, then, do we want the Bill?
First, the Bill may be popular with many people living or working in London who feel that it might ease their transport or housing problems. I can understand the Government wishing to introduce a Bill which gains them some measure of popularity. They are desperately in need of it. I believe that the popularity stems in part from a general, though I believe mistaken, idea that if office building is stopped it will be possible to increase the rate of house building. In 1963, the last year for which I have complete figures, the total construction work amounted to £3,100,000, and of that total about 4 per cent. was devoted to office building. I believe that the figure for 1964 is not so very dissimilar from that.
The rate of house building when we left office was about 400,000 a year. I have not heard it suggested by the Government that they propose to increase that rate. Indeed, I believe that during the General Election they did us the honour of accepting that target for their own. So we both agree that this is the rate of house building that we can expect to achieve even though we might stop some form of office building. I am certain that the Government realise, 749 though it may not be generally realised, that many firms occupied in the erection of offices cannot easily switch to house building. They include many specialist firms.
Furthermore, the materials used in the building of large blocks of offices are dissimilar in many respects from those required for housing. A vast number of bricks are used for building conventional type houses whereas comparatively few are used in the construction of offices. Let us, therefore, be quite clear that, although the general public may believe that this kind of control of office building will speed up house building, it will do nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. Hall
I appreciate that point but, of course, in the South-East Study considerable provision was made for new sites for development of housing estates designed to take care of the foreseeable new jobs to be provided in the South-Fast as a whole.
Instead of slowing down office building, and so perhaps helping, indirectly, to increase house building in some way, it may well be the case that the Government's measures will result in no noticeable diminution in office building for some time because of the amount of building already in progress and the number of contracts which were rushed through before 5th November. I think that the immediate effect of the Bill may, indeed, be to increase the tempo of office building within the limits of the resources of manpower and materials available. There will be—indeed, there has been—a rush to get contracts signed. Over the next few years we shall see a very large number of offices in process of completion or being started in the Metropolitan area. The immediate effect of the Government's measures, therefore, will be to increase the rate of office building.
What the Bill will certainly do is to remove the liability for compensation if 750 planning permission is suspended or refused. No one, least of all the Government or local authorities, likes paying compensation. In this case I have some sympathy with the Government in their problem. As far as I have been able to investigate, I understand that the compensation could vary from about £1,000 to £3,500 per office place. In the Greater London conurbation alone, the total could be in excess of £270 million.
Faced with figures of that size, I can understand the reason for the Bill. But that does not excuse the Government from the duty of limiting inevitable injustices and hardships to the minimum. It makes it all the more important for there to be the right of appeal—something that the Bill seeks to deny. Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade will consider allowing compensation for expenditure or liabilities incurred after planning permission had been granted—for example, the preparation of plans and expenditure on surveyors' fees and the like.
I do not think that the cost of such compensation would be very great. I have been given an estimate that, in all the schemes affected by the Bill—schemes for which planning permission had been granted—the costs incurred have been between £1 million and £2 million. I cannot be more accurate. It is only an estimate. But definite liabilities have been incurred in these cases and it seems unfair that these should be borne by persons who now find themselves unable to continue because of the sudden introduction of Government restrictions. I hope that my suggestion will be favourably received by the Government.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to remove liability for compensation, but as, in addition to weakening the powers of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, it puts some planning directives into legislative form, we must try to ascertain from the Government how those planning directives will operate in practice. There are certain questions I wish to put to the Government.
The first impression created by the Bill is that Greater London—particularly the heart of the City—is to be confined in a strait-jacket and not only prevented from growing, but prevented from changing as 751 well. No healthy or vigorous organisation can survive long under such conditions. I shall be happy to learn that this is not the Government's intention and that the City and London will be able to change as necessary. I am sure that the Government do not wish to impose a rigid control of this kind or to frustrate the provisions of the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act, 1963, about which we had long discussions when they were in opposition.
I understood the President of the Board of Trade to refer to the possibility of allowing both those who wished to do so to rebuild and those who were forced to rebuild as a result of the provisions of that Act. I am not sure whether I understood him correctly. I know that it is not the Government's intention to try to diminish the importance of London as a great centre of international shipping, banking, insurance, finance and commerce by bringing to an abrupt halt the rebuilding and modernisation of the buildings which house these great commercial organisations.
In the City, for example, rebuilding has mainly taken the form of the redevelopment of war-damaged properties and of existing out-dated structures. I am informed that the City development plan envisages a day-time population of about 455,000. In 1939, the daytime population, according to a current review, was about 480,000. That reduction has come about because of the destruction of warehouses, the removal of light industry and the development of housing projects.
Will the City be allowed to continue its present imaginative development plan, which is designed to increase the efficiency and attractiveness of this vital square mile and which will not add to the daytime population but will, on the contrary, end up with a daytime population less than that of pre-war? Or is the plan likely to be frustrated? Will we continue to see undeveloped bombed sites and old buildings which should be pulled down remaining year after year while great international organisations seeking the right types of offices look elsewhere in Europe to house themselves? I hope not.
What will be the position of firms prepared to move out of the centre into Metropolitan London, but no further? 752 As the right hon. Gentleman knows, many firms feel, for a number of reasons they consider good and sound, that they must be within a limit of one hour or less from the centre of London by train. Many have already moved to places like Croydon, Ilford, Walthamstow, Forest Gate and Hendon—even to Reading and High Wycombe which are on the perimeter. But if such firms find it difficult to get office development certificates for the Metropolitan area, the tendency will be to stay put and make no effort to move out of the centre.
What will happen in the case of local authorities? The change in the structure of London government faces many local authorities with the need to extend considerably or radically to change their existing accommodation. The Lambeth Council has made representations to the Board of Trade on this very point, and I understand that the Westminster City Council is perhaps facing similar difficulties. No doubt many other councils are in the same position. Will they be allowed to build? Will they be treated on a par with commercial enterprises which can put up an equally strong case? Will they be given priority? Will a local authority seeking building permission be given it automatically, or must is justify its application?
What will be the effect on valuation for compulsory purchase? What will be the position if planning consent is refused for a site for up to seven years? It is interesting to note that seven years is regarded as a temporary measure. I hope that a similar definition of temporary will not be applied to the surcharge. If planning consent is refused for up to seven years, and the site becomes subject to a compulsory purchase order during that time, will not the value of the compensation be seriously affected by the fact that no office development permit can be granted or has been granted, even though the acquiring authority may have it in mind to develop the site itself at some future date?
Shall we not find a situation arising in which someone has to relinquish a site on a C.P.O. at a figure below the value which would otherwise have been put on it had there been an office development permit, which probably would have been given for the site a few years later?
753 Many other questions come to mind, and no doubt they will be taken up by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the Government have thought out thoroughly all the implications of the Bill and that it will be possible to provide at the end of the debate answers to the questions which will be raised this afternoon. We shall wait to hear what the Government say in answer to those questions.
May I summarise my own views on the Bill While I appreciate to the full and sympathise with the objectives of the Bill—namely, to relieve the transport and housing pressure on London—I very much doubt whether the Bill is now necessary. I will explain why I say this. The office property market has become increasingly depressed over the last 18 months. Agents have been finding it increasingly difficult to let their space and, in some cases, have been able to do so only by giving substantial rent concessions—given privately if not publicly announced. To that extent the problem was beginning to solve itself, because developers were not finding it possible to get rid of accommodation which they already had.
But the Bill has produced what amounts to an artificial boom. Rents have hardened. Agents are beginning to smile again. One even sees the occasional cigar being flashed in the agents' offices. But it is an artificial boom, because I believe that even now the building of new office space has run ahead of demand, and with new contracts which are being entered into before the appropriate date in the Bill, this is likely to be the case for the next few years. It is, therefore, likely that an economic appraisal by developers of the possibilities of disposing of their offices would have persuaded many intending developers to hold back.
The Bill, however, has the opposite effect. It is persuading them to go ahead because they know that, if the Government's ban continues, in a few years, when the present spate of building ends, accelerated as it has been and will be by the Bill, their properties will have a scarcity value. Some developers may have decided to develop because of the effect of the Bill and, but for it, they might well 754 have opted to keep out altogether and not to go ahead with their plans.
The Bill is unlikely to have any effect in reducing the availability of office space in London for the next few years and in the short term it may well make matters worse. This is likely unless the system is operated with sympathy and understanding so as not to prevent desirable redevelopment in the City and in Greater London, for to do that might well be to our longterm disadvantage. It might well tend to freeze firms in their present locations if they were unable to move 40 miles or so away from London.
The Bill creates another planning control in the centre in the Board of Trade, overriding the views and the experience of the local planning authorities. It is bound to create many monopolies and to face organisations which have to stay in London with very grave accommodation problems. The Bill makes no real contribution to the solution of the transport and housing problem at which it is presumably directed. It is trying to deal with the real problem of the growth of London by saying "Stop growing". That does not seem to me to be an act of positive statesmanship. It sounds more like the cry of despair from parents who tell children to stop growing out of their clothes. It is never any use parents saying to their children, "Stop growing". One must find other ways of dealing with the problem.
§ Mr. Hall
No analogy which is used by the Opposition is ever regarded by the Government as fair.
We have sympathy with the objective of the Bill, although we believe that the measures which were being taken by the previous Government were beginning to bear fruit. The Bill will have to be explained very much more fully before we are convinced that we should support it. Nevertheless, one must pay a tribute to the President of the Board of Trade and the Government for making an effort to contribute to the solution of this problem. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well, but at this stage I cannot see how far we can go in supporting him. We can say that only after we have heard the debate and listened to the 755 answers to some questions which either have been posed or will be posed later in the debate.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Perry (Battersea, South)
It gives me great pleasure to make my maiden speech in this honourable House. I represent a very small constituency in that great cosmopolitan conurbation of London, and I am taking the place of five predecessors who, I am sure, were well known to many hon. Members.
The first was Viscount Curzon; the next was William Bennett; the next was Harry Selley, later Sir Harry; the next was Mrs. Ganley; and the next was my immediate predecessor, Mr. Ernest Partridge. My arrival on this side of the House makes it all square; it makes it three of each.
I consider it an honour this afternoon to deal with the problems of Battersea in general and Battersea, South, in particular. There is not much difference between Battersea, North and Battersea, South. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) knows that the line of demarcation between the constituencies has been changed twice since he became a Member of this honourable House. The change gave him an increased majority, but it made my constituency a marginal seat.
The line of demarcation has been determined by railway lines which have changed in the last 12 years. If it were the Victoria line it made one seat a marginal seat. If it were changed to the Waterloo line it made the other seat a marginal seat. As a result, we have had these disturbances. But to the people in the area, Battersea is one entity.
Last week this House intended to celebrate its 700th anniversary. Unfortunately, owing to the demise of one of our great statesmen we could not do this. But two years ago Battersea celebrated its 700th year of recorded Church history. Thus, its history goes back to the time before this House; it has a recorded history of over 700 years. During the reign of William the Conqueror it was given by him to the Abbey of Westminster. It has been a thriving community for over 700 years.
The point which I wish to make is that despite the long history of Battersea, the 756 former Minister of Housing and Local Government saw fit, in the reorganisation of London government, to do away with the name of Battersea. We accepted his desire to abolish the name "Battersea". An instruction was sent by his Ministry to local authorities in London to the effect that he did not want double-barrelled names. We did not like that, but we were prepared to put up with it. But within weeks he had given way to the constituency in London in which he lived. I refer to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I have no quarrel with that, because I have many friends on both sides of the House who live in Chelsea. However, while he debarred any other authority in London from having a double-barrelled name, when it came to the constituency in which he lived he called it the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
I have no objection to the name "Chelsea", because Chelsea happened to beat West Ham last Saturday, but if Chelsea's name was good enough to be retained, we in Battersea felt that the name "Battersea" should have been retained. I speak for all the people in Battersea in this matter, irrespective of party and Church. We take a very poor view of the attitude adopted by the former Minister of Housing and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph).
Battersea is a highly concentrated industrial area. It has wonderful firms in it like the Morgan Crucible Co. which has a tradition in export and production. We in Battersea are thankful that we have firms of such calibre, which do so much for the benefit of the country. We have a large amount of railway property, goods depots, power and gas stations, a heliport and numerous small industries like engineering and flour milling. We as a borough are to be absorbed by the Borough of Wandsworth. We feel that we have been sorely treated.
It is proposed to move Covent Garden Market to the site of the Nine Elms Goods Depot. Personally, I think that that is a very good idea. Not everybody sees eye to eye with me, but I welcome it. This brings to light another fact of life in Battersea. Like many other areas in London, Battersea is built up. We have no room to spread and no land on which to build houses. In Battersea and 757 places like it there is plenty of surplus railway land lying idle and dormant which could be used for house and flat development. I suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this land should be used by local authorities in helping to solve their housing problems.
We in Battersea object strongly to private schemes being arranged by the British Transport Commission to make this land available to investment companies for them to develop. If there is any surplus railway land in London, and in Battersea, in particular, we think that it should be used for housing. At one time much of the surplus railway land in Battersea was common land.
Only a short time ago the Battersea Borough Council refused permission to develop to a firm by the name of Overline Investments and other firms in which Mr. Charles Clore was interested to develop the best site facing the river and Battersea Park. Negotiations had been going on for three years to erect luxury flats on this site without any consultation with the local borough council. Only when the question of planning permission arose did the council, of which I am a member, have any knowledge that the land was to be used for that purpose. As I say, if there is surplus railway land in Battersea, or in any other part of London, it should be sold to local authorities at a reasonable price for housing so that the very serious housing problem can be alleviated.
Another thing which is worrying the people of Battersea is the suggested new roads which will run right through our new estates and the enormous shopping centre known as Clapham Junction. Clapham Junction is the heart of Battersea. It is, I suppose, the focal paint of railway organisation in the south of England. We read that a new road is to be built which may do away with this fine shopping centre. On behalf of the firms and traders in this area, I protest most strongly against the construction of arterial roads through the Borough of Battersea.
I make these points on behalf of my constituents and the people of Battersea in general. They have something to do with the development of office accommodation and industrial accommodation. We want industrial development, but we 758 want it in the right places. We want office development, if necessary, but it must be in the right places.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the House, for giving me this opportunity to speak, but I cannot promise to be in future as non-controversial as I have been on this occasion.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Dame Edith Pitt (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
It is my pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) on his maiden speech. I think that all hon. Members present will have been impressed by his robust pride in the constituency which has sent him to Parliament and by his tribute to his predecessors, the last of whom, Ernest Partridge, enjoyed the respect and affection of, I think, both sides of the House.
There is a coincidence in your calling me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to speak immediately after the hon. Gentleman. I did not know him until a week ago when, in Westminster Hall, I asked him a question about the preparations going on there. He knew more about the matter than I, the senior Member, did. He also said, "I am not on your side, but this is a very sad occasion which we all share". If he commends himself to the House with the same kindness and understanding as he did to me when I first met him a week ago, I am sure that we shall be glad to hear him again.
My reason for commenting on the Bill may be thought a little surprising. Ostensibly, it is a Bill about London. My interests are in Birmingham and the Midlands. Therefore, my particular interest in the Bill is centred on Clause 16. This Clause, which makes it possible to curtail the exemptions from the necessity of obtaining an industrial development certificate to other parts of England and Wales, is aimed at such booming centres of prosperity as my own city of Birmingham; indeed, the Minister said so in his own opening speech.
This is not only the tough policy which the right hon. Gentleman promised the House in November and the extra toughness which the Minister of State mentioned in reply to the Adjournment debate in December; I think that this will be looked upon with serious concern in Birmingham and the Midlands.
There the exemption of small extensions up to 5,000 sq. ft., which has been 759 the policy hitherto, has been quite valuable, for the following reasons. Only local planning permission was needed; there was none of the documentation for a strictly resisted industrial development certificate and there was, therefore, none of the delay while negotiations took place; and on the certainty that an extension could be assumed so long as it was less than the 5,000 sq. ft., a firm could plan to go ahead and would do so, whereas since firms were never sure of getting an industrial development certificate they had always to wait for a larger extension.
I am sure that these smaller extensions were particularly valuable to the small firms in the Midlands area. Birmingham boasts proudly that its prosperity is built up on its thousand and one trades. That is a gross underestimate, because it must have well over 2,000 trades.
This variety of interests has been responsible for its prosperity in the past. It has been responsible for the fact that we did not suffer nearly as much severe unemployment in the inter-war years as did many other parts of the country. Thus, extensions to small firms are of considerable importance to us. Five thousand sq. ft. was a useful area, sufficient, I am told, to install a heavier crane or an improved process. Anything less than that is a much less workable prospect.
In opening the debate, the Minister clarified his intentions to some extent, although I hope that we may hear a little more in the Government's winding-up speech. The proposed limit is 1,000 sq. ft., and the President of the Board of Trade has referred to the Midlands. Will he or his hon. Friend the Minister of State define what is meant by "the Midlands"? What is in mind? Birmingham and the surrounding Black Country? The whole of the West Midlands area? It would be very helpful to all industrialists in the region to know where it is proposed to draw the line.
In answer to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), the President of the Board of Trade said that the reduction in exclusions would not apply until an Order had been made under the powers which are sought in the Bill.
§ Dame Edith Pitt
I am glad to have the Minister's agreement. I take it that that spells out what the Bill itself says: that any industrialist who proposes to undertake development of less than 5,000 sq. ft., and who has given whatever notice is now necessary, will be able to continue and that only those applications which are made after the Order has been approved by the House of Commons will be reduced to the 1,000 sq. ft. If this can be confirmed during the debate, I shall be glad.
May I be quite clear, also, that anything above the 1,000 sq. ft. must be the subject of a special application? There is no discretion in the matter. The line is drawn; it is black above it and white below.
§ Dame Edith Pitt
I know the strictness with which applications from the Midlands have been looked upon by the Board of Trade in the past.
If the Minister of State, in replying to the debate, can say how this decision has been arrived at and what information it is based upon, I shall be glad. Is the Board of Trade aware how many extensions have already taken place in various parts of the country, in the Midlands specifically, of less than 5,000 sq. ft.? As far as I am aware, no records are kept and no figures are published. Does the Department know at what point the administrative work involved will so increase as to outweigh the gain of the necessity for applications which have to be made for such small developments? I should think that there would be a considerable flood of applications from the Midlands.
I accept the need for the principle of industrial development certificates, within limits. I accept what the President of the Board of Trade has said about congestion, not only in the Metropolitan region, but in other industrial regions. There is congestion and the congestion then leads to pressures on social services, specifically housing.
I accept the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that he wishes to curtail the growth of employment in certain 761 areas, because I realise that the purpose is benevolent; it is to prevent further congestion in the already densely developed areas and to persuade employers to take their further developments into areas less fortunate than mine in their opportunities for employment. There is something in the argument that competition for labour forces up costs, but there is another side to that. It is also forcing more mechanisation and economy in the use of labour.
I accept that there are instances, such as the Minister gave relating to trading estates, where there have been small extension exemptions which have enabled step-by-step developments to take place until a much larger complete development has ensued. On the other hand, I can quote cases from the Midlands where a building has actually been demolished and rebuilt on the same site to provide room for a heavier gantry without an is industrial development certificate having to be applied for. This surely reduces the procedure to an absurdity.
The proposed regional planning boards will stiffen the executive control of the Government in the regions. The power to vary the maximum floor area of small extensions means virtually that the boards can bring change and developments in the Midlands to a standstill. We shall be glad of reassurance about this. It is a wide and embracing power which has been slipped into the Bill, which deals ostensibly with the London region, and I feel that we in the Midlands are entitled to know more about it.
I should like to know from the Minister of State, when he winds up the debate, when it is proposed to make the Order. Will it follow immediately after Royal Assent has been given to the Bill? Will there then be any limit on the duration of the Order? We have heard about its being temporary. Will this be a permanent power, or will it be temporary, in which event can we be given any indication of how long "temporary" will be? If there were to be further changes, am I right in thinking that the Minister would need to come back to the House for a further Order varying the limitation of 1,000 sq. ft. which he has mentioned today?
Is it the Government's intention to stick to the limit of 1,000 sq. ft. for the time 762 being or, even worse for us in the Midlands, is it intended to screw it right down to nothing? As I say, I do not dispute that I.D.C.s are necessary. I am all in favour of anything which helps to give jobs in other parts of the country, but there have been instances—some of them within my own knowledge, because I have supported the applications for the I.D.C.s—when firms, having had their applications rejected, simply have not pursued the development. It is essential, therefore, to show what safeguards the Government have in mind.
I echo the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), to what extent have the Government thought out the implications of these far wider powers which they are now taking? If the Minister of State can answer some of these questions, that will be helpful and will, perhaps, ease some of the concern which today's earlier statement must have aroused in Birmingham and the Midlands.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Harrison (Wakefield)
I am very pleased that today we can bid welcome to the Minister of Technology. I am very pleased indeed that he is here with us. One of my reasons is that he may be able to help me with my particular problem.
Having been unable to find the elusive maiden speech precipitator, although I found that it ensured that we had a massive presentation of eight maidens in one day, and that there was a maiden speech made within 20 minutes of the start of the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, I decided to defer my opportunity and to make my maiden in the normal process. Even so, today I have some misgivings, having sought advice of several hon. Members on how to deal with a maiden. You can rest assured, Mr. Speaker, that the suggestions varied. The presentation of a maiden speech would appear to be the most controversial issue that I have heard in the House. I would quote some of the advice given me by several hon. Members. No names, no Whip drill. First, "Get it over quick". Next, "Take your time with it". Then, "Do not use long words". "Use a few technical phrases". "Read it", and "Do not read it". "Be yourself, but portray a good image". 763 "Stand up, speak up, and shut up". No doubt hon. Members today will enjoy this all the better when it is all over. I hope to accept all this good advice.
No doubt it will have been guessed by now that I am a Yorkshireman, having the honour to represent a Yorkshire constituency, Wakefield, which, from 1932 to 1954, was represented by a dedicated Socialist, Arthur Greenwood. Wakefield loved him. Today his son is a very worthy Minister. From 1954 to 1964 Wakefield was well represented by Arthur Creech Jones who followed in Arthur Greenwood's place. I have had a glowing feeling because of the tributes which were paid to him during a recent debate by several hon. Members from each side of the House He unfortunately retired from this scene only one month prior to his passing. He served, faithfully and conscientiously, Wakefield—this country, and, indeed, the world. Wakefield people were proud to have him representing them in this House.
My constituency comprises the city and county borough of Wakefield, a very progressive, industrious and enlightened community with a great historical background. It is at present very concerned at possible demotion to non-county borough and second-tier status, despite its progress and efficiency in the services which it administers, particularly in housing, health and welfare. Incidentally, I may say that it has one of the finest central town development improvements in the North. I hope that the Local Government Boundary Commission will give the deepest consideration to this problem and will help Wakefield to retain its all-purpose status. The rest of my constituency consists of Royston urban district, Horbury urban, and several equally important districts of Wakefield rural district council. I am proud to be their representative, following two such worthy predecessors.
Now I wish to expound a little on this Bill. I had had some 15 years in local government and county administration which has taught me that the formulation of a Bill and even of an Act does not always have the desired effect. I do hope that on this occasion what we are intending with this and 764 through regional economic councils does come to fruition.
I am aware that the famous Richard Whittington and his cat in the thirteenth century knew that they were on to a good thing in leaving the West Country and seeking their fortune in the London area. The over-development of offices, industry, housing, with the consequential choking up of the roads and the choking up of the City, was going on even then. I am afraid that it will continue to do so till greater controls and better legislation are made to operate. Far too many offices are being built in the London area. Excess development is going on without consideration of the consequential effects in other parts of the country.
A combination of control, and planning and economic reasoning, can eventually bring about a more balanced state of industry throughout the country. The Labour Government may be accused of imposing control, but is it not better to control one's destiny, the destiny of the nation, the destiny of the people, and to indicate one's goal, than leave it as a matter of a mad free-for-all scramble, a scramble which can only divide the nation, the North from the South, the East from the West? Effective legislation is long overdue. Let us give it the teeth it requires. I feel that through this Bill we shall achieve our object.
The denuding of the North and the overflowing of the South has brought problems to both areas—unemployment, over-employment, disproportion in industry and housing, a high cost of living, squalid living conditions, exploitation of the workers, exorbitant rents, inflated prices for land and housing, dereliction, desolation, and despair and even delinquency. Scientific planning and control can give an equitably distributed opportunity in housing, office building, industrial development, in growth industries, in employment and education and in social standards.
Industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire requires diversity. The contraction of the old basic industries must be counteracted by the development of new growth industries. At present in Yorkshire—this is true—we prefer to breathe and swallow the grit emitted from a coal-fired power station than to bite the dust 765 by high unemployment in areas which have already suffered in the 'thirties. These areas have already made a contribution both in industry and manpower for the benefit of this nation—the workers in the coal mining industry, predominantly. The nationalised electricity supply industry, of which I was a member, are pleased that they can go to the aid of fellow workers—and we can now use coal by wire.
Let us, please, also remember that the heavy basic industries such as those in Yorkshire have to start from scratch. We cannot convert a disused coal mine to the manufacture of nylon stockings or for the production of transistor radios or computers. Nor can we expect a man who has given his life to the use of pick and shovel immediately to change over to the fine and delicate crafts. The nation owes them the opportunity to be retained and retrained.
For years we in the North have solved our problems of unemployment by migration, as has often been said in this House, but let us remember that the migration has always begun with the young and fit, who get the opportunity to go South: "Go South, young man, go South." This process gives the aged the opportunity to view derelict mills, disused mines, and the collapse of communities to which the older folk have themselves contributed their lifeblood.
I should like to quote from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 29th January. On page 9 there is a headline "Another mill to close". On the same date there are reported some observations by the West Riding Planning Officer, Mr. L. N. Frazer, who states of an application by a certain town for a by-pass road that it is an area which is common in Yorkshire in having a static or falling population, which means that the population is drifting to the South. Since such people were the younger and active type, the problem of the ageing town was accentuated and the county council would have to plan to help small authorities affected in this way as far as possible. A great task indeed, and this was said only three days ago.
For many years I served on the Federation of Industrial Development Associations, and for many years those associations emphasised the need to obtain the opinions of local authorities, because this was the medium by which 766 local authority industrial problems were collated—problems which were ignored by higher authority because it was thought that they were not of national importance. But the threat of contraction, the lack of diversity, an insufficient percentage of new growth industries, and the migration of skills, are national responsibilities.
A research survey to which I could refer states that the electronics section of the engineering industry, employing 8.6 per cent. of the labour force of the West Riding, is a growth industry. This is indeed entirely wrong, because in that same medium we have 33¼ per cent. of the declining industries compared with 20 per cent. of declining industries on average in the country. We have a predominance of the declining industries, and only a small percentage of growth industries in Yorkshire.
If the new regional boards require intimate local knowledge they could contact the Industrial Development Associations. They could contact the local authorities. They could certainly contact the ones which are affected, and there are many in Yorkshire. I am certain that the problems of these people have been accentuated by past legislation. Even the Local Government Act and the carrot and stick distribution Act did not solve the problem. These Acts did not solve any problems for Yorkshire. They just accentuated those which existed.
I hope that the control provided for in the Bill will prove to be the solution to the problem. Let us fervently hope that this Government can solve this outdated and outmoded wastage of communities, potentials, skills and desires. Let us provide a new opportunity for their energy.
I thank the House for the kind attention paid to my speech. I sincerely hope that I have not transgressed. I always hope to be constitutional. I have kept strictly to my speech. The House can rest assured that, in the near future, when I throw these notes away, the issues will be more controversial, and the blood will hot up. I thank the House for listening to me.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
It is always a pleasure to follow an hon. Member after his maiden speech, 767 and I am sure that I am expressing the feeling of the House when I congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Walter Harrison) on the very careful study he has made of his subject.
I have one comment to make to the hon. Gentleman. He referred to the help which he was about to get from the Minister for Science and Technology, and it may have been a coincidence that at that moment the Minister walked out through the door of the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but he will soon realise that during elections Ministers pay great tribute to Members of their party—this goes for both sides, and this is not a political point—and show great deference to them, but once they get on the Front Bench they seldom recognise those Members. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman he should not place too much reliance on getting help from that source.
The hon. Gentleman rightly paid tribute to his predecessors. They were men of great distinction, and well known to many of us even before we came into the House.
The hon. Gentleman created a good image, and that is important in this House. His sincerity came through very clearly. I congratulate him, and say that we look forward to hearing the more controversial speech which he has promised to make in the future.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Dick Whittington's move to London, complete with his cat. Perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman that Dick Whittington's success in London was due to his great desire to export. If my memory of the fairy tale is right, Dick Whittington was given credit for a great deal of export, but he had to come to London to create those exports. He had to get to a city where he was able to make the most of his talents.
I think that this Bill is a political one. It is a case of taking a steam hammer to crack a nut, and a nut that was almost soft anyway. When a Socialist Government is in power, it is not unusual for them to create controls whenever there is a possibility of controls being introduced. This Bill is bound to lead to the introduction of controls which are not necessary. What we need today is incentives, not controls.
768 My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) dealt in great detail with the decrease of population in the City. The House knows my connection with the building industry, so there is little need to emphasise that. My hon. Friend pointed out that only 4 per cent. of the building industry was occupied in building office premises. I emphasise that that applies to the country as a whole, and not only to London.
My hon. Friend said that there were certain specialised services. I draw the attention of the Minister to the important fact that there are a number of specialised services such as high-speed lifts, air conditioning, office panelling, and that kind of thing, which cannot be used for domestic premises, but they are items in respect of which we are building up big exports. Secondly, there are many buildings in the City which require stonemasons to complete them. If these controls are carried to the ultimate proposed, they will lead to the abolition of masons who are capable of building offices of stone, and we shall be forced to import such masons, as indeed we shall have to import other craftsmen.
§ Mr. Costain
The Minister shakes his head. I speak with many years' experience of this matter. Perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Festival Hall wall was built only ten years ago there were only two masons available in this country to carry out the necessary work. That was due to this type of work not having been done for many years. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must not take these things too lightly. I suggest that they get some practical experience of these matters.
§ Mr. Darling
Last week I had discussions with the stone industry. I raised this question of masons, and I was assured that for the kind of work to be done on offices and other buildings in this country there were sufficient masons available, and more could be trained quite easily.
§ Mr. Costain
I accept that masons are available at the moment, but what worries me is what the position may be seven years from now if the controls proposed in the Bill are introduced. In any event, stonemasons themselves are not necessarily the right people to speak to on this 769 matter. The hon. Gentleman should have discussions with the architects concerned, because stonemasons do not necessarily know what they will be required to do.
We have been given some idea of how these controls will be administered. I felt a cold chill running down my spine when the President of the Board of Trade made what I regard as a stupid suggestion. He suggested that preference would be given to firms moving out of London who were going to vacate premises, provided that those premises were not used for office purposes. This is typical Socialist planning. I ask the Minister to deal with this point when he winds up the debate. I know big firms, of a size comparable to I.C.I., which want to move out to a suburb. They propose to vacate relatively modern premises. Under the proposed controls, if these firms move out the premises they vacate will remain empty. There are hundreds of slum offices. Will they be allowed to transfer that permission to the more modern premises and abolish the slum premises?
People do not realise how many slum offices exist today. It is no good our bringing forward an Act to increase the standard of offices on the one hand and then to say, "You shall not comply with these provisions because you will not be allowed to build new offices." I hope that the Minister will be able to remove the fears that exist in respect of some offices which are not up to standard but which cannot comply with that Act and are therefore faced with the position either of closing down or breaking the law. Some dispensation is required in their respect.
We must realise that the City of London is a magnet not only for people in this country but for people of the Commonwealth and the world. Are we to visualise a City of London with empty, bombed sites, while every other capital in Europe is rebuilding? Is that the vision of the modern Britain which the Socialist Party has promised? If that is the case, will there not be a great temptation for people to move their offices to Brussels, Paris or Germany?
§ Mr. Costain
That approach is quite wrong. I repeat that the problem was 770 almost solved. Does the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Member says that people can build in other places as well as London, but there are certain trades in respect of which it is essential for people to build in the vicinity of London, for communication purposes alone.
The President of the Board of Trade has admitted that we have a land shortage. I suggest that these empty sites should be made proper use of at once, and not left derelict as a monument to Socialist control. The right way to proceed is to bring in legislation permitting offices to be built provided that a proportionate amount of residential accommodation is built at the same time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not know what hon. Members are roaring about. They want houses for the people and I am offering them a solution to the problem.
I am very much concerned about the legislation that is to be brought in relating to the control of land. Wherever possible available land should be used. I am giving hon. Members opposite an opportunity to use it. If they do this they will solve not only the land problem but the transport problem. The President of the Board of Trade does not realise that many London warehouses have been closed down. How will they be replaced? Is it not proper to build modern offices in London?
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The hon. Member is making some contribution, but a very misleading contribution, to the debate. He is advocating more office building in London. Who will decide the extent of that building? Is he aware how much office property still remains unlet in London? Many modern offices are still vacant, although slum offices, in which people should not be employed, are in use. Does not be think that there should be some control, in order to rectify the position?
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Member pays me the compliment of saying that I am making some contribution. I thank him for that, and for his interruption. I suggest that we should have flats built in proportion to offices so that we can use every available piece of land. We could do this by building higher. We should be able to build flats more economically like that. This is the constructive approach—and it is not the approach that envisages control. The hon. Member has asked who will decide who is to build. That is what worries me most. The thought of the Board of Trade having authority to make this decision really worries me. How can it assess office needs? How can it make allowances for the growth of companies? What sort of criterion will it use? If this system is adopted it must lead to power groups and pressure groups, and to nepotism of every kind.
The hon. Member said that controls should be imposed in respect of empty offices. I agree, but I also believe that the office problem was solving itself. Too many offices were being built, and the fact that many remained vacant was proving a deterrent to further building. It was much better than any form of control. The speculators had bitten off more than they could chew. They had been on a honeymoon, and had just begun to realise that it was over. Now they are to be given a second honeymoon. This Bill will let them out. People will have to move into the offices that they have built, because no others are to be allowed.
I believe that the right answer lies in the work of the Location of Offices Bureau. It has done great work. Even the President of the Board of Trade paid his predecessor a tribute in this connection. Representing Folkestone, I can say that my area has been doing all it can to persuade the Bureau to send people there, where all the necessary facilities exist.
My hon. Friend referred to the question of compensation, with special reference to the President of the Board of Trade. I should like to know what is to happen in respect of those people who have obtained planning consent and who have paid the architects' fees, but have not yet obtained building contracts. Surely they are entitled to some sort of compensation. Clause 3 is retrospective. 772 This House has always been against retrospective legislation, and I hope that it always will be. When, rightly or wrongly, the Government feel that a change of this sort should be made in the national interest, the individuals to whom I have referred should receive some compensation.
If the right hon. Gentleman is worried as to how this can be administered, I suggest that as a first step he should persuade his Treasury colleagues to provide that moneys spent on this account shall at least be included on revenue account, and that the cost of preparing the plans should be allowed against revenue, so that at least their Income Tax is reduced.
When we have a Government which do no believe in these controls the situation can always be restored to its present position, so that no long-term taxation problem exists. The second leader in The Times today summarises this very well. The Times states today:Approval of the immediate purpose of this Bill, which is to check the growth of office employment in and around Greater London, should not be allowed to obscure its shortcoming.I agree. The Times goes on to point out:The same effect could be produced by means of existing town and country planning legislation. …The shortcomings can be better dealt with in Committee, and I hope that before my hon. Friends decide how they will vote on the Bill we will be given an assurance that there will be an adequate and reasonable Committee stage, for then we can all help to turn this Measure from a political into a practical one.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
Before dealing with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), I will, since I am the first hon. Member on this side of the House to speak since two of my hon. Friends made their maiden speeches, briefly refer to those speeches, for this Parliament will be remembered for the excellent maiden speeches which have been made from both sides of the House. The two we heard today were no exception. They were both vigorous, dealt with constituency matters—which is traditional in maiden speeches—and contained kind 773 references to the hon. Members who previously represented their areas in the House.
After the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Walter Harrison) dealt with the revered memory of Mr. Creech Jones. It fell to my lot to act as his vice-chairman in the last 18 months of an important group in the House. Thus I had first-hand experience of seeing the inestimable value of Mr. Creech Jones in the work he undertook. I was not in the House when Mr. Creech Jones was in Government office, but I am certain that everything said by my hon. Friend about him today was not exaggerated.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield was concerned with an area outside London, as was the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Edith Pitt). She excused her remarks by saying hat her interest was in Birmingham, but she need not have done that because the Bill has important effects on many parts of the country in its indirect results.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe described the Bill as being a political Measure. What on earth did he expect? It has taken a change of Government, a Government of a different political colour, to attempt to deal with the chaos which has been going on in London. He went on to say that controls were not necessary. We want incentives, he said. I agree, but would he not equally agree, as an industrialist, that his remarks say little for British industrialists if they need incentives all the time to do something for the national good?
The hon. Member then stated that our approach is all wrong and that, along with providing office building, we should at the same time provide a proportionate amount of housing in any one area. I advise him to read paragraph 4 of the White Paper entitled "Offices". That deals adequately with this matter, and I shall refer to it later in my remarks.
There are two main divisions in the Bill. One is concerned with office development and the other with industrial development. Although these are the two main divisions, I suggest that the indirect consequences of both are designed to have one effect; to ameliorate the conditions 774 of congestion in London and the South-East which have existed for at least a decade. These conditions have been brought about by the uncontrolled creation of jobs in this area, as well as in one or two other parts of the country.
One can assume from this, therefore, that one indirect consequence of the Bill will be the channelling of more jobs, office and industrial employment, to other areas. I have particularly in mind the areas of high unemployment, but just as important are certain areas in which persistent immigration may have hidden the true facts of the extent of the unemployment. It is in this connection that I have one criticism of the Bill; that it is negative in its approach, as the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe said. Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend hinted, I believe that this Measure is only one weapon in the armoury of legislation which, I hope, the Government will shortly bring forward.
I welcome Part I of the Bill. Legislation of this sort has been delayed for too long, certainly for a decade. The promptness of the Government's action in attempting to deal with this problem within a matter of weeks of taking office is something for which they should be complimented. The White Paper clearly shows the consequences of the inaction of previous Administrations in this respect. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of it—I will not weary the House by quoting them—set this out in detail.
As to the controlling of expansion—and I have particularly in mind office development—those who come from the provinces have been surprised, because the evidence is so blatant, to see that nothing was done until we took office. I disagree with the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe on this point, for office building and employment are far less tied to any one area than is, perhaps, a particular factory.
In the last Administration, Government Departments fully realised this as we can see in their policy of sending Government Departments away from the Metropolis. I hope that this policy will be continued. In the development districts office employment is badly needed. Hundreds of youngsters go to technical colleges and undertake commercial training, but in many cases they have no chance of getting jobs commensurate 775 to their training and abilities. While that happens in those areas, the chaos continues in London and the South-East. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not rely on a negative approach to the problem. I do not say that in a critical sense because I hope that further legislation of a more positive kind will be introduced in the near future.
While Part II of the Bill may appear to be of less importance than Part I, in its ultimate effect it could prove to be equally important, particularly on industrial development. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that there are two lines of approach here, particularly when one looks in a negative way at industrial development. The first is the old story of bringing the jobs to the workers and the second is the reverse, of bringing the workers to the jobs. Irrespective of the merits of either line of approach—and I will deal with both briefly in my remarks—one must consider not only how either approach affects the workers, but also how it affects the community. It is on that basis that I plead my case.
A great deal has been done by previous Administrations—and tribute must be paid to them—to induce workers to move by offering retraining, assistance in travelling, assistance in moving to a job, and so on. All such aids are necessary, and must remain—perhaps in some way expanded—but the real solution is to find the jobs in the home environment of the unemployed workers. Some may say that such an ideal is not practicable; that it would impose extra burdens on employers; that new capital development would be required, and that other adverse factors are extra transport costs for the goods produced, lack of social amenities and so on. We all know the arguments, but I have always considered them to be particularly specious and not at all infallible.
I say in the presence of two of my Scottish hon. Friends that the classic objection to redistribution—higher distribution costs—is illusory, because the Toothill Report on the Scottish economy showed that firms operating in Scotland—and this is particularly relevant to Part II of the Bill—had transport costs of less than 2 per cent. of sale costs. But even increased transport costs are 776 very much more than offset by such advantages as low rates, low rents, even lower labour rates, and many indirect social consequences. The London industrialists should be told that the labour turnover in these places is far lower than in the South-East, and industrialists know how important a low labour turnover is to the cost of production.
Many of us also remember that some years ago it was stated in another place that one of the major motor car firms then drew its components from 750 different factories at an average distance of 120 miles. Transport costs have their effect on the motor car industry as on any other, but are the people in that industry concerned that from 750 different factories components have to come from an average distance of 120 miles? Another firm was said to draw its components from 450 factories at an average distance of 130 miles. Such facts should dispel at once the illusion of extra transport costs being an effective deterrent to industry leaving the South-East.
We live in a very small and very compact island, and when we bear in mind the extra expense of building on extremely expensive sites in the South-East it is only too apparent that there must be other reasons for firms not going elsewhere. Other influences must be adequate labour, adequate communications and good transport services, but another aspect which should not be overlooked is the personal view of the factory owner or management. We certainly cannot minimise those items, but I firmly believe, from my experience of industrialists in South Wales, that the vast majority of those who have moved from the conurbations and the South-East have found that the advantages, financial and social, and the provision of many amenities, far outweigh the disadvantage of having to uproot themselves and go elsewhere.
Another point has not been adequately considered by previous Administrations. I cannot speak of the Government of 1945–51, but I have found no evidence that that Government ever looked at it, either. I refer to the saving to the community brought about by the provision of extra jobs away from the conurbations or the South-East and in an 777 unemployment area. A recent study has shown that the cost per head of finding employment in outlying areas is reduced to £340 on what are called non-returnable costs. That figure has been produced by the Board of Trade.
When all other savings are taken into account—and the figures I have here give an average income of £620 per year, which all of us must agree is very modest when we have just learned that the average income now is about £18 a week—we find that over a period of five years there is a net gain to the community of £900 for very job created in a development district as distinct from an already congested area. That is a quite fantastic fact, and should be examined far more closely by the Government and by the community. It shows what a tremendous loss there has been to the country by the non-effective redistribution of industry.
One can only deduce from it the fact that it must pay any Government to offer very attractive inducements—though, as I have said, it is rather shocking that we should have to offer inducements for the national good—to get industry to move to areas of high unemployment. In this connection we should not forget the tremendous saving to the nation resulting from relieving the very congested areas of the burden of extra social costs, extra school building, extra transport costs, and more roads. The cost of these is quite incalculable.
Paragraph 5 of the White Paper states:The road and rail system into London is already severely congested, and we cannot afford the heavy capital investment on the new works which would be necessary to cope with the journey-to-work pressures resulting from all this additional office employment.There is the answer, and there is the reason for our looking into this matter far more closely, and seeing what the community will be saved by bringing the jobs to those other areas.
The type of industrial development, the effect of certain industries on development districts, research projects and their effect on growth industries are outside the true scope of this Bill, so I conclude by saying; that although this Measure appears to be specific and narrow in its application, if its full effects are realised and firm action is taken by my right hon. Friend under its provisions only good to the nation can accrue and, in the south-east 778 at least, a start will have been made towards ending the nightmare that must haunt the sleep—and even the waking hours—of administrators and industrialists as to what might happen in the southeast area in the next five or ten years.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I have great sympathy with the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), who told us that he was suffering from a cold. He managed, nevertheless, to get through his speech without difficulty. I also am suffering from a cold and crave indulgence. I hope that I also shall manage to reach the end of my speech with my voice intact.
We on this bench welcome the Bill because it is long overdue. If anyone doubts that, he has only to look at the situation in London today with its transport problems, congestion and overpopulation of offices to know that the Bill, or a similar one, should have been introduced long ago. It has been said again and again this afternoon that the object of the Bill is to detract from the tendency to develop more and more in the South-East at the expense of the under-populated areas of the country. My interest in the Bill is because of my concern with an under-populated area where development is needed, and where any Bill which will encourage that development will be welcomed.
The South-East is over-populated; it is over-industrialised and over-commercialised. The simplest way of curing the first two is to make certain that we control the third, because if we cannot create office space it is certain that there will also be a decline, or at least no further increase, in industrial development. No industrial development can be successful or operated properly unless there is adequate office space for the industry concerned.
There are further reasons why I believe this Bill necessary. There has been a great deal of indiscriminate office development in the Metropolitan area in the years since the war. Despite the control exercised by Town and Country Planning Acts, there has been far too much office development. This has resulted in a situation in which there are very large vacant buildings. One is led to wonder how it is possible for 779 responsible developers to invest large sums of money in this kind of speculative development.
In my profession I have had the experience of talking with American developers who, on visiting this country, have been quite astounded at the way in which developers here are content to buy a site, apply for planning permission and spend large sums of money in putting up office blocks without a tenant for even a single floor. I do not think that this kind of thing is good for the country, either in the social or the economic sense.
At the end of 1963 there were 2 million square feet of office space vacant in Middlesex alone. Of that amount over½ million square feet had been vacant for over a year. Surely there is a need to see that this situation does not continue. The figures quoted by the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon showed that in spite of the vacant space available, there is still a great deal of development in progress and a great deal of building will continue. That is inevitable; there is nothing that can be done about it. It shows that unless some action is taken now by the Government this kind of indiscriminate building will continue.
The Bill should go further and I regret that it does not. For example, I should like to see provision made that no permits should be granted unless it could be shown that transport conditions for the workers concerned would be at least adequate. The Pan-American building in New York is a commendable development, not only because it is an Anglo-American enterprise, but also because it is planned immediately over Grand Central Station, which is one of the main railroad stations linking the suburban areas of New York with the heart of the city. The development in that position has an undoubted advantage for workers coming into the city. It also has an advantage in probably preventing more cars coming into the centre of New York, which would have come in had the development been in another position.
Any future office development in London should be related to the main line terminals. This is a factor which should be borne in mind when permits are granted. There should also be evidence 780 of tenancy. This, again, would be something which would prevent speculators putting up buildings and hoping that as a result of the Bill there would be an opportunity for letting them at very high rents at a later stage. The President of the Board of Trade stated that the object is to attract development elsewhere. I think that a very sound objective. I share the view of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) that it would be a happier Bill if there were evidence of the intention of the Government to proceed with progressive and positive policies in addition to this one negative object.
For example, it would encourage the development of offices in other parts of the country if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take into consideration in his Budget proposals depreciation allowance on the capital cost of new buildings. That is something which has long been overdue. It would also be helpful if the Government would consider as part of this admirable objective the removal of certain Ministries from the London area to other parts of the country. We have before us the example of the Ministry of Pensions being administered and working efficiently from Newcastle and the naval Defence Department operating from Bath. Other Ministries, such as those of agriculture, education and housing, could equally find their places in other parts of the country.
As the hon. Member for Aberdare said, the object of the Bill is very commendable, but it has this slightly negative touch, which is a pity and disappointing. I wish to make one or two points about the Bill itself. One of them is quite minor, but two could be important. I understand Clause 1(2,b) to mean that the Board of Trade will have powers to extend this control to any other part of Great Britain if it so wishes. That must cause some concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
We are giving very wide powers to the President of the Board of Trade if my interpretation of this subsection is correct. It means, in effect, that just as a control of office building on the lines laid down in the Bill can be effective in the Metropolitan area, so at the touch of a switch or the swish of a pen it could apply equally to Plymouth, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester, or any town or city in the country.
781 It is no reflection upon the present incumbent at the Board of Trade to say that I would feel reluctant to trust such a wide power to the President of the Board of Trade and to his Department without any reference to Parliament. To that extent the inclusion of this provision is unfortunate.
I have a minor point on Clause 2(5). Perhaps the drafting can be altered later. The definition of "floor space" is not clear. How is it to be measured? This is the provision which deals with the exemption of developments of office building of less than 2,500 square feet. It would be sensible to alter the drafting to read "measured at floor level". There are all sorts of possible abuses. For example, if it were 2,500 square feet of floor space it would be possible to recess walls at the height of a few feet and provide wide cupboard space, thus providing considerable additional space. I ask the Minister to consider this point with a view to possible amendment.
On Clause 12(1,a) and (1,b), how is office space to be defined? Would 2,500 square feet of office space mean working office space, or would it include cloakrooms, lavatory accommodation, staircases, etc.? This point should be more clearly defined, because some people are experiencing real difficulty on this aspect of the Bill.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the Bill is the question of the right of appeal. This will trouble hon. Members on both sides. Enormous cost is involved in the preparation of plans and the acquisition of sites. Over the last two or three years many developers and others have in all good faith and honesty, without any improper motive, spent a great deal of money on such preparatory work. I appreciate that it is difficult to fix a figure of compensation. I do not think that any Government would be willing to permit compensation in cases where it is no longer possible to proceed with developments which have been planned.
I am not suggesting that that should be so or that it is necessary. I believe, however, that there should be a right of appeal in cases where planning permission has been granted and where possibly the site has already been acquired, where considerable preliminary expense has been incurred and where the developer 782 is, as the result of this retrospective legislation, in considerable difficulty through no fault of his own.
As I have said, the Bill is long overdue and there is plenty of evidence to prove that fact. We deplore the fact that there are signs of some hasty drafting in the Bill, but no doubt these matters will be ironed out in Committee. If we are to go ahead with the real object behind the Bill, namely, a redistribution of the population, the development of areas where there is at present high unemployment, and the discouragement of further development in the South-East, there is an urgent need for the Government to produce some positive plans and make some positive contribution to that end, instead of producing merely negative Bills, however necessary they may be in the long term.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
Although I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) said, particularly his opening remarks, I feel bound to point out that it is evident from announcements which have been made, and reports on work being done by various Government Departments, that a good deal of positive work is already in hand along the lines he suggested. It is asking a little too much of a Bill of this kind, which has a specific purpose, to expect it to cover all aspects of positive planning and development. I shall confine myself to the general purposes of the Bill and some objections which have been raised by hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) said that he did not think that there was party division on this issue, but we did not have the benefit of being told how his party would vote tonight. Whichever way the voting goes, may I say, on behalf of hon. Members of the party opposite, that, if they have the courage of the convictions they held and the policy they pursued over the past 13 years, they should vote against the Bill. Of course, we shall be glad to have their support. But let there be no foolishness about this. There has been, and there will continue to be, party division on this issue.
§ Mr. John Hall
May I correct one misstatement? I did not say that there would 783 not be party division. I said that I did not think that any party passion would be aroused by the Bill. That is a different matter.
§ Mr. Freeson
I do not recall the phrase. I will deal with passion and feeling later. We had five doses of sympathy from the hon. Member for Wycombe. He sympathised with the intentions, with the objectives, with the feelings, and with the problems facing the Government. Five times he expressed his sympathy and appreciation of the problem. It does not take 13 years to express appreciation and sympathy with a Government who are now trying to tackle the problem.
I certainly speak with some passion and feeling on this issue. I think that we all should. I do so not only because we have witnessed a reactionary attitude towards planning and proper growth points in our economy over the past 13 years, but also because we have seen the kind of architectural mess which has been going up in London and is also threatening other towns and cities. It is nothing to be proud of. I feel passionately about the mess we have inherited. We shall have it with us in terms of the life of buildings for 100 years. Our children will be seeing the mess which has been created during the past 13 years, which is, with a few markedly good exceptions, no credit to the architecture of London or to the architecture of many other places. This point has not been mentioned so far today.
The speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe was—I do not apologise for saying so—typical of the complacency the Tories showed on this issue when in office. I speak with feeling and use these phrases for another reason. During the past 13 years, before I came to the House, I was active in local government. In this service, about all else, I had a special interest in town planning in one of the worst areas of London where my constituency is situated. The action now being taken by the Labour Government was being urged right from the time I joined my local authority. It did not begin as recently as the formation of the Location of Offices Bureau, in 1963.
In 1952, when I joined my local authority, the town planning committee 784 was already making recommendations—and I know that other local authorities were also making such recommendations as are now built into the Bill—for introducing some kind of industrial development certificate procedure for office development. We could all see what was going to happen. In the new Borough of Brent, of which council I am chairman, we have about half a dozen major office blocks which have been standing empty, in the main, for one and a half to two years, and, at the same time, there are new office blocks still under construction.
I shall come back later to deal with my area and Middlesex of which it is part. I referred to our attempts in 1952 to get the Government to do something and we have repeated these attempts throughout the years. About 18 months ago my local authority made a request to the then Minister of Housing and Local Government to do precisely what the Bill now seeks to do, plus one or two of the points to which the hon. Member for Bodmin referred.
In the resolution that I introduced into our council chamber, and which was submitted to the Government, I referred to the need for establishing evidence of tenancy, evidence of real need for the building, in order to get away from the predominance of speculation in this sphere of building activity. It seemed wrong to me then, and it seems wrong now, that every time a local authority wants to build a school, a block of flats, a clinic, a swimming pool or any one of the buildings that a good local authority should provide, it has to submit a detailed and well-argued case to the Ministry yet we have seen during the past 13 years no control over millions of pounds' worth of office development in this country which is, to put it mildly, questionable in its social contribution to our needs. I think it has been estimated as at the time of the General Election, or shortly before, that had all the resources which have gone into new office accommodation in Greater London, which has been standing empty and is in the main still empty, gone into housing, it would have produced another 10,000 to 12,000 dwellings that our hard-pressed community needed in the area.
785 In the opening speech for the Opposition, and also in the remarks of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), it was suggested that by reducing building activity in speculative office development we would not increase the building of houses. It was said that it was an illusion to assume that one could increase house-building by reducing office development. The suggestion that that is an illusion is nonsensical. To suggest that building firms which put up massive blocks of offices cannot adapt their techniques to building blocks of flats is self-evidently ridiculous. Whether we like it or not—and, personally, I do not—most of the housing accommodation in areas like Greater London is being provided in the form of blocks of multi-storey flats. This is regrettable, but it is a fact. Therefore, the same building techniques could be used.
It has been estimated also that 25 per cent. of the building labour force operating in Greater London today and during the past few years has been employed in speculative office development. This is socially criminal. What makes this social crime even worse is the fact that members of the previous Administration who have allowed this kind of thing to go on did so when they knew what they were doing. It was not done in ignorance. One could have forgiven that, but in fact they knew what they were doing.
The agitation against this kind of development in Greater London has not started recently. It has been going on for several years—if not as early as 1952 when my own local authority first raised the matter, certainly over the past 10 years. Nothing was done until 1963, when the Location of Offices Bureau was set up. It was the Location of Offices Bureau which our local authority was told about by the previous Administration when we asked for action to be taken along the lines proposed by the present Government.
What does the Location of Offices Bureau contribute? I think that there have been about 780 inquiries to the Bureau from firms interested in moving out of London or to the outer edges of London. Of these, about 112 are prepared to negotiate a removal. But what happens to the premises that they vacate? The Bureau does not prevent the use for offices purposes of the accommodation that those firms vacate. In any case, 786 what possible help is the movement of 112 firms out of Greater London to the situation when, at the same time, two and nearly three times that number are occupying new accommodation?
Let me deal with another aspect of the situation. I said that I would return to the subject of Middlesex, because I know the area well. I live there and I have been engaged in local government there. During the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe, when referring to compensation as being the only problem, I intervened to say that this was nonsense. I want now to explain why. First, there is the clear reason, which I have explained in general terms, of the failure of the past Government to do anything during the past 10 to 12 years. That was the problem, the fact that we had that Government. I do not say that in any easy sloganising sense.
In more specific town planning terms, let us see what was attempted. Middlesex county planning authority, in discussion with the London County Council some few years ago, in an attempt to do something about the situation in very difficult circumstances, decided to start zoning certain sites beyond the North Circular Road for office development as part of a policy for easing out the concentration in Central London and getting the development more evenly spread in the Metropolitan area. Planning permissions were issued. I refer to the kind of office blocks which have either been completed, like those at Hendon, Finchley, Wembley and Brent, or which are now under construction.
Two or three years went by, and it was clear that this was not making a single dent in the problem. At the same time as new sites were being created by means of planning powers—which, according to the hon. Member for Wycombe are so adequate—with the right motive of trying to encourage the movement of offices to the outskirts, it was not possible to prevent the continuation of development in the Central London area. We ended up with a situation in which more office accommodation was being provided in Greater London than was originally envisaged. The result was that the Middlesex county planning authority, together with the borough councils, decided that there would be no more planning permissions 787 for the provision of office blocks in the outer London area, because they knew that planning control had not worked. This is why I suggest that the use of planning powers as they exist now are not adequate.
Of course, the issue of compensation has been vital. But what I found interesting when the hon. Member for Wycombe and others spoke of compensation was that although they did not come out and say, "You must be prepared to pay for what you are doing at the full market price", they hinted and suggested that this is what they wanted. Planning control, as we now know, has not been able to operate in the right manner and therefore we need this negative Bill, as it has been described.
I hope that the Minister will not treat applicants with a great deal of sympathy, as he has been asked. I hope that this will be a tough Measure. We have been waiting far too long for it. Far too much damage has already been done, and there is far too much damage still in the pipeline by way of planning applications and schemes already in operation. Thousands of square feet of office accommodation will still go ahead in the London area while blocks of offices are still standing empty.
The question of compensation for firms who might suffer has been mentioned. How will they suffer? If any issue of compensation is to be raised and I do not entirely object to this—I hope that it will be confined to one or two elementary needs. Let us have an assessment of the cost of preparing abortive planning schemes and the cost of the actual purchase of the land and then say to the people who apply, "Right, that is all you will get".
Let us do away with the nonsense of their coming to the planning authority or a Government Department and saying, "If we had been allowed to build a 10 to 15-storey block of offices on this site, look at the income we would have had and the value which we would have had accruing to us" when they had not actually put up the office accommodation and were wanting compensation on value which had been created. Let it be compensation which a local authority now pays when it rescinds planning permission. In such a case an assessment is made of 788 resources and costs which have gone into preparing a scheme up to a certain stage and payment is made on that basis.
§ Mr. John Hall
I am glad to have the hon. Member's support on the one point on compensation which I made. The only suggestion I made was that the Minister should consider reimbursing those who had expended money over preparing plans and various fees, and so on. I asked for nothing more than that.
§ Mr. Freeson
I am certainly pleased to hear that, but the hon. Member should listen to the qualifying remarks which I am about to make. This is to be a seven-year Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We have been informed of this. Hon. Members should keep their ears open.
§ Mr. Freeson
Minor hardships may come to speculator firms who have to suspend an operation for a period up to seven years. If it is not a question of planning permission being refused indefinitely and cancelled, I do not believe that this question of compensation should arise. If it is a question of suspending actual work which would have been done on the site, and that work takes place at a later stage when the situation has changed, no question of compensation should arise.
If an Amendment moved by hon. Members opposite covered that point I would consider it, but I doubt very much from my short experience in the House whether we shall see such an Amendment. In other words, I should like to see an application of the principles which I have mentioned and a compensation procedure adopted on the lines of that employed when planning permission is abolished or rescinded. Where suspension is involved, compensation should not arise—and certainly not compensation at the rate of £3,000–£4,000 per office place as has been suggested from the benches opposite.
The hon. Member for Wycombe suggested towards the end of his speech that the provisions in the Bill were another case of a Government Department setting itself up to override the first-hand experience and first-class knowledge of the local planning authorities. We have had much talk about not restraining healthy and vigorous change and we have been asked to look at the attractive city which we 789 have seen growing up in Central London since the war. I should like to reiterate that so far from overriding local planning authorities, the vast majority of planning authorities immediately affected have been urging the previous Administration to do precisely what the present Government are now doing.
It is a question not of overriding, but of carrying out policy which has been advocated for a long time. Talk of healthy and vigorous change should be more than a matter of seeing acres and acres of office blocks going up. There should be something more to city life than seeing acres of land turned over to the speculators at the expense of other social needs—and those needs are not just housing, although that is the priority.
There are many other social problems—the semi-slum and sub-standard schools in our cities, the need to provide sports buildings, club buildings, swimming pools and clinics, and one could take people to see the prefabricated day nurseries which still exist 20 years after the war instead of being built in modern style in decent conditions. Those of us who want to see extended provision to meet the real priorities of need in London and elsewhere and those of us who want to see a genuine and vigorous city life in this country must wholeheartedly support the Bill. A whole range of community needs have been crowded out. If restraint like this is to assist in expanding the housing programme and redirecting building resources to social priorities in London and elsewhere, we must support the Bill.
This question of control of office development, although most serious in London and potentially serious in areas like Birmingham, is not confined to those areas alone. There are other towns and cities where one can see, increasingly, so-called town centre development schemes being produced by speculative developers which are far removed from the kind of city centres which a healthy and vigorous society living in those communities should have.
It requires more than office blocks to rebuild the centres of our towns. It involves meeting a full range of social needs and, therefore, it is desirable—and here I disagree with the hon. Member for Bodmin—to have written into the Bill control which, if need be, can be applied to other cities and towns if a situation 790 threatens, albeit on a somewhat different scale, such as has been going on in London over the past 13 years.
§ Mr. Bessell
Would the hon. Member not agree that there is no need for that provision now and no reason why Parliament should not have the opportunity of discussing it should the need arise? That is all I say.
§ Mr. Freeson
That is a fair point, but are we then to have a series of Bills for each town and city as the problem may or not arise? This would be a rather inadequate way of handling it when it is a major policy matter which will become increasingly important with regional development. As has been said, this is one shot in the armoury of replanning our cities and refurbishing other parts of the country.
Another point which I have made before in the House and elsewhere, and which is my positive contribution as distinct from supporting the control aspect of the Bill, is that if we are to start restraining office development in London, as is urgently needed, and, at the same time, increase the rate of employment beyond the London area by continued use of the Location of Offices Bureau, much more also needs to be done to bring back into residential and other social use much of the property in London which, during the past 20 or 30 years, has gone increasingly over to office use. Anyone walking about Central London today can see how some of its finest squares and adjoining residential areas have become predominantly office areas. Somehow or other, a strong effort must be made not only to control new office development, but to claw back this kind of property into residential use.
It is substandard for office use, anyway. The buildings were designed for housing, in a different age, and they can, with proper architectural and technical attention, be adequately or, indeed, very well converted back to their original purpose in a modern way. In a few cases, this has happened already. What is at present a mass of substandard office accommodation in many parts of Central London could become very desirable and attractive residential property. Much of it was built at the zenith of Britain's domestic architecture, 791 the Regency period and the time immediately following.
If we are serious in wanting to remake our cities as places really worth living in, there should be no division on this Bill. There should, on the other hand, be wholehearted support for it and, if I may say so, a wholewhearted conversion on the part of hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
First, I must apologise for not being present when the President of the Board of Trade and my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) made their opening speeches. I was unavoidably detained elsewhere.
I wish that the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) would forget these phrases such as a speculator's paradise and speculative office development. In the economic sense, at least, a speculator is a man who takes risks, and in this country today we need more men to take risks, not fewer.
The hon. Gentleman gave the impression that there were acres of solid office development all over the country, and I am sure that this is an exaggeration. Moreover, he was self-contradictory in some of his remarks. He made great play of the large number of empty office blocks standing in London, while in the next breath he referred to a speculator's paradise. I do not know whether he thinks that collecting the millions of £s necessary to put up an empty office block is a speculator's paradise. If he does, I advise him to try it for himself.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that there is a political issue here. Basically, the issue is that, on his side of the House, the Government will decide whether offices are needed or not, whereas we on this side, although we agree that there should be help and guidance where necessary, believe that the situation will be corrected by the operation of supply and demand.
I shall qualify that later, but I believe that there is substance in the remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), when he told us that the problem was beginning to right itself. Indeed, this was confirmed by the hon. Member for 792 Willesden, East when he said that there were empty office blocks. As we know, the price of the accommodation has risen since the Bill was introduced, which may or may not be a good thing, but I believe that the situation was beginning to rectify itself.
The Bill is concerned with more than just the location of offices. At least in part, its object is to assist in the distribution of industry. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) made a plea, as I understood him, for the transfer of industry, perhaps, to his part of the country. I can only reminid him that, when the previous Government proposed or ordered the removal of the Post Office Savings Bank to Glasgow, a quite astonishing number of people in my constituency on the fringe of London, in spite of transport and other difficulties, strongly objected. Therefore, although I may sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, it would probably be more than my life is worth if I were to urge my constituents to undertake such a move as that.
Although the President of the Board of Trade may regard the movement of industry as the background to this Bill, he must remember that, very often, offices follow industry, not the reverse. This is important. Financial and commercial interests probably need offices only, and it should not be forgotten that they bring great advantages to this country, and the metropolitan area of London is a great centre of finance and commerce. I hope that nothing done under this Bill will weaken that position, and I endorse the hope expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, that nothing will be done to discourage foreign interests from coming here to enjoy the facilities which the City of London gives.
I am concerned particularly about the effect of the Bill on my constituency and similar areas on the perimeter of Greater London. We all know the great problems faced by the commuter today in crowded transport and on inadequate roads, but these difficulties are gradually being overcome, and it is one thing to try to cure the situation by moving offices from Central London to the outer areas, which, as I understood, the Location of Offices Bureau has been doing, but it is quite another to drive people to the other end of the country. As I say, when one gets 793 down to it, as we did with the Post Office Savings Bank, people do not want to go, however one may play up the discomforts and difficulties experienced in the areas where they now live.
What conditions will the Board of Trade apply in deciding whether permits should be issued? Can we have them laid down in the Bill? To what extent, for example, will the Minister forbid the renewal of offices? I know from experience, having worked in them, that London is full of ugly, dowdy and shabby offices. I disagree with the hon. Member for Willesden, East when he refers to the architectural mess in London. Progress is being made, not only in London but all over the country. It is a matter of opinion, no doubt, but I have always considered that London had a rather unimpressive skyline. I think it is improving.
There is a great deal of work going on to remove the dowdy, shabby outlook in London and other cities, and I hope that all that will not be stopped. If it is stopped, I am sure the Minister would make a mistake if he underestimated the ability to crowd people into offices. Anyone who had experience of Government offices during the war would have been astonished at the number of people who could be crowded into an office which normally contained only one or two. If a firm—I believe that a firm knows best where its offices should be—is convinced that it is profitable and better to be in a certain area and it is forbidden to expand or cannot expand, I think we shall find a tremendous crowding in offices, and that will be bad and do nothing to solve the commuters' transport problem.
Whatever criticism we may make now about past developments—I am sure that we can all make such criticisms—the fact is that millions of people live in the Metropolitan area, and most of them like it, and that is why they are there. We ought to ease their problems and the conditions under which they work and not make them worse. I hope that before the Bill becomes an Act the President of the Board of Trade will consult other Departments concerned, for I am sure that this is a job which is not confined to the Board of Trade, and I also hope that we may be given the results of those consultations. I trust that we shall also learn in detail the conditions 794 which govern the issue of development permits.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Emery (Reading)
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) upon opening a debate for the Opposition for the first time. His speech was forthright, it probed fully certain parts of the Bill and at the same time it had that high degree of debating skill which is always welcomed in the House.
My next, equally welcome, task is to congratulate the maiden speakers. The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) presented us with a brilliant barrage from Battersea. He probably mentioned Battersea and its problems more times than we have heard for a very long time from the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). We have seldom heard a stronger constituency speech. I have no doubt that, irrespective of the authority over which the hon. Gentleman presides, he will be a very live wire in the House, and I am certain that we shall listen to him frequently.
The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Walter Harrison) made a very excellent and delightful maiden speech. The hon. Gentleman said in all modesty that he had sought concrete advice from many different sources before making his maiden speech. If he continues in that manner he will go a very long way in the House. I shall be particularly interested to hear him when, in his own phrase, his blood gets hot.
It is also right and proper that I should congratulate the President of the Board of Trade. With more and more of the functions and power of the Board of Trade being hived off for the glorification of other Ministers and Ministries, with perhaps the problems of the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs taking part, the problems of export being reserved particularly for No. 10 Downing Street, and with the President not in his place for the important industrial and trade matters dealt with in the recent Finance Bill, we are delighted to see that the right hon. Gentleman still has something to be in charge of in the House. What could be more fitting than that it should be this Bill?
Whatever may be said about it, the Bill is entirely negative in its approach. 795 It ensures that people shall not do anything. It does nothing to help positive policy or action with regard to where or how one wants the people to do what one requires. In other words, from first to last the Bill has nothing about it but control itself. When the phrases "Whitehall knows best" or "Control for control's sake" are used, no name jumps more immediately to one's mind than that of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North.
I believe that the idea behind the Bill is right. After all, it is only accepting the basic principles which were outlined by the last Conservative Administration. From that angle, we accept it.
§ Mr. Freeson
May we be informed when those principles of control were outlined by the last Administration?
§ Mr. Emery
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has not been listening. I was talking about the principles of the Bill. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would already have heard me condemn control. He cannot have been paying very much attention.
It must be foolish to encourage a greater build-up of employment of either office or industrial workers in any area which is highly congested, where transportation services are strained and where reasonable planning demands that that employment should, if possible, be found in other places. While I have said that, let nobody believe that planning for planning's sake is synonymous with efficiency for the sake of industry or business. The two things are entirely different. Nor should it be forgotten that planning policy in one direction often has an unwanted and harmful effect in another way. Even before it becomes an Act, the Bill has put up the prices of office space in London. An article in the Financial Times last week stated:In the last four weeks office rents in the South-East have gone up again after eighteen months of the dullest market for ten years. Mr. George Brown's virtual ban on further office development … is having its impact … the more astute estate agents took their blocks off the market. The columns of advertisements for spacious suburban premises shrank quite suddently … A year ago the Location of Offices Bureau was discouraging companies from setting up in Central London by quoting average rents around 45s. a sq. ft.; now its range is between 50s. and 55s. And 796 in the City stories of rents of £4 and more are common currency.I have a personal example in respect of an office block within the range of the Division bell where the price per square foot of office accommodation has risen by 12s. 6d. since the Bill was announced.
I hope, therefore, that the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs will openly accept this. Let the public know that this increase of price is due to Government action, for even they must realise that one of the first lessons of economics is that if supply is limited while demand remains, prices are bound to rise. That is what is happening in this case. I do not believe that even this Government could argue that such increases will not have to be included in the prices of the goods or services which the companies using this accommodation supply.
I want to deal with one or two points made in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade. He made three amazing statements. First, he said that the hold-up in the docks was to some extent due to the problems of the concentration of population in London. That is the most amazing excuse I have ever heard from anyone in this House for dock delays. I believe that it is absolute nonsense.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the virtual standstill of office building eased pressure on resources and that therefore exports must be increased. That must have been written somewhere in his Department and he could not have examined the statement. It is the most utter nonsense I have ever heard.
Finally, he said that there was a desperate searching for land in the South-East. Let him search no further. Let him look back to the work of the Conservative Government and refer to the South-East Study, which clearly and categorically says that land is available in the area for the building of accommodation for 3½ million people.
It is not right or proper that, in presenting this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman should make such a statement or that it should be allowed to go unanswered. Having had to cross swords with him, I must, however, add that I am grateful to him for his announcement that he intends to start consideration of applications for development 797 before the Bill becomes an Act. There has been a virtual standstill. Nothing is happening, and it is quite wrong that this situation should continue any longer than necessary. I am certain that everyone will welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is to take action on this as soon as possible.
I want to examine the statement which first heralded the Bill. It came in a reference in the Gracious Speech and at the same time a deposited paper was available to hon. Members. The Secretary of State for Economic Affairs then told us that there must be a standstill of new office building in London. But I do not believe that there is such a thing as a standstill. Nothing stands still, either in business life, in economics or in politics. Things may go up or down, forward or backward, improve or worsen but they do not stand still. This standstill will worsen the problem of office accommodation in Central London.
§ Mr. Emery
If I have misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman in anything he has said, I immediately withdraw any imputation. I would not wish to misinterpret him in any way whatever. I hope that that can be made quite clear.
The first knowledge we had about this Bill came from a statement by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in November. It is not good enough that we should have government by Ministerial statement on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State said quite openly and definitely that the legislation would be retrospective. I believe that an announcement that legislation included in a Gracious Speech is to be retrospective in exactly such a matter of government by Ministerial statement.
798 Here is our great little economic czar perched on top of the commanding heights of industry, situated, I suppose, somewhere in Belper, deciding that there shall be no further modernisation or improvements to the facilities that control British industry in the centre of London. But this control is exactly what happens in offices. What is so strange in this debate is the belief of some hon. Members opposite that offices are a thing we can do without, that they do not matter in an industrial society. But the plans, the drive, the control, the policy, even the expected modernisation of industry, all stem from offices—and, more often, from offices in the centre of London.
§ Mr. Darling
Will the hon. Gentleman make clear what types of offices he is talking about? Is he suggesting that routine work, such as that done in the National Insurance offices located at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which takes place in industry as well as in Government, must be located in Central London?
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Within my own knowledge, a very large textile company with a big export trade had to extend its offices because it had expanded its exports so enormously. That is a practical example of the sort of problems my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) is trying to point out.
§ Mr. Emery
I had intended to bring this point up later on but as it has arisen now, let us clear it up at once. Let us refer again to the South-East Study which says on page 78:First, for many of those engaged in some kinds of commercial activity, there is value in a central London location. London is outstandingly important in the fields of banking, insurance and international commerce and trade. For some firms, it is of value to be near Parliament"—I quite understand that—and the seat of Government,"—I think that is of less value since October—close to the Law Courts, the Port of London or the Stock Exchange—and to each other. 799 For others showrooms and offices in London give an opening into the mass market of the South East and into the international market. A City or West End address carries prestige for which a big concern is prepared to pay …" Later, the Study says:… there is the problem of the firm which can accept a location on the periphery of London for some or all of its staff, but has a need for such close contacts with its own or other organisations in the City or the West End that it is genuinely unable to go further afield. To argue that all new offices should be well away from London and that no new ones should be allowed in any part of the capital or its immediate surroundings is to ignore the existence of this problem. …It seems to me that the speech of the First Secretary, reinforced by the President of the Board of Trade today, indicates that there will be a virtual standstill and that the Government will be harsh in the granting of office development permits.
Let us realise that here the Government are attempting to take control which must affect the operation of many parts of British industry. I do not think that this has been well enough emphasised in the debate. Let us look at the area covered by the Bill. It stretches from Leighton Buzzard to Uckfield, from Reading to Southend and Chatham—over 4,500 sq. miles, nearly three million acres. Yet all this is treated in exactly the same manner as though it were the City of London or the West End. That is nonsense. It cannot be treated in that way.
I wonder whether the Government are willing to consider the possibility, in order to improve the working of the Bill, of varying the level of control on floor space in different areas within this region? For example, would the Government consider holding the 2,500 sq. ft. in London but perhaps going up to 4,500 or 5,000 sq. ft. out of the centre of the conurbation and, in the outer wings, in towns mentioned for office dispersal in the South-East Survey, going up to 7,500 sq. ft. or more? I do not believe that the Government are trying to get away from the objectives set out in the South-East Survey. One of the objectives is to get people out of London into the peripheral towns. In Reading we have been taking firms and parts of businesses from London. Surely this is what the Government 800 wish to encourage. But if they are to have the same limitation for Reading, Southend and East Grinstead as they have in the City, that must be nonsense. I should be most grateful if, in replying to the debate, the Minister of State would give me a direct answer to the possibility of considering this proposal in Committee.
I was concerned about what the Government might be doing about getting their new Ministries out of London. There have been a few new Ministries which, from scratch, they could have got out of London. I was intrigued by a letter from a constituent, who wrote:I am employed by the Agricultural Research Council and part of our station has just moved into a new laboratory building.This is excellent modernisation.The equipment and furnishings for this building were ordered some time ago, but I have now been informed by an official of the Ministry of Public Building and Works that the consignment of desks for our rooms has been frozen and priority is being given to furnishing the new Ministries in London.That is the first communication I have, but I have another letter which I received only yesterday. This confirms that the furniture has since arrived. Presumably the offices in London have received their allocation. Would the Minister tell us plainly tonight how many of the new Ministries which have been created have been placed out of London? If it is being asked to pass the Bill, the House has the right to an answer to that question.
We must also appreciate the extensive planning powers which the Bill places in the hands of the Board of Trade. These powers are placed there in an entirely new way. They are such that after the planning permission has been granted, the Board of Trade can annotate on those permits anything that it likes, and that becomes part of the permission. This has never been the case before, to my knowledge, and it therefore places considerable new planning powers in the hands of the Board of Trade. Perhaps my worry is unfounded and perhaps this is not intended. Will the Minister of State tell us how the Government wish to use these powers, and will he give us a guarantee that he does not intend to introduce any new principles into the use 801 of these powers in respect of local planning authority applications? In other words, will he tell us that he does not intend to take the powers from the local authorities and to bring them into the Board of Trade?
My next comment concerns the seven-year period. Why is the Bill necessary for seven years? It may well be that it is associated with an itch; after seven years one has had enough. But I believe that the seven years in the Bill is too long. The President of the Board of Trade describes it as a temporary Bill, but we have heard other things in the House described as temporary—things which we have been led to believe might be off by April or certainly by November or the following year. I hope that none of his statements about temporary meaning seven years gets into the E.F.T.A. Press. If it does, he will have another problem on his hands.
§ Mr. Emery
I hope that in Committee the Government will see wisdom and reduce that length of time.
May I turn to three points mentioned by the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson). I had a feeling as he spoke that he thought that he could do better anything which the last Government did in the last 13 years. If he is so full of that sort of confidence, I do not believe that the House will want to treat seriously some of the points which he made. At one time he urged that the building of offices should be stopped altogether. He said that he had been urging it since 1952. He said that he had gone further probably than most other people in supporting the Bill. But while he was urging that, other members of his party were urging the rapid and immediate implementation of the Gowers Report. They cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Member is misinterpreting what I said. I said that in 1952, with my local authority, I urged the introduction of the industrial development 802 certificate procedure for offices—that is, control of offices. In 1963, when the situation was getting out of hand, we urged what the Government now propose.
§ Mr. Emery
I do not think that anything that I said misinterpreted the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I said that since 1952 he has been urging some sort of control of office building.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say—and here I want to make certain that I have his words absolutely correct—that he thought that, instead of the number of offices which had been built in his constituency, 12,000 new homes could have been created.
§ Mr. Speaker:
Order. It is insufferable that we should have two hon. Members on their feet at the same time. The practice is that if an hon. Member desires to intervene he must wait until the Member addressing the House gives him the chance to do so.
§ Mr. Emery
I am glad that the hon. Member, by an interjection, has been able to make it clear that he was speaking not about his constituency but about the Greater London authority.
Much has been said during the debate about the unfairness of the principle that no compensation is to be paid under the Bill. It is of the greatest importance that this matter should be thrashed out fully. I thought that the hon. Member for Willesden, East made a valid point in dealing with the manner in which compensation could quite easily be paid. It was exactly the manner which I had spelt out in my notes and which I proposed to propound. As the matter has been dealt with, I will not go over it again.
There are, however, a number of cases—and I should like to quote two of them—in which real hardship can be caused by a standstill over a prolonged period if the control is as firm as the President of the Board of Trade suggests. The first example concerns a development in the City of London where there are offices and shops and a request from the City of London for street widening. The cost of acquiring property so far has been just under £1 million and the fees involved amount to about £18,000. The unfairness is that 803 since July, 1962—this is not something which has just arisen—proposals have been discussed with the City Architect. A scheme was submitted in April, 1963, but due to other owners wishing to participate in the scheme and the City wanting clarification of some minor issue and amendment plans a final plan was not submitted until 8th October. The scheme was agreed on 4th November, but no contract was entered into. Owing to the City Corporation's desire to extend the original scope of the development, considerable sums have been spent on acquiring adjoining properties. These are now all vacant. There is, therefore, no doubt that this very reputable company could suffer hardship if the principle of compensation is rejected.
Another case concerns the redevelopment of a site in west London, again at a cost of approximately £1 million, to provide offices, showrooms and shops, increased residential accommodation and improved pedestrian arrangements. The negotiations lasted late into 1964 at a total cost of nearly £200,000. The freehold of the site belonged to the Crown Commissioners. They were willing to grant building leases if vacant possession could be obtained. It has now been obtained. This would provide the sort of multi-purpose development which I should have thought we would all be very pleased to see. Is this to be met by the chopper of the Bill? If so, will compensation be paid?
These two cases prove that there are many legitimate examples where it is quite wrong to alter the law in retrospect and to allow no compensation.
It is not the fly-by-night property speculator for whom we on this side are arguing. I should not raise my little finger in worrying about compensation for him. But I believe that the Government must consider during the Committee stage the possibility of paying compensation when there is genuine investment and genuine hardship is proved. We understand that there is a right to compensation in planning matters and that it must not be altered other than by the full process of law without there being retrospection. It is the fact of retrospection which makes the non-payment of compensation even worse. I am sure that Members of the 804 Government Front Bench appreciate that point.
I turn to the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. This is the charter for the office worker, just as the Factories Acts are the charter for the factory worker. There are two standard dates in the Act dealing with overcrowding and with the provision of washing and lavatory facilities. The first is January, 1966, and the second is August, 1967. It may well be that firms and offices in the area dealt with by the Bill will be unable to make improvements in time to meet the deadline set in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. Therefore, will the Government do one of two things: either automatically grant an office development permit to enable companies to meet the requirements of that Act, or immediately set new dates? Action one way or the other must be taken in all reasonableness.
I am delighted to be the first person on this side of the House to welcome the Minister of Technology to the Government Front Bench. He smiles benignly now, but I promise him that he will have a rough passage from this side of the House later. I have no doubt that he will get used to that. However, may I welcome him here on his first day in the House. I am sure that he would have been the first person in his other capacity to have cried merry hades if a Government had suggested that powers granted under the Factories Acts should be swept away by some other piece of Government legislation; he would have been up in arms. It may seem somewhat strange to him that he should come to the House and hear Members of this side arguing for the protection of office workers. The Bill may well undermine the position established by the Conservative Party in the protection of office workers.
The special position of the City of London still has not been driven home sufficiently. I have given two quotations from the South-East Study. We should be absolutely clear that in any attempt to restrain the full and efficient operation of the City of London we are doing a great deal to restrain Britain's export potential. There can be little doubt about that. I am sure that both parties are united in believing that everything must be done to encourage exports.
In probing the Bill, I ask the Minister of State, when he replies, to say what 805 percentage of the property which is in need of modernisation, or of land which was to have been used for the building of new office blocks, he believes will now be turned over to house building. This is important. It is the whole argument of those on the benches behind him that the Bill will release more land for house building. But it will not do so. I should, therefore, like a direct answer to the question of what percentage of extra land the Government believe will be released for house building because of the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act.
On legal matters, will not the Government reconsider the need to include appeal machinery within the Bill? It is obnoxious that a decision is to be made absolutely and once only by the Board of Trade, and that will be that. In any system of planning consents, we have always seen appeal procedures purposely and properly written into the legislation, whether from a Socialist or from a Conservative Government. I therefore urge that an appeal procedure must be found before the Bill becomes law.
Also, in probing the Minister, I should like to know about the enforcement procedure under the Bill. This is to be left to another Ministry, not the Board of Trade. Enforcement is to be carried through by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The answer which I am likely to get is that that is all right and that that is how it was dealt with in the case of industrial development certificates. That answer is not good enough, however, because the parallels are not the same.
In the case of the industrial development certificate, one first obtained the I.D.C. and then the planning permission. In other words, the planning authority were the last people to control the operation. In the present procedure, the planning permission has first to be obtained, followed by the office development permit. It is exactly the other way round. Therefore, whereas in the I.D.C. procedure planning came last in control of any application for building, under today's Bill it will be the Board of Trade which is in control as the final judge of the building and planning permission. If the Government continue with this procedure, how will they deal with the instruction of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government 806 and that Department's instruction of local authorities? This is a major point and it is one which, I hope, the Government will consider fully before we get into Committee.
Before I conclude, there is one extremely important part of the Bill of which there has been little mention. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Edith Pitt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), however, both drew attention to it. I refer to Part II of the Bill dealing with the industrial side. Why, in heaven's name, is it necessary to have these extra powers? This is power for power's sake. In my view, there is no need whatever for the powers as seen in Part II, unless it is that the Board of Trade wishes more and more to be able to interfere with the local planning authorities. That is what I am afraid of and that seems to me to be the only logical conclusion from the Bill. If that is not the reason, why are these powers needed?
One of the things which worries me considerably is the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade in his opening speech today that the moment the Bill becomes an Act, he will reduce the I.D.C. procedure to maximum areas of 1,000 sq. ft. in London and the South-East and the East Midland Region.
§ Mr. Darling
In addition to London and the South-East, the other areas are Eastern and Midlands. There are three regions.
§ Mr. Emery
I am sorry—London and the South-East, Eastern and Midlands.
How does the President of the Board of Trade expect to get firms to continue with a certain amount of modernisation each year, which is what the last Government succeeded in doing? That is the direct answer to the President of the Board of Trade when he says that one sees more and more expansions taking place. This was modernisation in industry really working. Now, it is to be limited.
§ Mr. Emery
If it is not to be limited, I am delighted. That will give great encouragement to all of us, but it would be a terrifying position if, by the limitation to 1,000 sq. ft. in these areas, we 807 were to see a limitation of the modernisation of industry. Why industry should have thrust upon it the need to have to come to the Board of Trade if it wishes to modernise its procedures simply because the Board of Trade wishes in these areas to reduce the limitation from 5,000 down to 1,000 sq. ft., I cannot understand. I am certain that industry will not take very happily to it when both sides of the House are trying to urge it to modernise more and more on its own.
The whole essence of the case from the speeches on this side of the House is that the Bill will not achieve what it sets out to do and that most of the powers required exist already. Indeed, the form of the Bill makes business men—and I know quite a lot of them—throw up their hands in despair. It seems in its present form to be full of the alter ego of the theoretical Socialist working to find ways and means of administering by decisions in Whitehall things which they really know little about and which, in any event, are best left to the administration of local planning authorities after a general plan has been formulated by the Government.
I must, however, return to Cmnd. Paper 2308, because it is here stated clearly that the Government in principle wish to do everything to support the spread of all forms of industry, whether office or industrial, away from the Greater London area. Therefore, as long as we can obtain reasonable answers to some of the queries which have been raised by hon. Members in this debate, I certainly will not ask the House to divide against the Second Reading of the Bill. Let there be no doubt, however, that unless these answers are favourable, I give notice that the Bill needs immense improvement and that, in Committee, the Opposition will press a number of Amendments which we believe to be essential before the Bill becomes law.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)
I understand from the final vigorous remarks of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) that if I give him what he considers to be favourable answers—in other words, if I agree with everything he has said—
§ Mr. Darling
—that will be regarded as a reasonable reply. I shall, of course, make a reasonable reply, but I do not think that I will agree with many of the things that the hon. Member has said.
I should like to begin by paying my tribute, also, first, to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) upon his maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench—but, unlike other maiden speeches, his was controversial, so I can deal with it—and the two excellent speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Walter Harrison), both of whom made effective speeches in rather contrasting style.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South was vigorous in his presentation of some of the difficulties in his part of London, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, despite being non-controversial, was equally determined in his quiet and persuasive way to back the Bill. Personally, I find it interesting—I will come back to this later—that a London Member and a Yorkshire Member should join together for quite different reasons in deploring the great expansion of office building in the Metropolitan area; because their reasons, as I will try to show, seem to me to be quite compatible. We look forward to hearing both of my hon. Friends many times in the future, when they are not under the restraint of having to be non-controversial.
As the hon. Member for Reading has said, the simple purpose of the Bill, for controlling the development of office building in the Metropolitan area, has received general approval and support from both sides of the House. Of course, there have been criticisms and objections to some of the details of the Bill, particularly the retrospective effects, banning of new developments, the compensation issue; and there have been some criticisms, too, of the office development permit procedure, and of the provision in the Bill, as raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Edith Pitt), reducing the floor space in factory buildings in designated districts through the I.D.C.s.
I will deal with those points, but it seems to me, as a result of the way in 809 which the discussion has gone on in its concentration on the problems in London, that we cannot properly and satisfactorily consider the Bill except against the difficulties which we have inherited, and, by looking further afield, by seeing what effect this enormous development of office building in the London area has had on other parts of Me country.
It seems to me that some critics among hon. Members opposite do not yet fully understand all the consequences which have been created for us by the previous Government's failure to deal drastically with the unbalanced growth of Greater London. Though they have criticised the Bill they have failed, in this debate at least, to offer any alternative practical and effective proposals to check this great expansion in the London area. It is not enough to say, as hon. Members opposite have said, that the Bill is not necessary because office building is slowing down, anyhow, and the problem would soon solve itself. Quite frankly, I do not believe it. We have no evidence at all to show that this argument which has been put forward has any justification.
In any case, we have to take note of something which hon. Members opposite skipped over in practically every speech which was made. I am not referring to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), because he made one or two constructive points which I will come to in a moment. It seemed to me that they skipped over the fact that we have got to take note of the projects which, as my right hon. Friend has said, are already in the pipeline and which the Bill will not catch. So far as we can make out, they will provide office employment for about 20,000 office workers a year. Where do we stop? This is the important point.
I agree with the hon. Member for Reading that this is a negative Bill. Of course it is. It is a temporary Bill, and I will deal with the temporary character of it in a moment. It is a temporary Bill while we sort out the constructive proposals, which have now got to operate in the Metropolitan area and also have to operate from the Metropolitan area, to get office building dispersed over the country. We have to make this pause. We have to have power to stop development going beyond the projects which are 810 already in the pipeline so that we can get down to this job of working out—I will explain what is being done—constructive proposals.
I must say that I was very much confused by the hon. Member for Wycombe. At one point he told us that there was excess of office space already—which is perfectly true; there are plenty of big office blocks in and around the Metropolitan area which have no tenants, and it would appear that building is running ahead of demand. He wanted to know, therefore, whether the Bill will freeze these developments. Of course, there will be a freezing of developments. But he also went on to say the Bill will accelerate the building of offices. I am still trying to puzzle out how we can get these wedded together.
This is not a new problem, as the hon. Member for Reading has pointed out. It was covered in the South-East Study and the previous Government's White Paper, which the hon. Member for Wycombe quoted, of two years ago, expressed concern about the continual building of new offices creating what was then estimated as about 15,000 new jobs in the centre of London a year. The hon. Member quoted paragraph 17 of the White Paper which the previous Government issued. I think that he should have begun with paragraph 16. It is very short, and I will read it:The Government believe that more effective steps must now be taken to influence the future rate and distribution of office growth. The rate of growth in the centre must be checked, and offices must be better distributed over London as a whole and further afield.We agree entirely with the previous Government's statement in the White Paper, but, unfortunately, the measures which the previous Government had in mind were far from being effective steps. Of the promises in the White Paper all we got, apart from the very useful Location of Offices Bureau, which I will come back to in a moment, was a very restricted Bill to cut down the Third Schedule rates in building developments, which was, in my view, just about on a par with Dame Partington's attempt to push away the Atlantic Ocean with a mop. The hon. Member for Reading said of that episode that the Atlantic Ocean beat Dame Partington. The continuing growth of London offices beat the previous Government.
§ Mr. John Hall
I do not think that that was all the previous Government did. I think that the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that as a result of the Fleming Report and investigation set up by the previous Administration, steps were taken to ensure that a very large number of civil servants working in London were moved out of London.
§ Mr. Darling
Yes, I will concede that, but I was taking about legislation which came before the House. This was an administrative job which the previous Government undertook. We give them credit for it.
Some hon. Members claimed—I think that the hon. Member for Bodmin did—that there is nothing new in this proposal for using office development permits to stop the growth of office building in London. The idea of using this procedure—shall I call it the industrial development certificate procedure?—has been put forward on many occasions, and was on that side of the House, too. If any hon. Member cares to turn up the debate on the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1963—I did this—he will find that several hon. Members opposite urged the Government to use the industrial development certificate procedure. So there is nothing new in this.
The industrial development certificate procedure has been tried in industry over a very lengthy period. As we now know how it has worked out, that it works very satisfactorily in keeping control of industrial development, and is a good, effective, flexible—I must stress that it is flexible—and discriminating control, the present Government have come along, even at this late stage, and applied the same procedure, where it is urgently needed, to control the development of offices in the Metropolitan area.
The hon. Member for Reading raised one or two points about this procedure. Although he may be right in thinking that, for the time being at any rate, in the Metropolitan area we are turning it the wrong way round, the office development permit procedure is, in fact, like the I.D.C. procedure. But in the Metropolitan region, except during the transitional period, the office development permit will precede planning permission, so the planning authority will have to take the final decision. I agree that it works the other way around with I.D.C.s.
§ Mr. Darling
This is a matter which we shall have to discuss further, because administrative questions are involved here. At the moment, we have to consider it in this way, that it is an extension of the planning procedure which has been well and truly laid down over a long period, and we conceive it in that way. The important point is that the need for this form of control is desperately urgent.
Several hon. Members referred to the adverse consequences to London and to London's citizens of this enormous expansion in office building. It is no use skipping over the problem as though it is an easy one to solve. It is no use saying that we can let office building run down according to the play of the market, and that if it runs down it will solve all our social and economic problems.
We have to face the pressure on housing accommodation in the London area. We have to face the fact of high rents for houses and flats, and also the overcrowding in many areas of London because new houses cannot be built quickly enough to deal with local circumstances. We have to face the appalling shortage of land for residential building within the London area, and the continuing threat to the green belt on the outskirts. We have to consider the overloading of our transport services, and the intolerable conditions under which commuters travel in overcrowded trains and buses. What is more, the situation will get worse unless we do something about it. We have to consider, too, the disturbing delays which occur to freight traffic.
The hon. Gentleman skipped over all this a little too easily. There is congestion on the roads to the docks. There is congestion in the Metropolitan area which interferes with both freight traffic and private motorists. These are the problems with which we have to contend. All these social and economic difficulties must be tackled. We cannot run away from them. They must be tackled by determined and resolute measures, which the previous Government failed to introduce.
§ Mr. Darling
I shall come to that in a moment.
I propose to deal now with the other side of the problem, which I mentioned when referring to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have to face a further problem. They have to decide whether they really mean what they say about regional planning. This was an issue at the General Election. We gather that they subscribe to regional planning. It seems to me that we cannot omit commercial developments.
By the use of the industrial development certificate procedure successive Governments have had some success in steering industry away from the overcrowded industrial areas of the Midlands and South-East to the development districts, but the danger that we face now is that of producing an unbalanced result in some areas of the country where there are development districts. We face the danger of having far too much industrial distribution, necessary though it is for the region, and no commercial distribution.
Recently, some of my hon. Friends from my part of the country, South Yorkshire, complained about my right hon. Friend's proposals for regional development. They thought that because of its character there should be a separate region for what they called the Sheffield—South Yorkshire—Humberside area. I am not expressing a view on that, but there was a weakness in their proposals. Although this is one of the most important industrial areas of the country, and one of the wealth-producing ones, it has no commercial centre. Sheffield is not a commercial centre, it is an industrial one. Leeds is the nearest commercial centre, with insurance offices, warehouses, sales offices, and so on. It has all kinds of office development, but in the area to which I have referred there is no commercial centre at all, and this is an indication of unbalanced regional 814 development. It seems to me, therefore, that we must use all the power we have to stop certain developments, and then use persuasion wherever we can to get a far more balanced distribution of industry and of commercial activity throughout the country.
I ask hon. Members to remember that the increase in the pipeline of office development in London is three times the total office space in the largest provincial centre. This cannot go on. If we are to get the right view of regional development, we have somehow to shake out of London, as best we can, and without causing hardship, quite a lot of the office employment that is here. We must do this to get a more balanced regional distribution.
Those are the urgent and compelling reasons for the Bill. There must be a check on office employment in the London area. We must have a more constructive and effective policy for office dispersal to the provinces. Of course, just to say "Stop" and do nothing more about the situation in London is, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, a purely negative policy. I agree that it is a negative policy, but it can be helpful and constructive even before we do anything else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East pointed out that a little control at this stage might give us the opportunity to improve the architecture of the buildings that will come later.
§ Mr. Darling
We might be able to have some discussion about architecture. We will see what happens. Many things can be done if we get the opportunity to do them.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of compensation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, too, referred to this. Let us be clear about this. We did not think it right to put into the Bill anything about compensation for speculators because at the moment the Bill goes no further than putting planning permission into suspense. It does not kill it. Unless the House determines otherwise, this cannot be for longer than seven years, and it may be for less. We propose to look at these cases on their merits. It may be that in some of the cases which the hon. Gentleman mentioned office 815 development permits will be given, so they will not need to wait for seven years.
I would point out that there is some precedent—I do not put too much strength in it—for the attitude that we have adopted towards compensation. In the previous Government's Town and Country Planning Act, 1963, there were retrospective provisions which affected existing use rights. If the hon. Member cares to look it up he will see that that is so, and that no compensation was paid for the reduction in property values or for abortive expenditure. We recognise that some losses will be suffered by developers as a result of the Bill, and that there will be abortive expenditure in the way of architects' fees, and so on. Much of this might have been avoided if the previous Government had acted as they should to deal with this development problem.
Certainly, we will not help the speculators; we have the support of the hon. Member there. We will consider any hardship cases.
§ Mr. John Hall
I am not quite clear whether the Minister is saying that the Government will look sympathetically at claims made in respect of expenditure incurred in drafting plans, surveyors' fees, and so on, or whether he is merely referring to the matter. Is he saying that the Government would be prepared to consider claims of that kind?
§ Mr. Darling
I am not making any promises about this. The whole question of compensation must stand as it has been presented in the Bill. I have said that we will consider cases of hardship, but at the moment we have no evidence about this. We want to see what the situation is. The Bill stands as it is.
Questions were raised about the modernisation of premises, and this was tied up with what has been said about carrying out the recommendations of the Gowers Report. We do not want to prevent a limited amount of rebuilding where those circumstances come into consideration, but where modernisation proposals have been permitted under previous town and country planning provisions they have usually led to an increase of floor space—the 1963 Act 816 did not completely deal with that situation—and to an increase in employment. It is the employment situation with which we are concerned.
Sometimes the opportunity to convert a site to another use has been lost because office development has been allowed to continue when the site could have been better used for other purposes. Under the control proposed in the Bill we shall be able to see whether a site can be used for a better purpose. If we are convinced that it cannot, we may be able to grant an office development permit. But we shall see to it that the office floor space is not increased. That was the desire of the previous Government, so we are not falling out with them there.
Questions were asked about the movement from Central London to the Metropolitan region. That is a Committee point, as were many of the others that have been raised. I can go into details about them if hon. Members opposite require me to, but I would prefer to deal with them in Committee.
One very important point was raised by the hon. Member for Edgbaston. In looking at the industrial development certificate procedure as it has operated in the Midlands and the South-East, where the problem of over-expansion of industry is very acute, we have found that only about one out of every 10 planning permissions given for factory development attracts, or has associated with it, an industrial development certificate. Nine out of 10 are under the limit.
Successive Presidents of the Board of Trade of the party opposite have told us that they would pursue a tough policy. That is the reason why the word "tough" has been metaphorically written into the legislation in respect of the Midlands and the South-East. As my right hon. Friend has said, the problem is visual; we can go round the Midlands and the South-East and see new factories going up for which no industrial development certificates were needed. We can see industrial estates with quite a number of new factories, all under the 5,000 sq. ft. limit. We suggest that we ought to know more about these factories, and I would say that it is in the interests of the hon. Lady's constituency and the Birmingham area 817 as a whole that these factories should be examined more closely.
It may prove to be the case that new industries which should not be coming into the Midlands are, in fact, coming in and poaching labour. We must face the problem. This is one cause of overloading in the economy. The economy is not overloaded in places like Central Scotland, the north-east of England, or parts of Wales or the South-West. It is overloaded only in a few parts of the country, but this overloading is leading to bottlenecks in industry, especially in the Midlands, where so much industrial activity is devoted to the making of components which must be passed on quickly, eventually coming out of the assembly lines in the form of motor cars, and so on.
We are convinced that bottlenecks in respect of components, especially in batch production rather than mass production, art, one of the causes of the overloading of the economy, in present conditions of industrial expansion, where firms are constantly poaching labour. That is what is causing the wage drift, and the "paying over the odds" to obtain labour that is so sorely needed by hard-pressed firms. It is causing incipient inflation.
It is no use saying that we may be interfering with the normal expansion that we should be permitting in the desire for modernisation. Where, by putting in more machines and using less labour, it is possible to get a bigger output in an existing factory this may be in the national interest, but it is no use saying that because of that argument we should not look at all the things that are going on in respect of factories which are under the 5,000 sq. ft. limit. We want to examine all the projects of over 1,000 sq. ft. Where an application of the kind referred to by the hon. Lady comes along—an application for an extension of a factory to provide for modernisation—it will be considered sympathetically.
It is not that that we are trying to get at but the building of new factories which are straining resources in certain parts of the country, particularly the Midlands and the South-East. Unless we have this matter under review and under control our economy will be over-expanded in the important points, and there will be a cumulative effect, so that the whole community will be concerned. Bearing in mind all the traditional 818 interests of Birmingham, I should have thought that the hon. Lady should be asking us to examine all the factory developments which are now going on under the limit of 5,000 sq. ft., in order to see whether or not there is a need for them. We shall see to it that industrial expansion in the Midlands, such as is needed to provide modernisation, will be considered sympathetically.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but is not that the sort of action that should be taken first to get industry moving, and not offices?
§ Mr. Darling
We must do both together. I tried to make this point when I was talking of regional development. I do not want to be too offensive, but as a representative of a provincial constituency I become irritated when hon. Members who represent overgrown areas in the South fail to appreciate the regional problems of my part of the country—and office development must come into the question.
To answer some of the questions put by the hon. Member for Bodmin, we will take the transport considerations which he mentioned into account in our review when we are dealing with applications for office development certificates. We will ensure that before buildings go up there are tenants for them. A permissive power to extend control is needed for this purpose and I hope that the hon. Member will support us for the reasons I gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston.
I will deal later with the studies which are going on and which will help us to deal with the problem. Suppose, for example, that out of these studies and out of the measures we take, we persuade quite a number of office developers not to place their developments where they at first thought they would—whether in Manchester, London, Birmingham or any place which may be considered to be already over-developed—but elsewhere. Unless one has the kind of control, whereby areas can be designated by permission and with the understanding of Parliament, one cannot steer office developments to the places where they should go, perhaps getting nearer to the South-West than many of them at present are. It is for this reason that I say that 819 the hon. Member should support our proposals in regard to this permissive power to extend the control if need be.
§ Mr. Bessell
The hon. Gentleman has cleared up this difficulty and I now entirely accept the point that he is making.
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Member for Bodmin also raised the question of floor space, but I think that that is a matter we can best deal with in Committee. He also asked whether offices include cloakrooms, and so on. They do. If we left out cloakrooms, canteens, and so on, we might be opening the door so wide that the 2.500 sq. ft. limit would be useless.
As I said, this is a negative Bill. It is such because we do not say that the problem of the growth of office employment in and around London can be adequately tackled only by direct control. The Government announced last November that three comprehensive studies were going on into the question of office location. These are designed to throw light on, first, the scope for moving offices outside the South-East area, secondly, the considerations which should govern their location in other parts of the country, and, thirdly, the whole employment situation in the London area.
A start has been made on the first point by the Department of Economic Affairs. That is studying the scope for moving offices right outside the South-East—and this aspect must be given the importance it deserves. The information already acquired by the Location of Offices Bureau has provided an appreciation of the major factors which office organisations take into account when choosing locations. We have, therefore, gone to the businessmen in an attempt to find out what enters into their considerations when considering office locations and the lines on which their choice is likely to follow. We expect that this work will lead to studies in greater depth so that the true importance of all the factors involved can be discovered; and then we will know precisely what to do about this problem.
To start the second inquiry, the Department of Economic Affairs has carried out a pilot study into the considerations 820 which should govern the location of offices in other parts of the country. Planning officials and a number of others with experience of catering for the needs of office communities have been consulted and, at this stage, the study has been concerned with the main centres which have shown the greatest growth of offices since 1945. This will enable us to get at the facts. It is now being supported by investigations into particular factors, including labour supply and communications.
The third investigation, into London's whole employment situation, is a project between the Greater London Council, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and other interested Departments. It must be a collective job. A beginning has already been made by considering the extremely useful and comprehensive data compiled for the London Transportation Study.
It will be seen that the Location of Offices Bureau has an important part to play in these studies and in the constructive policies which will eventually emerge. It is no reflection on the Bureau when I say that persuasion has not been a strong enough weapon in dealing with the problem in Greater London. In the tasks the Bureau was assigned by the previous Government, it has been markedly successful in bringing home the facts of the situation to large numbers of London businessmen and in encouraging them to consider moving out.
The success of the Bureau should not be measured simply in terms of the number of firms which have responded to its campaign but, rather, by the contribution it has made to an understanding of the problem of London's office growth. Its Chairman, Mr. Sturgess, and the Bureau as a whole, is to be congratulated on the impact it has made on public opinion and for the workmanlike way it has tackled its far from easy task. The Bureau's experience will undoubtedy be of value to the Board of Trade in administering the new control and it is our intention that the Bureau should continue its advisory service to individual firms, in close cooperation with the Board of Trade.
I cannot over-emphasise our firm resolve—and I must say this in view of the discussions which have taken place and in view of the views which have been expressed by hon. Members opposite—to 821 use this Measure to get a real grip on the serious situation which confronts us in and around London. We can do this only by applying office control with the utmost severity throughout the Metropolitan region. This was made plain from the start in the Government's statement last November. It is not surprising that that announcement should have brought widespread recognition of the fact that firm measures were long overdue.
Even so, we start now under a severe handicap—a handicap of a massive amount of new office space in the pipeline and beyond our control; space which could inject another 200,000 office workers into the already seriously congested area of Greater London.
§ Mr. John Hall
This question of injecting another 200,000 office workers into Greater London has been mentioned frequently. Does the Minister agree that this is not a question of entirely new office building, for surely a lot of it is replacement office space which will not provide additional jobs but merely re-house existing jobs?
§ Mr. Darling
We have taken this into consideration. This is a matter which can probably best be dealt with in Committee although, if the hon. Gentleman wishes, I could write to him about it. This matter has been investigated by planning authorities in the London area, who have distinguished between new office building and replacement building. We are convinced that if all these projects go through—projects which we have no means of stopping—these extra office jobs would be provided.
The situation has been allowed to drift for too long, and to such an extent that it will now be impossible to avoid hardship and inconvenience for individual concerns whose plans for rebuilding or expansion have collided with this new control. However sympathetic we may be to the claims of the many deserving cases of the kind that have been mentioned in this debate, the situation is too serious for us to allow ourselves to be persuaded by arguments of inconvenience 822 or extra cost. We shall simply not be able to afford to grant permits for a number of social or economically desirable activities that are tied to a particular area, either because we shall take the view that they can find other accommodation or because the activity is not essential in the public interest.
There is no alternative to this tough policy. I know that we have heard that phrase before, but it is perfectly true that there is no alternative to a tough policy if we are to make any impact at all, at this late stage, on the growth of office employment in and around London, and bring wider employment opportunities to other parts of the country.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).