HC Deb 23 March 1965 vol 709 cc295-7
4. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he intends to hand over responsibility for the new towns to the appropriate local authority.

66. Mr. Newens

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will make a statement on his proposals for the transfer of the new towns to the appropriate local authorities.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

The building of the new towns must continue to be the responsibility of development corporations. Like my hon. Friends I am not satisfied with the existing arrangements by which the assets of the corporations are transferred to the Commission for the New Towns when the building is substantially completed. But the change they desire would require new legislation.

Mrs. Short

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to the Press report of a delegation which he received from the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors last December? The Press report says: The Minister made it clear that he was in favour of planning control remaining in the hands"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are all kinds of difficulties about this. One is that verbatim quotations of that character are not permissible in a question. The other is that I am not sure what is following from the question founded on what is in the Press.

Mrs. Short

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend remember that at that meeting he said that he would hand over responsibility for new towns at the earliest possible moment to the local authorities?

Mr. Crossman

I think that my hon. Friend is confusing the question of assets with the question of management and control. It is important to make this distinction. When it is a question of transferring assets, say the total value of capital which is being put into a new town, this is a major question which requires legislation. When it is a question of handing over a particular undertaking, legislation permits the corporation, as of today, to hand it over to the local authority, or indeed to hand over the control of housing as distinct from its ownership. I have urged each corporation to be anxious to phase its planning of the transfer of management to the U.D.C. or R.D.C. as soon as possible when it suits it, but I have warned each of them that it is quite unrealistic to talk of the transfer of assets.

Mr. Corfield

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that in many cases this will mean that the councillors will almost exclusively be council house tenants when the transfer takes place? What proposals has he for altering Section 76 of the Local Government Act, 1933?

Mr. Crossman

There is a real problem here of the monopoly landlord, and it is precisely a question which I have asked the corporations and the local authorities to discuss in planning the phased take-over which. I think, has anyway got to take place.

Mr. Solomons

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side will welcome the day when most of the persons resident in rented property are council tenants?

Mr. Costain

Does the Minister appreciate that the local authority would be the owner not only of the council houses but of the factories also, and would it not be wrong for a locally elected authority to be a supreme landlord of that kind?

Mr. Crossman

These are all problems which have to be taken into account when we are considering the final development of self-government in a new town. It is a stage which we have reached at present with only two of the new towns, which have been handed over to the Commission, and there are two which are nearing that stage. In all those four cases I am anxious to establish good precedents for a sensible transfer because I am sure that the kind of highly autocratic centralised control required for the rapid construction of a new town is quite unsuitable for the permanent self-government of the kind of community we have there.