HC Deb 11 November 1966 vol 735 cc1744-75

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Allason

It is not at all clear to a layman why the 1961 Act does not apply to an extension of a new town order. The wording of that Act appears to deal with the designation of an area as the site for a new town or part of a new town. However, it appears from Clause 2 that it does not operate in that way.

As I understand the position, the intention now is that where there is a fresh designation order extending the site of a new town, the valuation of the land in the new designation order is entirely independent of the fact of the existence of an old new town and that it is just as if an entirely fresh new town order was being made. In these circumstances, it seems fair that the 1961 procedure should apply to an extended designation order. I understood the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to agree with me on Second Reading, when he said that the existence of the new town was to be disregarded.

When considering the compensation arrangements in regard to a compulsory purchase order affecting a new town, some odd considerations come to light. The first is the question of the rights of the individual to object. When a new town is designated an inquiry is held and it is then possible for the boundaries to be adjusted. I do not believe that they are likely to be seriously altered, although they could be adjusted, and the area lying on the edges of a designated area might be excluded. It is unlikely, however, that the land right inside the new town would be excluded.

Under the compulsory purchase order procedure, an inquiry is held into whether it is necessary for the land inside the new town to be taken. The development corporation may need the land for widening a road or something of that sort and although it may be land in private ownership, with perhaps a house built on it, the corporation need have no desire to develop the land if it wishes to knock the house down to build a road. Under the present procedure, the public good must be judged in these circumstances, and there is a public inquiry.

Under the Land Commission arrangements the mere fact that the land is within the designated area of a new town is sufficient and that is the sole ground on which a compulosry purchase order may be made. There seems no point in having an inquiry since the owner of the land has no possible means of proving that his land is not in the designated area; and it seems that once it is in the designated area he will have no further right to object.

When considering the question of compensation, there appear to be two elements of betterment in land which is in an area designated for a new town. There is, first, the element attributable to the infrastructure—although we know that the development corporation is able to build up a series of roads and provide services of various kinds so that, ultimately, the land being built on becomes valuable and that if it is sold for private enterprise building it fetches a considerable sum. Thus we have a 100 per cent. levy on the infrastructure element.

The second element of betterment seems to be that, by being designated in the area of a new town and by being designated as building land, the landowner acquires planning permission for building which he would not otherwise have obtained. We have a 100 per cent. betterment charge on the infrastructure element and, on the building permission element, we now have, under the Land Commission Bill, an initial levy of 40 per cent.

Are we being entirely fair to owners of land in these circumstances? The whole argument for charging betterment is that it is not reasonable that a landowner should substantially benefit from an increase in the value of his land resulting from the services provided by the community. This is the infrastructure part of it. There is a difference of view when it comes to the granting of planning permission. Before there was town and country planing, an inherent right to build was built into freehold land. That natural right has been circumscribed by town and country planning for the benefit of the community in order that there shall be green belts and nececssary amenities and so on, but to charge a betterment levy on this element seems to be going too far.

I have spoken of compensation for the landowner, but the compensation for the tenant farmer is quite inadequate. It is based on the principle that the tenant farmer can set up in business somewhere else. However, it is well known that in fact this is not possible, that there is a tremendous demand for farm tenancies, and that gradually more and more farming land is becoming not available or disappearing. In consequence, it is not right to base compensation on the possibility of alternative employment. In fact, when his land is taken over, the tenant farmer is driven out of business. An improved basis of compensation would be the ground that he has to go out of the business, and I hope that the Government will be able to indicate that they can do something about tenant farmers.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

I do not like the Clause to the extent that it discriminates against the tenant farmer and also against many owner-occupiers. We are discussing not wealthy landowners but men dedicated to farming, often to farming land on which their families have been tenant farmers for generations and from which they are being evicted through no fault of their own. It must be borne in mind that what they want is not compensation but to remain on the land. They are the first to admit that modern thinking must be accepted and that development must go on, but surely they should be given decent compensation.

It should not be forgotten that these are the people who have helped so much with our balance of payments by producing the food needed by the country. They are somewhat confused and believe that they have been let down. In his reply to a questionnaire from the National Farmers' Union before the election the Minister of Agriculture declared: In principle I accept that adequate "— and that is the whole point— compensation should be given to a farmer who suffers because of the takeover of his land for non-agricultural use. The farmers accepted that that was the view of the Government, but now they are suddenly told that it is not.

The point which has been missed is that these are not people cashing in because land values have increased. They are asking to be allowed to carry on the lives which they have always known and which their ancestors knew for generations before them. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find alternative land to farm, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) said. There are so many other developments besides new towns. New roads, for instance, take up a very large acreage.

It was not so bad when farms were being taken over piecemeal, but when there is suddenly a new town, as is the case with Redditch in my constituency, 40 farms can just disappear. All the farmers concerned are looking for alternative farming land at the same time, and the land is just not available for them. They have an extremely strong case for adequate compensation. If it had been called, I would have supported an Amendment—believing that the recommendations of the N.F.U. are about right—so that where a tenant quits the whole of his farm, or so much of it that the remaining land cannot afford a reasonable livelihood, compensation would be based on five years' expected profits, and not rents, as has been the case in the past.

I sincerely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider these matters. These men are not asking for vast compensation for nothing. We are merely asking that the small tenant farmer, perhaps with a tradition of farming the same piece of land, will be adequately compensated for having to give up his vocation. If a man is 40 or over, it is virtually impossible for him to find alternative land. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give this serious matter due consideration.

Mr. Carlisle

I support what has been said by my hon. Friends the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance). As the Parliamentary Secretary knows from his visits to the area, in my constituency there is Runcorn new town, now in the process of being about to be built on virgin soil which is now being used purely for agricultural purposes. There are also proposals recently put to the Ministry about the development of Warrington.

In passing, I must make it clear that I hope that the Minister will not approve the development of Warrington into Cheshire in the way proposed, because on planning grounds alone the proposed development would bring it far too near to the edge of Runcorn new town and that there would be an industrial belt because of the new towns being too close together. However, we have to face the fact that the Minister may decide to accept the recommendations about Warrington and if he does the farmers in the Runcorn area and many in the Apple-ton and Stretton areas will be within the area designated. I urge the Minister to look again at compensation for farmers who are dispossessed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove said, it is not only a matter of tenant farmers requiring compensation, but their difficulty in finding anywhere else to farm. The problem is not limited to the tenant farmer, but applies equally to the owner-occupier farmer. The Parliamentary Secretary knows from his visits to my area that not all the farmers there are tenant farmers. I am somewhat perturbed by the sums so far suggested as the right compensation for owner-occupier farmers in the area. The figures which I have heard have not been particularly generous, although I appreciate that this is a matter of interpretation of the existing legislation and not a matter for the House of Commons.

What seems completely wrong is that any payment towards the removal expenses of the tenant farmer and towards any loss which he may incur should be merely discretionary. Runcorn has an excellent development corporation with a general manager who is extremely concerned to see what those who are dispossessed are fairly treated. I do not want it to be thought that I am suggesting that the Runcorn New Town Development Corporation is parsimonious in the amounts that it is prepared to pay. It is faced with the difficulty that, in the end, the discretionary sums that it can pay are only those which the local district valuer considers to be reasonable. I make that point because in an Adjournment debate on this subject in February of this year, the other Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government reminded the House that a circular had been sent to the General Managers and Chairmen of Runcorn and Redditch Development Corporations, drawing attention to the difficulties of tenant farmers and the need to be generous in discretionary payments.

1.30 p.m.

That is a circular which, in spirit, the Chairman and General Manager of Runcorn Development Corporation are very anxious to carry out. The difficulty, as I understand it, is that the Corporation can pay only what the district valuer considers to be reasonable.

Where tenant farmers are to be dispossessed, and perhaps to lose their livelihood as a result of decisions taken here and in Whitehall over the need for their land for urban development, it is vital that proper compensation should be paid. It is the State which is to gain as a result of this land being developed and, if the State is taking land, the State should see that the individual does not suffer as a result. The tenant farmer, due to the uncertainty of the Government, is in danger of suffering and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that negotiations are in progress between the Ministry of Agriculture and the interested parties to put right what appears to be an injustice to tenant farmers.

Mr. Mellish

On this question I want to spell out, for the benefit of those who have expressed some genuine fears about the intentions of the Government, what we are doing and what we propose to do. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I spell this out, not only for hon. Members but for those who are interested. A new town development corporation, like any other public authority with compulsory purchase powers, buys land on the basis prescribed in the Land Compensation Act, 1961. The general basis is the amount which the land might be expected to realise if sold in the open market by a willing seller. Within the original designated area of the new town the basis of market value is as I have said, but any increase or diminution in the value of the land in question attributable to actual or prospective development on other land in the area in the course of the area's development as a new town is excluded.

This exclusion applies whether a new town development corporation or any other public authority possessing compulsory purchase powers is the purchaser. It means that public authorities do not pay for the values created by public investment; nor, in the reverse case, where the advent of a new town or the form of this development has reduced the value of a property, does the owner bear the resultant loss. Exclusions of value created by public investment are set out in the 1961 Act for the area of a single compulsory purchase order, an area of comprehensive development, as defined in the development plan, or an area of town development under the Town Development Act, 1952.

The general basis including exclusion of increases or diminutions was first introduced by the Conservative Government in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, which applied market values to public purchases for the first time after the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, thus replacing the basis of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1954, which was a basis of "existing use value plus development value as at 1947". The 1959 Act compensation provisions were re-enacted in the Land Compensation Act, 1961. The special exclusion for new town increases or diminutions was applied to any initially designated area, past or future, and to those extension areas already designated by 29th October, 1958, which was the date of the introduction of the Bill which became the 1959 Act.

For any area designated as an extension to a new town between 29th October, 1958, and now, straight market values have been paid, including all increases or diminutions caused either by the adjacent new town or the extension or both.

Clause 2 of the Bill seeks to correct this anomaly. During the passage of the 1959 Act, the then opposition argued that the exclusion being enacted for initially designated areas should also apply to future extension areas. The then Government resisted the argument on the grounds that:

  1. (a) the likelihood of new town extensions was not very great; and
  2. (b) land in an extension area or proposed extension area would change hands between initial designation and extension at prices which, quite reasonably, would reflect increases or diminutions in value caused by the neighbouring new town.
The expectation referred to by the then Government has been very different in practice and I can give one example to show this. I am not making any party point here, this is a practical reality. Take the new town of Bracknell. Its original size was 1,870 acres at the time of original designation in 1949. In 1961 and 1962 the area added to the town of Bracknell was 1,426 acres, almost as big as the original designated area. The change made by Clause 2 will not affect these extensions, since no retrospection is proposed. But in future it is likely that there will be extensions of other new town areas on a similar or even greater scale. This relates to the point made earlier in the debate about having to take an entirely new look at our new town policies and town development schemes, because we now know, if we did not know before, of the enormous demand.

I want to say why we are introducing this Clause, not only for the benefit of hon. Members but for these who will read it and argue about it later. The second argument of the Conservative Government in 1959, which seems to have been the main one, does not arise in relation to the proposition in Clause 2, since it is not proposed to exclude the effect of new town development, past, present or future, in the original designated area from the valuation of land in the extension area. Only the enhancement or diminution arising from development of land, other than the land in question, in the extension area would be excluded.

It is thus proposed to follow precisely the same principles as those enacted by the then Government in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, and repeated by them in the Land Compensation Act, 1961. If this Clause is not enacted, the public purse stands to lose or, in the reverse case of diminution, the private owner to suffer, in the same way from the value changes caused by extension of a new town as the 1959 Act sought to avoid in the original areas of new towns. Now extension areas and original areas, as we have said, are comparable in size.

If Clause 2 becomes law the price paid by a public authority for land in a new town extension area would still include all development value reflected on to that land by the existing new town, plus any created by other relevant development or prospects, apart from development in the extension area. The percentage levy would, under the proposals of the Land Commission Bill, be payable on the element of development value which the owner realised. Since the owner would realise no development value from development or prospects of development in the extension area, no levy would be payable on it.

I have been asked about the tenant farmers and I wish to put on record my respect for those who have spoken. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromsgrove and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), who have put their points of view about the tenant farmers very fairly, reminded us that we are talking not of huge landowners with vested estates but of humble men who have tilled the land and done a first-class job for Britain but who, because of the problems that we all face, are having their land taken away from them by authority. The existing law, Section 22 of the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provision) Act, 1963, provides for discretionary payments to owners and occupiers and tenants on agricultural land on account of removal expenses and disturbance of trade. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Runcorn referred to the circular of 1963. It certainly was a very humane circular, sent out by the Government and, to a large extent has to be implemented by development corporations.

I want to put it on record that we do not know of complaints by owners that these payments are unsatisfactory, but we do know that tenants in particular are not at all happy. The Committee should know that this is one of the matters which is now being considered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I undertake to ensure that the remarks which hon. Members have made today are reported to him. I understand that he is having discussions with the other organisations involved. I cannot commit him as to when a statement will be made. I assure the Committee that the views which have been expressed here will be made known to my right hon. Friend, and I would hope that he will be in a position to make a statement in the not too far distant future.

Having spelled out the reasons why the Clause is necessary, having made it clear that we are following the pattern set by previous Governments, for the reasons they gave, and having explained why it is necessary now because of the new expansion of areas, which the then Tory Government did not visualise but which have now become a reality, I hope that the Clause will be accepted.

Mr. Graham Page

I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the most plausible speech I have ever heard him make. It was packed with a lot of nonsense, but it sounded very good. He tried to justify the Clause on the ground, first, that, if the law remained as it was, the public purse stood to lose. The public purse does not stand to lose. It stands to pay the proper price for the property it is buying. This is the type of argument which is always used when a public authority has to pay market value. If it has to pay straight market value, that is the measure of the value of the property which it is taking. If it is paying some under-price because of a fancy provision of the law, it is depriving the citizen of the proper value of his property.

In this case, the Parliamentary Secretary would not be seeking to justify the Clause unless he knew that the public authority would get the land at a price less than its market value. This is the whole purpose of the Clause. As the law stands, someone on the fringe of a new town who then comes into a designated extension is entitled to the proper market value of that land. Under the Clause, he will not get it in future. So it is said that the public purse under the existing law stands to lose.

Even worse, the Parliamentary Secretary said, "or the private owner stands to suffer". He justified this on the ground that in some cases perhaps when a new town is designated the private owner's land will become less valuable. I should like the hon. Gentleman to quote me any example of that. He knows full well that it is not the case. If it is the case, he should realise the principle which he has now admitted on behalf of the Government—they are prepared to recognise worsenment. I use that word because it has been coined as opposed to "betterment". The Clause recognises that there can be worsenment of land by public development and that the owner is entitled to be compensated for that.

Mr. Mellish indicated assent.

Mr. Page

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary is nodding. I have tried to bring this into legislation for the past 12 years. I am very glad that I now have the Government on my side. I shall take the opportunity to bring it into the next possible piece of legislation, because the citizen whose property deteriorates because of development near it is entitled to some compensation.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman must not assume too much from my nodding. We are here following the principle of the 1961 Act, which was passed by the Conservative Government. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the principles today are wrong, he should have said so in 1961.

Mr. Page

I think that the principle of compensation for worsenment is absolutely right. Let us look at the Clause a little closer. We are grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for spelling out what the Clause does. He said that he spelled out the need for it. I do not think that he spelled out any need for it. He explained what it does. He mentioned a fact which was new to me, at any rate—an extension which has occurred at Bracknell. We have the fact that the Clause has some meaning in the context of facts which have happened.

Mr. Mellish

And many others.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Page

I am obliged. It is a complicated piece of law, but any law on compensation is a human problem. We cannot forget that, by reason of one compulsory acquisition and compensation branch of the law, there was a very famous suicide because it had become a very human problem to one man.

I oppose the Clause, for two reasons. The first is the practical difficulty. Under the present law, the owner of land in an area which becomes part of a new town by an extension order is entitled to the straight market value for his property. Under the Bill, what he will be entitled to in future, if the Clause is passed, is the current use value of his land, which may be agricultural land, plus the development value by reason of the adjacent new town, but not any development value arising from the designation of the extension.

This is valuation acrobatics. It is pure guesswork to divide up development value into those two factors—the development value by reason of the adjacent new town, as opposed to the development value arising from the designation of the extension. It is only the latter of which he is being deprived by the Clause. In practice, it will be an extremely difficult Clause to operate. It is entirely different from the provision of a new new town. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it is just the same principle. It is not the same principle, because a fictitious division must be made between one type of development value and another.

The other grounds on which I oppose it are purely and simply fairness. This was very clearly and simply stated in Committee on the Town and Country Planning Bill, 1959, when the law as it stands at present was introduced. I have before me the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee stage of Standing Committee D, 10th February, 1959. I have come across a speech by myself on this very subject.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman should read it.

Mr. Graham Page

I have read it, but I cannot understand what I was saying. That is not unusual in any case of compensation.

What I noticed about that debate is that almost every other person who took part in the debate has now been translated to another place. There was Mr. Lindgren, as he then was, Mr. Mitchison, as he then was, Mr. Henry Brooke, as he then was, and Mr. Niall Macpherson, as he then was. I do not think that anybody else but myself spoke in the debate. I am left here, perhaps because I made such a bad speech.

The law was very well stated by Mr. Henry Brooke, as he then was: The Government take the view that there should properly be a distinction between the treatment of the land inside the designated area which has been subject to compulsory purchase at any time for a period of years since the designation was put on, and the treatment of land outside the existing designated area if at some future dates steps happen to be taken to bring it within. The owners of that land have had every reason to regard themselves as outside the new town. They have not been subject to compulsory purchase at any moment, as have the owners within the designated area. If land of that sort has changed hands privately, it has done so according to ordinary market value."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT. Standing Committee D, 10th February, 1959; c. 621.] That is where the question of fairness or unfairness arises. The land will have changed hands where there has been a sale and purchase at market value during the past years and the person who happens to be the owner at the time when the extension is made it deprived of that part of his value when the land is seized compulsorily for the purpose of the extended area.

On the grounds, therefore, both of the practical difficulty of applying this provision and also of fairness, I oppose the Clause. I am wholly unconvinced by the Parliamentary Secretary's justification that the public stand to lose. If property is required for community purposes, the community should pay the individual the proper price for it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clauses 3 and 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Allason

On Second Reading, we had discussion of policy in providing houses in new towns and the Parliamentary Secretary gave a welcome promise that the ultimate intention was that 50 per cent. of houses in new towns should be owner-occupied. My concern is to see how quickly it is intended to implement that promise.

The position in Hemel Hempstead is that of 19,500 houses in the town, 5,600 are owner-occupied or privately let. What we have to consider is the 11,500 houses which have been provided by the development corporation, including just under 500 existing houses which have been acquired by agreement or by compulsory purchase.

It is interesting to see how far we are towards achieving owner-occupation in New Town Commission houses. The Commission has sold to existing owners just under 300 houses. As the Commission has acquired just under 500 houses from private enterprise, the balance is, therefore, minus 200. In addition, at 31st March just under 1,000 houses had been provided by private enterprise on land let by the Commission. Since then, about 450 additional houses have become available, either being provided by the new Towns Commission for sale or being built by private enterprise on land let by the development corporation. These 450 are welcomed as a terrific sign of repentance, but I still regard them as totally inadequate. This relates, of course, mainly to houses provided by private enterprise on land originally taken from private enterprise and graciously let back.

In addition to those figures, approximately 200 houses have been allotted as available for sale to sitting tenants—only 200 out of a total of 11,500 houses. This is where there should be a change. I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that there is feeling about this in the new towns. I do not suggest that every new town tenant wants to rush out and buy his own house—of course not—but there is general feeling by many people that they would like to buy their own homes. In particular, when they are in grade 1 houses, they are told, "Oh, no. If you transfer to a grade 2 house, then perhaps you can buy it." There are just a few grade 1 houses available for sale, but this necessitates a transfer into a grade 1 house which is allotted for sale. I suggest that all houses should be made available for sale.

In many cases, a person who wants to buy the house in which he is already living will have spent a good deal of money on the garden or decorations. He does not want to have to pick up curtains and carpets and move elsewhere. He may have invested several hundred £s in his house and he does not want to lose this by having to move.

The first argument which is put against the wholesale disposal of houses to tenants is the question of estate management, but the estate management arguments will all be demolished when we get leasehold enfranchisement. We know that the Government are about to introduce such a Measure, so we can therefore forget estate management. Then there is the control of amenities. It is said that people might hang out their washing or paint their doors the wrong colour and so spoil the general effect of the new town. That sort of thing could be dealt with by restrictive covenants

Next there is the question of future redevelopment and the possibility that in 100 years' time it may be necessary to bring the houses back into public ownership so that the whole place may be turned upside down and an entirely fresh rebuilding scheme introduced. Surely, there are already adequate powers to take back into public ownership for redevelopment in the case of new towns, and these powers are supplemented now by the Land Commission, which will have the right to reacquire any property it wants for redevelopment. Therefore, this argument in turn is demolished.

The fourth argument is that the Development Corporation or New Towns Commission is in business to let houses. I do not know whether that is quite true. They are in business to provide houses in most cases for Londoners, or at least for overspill, and as long as they provide the houses surely it is their duty to provide them in the way that the customer requires. I assure the House that many customers wish to have the right to buy their own houses.

I hope, therefore, that as the Parliamentary Secretary has gone so far as to promise us 50 per cent.—but I suggest that he will not get it except by wholesale permission to tenants to buy their own houses—he will ensure that instructions are given straight away to give effect to this.

One other subject is the housing of old people. In this direction there is a danger of new towns falling behind what is done nationally. In Hemel Hempstead, only 7.7 per cent. of houses are provided for old people. In consequence, we have just under 1,000 old people housed in houses specially provided, and the waiting list, at just around 400 applicants, closed three years ago. They cannot take any more people on to the waiting list. Surely this proves that there is great need to provide homes for the elderly.

There are various social requirements in providing homes for the elderly. We should have a balanced community in a new town just as in any other part of the country. Surely it is wrong to have in a new town only young people and middle-aged people, and wrong that the elderly should be left behind in London or the other big cities. They are needed. The advice of the grannies and the babysitting by the grannies are helpful, and it is valuable to have them here.

This is, perhaps, the selfish point of view of the rest of us, but for the old people themselves what is so desperate is loneliness, and they are being condemned to loneliness through their families going to new towns while they are being left behind in the old cities. Of course, some people would say this can be cured by the families taking their grannies with them into their homes in the new towns. This is, of course, possible; this can be done; but it is not always the desire of the elderly. Besides wanting to combat loneliness they want to have their own privacy, and the provision of separate housing in the new towns is very valuable for this, and the best solution I know of is not to put them in a separate enclave, but to put them very close to their own families. That is the best solution, I believe, to the problem of housing the elderly.

2.2 p.m.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

I can echo some of the sentiments which the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) has uttered in his last speech. He has a much older new town, if I may so put it, than the one I represent, but concern for the elderly in the new towns is something we all share, and we want to see some more positive thinking about this problem along those lines. The new town at Skelmersdale, in my constituency, is working very closely with the local authority, and they have already established some lead in this field.

The hon. Member spoke about the increasing number of owner-occupiers in the new towns. The policy of encouraging people to buy their own local-authority-built houses is something we should follow in the country, not merely in the new towns. If the hon. Member will recollect—and I think he would agree now—in the Second Reading debate he made a most unfortunate statement about owner-occupiers. He was told that, contrary to what he was trying to convey to the House, the proportion of owner-occupiers since the Labour Government came in has more than doubled in the new towns. It is the new towns we are speaking about now.

Mr. Allason

I think that there has been an attempt to misrepresent what I said. What I said was that if we did not have the possibility of people being able to buy their houses in the new towns, we would drive out the best citizens. I explained that that was not a reflection on all the others, or to say that other citizens are bad citizens—because some want to live in their own houses. I have not had a chance of checking the figures, but I would suggest that the increase in the proportion of owner-occupiers is in consequence of there being a huge number of owner-occupiers in the new town of the City of Peterborough and no development corporation yet.

Mr. McGuire

I think that the more the hon. Member tries to wriggle out of what he definitely did say about good grace and manners being almost the prerogative of owner-occupiers——

Mr. Allason

No, no.

Mr. McGuire

That is how it reads. I challenge the hon. Member. He was taken up by, I think it was, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens). But I want to leave that, and simply said that I disagree with him, and wonder how the comments in his next election address will read.

As to the allocation of the £250 million, I would like a firm declaration from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that a positive instruction is to be given to relieve what I consider to be—I am speaking now only of my own constituency and the new town of Skelmersdale in it—a serious imbalance. It is not the kind of imbalance that has been suggested during this debate this morning, that it is the local authority and the people living in its area who are suffering and to some extent subsidising those who live in the new town property.

In Skelmersdale, precisely the opposite is the case. The imbalance there is by the people who are renting the houses built by the Skelmersdale Development Corporation. The Minister recognised that, and I hope that he will give instructions to relieve this imbalance, because the rates paid to the local authority are levied on new town property, and the rate content must be the same, but then we are left with the cost of renting property exceedingly dearer than the cost of the local authority houses. I want this imbalance to be corrected.

I know that is has been suggested that it is the other way round, but I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give a firm declaration about this and about how the money is to be spent, because the people in Skelmersdale see this as being the biggest imbalance. I hope my hon. Friend, from the Dispatch Box, will say exactly what is to be done.

2.7 p.m.

Mr. Murton

One problem which exercises my mind very considerably is something about which I know a little, and reinforces considerably what my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) said on Second Reading about the difficulties we get where we have a development corporation and a local authority both dealing with the problem of housing. I think that there is a very real danger here, and that it is up to the Government to watch this through the person of the Parliamentary Secretary, that we do not get arising a situation, which could arise in a new town, or even more particularly in an expanded town, where we have an imagined—it may be no more than an imagined—priority being given to new entrants in the obtaining of houses.

The hon. Gentleman will admit, and we admit it, too, that housing is the biggest problem this country has, and that much has been done in the past and much more must be done in the future. It is a social service, yet there is not a town which has not a fairly considerable waiting list of people requiring houses, be they for young families or be they for elderly persons.

We must be very careful always in any new town or in an expanded town to see that we do not get the problem of suspicion growing up in the minds of the inhabitants of the town that the new entrants are in some way having preference in obtaining the available accommodation. This would arise particularly in an expanded town rather than in a new one because in an expanded town there would be houses being built within the boundaries of the local authority. The only way I can see of this being put right is by careful phasing of the building programme. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned system-built houses as a means of encouraging the speed of building houses. We have to be careful about that, because I am certain that people on the housing lists of existing towns will be very worried, some of them having waited for five or 10 years, in case their priorities are upset by incoming people from London.

The hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page) drew attention in the Second Reading debate to a worry which he had when he said that King's Lynn and Norfolk generally is a low-income area compared with the rest of the country. They have pretty well the lowest average income. The hon. Member asked why his constituents should have to provide a service for London as well as for themselves and yet have to help subsidies indirectly the new towns, which have incomes that on average are £5 or £6 a week more than theirs, obviously referring to those coming in who are employed.

Many expanded and new towns will be in areas where the income structure is lower than it is in the big conurbations. We have to be fair to the existing inhabitants and see that they are not called upon to subsidise unduly the expansion of these towns in an endeavour to help London's problems. I should rather see them not having to subsidise it at all.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I am sure that I echo the thoughts of hon. Members on both sides, many of whom are not here today, in paying tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary for the breadth of knowledge and practical experience which he brings to problems such as those that we are discussing. That is in contrast, perhaps, to some of his colleagues, but they are fortunate to have a man of such long, active and purposeful service in the realm of housing particularly and local government generally.

I want to qualify that by saying that I was surprised that he made no reference to the record of the previous Conservative Government on new towns and overspill arrangements. It was rather uncharacteristic of his otherwise generous nature that no tribute was paid to those who have gone before and set the pattern of much of what is being carried out today. He may have been sticking strictly to his brief. Understandably, his advisers would not get involved in the political content of a subject such as I mention. But I am sure that there must be recognition of the part which the previous Conservative Government and this Government have played in housing, because, in many respects, it is not a political subject.

The Conservative Government laid their plans well, and the firm foundations which they ensured are a substantial contributory factor to the progress which is now continuing.

During he Second Reading the Parliamentary Secretary referred to Members of Parliament from countries represented on the Council of Europe whom he took round a number of our new towns. I am sure that he did not try and claim all the credit for the present Government for what they were shown.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that he should also pay tribute to the 1945–51 Labour Government, who were responsible for laying down the real basis for the new towns when they first began in the post-war years?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Member will have realised from what I have said that I am not trying to make any political point. There is a substantial content in housing which is non-political. We are all after the same results, but we may choose a different method of getting there.

I welcome the conception of new towns and the great pressure which the Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues are bringing to bear on new towns, town expansion schemes and overspill schemes, particularly from the Greater London area.

Mr. McGuire

Is not the hon. Gentleman rather making a rod for his own back in seeking to point out to us that there were no laurels given by my hon. Friend to the Conservative Government, when he goes on to qualify that by saying that he is sure my hon. Friend did these things? However, can he tell us how many new towns the Conservative Administration designated during their 13 years of office, and will he compare that with the number which we have designated in the period of office of the second Labour Government?

Mr. Jones

I think that the hon. Member will be with me when I say that very few new towns have been designated during the last two years. Most of the work now being done by the Government was initiated by the previous Conservative Administration. I remember that the expansions of Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton were mentioned before the present Government became responsible for these matters. The hon. Gentleman is on very thin ground in asking for any comparison to be made. I am fairly confident that what I say would not be denied by the Parliamentary Secretary.

The concern which I have about overspill arrangements is substantially in architectural terms. I want to refer specifically to Houghton Regis, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilyn Roberts). That arrangement was agreed some years ago between the then L.C.C., the Bedfordshire County Council and the Luton Rural District Council. What we have in Houghton Regis is a high-density residential development of the low rise variety. It is something which has been lifted out of a London location and put down in an elevated rural location. It shows a complete disregard for trying to retain the natural characteristics of the area in which overspill development takes place.

Another example is Huntingdon, which has had the same experience in recent years. A high-density G.L.C. type of development has been put in what has been an historic, delightful county town. As far as we can see, no endeavour has been made to try to fit the new high-density development into the local scene and reflect to some extent the characteristics of the area in which the development is taking place.

I can well understand the Parliamentary Secretary saying, in reply, that it is a matter for agreement between the planning authority, on the one hand, and the G.L.C., on the other. But there is great influence that he and his colleagues can bring to bear. I realise the necessity for high-density development in order to keep down demands on agricultural land, but surely high-density can be achieved by the introduction of a proportion of high rise development and by trying to get away from the high-density enclosed type of architectural treatment which many of these G.L.C. overspill schemes seem to mirror.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we ought to look for a better liaison at member level. He mentioned it particularly during Second Reading at c. 1583. May I ask him to see whether it is possible to ensure that locally elected representatives are given an opportunity by way of plans, models, and so on, to see the type of development which they are asked to accept into their districts, to ensure that they are able to have a visual idea of the type of development proposed by the architects and town planners?

There are many examples of local authorities not being used to this type of development, and the speed with which it is introduced. These authorities are often overshadowed by the development corporation, and it is necessary to try, on the one hand, to see that there is some easing here, that there is a greater recognition by the exporting authorities of the character of the locality in which they are to fulfil their schemes, and, on the other, to ensure that the legally elected representatives are able to bring their judgment to bear.

I hope that the type of scheme to which I have referred will not be imposed, be- cause I think that that is what happened at both Northampton and Banbury. Parts of my constituency will be affected by these two schemes, and I emphasise the points which I have tried to make with regard to Houghton Regis and Huntingdon.

What happened to the Wilson Report on Northampton, Bletchley and Bedford, which was published about six or eight months ago? On reading it carefully, it seemed to add no information that we had not been aware of before, and I wonder whether it was a defect in the brief which Mr. Wilson and his colleagues were given. As it was understood locally, the Wilson Report was to try to see the effect which the expansion of Northampton, the new town in North Bucks., and Bedford, would bring about in the countryside in between. They are, roughly, in an equilateral relationship, being about 20 miles from one another. I notice now that the Ministry is undertaking a further inquiry. I hope that this does not mean that, because of a lack of a proper brief, the work done by Mr. Wilson and his colleagues was not very fruitful.

With regard to the new town, or new city as it is called in North Bucks, I have been concerned about the problems of water supply and sewage disposal. I went to the meeting which the Minister of the day held on 14th January last, and during question time I specifically raised these two issues. I was assured that the technical officers had these questions well in hand, and that satisfactory solutions would be found. I subsequently wrote to the Minister pressing the matter.

The reply, dated 3rd March last, dealt with the consumption by the Bucks Water Board, and the present yield. It said that consumption was 17 million gallons a day, and the present yield about 20 millions, but there were inadequate references and assurance about a further supply. It also said that the Great Ouse Water Authority had been asked to supply about 5 million gallons a day from its Diddington reservoir, and that this should be enough to satisfy the Bletchley expansion until the expansion figure reached about 80,000. The supply of new reservoirs in the Thames catchment area was also referred to, and it was suggested that it should be possible to develop this new source in about seven years.

I know that the figures and the dates are complicated, and I do not want to put the Parliamentary Secretary at a disadvantage, but my correspondence shows that there is no firm undertaking about where the water will come from, and negotiations with the adjoining water authorities are by no means complete. They involve the Bedfordshire Water Board in an assessment of its rising responsibilities for water supply, and the expansion in the Ouse Valley generally. The attitude that it will be all right on the night will not do.

Similar circumstances apply with regard to sewage disposal, and the final paragraph of the letter from the Parliamentary Secretary's joint colleague contains this extraordinary sentence: Similarly we are satisfied that sewage disposal can be dealt with satisfactorily". We have not had a satisfactory assurance that the water supply is available. Water supply and sewerage are two quite different problems, and two different facets of expansion, of the dimensions which the Parliamentary Secretary is considering in this area.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that for some years development in the Ouse Valley has been held up because a tremendous amount of sewage is going into this river and its tributary, the Ousel, and it has been agreed by the planning authorities that there shall not be further development down the Ouse Valley as far as Bedford——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but it is not really relevant to go into this detail on the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Jones

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I apologise for the detail which I was introducing, but I wanted to emphasise the difficulties facing the local planning authorities in these areas as a result of the large new city, to use the Government's term, of 250,000 I think it is, which is proposed in North Bucks. When one considers the outfall of surface water—there is no course other than the Great Ouse into which it can flow—and the fact that all the sewage disposal works in this part of the country now lead into the Ouse, one realises that great difficulties can arise.

What are the added problems with which this area will be faced when we get a tremendous amount of sewage from the new town? This must be relevant to the whole concept of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member has made his point effectively. It is usual on Third Reading to confine oneself to the principles of the Bill.

Mr. Jones

Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I propose now to deal with another important issue with regard to new towns. I have in mind the terms of compensation for owners and tenants of agricultural land. I was fortunate to receive this morning a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary, in which he was kind enough to set out the full terms. It is clear that owners are able to obtain compensation on the existing use, plus the permitted alternative use if that exists, but the emphasis which I wish to give is to tenant farmers. A tenant farmer has no protection if the new town development corporation acquires the land of which he is the tenant, and he is not able to resist a notice to quit. I do not think that there is a direct comparison here, as suggested in the hon. Gentleman's letter, between the tenant of a farmer and the tenant of a development corporation.

I know that similar terms of compensation exist, but an agricultural tenant has wide protection against the private landowner. I notice the restrictive terms of compensation which the tenant can claim when an area is designated, and I think that there is genuine hardship for tenants. It puts them out of business, whether they are tenants of a large area, or a small one. There is very little chance of an agricultural tenant obtaining a new tenancy, and he is left with two years' rent as compensation, with inadequate funds subsequently to acquire a farm for himself.

The Parliamentary Secretary has stated that more generous terms may be forthcoming. I suggest that consideration might be given to loans for the purchase of land by dispossessed tenant farmers, underwritten to some extent by the new town development corporations. I realise the economic factors involved, but a tenant who has been successful should be able to carry on in business.

These problems must substantially affect the whole conception of new towns and the questions of water supply and sewerage, and our attitude towards farmers who lose their livelihoods in many cases, especially when they are tenants. I hope that we can be given some firm assurances on these matters, which I was able to mention to the Parliamentary Secretary beforehand.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) in paying tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary for carrying through the Bill and, in particular, for the very courteous and complete answers that he has given to the questions that we have thrown at him. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has disappeared, because I was going to pay him a compliment for sitting patiently listening, and being ready to answer questions if any were asked of him—because the Bill applies to Scotland, although we have not mentioned that country very much in our debate.

I am sorry that the Bill reaches the House without Amendment. As a result, the House will be giving a blank cheque for £250 million to the Minister to distribute to development corporations present and future, and to the Commission for the New Towns. Such advances have been authorised in previous Acts, but I again stress that we are entering upon another chapter in new town development and I am sure that new thoughts applied to these questions now will prove of great benefit to the country in the future, if we can be more flexible in the application of new town procedure and not stick to the fixed ideas of the past.

I want to raise two points arising out of the contents of the Bill and our previous discussions. We have referred to consultation with local authorities before the formation of a development corporation which might share in this advance of £250 million, but we have not touched on the position of the regions. I am not sure where the regions come into the discussions of new towns, but if we are creating a new town, with perhaps, a future population of 250,000, the region surrounding it is very much concerned, and I hope that we can be given an assurance that such a new town will fit in with the plans for the whole of the region and will not be imposed upon it just for the sake of relieving London or some other big city.

The second question concerns the position of the Commission for the New Towns. Clause 1 authorises advances to development corporations and to the Commission. In the Second Reading debate we dealt to a limited extent with the position of the Commission. The Parliamentary Secretary then said: The Government have therefore said that they will change the law, and they have said they will take powers to dissolve the Commission when the time is ripe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 1584.] He went on to say that it was the Government's intention to bring in legislation but that it was unlikely to be done until the third Session of this Parliament. Despite those statements that the Commission is to be dissolved or wound up, and is to go into liquidation, we are authorising advances to it under Clause 1.

Is money really to be advanced to the Minister between now and the third Session of this Parliament—if it ever occurs under this Government? If so, how much? Are we thinking of large or small sums? What is involved? I turned up the last annual report of the Commission in order to see the sort of sums which have been advanced to it so far, and I found, on page 35, in respect of the period ended 31st March, 1966, that advances since the establishment of the Commission, up to 31st March, 1966, amounted to £6,727,000. This seems a comparatively small sum, spread over four or five years, but are we to advance money at that rate for the remaining life of the Commission?

Parliament should know the sort of figures that will be involved when the Commission is wound up in the near future. What happens to the money that we shall be advancing to the Commission in the short period between now and its dissolution? What happens to the Commission's assets when it is dissolved?

In the balance sheet for 31st March, 1966, no value is given in respect of the Commission's assets; we are merely told that they cost £72 million, which means that there are some very substantial assets in the hands of the Commission to be distributed. In the same report there is an interesting appendix, on pages 42 and 43, setting out the state of the major works schemes which the Commission has in hand. What happens to those on the dissolution of the Commission?

These are matters which the House should know about, since we are authorising an advance to a dying body. Is this money required to keep this body going until the third Session of this Parliament, or is it required to pay for the winding up of the Commission? The Parliamentary Secretary laughs, but we have not been told. The Commission is to be wound up, and we want to know the amount of money that is going into its pockets before it is wound up and also, when it has been wound up, what is to happen to the money.

This is an example of the lack of information upon which the House has been asked to authorise and approve advances of £250 million. We have been greatly helped by the statements and assurances of the Parliamentary Secretary today, but they had to be wrung out of him by making the Committee stage a real one. Incidentally, no Member from the Government benches took part in our debate in Committee, apart from the Minister himself, although many of them represent new towns. I am surprised that not until we reached the Third Reading debate did anybody on the opposite benches take part in the discussion.

The Parliamentary Secretary has given us assurances that Parliament will be kept informed of the working of the Bill. I think that he meant not only retrospectively but prospectively—telling us, besides what has happened in respect of the £250 million advanced, how it is intended to use the money from time to time. Therefore, apart from Clause 2, a Conservative Government will have much pleasure in operating this Bill in the near future.

2.37 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

I would repeat again, in winding-up the Third Reading debate, what I said in Committee: that I am personally indebted to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for his courtesy to me personally and for the way in which he gave me advance notice of some of his points. This has been a good example of how Parliamentary business can be achieved with good will on both sides. If he had not given me advance notice, I should not have been able to give the answers which I have given today, because some of the questions have been technical.

The point about the Commission's functions is an important one. They are not the same as those of a development corporation, although they are substantial. We on this side have great reservations about the Tightness of having a Commission at all: I spelt this out on Second Reading. In the meantime, it is important that we should let the Commission get on with its job in the best interests of the towns. It has a big job to do. In Hemel Hempstead, it has started work on a new neighbourhood scheme which will ultimately house 10,000 people. Crawley has reached its original target population of 56,000 and we asked the Commission if this could be extended to 60,000.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of work ahead of the Commission during the next three years, for which it will need this money. The Commission cannot incur capital expenditure without the approval of my right hon. Friend and it is forbidden to borrow money except by advance from him. The moneys from the Consolidated Fund are, therefore, its only source of capital.

I said on Second Reading where we stand on the future of the Commission. I have given assurances to the staff which, the hon. Member will be glad to know, they welcomed, even if he did not. I think it will be accepted that it was right that I should have said that on Second Reading.

A number of questions have been asked. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) referred to money being spent in new towns and the need to make sure that we should try to provide homes for old people. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not here, and should explain that he let me know that he had to go to another appointment. We have increased the percentage figures in the housing of old people and we intend to carry on doing so. I do not believe that any new town is complete unless there is an element of the old along with a proportion of the young.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) raised the difficult question of the Skelmersdale rents. The corporation rents there are 54s. 3d. a week, whereas his own local authority rents are 26s. 6d. Hon. Members will understand that my hon. Friend is worried about this disparity. Speaking as one from down South I would say that a rent of 54s. 3d. is not disastrous, but I understand that incomes down South may be much higher. We realise, therefore, that, in Skelmersdale, 54s. 3d. may be a great deal.

The rent of 26s. 6d. is so low because this local authority has a very large pool of older houses and is able to spread out the housing income over this older pool, whereas the development corporation has only new housing and everything therefore has to fall on the backs of those coming to them. We are alerted to the problems here. I cannot, of course, say this afternoon that we have a solution to this, but I would have thought that, as time moved on——

Mr. McGuire

While it is true that the relation of 54s. a week rent to the rents in London is not disastrous, it is bound to be a disaster in Skelmersdale. The best comparison would be between rents of £4 in London with those of a local authority in a new town charging almost double that figure. That would be a disaster, my hon. Friend would agree.

Mr. Mellish

I respect my hon. Friend for that. I was not trying to be cheap or facetious. I was making the point that 54s. 3d. a week to anyone in the South is low, but I understand that in Skelmersdale it is high, for the reason which my hon. Friend mentioned. The reason for this disparity is as I have stated. It is our intention to do what we can, but I can make no promises except to say that I honestly believe that these rents will not deter people from going to Skelmersdale. I am sure that my hon. Friend would be the first to admit that.

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) raised a very important problem, that of the relationship between local authorities and the development corporations. I could not agree more. Unless we establish a far better relationship than ever before, we are in for a great deal of trouble. The pattern in the new towns must be, from the word "go", the establishment of a constant liaison at what I would call "member" level between the development corporation on the one hand and the local authority on the other. This was also the point of the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones).

The hon. Member for Northants, South again raised the question of the payment of compensation to tenant farmers. I repeat that the Government are considering this. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is having discussions with the appropriate organisations, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that I can go no further than that. This must be a matter for my right hon. Friend. I understand the doubts which he has, but he should not be too worried. On the North Bucks water problem, I have noted his point about water and sewerage, but we must believe that other people are aware of this problem. I cannot believe that the North Bucks water problem would be missed by the appropriate planning authority—the county council. It would be aware of this.

The Wilson Report, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, has been the base upon which there have been general discussions for some time, which are still going on, on services in the area generally.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I know that these matters must be before the planning authority, but all that a Member of Parliament can do is put in an inquiry and get a Parliamentary reply. That is no help to someone. If we could be told in confidence just what the problem was and what the technical difficulties were, it would be a great help. With great respect, the correspondence which I have had with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues is of no use to me at all.

Mr. Mellish

Having been in opposition for 13 years, I know how hard life can be. If the hon. Member wants to be told something in confidence, he has only to pick up the telephone or come to see me and I would regard it as something about which I would talk to him, so long as there was no question of a public inquiry in the matter. I can do this, because I know that his intentions would be honourable.

The Bill has had a good reception. So it should—£250 million of Government money, of the country's money, is to be found for future schemes. The hon. Member for Crosby complained that we have not spelt out those schemes in detail. I am sure that he did not mean that. He knows what this is about. We have to plan, in the future, for new towns to deal with the appalling problem of increased production and population in our great towns and cities. To do this, we need money and we need plans. I believe that the Government are competent to produce the sort of plan of which Britain may be proud.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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