HC Deb 28 October 1966 vol 734 cc1575-650

Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

New towns have a very great interest for me and I am sure that before the day is out we shall see how great an interest they have for many hon. Members. The main purpose of the Bill and the urgent need for it is to increase the amount of money available from the Consolidated Fund for the continued development of the existing new towns and for the establishment and development of additional new towns in England, Scotland and Wales.

The capital works undertaken by new town development corporations and the Commission for New Towns are financed by advances made to them by my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales under the New Towns Acts. The money thus advanced comes from the Consolidated Fund and Parliament, very rightly, fixes from time to time a limit to such advances. The original New Towns Act, 1946, fixed the limit at a modest £50 million. This has been raised periodically and now stands at £550 million. By the end of September last, approvals given by the three Ministers had committed £535 million, and we expect to reach the limit by the end of 1966.

We now have 21 new towns designated in Great Britain. They are at varying stages of construction. Some are virtually complete and in a number of them development is just starting. In this last category are Skelmersdale, Dawley, Runcorn, Redditch and Washington in England, and Livingston in Scotland. They are just beginning to get into their stride and expenditure is already moving to a higher level.

Commitments are now running at about £60–£65 million a year and over the next three or four years we expect the annual commitment rate to rise to £80–£90 million. We are, therefore, asking in Clause 1 of the Bill for enough money to see us through the next three years or so. I hope that the House will regard this as reasonable because three years is not a long time in the building of a new town.

The new towns were created primarily for a social end rather than for the purpose of making commercial profits, but it is right that, to the extent that they undertake development of this kind, they should follow good commercial practice and get value for the taxpayers' money. In the long run, despite the preponderance of housing investment, which, of course, is non-profitable, it is reasonable to suppose that the new towns will more than pay their way.

Clause 2 will correct an anomaly in the existing law concerning compensation payable on the compulsory acquisition of land by public authorities in new town extension areas. These questions of compensation for land acquisition are dealt with in the Land Compensation Act, 1961, which applies in England and Wales, and in the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act, 1963, for Scotland.

The two Acts provide generally that the compensation payable on compulsory acquisition of land by public authorities is current market value. Within designated new towns there is a special provision that in assessing market value for a specific piece of land, no account is taken of any increase or diminution attributable to actual or prospective development of other land in the area as a new town. Thus a public authority—in this case it would normally be the development corporation or the local authority—does not pay values created by public investment; nor, in certain cases, does an owner bear loss consequent on the value of his land being reduced by the advent of a new town. This provision relates to the area originally designated as the site of a new town. It does not, however, apply within an area designated by a variation order under the New Towns Act, 1965, as an extension of the site of an existing new town.

Until recently this was not a serious anomaly because new town extensions were relatively small, but new towns are now being extended by much larger areas than was ever contemplated in the past. Possible losses to public authorities, and consequent unearned profits to landlords and owners, can no longer be ignored; nor can the reverse situation be contemplated with equanimity. Enactment of the Clause will mean that where, after the Bill comes into operation, an order extends a new town designated area, the price paid on public purchase of land in the extension area will exclude all increase or diminution attributable to the extension. Full account will, of course, still be taken of values attributable to the original new town because those values would have been established whether or not the area was extended.

Clause 3 is merely a piece of tidying-up. The original New Towns Act, 1946, required the accounts of the development corporations to be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General when the Minister and Secretary of State presented to him their accounts of issues from the Consolidated Fund, and he, in turn, presented the development corporations' accounts to Parliament as an appendix to the Minister's and Secretaries of State's accounts. The corporation also included copies of their accounts in their annual reports which are laid before Parliament. Parliament has thus been given the accounts twice. In the New Towns Act, 1958, the opportunity was taken to cut out this duplication by relieving the Comptroller and Auditor General of the obligation to present the corporations' accounts to Parliament, but the Minister and the Secretaries of State were still left with the obligation, which it is proposed to lift by Clause 3 of the Bill, to send the accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General. The accounts are, of course, available to the Comptroller and Auditor General whenever he wants to see them.

So much for the Bill itself. It is very short, and perhaps even dull, but behind it lies the story of a movement going back long before the enactment of the first new towns legislation, and ahead lies the unfolding of a new chapter, perhaps even more exciting and rewarding than what has gone before. May I ask for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, if I spend some time in talking of the new town movement. I know some hon. Members will be interested, and they will want to take part in this debate.

I shall not take up much of the time of the House with an account of the history of the new towns movement. We remember with admiration, the work and foresight of Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the garden city movement, and we salute the men and women of the development corporations, the local authorities, the industrialists, shopkeepers, managers, planners, architects, social development leaders, and all those many more who have made our earlier new towns the admiration and the envy of the world. Their reward lies in the health, happiness and prosperity of the people who have gone to live and work in the new towns—and at the present time one person in every 76 lives in a new town—and they get the acclaim of the visitors they receive from all over the world. Only the other day I had the privilege of entertaining on behalf of the Government a group of Members of Parliament drawn from countries represented on the Council of Europe. They were here to study the achievements of the new towns, and I know when they get back to the Council and to their own countries they will speak with enthusiasm of what they saw and learned.

At this point, perhaps, I could gently introduce a few statistics. I will give only the bare and important ones. The 15 first-generation new towns have built between them more than 130,000 homes. They have housed over 456,000 people, and provided desks in schools for about 145,000 children. They have provided over 2,500 new shops, ranging from the one at the corner to the very large store catering for every want. These are just a few figures to demonstrate the size of what is sometimes known as the new towns movement.

We have done much in which we can justly take pride. There have been frustrations and mistakes, and there are those of us who believe we should have done more because we know that in the development of new towns lies the answer to many of the problems of slums, of overcrowding in our big cities, and the enormous population growth, which face us today. Do not let us underestimate the scale of this problem. By the end of this century it is estimated that some 20 million more people will be living in Great Britain. That is a rate of growth two and a half times as great as in the past 35 years. Even hon. Members on the other side of the House have learned this lesson, though it took a long time to sink in. We on this side pressed for many barren years for more new towns, and now that decision rests with us we are moving forward with a much larger programme of new towns on a scale vastly greater than anything ever undertaken. That is why I say that today we stand at the beginning of a new stage in new town development. That is why Clause 1 of this Bill is needed.

In February, 1965, this Government announced their first decisions for future new towns. In the South-East we decided to go ahead with a new town in north Buckinghamshire and with major expansions at Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton. These proposals together provided for planned intakes of some 280,000 people from London by 1981, and in the end we will see populations in those places of perhaps 250,000 each. In the North-West, we proposed a large new city in the Leyland-Chorley area of Lancashire and the expansion of Warrington to take people out of Manchester. The former may rise to 500,000 population, the latter to over 200,000.

These proposals are being pursued with all possible speed. Reports by consultant planners recommending suitable areas for designation have already been published for four towns. A similar report for Leyland-Chorley will come out next year, whilst a decision by my right hon. Friend on the designation in North Buckinghamshire will be made very soon.

The procedures for designation are lengthy but necessary. The schemes are too important and far-reaching in their effects to be embarked upon without full consideration of the interests of those who will be affected, and without the very fullest possible consultation with local authorities.

Before I move on to a particular discussion on new towns, I would like to mention in a few words our complementary activities on town expansion schemes. As I have already said, the population for which we have to provide is enormous and it is not possible to provide for this simply in new towns. We must have smaller but equally important schemes dealt with by local authorities working together.

Town development, that is to say, development under the Town Development Act, 1952, has been very considerably helped in the south-east of England by the Greater London Council. I want to pay tribute to the Council in this respect for it has always taken a very big view, and has, in particular, come to generous financial arrangements with receiving local authorities.

As a result there are now 20 town development schemes running for the relief of London, and in total they will result in the construction of over 50,000 houses. The current rate of building is over 5,000 houses a year and of these some 2,000 are being built by the Greater London Council itself under agency schemes.

In addition discussions are going on for further agency schemes, and the Greater London Council hopes to reach a total agency programme building at a rate of 5,000 houses a year.

Furthermore, and as a separate major project, the Greater London Council is in consultation with the Wiltshire County Council and the Swindon Borough Council on the possibility of carrying out the further expansion of Swindon under the Town Development Act. This follows the Llewellyn Davies report on development in the Swindon-Newbury-Didcot area.

Unfortunately—and I regret it very much—I cannot report to the House that town expansion schemes elsewhere in England are going as well as those in the South-East. Relatively, the need for such schemes is just as great in the Midlands and the North-East, but the results are so far just not approaching the level of success achieved by the Greater London Council.

I am sure that it is entirely right that large authorities faced with overspill problems should play a full part in developing outside their own territories. Until a task gets so big that only central Government can reasonably tackle it there is a case surely for local authorities in consultation to do all they can to provide homes and all that go with them. I hope very much that in the not too far distance I shall be able to report to the House that progress by our great provincial cities and towns in this field of activity has become really worth while. I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent these cities and towns to use their influence there so that the people of those places fully understand that they have a part to play in all this, as well as the central Government.

In thinking and planning bigger we must build faster too. Development corporations are playing their full part in the Minister's drive to improve and increase the use of industrialised methods in house building in the public sector. In the new towns, with their large, continuing housing programmes and often the availability of large sites, conditions are right: for the full benefits of industrialised building to be gained.

Of the dwellings completed in 1965 and the first half of 1966 in new towns, one-third were built by industrialised methods. A number of the new towns, especially those of the second generation, have large contracts in hand or being planned for industrialised building, and I expect to see the proportion rise considerably.

There will be those who cry out that factory built houses will mar the beauty of towns which are meant to set examples to the rest of the country. I will not waste the time of the House exploding that myth. Industrialised building in its appearance and variety, if it is good, stands second to none.

To my mind, one of the most interesting and exciting of our ideas is the use of the machinery of the New Towns Act to expand large existing towns. Already in the so-called second generation new towns like Redditch and Runcorn, we are integrating existing towns of substantial population with new development and incoming population from big cities on a substantial scale. In the latest proposals, however, for places like Ipswich, Northampton and Warrington, we are dealing with important large county boroughs and, for Peterborough, with an historic city.

There will be a number of advantages in the arrangements which we propose. First, in each of these cities the council and the corporation will act in partnership. They will plan together and work together. There will be, I hope, complete integration of thought and purpose with nothing but healthy, overt rivalry between partners.

Secondly, they would jointly so run their housing management that there would be inter-changeability of tenancies; new immigrants could take older houses and old residents could take newer houses.

Thirdly, the powers and backing of the development corporation might be used to the advantage of the council.

There is, however, power for a development corporation—with the consent of the Minister and the concurrence of the Treasury—to make contributions towards expenditure by local authorities in the performance in relation to the new town of any of their statutory functions, and this power would be used if it proved necessary.

The scope, form and size of financial contributions by the development corporation would be a matter for negotiation. In the case of a new town being added on to an existing town, it would not be right to insulate ratepayers from any general rise in rate levels; moreover, if they were to enjoy a wider range of facilities than at present, it would be only fair that they should make a contribution to the cost of providing those facilities. Ratepayers can, however, be assured that they will not be asked to bear more than their fair share of the cost of the expansion.

Fourthly, in this type of expansion there would be no more "new town blues". The new immigrants would find shops, entertainments and social and sports facilities in full measure. These would in due course be improved and supplemented but, at least in the early and difficult years, Londoners, for example, would not feel that they had been banished to desolation.

I have mentioned, in connection with these "partnership arrangements", two aspects which have been very much in our minds since we took office. One is the question of relationships between development corporations and the local authorities. I have spent a great deal of time visiting new towns and meeting the men and women who are members of the corporations and the local authorities. In some new towns, relations were good; in others, far from. good. What we have done is to make sure that in every new town there are better liaison arrangements, especially at member level. A few towns already had these; others have recently set them up, and I am firmly convinced that real co-operation between corporations and local authorities will now be the rule and not the exception.

The other aspect which I want particularly to mention concerns amenities. For a long time, simple and yet essential amenities were lacking in the first generation new towns. They took time to develop and they needed money. That situation is now mainly historical for, in many of our early new towns the social, recreational and other leisure facilities which they now have are the envy of many old towns. These things can be done, provided all concerned really play their parts—local authorities, development corporations, organisations and individuals.

As many hon. Members no doubt know, corporations are allowed to contribute towards amenities. The present limit is £4 per head of incoming population, but currently my right hon. Friend is looking at this; because it is held by many of us that it is not enough. It would in my view, however, be quite wrong for everyone to sit back and let the corporations take the initiative. Let the local authorities, let the people make the running and then seek financial help from the corporations. This is how democracy in this country should work: it should sharpen initiative, not stifle it.

There could hardly be a debate of this scale on new towns without reference—indeed, a number of references—to the Commission for the New Towns and what the Government propose to do about that body. Let me make it quite clear immediately that anything I shall say on this subject will contain no criticism whatsoever of the members and staff of the Commission, all of whom have loyally and steadfastly carried out their duties. We owe them our thanks.

The issue quite simply is what should be done in those new towns which have come to the end of the taxing and strenuous period of rapid population growth and are settling down to a more normal rhythm.

It is common ground that, when this end point is reached, the exceptional powers given to development corporations for the purpose of building the town quickly and efficiently are no longer needed and should be withdrawn. But there remains the question of the disposition and management of the very substantial assets built up by the development corporation.

The Government have taken the view that the local authority, which will have been somewhat overshadowed by the development corporation during the buildup period, should be allowed, and indeed encouraged, to take the leading rôle in guiding the fortunes of the completed new town, and this involves the question of control of the assets of the former development corporation.

To the extent that this policy is possible within the existing law, we have been trying, with some success, and with the willing co-operation of the Commission for the New Towns, to bring it about. But the law setting up the Commission for the New Towns does not permit us to go far enough. 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.

I cannot promise that this will be done very quickly. There is unlikely to be room in the Parliamentary timetable before the third session of this Parliament—and there are, in any case, many complex and conflicting considerations to be reconciled. A number of very interesting and helpful contributions have been received from some of the parties directly concerned in these matters and will be taken into account in the preparation of our proposals.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

I am interested in my hon. Friend's explanations and views about, the difficulty when the new town comes to its end and is transferred to the local authority. Would he not agree that it would be better if we had a bigger representation of the people who, in the long run, will have to take over the running of what will then be a town, an urban district and in some cases a county borough or development district authority so that they can, in the initial stages, as it is getting towards its fulfilment, better develop the town as they realise it should be and perhaps not be saddled with many of the difficulties which will be hard to eradicate later?

Mr. Mellish

Of course, and that was the whole object of my going round the new towns. I have taken the view ever since I have had responsibility for them that the local authorities and development corporations to this extent have to act as one. I do not think that it necessarily follows that one has to have individuals sitting on the development corporation. What one needs at member level is committees composed of representatives of the development corporation and the local authority meeting on a regular basis—in my view, once a month—at which they discuss mutual problems, so that the local authority representatives are educated to the extent that they know what the problems are and are ready and able to take them over. It does not follow that one has to appoint people on to the corporations. One gets the link at membership level so that each other's business is discussed at that level. I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is exactly the objective at which we have been aiming.

It is our intention to bring in legislation, but it is unlikely to be done until the third Session of Parliament.

One other thing about the new towns to which I want to refer is that there is a study on house ownership in new towns being undertaken by Mr. Culling-worth of Birmingham University which may well be of some considerable relevance when we come to decide the future of a new town. Mr. Cullingworth's report should be ready in about 9 to 12 months.

But what is already abundantly clear is that local authorities who are, after all, the statutory housing authorities, should eventually become responsible for managing all publicly-owned housing. When a new town has been fully developed, there should only be one housing list, and one housing policy. The task of providing homes for those unable to own their own, or unable to rent privately-owned property, is indivisible. That is clear, and that is the way we shall go.

The question of the future of more remunerative assets such as commercial and industrial property, which are not like housing, because housing is a social service, is rather different, and is one that is still very much under consideration. The Government have invested a great deal of capital in these fields, and this, as well as the need for efficient management, must be fully taken into account.

In the meantime, I think that this is a good opportunity to reassure the staff of the Commission. I have already said that legislation cannot be introduced for some time. Meanwhile, there is no reason for any member of the staff to feel apprehensive about the future. Apart from their important function of managing property representing a Government investment of about £100 million, which is a continuing one whatever changes may be made in ownership, the Commission has in hand a building programme involving capital expenditure of about £50 million over the next few years. It is at present building over 1,000 houses in the four towns with which it is concerned, and there are 5,000 more in the programme for the next five years. In addition, the Commission is planning more industrial and commercial development to meet the needs of the towns, it is undertaking extensive redevelopment of obsolete property, and it is carrying out certain road and other engineering works. Some of these projects may not be finished by the time the new arrangements come into force, and legislation will have to make suitable provision for them to be completed by other appropriate bodies.

It is not possible at this point of time to say where the Commission's various responsibilities will go, though I expect that some at least will be transferred to the local authorities. But wherever the work is transferred, we will aim to ensure that those of the Commission's staff engaged on it will move, if they wish to do so, to whichever body assumes the responsibility. Not all the staff may wish to transfer in this way. Some may prefer to move on to help to build the next generation of new towns and cities. Indeed, I hope that this will happen.

It could be invaluable to the new development corporations, from the outset, to be able to call on the experience of some of the teams of architects, planners and engineers who have worked successfully together on other new town projects. This sort of redeployment of experienced manpower is already taking place, and it is the Commission's view, which I share, that redundancy is unlikely to occur during the period leading up to the transfer of the Commission's assets. But if, in the event, anybody employed by the Commission, and still below retiring age, is not transferred with the work, and is unable to secure comparable employment, suitable arrangements will be made regarding compensation.

The details of all this will have to be discussed by my Department with the Commission, the local authorities, and the appropriate staff associations, before legislation is introduced. I hope that what I have said today will be read very carefully by all the Commission's staff, and I hope, too, that it will give them the satisfaction which they have the right to expect.

Let me now turn to something which I think is very important to make sure that new towns really are doing their job. It is a subject in which I have found intense interest.

The purpose of the London new towns is to accommodate overspill from London, and more particularly to relieve London's housing problems.

The system by which Londoners have been transferred to the new towns has been via the Industrial Selection Scheme. This has been going on for a very long time, and it has played a very useful rôle, but latterly these arrangements have not produced the best possible results. On paper only about half of the Londoners who have moved into new towns in the last year or two have been in the top priority group. I am determined that this situation will change. These towns are built for Londoners who have a housing need, and it is essential that the Government should plan and devise methods which will ensure that those Londoners who have a housing need become the top priority, and everybody concerned must keep it clearly in mind that this is the Government's intention.

One of the problems is that a large number of authorities have to co-operate in the operation of the I.S.S., and it is difficult for any one of them to have a comprehensive view of the working of the scheme. To overcome this difficulty a small team of officials—one each from my Department, the Ministry of Labour, and the Greater London Council—has been set up to keep the administrative arrangements under continuous review. This is to be known as the London Overspill Liaison Group and will report to a Standing Committee of senior officials. We hope that the members of the group will be given free access to the offices of all the various authorities involved in the scheme, and will be able to produce constructive recommendations for improving its operation.

But it is not only a question of machinery. There is, unfortunately, a built-in difficulty in matching Londoners in housing need to jobs in new towns. Jobs are, in the main, although not exclusively, for skilled, or at least for semi-skilled workers, whereas many of the people on the London housing waiting lists are predominantly unskilled.

It has recently been decided that development corporations should set aside from the rented housing becoming available in any year for people moving to the new town, a fixed proportion which would be reserved absolutely for unskilled and semi-skilled workers from London who are in great housing need. This is to be known as the "special" allocation. Nominations to these houses are made not by employers, but by the managers of the New Town Employment Exchange in consultation with the G.L.C., and of course the development corporation. Basildon and Harlow are already operating this scheme, with an allocation of 15 per cent. of houses becoming available, and Stevenage and Bracknell are expected to bring it into operation on 1st April next year. This is very helpful, and yet there is another problem.

The deep-seated solution lies in the training of unskilled workers to fill semiskilled and skilled jobs in the new towns This is not primarily a job for the Ministry of Labour rehabilitation centres, which are primarily concerned with craft skills. What is needed is for the employers in the new towns to get together with the development corporations to organise the recruitment and training of unskilled Londoners in the new town to meet local needs. Schemes of this kind are already in active preparation. My Department is doing everything it can to encourage this development, and I hope that similar schemes can be worked out for the big new London overspill operations at Ipswich, Northampton, Peterborough, and so on.

Similar considerations apply to schemes for other conurbations, for example, Birmingham and Liverpool. Here the new towns are in their very early stages, and no great difficulties have yet arisen, but the situation will be watched carefully.

I have dealt with the past, the present, and the immediate projects in hand. And there is the future.

I say to the House today that we have built some very good new towns. We are building some even better ones, and using to the full a wealth of experience. I am sure that we shall go from strength to strength. We shall adopt, and adapt, and we shall not hesitate to mould for all that is best in the future.

Already the Government are looking further ahead to perhaps another chapter in planning for our children and grandchildren. As the House knows, the feasibility of major development in the South Hampshire area has been studied and reported upon. On Humberside, my Department, with the full co-operation of the planning authorities concerned, has set up a planning team to assist the Department of Economic Affairs. The team will examine where the growth might best and most economically take place. The work will take about nine to twelve months, and Severnside and the Dundee area have been identified for early studies.

These are not just pipe dreams, these are to be real schemes, planned for real live people, and I feel sure that there is not a Member present who does not agree with the concept of new towns, with the fact of their success, and with the great prospects in this field which lie ahead, although, naturally, there will be differences—healthy differences I think—on certain aspects of policy and administration.

I commend this Bill to the House today, and in doing so I invite those who sometimes criticise Britain for lack of enterprise and technical adventure to look carefully at what we have done, and are yet to do, in the field of new towns. Our past accomplishments are acclaimed throughout the world, but they are simply stepping stones to a better land. I am confident that we shall go well beyond the success of the past, and that we shall set even higher standards for the future.

11.39 a.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I echo the congratulations offered by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the devoted staff who have built the wonderful new towns that we have in this country. I have always been an enthusiast for new towns, because, knowing London's housing problems, I realise that this is the only solution. Looking at it parochially, it is impossible to solve the housing problem of, say, Willesden, but in Hemel Hempstead we have many ex-Willesden residents who now have beautiful homes, which they had no hope of finding in the area from which they came.

I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was rather unfair in suggesting that throughout those "13 years of Tory misrule" there was lack of appreciation of new towns. The whole idea of a second generation of new towns started during the years of Tory rule. The groundwork for which the Parliamentary Secretary is now appearing to take personal credit was laid then. We ought to get this matter in perspective. It was only in 1958 that the birth rate suddenly started to rise. Before that, it had been declining but in 1958 it rose and it was thought to be a freak movement. In 1959, however, it was still rising, and by 1960 it was recognised that the birth rate had turned up and was continuing on an upward trend, and that meant a complete revision of all the house requirements of this country.

That point is not recognised. While 300,000 houses a year was a satisfactory rate for 1959 it became an unsatisfactory rate a little later, when it was recognised that our population was expanding fast. That gave the impetus to the second generation of new towns, which both sides of the House welcome. When a new town is set up there is some local disquiet, because it means that people from outside are coming in and are being rehoused although there is already a local housing waiting list. This produces considerable difficulties, and creates jealousy between the local inhabitants and the new people coming in. Then the children of the new town tenants grow up, marry and in turn require houses.

We had an example of this in Hemel Hempstead. There the Development Corporation was an extremely enlightened landlord, giving high priority to the children of its own tenants. They had to wait for roughly a year to be rehoused, whereas the children of borough council tenants had to wait for four or five years. This was a very unsatisfactory position.

By a happy coincidence the Hemel Hempstead level of council rents was roughly the same as that of the Development Corporation. This does not happen in any other new town, as far as I know. In general, the two levels of rents are quite different. But since we had this happy coincidence we were able to form a joint housing list for the children of tenants both of Development Corporation houses and council houses. This is the germ of the idea which the Parliamentary Secretary has now leapt on to. He says that his intention is that joint lists will be established in all new towns, with the same level of rents. But he knows there is considerable difficulty over that.

He spoke with great enthusiasm of the work of the Greater London Council, but he ought to cast his mind back to its predecessors, the London County Council, and its record before the war, when its attitude as a landlord, as expressed in its out-county estate at Dagenham, was that the children of L.C.C. tenants were not entitled to be rehoused by the L.C.C, but were just left as a charge on the Dagenham Council. Happily, the Development Corporation has never tried to match that attitude. It has always been prepared to be responsible for its own tenants.

I look upon development corporations and the New Towns Commissions as enlightened landlords in their actions in this respect, but one respect in which they are not enlightened, is in their atti- tude towards owner-occupation. It is necessary to have a substantial number of owner-occupied houses in new towns, because there is a natural desire to own one's own house and the best residents in these towns are the people who are likely to become the pillars of the town's society in the future—to provide the mayors, the heads of charities, and the people whom we really need. [Interruption.] Those people are being driven out at the moment because they have no opportunity to buy their own homes, and as they rise in the world they tend to leave the new towns. It is no good hon. Members opposite becoming upset about this; it is a fact of life.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

The hon. Member says that this is a fact of life. What evidence has he to underline this fact in his experience outside his own new town? I can assure him that this is not the case in Harlow.

Mr. Allason

I shall be glad to join the hon. Member in Harlow one day. We might discuss the question then. I shall deal later on with the co-operation that exists on both sides of the House in this matter.

In the later stages of the development of new towns there is a great need for a higher proportion of building for owner occupation. This is recognised, and lip service is paid to the need for it, but the excuse is always put forward, "Not now. Some time later we shall be building the owner-occupied houses." The number of owner-occupied houses in new towns is quite inadequate. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a keen desire to buy among the tenants of new towns, and I sincerely hope that the leasehold enfranchisement Measure will apply to them.

The Parliamentary Secretary has told us of his intentions for the future, namely, that the assets of new towns shall be handed over to local authorities. He said that this will be provided for in a Bill. I do not want to discuss the merits or demerits of that point now, but I warn him that he will have a fight on his hands when that Bill comes up. He said that in trying to hand over assets to local authorities he has already gone to the limit of the law. I wonder whether he has had any success yet. He came to Hemel Hempstead with an elaborate scheme explaining how to do a fiddle in order to get round the existing Act, but it eventually had to be abandoned. I should be grateful if he can give us some more information about his successes in going to the limit of the law.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member has used most extravagant language, in suggesting that I said something to encourage fiddling. He should withdraw that. All that I was trying to do was to help in the context of the law as it now stands, both financially and, I hope, socially. Let us get the matter on its right basis.

Mr. Allason

I should have thought that a scheme whereby one body rents houses from another body and then that other body is enabled to rent houses out to tenants at a higher rent was deserving of the description "fiddle". This was a quite deliberate attempt to give a subsidy to the local authority at the expense of the New Towns Commission. I am not prepared to withdraw the words that I used about it.

The Parliamentary Secretary spoke about the problems of industrial training, which is a great difficulty. The type of workers required in new towns are not the unskilled, but the semi-skilled. A number of skilled workers come in under industrial selection schemes and, of course, their training is already taken care of, but the training of men from unskilled to semi-skilled is a problem and I am glad that the Government are now working on this.

It is a problem because of the danger of poaching. A firm which sets up a scheme to train workers from unskilled to semi-skilled is doing a great public service, but it is not much fun for the firm if those who have been trained go to work for another firm which has not the same training arrangements. This happens.

I am glad to hear that the Government are setting up a London overspill liaison group. I wonder whether it will include representatives of the hon. Gentleman's Ministry, the Board of Trade, the Department of Economic Affairs, and the Ministry of Labour. Co-operation is needed. It is always difficult in new towns to equate the number of people available for work with the amount of work. Fantastic success results, despite the greatest difficulties.

In one new town, a firm which lost a considerable order and consequently sacked 400 men, who then found jobs in other firms in the town, later got another order and wanted to re-engage 400 workers. It put pressure on the Corporation and said that the Corporation should provide the houses for the workers. This is the type of difficulty which occurs. In such cases there is a need for greater liaison between the Department of Economic Affairs and the hon. Gentleman's Ministry.

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned "new town blues", which is symptomatic of the discouragement which a housewife suffers when she has been used to the comforts of London and suddenly moves into a house in an unmade street, with mud everywhere, and finds that the shops are not open and the school is a tin shed awaiting the provision of a proper one, there is no cinema and no facilities whatever. Life is bound to be pretty miserable, without knowing the neighbours, even if the woman lives in a beautiful house.

This is the trouble, that the provision of city facilities in new towns is extremely difficult. The pubs on the corner, cinemas and halls are extremely expensive, so that I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that this is a job in which a certain amount of self-help is desirable. These people are coming to live in the country and the villages where, when a village hall is wanted, people work for it. The villagers themselves work like mad to build themselves a village hall, whereas in new towns the tendency is to think that it ought to be provided by the powers that be.

The development corporations have been remarkably successful in providing facilities, but the danger is that they always tend to turn up a little too late. One of the reasons is that the Government will not recognise the effect on the rates of expanding population. When there is a large housing development, there is a very large burden on local rates, and the Government always say that when the houses are built, the rates will go up and the money will be paid back. But it never catches up. Therefore, in areas where there are expansions of population, the rates will always tend to rise. At some stage we hope to be able to convince the Government of this.

Considerable bitterness occurs when land is taken perhaps from a local farmer within the area of a new town. If it is taken at an earlier stage, perhaps there is not so much bitterness, but land tends to be left. All land in the area is not automatically bought up, and at a later stage the rules of compensation bear hardly on the owner of the land when he sees it taken from him for, perhaps, £2,000 an acre and promptly resold for £10,000 an acre to a private developer.

This causes difficulty. We are now confronted with the Land Commission Bill, which will introduce new arrangements for taking a betterment levy. I wonder whether it is still necessary to have special provisions for new towns when there are housing expansion schemes all over the country. One would have thought it desirable to have one form of compensation or of removal of betterment levy. Compensation, after all, when lower than the market price, represents the taking of betterment levy. In these circumstances, is it right to have one level of compensation within new town areas and a different level without, recognising that there will shortly be a general degree of betterment levy charged all over the country.

In Hemel Hempstead, we have a very advanced new town and far fewer problems than others. We, therefore, like to share out "know-how" with those still experiencing growing pains. There is a back-bench group of hon. Members from both sides of the House which discusses these sort of problems. I warn the Parliamentary Secretary that we shall be seeking to see him, I hope fairly shortly, to discuss the real problems which arise. I welcome much of what he said today, because he is thinking on many points on similar lines to those of our inter-party group.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Terence Boston (Faversham)

In welcoming the Bill, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on the fore-sighted way in which he introduced it and the arguments which he adduced in its favour and in favour of the new towns generally. I think that I am speaking on behalf of more than hon. Members on this side when I say that few people deserve this more than my hon. Friend. More than anyone else, perhaps, he has done an enormous amount in this respect, especially in helping to solve and to tackle the problem of London's housing. It is clear that no one has done more than he in this respect, and we welcome the fact that he introduced the Bill.

I was surprised at some of the astounding claims and rather provocative language of the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason). I hope that he will forgive me if I say that I do not propose to follow him down that path of provocation.

This is a very timely Bill. Some of the problems with which it deals are, perhaps, highlighted by the report that we will have seen yesterday of a paper delivered to the London conference on transport and environment planning by Dr. Peter Hall, reader in geography at the London School of Economics.

One of the pictures which he presented was rather terrifying. He referred to some of the experience in town development in the United States, in particular in Los Angeles, and said, perhaps rightly, that the way in which Los Angeles had grown had been much maligned, and unfairly so. That may be true—I have not been to Los Angeles and so I cannot make an on-the-spot judgment—but I found it rather terrifying if it is being suggested that we should develop in exactly that way. I do not very much favour the idea of the sort of sprawl that exists there, 80 miles by 40 miles. Far less do I look forward to a repetition of that in this country stretching from Southampton to, perhaps, as far as Northampton in a great urban sprawl of that kind.

The reason why I regard the Bill as timely is that it shows that a great deal of thought has been going on over the past two years in particular into the way in which, especially in the southern part of the country, we should see this sort of development going on. Another reason why I find it difficult to follow some of the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead is that one should mention the enormous impetus which was given in the immediate post-war years by the then Government.

I would like particularly to refer to the problems in the southern part of the country. One of the great difficulties is to find sites, both for new towns and for major extensions to existing towns or, for that matter, for overspill projects of the kind to which my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has referred. This is especially the case in the South-East. I believe that the Greater London Council is faced with the immediate problem of having to find homes for something like 350,000 families together with sites for industry outside the Greater London area.

The problem which the Greater London Council faces is intensified because not all places which have been or are being considered want to take London overspill. As we have seen, some schemes have come to grief, the most recent being the scheme in which it was proposed to expand Gillingham, in Dorset. That proposal was turned down by the Shaftesbury Rural Council. It was a comparatively small scheme but, nevertheless, one which would have benefited my hon. Friend's Department and also the Greater London proposals.

I believe that the policy of the G.L.C. has always been to send Londoners only where they are wanted and where they are welcome. This can often be a considerable hurdle to overcome. There could be immense saving in time and effort, and for that matter money—for instance, money involved in making investigations—if a place is known in advance to be ready to welcome London overspill. This is, perhaps, at least half the battle.

I hope that I may be forgiven if for a few moments I seem to be a little bit parochial, but the important thing here is that specific suggestions should be made. It is not a question of being parochial. If we can make specific suggestions and proposals, so much the better.

There is a particular part of my own area which is more than ready and willing to receive a London overspill project. I refer to the Isle of Sheppey, which is a sizeable part of the Faversham constituency. All three local authorities there are wholeheartedly in favour of an idea of this kind, as also is the Kent County Council, which some years ago put forward in the Kent development plan a proposal for a number of major expansions. One of those which was considered was Ashford, of which we have heard more subsequently—I know that my hon. Friend's Department has been working on it—and there were possibilities in other parts of Kent.

The Isle of Sheppey was another place which was proposed for major expansion. This idea, unfortunately, was not pursued by the last Government when introducing their South East Study, much to the disappointment of the whole of Kent and, I think, of the then London County Council, because they saw the possibilities of this scheme.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has, I believe, taken an interest in that suggestion, in which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary has also expressed interest. The chairman of the South-East Economic Planning Council, Mr. Maurice Hackett, has been getting down to this problem extremely hard in the short time since his appointment and he has recently visited the area. I have been in touch as well with the chairman of the Greater London Council, Mr. Ferguson.

There are difficulties about that specific project, as, I suppose, there are in all proposals for overspill schemes, extensions of towns or new towns. One of the most useful things is if the Greater London Council or any of the other bodies involved in proposals of this kind can work with simply a single local authority. The particular problem that has been mentioned in my own area is that there are three local authorities in the Isle of Sheppey. A scheme is being put forward by the Kent County Council to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for possible amalgamation.

I do not want to go into the merits of that proposal, but it is only fair to point out that in a letter to me the chairman of the Greater London Council states that an amalgamation of the local authorities affected would be necessary for a scheme of any size. I mention that simply to state the view of the G.L.C, which applies also when other schemes of this kind are put forward.

There are a great many problems in finding sites for overspill or extension schemes. Land is one of the biggest, particularly in the south-east of England. The situation in my own area is in striking contrast to the position in much of the rest of the South-East, where either land is simply not available or any proposal which is made represents considerable incursions into valuable and rather scarce agricultural land. This argument does not apply in the area in question. This point was also brought out in two Parliamentary replies yesterday by my hon. Friend the other Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

Jobs are always a problem when proposals of this kind are considered. It is valuable, particularly to the Greater London Council, when considering schemes of this nature to feel that there will be at least a small reservoir of jobs available locally so that the first people to move into an area can be assured of a start before other industry or commerce moves down.

I have been keeping an eye on inquiries which have been made over the last couple of years or so by firms which have been thinking of expanding or moving down to the area. The last count shows that if everything materialises, there is a possibility of something like 1,200 jobs in the pipeline. When one is talking of a scheme which is not as large as a new town or a major expansion, a prospect of that size is a fairly good start for one of the Greater London Council's overspill proposals. There is ample scope for development in the area.

This has implications for other parts of the country. It is not frequently recognised that in the Medway area, particularly Sheerness, is one of the deepest water harbours in the country. It is comparable with Southampton. Without going into the matter at length today, suffice to say that if there is to be further detailed consideration of Britain going into Europe and increasing its trade with Europe, there are obvious geographical implications in what I have said, and that applies to the proposals for a possible channel tunnel.

My hon. Friend referred to the need for training people for jobs when they move from one area to another. In the last couple of years the Government have made considerable strides in this sphere, particularly with the extension of Government training centres. Although a fair amount of effort has been put into this work with considerable success, more should be done. One new Government training centre will be in the Medway towns.

When speaking of major expansions in the South-East and of London overspill proposals, the question of the educational facilities available in the areas to which Londoners move becomes vitally important. Many pupils in London have for some time been receiving a comprehensive education and if an area can show that it is interested in this and is taking active steps about it, that can be of some benefit. It is a credit to the Kent County Council, which is Conservative controlled, that one of the schemes which it will introduce on comprehensive education will be carried out in the Medway area. This has also been effectively boosted by the Labour members of that Council, not least from my area.

A thought about development generally in the South-East. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said in February that the problem of the drift to the South-East had beset the whole country for a considerable time. My right hon. Friend announced, however, that this problem had just about been stopped, not least because of the I.D.C. policy of the Government and the control of office development policy pursued by them in the past two years. These measures have undoubtedly helped a great deal in stopping this drift.

We are, however, reaching the stage when it would be dangerous for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to continue for too long and too severely the clamp-down which we have rightly and naturally expected in these parts of the country. I notice some wry smiles on the faces of some of my hon. Friends who represent other parts of the country. If we have reached the point when the drift has been virtually stopped in the southern part of the country, the problem of natural growth and coping with the difficulties that arise from it still remains. There is a danger that if we do not start a phased easing of some of these restrictions we may find ourselves in difficulty. Any influence my hon. Friend can exert on the President of the Board of Trade will be greatly welcomed.

This is an excellent Bill. It shows that the Government are determined to give the same impetus as they have given in the past to the problem of new town development, major town expansion and London overspill proposals. I wish my hon. Friend great success in this work and perhaps he will favourably consider some of the suggestions put to him.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

I congratulate the Minister on having introduced the Bill, which has my full support, and I am glad that it has been given this order of priority. The development of new towns is one of the finest and most important social reforms since the war, and I regret that there was a gap of a decade, under successive Conservative Governments, during which not one new town was designated. One cannot make up what was not built in a year, much less in a decade. To blame the vagaries of the birthrate for 10 years of inaction on the part of successive Tory Administrations is an incredible argument.

The need for new towns on social and economic grounds was overwhelmingly established during that decade, as it had been previously and as it is now. The empty benches opposite are a fitting, though depressing, symbol of those empty years.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

What about yesterday?

Mr. Hooley

I have three main points to make. First is the enormous importance of the aesthetic impact of these new urban centres. I had the pleasure some time ago of visiting Peterlee and was tremendously impressed by the atmosphere, the sense of design and the aesthetic impact of this urban area on the surroundings and people. It is vital for us to provide a counter-centre, a counter-poise, to ease the appalling drab-ness and dreariness of the cities which we inherited from earlier decades.

My second point concerns size. It was regarded desirable in the first stage that a new town should be limited to 70,000 to 80,000 people. I never agreed with that limitation, and I am glad it is now thought that a new town can be much larger—perhaps 200,000 or even quarter of a million people—and still be a well-planned town.

I appreciate the view that a big town is bound to be a bad town. That view is bound to arise because of our experience of the past. Big towns have been ghastly models of slums, industrial de- velopment, housing, roads and railways—all thrown together in an unplanned tangle. However, I do not see why a new town cannot be a big and good centre if it is properly planned, and I welcome the present trend towards greater size, though I admit that this may produce planning problems.

I have always thought it extraordinary that, with the exception of Yorkshire, every great industrial area—industrial Scotland, Lancashire, the North-East, South Wales, the West Midlands and London—has new towns already built or designed. It is highly unfortunate that the Yorkshire and Humberside planning region has no new town, and is only just thinking in terms of a new centre of development on South Humberside.

The Minister has appealed to provincial cities not to leave all these things to the central Government, and I echo that appeal. The Yorkshire authorities have been somewhat lacking in vision in this respect. In many ways they have made tremendous and successful attempts to refurbish and redevelop the centres and other parts of existing cities, but that is not enough. If the Yorkshire and Humberside region is to develop as we want to see it develop, it must have powerful new centres of growth to attract population and industry.

I cannot share the satisfaction ex. pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) over the stoppage of the drift to the South. I am not at all sure that this problem has been solved, or is even on the way to solution. There is still a massive problem of relocation of population. Even if the drift to the South-East has stopped, and I am not so sure that it has, we cannot view with complacency the housing of the natural growth of population in that area if no attempt is made to provide a counter drift——

Mr. Boston

I agree with my hon. Friend, and sympathise with his point of view. I hope I did not give the impression that we should not continue to do everything possible to move, for instance, Government Departments or offices to other parts of the country. What the Chancellor of the Exchequer was probably saying was that, although the drift itself had been virtually stopped, there would still have to be some exchange of population between the areas. I fully agree that we should do all we can to encourage people to go from the southern parts into the, perhaps, more needy development areas in the North.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions ought to be brief.

Mr. Hooley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making my point perhaps better than I could have done. We cannot afford to be complacent about the distribution of population, and I was glad to hear what the Minister said about studies being made of Severnside and parts of Scotland—as, I hope, of the Yorkshire and Humberside planning area—as substantial centres of new population and growth.

The problem of environment in this area is complicated and important. Yorkshire has no need to be ashamed of its natural environment—its dales and moors and natural beauty compare with any other part of the Kingdom—but there is a serious and as yet unsolved problem of urban environment, and unless urgent action is taken to remedy that the area will always be afflicted by drift of population.

Sites and land have been referred to. Certain parts of the Yorkshire and Humberside region are very densely populated, although the overall population density there compares rather favourably at present with that of other major industrial areas. In the East Riding and in certain other parts of the region there is abundant space for new towns and centres of population and industry.

One hon. Member touched on the problem of adequate new town government, but I believe that this should await the outcome of the general reform of local government at present being studied by the Royal Commission. I do not think that an ad hoc attempt to solve this problem in the next two years would be either reasonable or sensible when such a massive study is in progress. I sincerely hope that the study will produce fundamental reforms in the local government system.

This excellent Bill has my full support. I hope that it will enable a very great and important movement to go ahead as rapidly as possible.

12.26 p.m.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

I, too, welcome the Bill, and I want not only to praise what I believe are its best intentions but to make some constructive criticism. I hope that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) will write into his next election address what he said this morning about owner-occupiers in new towns—and I suppose he means any town—being the pillars of society and having all the manners and good grace. Let him print that in his address, and then let us see at the next election what those who are not owner-occupiers but who nevertheless have manners and good grace will say about it.

Mr. Allason

The hon. Member would doubtless allow that a vast number of tenants have a great desire to be owner-occupiers. That is the general wish in the country. Admittedly, a large number of people do not want to own their own houses, but the great majority do.

Mr. McGuire

That is not what the hon. Gentleman said. I could not agree more with what he has just said. The 1945 Labour Government did as much as any Government could to create that atmosphere, and I want the present Government to go ahead in the same way. We have proposals for doing this, but they are not the subject of this debate.

I want to tell the Department how I think some of the additional £250 million should be spent. One of the great problems in the new towns is the cost of rented houses. In this connection I think of Skelmersdale, in my constituency. The cost is far in excess of the cost of comparable houses in the surrounding county borough and borough areas. In particular, it is much higher than in Liverpool, the main overspill area.

One of the reasons for this is that the whole cost of developing a new town, building the roads, putting in the sewers, and other services, must be added to the cost of the houses, and there are no existing council houses to act as a cushion. Most local authorities now subsidise new house building and, instead of charging what is called the economic rent for the new houses, arrange that some of the cost is borne by the tenants of the older council houses. That cannot be done in a new town area like Skelmersdale, because there are no existing houses to be used as a. cushion. This is creating great hardship in some cases because, unfortunately, Skelmersdale has industries that are tied up with the motor car industry. I refer particularly to Dunlops and ancillary industries of the motor car industry.

As they meet the squeeze the effect will be felt in Skelmersdale and the families will find it affecting their standard of living. I am all in favour of subsidising people who wish to buy their houses, but there is a big problem for people who rent houses and who sometimes pay sums in excess of those paid by people who buy houses. They should be given relief. It is not good enough to help a man who is buying a house for £3,000 and not to help a man who has a council house which cost him sums in excess of that.

Another matter which concerns the new town of Skelmersdale is the problem of education. It is better to synchronise the development of schools with the building of the new towns. I know that this may appear to be all right when a scheme is put on paper and is more difficult to effect in practice, but there is a feeling in Skelmersdale that development is not coming along at the right pace and that a great problem is being created in overcrowding because there is not better synchronisation.

Another facet of life in a new town which is attached to a small old town concerns the provision of recreational facilities. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Minister was looking at the grant to see if it could be increased. The problem is a big one for any town community, but it is particularly difficult for a new town where the people have come from areas which might not be very gracious but which have a long tradition of recreational facilities to which the people have become used and which they do not find in the new towns.

When I was with the Prime Minister touring the new town of Skelmersdale I was beset by people complaining of the absolute lack of recreational facilities. We should pay more far more attention to this matter. The question of priorities has to be considered and factories and houses have to be properly zoned, but there should be more attention paid to the provision of playing fields, parks and the like.

My hon. Friend, I know, disagrees on the question of representation of a new town and about the handing over in the long run to what will be the Skelmersdale urban district authority. We should be able to put forward constructive criticisms now and then the Royal Commission can consider them and recommend something on the same lines or something radically different. Whatever kind of areas are being perpetuated in the new town, they will be handed over to whatever authority takes over the new towns. One of the biggest errors at present is in the method of building houses and creating a legacy for those who eventually will take over.

It may sound a heresy to my hon. Friend, but I am not convicted that the use of the industrial building methods are the answer to the problem of getting houses more quickly and cheaply. All the evidence available up to now suggests that what was thought to be a panacea may prove a millstone around someone's neck. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead referred to owner-occupiers, and we have expressed differences of view about that. One thing is clear; private owners are not anxious to snap up industrially built houses. Those looking for a good house as an investment buy one which has been built by traditional methods.

Mr. Hooley

I think the reason why owner-occupiers do not buy industrially built houses is that the building societies will simply not put up funds for them. There is not an a priori objection, but finance does not come forward for those houses.

Mr. McGuire

I could not agree more. We must ask, what is the reason for that? I think the reason is that it is realised that such houses are a very bad proposition. I direct the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact that in the long run they are most costly. The argument was advanced that they could be built quickly and there was a quicker return, but I do not think that has proved true. If my hon. Friend examines the position in several big towns and cities he will find that in many instances contracts have not been renewed and sometimes they have been cleared out altogether. We should build good houses in Skelmersdale by traditional methods, and not leave a legacy of a millstone for those who are to follow. We should adopt the criterion which ordinary people building houses for themselves adopt and recognise that we must not build poor houses for poor people. I am utterly opposed to that.

If we build these shells by the industrialised method we still need the traditional trades to finish them off. Then we are back to square one. I could give facts and figures to prove that in this respect industrialised building is far behind. In Skelmersdale there were four pilot schemes and it was found that the traditional method of building won overwhelmingly. We should get away from the idea that industrial building is the solution to all our problems. It is not so because we still need the traditional crafts. Although a shell may be put up by industrial building means, there is delay in completion.

A good result which has come out of the industrialised versus traditional building controversy is that the traditional builder has become more competitive. Taking like with like, we find that the traditional builder comes out best. I ask my hon. Friend not to underwrite the new method but to urge all authorities to build by traditional methods. Then, whoever takes over the new town will not curse but will thank those who directed activities of the corporations in the early days.

12.39 p.m.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

We now have 20 new towns at various stages of development. They are a fitting tribute to the foresightedness and determination of the post-war Labour Government. Although the pattern may differ from town to town, they provide the basic essentials of planning, the provision of industry, the provision of amenities, and so on.

The problem I wish to refer to is somewhat in line with that already made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston). It is associated with the siting of new towns. The 1964 pamphlet on the New Towns of Britain, issued by the Central Office of Information, states: The ideal site for a new town has yet to be discovered. It is easy to lay down a list of theoretical requirements but since these are never all met in one place the solution in practice consists of fulfilling the really vital needs and, for the rest, making the best of local conditions. Three conditions are fundamental: there must be plentiful water supplies, good drainage and good communications, particularly by road. It has been assumed all along that there is full co-operation between the Government and local authorities, but can we be sure that this co-operation is as full as we might imagine it to be? On the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill in 1946 the then Minister of Town and Country Planning said: The site of a new town will be determined by the Minister after consultation with the local authorities whose inhabitants will be accommodated in the proposed new town, as well as the local authorities who are directly concerned with the new town areas. They will all be consulted. Once the site has been settled, that area together with any adjacent land which might be necessary, will be designated as the site of the proposed new town."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1078.] That appears to be comprehensive, but I submit that it merely means that the Ministry, in consultation with the population exporting authority—authority A, let us say—look round for various sites which satisfy the basic conditions I have stated. They decide on the area covered by local authority B. Authority A then approaches authority B and negotiates. If authority B reluctantly agrees, the proposal is initiated at that point.

This is only one side of the coin. What about other possible authorities? What about authorities C and D which are never considered or consulted, although they, unlike reluctant authority A, are crying out for new town development? I suggest that consultation is only one-sided.

I suggest that in future sitings attention must be paid not only to the criteria hitherto considered, but we must look also for new authorities, not only new authorities which will consent to new town development but authorities which are actually seeking this type of new town development.

I take two examples from my own constituency in South Bedfordshire. The Luton R.D.C. co-operates with the Greater London Authority, and there is very excellent co-operation in providing overspill development at Houghton Regis. This is an amicable arrangement which is proceeding satisfactorily. In the course of the years it is assuming proportions which may approach those of new town size. The Luton R.D.C. may well prefer new town development where the industry, the education facilities for children, and the secondary housing provision for growing families from the present overspill, could be catered for automatically. The council may well prefer, instead of the present overspill arrangement, satisfactory as that may be, a new town type of development.

Again, discussions are going on in North Buckinghamshire, which is not far from our area. Leighton Buzzard, which, incidentally, had the highest rates in the country for 1966–67, might well welcome a new town type of development to provide diversification of industry and planned development.

Mr. Allason

Before the hon. Gentleman sites a new town in the Luton R.D.C. area, which is next door to my constituency, would he consider that it is necessary to spread new towns out a little along the countryside? It is hopeless to have them dotted too closely together, on one side towards Hemel Hempstead and on the other side towards Stevenage. There would be terrible congestion with practically a band of new towns right across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and then Hertfordshire again.

Mr. Roberts

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Luton R.D.C. is at present getting overspill which is probably comparable to the size of a new town. The fact that it is not called a new town does not change the fact that it is of that number. With new town development it would be possible to tackle the problem on a more long-term basis and deal with the provision of industry, education facilities, and so on. The Leighton Buzzard area might also welcome development of this type, for various reasons.

However, for once I am not making a constituency point. I am merely trying to emphasise the need to look at the other side of the coin. If the efficiency of effort in this field as in many others is to be maximised, the first criteria is the maximisation of human co-operation. The way to do this is not merely to look at the various local authorities which are prepared to accept new town development if asked: it is to look for local authorities which would welcome and which are in fact seeking this type of development.

12.47 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)

Representing as I do the largest new town, and living in the urban district council area of the new town, I am particularly pleased to hear the general tone of the debate and to recognise that in the Bill we are in fact saying that new towns are big towns.

The uncertainty in the early years in the life of a new town has meant that we are perhaps rather rigid about the exact figure considered desirable for a new town. The Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have suggested that the figure is something like 250,000. I hope that we shall not be too rigid about this figure. The most important thing is to recognise that, just as we need to move large numbers of people outside the cities, the ultimate development will depend on their needs and the sort of services they want.

I was particularly interested and pleased to hear reference to the liaison committees, both from the point of view of the development corporations and the local councillors, as well as the overspill committee being set up in London. It might be important for the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the relationship in the liaison committees between the councillors and the development corporation members. Are they to meet on the same basis? Are the councillors to be given any financial support to attend the meetings, which presumably will be held during the day? Those are the sort of questions which the Parliamentary Secretary should refer to.

I want to make one other observation on this point before advancing, I hope, some constructive comment. The great divide, the important Opposition theme enunciated at Blackpool a few weeks ago, seems to have come a bit unstuck this morning. There is a very poor attendance on the Opposition benches. More important, we are able to assess the general attitude of hon. Members opposite to new towns and new town development in the speech made by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason). I think it is regrettable that he made this speech, and, while an hon. Friend of mine has suggested that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead ought to use his speech in his election address, I would go further and suggest that we in the new towns should use the same speech in our election addresses, for it shows quite clearly the underlying attitude of the Opposition towards new towns. Never during their period of government have they felt sufficiently sensitive to the idea. This argument about the merging of local authorities is indicative of a complete lack of feeling about the real problems of the new towns. I suppose an even greater example of hypocrisy is to be found in the other political party that is represented in this Chamber, which has supported new towns in the past but is not represented here today. Presumably those hon. Members got completely lost in the great divide.

Two points arise which I should like to discuss. The first is the immediate need. The Bill states clearly in Clause 1 that we must raise the limit of the advances, and I hope there will be no delay in doing so. To my mind, this suggests that the whole new town concept has made its impact not only here but throughout the world. With the population centering on the already hard-pressed cities, it becomes even more urgent for national guidance for homes and jobs. The sort of image which has been thrown up, of people leaving the comfort of London and coming to the new towns is one that I do not recall, having represented a borough in East London. Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary, with his experience of London, can hardly say that there has been this comfort which people have lost. In many cases people moved from poor dwellings and slum properties, and this is not quite the image that some people have in mind.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Would not my hon. Friend agree that such comforts as do exist in London are a product of the long years of Labour rule on that authority?

Mr. Moonman

That is a point certainly worth noting.

The other interesting point made by the Parliamentary Secretary—and I hope it was noted by both sides of the House—is the impressive record of the new towns. I would remind hon. Members of the half million people who have been rehoused in the new towns and who have been given this improved accommodation. There has been no easy approach to the problem. In the case of my new town, Basildon, at the beginning of the century there was no obvious support for the new town principle. It was considered a land of shacks and mean dwellings. It was necessary to build something between Laindon and Pitsea and there were many problems connected with the acquisition of land. About 3,000 negotations for land had to take place. Eventually there emerged in this area—and this is true of other new towns—neighbourhoods designed by distinguished architects, and the traffic was treated with respect.

My second point concerns the ultimate transfer. The scale of the new towns' operations is shown in the increased provision in the Bill for £250 million. What does this mean to the new towns? We in the new towns are concerned about the finance when the local authority transfer is brought about. This is not to say that we would not support the increase of £250 million, but we are justified in questioning the sort of liaison and responsibilities that arise when the gradual merging of the development corporations into the local authorities takes place.

Therefore, it would be right to mention that the new town housing undertaking should be transferred to the local authority but that also provision should be made for a phased transfer, where desirable, on the basis of the local authority assuming responsibility for the outstanding loan debt on the same terms as apply to the development corporation, receiving the same measure of annual subsidies, grants and contributions and the balance of the repairs fund.

Reference should also be made to amenities. I suggest that we need to introduce something constructive into the social life of the new towns. Certainly the "blues" of the new towns mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary are indicative of the lack of pace in the building-up of the social institutions. The local authorities should be positively entitled to receive from the corporations a contribution towards the provision of major amenities. The figure of 4 per cent. of the imported population is quite inadequate for the great scale that is required in the new towns. The problem is one not simply of enthusiasm. I think it would be wrong of anybody to imagine that there is a lack of enthusiasm in the new towns. Many of the people in my new town—and this I believe is true also of Harlow—have come from East London boroughs. There is all the enthusiasm and tradition of East London. There is no lack of enthusiasm, but the ultimate point is that the people themselves need the buildings and the facilities in order to make their activities viable.

There is a distressing record in Basildon. There is no major civic amenity there. There is not a cinema. There is no hospital, although plans are going ahead. There is no railway station in the centre of the town. Indeed, although there are community halls, most of them are small and inadequate and there are not enough of them. It may be felt, particularly by those members who represent self-contained communities in Lancashire and elsewhere where there is an obvious central point for all activities, that this means there is no stimulus to activity. In fact, there is a self-generating stimulus in the new towns. It was brought home to me recently when a major attempt was made in Basildon to introduce through the Basildon Civic Arts Society a petition to cover the whole of the town to ensure proper facilities in the area.

New towns are concerned with our 20th century search for a practical balance between the industrial groupings and the improved home environment. We should be failing as a Parliament if we were to ignore the social circumstances in which political and economic decisions have taken place and which are reflected in this Bill.

12.58 p.m.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

By the year 2,000 the population of this country will have risen considerably. We shall require houses for millions of people in excess of our present population. In a densely populated island like ours, it is essential that we should plan for the provision of this accommodation and for the location of the increasing population.

Everyone is familiar with the mushrooming urban sprawl which engulfs green fields and woodlands, swallows separate older communities and obliterates the face of the countryside around existing towns. This is not new. As long ago as the Elizabethan period, in 1580, an Act was introduced making it an offence to erect houses within three miles of the gates of London. I am afraid we cannot regard that Act as having any spectacular success. In face, the situation has continued to get worse. This situation was familiar in pre-war years and has continued, I regret to say, since the war.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston), I was dismayed to read the words of Dr. Peter Hall, of the London School of Economics, this week when he forecast the growth of a single urban area stretching from Southampton to as far as Northampton, on the pattern of Los Angeles. Considering the existing problems of transport and the other problems and conditions of life in many characterless suburbs and other other areas, I am appalled at the prospect. The new town movement presents us with the only possible alternative to development of that kind, development which, I am sure, very few hon. Members would like to see. It is in this spirit, therefore, that I give the Bill a hearty welcome.

The new town movement had many spiritual ancestors. Claims have been made for Sir Thomas More, the author of "Utopia". Robert Owen played his part, as also, of course, did Ebenezer Howard. A great deal of work was done by the pioneers of Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City in the inter-war years, too, but the new town movement as we know it in this country today is really one of the great achievements of the Labour movement and of the Labour Government of 1945–51. It was that Government who set up the Reith Committee and who, under our noble Friend now Lord Silkin, introduced the 1946 Act. Some people at that time expressed doubts about the feasibility of making the movement a success, but the new towns have been a vast success, a success which, I may add, has vindicated public enterprise as against private enterprise. We must press ahead with the movement still, faced with the continuing problems of today.

New towns as such have many advantages. I have visited many new towns, but, of course, I know Harlow best because I have the honour to represent it in the House. The Reith Committee, in the prelude to the movement of which I have been speaking, argued in favour of "wisely sited and skilfully planned" towns with a proper balance between housing and industry; they were to be "self-contained and balanced communities for work and living." I stress this latter point. One of the essential features of a new town is that it is not merely another housing estate. It is a new community. Man cannot live by bread alone, and one might add that man cannot live in bricks alone. He needs all sorts of amenities around him if he is to be able to participate in the life of the community and develop all aspects of his character to the full.

A new town is neither a dormitory nor a ghost town after working hours. It is an integrated community with schools, factories, shops, community centres, churches, places of amusement and the rest besides houses. We should, therefore, welcome the creation of new towns as a great help in solving the problems which we face.

New towns have another advantage which has not so far been mentioned today. The creation of new towns is one of the most economical ways to use our land, and in this densely populated island land is very scarce and becoming increasingly so. This Bill should, therefore, be welcomed by all in the House.

I am pleased that the Bill deals with the question of the asquisition of land for extensions to existing designated areas. This is particularly important in Harlow where extension is under consideration. Although, I understand, the proposals for extension of Stevenage have now been set aside, I am sure that some of the new towns will require to be extended in future years. I think it a pity that this extension is required, but, with the problem of expanding population, particularly in the south-east of England, we have little alternative, and the extension of existing new towns is much to be preferred to unplanned surburban sprawl. I am quite sure that the people of Harlow will welcome expansion, subject to conditions. Some of these conditions can be illustrated by the problems which trouble those of us who live in West Essex.

It is at present proposed that there shall be a new G.L.C. estate in the Waltham Abbey-Waltham Cross area. The new M.11 will take a large strip of country-side right through the area. The existing communities have to plan new estates. In addition, there is a proposal, still not finally decided on, to site the third airport for London at Stansted, just north of the area. It will be a grave mistake if it is decided to site the third airport there because the airport will require labour, and we shall then raise once again the necessity to create yet another new town, thereby using up still more of our slim resources of land in West Essex. I think I that the people of Harlow would be prepared to accept expansion and would welcome it, but they would oppose the idea of building up the entire area of West Essex and spoiling its existing character.

Not only have the new towns been a success in a social sense but, as is becoming increasingly apparent, they are successful in the financial sense as well. This is particularly true of Harlow. I shall not go into the figures, about which a great many arguments have been advanced in the past, but there is an important point to be made here. The people of the new towns do not expect all the profits which are made in the town to be expended upon them, but, at the same time, if profits do rise in existing new towns, it is only right to consider whether the people of the towns are entitled to derive some of the benefits from them.

If extension takes place in Harlow, new properties will be built at higher cost, with higher rates, and higher rents will result. It seems to me unfair that the high cost of such new development—this applies not only in Harlow but in other new towns which have to be developed now—should be put necessarily on the established parts of the new towns. We shall have to consider very carefully the problem of the future disposal of profits.

Now, the question of amenities. People coming to new towns find that amenities are lacking. As a consequence, the annual rate increase in new towns tends to be higher even than elsewhere. In my view, there is a case for setting aside a certain percentage of the capital expended on other facilities in the towns for the provision of major amenities. In Harlow now we have a hospital, we have a swimming pool and we have many other facilities, but we require a theatre. Many of us think that we require a decent dance hall for the young people and teenagers. All these needs exist in the present new towns and will exist in those which come into being in the next few years. The Ministry must be pressed very hard on this issue to see that sufficient money is channelled in to ensure that our new towns become the real communities of which I have already spoken.

I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary this morning refer to the amount of work which has been done in designating more areas for new town development. I have already referred to the way in which the Labour Party have done a great service for this country in launching the new towns. I will refer, in particular, to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the great work which he has done in this respect since he became a Minister. He has not only familiarised himself with the problems of the new towns but has visited them frequently and has listened carefully to all the problems expressed by different sections of the community in many, if not all, of the new towns. In Harlow, although people have not always agreed with him, they have a very high respect for the sympathy which he has shown and for the way in which he has listened to the ideas which have been put forward.

I should like to refer to the discussion this morning about the growth of population in the South-East and town expansion schemes. I regret that I am not entirely at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham in his feeling about this issue. The problem can only be met if we designate still more new towns, and I should welcome the designation of areas not only in the South West of the country but also way up country, in Scotland. I think that this is very necessary, and I hope that the possibility of doing this will be investigated very carefully in the years ahead. The new towns of the future will be very different from those which have been built so far. I hope that we shall learn from our experiences. In Harlow we did not foresee the way in which the population would expand and the resulting manpower shortage. We did not foresee the great expansion of car ownership which has taken place in the new towns. Accordingly, in the new towns which are built in the future, more consideration must be given to high density building, the provision of more pedestrian precincts and more garage space and garages.

All the new towns will develop their own character. The new generation will not be satisfied with mere housing estates. In Harlow there has been a vast development of cultural, sporting and communal pursuits. Some weeks ago I had the honour of opening the Harlow Town Show, put on by what I regard as one of the most progressive town councils in the country. I am proud to be associated with it. The panorama of activities presented by this show was breathtaking—music, ballet, drama, cycling, gardening, archaeology, swimming, football, painting, ham radio and studies of all sorts. I feel that with the experience of what has gone on in Harlow—and I am sure that this is true in most of the other new towns—we must grasp the opportunity with both hands to provide an arena for all these activities when further new towns are designated. When people first move in there is an opportunity to develop their interests in many respects, but if the arena and the amenities are not provided, these interests may be stultified.

I have referred to the question of more new towns being designated outside the south-east of England. Another aspect of this problem is to ensure, as my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has stated, that the London new towns are used primarily to rehouse Londoners. This raises the issue of the need for industrial training schemes in the new towns to enable people coming from London to fit themselves for the type of industry in which they will be asked to work. By and large, the employers of Harlow will welcome the opportunity of co-operating in such a scheme, and I hope that we shall have the sort of cooperation and initiative which we need from all these Ministries concerned in launching an industrial training scheme with this purpose in view in all the London new towns in the immediate future.

There was one point in what my hon. Friend said with which I was not entirely happy. I regret very much that the problem of the future control of new towns has not been settled in the Bill. I did not agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) said about industrialised building. At the same time, I had considerable sympathy with his view on the need for securing the eventual transfer of power to the local authority. This was the intention of the Government which introduced the 1946 Act. In fact, the present Lord Silkin said on Second Reading of that Bill: In particular, it is the intention when the development of a new town is substantially complete, to wind up the corporation, and, by agreement with the local authorities, to transfer the assets and liabilities of the corporation to the local authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1080.] When in opposition the Labour Party fought the 1959 Act, which proposed instead to transfer power to the New Towns Commission—no doubt because it was becoming increasingly clear that the new town local authorities would be Labour inclined in most cases. I feel that the Labour Party, now in Government, should take very early steps to reverse the proposals which were put forward in the 1946 Act.

I recognise the magnificent job which has been done by the development corporation in my area, and I am sure that this is so in many, if not all, the other new towns. I have had my differences with the development corporation, but they have done a magnificent job. Nevertheless, it seems to me that development corporations are quite unfit to carry on, in the long run, and everybody recognises this to be the case. It would be wrong to allow the new towns to become governed, in effect, from Whitehall. I therefore regret that some step was not taken in the Bill to provide for some transfer of control to the local authority, because a number of new towns are ripe for this. In any case, I feel that the transfer should be phased. It should be possible to transfer completed areas if, as in the case at Harlow, the extension to the new town will give the development corporation a new lease of life in the new designated area.

I recognise that since Labour came to power, and partly as a result of the work done by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, more local representatives from the urban district councils have been appointed to development corporations. I recognise the tremendous amount of work which has been done to create better liaison between the development corporations and the urban district councils. But we must go still further. There is a strong case for appointing still more local representatives from the urban district councils to development corporations—people who are closely familiar with the area in which the development corporation is operating and who live in that area.

However, while I hope that the proposed legislation to make it possible for the new towns and their assets to be transferred to local authorities will be brought in as early as possible, I still applaud this Bill. My experience and contacts with the new towns have convinced me that the expansion of this movement is the way to tackle the housing programme in this country.

I am always conscious of the fact that we in Britain are the heirs to a very beautiful country. We must seek to preserve as much as we can of its beauty and its characteristic features and its historical charms, and we can only preserve these if we plan, and if we endeavour to deal with this vast problem of growing population in this country by planned location of population. The Labour Government showed the way with the original new towns, and this Government are carrying on in that tradition. I believe one of the most lasting monuments of the work of this Labour Government and of my hon. Friend will be the new towns and the further towns my right hon. Friend is designating at this time.

I therefore welcome this Bill wholeheartedly, and I hope it will be merely the prelude to still further development along the lines which we, on this side of the House certainly, have been following since 1945.

1.21 p.m.

Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)

I, too, welcome this Bill. I principally wish today to talk about one or two aspects of the long-term planning of new towns. Before I do so I would like to say a word on one or two points which have already been mentioned today.

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), who has Skelmersdale in his constituency, on the point he made about the cost of rents of houses in new towns. As he said, there is there no existing pool of council houses and the end-result is that the initial rents may seem to people from other areas a little high. This, I think, particularly will be the case if we attempt to build our new towns, as I am sure we should increasingly, on bad land. We do not want to take good agricultural land, but if we build on bad land the cost of building is inevitably higher.

My own new town of Dawley will largely be built on derelict land. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary got into hot water when he came to my constituency and pointed this out. What he said was that much of the land was of no use to man or beast. This appeared in the local newspaper as "Dawley no use to man or beast". In general, what my hon. Friend said was true, and much of the land where there could be building is extremely bad, but properly can be used for building.

I am concerned here not simply with the cost to the tenants once they have moved in. What I am much more concerned about is attracting the tenants in the first place. If we are to get people to move out of the conurbations we do not want to deter them by excessively high rents at the outset. I hope that we can do something to deal with this problem.

Another point made by my hon. Friend concerned schools. Here, too, I would like to agree with him, and suggest that what we need for each new town is a long-term school building programme—say, for 15 years: a 15-year building programme. What we need is that the Department of Education and Science should be prepared to say that for this 15-year programme funds will be provided. The programme could be revised every year. This is not difficult. We all know that the Department makes extra provision in its grants to county authorities for the provision of schools in new towns. What many of us, I think, would like to see is that provision guaranteed some years ahead and phased in with the potential development of the new town, and amended as the town develops. I think that all of us from new towns are familiar with the problem of the school building getting a little out of phase with the growth in population.

Now I turn to another aspect of new towns, namely, the development corporations themselves and the staff they employ. My hon. Friend said something about the long-term prospects of employment of these people. A development corporation at first expands the number of people working for it, but after the peak, which lasts, perhaps, three or four years, the number of people working for it declines. These are, in general, highly qualified, highly skilled people, whose skills are, indeed, in very short supply. So what we find is that we are employing these rather scarce human resources for a period of anything up to 15 years, and then the development corporation says, "Thank you very much; you can now go back somewhere else", and it may very well be they go to another development corporation.

This is all very well, but I would suggest that we might have a more rational system of employment, particularly in view of the population expansion. I should like to see a more rational system of employment of corporation personnel, so that if they cease to be employed by a corporation they could be employed, instead of by another development corporation, by the New Towns Commission, and seconded to particular tasks in particular areas, because then we could have long-term employment prospects, and we should not have the problem of the running down of staff of a corporation after a peak of three to four years. Further, we should not be wasting, as we sometimes do today, highly skilled people. At the outset of a new town it is inevitable that the corporation tends to build up its staff as rapidly as possible, but from the outset, and until certain things have been done, until there is a master plan, some of the staff may find that they are under-employed. If we had a system of secondment from the New Towns Commission people could be phased into the work of a particular corporation precisely as and when they were needed.

In my own new town we have a rather odd situation, as some hon. Members will know, in that, after the area was designated, the West Midlands Study appeared and recommended that there should be further population expansion immediately to the north of Dawley in the Wellington-Oakengates area. The net result was that my right hon. Friend the present Lord President of the Council decided that we should have another look at the whole thing and decide whether or not to make this into one new town covering the Dawley and Wellington and Oakengates area. We are still awaiting the report on this. I gathered from an Answer from my hon. Friend the other day that we can expect it very shortly now, but there has been this delay, and I hope that my hon. Friend will give me some explanation why there has been further delay here. The point I want to make is that not only has that unfortunate delay occurred but it has meant that the development corporation has not necessarily been able fully to employ all of the highly qualified people who are on its staff. I think this is a shame, not only from the point of view of the people themselves, but also because of the waste of scarce human resources, scarce human talents. I suggest that we might in the long term look again at the system of employment for the new town development corporations.

One other point about the new town corporations is that possibly they might be used in the future to perform tasks other than simply building their own specific new towns. They might be used on smaller housing overspill schemes in the areas in which their own new towns are situated. In that way, we might get a more coherent planning of the overspill problems of individual areas.

London and the South-East is a special case about which we have heard a great deal, but in other areas, including my own, one has a large rural expanse outside the new town in which rural depopu- lation is going on in the areas most remote from the conurbation at the same time as the areas closer to the conurbation become more and more congested. If we are to get a sensible overspill policy, it might be possible to use the development corporations for the purpose of getting some planned overspill settlement in the counties where they are building their new towns.

The other major point to which I wish to refer is one that has already been mentioned in passing by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), and that is the population explosion, if such one can call it. The other day, from the benches opposite, the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) drew attention to the fact that we may expect a growth of population of the order of 20 million by the year 2000. In fact, that is the Government Actuary's forecast.

It seems to me that too few people are aware of that, and perhaps there is too much complacency about what we are going to do with those people. Clearly, we must build many more new towns and make more use of the Town Development Act. Above all, we must have a long-range plan if we are to deal with a population on that scale and not find ourselves in the situation so graphically described by some hon. Members where the South-East is grossly over congested—and doubtless the West Midlands, too—and has moved beyond the point of over-congestion to the point of seize-up.

We ought to be deciding now in rough global terms how many people we are going to attempt to rehouse in new towns and town development schemes over the next 20 or 25 years. At the moment, we are a little too glib. The West Midlands Study is an excellent document which takes us further than we have been taken before in regional planning, but it seems to assume blandly that it will be possible to put something of the order of 150,000 more houses or replacements for existing houses into the present West Midlands conurbation, if I recollect the figures correctly. It is not clearly demonstrated how that is to be done. The detailed figures are not there. But even if that were possible, there would still be a large and, because of the population growth, increasing new town programme necessary outside the conurbation.

I wonder whether we are not still assuming that the problem is smaller than it is going to be. I would rather see over-planning than under-planning, planning for a greater growth rather than for a smaller one, for the simple reason that if we are caught on the hop, it will be difficult to remedy any mistakes that we have made. Getting a new town off the ground is not an easy job, and takes some years. Before a real population build-up occurs, many years will have passed. It would be a profound mistake to leave too much new planning to the last minute.

Above all, I should like to see more inter-regional planning. The West Midlands Study was an excellent beginning in regional planning, and we now have other regional studies. But it is time that we tried to produce some sort of national plan because, if we think in terms of regional studies, simultaneously we are thinking in terms of housing the greatest population increase in the already heavily congested areas. That is a thoroughly bad principle.

Equally, we should be considering what will be the effect of population expansion in one region on adjacent regions. The South-East Study is perhaps no longer the basis of Government policy, but a suggestion which emerged from the Study on the question of water supplies was that if it was not possible to get enough water to provide for the growing population in the South-East, it would be easy to link the South-East's water system with water systems outside, including the Severn system. No doubt it would, but is that desirable in terms of the effect upon other areas which draw upon the Severn system and other systems outside the South-East. That point was not discussed in the South-East Study, and that is one reason why we must have some sort of national plan as quickly as possible to deal with the population growth.

Mr. Derek Page (King's Lynn)

Would my hon. Friend agree that often it is very much easier for a family to move from London to an overspill area or new town than it is to move from just a few miles away, even though members of the family are working in the area? Would he not agree that, as well as the point which he is making, there is a need for greater co-operation between overspill areas or new towns and the immediately surrounding authorities?

Mr. Fowler

I would agree with my hon. Friend, and I was going on to say a word about that. This arises under the head of long-term planning and has some bearing on what the Royal Commission on Local Government will produce.

I hope that the Royal Commission will not recommend a system of local government that will maintain a sharp dividing line between exporting and importing authorities in terms of population. That seems to me to be thoroughly bad. I hope that we shall have a system of local government where all possible co-operation exists.

Coming back to the governmental level of planning, if we are to have a long-term plan, however sketchy, I hope that we shall build into it services other than housing—above all, transport and medical services. At the moment, we are planning our transport services for the present population distribution rather than trying to see ahead 20 years. I appreciate that that is extremely difficult, because we do not know where we shall put the growing population. There is a danger of ossifying our present population distribution so long as we build motorways for that distribution and, above all, close railway lines which seem uneconomical at the moment but which, with a different population distribution, would be extremely economical and provide essential services.

One example of that can be seen clearly in the area of the West Midlands expansion. It is very likely that much of that expansion over the next 30 or 40 years will largely be on a western axis. Not only is there the important new town at Dawley, but there will be the expansion of Shrewsbury, and there is the possibility of a new town at Caersws, in mid-Wales. At the same time as we are discussing these ideas, British Railways are recommending the discontinuance of the through-service from the Welsh coast via Shrewsbury to London, and in future people will have to change at Wolverhampton, except for one through train a day.

That does not seem sensible, not only from the point of view of the convenience of people in the area, but from that of attracting people there in the first place. It is not easy to attract people or industry to an area if there is to be no through-rail service.

As for road planning, it is arguable that when we produce a long-term motorway plan we ought to think not just of linking the present heavily urbanised areas, but of building motorways to places like the far South-West and Mid-Wales where at the moment there are few people. If we do not do that, it will be impossible to attract the people who must go there if we are to have a rational distribution of the population. If roads are built, it is so much easier to attract both industry—and this is crucial—and population.

On the question of attracting industry, I think that it is time the Board of Trade reviewed its policy about granting I.D.C.s. I am not referring to some of the other difficulties in the regions during the last few months, not least with regard to my new town. I am referring, above all, to the Board of Trade being willing to grant I.D.C.s to large firms based in the South-East, firms of a national reputation and position, to go, at least in the early stages of new town developments, to the new towns in other areas of the country.

At the moment the Board of Trade will grant a certificate for a firm to move to one of the development districts, and so it should. No one wants to see the development of the development districts held up, but, equally, in the first five years of a new town development, it would be a tremendous boost to that town if a firm of national repute, whose name was familiar to everyone, were to move into that area. It would make it very much easier to attract other medium-sized and small firms from the neighbouring conurbations. We would then have the beginning of a policy designed to rectify the present maldistribution of population, because we would be moving the centre of gravity, in some degree at least, away from the South-East.

I suggest that we need to take a long hard look at what we are going to do about population growth up to the year 2000. We need to take a long hard look not only at where we are going to put them, and at the services which we are going to provide, but also at the structure of the authority which will be concerned with doing this. I sometimes wonder whether we may not find it necesary to set up a new Ministry to co-ordinate these activities, because at the moment the tasks which flow from planning for population growth are split, inevitably, between a number of Ministries, not only my hon. Friend's Ministry, but the Ministry of Transport, the Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Health. We have to find out when the hospital for a new town is to be begun, because when it begins one can say that perhaps eight years from then it will be open and providing a service, but it is not clear that the Ministry of Health's programme is always tied as closely to future development as it might be, simply because this is not the Ministry concerned with future population development.

I wonder whether, here again, we have an instance where some of the planning functions might be in some central coordinating Ministry. I suggest that we have the same thing with regard to the Board of Trade's I.D.C. section. I wonder whether, in view of the massive population explosion, the time has not come when we need a powerful Ministry whose task it will be to co-ordinate planning for distribution of industry and population.

1.44 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his imaginative and understanding speech in introducing the Bill. He went into the whole matter very thoroughly.

We in London know my hon. Friend's passion for solving the housing problem, and I know that in Lambeth it is only through the provision of new towns that we will get anywhere. We have virtually no vacant land on which to build, apart from infilling plots. We have a housing list of 13,000 to 14,000 families, which means even more people. All the development going on in my borough involves families from one set of property decanting into the new property and people on the waiting list are not being housed. Ours is a problem of urban renewal, and we can make progress only if we get a bigger allocation in the new towns. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend mention the liaison committee, and I hope that an even greater allocation will be made to my type of borough, because we can break through the problem only if we get housing somewhere else.

Reference has been made to the need to create a community feeling and to provide facilities in new towns. I hope that in future some provision will be made for estates inside new towns to be controlled by the tenants in a tenants' co-operative, because this provides an opportunity for them to get together, to run their own affairs, to manage their own estate, and to provide their own facilities. This kind of thing works well in Scandinavia and in many parts of Europe. Estates of 1,000 or 2,000 families successfully run their own affairs and introduce a new feeling of self-reliance into the life of their community.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not rule out a new town of a population of perhaps 1 million people, with its own docks and transport. One problem has been brought to my notice both by industrialists and by people who need to be rehoused. An industrialist who wants to export has to get his goods to the docks. He wants to be as close as he can to the London docks. If he goes to Basildon, or to Harlow, he still has to get his goods to London, and he is faced with an even greater problem. Even if a firm is only a few miles away from the docks, it often happens that, having taken his goods there in the morning the driver has to wait in a queue until mid-day, and is then sent home without having unloaded his vehicle. And of course the further one gets from London, the more difficult it is to get to the docks.

If we want industrialists to take their firms to new towns, these new towns must be larger than they are at present and have their own docks. Such a town might, for instance, be built on Humber-side. Larger towns would provide a greater variety of employment. If a firm employs a number of women in skilled jobs, and it wants to move to a new town, very often the women are not prepared to move because there may not be employment for their husbands. They cannot easily be accommodated if the family moves. Conversely, the husband who is in a skilled job is not prepared to move to a new town because his wife is earning a lot of money by working in an office or at some other job, and would not get the same kind of opportunity in a new town.

Years ago, when all this was in its early stages, it would not have been possible to build a town of the size which I have suggested, but I hope that the idea of a town with a population of perhaps 1 million will not be ruled out entirely.

I hope that in the discussions with the London boroughs and other centres of population my hon. Friend will try to find some answer to what is indeed a difficult situation. I am thinking of the situation where a family is badly housed, is overcrowded, and is living in a damp basement or something like that. The husband finally gets a job, and moves away to a new town. One thinks that the housing problem has been solved, but it has not, because as soon as the property becomes vacant, in comes another family and the problem returns. In fact, it sometimes gets worse, because two families move into the bad accommodation vacated by one family. There must be some form of public control of accommodation in densely populated areas, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take this into account in his discussions with the London boroughs. My hon. Friend is asking for £250 million. I hope that he will be back soon to ask for another similar sum.

1.50 p.m.

Mr. Derek Page (King's Lynn)

I want to add my welcome to the Bill, which is thoroughly admirable as far as it goes. It is a very brave and proper move in expanding investment in the infrastructure of the country on a large scale, and will result not only in better living conditions for many people but in a much greater industrial efficiency, which is what we need.

I express a particular word of appreciation for the long view adopted by my hon. Friends the Members for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) and Epping (Mr. Newens) in respect of the problem of our population explosion. I give special praise to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) for his perspicacity in speaking of the need to think in even bigger terms than we have been prepared to up to now, of an overspill city of 500,000 or 1 million people. He was right in speaking of the need for export facilities and docks. They are of crucial importance.

In this connection, I wonder whether my hon. Friend has considered that the correct site for such a development is plainly the Wash city. I should like to know whether my hon. Friend has spoken about this matter to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, because in considering a feasibility study for the Wash area this is absolutely crucial. We have tended to consider the matter purely from the point of view of water availability, but in considering our future population policy it is imperative to take into account the possible place in the scheme of things of the Wash city project. This would consist of a city of about 750,000 on land which we do not have to buy, because nobody owns it; it is at present under water. It would have gigantic dock facilities and access to the Continent thrown in.

We have there precisely the facilities which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood was talking about. I urge the Minister to ensure that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources takes this point into consideration in deciding when we shall have a feasibility study of the Wash barrage project.

I now come a little nearer home. I welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but it has certain obvious omissions. There are broadly two ways of dealing with the excess population of London, one through the new towns and the other through expanded towns. In addition to considering the situation of the new towns and their need for extra funds we ought to consider the equity of what we are doing. Are we being fair in our use of the two methods of dealing with overspill? I feel we are not. The funds being made available to the new towns are at 6 per cent. King's Lynn receives overspill from London and does a job for the nation every bit as good as that which the new towns are doing, but King's Lynn is not entitled to money from the new towns resources. It is entitled to 30 per cent. from the Public Works Loan Board, at roughly the same level of interest as is obtained in respect of new towns, but for the balance of two-thirds it has to go on to the open market. I can give two recent examples, one of £500,000, loaned at 7⅝ per cent. and the other of £250,000 at 7¾ per cent., both sums being repayable over short periods.

King's Lynn is spending about £1¼ million a year on overspill housing for London, as distinct from what it is spending on itself. The interest rate that new towns have to pay is 1 per cent. lower than the rate that King's Lynn will have to pay, on average, taking into account what is lent by the Public Works Loan Board, although they are both doing the same job. This means that in respect of a house costing £3,000 there is a difference in interest rates of about £30 a year between the two alternatives. How can this be justified? I believe that it has been said during this debate that the towns which are receiving overspill must expect to foot some of the bill because they own the facilities and tend to make a profit. I want to put the contrary argument, that when local authorities finally take over large sections of new towns, if not the whole of them, they take over facilities for which they have paid an interest rate of 6 per cent., whereas the facilities that King's Lynn is providing for doing the same job are costing, on average, about 1 per cent. more. That seems grossly unfair.

I am very happy to support the Bill, but I ask that the position of the reception towns should be given much more favourable consideration and that they should be allocated a higher percentage of funds under the facilities provided by the Public Works Loan Board. I recognise the technical difficulties that arise in the case of making available to overspill towns the funds that we are talking about today, but they could be overcome if the method I have suggested were adopted. King's Lynn has a job to do other than providing housing for overspill. We are happy to do that job and expect to gain from it in the long run, but we have jobs on hand in providing extra facilities for our own people, and for the incoming population we need cinemas, theatres and baths and if we are loaded down with overwhelming debts, how can we get on with those jobs?

When funds are made available at 6 per cent. to the new towns they are effectively subsidised, yet this effective subsidy is going to areas which normally have pretty high incomes—at least as high as the national average, and probably higher. King's Lynn and Norfolk in general—as I am sure you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker—have low incomes compared with the rest of the country. They have pretty well the lowest average income in the country. Why should they provide a service for London as well as for themselves and yet have to help to subsidise indirectly the new towns which have incomes which are, on average, £5 or £6 a week more than theirs?

I ask my hon. Friend to take this point into account and listen to my plea that in respect of King's Lynn and similar towns there should be a reappraisal of the proportion of finance they receive from Public Works Loan Board funds. If my hon. Friend expects my support for the Bill today I ask him to consider this suggestion again, since I understand that it has not been looked on too favourably in the recent past.

1.58 p.m.

Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)

I support the Bill. As is well known, some years ago my constituency was chosen by the Government to be the site of a new town, presently ill-named the North Bucks new town. I hope that my hon. Friend will soon be able to say something about the name that this new city is to have.

What concerns me, speaking on behalf of my constituents, is that the Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to say that his right hon. Friend will soon be making a statement about the definitive plans and the designated area for the North Bucks new city. I would remind him that the present Leader of the House, when Minister of Housing and Local Government, definitely promised a statement in the autumn. My constituents are suffering grievous hardship because a decision has not been made. We ought to have a firm statement as to where this city will be placed. I should be grateful to my hon. Friend if he would at least confirm some things.

First, I hope that he will be able to say that in spite of the freeze the Government have every intention of proceeding with all deliberate speed in building the new town of North Bucks. As he knows, whereas the vast majority of my constituents have made up their minds that this is a good site for a new town, others are not particularly pleased about it. On balance, we have agreed that we must play our part in providing a share of housing for overcrowded Londoners. They will be welcome.

Second, well over 100 farmers are to be dispossessed as a result of this new city coming into my constituency. As my hon. Friend knows, the bulk of those farmers are tenant farmers, who, under present legislation, are receiving niggardly compensation. I have brought pressure on the Government several times on this issue and we have debated it. The Government promised to consider the matter and I wonder whether my hon. Friend can say today what progress has been made, and whether the principle that tenant farmers should receive fairer compensation than at present is accepted and whether we can expect a statement.

The lack of a firm decision and an official statement about where the city will be sited is making it impossible for people to sell their houses. They do not know whether to improve their shops or firms. A great deal of planning permission is being held up in my area and my constituents are bitterly disappointed at the delay. I strongly urge the Parliamentary Secretary to do what he can to bring this indecision and uncertainty to an end as soon as possible. I shall be glad of anything which he can say in answer to my questions.

2.1 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am sure that the House is grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his wide review of new towns and new town policy. I would add my grateful thanks to Mr. Speaker, who allowed the hon. Gentleman to set a pattern for the debate, of that wide review of policy. This could have been a narrow debate on the technicalities of a small Bill, but the hon. Gentleman has set the pattern for other hon. Members to bring to the debate their unique knowledge and experience of the new towns in their constituencies and thus to enrich the debate.

The Parliamentary Secretary does not represent a new town, but his knowledge and experience of the subject equals that of any hon. Member who does. I am sure that the House is always pleased to hear from him on this subject.

Nevertheless, this is a debate on the Second Reading of a Bill, so perhaps one should make some pretence of reference to the Bill. On Clause 1, I would echo the words spoken in opposition by the hon. Gentleman who is now the other Joint Parliamentary Secretary, on 20th January, 1964, when we were discussing the previous New Towns Bill in that year: No one on this side of the House, would for one moment challenge either the urgent need for the money for which the Government are asking, or the strong desire to see it used wisely. We agree so much with the general object of the Bill that we would agree, if necessary, to provide more money for the purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 730.] That was the support which the hon. Gentleman gave at the time to the Conservative Government's Bill, and I give the same sort of support from these benches to the Labour Government's Bill.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that new towns started in 1946 with a limit of £50 million. By 1959, it had risen to £400 million and, in 1964, under the Conservative Government who were in office at that time, it had risen to £550 million. From £50 million to £550 million was the measure of the advance over that period. Certainly, it shows that there was advance during a period which has come in for some criticism in the debate, the period of the Conservative Government's term of office.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), from whom, because of his distinguished connection with a university, I should have expected a little more regard to historical truth, talked about "ten years of inaction". Considering the increase in the limit of the funds provided for new towns over the period, one could scarcely call that "inaction". It was a period of consolidation of the new towns which had been founded.

There is, of course, always a matter of priorities. However much one might wish to spend money on the development of the new towns, it is to be remembered that during that period there was a very substantial use of national resources in the increase in the number of houses being built in the country. At that time, Conservative Governments thought it right to consolidate the position of the new towns. Before they left office, they started this second generation of new towns which are now coming to majority.

In this Bill we are asked to build up the fund for new towns to £800 million——

Mr. Hooley

Is it not correct that, for ten years, not one single new town was designated by the Governments of right hon. Gentlemen opposite? Is that correct or not?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman is simply repeating the argument which I was putting. During that period, we were consolidating the new towns which had been founded and we then started on the second generation of new towns.

I was coming to the £800 million. This is £250 million more than the present limit, and I refer to the Sections of the 1965 Act whereby this money is to be made available. It is lumped together as finance for both the Commission and the corporations and it is a little difficult to see from the accounts, or indeed from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech today, how in the past the money has been allotted between the two and how it is intended to allot this future sum of £250 million.

What is the financial position of each type of body—the corporations and the Commission? I suppose that I can probably get this from the accounts, but, not being an accountant and having a terror of trying to understand accounts, I shied away from that very fat Blue Book which reports the accounts of the corporations. However, I observed from the recent Report of the Commission this paragraph: The healthy financial position shown by the accounts reflects the continued prosperity and development of the towns and the progressive rise in commercial and industrial rents. It is this that has made it possible in a matter of a few years to write off the accumulated deficiencies on sewerage and water undertakings and a part of the contributions made over past years to the cost of roads, sewers and other developments by local authorities and statutory undertakers. The annual revenue surplus can be expected to increase and will be available to finance part of the programme of development in hand, thus limiting the need to borrow from Exchequer funds. This gives a rosy picture of the Commission's activities and I hope that the corporations can give just as good a picture of their financial position.

There is, however, in the Report also this pessimistic paragraph: Following the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons on 27th July, 1965, about the measures to be taken to eliminate the balance of payments deficit and maintain the strength of sterling, the Commission were asked to slow down expenditure on capital projects other than housing and industrial development. Then they say that they have already made reference to their difficulties in housing as a result of what is commonly called "the freeze".

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave us the figures of £60 million to £65 million, rising to £80 million to £90 million a year to be spent from this extra fund of £250 million. That gives us a provision for only about three years.

This is the capital expenditure, but it does not give the full picture of the financial position of these organisations. What about the revenue and expenditure? How much are they able to set aside as reserve if they are a financial success? How does the Commission compare with the corporations in the management of its financial affairs? We are being asked today to invest £250 million, which is a lot of money—nearly 50 per cent. more than is in the undertakings already. I do not think that what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said came anywhere near the sort of prospectus which a commercial undertaking would have to put in front of the public if it were asking for £250 million. We should be told a little more about the financial position.

May I put it this way? We know that we are investing in a social success. Shall we be investing in a financial success? It might be right, even if it is a failure, to subsidise new towns because of their social success. But I believe that we can also say that they are a financial success. We can be proud of the success of the new towns. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), I am an enthusiast for new towns. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) raised the question of the siting of new towns. In the past I have again and again advocated the use of the new town procedure within old towns and not merely on virgin soil out in the countryside. This was a point which is perhaps particularly close to that raised by the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page) when he talked about the financial advantages of the new town procedure over the cost of overspill and that type of expansion. I hope that we can adapt new town procedure not just to expanding cities and not just by adding new towns on the fringe of those cities or out in the country; I hope that we can use the new town procedure within some of the cities and have a new town within an old town, so that the development of our cities could proceed much more rapidly under new town financial support than it can under local authorities at present.

Some rather exaggerated words were used by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman), who, again, has a distinguished university position, about the failure of the Conservative Government and the Conservative Party to recognise the problems of the new towns. I do not think that we need throw that sort of party accusation across the Floor in a debate of this sort. In his constituency he has the new town of Basildon, which has recently issued its 17th annual report—which shows how long ago it was founded and how it was developed, particularly during the 13 years of Conservative Government about which he complained.

Indeed, both sides of the House realise the problems—such as those which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary put before us today—of the new towns, in particular the relationship between the development corporations and the local authorities. The Commission has here had a great success with its liaison committees. There is also the difficulty of the provision of the right kind of amenities in the new towns. When one is dealing, in many cases, with a great majority of people of one particular age group, as we were in the early days of the new towns, the provision of social amenities and facilities is difficult.

I ought to have known this, but it was news to me when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred to the figure of £4 a head for the incoming population as the limit of expenditure on amenities. He is right to look at this again to see whether the figure is enough and whether, in present circumstances, it ought to be altered, if by increasing it we are not just doing the job which people ought to be doing for themselves. We should be encouraging the citizens of the new towns to provide their own amenities and not to sit back hoping that they will be subsidised all the time. If we do so encourage them, we shall be doing the right thing.

Several hon. Members mentioned the problem of traffic and pedestrian precincts. Many of the new towns were designed long before we realised what the traffic problem would be. Another problem, which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary mentioned, is that of the industrial selection scheme, and I am sure that the House was interested to learn of the working party, the London Overspill Liaison Group, dealing with this matter and trying to make it a greater success than it has been up to the present.

In connection with the relationship between the corporations and the local authorities, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary used the phrase that we should "adopt and adapt". Those are very appropriate words and perhaps tell the whole story, past, present and future, of the new towns. New towns were a new conception when they were founded. Our ideas have changed very much in the years since they were built. It is necessary all the time to bring fresh ideas to the management of new towns and to the new towns policy of the future.

I congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on his use of those words, but he also used some very damaging and dangerous words about the future of the Commission—damaging and dangerous because the words were vague and very imprecise and because they titillated the imagination as to what will happen to the Commission. They were also damaging and dangerous because they came from him as a member of the present Government.

His words today concerning the Commission will be classed with similar statements by this Government, abusing existing institutions but not saying what they will do with them. The slogan about lower mortgage interest rates threw building society financies into confusion. There was the slogan about abolishing the rates without suggesting what would replace them. These are dangerous words to use. The hon. Member said, "We shall change the law—but it will be tomorrow. We shall dissolve the Commission—tomorrow". I see one of the Government Whips nodding his head. It reminds me of what is often said to the Whips from the Chair—"Second Reading, what day?" The answer is "Tomorrow". But the Whip never means that. He always means, "At some future date unspecified." This is what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary told us today: "We will transfer the assets of the Commission—tomorrow". To whom? This was more than a little dangerous. Would he like to explain a little more, with the leave of the House. He said that it would be to "other bodies". Does he mean that there will be some intermediate body, between the development corporations, on the one hand, and the local authorities, on the other hand—between the Commission and the local authorities? It may have been a slip of the tongue, but it was puzzling.

It would have been better to have said nothing until the full plans are produced in the White Paper and then to have been quite definite in those plans. Having made these disturbing remarks he continued, "I want to reassure the staff of the Commission." I think that, on the contrary, he has shaken their confidence completely with what he said today, although it is only a repetition of what the Leader of the House said when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government. The hon. Gentleman tried to reassure the staff of the Commission by saying that there would be transitional arrangements. There always are and they know that. There will be transitional arrangements concerning the retention of jobs and so on. But the staff are worried—and this is perfectly clear from the last Report of the Commission—about what will happen to the Commission, and when. The Commission has some strong words to say about the present attitude towards it. In paragraph 70 of its recent Report it stated: There is pressure in some quarters for the immediate transfer of new town assets to the local authorities and for the winding up of the Commission; and it may be that the four years management by the Commission have now provided enough experience for a decision to be taken on the future disposition of new town assets, whether under the Commission's jurisdiction or still in the hands of a development corporation". It goes on to point out that a decision on that rests with the Government and Parliament and that the Commission will take … whatever steps are required…by future legislation". However, this disturbing statement appears in paragraph 75 of the Commission's Report: The Commission cannot carry out this work efficiently without adequate staff of the appropriate skill and experience. Already, the doubt about the future of the Commission has had an unsettling effect. Staff are leaving as opportunity arises and, without a guarantee for the future, recruitment of new staff is particularly difficult.

Mr. Mellish

Hear, hear.

Mr. Page

Nothing said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary today will do anything to resolve that. The hon. Gentleman has left many points unresolved.

Is there any intermediate stage in the transfer between the Commission and the local authorities? Is there a take-over directly from the corporations by the local authorities? Will the Minister wait for the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government or will that be by-passed? When will firm proposals be made? These questions must be answered.

To return to the Bill, when speaking of Clause 2, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that there was an anomaly in the law; that within the original new town area when property is compulsorily acquired no account is taken of the development value attaching to the land acquired but that in extension areas the person from whom the land is acquired is given the market value. In future, as a result of this Measure, it is hoped to exclude that development value in extension areas.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary described this as "a piece of tidying up". When a person's property is taken from him for the benefit of the community he should receive the market value in all cases. If it contains an element of development value, created by the investment of public funds around him, that is now to be looked after by levy under the Land Commission Bill. Clause 2 of this Measure is replacing the 40 per cent. levy under the Land Commission Bill by a 100 per cent. levy. That is the anomaly and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can look forward to bloody battle, if that is a Parliamentary phrase, in Committee.

Mr. Mellish


Mr. Page

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will have some battles when this Clause comes up for debate in Committee. I do not know whether we will have any battles over Clause 3 because, frankly, I cannot see the purpose of it. It is a silly little provision which tells the corporations not to send copies of their accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Is it a great trouble to send the accounts to him? We will hear more about that in Committee, I hope.

Clause 1 is the important part of the Measure and I support the Bill because it contains that Clause. I am sorry that it contains Clause 2. Clause 1 makes provision for three years—and only three years—for the Commission and corporations. That is why the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) was right in drawing attention to the necessity for long-range planning in this matter; he is another hon. Member who is in a distinguished university position and also represents a new town. Indeed, it seems that the majority of universities have representatives speaking for the new towns and we have heard admirable speeches from them.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin said that we should overplan rather than underplan. If we had an inexhaustible spring of national resources, that would be a splendid policy. I see what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. He is calling attention to the need for a new town policy rather than for policies for new towns—an overall policy of the siting and creation of new towns rather than being concerned as to how we should manage any one new town.

I contribute my thoughts to that idea, jogged, perhaps, by what the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) said. New towns, those on virgin soil—new new towns—must be balanced with old town renewal. We must keep a balanced programme between the two, but at the same time I hope that we have learned something from new town development and procedure which can be used in carrying out renewal of our old towns.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

With the permission of the House, I will speak again and reply to the remarks made in what I regard as having been an excellent debate. It has been noticeable that during the three and a half hours we have been discussing the problems of new towns and their financing, we have had, apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), only one contribution from the benches opposite. In contrast with that, there have been about 10 speeches from my hon. Friends. I am very surprised indeed that in a matter which involves the expenditure of £250 million and considering the way in which it will be spent, so few Members of the Conservative Party have taken part.

The hon. Member for Crosby tried to work himself into a state and I have not often seen anybody trying so hard to get involved in a party political battle. I look forward to hearing any argument he may raise about Clause 2. I should have thought that that provision would appeal to him as being a good and just Clause. After all, it will put extensions to designated areas in the same category as designated areas.

The Hon Member for Crosby will appreciate that some people who own land in areas that are designated find that the value of that land depreciates. We intend to protect them. We also intend to make certain that those who are likely to make fat profits out of owning land in an area so designated will not keep that profit, which to us seems right and proper.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions which I will answer, particularly since he talked about the finances of the development corporations. It is our view that, as the years go by, new towns will become extremely profitable for the nation. At 31st March last year there was an accumulated surplus of £3 million on the general revenue account, although there was a deficit of £4 million on the sewerage revenue account. In other words, there was an overall deficit of £1 million. But as the new towns expand and more of them come into the picture, the capital expenditure involved on sewerage and so on will be covered. With the income from commercial interests we have no doubt that the new towns will be not only one of the greatest social things we have done but will also be extremely profitable. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue the financial aspect in Committee, we shall be very glad to answer his questions.

He said that he was under the impression that there was a slowing down of certain projects in the new towns, and wanted to know whether what he called the freeze would hold up any real improvements there. It is the positive policy of the Government to exclude public authority housing from any restrictions. That policy will apply in the new towns but, as is the case with every local authority, individual schemes, such as town centre development and so on, will be looked at on their merits. But no attempt will be made to hold up housing schemes. Indeed, part of my task has been to encourage the new towns to build more, and to build more quickly. The purpose of Clause 1 is to provide more money for that purpose.

The one other Conservative speech came from the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) who talked of the proportion of people in new towns owning their own homes, and asked about the Government's attitude to owner occupation. He will be glad to know that whereas the previous average figure of those owning their own homes was 11 per cent., we have, since we have been in office, increased that figure to 28 per cent., and it is our policy to achieve 50 per cent. home ownership.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston), who is a first-class constituency member, again spoke of trying to get London overspill into the Isle of Sheppey. I understand that the Kent County Council is putting proposals to us, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall take a personal interest in the matter and will do all I can to encourage more people to go to that area. It must be remembered, however, that if we are to get Londoners to move out in the first instance, they must be welcome where they go. In this case, we have a story of my hon. Friend and the local authorities concerned trying very hard to get Londoners to come to their area, and we shall do all we can to help.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) was very glad of our new approach to new towns, which he felt ought to be bigger. Whatever our views on this subject may be, we are driven by positive population events, and we shall be planning new towns of a population of about 150,000 to 250,000. In some cases the population will be as high as 500,000. Perhaps in the course of a few years the Government of the day will be coming forward for more money to build a brand new city in Britain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) was highly critical of industrialised building. He has every right to his personal view, but it would be rather sad if it went out from this House that on this aspect he was speaking for the majority of us. I do not think that he is. Like most other forms of building, industrial building has gone through a good deal of trial and error. I invite my hon. Friend to visit the new town of Peterlee, which is what I call the supermarket for industrialised buildings. One can there see five, six, seven or eight different systems of industrialised building. I know that if I were the chairman of a new town development corporation just starting off the ground, I would go to Peterlee and say, "I will take some of that. I will certainly not take any of that, but I will have some of this." We have in Peterlee a remarkable example of industrialised methods of building.

My hon. Friend also spoke of high rents in Skelmersdale, and I know that there is difficulty over that item—Skelmersdale is just getting off the ground and the rents are high—but I hope that as it goes forward Skelmersdale will, as has happened with other new towns, find some easement of the rents position. When my hon. Friend and others who have complained about the rents in Skelmersdale see our subsidies Bill they will appreciate that steps are being taken to relieve local authorities of the burden they undertake when they build local authority houses. We are also providing a special subsidy for the new towns. I hope that my hon. Friend will remember that when talking of the rents position in Skelmersdale, although it was a fair point for him to make.

Mr. McGuire

The value and merit of industrialised building is a matter of opinion, but could my hon. Friend tell the House what proportion of owner-occupied houses in the new towns have been built by industrialised methods?

Mr. Mellish

I am critical of that sort of argument—it is so unfair. Private enterprise building, whether in the new towns or across the country, occurs to a large extent in small pockets of 5, 10 or 20 houses. We do not find vast estates being built by private enterprise developers. The overall annual total of private enterprise houses is considerable—about 200,000—but they are built in pockets. Industrialised building can be a success only if the houses are built on the long run and on a site suitable to take continuous production from the factory. That means that the private sector does not go in for industrialised building because it is probably not economic for it to do so, but a public authority or new town building, where considerable numbers of houses are involved, provides a chance for industrialised methods to succeed.

As to costs, for the high rise housing and offices industrialised building is cheaper and better, but it is not so cheap for the low rise. We are having great difficulties because we cannot get the land—except for some of the new towns, where some is available—where one can get a long run for low rise building, which would be much cheaper. But I do not want it said here that industrialised building is only for the public authorities and the so-called council tenants; that it is an inferior form of building which the private sector does not want and will not have. That is a wrong impression, and I would not like it to be accepted outside.

A number of my hon. Friends spoke about amenities. In every new town I have visited, I have spoken, particularly to the local authorities, of my intense desire that they themselves should promote the ideas of what amenities they should have. It is not for the development corporation to tell the local authority what sort of amenities the new town should have, because that town will one day belong to the local authority.

Here I would refer to the strictures of the hon. Member for Crosby on my remarks. I thought, as his speech went on, that he answered himself—as so often happens with the hon. Gentleman; he gets involved in all sorts of legal argument and then gets it twisted and no reply is needed.

The New Towns Commission is a temporary body, as is understood by its members. These decent men and women have asked the simple question: "How long is temporary? What is our position? What happens when the 15 new towns are complete, and ready to hand over to the local authorities as laid down in the original Act?" The Conservatives never said that they would not hand over the new towns, so the members of this temporary body ask: "Where do we go from here?"

I have tried in my humble and, perhaps, rather foolish way to spell it out word by word, for the Commission. I am quite sure that those who are employed by the New Towns Commission will appreciate what I said, even if the hon. Gentleman did not. When I spoke, I was not trying to impress hon. Members opposite but the staff of the New Towns Commission.

The main emphasis in this debate has been on amenities. We want the local authorities to promote ideas for amenities, and we are prepared to consider the whole position, and how much the Corporations should give for this purpose. I will give the House some idea of the sort of problems we face. I will not mention the new town in question, although anyone living there who reads our debate will know to which new town I am referring.

This is a new town where the local authority regards the development corporation as "that crowd on the hill". "That crowd on the hill" have had to promote every idea about amenities. Amongst other things, they said that they ought to have a big open space, costing £50,000, and asked the local authority to make a contribution to that cost. The local authority considered the request very carefully and with great solemnity—and decided to make a donation of £100. I can give the assurance that after my visit that will not happen again. It is quite monstrous. The idea should be going up the hill. The whole purpose is that the authority will take over the new town and it is for the authority to say, "Those amenities we planned; it was our idea".

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) spoke about cooperative housing. We have made it perfectly clear that the Ministry is most anxious that within the total building programme of a new town we are very keen to see housing associations taking their part. Some are there already and are doing a very good job. I share the views of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) that housing associations must be well managed and have expertise in solicitors' legal skill and surveying skill, the right kind of management committee and of finance. Anything which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood can do to encourage co-operative housing associations we shall be grateful for and I shall be pleased to discuss these matters with him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) asked me two questions. He first asked, does the freeze mean a hold up of building of a new town in what is known as North Bucks? I assure him that it will not. His second question was, what progress has been made so far with compensation for farmers? Discussions have been going on with the National Farmers Union and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am not in a position to make any statement, but I assume that one will be made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and that we are not too far away from that time. It may well be that new legislation is required, but it is for my right hon. Friend to express a view on that.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be making a statement in November on the designated area in North Bucks. The inquiry was held last July. My Department has been pressed again and again to speed up these matters, but there is the other aspect of the problem concerning democratic processes. Those we must observe. It has taken the inspector a considerable time. It is a vast area and there were a number of objections. It would be quite wrong for the Minister for the sake of pleasing some local people, to rush the decision on a report of this magnitude. When the designated area is finally settled it must be shown that it has been carefully and honestly considered by my right hon. Friend.

I have tried to answer the questions which were asked. I end on a personal note. I am grateful to hon. Members who have spoken in the debate for their kind references to me. I do not represent a new town constituency, but———

Mr. Derek Page

Will my hon. Friend comment on the point I made about King's Lynn's costs?

Mr. Mellish

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that I shall look into that matter personally, but he knows better than any of us that that area is not within the compass of this Bill. I recognise that his constituency and his local authority have done and still are doing a first-class job for the re-housing of Londoners. I assure him that this matter will be carefully looked at and I will discuss it with him.

I do not represent a constituency in a new town, but I come from a local authority which is very progressive and which, to its everlasting credit, has built almost new towns in its area. To be fair, I have to admit that Hitler helped a bit. I do not think any Londoner, anyone who has lived in a slum and known what slums were like, seeing, in this affluent age, young married couples forced to live in conditions which I find shameful, can help but feel that new towns are a part of Britain for which we are grateful and of which we are all proud. Upon this I hope there will be unanimity and that through the new towns concept we shall build the sort of Britain which all of us want to build.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Howie.]

Committee upon Monday next.