HC Deb 19 December 1968 vol 775 cc1690-6

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Robinson

I was saying that, although it must be accepted that this is a success of public enterprise, the whole tenor of so many speeches from hon. Members opposite has been that we must reduce, curtail, hobble, the public part of the enterprise in order to give private enterprise a free hand. This has been implicit in what they have said. One hon. Member suggested that if only we did that with private enterprise, we would not have to have a Bill, because we would not need to raise£300 million. The fact is that this sum of money is calculated taking into account the considerable current involvement of private enterprise in the development of new towns in accordance with Government policy.

Apparently, in the eyes of some hon. Members opposite, the Cullingworth Report turned up as a sort of awful shock and surprise to the Government. In fact, it was commissioned by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Social Services when he was Minister of Housing because he wished to get at the facts. I think that it was my right hon. Friend, or conceivably his successor, the present Minister, who announced the Government's aim and objective that housing in new towns should split about 50-50–50 per cent. rented housing and 50 per cent. owner-occupied housing.

Mr. Hordern

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the recommendation of the Cullingworth Report that the Government should assist tenants of development corporation houses to buy their own houses?

Mr. Robinson

As one of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends correctly pointed out, there are no recommendations in the Cullingworth Report; it is a study. Its findings will certainly be thoroughly studied by the Government and will help us to determine our future action in connection with the ownership and management of housing in new towns.

The policy remains as the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead quoted the Prime Minister—that management responsibilities will be transferred to local authorities in due course. It is true that the problems do not stop at the owner ship and management of housing and I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) that when it comes to industrial assets there are new and considerable complications which will need a great deal more study.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned membership of development corporations. My right hon. Friends and I were taken to task for not having sufficient local interest on development corporations. I was taken to task by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) for having appointed a Labour member of a local authority in his constituency. I ought to explain to him that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could not be here tonight for reasons which, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman would appreciate.

When I was at the Ministry of Health, I had the duty of appointing members of hospitals boards. It was a duty which I took very seriously. I spent a lot of time over it and I never managed to please everybody. I sometimes wondered whether I was able to please even the majority. I am, therefore, well aware of the pitfalls of appointing members of public bodies, Government and semi-Government bodies.

I had one golden rule, which I think was a good one, and which I shall continue to observe in the context of my new responsibilities, and that is that I never gave reasons why I made an appointment or reappointed a member to a board. In this case, the hon. Gentleman has had a reply that my right hon. Friend felt that the gentleman in person was a suitable one to appoint, and that is as far as it is wise to go. As a general principle, we must find a reasonable balance of a number of factors when making these appoint- ments to the corporations. Above all, we must find people who are competent, who are willing and able to give the time needed for the very responsible job of getting a new town moving.

Earlier, we had a speech from the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) who, having welcomed the central Lancashire new town announcement made today, expressed some anxieties about incentives. I want to make it clear that, under present policies, the new towns would offer no financial incentives to industry. It is true that the North-East Lancashire authorities expressed to me their anxieties that somehow, if the new town had difficulty in achieving its planned rate of growth and employment, the Government might make special incentives available.

I do not think that there are any substantial grounds for apprehension on that score. He said, and I entirely agree, that Runcorn is being developed faster than any other new town, perhaps in the world. I had the pleasure of being taken round the new town recently by the Chairman and General Manager and was very impressed with what I saw. He took my right hon. Friend to task for a decision which he reached about the designation of the Warrington new town. In particular he deplored the decision to include what I gather is part of his constituency in Cheshire within the designated area, against the recommendation of the inspector at the public inquiry.

The reasons the inspector's recommendations were rejected were clearly set out in the decision letter. It is quite wrong to suggest that there was a universal local objection. In fact, the county council concerned, the local planning authority, did not object to the designation Order when it was made. The important thing is that my right hon. Friend did accept the recommendation of the inspector to exclude 525 acres of land in the Higher Walton area, also to delete 1,350 acres in the south and south-east of the designated area, and it was only in respect of these 1,200 acres that he found it necessary to differ from the inspector on the ground that this would enable an extra population of approximately 18,000 people to be accommodated in this part of the new town.

The inspector did not feel that it would be possible to reach the population tar gets without including this area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the decision is made now, and could not in any way be varied by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Carlisle

I accept that the Cheshire County Council, regrettably, chose not to oppose this designation. With respect, the right hon. Gentleman is unfair when he says that this shows that there was not unanimous objection among those who lived in the area. Indeed, the inspector pointed out—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentle man has exhausted his right to speak. He may, however, make a brief intervention.

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. May I put it to the Minister that it is wrong to assume, merely be cause the Cheshire County Council did not object, that the people who lived in the area were not unanimous in their objection?

Mr. Robinson

I do not know about unanimity. I have had a number of post cards of a similar nature recently—

Mr. Carlisle

Hear, hear.

Mr. Robinson

—of which the hon. Gentleman obviously has full knowledge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), coming as he does from North-East Lancashire, gave a welcome to the new town proposal in central Lancashire and the ancillary action proposed for the area, part of which he represents.

I wish to say one thing about today's announcement with which, as a Lancastrian, I am particularly gratified to be associated. At the meeting in Manchester on 4th December there was complete unanamity on one point, and that was the need for a quick decision after what had inevitably been a long process of consultation. I promised a decision in weeks, not months, and, although the issues were considerable, priority has been given to balancing all of them by the Government, both within the Department and between Departments. In this way, we have been able to announce the decision just over a fortnight from the date of that meeting. My hon. Friend was concerned about the road situation in his constituency. I have undertaken to pass on his views to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Since I have given a cordial welcome to the deliberations on the new town, perhaps I could have a final word. Could my right hon. Friend reassure us by saying that the needs of North-East Lancashire, which he recognises, will at all times be given equal weight by the Government to the needs of the new town?

Mr. Robinson

If my hon. Friend reads the terms of my right hon. Friend's announcement today, he will find that they accord exactly with his wishes. These two matters have been considered in parallel by the Government.

Mr. More


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a lot of business ahead of us.

Mr. More

Since I spoke in the debate, I have had a letter from the Clerk of the Salop County Council which suggests that, in spite of the agreement arrived at when I took the deputation to the Minister, they still have no date for a meeting; no agreement as to the expenditure which is to be discussed; and no agreement as to the procedure pro posed for discussing it. I hope that there will be more speed in getting together with my county council.

Mr. Robinson

That does not give me very much time to make the necessary inquiries about something of which I have just heard for the first time, but I undertake to look into the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman.

I have dealt with most of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping. However, in one part of his speech, he stressed something which is very close to my heart and that of my right hon. Friend, namely, the need for public participation in planning. This is implicit in the recent Town and Country Planning Act. We are extremely concerned that, particularly in connection with the new towns, the population shall be told about developments which are likely to affect their future.

The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) was also in favour of a private enterprise new town. I pro posed to tell him, but his hon. Friend told him, about the private enterprise new town which is under construction in the United States. This will turn out to be a somewhat different social organ ism from the new towns which we are building. I do not think that it is possible to have a new town of the kind which we need financed entirely by private enterprise. However, I repeat that private enterprise is becoming more and more involved in the development of our new towns.

I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) slightly misunderstood the meaning of the passage in the Cullingworth Report about normality. I simply took it that what the Report said was that one of the facets of normality of a town is that it has a scatter of different forms of house ownership, and it was in that respect that most new towns were abnormal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) displayed once again his great prejudice against industrialised or system building. I certainly will not, like my predecessor at this Box on the last occasion of a New Towns Bill, chastise my hon. Friend for his prejudice, but I strongly dissociate myself from it. The fact that one such scheme ran into difficulties in the new town of Skelmersdale could not be regarded as a criticism of system building as a whole.

The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) raised a matter, in somewhat testy terms, I thought, about the future of Crawley. He probably knows that my right hon. Friend approved extensions of the housing programme in Crawley of 4,600 houses to meet expected demands for labour. This was authorised in 1966 at the request of the Crawley Urban District Council and supported by the New Towns Commission.

I remind the hon. Member, however, that Crawley is not now a new town planned under the New Towns Act by a development corporation. Its ultimate size is a matter for the county council in the first place under its development plan procedures which apply to the county generally. The hon. Member must, there fore, direct his questions to that quarter.

Mr. Dance

Before he concludes, can the Minister give an assurance to people in mixed towns—that is, a combination of the old and the new—that the older part of the town will not be neglected in favour of the new?

Mr. Robinson

I take the point. It is desirable that there should not grow up any kind of antagonism where there are older communities on the periphery or close to new towns.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) gave a very fair summary of the difficulties which, we acknowledge, Haverhill is at present suffering. It is true to say that the biggest problem is the lack of industry. I am looking into this. Certainly, when opportunity offers, I will accede to the hon. Member's invitation to come and look for myself.

I think that I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised by hon. Members during the debate. It has been a very helpful debate. I am grateful to see a continuation of all-party support for the concept of the new town and I think that the House can rest assured that this£300 million, large sum though it is, will be wisely spent, in the interests of the people of the country and a better life for them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee Tomorrow.