HC Deb 25 March 1968 vol 761 cc1109-15

12.4 a.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Bootle (Extension) Order, 1968, dated 27th February, 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th March, be approved. Before I come to the Order, I think that I shall be in order if I briefly say that this proposal comes within the terms of the statement made by my right hon. Friend on 3rd May, 1967, in which he said that in view of the appointment of the Royal Commission, it was not normally proposed to go ahead with further changes in local government reorganisation unless there were some specially urgent requirement—as was the case in respect of one or two of the major Orders that we have debated recently—or there was an amalgamation or an alteration of boundaries which came forward under Part VI of the Local Government Act, 1933, as amended by the Local Government Act, 1958. That is an alteration of boundaries on the initiative of the local authority. In such cases, where there is no dispute, there is a great case for going ahead if possible.

The Order would extend the boundaries of the county borough to include the adjacent area of 276 acres in the West Lancashire Rural District. The case for it is very strong. Not only is it not opposed, but 260 of those acres are already owned by the Bootle Corporation, which has acquired the land to meet the desperate shortage of housing land within its existing boundaries. It is thought that it will provide land for about 3,000 housing units, both corporation and private enterprise, which will greatly comfort my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon).

I am not saying that even this acquisition will solve all the area's problems. As the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) knows, all the authorities in the area are seeking land for housing. This is a big problem which will take time to solve, but this is a step in the right direction. If this land is acquired for this necessary and desirable extension, it is obviously convenient that the local authority services in the area should also be provided by the Corporation, which has a good record, rather than fragmented and provided by the county council or the rural district council.

The usual arrangements for the transfer to the corporation are therefore made. The land is already largely owned by the corporation and many of those who will live there will be corporation tenants, so it seems sensible that it should provide and administer the services.

The extension has made it necessary for the Home Office to provide for a re-warding. An inquiry was held and proposals were finally agreed which will come into effect in the time specified in the Order. The other features common to Orders of this kind are to be found in this one. I hope the House will think that this is a wise and sensible move and will approve the Motion.

12.7 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am sorry that I was late in getting to my feet, but I thought that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) was rising, since the Order affects his constituency, but no doubt he will have his opportunity later.

As a Member for a nearly adjoining constituency—it does not quite touch Bootle—I wondered why the Parliamentary Secretary, should have said that neighbouring authorities had been consulted. The map with the Order shows the extraordinary situation along the northeast Crosby, Litherland and Bootle, which has come about through the local authorities purchasing land for development and then making various orders absorbing it. I call particular notice to the boundary of the Crosby Borough Council, which carves up streets and even buildings in a peculiar shape.

In that respect, it is a little unhappy that the Order is brought forward in rather a piecemeal fashion. There is a tremendous demand by the local authorities in the area for land, particularly for housing and educational purposes. There has been a gradual encroachment on the area of the West Lancashire Rural District Council, nibbling into that area bit by bit. I had hoped that there would be a more combined effort to decide which local authority should have which areas of land within the West Lancashire Rural District. Litherland U.D.C., for example, is starved of land for housing development. Apart from clearance areas, I know of no land remaining to Litherland U.D.C. for housing development, and the Council seems now to have been prevented from having any further part of the West Lancashire area. This is rather a piecemeal effort. There might have been a complete revision of the boundaries to satisfy all the local authorities concerned.

What is the position over the local elections which may take place in the next month? Does the Order apply to those local elections? Will it come into operation right away so that the local elections will be affected and the area will be within Bootle Borough Council for the coming elections? I find it sad when a county borough takes over part of a rural district in that the parish councils disappear. That is the general law, but we lose a very useful contact between local government and the electorate when we lose the parish councils. Perhaps some day we may have ward councils instead in the urban areas.

I cannot complain that the Order follows the general law, but I do complain that the Order deals only with a very small part of a very large problem—the land needed for housing in this area. It solves only a little of the problem. Indeed, I do not know whether it solves even that, because it will provide only 3,000 houses for Bootle, and Bootle is expanding more rapidly than that. Crosby and Litherland are expanding, their housing waiting lists are very long and they can see no prospect of any fresh land on which building can take place. I congratulate Bootle on this Order and I wish that I could be as happy about the adjoining areas.

12.14 a.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

At this late hour of the night, may I express my gratitude to the Parliamentary Secretary for the manner in which he has dealt with the subject and for the generosity of himself and his right hon. Friend towards the county borough of Bootle. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench.

I do not much like the word "encroachment" which has been used many times by those talking about the endeavours of the Bootle County Council. We make these demands—if we may call them "demands" by the most generous application of that term—because we have such grave difficulty.

The hon. Member for Crosby spoke about the difficulties of housing and so on. It might put the matter in perspective if I explain that a well-known former official of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—I understand that he recently retired—told me some time ago about what Bootle went through during the war. This man, who has great knowledge of these matters, particularly from the point of view of the north of England, pointed out that Bootle was bombed so viciously by the German air force—comparatively speaking, it was bombed more harshly than any other part of the country—that it was completely written off.

He was able to tell me that by 1967 Bootle had achieved what could only be described as a social miracle. I am glad that the present Town Clerk of Bootle, Mr. Taylor, is listening to the debate. As the representative of Bootle, I am glad of this opportunity to express the gratitude of my constituents for the help Bootle has received over the years. We are grateful for the additional land that is being made available, just as we were grateful for the earlier extension in 1951, as is exemplified in the memorandum supplied to hon. Members.

I recall that when I was chairman of the local housing committee the medical officer of health for Bootle told me that right after the war the area had the highest infant mortality rate, highest maternity death rate and highest incidence of T.B. since the town was established, the highest in the British Isles. I am glad to say that everything has changed and that the opposite is now the case. Those adverse social statistics have been reduced over the years, and now they are below the national average. These additional 276 acres of land will enable us to go further, although they will not, of course, solve our problems. We will require another big advance into territory before all our social demands are met. Nevertheless, this extension represents a considerable advance for a town the size of Bootle.

We are grateful for what has been done and to those who have made this progress possible. There has been agreement with all our neighbours about this step and we are grateful to them, including Crosby, Litherland, Liverpool and West Lancashire. All have seen the need for this social advance. My hon. Friend referred to the excellent record of Bootle Council. New industries and schools are being established. The Council and those who administer it are as good as one could find anywhere in Britain. The efforts of those who have served on the Council and of those who are now serving on it—and I am glad that Mr. Taylor is listening to me say this—enable me to say that, by wise application, good local government and by the judicious and proper use of land, Bootle has been able to advance the position of its people so that the town compares favourably with any other part of the country.

The Council, the Town Clerk and his officials have used the available land so well that now some of it is being used for massive industrial development, like the giro scheme in Bootle. The face of the town has been changed. We are grateful to all concerned, including the Government and Ministers, for giving us such generous treatment both in the past and today.

12.19 a.m.

Mr. Skeffington

With the leave of the House, I will briefly answer some of the points that have been raised.

Hon. Members will have listened with interest to what has been said about the vigour, drive and imagination of Bootle. I notice on page 5 of the memorandum, which was originally produced by the borough, that Bootle has taken pride in the fact …that throughout the present century the birth rate for the Borough has been consistently above the average for England and Wales, while, since 1952, the death rate has been below the national average. That gives a satisfactory picture of the position, and this additional land will give new opportunities for those who are setting up home and who are on the housing waiting list. I echo the praise given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) to those who administer the borough.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) raised three points. I have great sympathy with all of them. He referred to the most peculiar boundaries. If he looks at the major map he will find that it is at least satisfactory that the proposed extension shows that the boundary is a rather better one, following the Liverpool outer ring road. This is a step in the right direction. The curious configuration is due to the fact that the authorities have been trying to obtain additional land. I agree with the hon. Member; I should have preferred a strategic designation of the orders, which ought to have been made many years ago, rather than this kind of ad hoc arrangement where authorities, by one means or another, try to meet their housing requirements. They are bound to do this under the law because they have to be housing authorities. I hope that under the new Town and Country Planning Bill—about which the hon. Gentleman and I know almost too much—the new system will enable some of this forward thinking to emerge in the consideration of the various strategic plans and ensure that this kind of ad hoc arrangement will not be such a typical part of the local government scene in the future as it has been.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of the disappearance of parishes. I regret this. However, in this case only part of the two parishes will disappear and there will be a parish council remaining in the other parts.

With regard to elections, paragraph 1 of Article 7 sets out the arrangements, and the elections on 13th May will be fought under them. The arrangements between 1st April and 13th May are outlined in the Article.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Bootle (Extension) Order, 1968, dated 27th February 1968, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th March, be approved.