HC Deb 05 February 1969 vol 777 cc529-38

Again considered in Committee.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I think that that little ceremony confirms the wisdom of my previous tactics. No one supports the traditions of the House more than I do, nor recognises more how they protect the people in Parliament, because they are tied up in conventions which give us orderly procedure, but I did not want that traditional interruption when I was dealing with matters relating to Peterborough. I do not mind the interruption when it applies to nation's business, but Peterborough is different.

On both sides of the House, among hon. Members who are meeting those concerned with new towns, there is a feeling of disquiet and of a lack of coordination. Not that anyone is causing this deliberately or is being malicious. As one experienced in Government, I understand that consideration is first given to matters relating specifically to one's own Department and that, when one is faced with problems, like those of new towns, which come within the orbit of so many different Departments, it is all too easy to fall between all of these stools.

The time has come, if it is that the Government want the sympathy and support of the people who have to implement this legislation, to have a Minister who will see that all the problems are properly looked at by the Departments—if need be, someone who can go to the Cabinet itself or to Cabinet Committees and thump the table to see that the issues are faced.

I put employment as the first priority. Again, this arises whenever I talk to other hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have discussed this and it is in our minutes. It is an experience we have all had. It looks as though development areas are having a priority which, standing alone, may be right but which is one that, if given in the same way as over the last two years, is going to ruin any successful development of the new towns procedures. When I am told that the new towns will have next priority, I feel that the time had come when that next priority must be clearly defined. At what point is it adjudged in the nation's interests to see that the new towns are a success as against the provision of employment in development areas? Both are important and in some respects I think that priority to the new towns should take precedence over development areas.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is the right man for the job. He sits in the Chair which deals with most of the areas covered by new towns. He is a man of vast experience in Government. He was in charge of a most intricate and difficult Department for many years and has shown great administrative skill. I would like to think that he will be designated to deal with these matters.

I would put at the top of his list of priorities the question of seeing that, if we are going to get houses built and plan new areas—which will be expensive—we also have the industries going to those areas to see that they are properly utilised.

There seems to be a difference of view between the Ministry of Transport and the other planning Ministries which is spoiling the whole idea. I do not want to quote figures again, but we have already had the experience of one set of plans for a road being approved and all the people owning houses and other property in the area being disturbed, as is always the case with such plans, only to find everything altered. I am not saying that the alteration is not better, but it there had been co-ordination in the first place, there would not have been the disturbance and the upset which is caused when plans are made and then changed. I want the Ministry of Transport to consider what contribution it has to make in new towns.

There is no need for me to elaborate about the need for hospitals and water supplies, but we want more detailed knowledge of what is planned in these respects. Ministers with Departmental responsibilities for these services have to get together to make sure that a scheme is understood and operated.

There is one general problem which ought to be tackled. This concerns properties in areas which have been designated for development. The owners of such properties cannot sell them on the open market, because of the planning proposals, but there is often no date for the commencement of the development. Some of the extra money which the right hon. Gentleman is obtaining permission to spend should be used to purchase these properties in order to avoid what are often heartbreak and disastrous consequences for people who have to move because of a change of job, for instance, but who find that they cannot sell their property and take the normal advantage which the citizen is entitled to expect.

If we want to make a success of the new towns, particularly now that new towns are being tacked on to traditional cities such as that which I described earlier, there must be a responsible Minister with authority and standing to see that all the Departments concerned with the various services know what is going on and are able to work together to provide a coherent development instead of the haphazard situation which exists today.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) always charms the House of Commons with his speeches. I can truthfully say that his manner is such that he could make comfortable a person on the scaffold.

Mr. Hamling

As long as he is not on the scaffold.

Mr. McGuire

If he loses four more votes, he will be.

The hon. Member referred to coordination. I want to refer particularly to Skelmersdale, the new town in my constituency. In planning a new town, it is always difficult to synchronise developments so that all the diverse interests will agree that everything is right. There are always difficulties about whether high or low priority should be given to communications, telephone services, water supply, recreational facilities, hospitals and schools. My right hon. Friend came to Skelmersdale on 2nd January to hear the opinions of those who have to deal with these problems, not only members of the development corporation, but the councillors of the local urban district of Skelmersdale and Holland. Let us make no bones about it—the local urban district council does not have the financial capacity to deal with these problems. They have the ideas, but they cannot will the end. They cannot provide some of the facilities the lack of which is creating friction in the community.

I hope that, having listened to the complaints about the lack of recreational facilities and having heard what has been said about the need for planning for hospitals and the need to provide something tangible, my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some good news, and especially that he will be able to say that the present meagre grants will be considerably increased and that the Government will assist the local authority to get ahead with its plans to make for that richer life which people coming into the new towns expect.

Mr. Dance

I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) for all that he has done and said this evening. At the same time I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens). He has done so much to help us get together in this matter, which proves conclusively that it is not, and never has been, a party matter. It has been done with the interests of those who live in the new towns at heart. I agree with so much of what has been said, that there is only one point I wish to raise and it is to do with tenant farmers whose land is threatened and in some cases taken over.

I was speaking to a tenant farmer recently, whose land is to be taken over. He does not know when, he is completely in the dark about it. This is not conducive to good husbandry. We are so dependent upon the maximum production from the land at present that I feel that such farmers should know much more about where they stand, and for how long their tenure will last. For goodness sake, let us make sure that, from the money allocated under this Bill, they get realistic compensation.

Mr. K. Robinson

I do not want to make heavy weather of this, but this Amendment, like the rest, is defective in that it refers to the Minister when there is no reference to the Minister in the Bill. Furthermore, it refers to the Town Development Act, 1952, and Clause 1 of this Bill makes no provision for development under that Act. I take it that the Amendment was merely intended to allow a debate on the general need for co-ordination of responsibilities of various Departments. We discussed this on Second Reading.

The need for closer co-ordination between Government Departments to ensure that the development of the new towns proceeds smoothly is fully accepted—without it new towns could never be built. The initial decision to designate anew town, although statutorily the responsibility of the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Secretary of State for Scotland or Wales, as the case may be, is taken after the widest consultation with other Ministers, and implies a Government commitment to see that all the Departments concerned cooperate to the extent necessary for successful development.

The Amendment refers to one or two specific things. I accept that the growth of employment is one of the most important matters in developing a new town. The development corporations keep in very close touch with my Department and the Board of Trade. There are interdepartmental arrangements to see that new town considerations are taken fully into account in applications for industrial development certificates. I am sorry to have to repeat this phrase, and not to be able to define it further, I think for obvious reasons, but it is a fact that subject to the needs of the development areas, those of the new and expanding towns have the next highest priority. It has been made abundantly clear that in these matters development areas have the first priority.

10.15 p.m.

This policy has succeeded, because the new towns in general present a success story. I urge this on someone like the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) who has, so to speak, just entered the league. We have no doubt that Peterborough will be the same success as the other new towns have been. It is a success in which both parties can share and for which, although the new towns were started under a Labour Government, both parties, can claim a measure of credit.

I accept that good road communications are essential. I explained on Second Reading the position as regards principal roads in new towns for which there is a special programme in which my Department determines the priorities. Trunk roads and motorways are dealt with under the national programme, whether they serve new towns or not, because they involve wider considerations of national interest and priority. However, new town development is a relevant factor which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport takes into account, although it is not the only factor which he has to consider. It is a reasonable claim that new towns either are or will be well served by the national road system

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) spoke of hospitals and said that he was uncertain to whom he should go to press the claims of hospitals. Perhaps he missed his opportunity. I think that he ought to have come to see me at midnight on 31st October last, while I could still claim, perhaps, to have been Minister of Health and also to have become Minister for Planning and Land. This is a matter for which regional hospital boards and the Department of Health and Social Security are ultimately responsible, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no danger of the claims of new towns being overlooked. Three of them—Harlow, Crawley and Welwyn Garden City—each already have new hospitals. Not long ago I visited a new hospital under construction at Basildon. There is one at Stevenage. In the later new towns, sites have been reserved for prospective future hospital development.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Peterborough has just completed a hospital, but that was done to meet the needs of old Peterborough. If it is proposed as an excuse for not putting up another one for the 70,000 extra people, we shall be back where we started.

Mr. Robinson

I had not heard that that excuse was put forward. I shall not tease the hon. Gentleman, but, if he had had his way, he would not, I think, have had his hospital until a good deal later than it was in fact completed. However, that is ancient history.

There have been references to the question of blight, although that word was not actually used. I assure the Committee that development corporations will always sympathetically consider requests from house owners to buy their houses if that is necessary to avoid hardship. That is a general principle widely adopted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) referred to my interesting and enjoyable visit to Skelmersdale in his constituency. I took careful note of everything said to me by all those whom I met during that visit. I cannot promise him immediate satisfaction on all counts, but I shall do my best for Skelmersdale as for the other new towns.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead referred to what he called the London overspill liaison committee. Its correct title is the London Dispersal Liaison Group. This Group is working extremely well. The team of officials comes from my Department, from the Department of Employment and Productivity and from the Greater London Council. It was set up at the end of 1966 to keep the administrative arrangements under continuous review and to look closely into the related questions of publicity, adult retraining and the collection and presentation of comparable statistics of movement. It is in fact a very striking achievement in practical co-operation, and a very useful initiative, and I understand that it is working very well.

The New Towns Act provides for the development of new towns by corporations appointed by the Government. They are the co-ordinators as well as the developers. It is their job to see that those parts of the new town development which they do not themselves provide directly are properly programmed and available at the right time. They do this by constant liaison with and consultation with the local authorities, the statutory undertakers, and the Departments concerned. Thus there is from the very beginning a built-in system of co-ordination. I think this machinery has worked well in the past, and the success of the earlier new towns proves that. There may, of course, be occasions when the machinery, like all machinery, works less than perfectly, and it would be wrong to be complacent, but on the whole it works well, and I do not think that the kind of formalisation of arrangements implicit in the Amendment would enable the machinery to work any better.

Mr. Allason

The right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the question of tenant farmers. He mentioned the question of blight in relation to housing. Does the same thing apply in the case of a tenant farmer? Suppose a tenant farmer feels it is no good soldiering on under the threat that, at any moment, his livelihood may go. Is he then entitled to serve a blight notice under the New Towns Act and the Planning Acts, and may he go at the time of his choosing and not at the whim of the development corporation?

Mr. Robinson

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the same kind of considerations apply, and sympathetic reception would be given by the corporation to a tenant farmer.

Mr. Allason

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has quite told us where to go with our complaints on occasions other than 30th October last year. If we have complaints about the telephone service, for instance, should we then go to him or should we go to the Postmaster-General? This always seems a little bit obscure. I agree that, obviously, the minor complaints would go to the Postmaster-General, but where there is a major complaint about something hampering the whole running of a new town, does the right hon. Gentleman prefer our taking our complaint to him first, so that he can rouse up the Postmaster-General—or whoever the appropriate Minister may be? Would he tell us? Or does he prefer that a Member, or possibly a group of Members, should harass the Minister first and then, if they cannot get satisfaction, come to him? I think it would be helpful if we could have a statement of exactly how this co-ordination actually works.

Mr. Robinson

I think it would be proper in instances of that sort for the Member concerned to approach what I may call the functional Minister in the first instance, but I have, of course, a general responsibility for new towns, and I would always be glad to look into anything alleged to be affecting adversely the development of a new town. I am always prepared to take up with my right hon. Friends matters of this kind. I would not usurp the functions of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General in providing telephones in old or new towns or the countryside.

Mr. Allason

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.