HC Deb 05 February 1969 vol 777 cc509-28

9.0 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 11, at end insert: Provided that no part of the increase shall be advanced to the Commission for the New Towns. The effect of this Amendment is to ensure that none of the £300 million by which the Bill increases the sum available for new towns should go to the New Towns Commission. We have been told that the Commission is to be abolished, therefore it is evidently not in need of cash. This is a probing Amendment to seek some positive statements about the future of the New Towns Commission and new town assets. This was raised on Second Reading, but I realise that the Minister cannot, in half an hour, deal in detail with all the points raised. He was necessarily somewhat limited.

Now I hope that in the greater leisure of Committee he will be able to expand a bit on what he has previously told us. When we asked for some guidance on this during the Second Reading we were told: The policy remains … that management responsibilities will be transferred to local authorities in due course. It is true that the problems do not stop at the ownership and management of housing … when it comes to industrial assets there are new and considerable complications which will need a great deal more study."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th Dec, 1968: Vol. 775, c. 1691.] That did not take us very much beyond what we already knew. This is a real issue, not just an academic quibble. There is great public discussion going on among people who are anxious and want to know the Government's position. In column 1685 of HANSARD of 19th December I quoted the words of the Prime Minister, which was the last we heard on this, except for the statement from the Minister.

I want to quote what was said in the Labour Party election manifesto of 1966 on new towns: We shall fulfil our promise to bring real democratic self-government to those which are fully grown, by the abolition of the New Towns Commission. Was this a pledge or merely a lightly-given promise? Notice the words "fulfil our promise". The Prime Minister spoke about a pledge for 500,000 houses a year. He said that this was not a lightly-given promise, but a solemn pledge, which the party would not go back on in any circumstances, however unfavourable. We want to know what is the situation about this pledge.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

Since the hon. Member has chosen to be polemical about this, if the pledge is as he said, I would remind him that any pledges given at the last election are subject to the Parliament Act, and there are two years of the term of office of this Government still unexpired. No one can honestly come to that Box and say that we have failed to carry out our pledges until the next election takes place. The hon. Gentleman is going too far in making such wild asseverations.

Mr. Allason

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I do not yet say that the pledge has been broken. I am asking whether the intention is that it shall be broken.

I refer now to another statement, quoting here from the speech of the present Minister of Public Building and Works, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, on the Second Reading of the previous New Towns Bill. He stated the situation as it was in October, 1966: 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 that 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1966; Vol. 734, c. 1584.] That brings us to the third Session of this Parliament, the present one, but still we have no news of the abolition of the New Towns Commission.

What we have is the Cuilingworth Report, which indicates that there may be considerable disadvantages in handing over even the housing stock of the New Towns Commission to local authorities. But, even if the housing assets are handed over by the Commission, that still leaves the other assets. If the New Towns Commission is to be abolished, where are those assets to vest? It is no longer suggested, I think, that they should be transferred to the local authorities.

It is questionable, therefore, whether the present Minister can stand by the words of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. We are entitled to hear something about the future of the Commission. If it is to survive with just a change of name in order to fulfil the election pledge, that will be a waste of time. The staff of the Commission are justifiably anxious about their future, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us a firm assurance on what the future is for new town assets.

[MR. PROBERT in the Chair.]

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

This Amendment arises on the Clause providing for more money, taking the figure up from £800,000 to £1 million. In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), I wish to ensure that the money is properly spent.

The Minister is new to the Department. I hope that I may have him as an ally. I did not have from some other Ministers who have answered on this topic in the past quite the sort of alliance which I like. I should like from the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that he will spend some of the money in making contact with his colleagus in other Departments which have something to do with the development of new towns.

My constituency, Peterborough—a famous constituency as well as a delightful one—is to be a guinea pig for a new concept of new town development. Peterborough is the first city in which the new towns policy is applied to an old-established traditional city. When the announcement was made, the Government made clear that the idea was, as it were, a transplant, adding to the established city of Peterborough a great extention to which 70,000 of London's overspill would go. It was made clear at the time of the announcement that the concept was new and that every effort would be made to keep in step with what the local residents wanted.

It was a guinea pig idea which at first did not find favour with me, although it had the support of the local city council, of the local county council, and of the local Press, so that I was pretty much a lone wolf in asking the people in Peterborough to look at the small print of the idea—because all sorts of generous promises were made or implied when Peterborough was first asked to be a good neighbour to London and to take London's overspill and to do it in terms of the New Towns Commission. That meant setting up a development corporation to administer a city which has had its own civic authority in its own right for 700 years. It meant that the New Town Corporation would virtually take over development in that ancient city. It was made quite clear that if the city would be a good neighbour to London and help London with its great problem money would be forthcoming, and guidance given in a sympathetic way, so that Peterborough might be improved for those who were already there. It was on that promise that the development corporation was accepted by this ancient City of Peterborough.

I remember that, when the first announcement was made, the supplementary question I was able to get in was to ask the Government to see to it that industrial development certificates would be granted; because it was quite clear to everybody that if the city was to expand to double its size there would have to be industries there to provide jobs for the extra people who would come in. I was given all the assurances one could expect—that that would be sympathetically looked at, that there would be some generosity in looking at the provision of industrial development certificates.

When, later on, I probed this still further and I asked, "Where does Peterborough stand?" and would there be special inducements given to it as to development areas, Peterborough having accepted the onerous responsibility of taking on that expansion, provided that those inducements would be given to make the expansion a success, I was told that Peterborough could not have the same inducements as development areas but it would have the next priority. I did not know then and I have never known what that meant, and I have not had it explained up to this date. This case seems to me to come within the terms of the Amendment, and I wanted to point out to the House that those promises look like being broken, and before I, as a Member of this House, am prepared to vote extra money under the Bill, I want to be sure that it will be spent in a way which will allow the Government to keep their promises.

I wait to place on record a report which appeared in a local newspaper. I do so because it states the case very well, and so I can save time. The newspaper is one which supported the expansion of Peterborough and the New Town Corporation wholeheartedly, and it was at first very critical of me when I ventured to suggest that the people of Peterborough ought to have been a little more discriminating about the sort of assurances which they were prepared to accept. The headline in this newspaper, dated 4th February, is: "Making a mockery of expansion?" These are the words which appear in this newspaper, which was wholeheartedly behind this scheme to alter the whole face and character of the City of Peterborough. This is what they wrote on 4th February: The Board of Trade say that Morse Controls Ltd."— a local firm— cannot expand in Peterborough. This decision is incredible and almost scandalous. On the one hand we have a firm which has been in the city for four and a half years, with an annual turnover of well over £250,000. Thirty per cent. of their goods are direct exports and 25 to 30 per cent. indirect exports. And they are expanding at a rate of 40 per cent. per annum. On the other hand, we have a city which has accepted the principle of planned expansion; a city which is to grow enormously over the next 10 to 15 years—if it can attract industry to come here—and which is the city that Morse Controls want to expand in. But the Board of Trade refuses them an industrial development certificate, saying that the northeast is the primary development area. This makes instant, outright mockery of the principle of expansion upon which Peterborough's future is to be based. It makes mockery, too, of the Development Corporation set up at great expense to plan Peterborough's expansion and of the city and county councillors who have bent over backwards to help the Government and its plans. It is no fault of the right hon. Gentleman; he can don a white sheet; but I hope that in his new capacity he will get in touch with his colleagues in the other Departments and make certain, (a) that they know what is happening to Peterborough; (b) that they know of the promise made on behalf of the Government by the Minister who instigated the expansion of Peterborough; and (c) that they do their duty in honouring the obligations made in their name.

9.15 p.m.

This case, which is only one of many, is the best example. This small firm has every right to expand in the city where it has been for the last four and half years. The Board of Trade by refusing to give permission will create a sour atmosphere in which the expansion of the city will be almost an impossibility.

There are here hon. Members who have great knowledge of local government and who have themselves served in local government. They also have had promises from Government Departments and they know how sour local representatives and local residents feel if promises which have been given are deliberately gone back-on by the Government of the day.

I am using this Amendment to argue the case of this firm. Much money has been spent and much disruption has been caused by the commencement of the expansion of Peterborough, and there are ten to fifteen years to go before fruition. If now there is a sour atmosphere, with local people feeling that they have been let down, then this expansion, which may eventually develop into something worthwhile, will be spoiled from the start. This will be detrimental to the standing of the Government, and will ruin a delightful and progressive city which is making a great contribution to the economic strength of the country.

The chairman of the development corporation, a man appointed by the Government, who intends to do his duty, has said that an industrial development certificate should be granted. He has on record, in the newspaper in which I published a letter which I sent to the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he agrees with the points which I made.

I hope if the right hon. Gentleman gets his Bill, as no doubt he will, and if he gets his extra money, as I have no doubt he will, he will not take it that he has been successful in getting his Bill and forget all about it. He is the coordinator of all the Departments, the Department which has to make certain that we get the water, the Ministry of Transport, which makes certain that we get grants for roads, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government which decides the general planning of the area—

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

And the hospitals.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

And the hospitals, which involve the Ministry of Health and Social Security. One hospital which has just been completed has already been shown to be inadequate for the present population, and far from capable of meeting the demands which the expansion will bring.

I appeal to the Minister not to allow the sourness to develop; to see that there is co-ordination with all Departments and, above all, to see that the promises which were given or implied when Peterborough was asked to be the good neigbours are implemented.

Mr. Dance

I echo every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls). Redditch is in much the same position. Redditch agreed rather reluctantly to take a large amount of overspill from Birmingham on the understanding that the original town would not be placed at a disadvantage, but it has been.

There has been for some time a large amount of important industry in Redditch. With the arrival of the new population, the existing industry is not nearly enough. Many people are being moved out from Birmingham where they have been paying rents of about £2 a week. Now they find themselves having to pay £6 10s. a week, which is quite a shock to them. An even greater shock comes when they cannot get employment in Redditch and have to travel to and from Birmingham to work and spend £3 10s. on fares. It means that many have outgoings of £9 10s. a week before they start to pay their own living costs. Either they must ask for increased wages, or they will suffer privation. If they seek increased wages, the cost of the articles produced in Redditch factories will be increased. Many of those articles are exported, and price increases would, of course, be fatal.

I implore the right hon. Gentleman to see that I.D.Cs are granted to some of these new towns, because they have created a completely new problem in the country. I know that some of the less well-off parts of the country are entitled to priority in I.D.Cs over the wealthier parts. But when the Government create a new town, they create a new problem, and it is one which must be dealt with outside the ordinary allocation of money to the towns.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough that bitterness exists between the old parts of towns and the new towns which are developing. It is vital that that should not get any worse. Surely what we want is a happy, contented community welding together the old and the new. With our traditional bits of the old Redditch and the old Peterborough, with their theatrical in terests, their operatic societies, their foot ball clubs—

Sir Harmar Nicholls

And our cathedral.

Mr. Dance

Well, Redditch has not a cathedral. All these lend something on which to build the new. It will be done with more hope of success if the two communities can be brought closer together.

One matter which is causing great annoyance at the moment is the provision of schools. In the old part of Redditch, there are a number of bad schools which need money spending on them to bring them up to date. There is one with outside lavatories and no staff common room. It is thoroughly antiquated. However, most of Worcestershire County Council's allocation is being spent on three new schools for the new town of Redditch. If the Government want to create these new towns, they should make a special allocation of money for school building and education in them, and not do it at the expense in this case of the old part of Redditch and, indeed, the whole county. There is a good deal of ill-feeling at present because most of the allocation for the county of Worcester is being spent on the new town of Redditch. If we are to create these new towns which are so necessary, surely it is the Government's responsibility to take on the financial liability of looking after them quite separate from the old towns.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is bored stiff with me—

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

He is not the only one.

Mr. Dance

—when I repeatedly raise this matter of a hospital. But I must raise it yet again, although his hon. Friend was extremely courteous in receiving a deputation recently when we brought 20,000 signatures to him. It is beginning to be realised that the new town of Redditch is not something which will happen in future; it is with us now. Every week more people are coming into the new houses.

We have been under hospitalised, particularly for maternity facilities, for many years. When I became a Member of Parliament one of the first things that I did was to get an Adjournment debate on maternity facilities. That was when my own party was in power. Unfortunately, I did not achieve anything then. Nevertheless, the problem is increasing greatly. There has been a natural growth of Redditch since the war, and now there is this artificial growth with the creation of the new town. Therefore, it is essential that the date of building of the hos pital is settled now, because it will take time to build. I firmly believe that unless it is tackled now we will have the most appalling health problem in what I hope and what I am sure will be, if the points which I have tried to put over briefly tonight are met by the Government, a happy, contented and closely welded town.

The Minister for Planning and Land (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

I think that the House must congratulate both the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) and the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) not only on the ardour with which they pressed the claims of the new towns in their constituencies, but on having expressed this ardour on an Amendment which has no relevance to the subject matter of their speeches. The hon. Member for Peterborough, for one fleeting moment, managed to relate a small part of his remarks to the third Amendment on the Order Paper, which we have not yet reached, and, with equal ingenuity, the hon. Member for Bromsgrove related a small part of his remarks to the second Amendment on the Order Paper.

The first Amendment deals solely with the Commission for the New Towns. That Commission has no responsibility for the new town of Peterborough, nor the new town of Redditch. If I might have the same indulgence as the two hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred, I remind them that the grant of industrial development certificates is a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. It is not a matter in which I have no interest at all, but it is his responsibility. However, I take note of what the hon. Member for Peterborough said about his particular case. I was about to ask him whether he had raised the matter with the President of the Board of Trade, but I understood from his closing remarks that he had. In defence of my right hon. Friend I repeat that his first priority must be to consider the development areas. It is true that sympathetic consideration is given to the claims of the new towns, but it is not entirely accurate to describe the case which the hon. Gentleman put forward as an example of a promise being broken. The fact that this industrial development certificate was refused does not mean that it was not sympathetically considered.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), who moved the Amendment, did address his remarks to its subject matter, and I will briefly set out the position of the Commission for the New Towns. Its statutory purpose is to hold, manage and turn to account the property previously vested in the development corporations. It carries out substantial development, though not on the scale of a development corporation. It builds houses for sale and can give mortgages on them. It continues to receive subsidy for dwellings for old people moving into its towns, it builds extensions to factories which it owns, and makes some additions to its town centres. The Commission earns a revenue surplus which finances some of its develoment, but it is not sufficient to finance all of it, and if it were deprived of future Exchequer advances, as the Amendment appears to suggest, it would have to reduce the scale of its development.

9.30 p.m.

I think that the hon. Gentleman tabled the Amendment to try to get me to go further than I was able to go on Second Reading about the future of the New Towns Commission. I am sorry that I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I can only repeat that it remains the policy of the Government that the New Towns Commission shall be wound up, and that the management of its housing assets will be turned over to the local authorities. I cannot say when this will be done. There are complications, though perhaps not such deep ones as involve the non-housing assets, but, as the hon. Gentleman will have seen from the Cullingworth Report, which I know he has read carefully, this question of the transfer of the management of housing assets is not a simple matter, and it is still under consideration by the Government, as is the whole of the Cullingworth Report.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) said, there is no question of any pledges, election or otherwise, being broken, nor was there any undertaking in the speech of my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Public Building and Works. All he said was that it would not be possible to introduce legislation before the third session of this Parliament. He did not say that it would be in the third session, merely that it could not be before that, and the hon. Gentleman must know that I cannot from this Box forecast future legislation, still less the content of future Queen's Speeches, but I repeat that the policy of the Government remains unchanged in this matter.

I do not think that it is the hon. Gentleman's purpose to do anything to hamper the Commission for the New Towns in its activities in looking after these new towns which have been handed over to it by their respective development corporations. I am sorry that I cannot satisfy the hon. Gentleman's curiosity further than I have been able to go, but in the light of what has been said I hope that he will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Allason

I said that this was purely a probing Amendment, and I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would be more forthcoming than he has been so far. If he had asked the permission of the Committee to breach a pledge made in the election manifesto, I am sure that we should have heard him with the greatest sympathy. But the right hon. Gentleman has not done that yet. Nevertheless, perhaps the time will come when he will.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Allason

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 11, at end insert: (2) The preceding subsection shall come into operation one month after the Minister shall have laid before Parliament a statement of his proposals for ensuring equitable rents charged by development corporations for new towns and by the Commission for the New Towns. The Amendment requires the Minister to produce a statement of the policy for ensuring equitable rents. This, again, is a probing Amendment, intended to allow us to go a little further, and in particular to allow the Minister to go a little further, than we did on Second Reading when the right hon. Gentleman told us, I thought rather boldly, that the New town rates are no higher than those charged by many local authorities for similar homes. New town corporations already receive the same generous subsidies as do local authorities under the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1689.] That seemed to indicate that the right hon. Gentleman was not unduly upset about new town rents, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) said that the average rate in his new town was 95s. a week. That cannot tie up with what the Minister said, that it is the sort of rent charged by many local authorities. Table 23 in the Cullingworth Report gives some corresponding rents for new town houses and council houses in the same place but it is unfortunately two years old, referring to March, 1967, and hon. Members will know that rents are rising everywhere. Probably every authority quoted has had to raise its rents during the past two years. But at any rate the table shows fairly wide discrepancies between new towns and council rents.

We know the reason—the historic cost factor. If a substantial spread of houses was built in happier times when costs were lower, naturally the rents overall can be lower, because the cost of the new houses is spread over the whole field. This is not possible in a second generation new town. As the Minister said, a subsidy of £30 a year is available in those circumstances, but it is doubtful whether it meets the problem.

The Minister put his finger on the solution when he said, a little later in our Second Reading debate: It is true that development corporations with substantial housing stocks operate rent rebate schemes. That is the answer to a good deal of what has been said about hardship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1689.] I agree that probably rent rebate schemes are the solution, but they occur only in development corporations with substantial housing stocks. We should hear what happens in the others. How many corporations cannot operate such schemes, or, if they can—

Mr. Dance

My hon. Friend is so right. In Redditch, the new town corporation, not in any way through its own fault, since it does excellent work, has no old houses of any sort and is starting completely from scratch. That is why it cannot operate any rebate schemes. That is just as an example.

Mr. Allason

That is precisely my point. I am suggesting that the Minister should review the whole system of new town rents and try to ensure that there is a uniform rent rebate scheme operated in all new towns and not just those which have some historic cost houses to help them out. Then he could ensure fairness to all new town tenants. At the moment, the situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Once again, I hope that this Amendment will give the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity to speak more freely than he could on Second Reading.

Mr. K. Robinson

I gladly respond to the hon. Member's request to deal in a little more detail with the question of new town rents than I was able to do on Second Reading. I should make clear that rent-fixing in new towns is primarily the responsibility of the development corporations within broad limits of policy laid down by the Minister. That policy is based on the principle that rents should, in the long run, cover costs after taking account of housing subsidies and special Exchequer grants.

In a number of first generation new towns, including those handed over to the Commission for the New Towns, rent levels are in general now very similar to those charged by local councils. In other first generation towns, corporation rents tend to be, on average, rather higher than the local council rents but, to a large extent, this reflects the higher average standards of houses in the new towns and the fact houses which enable most local authorities to provide a far wider range of rents.

Typical rents for older houses range from about 42s. in Hemel Hempstead to 50s. in Bracknell and Stevenage. It is recognised that a policy of immediate balance between rent and cost may not always be practicable in second generation new towns. Unlike first generation new towns and almost all local authorities, the second generation new towns have no stock of older houses which were built at below Parker Morris standards, when both building costs and interest rates were lower and whose rents could be pooled with the rents of the more expensive modern houses. Rents in these towns must be at levels which will not prejudice the success of the towns by preventing people from moving to them.

The effect of this approach is that the rents of new houses in the second generation towns are not very dissimilar from those for comparable houses in the first generation new towns. Rents for the newer Parker Morris houses in the first generation towns range from 54s. in Welwyn Garden City to 86s. 6d. in Bracknell, while in the second generation towns typical rents for new Parker Morris houses range from 65s. in Skelmersdale to—my figure is 85s. in Redditch, not the figure quoted by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove. This is not markedly out of line with rents charged by a number of local authorities for similar houses.

The Government are acutely conscious of the need to keep rents at reasonable levels in new towns as elsewhere. Housing subsidies were substantially increased under the Housing Subsidies Act, 1967, and new towns receive the same subsidies as local authorities. The additional Exchequer grants payable to development corporations were increased in 1967 for second generation towns. This grant is now on a descending scale which starts at a rate as high as £30 per annum on all dwellings built in a corporation's first four years. This ensures that most help goes to those corporations whose needs are greatest.

As far as rent increases are concerned, the Government apply exactly the same policy to the new towns as is applied to local authorities under the Prices and Incomes Act. In addition, all new towns are required to operate effective rent rebate schemes to ensure that those with low incomes do not suffer hardship. I am told that this is in fact the case with the exception of Washington. Washington so far has built very few houses and does not yet think a rent rebate scheme is necessary.

Mr. Dance

I shall send the right hon. Gentleman the actual figures from the new town corporation of Redditch. When I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, I pointed out that Redditch has no pool or houses by which it can operate a rent rebate scheme. That is no fault of the corporation's. It is first-class and does all that it can, but the rents are £6 to £6 10s. I admit that that rent includes a garage, but the occupant has to have a house with a garage or no house.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Robinson

There is a conflict of evidence here. I will check my sources, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will check his.

Mr. Dance

I certainly will.

Mr. Robinson

But I am assured that Redditch has a rent rebate scheme. It has not as yet built a large number of houses.

Returning to the substance of the Amendment, in fixing rents corporations must strike a nice balance between social and financial considerations and also take account of differing circumstances from town to town and from time to time. This is best dealt with administratively and flexibly within the framework that I have described. A statement on proposals such as the Amendment asks for would merely introduce an undesirable rigidity into the situation and I think it would hinder the efforts of development corporations to achieve the best possible reconciliation of conflicting considerations in the special circumstances of each new town. For these reasons, I cannot advise the Committee to accept the Amendment or the course that it proposes.

Mr. Allason

I do not think that the Minister has attempted to defend the present position, except by saying that he believes in local autonomy. As this is a Government reponsibility, at any rate so long as these houses are in the charge of the development corporation, surely this is a responsibility to see fair play for the tenants. It is unreasonable to shrug the matter off by saying that this is a historic accident and therefore rents in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) are sky high.

Mr. K. Robinson


Mr. Allason

They cannot be comparable when the Minister has admitted that there is this vast variation in rents for similar houses. I do not see how we can pursue this further, short of pressing the Amendment to a Division.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The Minister has said that he will check his sources. He made his observations on the basis of what he thought was the position. If on checking it he finds that it is slightly different, has he left it open for something to be done about it; or, if we agree the Clause as it stands, will the Minister be placed in the position of being unable to do anything about it?

Mr. Allason

As I understood it, the Minister said that there was a rent rebate scheme operating, which is different from saying that it is a satisfactory rent rebate scheme. It is a scheme based on rents which are very high and which can have little variation, because the need to bring in a high housing revenue is there. The Minister seeks to get equitable rents, by which I understand that rent rebate schemes should be more or less identical in different areas. I do not think this is impossible.

Mr. K. Robinson

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to say how high is "high". What I said was that these rents were reasonably comparable with local authority house rents for similar property in the same sort of area.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

How reasonable is "reasonable"?

Mr. Hamling

Sixty-five shillings?

Mr. Allason

I would not say that 95s. is.

Mr. K. Robinson

With a garage.

Mr. Allason

No. That was exclusive. It is £6 10s. when rates and garage rental are added. The basic rent which my hon. Friend quoted on 19th December was 95s. exclusive of rates and exclusive of garage. That is high.

Although the Minister feels that he cannot accept the Amendment, I hope that this discussion has given him food for thought and that he will consider whether he is really satisfied with the situation in new towns at present. Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Allason

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 11, at end insert: (2) The preceding subsection shall come into operation one month after the Minister shall have laid before Parliament a statement of the results of the co-ordination of Government responsibilities for attracting employment, the provision of hospitals and the provision of road communications to new towns or to town development within the meaning of the Town Development Act 1952. This Amendment requires the Minister to produce a statement of the coordination of Government activities in relation to new towns, and it particularly refers to … attracting employment, the provision of hospitals and the provision of road communications … This matter was raised on Second Reading, when the Minister said that coordination existed. However, users do not have the impression that it exists. Roads seem to be built by chance, as it were, or they are not built at all, as in Harlow and Telford. We in Hemel Hempstead are lucky. We got the Ml rather by chance because we happened to be in a straight line between London and Birmingham. Examples of what I have in mind were given on Second Reading.

A town can double in size, but its hospital facilities do not expand nearly as quickly. We in Hemel Hempstead are particularly worried on this account. There is no intention to provide greater hospital facilities for the town; in other words, the hospital facilities remain virtually the same as before it started to develop as a new town. I have written to the Minister of Health and Social Security asking him to receive a deputation which I intend to bring seeking to improve the hospital facilities in the area. Perhaps, instead, I should have written to the Minister for Planning and Land asking him to meet the deputation; that is, if he is co-ordinating these matters.

The right hon. Gentleman confirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) that he was right in contacting the President of the Board of Trade. Hon. Members who represent new towns do not know which Department to approach. This must indicate that we do not have confidence that there is proper co-ordination. For example, we read today that the plan for Milton Keynes includes a new hospital, but I wonder at what stage it is to be provided.

Hon. Members who represent new towns have the same fear about employment prospects. We have heard of the Minister's difficulties with the Board of Trade. My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) spoke of his difficulties with that Department. On 19th December my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) spoke of the inadequate employment position at Haverhill where men are working below their proper skills and where houses are standing empty because of the lack of employment opportunities. It seems a tragedy that we should make enormous efforts to provide houses in a town in a delightful area, and then have them standing empty because the Board of Trade will not allow employment opportunities to come into the new town, or, in this case, expanded town.

I also hope that the Minister will be able to answer a question I put to him on 19th December about the working of the London Overspill Liaison Group. He did not have time in winding up to deal with it, but I hope that he now feels ready to give us an account of how it is getting on.

These matters of co-ordination do not require very frequent meetings between Departments, but something requires to be done. We want an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend will thump the table and demand that their efforts in providing new towns are not stultified by the failure of other Ministries to co-operate.

We have given examples of what is happening now. It is not much good just saying, "We have tried to do it with another Ministry, but it has other priorities". This should be a very high priority. In view of the huge investment by the taxpayer in the new towns, they must be made a success.

The phrase used by the Minister on 19th December was: Co-ordination on new towns is already undertaken within the Government, and there is the closest co-operation between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my Department in all these matters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1687.] I do not think that "closest co-operation" is good enough. We want an indication of much more vigorous action, something so effective that we feel it down at the sharp end. The user should be satisfied. This is what we need and I hope that the Minister gives a better assurance than he gave last time.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I should like to put again my arguments on Amendment No. 1, without having to repeat them. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take those arguments which are applicable to the present Amendment. They are on the record. The reason I thought it a good thing to put them on the record on Amendment No. 1 is that they would not appear in tomorrow's OFFICIAL REPORT if they were made after half-past ten. I did not know how long our discussions would go on before we reached the present Amendment.

Having made the particular point relating to Peterborough, I support the general wording. I hope that the Minister will recognise the mood of my hon. Friend and those of us who support him. The Amendments are not put antagonistically or critically. The fact that my hon. Friend withdrew them, without putting the Government to the trouble of calling their hoards to go through the Division Lobby, is proof that those of us who face the problem are making a genuine attempt to share minds with the Government and the right hon. Gentleman. I think that it is known that those of us with the new town problem meet in another part of the Royal Palace of Westminster to share our minds. This is not a party matter.

This is not a question of the Opposition wanting to be difficult with the Government. The views we are expressing, as is shown by the reaction of hon. Members opposite, are shared in all constituencies, whether they are represented by Government or by Opposition supporters. The right hon. Gentleman would be doing the right thing for his colleagues in the Government as well as for the nation if he faced up to this.

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.

Back to