HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1465-77


The council of a county or of a district shall be empowered to form a joint board with a new town development corporation established within its area for the discharge of any function in which the council and the development corporation have concurrent powers.—[Mr. Davis.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Terry Davis (Bromsgrove)

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

Perhaps I should begin by explaining that in Committee I put forward two new Clauses on similar lines dealing with the problems of new towns. The first would have made it compulsory for the development corporation of a new town and the district council to establish a liaison committee. It would have removed the present option and made it essential that the two bodies set up a committee to discuss their common problems. The second new Clause would have introduced a permissive power for the development corporation and the district council to establish a joint board.

It was common ground in Committee between the Minister and myself that close co-operation in new towns is essential. There was disagreement between us over whether these new Clauses were necessary. The Minister did not think that they were because he thought that powers existed already. He said that he had not received any representations from those concerned in the development of new towns but he gave an assurance that he would consider any representations received between Committee and Report stages. On that assurance I withdrew both new Clauses and sent him a detailed explanation of my reasons for putting them forward.

These reasons were based on our experiences in Redditch new town, in my constituency. I am not pressing the suggestion that it should be compulsory for the development corporation and the district council to establish a liaison committee. I accept entirely what the Minister said, that it is possible for these two bodies to establish a liaison committee now. It is necessary to encourage closer co-operation, and I hope that the Government will give some consideration to that and think about whether they could do something towards that end. Nevertheless the powers exist and the problem is to create greater willingness among the bodies to get together and discuss matters and to allow local people in new towns to express their views on the development being carried out by the corporation.

I want to press my suggestion of a joint board which is the subject of new Clause 8. I emphasise at the outset that there is no element of compulsion about this. It extends the powers of local government. It would make it possible for a district council to establish with the development corporation a joint board to carry out any function in which both bodies have similar responsibilities. This power does not exist at the moment and it is desirable to make this option available to district councils. The decision would rest with the development corporation and the district council and it would be for them to decide whether to establish a joint board and to decide the functions of that board.

One important example where development corporation and district council could usefully work together on a joint board in some new towns would be in dealing with town centre redevelopment or industrial estates. The Government are establishing new towns in places where there are already towns. That was not the case 15 years ago. The older of the new towns were established on green field sites We are now establishing new towns where there is an existing urban centre and it is in this situation particularly that I am anxious to see district councils having the option of establishing a joint board with the development corporations.

It is in this situation that a district council may already have begun a development programme. It is quite possible that the district council has already started to redevelop the town centre. It may have in its possession some of the town centre land and a programme may have been begun. When the development corporation is established, after the designation of the new town, the whole project must be handed over to the corporation. This may be undesirable in some cases. It may be that the district council wishes to continue to be associated with this venture.

Where we have a development project the district council can bear part of the burden. Where there is the development of a town centre it may involve slum clearance areas. In that situation the district council will be rehousing the tenants. This applies whether a development corporation exists or whether it is before the designation order has been made. We could have a situation where the corporation has been brought into being, is engaged on a programme of development in the town centre, and the district council is labelling certain parts of the town as slum clearance areas, accepting the responsibilities involved for rehousing with the result that the ultimate beneficiary may be the corporation. Thus the district council may be bearing part of the cost of the development of the town centre.

There is also a case for saying that the district council should be able to participate in the development of the town centre if it wishes because it bears indirect costs as a result of the development of the new town. The amenities provided in a new town fall to the responsibility of the district council. The cost is borne by the ratepayers of the existing town. It is true that the development corporation may spend up to £4 per head of population on the development of the amenities but the remainder must be paid for by the district council. It seems reasonable to suggest that where there is the possibility of a profit arising from the development of the town centre, the district council should be able to participate because those profits will then be used to offset the expenditure that the district council had to bear. In the long run the people who will benefit will be the ratepayers behind the district council because it is they who bore the cost of developing amenities.

It is not only a question of town centre development. There could well be other functions which a district council would wish to delegate to a joint board to carry out with the development corporation. It would be possible for a district council to delegate housing maintenance to a joint board or it may choose to run a joint sewerage works or something of that sort with a development corporation. At present these powers do not exist. The only arrangement that can be made is for a development corporation to act as the agent of a district council or vice versa. It is usually the corporation that becomes the agent. This is not a satisfactory relationship because there is jealousy about status and it leads to some problems of co-operation rather than helping. This is another aspect of the argument for a joint board which I hope that the Government will consider.

I must emphasise two points about the new Clause. First, it would involve delegation. We are not suggesting the creation of a third body which would be constantly referring back to the district council and the development corporation. That would not be in the interests of the new town because it would delay development. I am suggesting that it should be possible for the district council to delegate authority to the joint board. Secondly, this power would be permissive, there is no compulsion about it. It would make it possible for the first time for a district council to engage in a joint board with the development corporation.

In Committee the Minister made several references to the number of restrictions which were being removed from local government. On several occasions the claim was made that the Bill would sweep away 1,000 restrictions. At present there is a restriction on district councils because they cannot set up a joint board with development corporations. If the Government would accept this new Clause they could say they were sweeping away 1,001 restrictions.

Mr. Speed

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Davis) has moved this new Clause with great moderation and has echoed the debate in Committee on 20th March when he said: As far as new Clause No. 11 —it was so numbered at that time— is concerned—relating to the permissive power to have aboard—I am advised that no legal powers exist for a district council to establish a joint board with a development corporation. We are suggesting that, for example, in the management of housing, it may be desirable to have only one housing management organisation collecting the rents and allocating the houses. I understand that this is done in some older new towns which operate one housing list. This seems to us highly desirable, involving as it does a reduction in administrative costs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 20th March, 1972; c. 3007.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace agreed to have a look at this matter. He has had a look at it. I have had a further look at it only this week, and I have written to the hon. Member about the points he made.

The first point which must be established—perhaps I can repeat what my hon. Friend said in Committee—is that a development corporation is set up to do a specific job, namely, to build a new town. The reasons for building it may vary and the type of new town which is built may vary. The hon. Gentleman said that we are in a new situation in that in the old days they were green field sites and that now increasingly new towns are being built around existing communities. This is true, by and large, with the exception of Hemel Hempstead, which is one of the early new towns built around a fairly substantial existing community. The one thing which all Governments have had in common in connection with new towns and development corporations is that they are designed for rapid growth in a particular area, which is desirable in the national interest.

The new Clause, if accepted, might well inject into the situation a further element of delay, but my objections to it go beyond that. Under the Clause, a joint board must involve—and this was implicit in what the hon. Gentleman said—the joint ownership of property. This is one of the matters which have concerned the Redditch Urban District Council in connection with the town centre. I am advised that even if this were desirable—and I have reservations about it—the question of the ownership of property would have considerable legal and constitutional implications. It would mean having a long and hard look at the New Towns Act, 1965, and other aspects of legislation. I am prepared to concede that we should not reject the new Clause solely on that ground, but it would raise all sorts of fundamental issues.

The hon. Gentleman wrote to my hon. Friend and sent him some evidence from his constituents about the desirability of the new Clause. But I am advised that no other new town or local authority working with a new town has raised this matter. It seems to be peculiar to Redditch.

There was implicit in what the hon. Gentleman said, not only today but in Committee on 20th March, the question of consultation between local authorities and development corporations. I am advised that Clause 111 permits the sort of situation to which the hon. Gentleman referred concerning joint committees on housing management. In at least one new town—and there may well be more—namely, Corby, the urban district council and the corporation have a joint housing list. I understand that there is no statutory reason why this sort of co-operation should not exist. It could go far beyond the question of housing management. I would prefer it to go further because I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that there should be the utmost co-operation, not only at officer level but between the members of the council and the development corporation on these matters.

The hon. Gentleman accepts that we cannot force unwilling parties into doing what he desires, but it is reasonable that all the development corporations and the local authorities working with them should have drawn to their attention, not only the debate in Committee, but the views expressed today by the hon. Gentleman to ensure that they are aware of the opinion of the House and of the Department that co-operation and consultation between the two bodies should be as extensive as possible. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is prepared to write to development corporations to this effect, and any new corporation set up will receive similar advice from my right hon. Friend.

5.15 p.m.

I accept that I have not gone as far as the hon. Gentleman wished me to go. He talked about the development corporation as if it were an outside body divorced from the ratepayers and taxpayers. It is very much a public body, and I can see that on occasions local ratepayers might wish to have the benefits and advantages of the developments taking place. With some of the partnership new towns, such as Northampton and Peterborough, which are larger authorities, joint boards have not been found to be necessary, for the reasons I have given. In the larger authorities, where there is a partnership new town, the development corporation, broadly, concentrates on the expansion areas and the local authorities concentrate on the re-development of existing areas—expansion areas being on the periphery of the town and existing areas being in the town centre. Certain services can be shared. One department may provide engineering and legal estate services for both bodies. But that is not the same as having a joint board.

Co-operation between development corporations and local authorities is, generally speaking, working well throughout the country. We have had virtually no evidence in the Department that it is not. I accept that in the context of the Bill the hon. Gentleman has raised a valid point concerning general consultation and joint committees as opposed to joint boards. There is no legal power to have property vested in a joint committee. Co-operation would be more on a consultative level, or, a sin Corby, on housing management, with joint housing lists. It could extend to a question of town centres and sewerage schemes as long as there was no vesting of property.

In view of the advice which I have received that the new Clause raises serious legal and constitutional problems and that no other local authority involved with a development corporation has made representations to the Department, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is prepared to draw what has been said today and in Committee to the attention of the development corporations to ensure, without in any way criticising the existing arrangements, that there is the maximum co-operation and consultation between development corporations and local authorities, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw the new Clause.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

The Minister mentioned the new town of Corby, which is in my constituency. It is plainly desirable that a new town corporation should have close links with the local council. That situation exists in Corby, and it works well. But the population of the new town of Corby and the urban district is only 45,000. With the changes, the new district will be considerably larger than that. We cannot lightly disregard that point.

When the Minister writes to local authorities pointing out the need for co-operation, I hope that he will clearly indicate that when the district councils get much bigger, as they will inevitably, they will be able to establish with the corporations the same co-operation as they have had in the past.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

I add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State. I was suffering from a minor fear that, having listened in silence to all those who took part in the Committee during50 sittings, the hon. Gentleman, by leave of the House, might make every single speech—

Mr. Speed

Why not?

Mr. Silkin

Why not, as the hon. Gentleman says? He is being agreeable and charming and we are delighted to welcome him, but we do not necessarily welcome his reply. He has gone as far as he feels he can go, but it is not far enough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) will recall that when he originally made this point to me I was a little sceptical and thought that there was already sufficient co-operation in most cases. I could not see the need for his proposed new Clause which has now become new Clause No. 8. I asked him whether he had in mind any criticism of Redditch. He said he was not criticising Redditch but, on the contrary, was hoping to build on the experience of Redditch.

My hon. Friend, as the Under-Secretary agreed, made his case moderately. He might have gone much further and asked for mandatory powers. What he is asking for is a permissive new Clause which will enable a new town development corporation and a district or county council to get together on a joint board where there is a joint and profitable development. There is nothing to force a new town and a county or district council to take advantage of the Clause if it does not want to.

The Under-Secretary of State's case is twofold. He says, first, that the Clause goes a bit too far because only Redditch wants it. He says, secondly, that the power is already in the Bill, and he mentioned Clause 111. These conflicting views are not so logical as we know the Under-Secretary of State can be.

Mr. Speed

When I mentioned Clause 111I was referring to committees and not to joint boards with power to own property.

Mr. Silkin

That is the point I was about to make. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to go a stage further but I have some sympathy with him and see that, as he is at present advised, it would be difficult for him to do so.

On the other hand, my hon. Friend has a good point here. Where a joint development is being undertaken between district councils—which may in the future have quite large populations—and development corporations, I cannot see why they should not have the same power which exists in Clause 101 between district councils with relatively small populations.

As the Under-Secretary of State says, the specific job of a development corporation is the building of a new town. This seems to be separate, but it does not differ from our ideas of local government. On the contrary, we want the direct influence of the people concerned to be obvious and to play its part.

The new Clause will serve a worthwhile purpose and it will not be sufficient for the Secretary of State merely to write to those concerned suggesting that they co-operate as much as possible. That will not give them the necessary powers. For that reason, if my hon. Friend wishes to press the new Clause to a vote, I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support him.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on his new post. I have no new town in my constituency and therefore have no constituency interest in this, but I have some experience of a development corporation as my brother, when he was alive, was chairman of a development corporation for several years.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend is resisting the new Clause because the co-operation between development corporations and local authorities is a happy one. A development corporation has a direct interest in getting a development going, and the district authority has the long-term control over it. The relationship between the two bodies is not dissimilar

from the relationship between an ordinary developer and a local authority. I can see a case for committees, but not for joint boards. The member of a development corporation, of necessity, is a different type of individual from a member of a local authority. Who would have control? I cannot see how a joint board would work unless the development corporation had financial control. If it had financial control, there would be no point in the position of the local authority being altered.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time: —

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 166.

Division No. 122.] AYES [5.35 p.m.
Albu, Austen Hardy, Peter O'Halloran, Michael
Allen, Scholefield Harper, Joseph Orbach, Maurice
Ashton, Joe Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Oswald, Thomas
Atkinson, Norman Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Heffer, Eric S. Padley, Walter
Bell, Ronald Horam, John Paget, R. T.
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Huckfield, Leslie Palmer, Arthur
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Booth, Albert Hunter, Adam Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Pendry, Tom
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Butler, Mrs, Joyce (Wood Green) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, William (Rugby)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roper, John
Rose, Paul B.
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Judd, Frank Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Kaufman, Gerald Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Kelley, Richard Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (Nc'tle-u-Tyne)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Kerr, Russell Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Cohen, Stanley Lamond, James Sillars, James
Concannon, J. D. Lawson, George Skinner, Dennis
Conlan, Bernard Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Small, William
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Leonard, Dick Spriggs, Leslie
Cronin, John Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stallard, A. W.
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Lipton, Marcus Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Dalyell, Tam Lomas, Kenneth Strang, Gavin
Davidson, Arthur Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Delargy, Hugh McCann, John Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Doig, Peter McCartney. Hugh Tinn, James
Dormand, J. D. McGuire, Michael Torney, Tom
Driberg, Tom Mackenzie, Gregor Urwin, T. W.
Faulds, Andrew Mackie, John Wainwright, Edwin
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Maclennan, Robert Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham,Ladywood) Marks, Kenneth Wallace, George
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Marquand, David Watkins, David
Foley, Maurice Marshall, Dr. Edmund Weitzman, David
Forrester, John Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Whitehead, Phillip
Garrett, W. E. Mendelson, John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Gilbert, Dr. John Mikardo, Ian Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Millan, Bruce Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Golding, John Milne, Edward Woof, Robert
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Molloy, William TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Mr. Ernest Armstrong and Mr. James Hamilton.
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Moyle, Roland
Hamling, William Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Murray, Ronald King
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Gummer, J Selwyn Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Gurden, Harold Page, Graham (Crosby)
Astor, John Havers, Michael Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Atkins, Humphrey Hayhoe, Barney Pink, R. Bonner
Batsford, Brian Hicks, Robert Proudfoot, Wilfred
Beamish, Col, Sir Tufton Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Bell, Ronald Holland, Philip Quennell, Miss J. M.
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Holt, Miss Mary Raison, Timothy
Benyon, W. Hornby, Richard Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Biffen, John Howell, David (Guildford) Redmond, Robert
Biggs-Davison, John Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Hunt, John Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Boscawen, Robert Hutchison, Michael Clark Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bossom, Sir Clive Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Bowden, Andrew James, David Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Bray, Ronald Jessel, Toby Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Brinton, Sir Tatton Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Rost, Peter
Bryan, Paul Jopling, Michael Russell, Sir Ronald
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Scott, Nicholas
Bullus, Sir Eric Kershaw, Anthony Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Carlisle, Mark King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Sinclair, Sir George
Chapman, Sydney King, Tom (Bridgwater) Skeet, T. H. H.
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Kinsey, J. R. Swith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knight, Mrs. Jill Soref, Harold
Clegg, Walter Knox, David Speed, Keith
Cooke, Robert Lane, David Spence, John
Coombs, Derek Langford-Holt, Sir John Sproat, Iain
Cooper, A. E. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stanbrook, Ivor
Cormack, Patrick Longden, Gilbert Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Costain, A. P. Luce, R. N. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Critchley, Julian McAdden, Sir Stephen Stokes, John
Crouch, David MacArthur, Ian Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry McLaren, Martin Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. James Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow. Cathcart)
Digby, Simon Wingfield McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Dixon, Piers Maddan, Martin Tebbit, Norman
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Madel, David Temple, John M.
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Marten, Neil Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Emery, Peter Mather, Carol Tilney, John
Eyre, Reginald Maude, Angus Trew, Peter
Farr, John Meyer, Sir Anthony Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Mills, Peter (Torrington) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Fidler, Michael Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Vickers, Dame Joan
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Moate, Roger Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fookes, Miss Janet Money, Ernle Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Fortescue, Tim Monks, Mrs. Connie Ward, Dame Irene
Foster, Sir John Montgomery, Fergus Warren, Kenneth
Fowler, Norman More, Jasper White, Roger (Gravesend)
Gardner, Edward Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Wiggin, Jerry
Goodhart, Philip Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Murton, Oscar Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Neave, Airey Woodnutt, Mark
Gray, Hamish Normanton, Tom
Green, Alan Onslow, Cranley TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grylls, Michael Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Mr. Paul Hawkins and Mr. John Stradling Thomas
Orr, Capt. L. P. S.

Question accordingly negatived.

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