§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
I am conscious that this is probably one of the last speeches that I shall make on behalf of the city of Dundee, which I have had the honour to represent for nearly 20 years. I remember that one of the first speeches that I made in the House on behalf of Dundee was on the Consolidated Fund Bill at about one o'clock in the morning when the House otherwise consisted of only the Leader of the House, the late Mr. Harry Crook-shank, who, while I made a rather long speech, ostentatiously took out a large gold hunter which he kept dangling in front of my eyes. I assure the Scottish Minister, whom I am glad to see in his place, that I shall not weary the House with a long speech tonight.
The reason for the debate is that the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) has put down an Amendment—"That the Bill be read the Third time upon this day six months". In effect, he is seeking to have the Bill rejected. I understand that his reason for seeking this debate is to reflect object- 214 tions to the Bill by Angus County Council. I wait with interest to hear exactly what those objections are, because the county council had ample opportunity to raise objections in the way normal to county councils that conduct their business efficiently.
Because the county council and one other person objected, the Secretary of State set up a public inquiry, which was to have been held in March or April, but Angus County Council withdrew its objection on 17th February. I am therefore surprised that at this late stage the objection is resurrected.
I am all the more surprised because the Bill originated in planning permission granted by the Angus County Council for the building of 400 houses on a site on the south side of the Kingsway ring road around Dundee. Angus County Council asked Dundee Corporation to provide the sewers, water supply, lighting and education services for those 400 houses, services that it was not itself on a position to provide.
It therefore seemed reasonable that an area entirely dependent on Dundee for local authority administration for those services should be made part of Dundee. It is perfectly true that the area included in the Bill extends beyond the site of the 400 houses, but the Bill's proposals have the great advantage that they straighten out the boundary between Dundee and Angus in a way that makes sense of a boundary that on the map now seems as tortuous as anything straight from a map of the Balkans.
In any case, apart from the simplification of the boundary involved in the order, we are all aware that we are on the eve of major local government reform. There can be no doubt that when that takes place in a year or two, the area that we are now discussing will be part of the Dundee district. Apart from that, both the Dundee district and the Angus County will be part of some great new regional local government unit.
It would therefore not make much sense to attempt to hold up this sort of change at this stage. But, of course, if the Bill were to fall as a result of the Motion of the hon. Member for South Angus, the House must be made aware of the consequences. As I understand it, one of the major objections to its passage has come from the county councillor for the area 215 concerned, who is quite properly anxious to look after his electors' interests as he sees them. But if the Bill were not to succeed it would mean that families in the council estate on the fringe of the great Menzies Hill estate in Dundee would find no public transport to take their children to the nearest primary school in Muirhead-Birkhill. They would find when they got them to that school that there were no places in the school because Angus County Council had not planned provision at primary level. At the secondary level a ludicrous situation would exist in which youngsters from these new houses would have to travel 14 miles to Forfar Academy rather than a few hundred yards to the high school at Menzies Hill.
On the basis of these arguments there is no rational case for refusing to give the Bill a Second Reading. But, apart from that, there are procedural considerations which should be mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) raised the question of principle whether these important issues which are often inherent in Private Bills should be taken in the House late at night after a hard day when many hon. Members have departed. The House should not be asked to decide the matter at midnight in this way because it makes a nonsense of the democratic procedure which was well established, which was there to be used but which was not used by those who now seek to raise objections.
I have already indicated the sequence of events and I shall not weary the House by repeating it. With greatest respect, I say to the hon. Member for South Angus, who is defending the interests of his constituency quite properly—and about that I make no objection—that I am proposing that the Bill be read the Third time without having heard the case he wishes to put. If he is wishing to put objections which should have been raised at an earlier stage, the House is in no position to weigh the pros and cons of the objections, however valid they may be. That is what the public inquiry is for. A public inquiry was called off because the county council did not wish to press its objections. Therefore, I hope that after the hon. Member has explained his anxieties to the House he will feel able 216 to withdraw his Motion and that the House will give an unopposed Third Reading to the Bill.
§ 12.29 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) will be departing from the House for reasons which are well known and most of us welcome his new appointment and congratulate him on it. He will be greatly missed, not only in Dundee but in the whole of the Tayside area, where he has earned enormous respect over many years as the representative of his constituents and also as one who has served the area with great distinction.
I accept that this has nothing to do with the matter in hand and I now refer to that. I should make it clear that I am here tonight entirely as spokesman for Angus County Council, at its request. The right hon. Gentleman has described the sequence of events and it is true that the county council, having decided to lodge formal objection to the Bill when it was originally placed in the form of a draft order at the end of 1970, withdrew its objection in the spring of this year. It is fair to explain that what occurred was that in the first place there never was, and there is not now, any objection by Angus County Council to the whole of the proposals in the Bill.
The area about which we are talking consists of about 70 acres within the old Dundee-Newtyle railway line which has been scheduled for housing redevelopment. It is entirely accepted by the county council and all its members that this area should be incorporated in the City of Dundee, very much for the reasons the right hon. Gentleman advanced. Over and above this area, the rest of the area we are discussing, that is three-quarters of the area, forms part of the green belt. At the time the draft order was placed the county council took the view that there was no case for the extension of the city boundaries of Dundee to include this part of the green belt for the purpose of housing since, as it was scheduled for green belt, obviously it was not available for housing. Further, there was the feeling that since, at that time, reform of the whole local government structure was impending, it would 217 be better for the tidying-up of the boundaries between the County of Angus, the County of Perthshire and the City of Dundee to await that reform.
It would be fair to say that there was some hope at the time in Angus County Council that Dundee Corporation would have second thoughts and decide to limit its extension to the area within the old Dundee-Newtyle railway line, for which planning permission for housing development had already been granted and which was not a matter of controversy.
The next stage was that in the spring of this year, following publication of the Government's White Paper on the reform of local government in Scotland, the county clerk decided that, since the parishes of Liff and Benvie, within which the whole of this area we are discussing falls, were earmarked for incorporation in the district of the City of Dundee, the expense of a Parliamentary inquiry would not be justified. Hence the council withdrew its objection. The only other objection from an individual had already been withdrawn.
However, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, the local county councillor for Liff and Benvie was far from happy with this decision. He approached me in the early summer and asked whether, as both objections to the extension order had been withdrawn, there was any further action he or I could take to delay or block the passage of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replied to my inquiry about the matter that when the Bill came forward it would be open to me or anyone else to object to its passage. I informed the local county councillor that in view of the decision of the county council to withdraw its objection I did not feel that I could in all honesty oppose the Bill unless requested to do so by the county council—in other words, unless he could persuade the county council to reverse the withdrawal of its objection.
At the end of July the county council met and decided to support the local county councillor in asking me to oppose the Bill. In the light of that I agreed to object to the formal passage of the Bill. It should be emphasised that in coming to that decision, in effect to reverse the withdrawal of its original objection, it was motivated basically by two anxieties. 218 First, I think there was an anxiety that if the Bill went through, and this portion of the green belt around Dundee were incorporated within the boundaries of the city, thereafter there might be moves to erode the green belt by using some of the ground presently in the green belt for housing development.
The second anxiety, which I know was very much in the mind of the local county councillor concerned, was that if the Bill went through unopposed and without any discussion this might be taken as the thin end of the wedge for acceptance of the proposition in the Government's White Paper on the reform of local government in Scotland to incorporate not merely this area but the whole of the parishes of Liff and Benvie and the rest of the Monifieth landward area in the new district of Dundee. This is a proposal to which the large majority of the people in the area are strongly opposed, and their county councillor is representing them in objecting very strongly to the proposal.
It is therefore my purpose tonight to deal briefly with these two anxieties. First, I think it is very important for local opinion in the area to make it clear that even if the Bill goes through there will be no possibility of any erosion of the green belt area included within the scope of the city boundary extension resulting from the Bill through its being rescheduled for housing or other development without the prior authorisation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am assured by the county clerk of Angus that if any suggestion for rezoning any part of the green belt were advanced it would certainly be opposed by Angus County Council. Under those circumstances, there is a very full safeguard for the preservation of the green belt even if the Bill goes through.
The second point that it is important to make clear is that I have made it absolutely clear to my constituents in the area that whether or not the Bill goes through I should certainly seek to do my best to oppose any suggestion, as contained in the White Paper, that the Monifieth landward district and the borough of Monifieth should be incorporated in the Dundee district. It is the desire of the vast majority of the people 219 in the area that they should be incorporated in the Angus district. I know that that is also the desire of the Angus County Council.
I would therefore enter the caveat that if the House decides to give approval to this Bill tonight this would in no way, in my view, prejudge the decisions which we shall have to take later, next year, on the shape and boundaries of Dundee City district, and it would continue to be our intention to oppose any idea of incorporating these parishes and the rest of Monifieth landward district in the city district of Dundee.
Having said that, I am conscious of the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman advanced for the House to give a Third Reading to this Bill tonight, and of the fact that there may well be some strength in his argument that matters would have been better debated at an earlier stage. I have explained the reasons why this did not occur, but in the light of all the circumstances, for myself I would not be inclined to press this matter to a Division tonight.
§ 12.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) giving us his reasons for objecting in the first place to this proposal and then proceeding to eliminate them all himself. He raised the question of the green belt but went on to say that he was satisfied that there are ample safeguards for the green belt, even if it is taken over. He said that we should await reform of local government, and went on to explain that that did not really matter either, because the objectors would object to any change in those proposals.
He said that he was raising his objection at the request of Angus County Council. I must say that I find this the most objectionable of all the objections. The draft order was laid by Dundee Corporation to the Scottish Office on 27th November, 1970. There were two objectors subsequently, one the county council, the other a Mr. David Shepherd. Because of those objectors the Secretary of State arranged an inquiry for 28th March, 1972, and then later changed it to 11th April, 1972. Mr. Shepherd withdrew his objection on 31st January, 1972. 220 Angus County Council withdrew its objection on 17th February, 1972. There being no objectors left, the Secretary of State abandoned the idea of holding an inquiry, there being no longer any useful purpose in having a public inquiry. In view of the fact that the two objectors had withdrawn their objections the Secretary of State made an order on 11th July, 1972. The Bill was published on 12th July, 1972. Then, just before the House went into the Summer Recess, the hon. Member for South Angus decided to object. He tells us that he objects on the basis that he was requested to do so by Angus County Council.
Quite frankly, I find this whole series of events absolutely disgraceful. In the first place it is a disgraceful waste of public money. It costs a good deal of money to go through this process. The people who will have to pay this money, as far as I can see, are the ratepayers of the city of Dundee. It is the city corporation which has to bear the cost, but when the corporation bears the cost, it is the ratepayers who bear it. I think it is shocking that we have a situation like this, where the procedure is laid down, where people have the right to object, where they avail themselves of the right to object, and then withdraw their objections, and then, at the last minute, on the eve of the Summer Recess, the hon. Member makes objection at the request of an objector who has withdrawn objection. I find this a bit thick.
The Secretary of State may consider surcharging councillors because they do not comply with the provisions of the Housing Finance (Scotland) Act. It is about time that he considered surcharging either the hon. Member for South Angus or the Angus County Council for the public money they have caused to be wasted. It is a bit much meekly to say at this late stage that objection has been withdrawn. Naturally we are glad that the objections have been withdrawn because otherwise there would have been a further waste of public money. It would have been an even bigger scandal if, having intimated that they would withdraw the objection, they withdrew their withdrawal.
It is incredible that a county council and an hon. Member should allow public money to be wasted in this way. I could not allow this opportunity to pass without 221 saying these few words. What has happened is shocking, and if ever there were justification for surcharging anybody, the Secretary of State should look into this case and consider whether the culprits should be surcharged.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.