HC Deb 12 May 1975 vol 892 cc47-108

Order for Second Reading read.

4.13 p.m.

The Minister for Planning and Local Government (Mr. John Silkin)

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

Mr. Speaker

We have two and three-quarter hours for this debate, for four Front Bench speakers and approximately 12 hon. Members who represent new towns.

Mr. Silkin

From time to time, as the new towns programme proceeds, it is necessary to ask the House for authority to increase the total borrowing limits for the new town development corporations and for the Commission for New Towns. This has resulted in an agreeable practice whereby the House is enabled to examine the way in which the new towns are progressing and to consider what ought to be the future policy.

Before I deal with the wider issues, however, I should perhaps mention that the basis of the present Bill is to increase the borrowing limit for the development corporations and for the commission to a total of £2,250 million net. Immediately £250 million will be needed, raising the total required from £1,500 million to £1,750 million; but the Bill gives power for the Minister to ask for a further £500 million by instalments using the affirmative resolution procedure to see the programme through for the next two or three years.

New town money Bills normally follow an established pattern, but the House will see that there is a new provision in Clause 2(i) which enables pensions to be paid to past and present development corporation chairman. This brings development corporations into line with other public sector bodies.

Clause 1(i) is designed to bring new town practice into line with that in other comparable spheres. Hitherto the advance has been limited to the cumulative total of all moneys paid, but the Bill alters this by substituting for cumulative advances the net sum outstanding and thus takes into account repayments made.

In addition, Clause 2(ii) allows payment to be made to members of local town committees of the Commission for New Towns. Members of the commission are already paid, as are the chairmen of the local committees, but, clearly, the work required for ordinary committee members justifies their payment also on the grounds of equity.

In December of last year my right hon. Friend and I published a consultation document entitled "New Towns in England and Wales". A parallel document "New Towns in Scotland" was published in January. My right hon. Friend and I felt that the time had come to consider the development of new towns in general, and to ask those most concerned with new towns to give us their views upon the future programme.

We ourselves set out in the consultation document not only the issues that we though ought to be discussed but the way in which we saw the future developments of the whole programme. If there is a common theme in all the points that were made in that document, it derives from the quotation with which we introduced the topic of the local community—the words of Nicias, 2,500 years ago—that Men, not walls, make a town", for, it is the basis of the new town philosophy that what is to be created is not just a series of houses, important as they are, not a just a group of factories, vital as they are, not just new shopping centres, attractive as they may be, but an environment in which men and women may bring up their families in new and happier surroundings than those in which they themselves were born and grew up.

The idea is an accepted part of Britain today; indeed, so accepted that visitors not only from Britain but from every country in the world come to inspect our new towns and to take away with them ideas for their own countries. But when the first New Towns Bill was debated only 30 years ago, the philosophy appeared new, questionable and, to some, fanciful. Since then new towns, as an instrument of social policy, have widened their scope both geographically and functionally.

The first new towns drew their populations from the overcrowded conurbations of London and Glasgow. Later, new towns grew up to help other places like Merseyside, the North-East and the West Midlands. New towns were used to extend existing towns like Northampton and Peterborough. New towns were used to deal with derelict land, as in Telford. Some new towns—for example, Washington—are a potent force in revitalising development areas in need of modernisation.

Today in Great Britain there are 29 new towns in various stages of development.

Now I suppose it is housing—first and foremost—that most people consider when they think of new towns. This is hardly surprising when one realises that one in 10 of the houses now being built in the public sector are in new towns. The early development corporations went into areas not necessarily happy to receive them. They built the houses sometimes in the teeth of opposition from the local inhabitants. But, as the years went by, and as the population increased, so the need for housing—not just for those who came into the towns, but for their children also as they grew up and had children of their own—began to be felt.

Just over a year ago, when I first undertook my present duties, I found that under the previous Government housing waiting periods in the new towns had virtually doubled. In those early days I decided that I should see as many new towns as possible. I found the same complaint everywhere. There were houses for sale in all those new towns—many of them empty. I found that houses to rent were being sold while, at the same time, the waiting periods—particularly among the second generation of new town dwellers who could not afford to buy houses—were growing the whole time. Something had to be done. So, because of the overwhelming need for rented housing, I immediately gave instructions to stop the sale of tenanted homes, and I asked that greater emphasis should be placed on houses to rent rather than houses for sale.

I am not against home ownership. On the contrary, I believe that a new town which consisted almost entirely of rented accommodation would not really reflect the society in which we live. Indeed, I would go further. I believe that there is room for a great deal of variety in new town houses. Housing associations, co-ownership and co-operative house building groups all have their part to play, and I hope that the development corporations will make the necessary land available to them. But as long as there is a need for rented housing, that need must be met. I am happy to be able to tell the House that whereas, as I have said, the waiting periods in the last 12 months of the Conservative Government doubled, they have now been halved again in the 12 months since I assumed office.

Nor is the housing need confined to the second generation alone. We must take account of those who are moving to take a job in the new towns, and of those who want to live in a new town but work somewhere else. The parents of those who are already living in new towns, and the disadvantaged, too, must all be suitably housed. A new town will always appear to be something set apart unless it has the problems that are common to all other towns. So it must have its share of the incapacitated and disabled. It must provide hostels for single people who are in housing need and homes for single-parent families. In doing so it will not only assist the older and hard-pressed conurbations but will also enrich and vary the lives of its own citizens.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Are not the new towns already under enormous pressure of resources for education, for which the rate support grant does not anticipate the incoming children? If the right hon. Gentleman is now saying that in addition the new towns must provide for old people and the physically and mentally handicapped, they must be given special financial help to meet the extra provision, or the right hon. Gentleman will be breaking the camel's back.

Mr. Silkin

I have said very clearly that I believe that these are necessary provisions for the new towns. Other considerations must be given their priority, and obviously one of the priorities must be the resources. The new towns will not become the same as the older towns, will not become accepted as the older towns are, unless they have their share of the various categories of people of whom I have spoken.

I have spoken of housing in the new towns as if this were solely the problem of the development corporations, but, of course, this is not so. As the older new towns have grown in size, so their district councils have matured. They have also grown in stature as a result of local authority reorganisation. They are now properly concerned to manage their own destinies. The time has come to consider with them the scope for closer co-operation and partnership, including the eventual transfer to the local authorities, on appropriate terms, of housing and other assets closely associated with housing. Such changes—particularly the transfer of assets—require great care in their operation. For this reason I set up a working party of officers of the Stevenage Development Corporation and the local authority under the chairmanship of an official in my Department. It has produced a report on the practical aspects of transfer as they concern English new towns.

The report contains a number of specific recommendations, but I shall not, of course, reach decisons on these until I have received the comments of all interested parties. Among them are the financial basis of transfer, where the working party recommends outstanding loan debt, and the practical timetable of any programme, where it makes it clear that the earliest practicable date would be April 1977. I shall be coming to the House in due course with my proposals on all these matters.

I am indebted to the Stevenage Borough Council for its co-operation in this exercise and to the working party for its detailed consideration of the means whereby housing assets could be transferred. Even in the early stages of transfer the number of new town houses which could be involved is of the order of 90,000. This shows at one and the same time the size of the problem and the contribution which development corporations have made in providing homes for those in need.

I am particularly pleased that the working party has dealt with the problem of the effect of transfer upon staff in the corporations, the commission and the local authorities. In the process of transfer it would be ungracious to ignore the claims of those who have played so great a part in this changing field, and it would be short-sighted to lose the knowledge, skill and experience which they have demonstrated over the years.

The House will understand that this statement of policy on the transfer of housing assets is one that gives me especial pride. The originator of the 1946 Act had no doubt that this was the right way to proceed. In doing this we shall be changing the political decision made by the Conservative Government in 1959 to establish the Commission for New Towns—a decision designed to avoid giving to the communities of the new towns their democratic rights in the housing field.

Within the framework of a policy with which I disagree, the Commission for the New Towns has done a first-class job. Over the years it has created an expertise of management, and the four new towns in its care have reason to be grateful for its work. But its housing management has nothing to do with local accountability. For this reason, the Government propose to introduce legislation as soon as possible to change the rôle of the Commission for New Towns into one more fitting for the democratic age. The housing which, in any event, has been completed in Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn and Hatfield will be among that to be transferred to the local authorities.

It would be wrong to dispute the expertise and skill that has grown up in the New Towns Commission. In addition to owning the houses in the four new towns concerned, the commission also owns the commercial and industrial assets. It seems to us that the benefits of each new town should be shared between three groups—the local community in which the assets are situated, the taxpayer in general, who has supported the early expenses of the new towns, and the other new towns in process of building or yet to be built. The new rôle of the New Towns Commission will lie in the management of commercial and industrial assets in the interests of all these three parties.

I should perhaps also say that, while the development corporations and the New Towns Commission in its new rôle exist, it will be a fundamental principle that commercial and industrial land shall remain the property of the community. I have never understood the argument that once a public authority has bought land and developed it, it should then sell it off to the private sector. On the contrary, it should then be kept safe for the generations to come. So, as with the proposals under the Community Land Bill, commercial and industrial land may be leased but not disposed of on a freehold basis.

It is just over 29 years since Stevenage was designated by Lewis Silkin as the first new town, as you will recall. Mr. Deputy Speaker. Very few Acts of Parliament in so important and fast-moving a field can have remained virtually unchanged over the years as the New Towns Act of that year. But the first new towns have grown up, and it is time to take another look at our new towns policy—a look which, while maintaining the vision of the founding fathers, nevertheless combines with it the requirements of a new generation. In the meantime, I commend the Bill to the House.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

The number of hon. Members wishing to speak in the debate is a clear indication of the welcome that there is for the opportunity the Bill provides to consider not only its terms, by which we are brought face to face with the scale of public resources involved in new town development, but the Government's consultative document, "New Towns in England and Wales", published last December. I listened with great interest, as I am sure all hon. Members present did, to what the Minister said about that.

As I see it, the main question in the debate must be the justification for the vast sums involved, and whether they are being wisely used and directed, in ways which will produce the optimum social and financial benefits.

The right hon. Gentleman has looked back to all that his father did for new towns and planning as a whole. The scale of expenditure is indicated by the fact that in 1946 the sum involved was £50 million. The limit of advances was raised to £1,500 million in 1965, and it is now proposed to be extended to £2,250 million. Those are tremendous sums of public money commitment.

I should like briefly to recall the garden city concept and to refer to the tremendous pioneering work of Ebenezer Howard. It is appropriate to recognise the part played by the Town and Country Planning Association over the past 75 years. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been closely associated with the commemorative celebrations. In the early days of Letchworth and Welwyn, effective development and good planning standards were ensured and land assembly achieved without the benefit of the Community Land Bill. The right hon. Gentleman appears to hold the view that his proposals are taking us to El Dorado and marching us towards a State abounding in gold. I think that that is not an unfair reference to his Second Reading speech.

A glaring omission from the consultative document lies in the admission which appears in paragraph 4.17, which reads: This paper makes no firm proposals with regard to finance. During this debate some of my hon. Friends may refer to the political bias which runs through the document, especially in section 4, under the heading "Proposed Action".

In additon to the main question which I have already posed—namely, the wise use of resources—my purpose is to highlight the gravity of the financial position facing the new towns and the entirely unfair burden falling on the ratepayers in those counties and districts in which new towns lie.

In the grave circumstances with which the country is faced, and with the continuing calls by the Secretary of State for the curtailment of local government expenditure, is the right hon. Gentleman able to tell the House whether or not resources will continue to be made available for new towns? Can he give a firm assurance in that respect? With the level of temporary debt at £1,500 million, how long is it anticipated that the extension of £250 million, as proposed, will last? I know that he will be aware of the concern, as all of us are, among the membership and staffs of the development corporations not only that the projects in hand can be kept going but that future plans can be made, confident in the certainty that expenditure in terms of staff time will not be wasted.

The right hon. Gentleman will also know that in some parts of the country the building and contracting industry relies heavily on work in new towns, some of it on a vast scale. I am thinking here especially of Milton Keynes and Northampton, which I know well. The building industry relies heavily on such work to keep its work force engaged and to ensure continuity of employment for employees. These programmes are also significant in terms of manufacturers' plans and distributors' facilities.

Reference has repeatedly been made in the House to the burden falling upon the ratepayers. I took the point made again this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) about a matter to which he has drawn the attention of the House on many previous occasions.

With colleagues from both sides of the House representing Northamptonshire I joined in making representations arising from the circumstances there, where there are no fewer than three town expansion schemes in addition to Northampton, which was designated a new town in 1968. The county council has made continuing representations to the Department, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman has given the question careful attention and spent a good deal of his time on it. I am grateful to him personally because he has given me a deal of his time in which to discuss the issues involved.

Here I refer to the provision of public services connected with the new town schemes, so that local authorities can develop the services for which they are responsible in pace with population growth. I quote from a document giving the views of the chairmen of the development corporations on the consultative document. They refer at paragraph 2.9 of their paper to the provision of statutory services, schools, health centres, social and recreational facilities, roads and transport, and policing and fire cover. Their paper says: These call for separate capital allocations by the Government for the expansion of local authority services in pace with each new town's planned population and housing growth; and provision for development corporations to contribute to the costs of advance provision so as to prevent any undue burden on the ratepayers as such. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman or the Government spokesman who winds up will pay attention to that question.

With rate burdens now excessive beyond the wildest of expectations, and further increases unavoidable in the absence of reform, a refusal to commit their communities to further expansion is entirely understandable. In the special circumstances of Northampton, the development of the southern district must be called in question because I am informed that the resources to finance the provision of a principal road network cannot be programmed within prospective budgets.

I now refer to a letter addressed to the right hon. Gentleman by Mr. Gordon Roberts, the leader of the Northamptonshire County Council, on behalf of that county and five others similarly placed, in which he says: The county councils are caught between the restrictions imposed by the Treasury on development corporations' freedom to contribute towards the expenditure of local authorities and the wish of the Department of the Environment that housing programmes should continue unchecked. The objectives of the Treasury and the Department of the Environment are apparently irreconcilable and the county councils are caught between the two. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the situation and the depth of feeling there is on the matter. I know that he was successful in securing some support for the Northamptonshire County Council from the Treasury but I think that there is a great deal more to be done in this respect.

I now turn to what I referred to earlier as the main question, which arises from the terms of the Bill and the consultative document. Public expenditure on the vast scale incurred under new towns legislation must be subject to close scrutiny and the proper establishment and monitoring of financial objectives and obligations. I believe that over the years there has been no real endeavour in that regard.

Paragraph 100 of the memorandum which was submitted to the Department of the Environment and Home Office sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee, Session 1974, by McKinsey and Co. referred to information on new towns and said: Obtaining information from Government Departments is a slow and painful process, often ending in failure, since much of the information was not available in a form that would allow expenditures related to the new town to be established. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I believe that I heard hon. Members opposite applauding the content of that quotation. That quotation is important for the case which I am trying to make.

Paragraph 143 of the memorandum continues: The accounts do not, for example, allow easy comparisons to be made between forecast and actual results, or between current expectations and previous forecasts. Paragraph 145 of the memorandum, which referred to the new towns' directorate and an overworked section of the Department of the Environment, said: The Directorate is also seen by some in the corporations to lack sufficient staff with the technical and professional skills that would enable them seriously to challenge the assumptions and plans of the new towns as exhibited by the accounts. That is to some extent a condemnation by McKinsey and Company, which submitted a comprehensive memorandum to that sub-committee in 1974. What it says is confirmed in a memorandum of evidence to the Expenditure Committee by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, paragraph 2 of which reads: The Institute believes that the financial implications of any large project should be considered at the earliest possible stage. It assumes that, before an area is designated under the New Towns Act 1965, available alternatives have been considered and appraised. Interesting points emerged during the examination of witnesses. In reply to subsequent questions, Mr. W. C. Evans, the chief finance officer to the Redditch Development Corporation, when asked to confirm an assumption in the report that, before an area is designated under the New Towns Act 1965, available alternatives have been considered and appraised, said: We have not any really. This is what we would expect to happen. When asked if it had happened, he replied: I think it probably has not, but I cannot be sure of that. He went on: What I do say is that there was no definite information available to us when Redditch was designated. That evidence shows that investment programming is not in operation as expected, quite rightly, by municipal treasurers and accountants.

It is my submission that inadequate attention is given by the Department of the Environment to new towns' expenditure in terms of financial objectives and their monitoring. The creation of vast capital assets appears to be considered only in terms of eventual loan repayment. Would it not be wiser to apply judgment in terms of management, the utilisation and optimum use of resources, as McKinsey and Co. put it in paragraph 132 of its report: By capturing the value created by a new town development to finance the development and provide further amenities and services."? This is the whole issue of the roll-over of assets—the realisation of capital values flowing from the development should provide resources for further expenditure on both social and development provision.

If a policy of this nature were followed in new towns, the Government could well find that the Bill and the substantial demand that it makes on public resources would be unnecessary, adequate capital resources flowing from the sale of residential properties together with office and industrial premises to occupiers or institutions for investment purposes. Private money would be used for development rather than Government sources funded over 60 years at the Public Works Loan Board rate, which today stands at no less than 14⅜ per cent. fixed for the full loan period. That is the burden with which new towns and development corporations are being lumbered.

The whole concept of borrowing in these days of high interest rates fixed for a 60-year term plays havoc with the use of public resources. That is why I am utterly amazed that the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt fundamentally with the financial considerations in his consultation document.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)

As a Member representing a new town and as Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party New Towns Group, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like the House to know the official Opposition view of the reference to finance in the consultation document. He spoke about the transfer of assets. Surely the Conservatives have a view on this subject. The hon. Member is right to raise the problem of finance, but will he say what is the Opposition's view of what should happen in terms of the transfer of assets?

Mr. Jones

I am not dealing with the transfer of assets. I hope the hon. Member understands that I am discussing the sensible use of the vast assets that have been created in the new towns. They could be utilised if sold off.

Mr. Moonman

That is transfer.

Mr. Jones

It is not transfer. It is the sale of assets. That is the point that the right hon. Gentleman was making, and I shall deal with it in the final part of my speech.

As on so many issues, the Government take decisions on ideological grounds and in the furthering of their stated aims of State Socialism. That was just the point that the right hon. Gentleman made when he said that once land had been taken into public ownership it should never be released, presumably whatever the financial consequences. He and his right hon. and hon. Friends will have to learn that lesson very soon now, or the whole of the new towns scheme will come to an abrupt halt.

The consultation document tells us that in the new towns there are to be no further sales of houses—paragraph 4.13—and that land for industrial and commercial development will normally be made available on leasehold terms only—that is in the following paragraph. The Commission for the New Towns will retain in large part the industrial and commercial assets of corporations that have already been wound up—no suggestion here of the release of assets to save borrowing at the punitive interest rates that I have mentioned.

Mr. John Silkin

The hon. Gentleman should correctly state what is said in the consultative document. The words are: For the time being also, there will be no further sales, without the prior approval, of development corporation or Commission housing built originally for rent. That is the whole point. That is the basis of ensuring that those who are in need can get homes.

Mr. Jones

We cannot look after those in need unless we handle the resources correctly and most effectively. It is no use having palliatives like "for the time being". What are essential are long-term objectives, especially in the use of money.

The reputation that the Government have earned for themselves of the profligate use of the taxpayers' money and resources on a beg, borrow, or steal basis takes second place only to their blatant efforts to realise their political objectives of State Socialism. We have many examples before the House. Indeed, a guillotine procedure to accord with this policy is to be debated later this evening. The consultative document is clearly part of that overall strategy. It is to be regretted, and the changes inherent in its proposals will be damaging to the new towns and to their future.

4.46 p.m.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

I am astonished that the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) is surprised that the objective of the New Towns Act in the first instance was a great ideological and sociological concept. If his ideas on sociological development are in keeping with the last few sentences of his speech, woe betide us all.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the interest that he has taken in the whole new towns concept and the way in which he has kept me and some of my colleagues informed about the Government's proposals. As he said, the new towns idea is not about making speculators rich. It is about making a richer and fuller life for ordinary people who live in the new towns and who have come from areas not as pleasant as their new surroundings. I have the honour to represent a new town so different in its whole outlook from the congested areas from which its people came as to make my support of the concept complete, whole and total. It has nothing to do with the making of money for speculators.

I want to discuss the possibility of even easing the situation in some respects, because I do not like the commercial and industrial rates being charged in new towns, especially the commercial rates, because the small shopkeeper, who can provide a good service for the community, is being squeezed out of any possibility of doing so because the multinationals can afford to pay the fantastic rents now being charged by the new town corporations.

This may be a note of mild criticism. I am glad that the waiting time for housing in new towns in England and Wales has been reduced, but will my right hon. Friend note that that is not the case in Scotland and that in East Kilbride the waiting time for housing increases month by month?

The Bill is all right as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. It does not deal at all with most of the problems associated with new towns. The new town of East Kilbride, which forms a large part of my constituency, is a case in point. The Bill is based on the consultation document, but I hope that it will not be long before much more comprehensive proposals are brought before us. The consultation document poses more questions than it solves and it certainly poses many more questions than are being attempted in the Bill. Perhaps that is the very nature of the document, it being consultative.

My right hon. Friend the Minister alluded to the $64,000 question; namely, what follows after the consultative document and after the Bill is passed? I admire his continued interest in this matter. His late father's devotion and dedication to this subject was a tribute to that gentleman and was a tremendous advantage to the country. The Act may have been one of the most important Acts of Parliament passed at that time.

As my right hon. Friend said, in England and Wales we have the New Towns Commission which can take over the functions of the new towns. I want to confine my remarks to Scotland.

In Scotland the Secretary of State has power or authority of a similar nature. The new town of East Kilbride was born 28 years ago and is just one year younger than Stevenage. Therefore, it is no longer a baby; it is a big boy. It should now be weaned. It is the sixth largest town in Scotland, with a population approaching 75,000. It has over 300 factories of every kind on modern industrial estates. I want to pay tribute to the chairman and members of the board and to all the officials of the East Kilbride and Stonehouse Development Corporation because they have done a truly magnificent job during the time they have had control of the development corporation.

I should like to ask the Minister of State, who is to reply, a few questions about current Government policy for new towns in Scotland in general and, in particular, the new town of East Kilbride especially in view of the period of economic stringency which we face. First, are any cuts proposed in the construction of schools for the new town of East Kilbride? Secondly, are all the community projects proceeding as agreed? I have in mind health centres, one small day hospital which is being developed and, in addition, the development of Hairmyres Hospital, which is a well-established institution. Regardless of what Conservative Members say, is there any sign of the rents of houses in East Kilbride being brought more into line with the lower level applying in Scotland, rather than the higher level?

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Did the hon. Gentleman read the article published in yesterday's Observer about the position of rents at present? Perhaps he could relate his remarks to that.

Dr. Miller

I do not have time to read all the newspapers. I did not read the Observer yesterday, although I am sorry I did not. However, I do not want to be diverted from what I was saying.

Rents are a question for the community to decide and not for individual Opposition Members to decide. Is my right hon. Friend the Minister aware that in the Greenhills area of East Kilbride—an area which is growing, which has nearly 2,000 houses and a population of about 7,000—there is no community centre, bus facilities are totally inadequate, there is a scarcity of play areas for children, there is not a single public telephone—although I understand that as a result of representations from myself and others one is proposed in an entirely unsuitable location—and that the whole area requires landscaping? I hasten to add that this district is part of a much larger area. I am pinpointing it only because something should be done for it.

When my right hon. Friend referred to the object of new towns I am sure he meant that when people are encouraged to move out of their old environment it is unfair not to provide them with the facilities and amenities which they were led to believe would be forthcoming.

I should like to ask the Minister of State a further question about future employment. Gratified as we are in East Kilbride about the number of industries and jobs available—and it is interesting to note in this connection that there are 50 per cent. more male jobs than female jobs—we are not complacent about this, because there are problems associated with unemployment, and we are concerned about the rôle of the multinational companies in new towns, companies over which neither the Government nor the East Kilbride Development Corporation seem to have any control at all.

I have already indicated that the new town of East Kilbride has come of age. I now ask the Minister the $64,000 question. Since it is of age and since it should no longer be dependent upon its mother's milk, would it not be better to let it go its own way under its new local authority structure, in the same way as other larger towns in Scotland? The concept of a development corporation is an excellent one. It is essential and of the utmost value in the setting up of new towns and in the intermediate stages of a new town's development. However, when maturity is reached it is time to move over to a more democratic structure of control. When will steps be taken to transfer the functions and assets of East Kilbride New Town to the East Kilbride District Council? I know that problems and difficulties are involved, but there is no reason why some formula cannot be worked out to arrive at a basis of assessment of the assets and how they should be apportioned.

The East Kilbride District Council comprises 15 councillors and has three representatives on the Strathclyde Regional Council. Therefore, I would suggest to my hon. Friend that paragraph 9 of the consultative document is highly pertinent in a debate on new towns in Scotland. It is headed "Completed New Towns" and is concerned with their future. I would commend to my hon. Friend that this paragraph should be discussed now in order that action can be taken in the very near future.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Hitchin)

I rise to speak for the first time on the subject of new towns in this House, having been elected last year as the Member of Parliament for Hitchin. That constituency includes Letchworth, the first of the garden cities, which has had honourable mention from my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). I have a second constituency interest, because until the recent boundary reorganisations the constituency of Hitchin included the first of the post-war new towns, Stevenage. My constituency now surrounds that new town on three sides, rather like a wizened banana in that but in no other respects.

I was interested in the Minister's remarks about the inquiry which he has launched to discuss the means and methods of transfering new town assets to local authorities, statutory undertakers and the New Town Commission. To some extent I find myself following the argument of the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) in that I wish to express concern over the perpetuation of development corporations beyond their natural and acceptable life in the area.

The last debate on this subject was held on 11th November 1971, the very day of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the designation of Stevenage, which is a matter of pride for the Minister and for his late father. It is also a matter of some anxiety because in the meantime other new towns such as Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn, Hatfield and Crawley—the first three of which are in Hertfordshire—have been wound up. It was, I believe, expected that the development corporation of Stevenage might have been wound up in or about 1975, but this has now been delayed and there is strong local anxiety that this is because of the repeated proposals for the expansion of the designated area of Stevenage.

Early in the 1960s there were proposals that the ultimate population of Stevenage should be increased from a projection of about 100,000 to about 150,000. After a lot of inquiry and consideration this proposal was squashed in 1965—to great relief. Then, in 1972, there was a revised proposal for 3,000 or 4,000 acres to be added to the designated area. Again there was much local resistance, both from within Stevenage and outside it, and regardless of political party. In 1973 these proposals were shelved. I remember marching at the head of a demonstration with the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection—which demonstrated that there was a common attitude and interest between both parties. The fact that the right hon. Lady represents Stevenage and I represent the neighbouring constituency of Hitchin indicates that these anxieties are widespread and are not confined to particular groups.

These reprieves have in the past been temporary. Therefore, it is with some concern that we now view new proposals for an increase in the designated area of Stevenage, albeit on a smaller scale. I do not wish to give currency to this idea by repeating it, but many think that the development corporation of Stevenage has been to some extent interested by motives of self-preservation and perpetuation. I see that the Minister is, properly, shaking his head. However, the very fact that such suggestions have been made emphasises my point: that there is a time beyond which the development corporation does not retain the approval and sympathy with which it may have been launched.

There is inevitably some conflict of interest between the proposals of a local authority and the county council and those of a development corporation, because the expansion of a new town inevitably, to some extent, must pre-empt development and plans for adjacent areas. After all, we have at present in Hertfordshire a county structure plan in preparation.

The county planning officer has recently circulated a document seeking ideas from residents of Hertfordshire. In it he says: The Members of the County Council and District Councils have not taken any decisions or expressed views on any of the matters … in this booklet. As County Planning Officer I put forward these choices so that your elected representatives can make their decision in the light of your comments. That is not the procedure which is followed in the case of development corporations.

I should like to quote from a leaflet circulated by the Stevenage Development Corporation in connection with the latest proposals for expansion. It contains a very sinister paragraph which, in describing what is calls the "next step", says, These proposals are being considered by the Secretary of State and if he so decides he will make a Draft Designation Order. Thereafter, if objection is raised there will be a public inquiry and an Inspector's report leading to a final decision and Designation Order by the Secretary of State. It seems to me that that totally prejudges the issue, before it has been considered. If we are told that there is to be a designation order regardless of what may be revealed by the public inquiry or an inspector's report, the whole exercise is a fraud.

That is why anxieties develop about the continued behaviour of development corporations. New towns, after all, are very much part of their own region. The west-central area of Hertfordshire includes Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, a little to the west Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage, and just to the north the towns in my constituency of Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock.

As the Minister, with usual parliamentary courtesy, advised me last week, like myself he spent the early part of last Saturday morning in Hitchin. He knows that it is not very far away from Stevenage and that there is only a matter of three miles between these urban areas. There is a real danger of urban coalescence if new towns are allowed to expand in an uncontrolled way beyond their original area. I am worried about the prospect of a long strip of industrialised and urban country stretching up through Hertfordshire towards the Midlands. This is not the concern merely of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. It must affect many other hon. Members who represent such areas.

It is of vital importance that there should be truly rural countryside in between carrying on the business of agriculture, and not merely a few fields from which one can see houses in both directions. One needs to continue true rural life if one is to preserve the real amenity value of the countryside between urban developments. One needs this also for ecological reasons, because until the appalling rainstorms of last winter the water table in Hertfordshire had fallen by several feet. This was causing the drying up of ponds and the death of trees and had effect on brooks, streams and ponds. It affected not only farming but also rivers running through and near towns and villages, with all the consequences of that.

Any area can support only so much in the way of housing, industry and infrastructure. Extra housing in one part will limit resources for other parts. There is bound to be a conflict of interest between further increases in population in new towns and the need for second generation housing and, indeed, the wider housing needs of the whole area. If an area such as Hertfordshire is overloaded with new development, it becomes increasingly unbalanced. There have been shifts of focus and activity from my constituency to Stevenage. Shopping facilities have been moved. The Lister Hospital is in Stevenage. The railway line with a new station at Stevenage means that long-distance trains now stop there instead of at the old railhead at Hitchin. Although these are gradual and to some extent inevitable changes, it must be understood that these are the consequences of the development of new towns for surrounding areas which have their own needs for housing, key workers and industrial growth. Decisions affecting them should be taken on an overall view, since there is a natural interaction with neighbouring areas which is essential for balance in the future.

Like the hon. Member for East Kilbride, I believe that new towns reach their maturity when they have borough status and their own elected local authority councillors. The perpetuation of a development corporation when a vigorous local council is established can lead only to conflict and differences of opinion—a waste of time, effort and good will. Therefore, I support the hon. Gentleman in his suggestion that the development corporations should not be perpetuated beyond their acceptable and reasonable life.

In the final period of a development corporation's life it would be very dangerous to depart from the original concept of a designated area. After all, each town has an optimum size, which may vary according to its location and according to surrounding towns. Most of the early new towns were set up with a view to a size of about 60,000 or more, and not as large as the present generation. Stevenage was contemplated to reach 100,000.

One of the reasons why the designated area of Stevenage has now been proposed to be extended is a change in the population figures. The number per household is reduced from 3–21 heads to 2–95. That is equivalent to saying that if one is to have the same number of people, one must have up to 10 per cent. more houses. But surely in the original concept of the size of a town not only the number of souls living in it but also the physical area it was to occupy must have been of equal importance. When a new town is very close to other urban developments, it is very dangerous to fix solely on the population indicator and ignore the question of total area.

Therefore, I believe that the decisions about the future of new towns, as far as they reasonably may be, should be planned with long-term needs in mind. That means that when local authorities are established and if they can do the job, they should be permitted to get on with it. Beyond that point, the longer the delay the greater is the risk to the natural development of the new town as a community and to its settled social fabric.

I make these points with great emphasis but without acrimony, and I hope that the Minister will respond to them.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)

Debates in this House about the new towns are almost as unique as new towns. For that reason, the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart) must not feel too badly if he has not spoken before in a debate about the new towns. There have only been three or four such debates in the past 10 years. However, hon. Members who have spoken before in debates of this kind, like my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), will realise that we are a small and unique band and, therefore, that we get somewhat impatient when we hear Front Bench spokesmen on both sides talking in generalities about new towns and that we tend to enjoy discussing our own constituency interests. Today I do not intend to discuss my own new town of Basildon, because I consider it is more important to try to get down to some basic solutions to the problem of new town development and organization.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) has left what is to be a very short debate. However, I hope that someone on the Opposition benches will answer the question which I have asked before. The hon. Member for Daventry appears to be frantically upset because the consultative document contains elements of ideology. However, no one should be surprised at that. As a moderate member of the Labour Party, I hope that we shall have more ideology in new towns, and not less. I asked the hon. Gentleman for the Conservative Party's policy towards the statement in the consultative document which deals with the transfer of assets. Having failed to answer the question earlier, the Opposition should tell us now, because it would be unfair if we concluded this debate without some reference to that, and it might even help the hon. Gentleman's own back-bench colleagues.

My right hon. Friend the Minister kept his remarks short because he was anxious for all hon. Members representing new towns to get a look in. He will concede that the consultative document is thin, though it raises many questions. My right hon. Friend should look again at paragraph 4.17. He says in that paragraph: This paper makes no firm proposals with regard to finance or to the terms on which any transfer of assets might take place. One matter which causes great concern in local Labour Parties and amongst the communities of new towns, as well as in the national Labour Party, is the way in which this should be done. It is important to have an intelligent understanding about how we are to deal with the financing. Some would want it done by the outstanding loan debt. I hope that we shall have some insight into this complex problem.

The new towns are of great interest, not only to people in this country but to people abroad. The critical attack that was made on Government expenditure on the new towns by the hon. Member for Daventry failed to take into account the fact that the most famous of the new towns in the United States, Columbia, is also undergoing a critical time at this moment. We need to look beyond the financing of new towns which have been established or supported by the Government. The experience of private enterprise in Columbia is causing grave concern and is worthy of review.

It is essential to look to the future rather than to the past. However successful the first 30 years of new towns have been, we must give some attention to the way in which they might be examined in the future. One of the omissions in the consultative paper is that there does not appear to be any attempt to relate the new towns to the total context of the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend's Department. There needs to be some sort of relationship between the industrial policy, the housing policy and the environmental strategy. I regret that this is not given sufficient emphasis in the consultative paper. Many of the practical problems that we face as Members of Parliament for new towns heighten this very unfortunate difference. There are serious risks to the new towns, and to the older cities too, if there is no overall strategy and if new town development is considered in isolation.

An error in previous debates on new towns is that we have tended to look in isolation at the new towns. There cannot be new towns without reference to the commitment to rebuild the older cities. Many of the new towns are a reflection of the way in which decisions were made in those cities many years ago. That is my general point, and I come now to four or five specific observations.

I deal first with the development corporations. They have done a fine job. I do not think that anybody doubts that. With enormous influence and great competence they have established the new towns. Now that they have started to grow up, however, one would like to see local authorities representing the people, many of whom have lived there for 20 years or more, working much more in co-operation with the corporation. As a result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend and his predecessors, this has started to happen. There is in some of the more mature new towns a much better spirit in the relationships between them and the local authorities, and one simply wants to see this continuing.

The second issue is employment. One of the main aims must be to keep housing and employment growth in balance. Over the past decade this has not always been achieved, largely because there has been no special incentive to get manufacturing industry into the new towns unless those new towns were in development areas. This is what I mean when I say that new town development must be part of a total strategy. The rôle of the new town must be considered in any national employment planning, because houses without jobs for the people and without taking account of other aspects of the environment would make a mockery of what we are trying to do.

My third point is that surely, after 25 years, it is apparent that the housing responsibility of the new towns is twofold—to accommodate newcomers from the inner city areas but also to accommodate the second generation. I suspect that most Members who have been concerned with the mature new towns certainly have far more inquiries relating to the second generation than to any other domestic issue raised by constituents. The second generation cannot be left to the local authority, on which already a tremendous responsibility falls to deal with the people there. The local authorities do not have the resources to meet the need which arises directly from the policy of bringing a vast number of young families into one area at the same time. It is necessary to explain to people who are not aware of the way in which the new towns have grown that it is because of the development and movement of this population in going through a phase of growing up and having families, that we have this complex problem of the second generation.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here when I asked the Minister to make sure that there were so many community facilities per 1,000 dwellings. Will the hon. Gentleman encourage the idea that for every 1,000 or 2,000 dwellings there should be a minimum of community facilities prescribed by Parliament in terms of play schemes, adventure playgrounds, shops and so on, so that a community is built rather than simply a large number of houses?

Mr. Moonman

That will probably depend very much on the stage that a new town has reached.

There is a critical stage in the development of a new town, as I have no doubt will be confirmed by another hon. Member who leas represented my constituency, about the way those facilities can be improved. However, this is less of a problem in the mature new town. I suggest that when it comes to the stage where there is already a second generation there is quite an interplay with the new locality. With the city, of course, this is much less of a problem. In general, however, I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is a matter to be considered.

I ask, fourthly, how far have the new towns succeeded in creating real communities. Between 1946 and 1973, nearly 2 million people came to live in the designated new towns. In other words the new towns have become big business, involving capital expenditure of more than £1,400 million. In material terms, the environment of the new towns is excellent. But all too often a sense of real community is lacking. It takes time and demands from development corporation officials and local authorities a keen understanding of what is involved.

Finally, in developing our new towns we have failed to think about what we leave behind. One of the main purposes of Howard's garden cities was the re-ordering of cities whose populations were thinning out. In Paris this is being translated into action, but in Britain there has as yet been no more than a late mention in the Layfield Report on the Greater London Development Plan.

The development of those areas, opened up by the demolition of hundreds of acres of slums in cities like Liverpool and London, is too big a problem and burden for the city authorities, who need something like the powers and backing of a development corporation to plan the housing, jobs, open spaces and recreational facilities which will make them live again.

The hon. Member for Daventry referred to the Select Committee. We are both Members of the current Select Committee. Therefore, it would be wrong and improper for me to comment on the current evidence of the Select Committee, and which has still to reach a decision. The hon. Gentleman quoted from the evidence of the last two or three years, which has been published, and I should like to do the same.

The Select Committee, dealing with the environment of new towns, has already begun to point to the problems. Are we making the right judgments in terms of the mechanics and organisation of the new towns? Despite the considerable volume of evidence taken by the Select Committee in the past, little material has been placed before the Sub-Committee by the Department which would enable Members to judge the extent to which the towns are effectively doing their jobs in relation to housing or, indeed, regional policy. For example, while the preferred size of a new town has risen over the years from about 50,000 up to 250,000 people, there was little evidence before the Sub-Committee about the effects of variations in size on costs, revenue, regional impact and so on. Nor is the impact upon the surrounding areas or existing local communities clear, despite the fact that larger partnership schemes are clearly favoured, and the Department openly admitted in evidence that the effect of size is problematic.

Therefore, when we come to try to solve the controversial matter about whether we are making the right judgments on the structure, organisation, size and financing of new towns, we begin to realise that the management accounting system is not directed towards answering these questions and that the rôle of the management accounts as an instrument of policy evaluation as opposed to on-going annual management is questionable.

I have referred to finance, administration and planning. Therefore, it is only right that I should end on the most important aspect of all associated with new towns—the people themselves. It is because I feel so much that the people in new towns matter that I raise the question of democracy and the Government's intentions in terms of a commitment made by the Labour Party at successive annual conferences towards the question of partnership, control, administration and the transfer of assets. There can be no dodging that important point. I am sure that is not my right hon. Friend's intention. We want reassurance on that matter, because we have to go back to our constituencies and explain why there has been delay up to this moment and why there has been no major debate. However, we are grateful that this debate has taken place today.

Above all, new towns are people. I should like to conclude with a quotation from an important work, "Mental Health and Environment", by Taylor and Chave, who state: By conventional standards a new town is a good society. It is happy and healthy. Its families have good homes. Its children have good schools. Work is varied and close at hand. Working conditions are good. There are wide facilities for active recreation. The strains of industrial life are reduced to a degree not achieved in unplanned communities. I suggest that most hon. Members who have some connection or association with or who represent new towns sincerely believe in that expression.

Those who have had no connection with new towns might be cynical. They may believe that new towns are merely extensions of large cities—a couple of estates placed together and perhaps with pressure to bring some industry together. But there is, I suggest, both accuracy and validity in the statement. It is up to the Government to implement the intentions of the consultative document. I should think that there will not be a great deal of conflict on either side of the House and that all hon. Members will give them the support and time to get a Bill through as quickly as possible if a new deal is offered to our new towns on the lines proposed.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman). As he made his speech, the thought passed through my mind that hardly any hon. Member does not have a particular perennial problem. Mine seems to be the problem of new towns. In my former constituency there was the new town of Basildon, which the previous speaker now represents. I thought that now town was one of the best.

The Central Lancashire new town is to be built in South Fylde. We are fortunate in having as chairman of the new town corporation for the Central Lancashire new town Sir Frank Pearson, who was and is a friend of many who sat in this House with him when he was a Member. Sir Frank has described the Central Lancashire new town as he sees it for the future—there is nothing much to be seen at present—as Lancashire's biggest opportunity of the century … an absolutely unique urban development. The Lancashire Evening Post, which circulates largely in the area which will compose the new town when it is built, used the words that the new town is the biggest think ever to hit Lancashire. Of course, one has only to talk of plans as ambitious as a new town for Lancashire to get immediate benefits. One of the benefits has been that the express trains from Euston to Glasgow make their first stop at Preston, which will be the centre of the new town. The journey takes two and a half hours. It is very comfortable and is enjoyed by all those who can afford it.

Basildon, as I remember, did not have a railway station, and all the best and fastest trains used to pass through Basildon on their way to Southend without stopping.

Mr. Moonman

Basildon has a railway station now.

Mr. Gardner

There is a railway station for the Central Lancashire new town.

Basildon was near completion when I first knew it. The Central Lancashire New Town is still suffering, and will continue to suffer for many years to come, from the pangs of birth which always attend the creation of a new town. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that nothing so profoundly affects the life of a man as the change in use of the land on which he lives and works. Nothing so dramatically changes the use of land as the development of a new town.

Unhappily, the pangs of birth for most new towns, and certainly for the Central Lancashire new town, are made worse and more uncomfortable and painful by the attendant evils of delay, uncertainty and secrecy.

The way that delay and uncertainty affect people who are about to have their land taken from them or are about to become part of a new town, if the House will not think that I am becoming too domestic and local, is well and vividly illustrated by what has happened in the area which will compose the Central Lancashire new town.

There are two villages, Grimsargh and Haighton, in some of the attractive parts of the Flyde. Families have been living there for generations back. The people, who are very fond of the countryside, are concerned about the future. They do not want anything to happen which will injure the future of their area or of the larger interests of Lancashire.

In 1967 it became clear that Grimsargh was to become part of the area where the new town would be developed. In 1969 there was a public inquiry into the issue of designation and the inspector recommended that Grimsargh should be taken out of the new town plan. The Labour Minister of Housing at that time did not accept the recommendation of his inspector and put the village back into the plan.

In 1972 the farmers in the area were told that compulsory purchase orders were to be imposed on their farms and on the land. In 1973 the compulsory purchase orders were served. In the same year there was a public inquiry to deal with the issue of the CPC's, and the new town corporation said that it wanted 2,700 acres of land—mostly good agricultural land—upon which 68 owners and farmers, mostly farmers, lived and worked. The land was wanted for a land bank, and from the time when the announcement was made that 2,700 acres were required the whole thing was shrouded in silence and secrecy and no one could discover what on earth was happening.

Now, after the inquiry which started in November of last year and ended in January of this year, it seems that instead of 2,700 acres being wanted immediately, all that will be required until about 1986 is some 300 acres of land. Ever since the inquiry, which ended in January of this year, those who live in the Grimsargh and Haighton areas whose land has been subject to this uncertainty have been wondering whether their areas will, in the end, be included in the new town.

I hope that I do not use extravagant language, but this seems to be planning gone crazy and it is driving the people in these areas to despair. They want certainty, and I beg the Minister to let them know as soon as possible precisely what is to happen to them and their land. They ask for no more.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

Is not the true position that the people of Haighton and Grimsargh know for certain what the plans were but are fighting them because their chief concern is not over the countryside but to prevent corporation tenants from living in the area, and that for that reason they have formed an organisation called Scrap which wants to scrap the new town entirely?

Mr. Gardner

One could not hear a more absurd suggestion, and that intervention on a point which I was trying to make with some gravity and seriousness could not be more inopportune or inexact.

These people are farmers. They have owned and worked the land for many years, and in some cases it has been in their families for centuries. If they wish to fight the invasion, as they see it, of a new town into their area, they have every right to do so and I shall give them every support I can in their fight. I am shocked to hear the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) suggesting that the only motive for opposing the use of this good agricultural land is that the people do not want council tenants to move into their area.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

Ersatz indignation.

Mr. Gardner

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is ersatz indignation he ought to visit the area and hear for himself what these people say and feel about their land. I, as their Member of Parliament, am trying to express their indignation. It is my duty to do so, and I shall do it in spite of the kind of comment made by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr). I ask the Minister to assure the people who live in these areas that delays will be kept to a minimum.

As I understand it, the Bill increases the amount of capital that will be available for investment in the new towns from £1,500 million to £1,700 million, and with the consent of Parliament up to £2,250 million. These are astronomical sums. The original cost of the Central Lancashire new town was estimated to be £500 million, but the figure is now £900 million. It was said originally that it would take about 20 years to establish, but now it will probably be 30, 40 or even 50 years before it is developed, and what the cost will be then I should not dare to calculate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) said that getting information from the Government was a slow and painful process. Anyone who has tried to get information about the future of a new town knows that the process is even slower and more painful. I address the Minister on just one matter. I am sure it is one that troubles him just as it troubled many of his predecessors. It is the problem of how to balance the need for confidence, which in some issues must be preserved in the public interest, with the need to keep the public who are immediately affected by decisions as fully informed as possible.

I know that there are difficulties—we all appreciate that—but I ask, and I know that I shall not ask in vain, the Minister to understand that the people in these areas need to know, and deserve to know, as soon as they can properly be told, just what is to happen to them and their land. I beg the Minister to do all in his power to achieve that simple exercise in communication.

5.38 p.m.

Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in the House on the New Towns Bill. As the House knows, I represent Cumbernauld new town. In fact, it is the major part of my constituency. Apart from having that honour, I have personal and happy associations with the new town because I stayed there for three years after my marriage and taught at two of the local high schools. I have also had the great pleasure of working in local elections in Cumbernauld new town, invariably with great success for my party.

Cumbernauld is the third oldest of the Scottish new towns, having been designated in 1955, and no one in the West of Scotland can doubt the service which it has provided in giving decent accommodation to the overspill population of Glasgow. In fact, 80 per cent. of the current population of Cumbernauld—which is 44,000—about 40,000 are Glasgow overspill, and surveys on Cumbernauld have shown that the people of Glasgow like living in the town. The University of Strathclyde conducted a survey which showed that 87 per cent. liked the town as a whole, 89 per cent. were satisfied with their houses, 76 per cent. felt that they had bettered themselves by moving to Cumbernauld and more than 90 per cent. commented on their friendly neighbours.

Cumbernauld is not there just to solve the housing programme of Glasgow, major though that problem is. It must become an economic growth point in West-Central Scotland, an area that is crying out for economic growth and revitalisation. Two years ago, the new town doubled in size in one day when an extra 3,638 acres was given to it for development. The Cumbernauld Development Corporation has worked hard and long to build up the present community but it has expressed several fears about this new designated area. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of these points—if not today, perhaps when we have a fuller debate at some later stage.

Cumbernauld relies heavily on service and distribution industries and would like more manufacturing industries. We hope that the Government have some schemes in mind. Perhaps when the official Opposition stop blocking the Scottish Development Agency it will have some powers to do just this.

Second, we are concerned about the lack of employment opportunities for school leavers. Since the town was designated a new town in 1955, and we have a predominance of young people, our school leavers are now looking for employment. Cumbernauld should not be just an outer suburb of Glasgow. We should like more offices—perhaps Government offices, whether of the British Government or, as we hope, ultimately the Scottish Government.

Third, there is a fear that the cut in Government education expenditure will affect the new towns adversely. The educational facilities of Cumbernauld have been one of the major attractions to industrialists as well as to ordinary people. We want to ensure that children who live in the new designated areas will not have to cross the busy Glasgow-Stirling trunk road to reach the schools in the older part of the town in Ravenswood and Seafar. Could the Minister discuss this problem with Strathclyde Regional Council, which has a great problem in providing educational facilities? We do not want Cumbernauld to be adversely affected.

Many hon. Members have spoken of the development of a community as a new town. One of the most important things is that it should have all the vital services. Cumbernauld sadly lacks one vital service—that of a hospital. There are very poor dental and medical facilities there. Although we have a predominantly young community, we also have our share of old-age pensioners. We were greatly distressed to learn that the Greater Glasgow Health Board has said that it can no longer cope with the geriatric patients from Cumbernauld. Those people now have nowhere to go. We hope that a geriatric unit will be set up in the near future and that ultimately we shall have a full general hospital. This is essential since the town is to have a population of 90,000 by the mid–1980s.

Turning to local government relations with the development corporations, I was distressed to read in paragraph 8 of the consultative document that the Government have no plans to encourage direct elections to the corporations. When I go around Cumbernauld and in my surgeries residents refer to members of the Corporation as the faceless bureaucrats, the people they do not know and who are not interested in them. This is very sad, because the development corporation has worked hard for the community. Direct elections could help to eradicate that attitude. The people would then feel that they were participating in local decision making which affected them.

The appointment of people to development corporations lays them open to political patronage, to which my party is strongly opposed. I should like to cite an example of this from Cumbernauld New Town, One of the leading lights of the local Labour Party, soundly beaten at the local elections, was immediately appointed deputy-chairman of the development corporation on a salary of £2,000 a year. That has caused very bad feeling in the community, and I am sure that such things happen in other new towns, irrespective of the parties concerned. This kind of patronage cannot go on if the people in the new towns are to feel that they are participating in decision making.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The hon. Lady is making extremely sweeping criticisms. Is she suggesting that appointees to development corporations should not have party affiliations? If it was always the same party involved, one would agree with her, but surely people who take part in public life and politics are the best appointees, if there are to be appointees.

Mrs. Bain

The hon. Gentleman does me a disservice. I never said that these people should not have political affiliations. Of course people are entitled to their political affiliations, but that should not guarantee them a sinecure on a board which is responsible to the local people. Direct elections to the corporation would also ensure that, when the time came, local authorities would be more able to cope with the commercial and industrial assets of their communities. When development corporations are only steering committees, it is essential to move towards something more suited to the time when the town has matured.

I congratulate the Government on having this debate. I hope that we shall have a much fuller debate soon when we can go into these points in greater detail.

5.46 p.m.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

I will follow the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) in some of her remarks in a moment. I have the exciting and rewarding job of representing one of the four completed new towns, Hemel Hempstead, which is currently under the heel of the Commission for the New Towns. By the year 2000, one in seven of our population can expect to be living in the new towns, so it is important not only to continue with their development but to try to learn some of the lessons of the last 30 years. The development of the new towns has been one of the most successful examples of public enterprise and one of the lasting achievements of the 1945 Labour Government.

Clause 2(2) gives the Secretary of State authority to make payments to local committees of the Commission for the New Towns. I do not object to that in principle, but two questions arise. First, do we need these local committees? Second, do we need their parent, the commission itself? At the moment, these committees are unelected, unrepresentative and totally unaccountable, appointed by the commission with no right of representation for the local authority or such local organisations as trade unions. So there is no obligation on these committees to take account of the policies and decisions of people living in the new towns, as reflected in the ballot box.

That is wrong. These local committees—I stress that my remarks apply to the completed new towns—are no more than clockwork soldiers wound up and worked by their masters at commission headquarters, impervious to the feelings and decisions of the people whom they are supposed to represent. In Hemel Hempstead I have never known the local committee to meet the tenants to hear their views, let alone consult them as a matter of course.

The Minister might like to know that one member of the Hemel Hempstead committee has attended only three of the last eight monthly meetings, although he did find time to return to the town to take part in the committee's annual dinner in February. He has not been at a local committee meeting since January. We shall wait with great interest to see whether May brings any improvement in the performance of this aptly described "absentee landlord". This is the kind of thing that will happen if we do not make these committees more representative, accountable and public. That will not happen unless the Government see that it does—that is, if we want to retain the Commission for the New Towns.

Why do we need that commission at all? Its area of responsibility, when development is largely completed, is between the development corporation and the elected local authority. It is seen in my new town as something akin to a latter-day feudal baronetcy, invented by the Conservatives to act as a shock absorber between tenants and local democracy. It is unwanted, unnecessary and a superfluous administrative body put between the development corporation and the local authority. I was delighted to find that the Labour Party opposed the creation of the Commission for the New Towns when it was wished on my new town. I invite the Minister to think again about allowing the commission a continuing rôle.

I understand that last year, worried about its image, the CNT called in beauticians in the shape of a firm of public relations consultants. Hemel Hempstead would prefer to see the morticians called in. The commission is an unwanted and expensive layer of bureaucracy, especially now that local government has been reorganised into larger units. In the four completed new towns the commission is doing jobs which are the responsibility of the elected local authority.

I come now to the transfer of assets. The consultative document proposes the hand-over to local democratic control only of housing and associated assets. We are too timid. Let me call to my support the Minister's distinguished father, who said in June 1946 that it was the intention when the development of a new town was substantially complete, to wind up the corporation and, by agreement with the local authority, to transfer the assets and liabilities of the corporation to the local authority of the area in which the new town was situated. That statement refers not to some assets, not to most of the assets but to "the assets" without qualification. Regretfully, along came a Conservative Government to create the Commission for the New Towns and to frustrate that original intent.

Because my right hon. Friend wishes the commission to have a continuing rôle he has to look for things he wants it to do. Hence the proposal that the commission should be left with the commercial and industrial assets.

Mr. John Silkin

My hon. Friend does not quite understand my thinking. Does he not agree that it would be utterly selfish to allow a new town to have all the assets in its area, particularly as the first-generation new towns are in the South-East and, therefore, prosperous, when there are other new town areas which need assistance and when the Exchequer has provided the money that has made those new towns prosperous? Are we not talking about a three-fold division?

Mr. Corbett

I take my right hon. Friend's point, and if he will allow me to do so I will deal with one or two of the issues as I go along. I am not claiming that because a person happens to live in one new town he should say "To hell with the others". My principal concern is with management and administration. I still maintain that the Commission for the New Towns is an unwanted and unnecessary body.

In completed new towns such as Hemel Hempstead a large number of houses are 25 years' old and older. The local committee is faced with repair and renovation bills for wiring, and so on and these items are increasingly expensive. The local bill in Hemel Hempstead will be increased in the current year by 25p in the pound to take account of the deterioration in housing which is presently the responsibility of the commission. It is unfair to load this on the back of the tenants, their elected council and other ratepayers, leaving the Commission for the New Towns like a fat cat licking up the profitable commercial and industrial assets.

In the last financial year in Hemel Hempstead the commission, according to its report, made a profit of about £1,750,000 from commercial and industrial assets. In the four new towns under its control it made a profit of more than £3 million. It would make more sense to transfer all the assets so that there may be cross-subsidisation.

New towns are not just bricks and mortar; they include the people who live in them. The bricks and mortar and the amenities that go with them have a lot to do with the happiness of life in new towns. In deciding that the transfer should be limited to "housing related" assets, the working party has led itself into trouble. For example, argument arose between the development corporation representatives and the local authority representatives over shops and shopping centres. The working party's report seems to say that if there are under 10 shops the council has them, and if there are over 10 shops they are to stay with the commission.

In Hemel Hempstead the neighbourhood shopping centres were built for that purpose. That is why they were called neighbourhood shopping centres. They were not designed to attract people from other parts of the town or from outside the town. They are integral to our closely-related housing assets. There is argument also about the shops along the High Street. If the houses had not been built there would have been no High Street and no one to go shopping.

I urge the Minister to look again at the fiddling distinctions which are being made. After taking the advice on the back of the consultative document I invite him to say that the best thing to do is to wring the neck of the Commission for the New Towns and thus solve the problem of these distinctions.

I am extremely disappointed that the Minister has not given a firm indication of when the transfer of assets can at least begin. Great concern is felt by the staff of the Commission for the New Towns and in the town halls. They want to know the timetable. Careers, livelihoods, jobs and job prospects are at stake. The local authorities, which were created just over a year ago, need time in which to rearrange the management of the assets which will be transferred.

I welcome the recommendation of the working party that there should be a "no redundancy" undertaking, with an adequate early retirement scheme for those who wish it and with local authorities being obliged to give CNT workers the first option for jobs in expanded or existing departments in the town hall. There is no reason why there should be difficulty about that, provided that a firm and early date is fixed so that the local offices of the commission and the receiving local authorities know what is going on.

I endorse absolutely the working party's recommendation that the financial basis for the hand-over of assets should be at outstanding loan debt. Any other basis of transfer would be ruinously inflationary.

I come back to what the Minister said. When this arithmetic is being done I ask the Department to remember that in Hemel Hempstead about £15 million has been taken out of the town by the sale of 2,000 homes. That sum should go into the accounting procedures.

The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart) spoke of the accelerated rate of expansion in and around areas of new town development. This accelerated development means, with the schools, libraries, roads and so on, that local ratepayers—who are, incidentally, taxpayers who help to pay for the development of their new town—and others have to pay for it. This puts too great a strain upon counties such as Hertfordshire. I hope that this, too, will be taken into account.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

The Bill gives us an admirable but rare opportunity for which we are grateful to discuss the development of the new towns.

The increase in the expenditure limits is £250 million, which I think the Minister said would be consumed during this year. Perhaps he will tell us whether the further increase of £500 million which is allowed for by order is included within the total borrowing requirement of the Government. I do not think it is, but perhaps the Minister will let me know, as during the last week there has been an increase in the borrowing powers of the British Steel Corporation of £750 million and of £50 million for the National Bus Corporation. Will the Minister tell us how long, with the present rate of inflation, it will take us to get through these extra borrowing powers?

I agree with the consultative document that it is right to take a fresh look at the principles upon which new towns were based. In my constituency, Crawley was originally designed to take a population of 50,000 people. It now has a population of 72,000, and this population is growing rapidly from natural growth. Despite a substantial housing programme, there is still a long waiting list and a shortage of labour in industry in Crawley. I was surprised when the right hon. Gentleman said that the waiting lists for new towns were shortening. That is not my experience. I should like to check the figures later.

One considerable difficulty which was not originally foreseen because of the rapid growth of some of the new towns has been the slow growth in the resources which are required to service those new towns. I refer in particular to Crawley Hospital, although I shall not speak on it at length because I have done so already in the House. The capacity of the hospital in Crawley is clearly insufficient for the existing population in Crawley, let along the other population which the hospital is designed to serve in Horsham and the Horsham rural area. This does not take into account any growth in the next few years. It is particularly disappointing, therefore, that the Secretary of State for Social Services thought it right to defer the extension to Horsham Hospital. It is very important that, with the growth of housing, the growth of proper facilities and infrastructure should go alongside, and that does not appear to be happening at the moment.

I turn to the question of housing and the proposal to transfer the Commission's housing assets to the local council. I accept that new towns start at a disadvantage compared with old towns because they have only a small stock of old housing and no cheap housing debt to go with it. However, the Government's proposal to hand over the Commission's housing assets effectively means handing over national community assets to local communities. It would be unthinkable to sell off commercial national assets belonging to the Government—for nationalised industries, for example—at less than the market price to private business interests. This is the first time that assets which have been created by the nation have been handed over to particular local sections of the community at historic cost. That is what the proposals in the Stevenage document mean, when it is suggested that the existing debt structure should be passed on. I do not know whether this has yet got past the Treasury, but it will surprise me if it gets through altogether unscathed. We shall see in due course.

However, that is not the point which concerns me in particular. What we need to be satisfied about is that the transfer of housing assets and of responsibility to the local housing authority will get more houses built. I wish to pay my tribute to the work of the Commission in Crawley for its excellent record in house building and management. Indeed, so good has been its record that I should have thought that the Government, with their declared interest in participation, would have taken the opportunity to ask the tenants of Commission houses whether they want to be taken over by the local authority or not. I am confident that they would prefer to stay with the Commission for the New Towns.

I am sorry that the Crawley council's housing record has not been particularly good in recent years. Indeed, it has proceeded with such speed and efficiency as to make a tortoise look like a hare. It is falling far behind its original programme of 500 houses a year. The question is whether it is able to carry out a programme of rapid expansion. I thought that it was sensible to use all existing resources to carry through a large housing programme, and that is why I regret that housing will not remain one of the Commission's responsibilities. It seems to me that the greater the impetus we can get behind the housing drive, the better. That is why some time ago I approached the Crawley industrial group and the Guiness Trust and invited them to form a housing association. That is now a success, I am glad to say, and houses will shortly be appearing.

However, it is not enough to release land or to encourage more voluntary associations to build. I am very sorry that the Community Land Bill will dry up the supply of land coming on to the market. What is becoming increasingly clear is the need to review the whole question of housing finance. The article by Christopher Booker and Bennie Gray in yesterday's Observer shows what an impossible position housing finance has got into. It costs at least £15,000 now to build a house in Crawley for which the average rent is £4.50 a week. The subsidy to tenants is very large, although nothing like as large as in London where, according to Booker and Gray, it amounts to £60 a week.

The total council housing deficit paid for out of rates and taxes will amount to £1,450 million this year. This is more than twice what it was two years ago. Capital spending on council house building will be more than £2,000 million this year, which compares with £720 million in 1972–73. These figures are alarming. Clearly we cannot go on like this. Either the council house building programme will have to be cut sharply or rents will have to go up, unless the Government change their policy. The Government are responsible for inflation and that is what has created the crisis in housing finance.

There is one step by which the Government could ease the position, and that is to sell council houses to existing tenants. There is no question about the popularity of this step. Of nearly 9,000 houses owned by the commission in Crawley in March 1974, there were applications to buy from 4,192 tenants. Funds would be released for building far more council houses than can now be provided at the present level of rents.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)


Mr. Hordern

No, I cannot give way now. The country can no longer afford doctrinaire attitudes, and it is time that the Government allowed tenants to buy their homes if they wish, so that more money can be released for more houses for the many people on the waiting list. The Government must review their housing finance policy and change it.

Some new towns like Crawley have reached the stage where their natural growth will carry them into the future. The only threat would be if the Government were to allow the expansion of other Government initiatives—for example, their airports policy—to overwhelm local growth. This is already happening in Gatwick, where a man can get more for sweeping out an aircraft than he can as a skilled fitter in Crawley. Neither the county council nor the local council can be expected to finance the Government's airport programme. There is the danger that firms which have been in Crawley for many years may have to go elsewhere for labour because of the growth of Gatwick.

My constituency will grow because of natural growth, and in my judgment it will not be able to accommodate further growth imposed upon it from outside. That is why the whole policy of new towns needs to be looked at from the original point of view of the need to relieve London of its employment and industrial problems. That policy now needs a very serious look, and that is why the Greater London Council's policy should be reviewed very carefully.

Two years ago the GLC bought 25 acres of building land north of Horsham, thus depriving local people of the opportunity of having their houses as quickly as they otherwise would. Now it is proposed to build 255 dwellings on this site at a cost of over £18,000 a house. The GLC has exceeded its yardstick by 33 per cent., and it is looking to the Government for help. The GLC already has enough land to build 58,000 houses, and it cannot build more than 5,000 a year. One simply cannot understand why the GLC should be allowed to get away with this sort of profligate expenditure and prevent my constituents from having their homes as quickly as they otherwise would.

We need a new housing policy for the building of more houses. We must allow for natural expansion and not allow it to be swamped by outside force. We need to control the growth of Gatwick and the GLC. We need to give the people what they want—the right to buy their own homes. To do that we need a new Government, and I hope that that Government will not be long in coming.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

I was disappointed at one small part of my right hon. Friend's speech, for I had supposed that the purpose of the pensions schemes for chairmen was to persuade them to retire earlier, but apparently they are to have these pensions as of right. None the less, I urge my right hon. Friend to make the pensions schemes attractive enough not merely to chairmen but to all the chief officers of the Central Lancashire New Town Corporation so that we may have a total replacement.

The trouble is that these officials were appointed about three and a half years ago, before my right hon. Friend's appointment to his present office, so that he had nothing to do with them. But they show a class bias and prejudice which I thought were entirely outdated until I heard the opening speech of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), speaking for the Opposition Front Bench. I shall give one or two examples to show the attitude towards housing which we have already heard expressed from the Conservative benches.

At a time when waiting lists for rented accommodation in the area were at a record high level, and when there were many private houses empty, the decision was that 75 per cent. of the new town houses should be for owner-occupation, and even the 25 per cent. left to tenants were to be available for sale after a period. One can see how prejudiced that was, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on curbing that prejudice and utter ignorance of the needs of the area.

We see that doctrinaire attitude throughout the housing and transport policies of the new town corporation. For example, there is a greater sparsity of development for owner-occupied houses than there is for rented houses, and even a greater sparsity for rented houses than for local authority housing. It seems that the rules which apply to local authorities did not apply to the new towns.

This is an important matter to be watched, because the new town corporation, with its enormous resources, may have certain advantages over local authorities, and we are particularly anxious that relatively low cost housing should be available to the many would-be tenants in the area.

The same prejudice can be found in other parts of the plan. For example, I believe this to be the only report I have ever seen in which there is a special symbol for golf courses. More important facts are omitted from the maps, but there is a special symbol for golf courses. I have heard it said publicly in my area that the reason for this is to attract a nice kind of executive—a great insult to the British executive if there were any truth in it. I am worried about the prospect for industrial regeneration in this country if that is any indication of a general attitude.

The prejudice is to be seen most of all in transport. The original concept was that a new town should be built to accommodate the motor car, but that idea became outdated in 1973 with the issue of the White Paper on urban transport planning, which was accepted by all parties in the House. It confirmed the views of my right hon. Friend's father, who always regarded as paramount the need for public transport in new towns. The same view was taken by other town planners, including Professor Fawcett, who believed in the creation of a community based on walking distance to school. It was the consensus among town planners that that was the right course. We now know that it was right, and I believe that both sides of the House would agree with that.

The road plans for the Central Lancashire New Town, however, create a paradise for the private motorist, encouraging road developments in the area and in the process not only destroying low-cost rented accommodation which cannot be replaced in the central area but making it all the more difficult for the local authorities to run an efficient public transport system when faced with sparse development and great encouragment to the private motor car.

I hope that, when he plans and grants resources to the Central Lancashire new town, my right hon. Friend will keep in mind not only his father's views but the views expressed on both sides of the House about the White Paper on urban transport planning so that he does not allow the desecration of a good deal of old Preston.

I am keeping my speech as short as I can, and I come now to my last point. Above all, will my right hon. Friend take into full consideration the views of the elected local authorities? It is difficult enough to curb bureaucracy among elected authorities, but where one is dealing with officers who are not elected and have large resources behind them the problem is even greater. My right hon. Friend is our only safeguard. I hope that he will keep in the forefront of his mind the views of his father and of all good planners in order to curb the prejudiced and narrow viewpoint which I find in evidence in the Central Lancashire New Town.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

As time is limited, I shall make only three points, one relating to my constituency, and two of more general application. I represent Milton Keynes, the largest—or the largest planned—new town in the country. In fact, in North Buckinghamshire we talk not about the new town but about the new city. Last year Milton Keynes accounted for 1 per cent. of all public sector housing in this country, and this year the proportion will be 2 per cent. It is very big business indeed.

When the brief for this new city was laid down in 1967, the essential purpose was that there should be a balance between population and services. The particular service which we find missing more than anything else is hospital provision. We have already grown from 40,000 to 64,000, and the population is rising by about 10,000 a year. The plan for the city—I have a copy here—said that the provision of the first stage of the district general hospital should come between 1976 and 1979. In fact, no plans whatever have been made. By 1982 we shall have a catchment area for this hospital of 200,000 people, and it is 20 miles to both the Northampton General Hospital and the Royal Bucks Hospital in Aylesbury, the facilities of both of which are utterly overstretched, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) knows only too well.

This is, in fact, a false prospectus both for firms and for people coming to the new city, and I hope that it can be put right as quickly as possible. When the Minister came to my constituency and saw many people there, including representatives of the hospital action group, he was advised not to have a heart attack while he was there before he would certainly die if he did. We feel very strongly on this matter, and I hope that something will be done about it.

I come now to my more general observations. The first relates to the control of building in new towns, a subject figuring largely in the reports to which reference has already been made. No action on the Minister's part would have a greater effect on building in new towns than an alteration in the present yardstick provisions. Here is one example to illustrate what I mean, and I hasten to say that it occurred under the previous Conservative Government, so that no one is able to stand in a white sheet in this context.

There was a project in the new city of Milton Keynes for 400 rented homes, and it was originally designed so that those homes could be sold to the tenants if necessary, if they wished to buy at a later date. The first scheme turned out to be about 20 per cent. above the yardstick and it had to be scrapped. Six months and £25,000 in abortive fees were lost.

The scheme was redesigned with cheaper materials and a higher density which seemed to satisfy the yardstick. Tenders were sought and the price came out at 12½ per cent. above yardstick. We then had the whole business of cost reductions. Heating systems were dropped, garden fences were omitted, measures were adopted reducing privacy, and so forth.

Eventually the cost was reduced to within 1½ per cent. of the yardstick, but the scheme had taken 18 months to bring to fruition. The cuts meant higher maintenance in future years, and the staff of the corporation have spent their time since then trying to rectify complaints raised by the tenants who live in these dwellings. Worst of all, the cost of the scheme, originally estimated at £2.75 million, came out finally at £4 million.

We need a broad financial control at the centre, leaving the detailed planning to the very high-powered and dedicated people who service the new towns. At the moment, they are concerning themselves with things they ought not to have to do. They have to go back and forth to the Ministry sorting out the details.

The other general point I wish to raise follows up a matter which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. It concerns the burden on the ratepayer as a result of new town developments. A local authority has a statutory responsibility to provide such things as schools and roads, and yet the new towns are the creation of the Government and it follows, or so those of us who have recently suffered from this difficuty believe, that the Government have a responsibility to provide these services, not as a part of the rate support grant—that is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we have had experiences of that this year—but as a direct subvention to the corporations themselves in order to ease the rate burden on the local population. These three points are of vital importance to the people who live in new towns.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

The winding-up speeches will begin, we hope, at 6.35 p.m. We could probably get in another three short speeches from the back benches before then.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I shall make mine one of the shortest, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have one constituency point to put on the record as representative of Glenrothes new town. I very much object to the Minister of State, Scottish Office telling us, as he is about to, that within a very short while he will give the Glenrothes Development Corporation a special development order. He will do so even though the elected authorities—Kirkcaldy District Council and the Fife Regional Council—are opposed to the granting of that order.

My hon. Friend has indicated to me by letter that, in spite of representations from myself last week, and by the district council last Friday at St. Andrew's House, he will nevertheless go forward with this order on the basis of practical experience and the act that Glenrothes new town is the only one in Britain which does not have this kind of facility.

The argument in the debate today has revolved around the undemocratic nature of the development corporations compared with the democratically-elected councils in their areas. It has been the policy of my party for a long time to introduce a larger element of democracy in the running of the new towns. I have the most amicable personal relations with the officials of the Glenrothes Development Corporation, but the same cannot be said of the people of Glenrothes. They want a democratically-elected body to run their new town, and for the life of me I cannot see why the elected bodies of Kirkcaldy and Fife should not prevail over the opinion of the development corporation. I hope that my hon. Friend will reconsider this matter, and if he does not but instead lays an order I shall be bound to take every step in the House to oppose it.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)

In view of the disgracefully short amount of time we have been given to discuss the Bill, and in view of the importance of the subject, I support those hon. Members who ask for another opportunity to continue the debate on the new towns in the form of discussion on the Stevenage consultative document. I shall cut my remarks short, therefore, but I welcome the interest that the Minister has shown in new towns, particularly in his visit to Redditch, where we expect to see him again this year in the company, we hope, of the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security.

A number of hon. Members have made the point that hospital provision in new towns has lagged, and, while there has been capital provision for infrastructure in the form of roads and schools, this did not extend to medical services. I hope that the Minister of State, Scottish Office, will be able to deal with this point. There is no reason why new towns should become deprived areas before they become eligible for special measures of medical assistance.

I was fortunate enough to be allocated an Adjournment debate on the subject of the financial burden involved in the designation of new towns. In the course of that debate the Minister was sympathetic to my remarks and, while not going so far as to give a commitment, said that it was necessary that this burden should be considered by the Government since it was imposed at the request of the Government. My hope is that the greater financial ceiling in the Bill will eventually mean that we can have a greater allocation from the Government to cover the points that I mentioned in that debate, particularly the provision of medical facilities.

I am pleased to see the Minister for Housing and Construction present because so much of this afternoon's debate has centred on housing, particularly on the consultation document and the working party's report on the transfer of housing at Stevenage. The Minister led with his chin on the subject of the waiting lists for rented houses. He said that he had information that the lists had shortened dramatically as a result of the concentration on rented housing. Perhaps one reason why the rented list became so inflated was the great disparity which arose from about the middle of 1972 onwards for occupiers between buying homes and renting them. Before then there was a differential in my constituency of only about £1 a week between renting and buying. The absurd situation has now been reached where the subsidy on a rented house in the new town in my constituency is running at about £1,400 a year, whereas tax relief on a mortgage for an owner-occupied house in the same town is about £300 a year.

There is no hope of local authorities having the money to continue building these houses and renting them at these absurd rents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) pointed out. Another advantage of owner-occupied housing is that the building industry has been able in new towns to continue its activities because the towns have held the land back and a lot of construction companies have, therefore, been able to afford to continue building. We have been fortunate that new building for private occupation has continued.

One of the difficulties concerns the vexed question of the Parker Morris standard for public building, and the much higher cost which results from it. I have details which show that the building costs of rented houses is now getting on for £13,000-£14,000, whereas the cost of building an owner-occupied house is about £8,000. This is quite apart from the the question of "starter homes" for young families with which a building organisation in the Midlands has been connected but which has been unsuccessful in obtaining consents from local authorities in the area. I hope that this question will be looked at again from the point of view of those who wish to buy homes, of the construction industry and of young families.

I should like to make a point about the Stevenage recommendations for transfer. I accept that there should be a transfer of housing assets, but there is a question of timing, especially concerning second or third generation towns. I am not happy that that matter was adequately ventilated in the report which the Minister was kind enough to send me.

On staff transfers, there is a real difficulty that some workers in development corporations are not necessarily temperamentally adjusted to working in the rather more highly politically-charged atmosphere of local authorities and dealing with administration and control rather than development aspects. This work appeals to a different type of temperament.

I hope that the Minister will be giving consideration soon to the future size of Redditch, a matter which has been outstanding for a long time. I am particularly concerned about it, because there was a general decline in industrial activity in the West Midland area even before the local troubles of the car industry began. This will have a pronounced effect on the future population target.

As other Members wish to speak, I shall finish my speech now.

6.32 p.m.

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

In the three minutes that are left I wish to make one or two points on the Bill. To the people whom I represent in Scotland it is a mouse of a Bill, because it is completely irrelevant to the future of new towns in Scotland and irrelevant within the context of Labour Party policy at both national and local level.

For Scotland, the Bill only allows the Government to give permission to increase their advances to development corporations at a time when they are limiting advances to the democratically-elected local authorities in Scotland. The Bill also gives the right to the Secretary of State to direct the development corporations to make provisions for the payment of a pension, an allowance, or a gratuity to the chairman of the corporation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) that in Scotland we want to be rid of the chairmen and members of development corporations. We want to remove the undemocratic nature of the development corporations and substitute the democratically-elected representatives of the local authorities—in Scotland, through the district and regional authorities.

Whenever they do not want to do anything, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench publish consultative documents. They set up working parties on which there are no Scotsmen—all the members represent areas in the south of England—or they set up a Royal Commission. At present we hear rumours that several Government Ministers will be removed from office, because they seek to carry out Labour Party policy and introduce Bills which are a direct expression of the policy passed at a Labour Party conference.

Today we are dealing with new towns, and the Bill has nothing to do with Labour Party policy. If it is true, as is reported, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to get rid of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) after 5th June, I hope that he will be transferred to the Scottish Office or to the planning and local government section of the Department of the Environment, because then we shall be dealing not with consultative documents but with Bills which are a direct expression of Labour Party policy. We shall get rid of the development corporations and of this undemocratic provision. We shall have democratically-elected authorities which will give the development corporations' powers to the district and regional councils in Scotland.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

I first declare an interest, as a director of a retail company which was one of the first retail stores to seek representation in new towns—it is now represented in 11—and as author of a pamphlet published some 10 years ago entitled "The Need for New Cities". I shall refrain from quoting from it.

Any debate on new towns must be concerned with the built environment, the living environment and people. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to this aspect of new towns.

Any discussion at this time must inevitably concern expenditure. It is most regrettable that the consultation document completely lacks any financial data and is almost totally devoid of comment on any of the economic aspects of new towns. The most it says is in paragraph 4.4, where we read: Constant monitoring on the part of the Government will ensure that the new town programme does not outstrip demand or available resources". That cannot be held to contribute much to the important aspect of the debate to which I should like to return. New towns contribute to the environment both directly in the towns themselves and indirectly through what the chairman of the executive of the Town and Country Planning Association nicely called "Ebenezer's other half". I should like to take this opportunity of joining my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) in paying tribute to the association for the work which it has done in connection with new towns for over 75 years.

"Ebenezer's other half" is the urban environment, to which the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) also referred. That is of concern to all of us in the large cities. In particular, he mentioned Liverpool and London.

"High rise" is not exactly a popular phrase these days. It can be condemned on grounds of both cost effectiveness and social effectiveness. If we are to achieve what we should be able to achieve through the new towns in respect of "Ebenezer's other half", we should consider more of planting a tree rather than building a tower block of flats. In that way we would help to revitalise and improve the environment in the towns whose populations are moving out to the new towns. In those new towns, we want to build communities that can satisfy the aspirations of those who live there at present, those who will in the future, or those who would like to be able to find the homes that they want in those new towns.

Home ownership is sought by many families. If they cannot find home ownership in new towns they will not go to them.

I recognise that there is a difference between the established new towns and those that are still at the early stages of development. Where we have established new towns with stabilised, or nearly stabilised, populations—Crawley is an example—there is surely a great need to ensure that there is adequate housing available for sale.

In Crawley we still have only 28 per cent. of the total housing owner-occupied. This is not providing the balanced community which the right hon. Gentleman has said is required. If the new towns were to sell 10 per cent. of their housing stock—I am not suggesting that they should do this overnight, but perhaps over a year or two—they would achieve the balance of home ownership which is reflected in the rest of the country, and which we understand has the support of the Government. They would raise more than £200 million, and relieve the Government at a time when I should have thought that even the Government were prepared to admit the need for relief of a great deal of public sector borrowing.

There is another aspect. They would release resources. That is very important, because by so doing they would be able to help create the community facilities to which a number of hon. Members have referred, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), who spoke of the need for hospitals. Such community facilities are a vital part of the environment of the new towns.

Unless we have these resources shortly, we shall not create as good an environment in the new towns as we could, or, if we do, we shall not create it as fast. We shall not be able to do as much in the urban areas, in "Ebenezer's other half", as we should like, or, if we can, we shall not do it as fast as we could.

We were asked our views about the transfer of assets. The working party's report, which was pretty lengthy and was published only last week, will require some study. There is a different situation in the mature new towns from that in the developing new towns. The financial arrangements were not fully spelt out, and will require particularly careful scrutiny. We shall also have to give careful consideration to the future of the staff involved. Against that background, I think that I can say without fear of contradiction that as a party we do not believe in concentrating decision taking in the organs of the State. We prefer individuals to be able to make their own choices. In that context, I believe that in principle the transfer of resources should be considered and progressed at an early stage.

I return to the central point, that if we are to get the best advantage from the new towns in terms of human satisfaction, the living environment, we must consider the availability of resources. In the Bill we are asked for what can nowadays be regarded, against the background of the Government's borrowing requirement, as a modest £250 million, with a further £500 million to come. I do not know what the Minister's expectations are in that direction. I do not know how easily he thinks the Treasury will produce those resources.

In our present economic circumstances we should consider taking every opportunity to provide resources to improve the environment in the way in which we know it needs improving, looking not only at home sales but at the sale of commercial assets. Paragraph 3.19 displays a total lack of interest in—I would almost say a lack of knowledge about—what industrial and commercial users require. Many of them require the certainty of ownership, or at the very least a ground lease of their property, so that they can project their cash flows over a reasonable period for investment. There is no reason why the arbitrary approach of the paragraph should be adopted to the commercial and industrial sector in new towns.

It is somewhat economically naive to imagine that it is beneficial to the community, when it has to borrow at over 14 per cent., to retain ownership of those assets against the wishes of the industrial and commercial users. There are two ways in which resources can be provided. When we have those resources, we can make progress with community facilities.

We should not allow the doctrinaire politics represented in some places on the Government Front Bench to prevent those resources becoming available and to obstruct the creation of balanced and successful communities. Let us have a review of the cost effectiveness of new town programmes. Let us have those programmes compared with the costs and achievements of the urban renewal programmes. But, above all, let us release resources and satisfy the aspirations of so many new town families and resume the sale of homes.

6.44 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Bruce Millan)

We have had a wide-ranging debate. As it embraces two consultative documents—one for Scotland as well as the one for England and Wales—in addition to the Bill, I can only deal with a number of general points, but I promise that my right hon. Friend and I will write to hon. Members about detailed points they have raised concerning their constituencies.

I have one detailed announcement to make for Scotland, about Glenrothes, which was anticipated by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I confirm that it is our intention that there should be a special development order for Glenrothes which will place the new town there on exactly the same footing as regards planning as the other new towns in Scotland and in England and Wales. I met the local authority concerned last Friday and explained the position. As the matter will be debated later, on the order, I simply say now that the new local authority will not be cut out completely from the planning of the new town, as has been suggested, nor is there any implication of dissatisfaction with the authority. That could not possibly be so. I hope that I was at least able to reassure the local authority on that point.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my hon. Friend tell us when the order will be laid? Will it be debatable, and shall we be able to vote on it?

Mr. Millan

As far as I am aware, it will be debatable under the negative procedure, and I look forward to the debate. The order will be laid as soon as possible.

Turning to the Bill, I deal first with the question of overall financing. The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) asked how long the first tranche of £250 million was likely to last. On present expectations, a further order will be required some time in 1976–77. I cannot be more specific, but perhaps we can deal with such matters in Committee.

As this is a financial Bill, it is proper that hon. Members should deal with the finances of new towns. But it was a pity, to say the least, that the hon. Member for Daventry was so obsessed with the financial provisions that he said very little about new towns policy. By the time he finished, there would be no assets of new towns to transfer to local authorities. He wanted to sell the houses to the tenants for owner-occupation and the commercial and industrial assets to private enterprise for commercial exploitation. It would be completely contrary to the Government's views that we should sell off these extensive and important national assets.

Mr. Arthur Jones


Mr. Millan

I shall not give way, because I have limited time.

The relationship with local authorities was a theme running through a number of speeches. This was a matter of some difficulty, because the new town corporations are not democratically elected. There is bound to be a potential source of friction between the new town corporation and the local authority in the area concerned. It is remarkable that, with all the potentialities for friction, from the Scottish point of view at least—I cannot speak with the same authority for England and Wales—relationships are in most circumstances and for most of the time close and harmonious. But it is part of the Government's policy for Scotland to see that there is proper local authority representation on the development corporations. It is better obtained by local authority representation than by another process of direct election as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) suggested. There are obviously matters of co-ordination and co-operation here, many of which depend in the last analysis on good will on both sides.

Mrs. Bain

In Cumbernauld the directly elected members of the local authority felt that they could not possibly join the development corporation. That has led to a great deal of friction. To solve that problem, as an ideal situation, there should be direct elections among the local population to enable people to become members of development corporations.

Mr. Millan

I do not agree with that. I know that members of local authorities have refused to serve on new towns. However, that is not the situation in Cumbernauld. At the moment there are members of the hon. Lady's party on the development corporation.

One of the matters which are most at issue between the development corporations and the local authorities, and indeed with the Government, is the transfer of assets. I do not think that it would be right for me to add to what my right hon. Friend said about the situation in England and Wales. He said that we had received the Stevenage working party's report and that it raised a number of important matters—not least, the financial considerations—and that he would be bringing forward his own proposals in due course for the transfer of certain housing in new towns in England and Wales—in England in the first instance—to the local authorities concerned.

My right hon. Friend made it clear that there could be no question of a straight transfer of industrial and commercial assets to the local authorities. Those assets are provided by the national Exchequer, and the local community has an interest in them. The new towns as a whole have an interest in them, as have the taxpayer and the national Exchequer.

We take the same basic attitude as regards Scotland. We have adopted a slightly different approach in that our intention was that the transfer of assets should come near the end of the development of a new town. The only new town now coming into that category is East Kilbride. I therefore confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) that we shall wish to consider soon the question of the transfer of housing from the new town corporation to the local authority at East Kilbride. That matter will be considered well in advance of what is likely to be the transfer date. We shall especially have in mind the difficult question of financial implications, because the housing account in East Kilbride is still substantially in deficit. That deficit is now largely met by the Exchequer.

We shall wish to have regard to the possible rôle of the Scottish Development Agency as regards commercial and industrial assets in Scotland. There is no New Towns Commission in Scotland. That absurdity was not perpetrated in Scotland by the previous Conservative Government as it was in England, for reasons which are obscure to me. In Scotland there is not the complication of a New Towns Commission. We look on industrial and commercial assets as being potentially transferable to the Scottish Development Agency.

On the question of "rent or buy", my right hon. Friend has made the English position clear. In England there was a tendency, with regard to the purchase of houses, to go well beyond what was reasonable, given that there was an overriding demand for houses to rent. My right hon. Friend is taking steps to put the balance right. I fully support everything that was said on that.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

If that is so, will the Minister explain the views of the chairmen of the development corporations, many of whom are Socialists? Certainly the two chairmen in my constituency are Socialists. They say that they strongly hope that they will be allowed in the near future once again to offer to tenants the opportunity to buy the houses which they occupy.

Mr. Millan

The new towns agreed with what my right hon. Friend did. They said that his policy was successful in reducing the waiting list and that they now wanted him to look again at it. That formed part of what my right hon. Friend said in his opening speech this afternoon. He made the justifiable claim that his change of policy had resulted in a reduction of the waiting lists—which we wanted to achieve.

The position in Scotland is different. In Scotland we are anxious to reach a target figure of 25 per cent. for owner-occupation, which, except in the special circumstances in Irvine, we have not yet achieved. Subject to the overriding need to provide houses to rent, there is provision for the sale of houses in the new towns in Scotland. The number of sales recently has been small.

A number of hon. Gentlemen made the point strongly that for a new town to succeed the question was not only one of housing but of balanced development—industrial development, commercial development, community facilities, schools and hospitals. That point was made eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman). I agree with everything that he said on that point in what I thought was an interesting speech. However, that is easier said than done. In Scotland we have achieved this balance, certainly from the industrial angle. In fact, probably the new towns in Scotland have been more successful than other agencies in attracting new and expanding industry. I understand that that is true of a number of new towns in England.

In Scotland we have had the special advantage that all our new towns now have special development area status. I can reassure my hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies that industrial attraction to the new towns is part of our policy for the new towns in Scotland.

There is need for industrial attraction in the older industrial areas. The industrial balance can easily tilt the wrong way. Many hon. Members, especially those from the West of Scotland, would argue that some of the success of the new towns has been achieved at the expense of the older industrial areas. Again, without developing that point, that is a matter which the Scottish Development Agency will have in mind.

As regards the provision of community facilities—schools, hospitals, and so on—the position varies between one new town and another depending on whether it is a new new town or whether it has reached a more mature stage. The position varies between one kind of facility and another. For example, the provision of schools has kept pace with housing development if only because the first priority, in the allocation of school building expenditure in England as in Scotland, is roofs over heads. Schools must be provided in an expanding area of a new town. Otherwise there is no provision.

As the new towns mature a wide range of other community provision is also made available in a way which I think is the envy of the older industrial areas. There are special problems about the provision of hospitals if only because the hospital programme in England and Wales, as in Scotland, has been under severe pressure for many years and also because the overall policy of concentrating on district general hospitals, which are related to certain catchment areas of population, has not always made it easy to provide new hospitals quickly for new towns. However, those are matters of balance. The Government, the agencies and the local authorities have in mind the general need in new towns, as elsewhere, for a balanced community, with industrial and commercial development and with a full range of community facilities.

Over the past 30 years the new towns have been successful in providing the best living conditions in new areas of development which we have anywhere in the United Kingdom. That is a tribute to the vision of those who started the new towns policy 30 years ago. It is a tribute to the work which has been done on new towns in the past 30 years. It is to allow that work to continue successfully that we ask the House to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Stoddart.]

Committee tomorrow.