HC Deb 23 March 1976 vol 908 cc212-337

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and her right hon. and hon. Friends.

3.51 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.

To those hon. Members—and there are many—to whom the new towns are a source of interest, there has been a welcome opportunity to examine progress and to re-examine our philosophy during the periodic debates on New Towns Money Bills. In the last 12 months we have had a double bonus, for today's debate enables us to build on the debate in last session's New Towns Money Bill which followed my consultation document of 1974.

My own position is clear. I regard the present Bill as a return to one of the great principles of the original 1946 Act. For there was never any doubt in the minds of those who introduced that Act—including, and especially, my noble Friend and father—that at the end of the day, as each new town corporation was wound up, its assets should go to the local authority. Well before that, in 1898, Ebenezer Howard, the father of the garden city movement, describing his vision, said: Its object is, in short, to raise the standard of health and comfort of all the workers of whatever grade—the means by which these objects are to be achieved being a healthy, natural, and economic combination of town and country life, and this on land owned by the municipality". So it was understood from the beginning that the life of new town development corporations should have an end and that, in the fullness of time, the houses provided by them should be transferred to the local authority.

But, as the years went by and new towns became more and more profitable, the question of what to do with the assets was settled in a different way. In 1959 the straightforward principle of transfer of housing to the local authority was changed. The Commission for the New Towns was created and the assets of four towns—Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City—were subsequently transferred to it. In 1959 none of the new towns had reached any sort of maturity. If not actually in their infancy, the first generation towns had barely reached their teens. The question of their inheritance when they came of age was deliberately left vague.

This Government do not accept that it is healthy or desirable to leave new town assets in a state of permanent limbo—with the Commission as their dwelling place, and heaven knows where as their destination. We believe that once a new town corporation has done its job, the people of the new town should have the same democratic control of their local environment as people living in Britain's other towns and cities.

As the first step under this Bill, we are providing for the transfer of housing—and related assets such as local recreation areas and neighbourhood shops—to the local authority. The local people will benefit. They will no longer live in a divided town. No matter how good the relationship between corporation and council, a division there still must be when some families live in a local authority part of the town and others live in that part administered by the corporation. Inevitably this division creates a sense of "them" and "us". The Bill is the first important step in removing from the minds of people who live in new towns that feeling of division.

Unified housing management can make it easier for tenants to move within the town, while at the same time cutting management costs. It will also mean that those who are responsible for the management of housing, recreation places and so on are democratically accountable to those who live in the area.

So far I have been considering the question of the housing assets. But there are other assets not covered by this Bill—town centre shopping areas and industrial estates. These raise more complex issues, some of which were mentioned in the Government's consultation document on new towns which was published in December 1974 and to which I have referred. When a new town is created, the country as a whole finances it. Gradually, as the town grows, it becomes more and more profitable. In 1974–75, for example, the New Towns Commission made a gross profit of nearly £5.3 million, Harlow Development Corporation one of £2.4 million and Stevenage £2.7 million. It is surely right that, though part of that profit should go to the local community, others—without whom the town would never have been started—should also benefit.

Our aim will be that all concerned with the development of the new town programme—the new towns as a whole, the public in general, through the Exchequer, and the local community in each new town—should enjoy an appropriate share of the whole of the benefits created by public investment in the new towns. It was for these reasons that our consultation document envisaged a continuing—but much changed—rôle for the New Towns Commission. The transfer of housing and related assets to local authorities would free the Commission to concentrate its considerable management and financial expertise on a specialised basis.

It is our view that the Commission would take over the long-term management of the main industrial and commercial assets as the development corporations wind up their remaining activities after the transfer of housing. But this would not inhibit consideration of arrangements for the sharing of benefits, nor would it preclude examination of a progressively increasing degree of involvement by the local communities. For example, it might be worth examining the implications of transferring to them the long-term reversion of the freeholds in the estate. These are particular aspects which will be the subject of further study and consultation over the coming months.

In our December 1974 consultation document we looked again to see how the principles on which new towns were based were being carried out in practice, and as a result there have been a number of fresh initiatives. Because we believe that it is most important that the new towns should take their share of the disadvantaged, the handicapped, single people and the homeless, we have urged new town corporations to provide more for these groups and we have also set up a review of tenancy allocation policy to advise on altering the mix of incoming tenants.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide for disabled people, whereas the new towns do not, and that this Bill does not seem to deal with that problem? Would he consider this important matter which affects disabled people? Otherwise, new towns will be left with categories of housing provided only for the able-bodied rather than disabled people, whom we would normally want to integrate.

Mr. Silkin

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I have always felt that one needs to bring new towns, though on a much better level, to the same sort of grouping of population—including disadvantaged, homeless, single parent families and so on—as the old towns have. We need to look at this closely. It was presaged in the consultative document and a review committee is considering it at this moment. I agree that something must be done about that.

Development corporations and local authorities are being brought closer together and as part of this more members of local authorities have been appointed to corporations.

Last summer the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee of the House published its Report on New Towns. It is a valuable analysis of opinions and views about the new towns programme. Not surprisingly it also concluded that the housing assets of new towns should be transferred to local authorities.

This then is the general principle with which the Bill is concerned. How do we intend to achieve it?

The procedures to be adopted are detailed in the Bill. They include the making of transfer schemes locally in each new towns, the approval of schemes by central Government, and the implementation of each scheme when it has been approved. The first possible date for transfer will be 1st April 1977, but I am persuaded that each new town must be allowed to progress at its own pace.

The Bill provides in Clause 2(3) that after 15 years from designation either the corporation or the district council may apply to the Secretary of State with a view to a transfer scheme being made. I think 15 years is about the right time. It enables us to consider straight away the possibilities of transfer in the Commission towns and in the other first generation towns.

There may be some such new towns which feel that they are not yet ready for transfer, so the Bill provides in Clause 7 that if he agrees that this is so, the Secretary of State must nevertheless keep the development of the new town under review.

Clause 7 (c) provides that the development corporation and the local authority shall not be able to initiate statutory consultations preparatory to the making of a transfer scheme until three years have elapsed from the date of the initial determination not to make the scheme.

As I said earlier, the transfer of ownership of houses under the terms of the Bill will normally take place as the new town nears completion. But the Bill does not completely close the door to a transfer before 15 years have elapsed since designation. This is because in some of the later new towns there may well be a case some time in the future for transfer of part of the housing stock to the local authority if a cohesive housing development is substantially completed in advance of the rest of the town and the financial consequences of such partial transfer can be accepted.

As I said earlier, the assets to be transferred are essentially those planned and provided from place to place and from time to time for the use of occupiers or other inhabitants of the dwellings. They should not include assets planned and provided for the use of the inhabitants of the town as a whole. The Bill does not attempt to lay down hard and fast rules about this. It is generally something which is best worked out locally with local knowledge.

We shall, of course, give further administrative advice to ensure that we are not bogged down in theological disputes whether this shopping centre, or that open space, or any other individual site should be associated with the dwelling transferred. Although the Secretary of State retains a discretion under the Bill to modify transfer schemes, I am sure that common sense will prevail and the need to exercise the discretion will rarely if ever be invoked.

Clause 3(5) sets out the statutory ingredients of a transfer scheme. First, the description of the property to be transferred is required in such a way that the transfer scheme when approved can provide good title to the property. Second, so long as the development corporation or the Commission for the New Towns retains an interest in the successful development of the town it is appropriate that it should also retain rights to nominate tenants—not least, to ensure that industrialists' needs for homes for workers are met.

Third, a transfer scheme must include a statement on financial arrangements. Fourth, a scheme must include arrangements which properly safeguard the interests of the staff concerned.

In addition to considering these points when deciding whether to approve a scheme, the Secretary of State will also have regard to the general stage of development of a particular town and, where the partial transfer of housing is being proposed, he will consider not only the financial effects of the proposed scheme in relation to the houses being transferred but also the effect on the remaining housing stock owned by the development corporation.

Already people living in the first generation new towns have read articles in their local newspapers and know that something is happening. What we want to make sure of is that they know as soon as possible exactly how they will be affected. So Clause 10 provides for a notification procedure to be adopted by the development corporation both at the beginning of the exercise, when corporation and council start to make a transfer scheme, and at the end of the exercise, when the scheme has been approved. We shall look to the development corporation, with the aid of the local authority, to make sure that each family is kept fully informed at every stage and is not left to speculate about changes which may or may not happen.

In recent years we have taken every opportunity to bring the development corporations and local authorities closer together. More members of local authorities have therefore been appointed to the boards of development corporations. But the size of development corporations is limited by Section 2 of the 1965 Act to seven ordinary members plus the chairman and deputy chairman—nine in all. This limitation in a few cases frustrates the creation of a board with a sensible mixture of local involvement and appropriate expertise. So Clause 14 proposes that the number of ordinary members on a board may be increased from seven to 11. Where it is intended to increase the size of an existing development corporation the power to vary an Order contained in Section 50(3) of the New Towns Act 1965 will be used.

It is not intended to use the power to increase the size of a board indiscriminately, but the provision will be useful, for example, in those instances where there are so many local authorities involved that it is not at present possible to combine adequate local authority membership with sufficient people of industrial, commercial or professional experience.

Mr, Michael Latham (Melton)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, could he say whether he intends to use his power to change the balance of local authority representation on the Corporation of the New Towns, because that is something on which the Environment Sub-Committee had a good deal to say?

Mr. Silkin

I paid a tribute to the Sub-Committee's Report, although that does not mean that I agree with every detail of it. I think I would take the hon. Gentleman with me if I said that as a town gets more and more towards completion, so those who will, eventually at any rate, take over the housing must be more and more in a position to be the governors of it—but not exclusively so, as long as development takes place. Their basis is, of course, a management one. It happens that a number of new towns, particularly the larger ones—and to avoid being invidious I shall not name the new towns, but the hon. Gentleman can work it out for himself—span the borders of a number of district councils. One of the difficulties I find with the old basis of numbers on the board, which goes back to the 1946 Act, is in trying my best to be fair and balanced to all those who are concerned in it. That is the basis of this Clause.

One of the most important features of the Bill is the financial basis of transfer. The financial arrangements and provision for the payment of grants to local authorities are dealt with in Clauses 8 and 9. The basis of transfer will be outstanding loan debt.

Local authorities will have the benefit of the lower costs both of building and of borrowing money which obtained when the houses were built, and will be taking over in some cases only about two thirds of the original debt, the rest having already been paid off. Transfer of housing assets at outstanding loan debt is in short fair to tenants and to local authorities.

I should like to refer briefly to the question of rents—although my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will deal with this later as necessary. After transfer, rents will of course be a matter for the individual local authorities to decide. At present, new town corporations and the Commission receive housing subsidies on broadly the same basis as local authorities.

After transfer, so long as the present general housing subsidy system continues, the local authorities will continue to receive the subsidies on the same basis as the corporation or Commission would have received them had they retained the housing. If the present subsidy system were changed following the report of the current housing finance review, consideration would need to be given in any new subsidy system to the position of authorities to which new town houses had been transferred.

Where there are differences between corporation and council rents within a new town, it will be for individual local authorities to decide whether they wish to equalise between the two when the corporation housing has been transferred. But, in addition to the normal Exchequer housing subsidies, most new towns at present receive grant under Section 42 of the New Towns Act 1965. This will of course cease when the houses are transferred. However, this should not cause alarm.

If at the end of transfer there remains a large gap between costs and rents-plus-subsidy, and if filling this gap would impose "an undue financial burden" on the council, there is power in the Bill for the Secretary of State with the consent of the Treasury to pay grant to the council to relieve this burden either in whole or in part. In other words, if the transfer itself results in an undue burden on either tenants or local ratepayers, the Bill proposes that the Secretary of State should have discretion to give relief by way of grant for such period as he may determine.

Because the future of housing finance and, indeed, local government finance generally is too uncertain, I am afraid that I cannot give undertakings at this stage as to the amount or duration of any transitional grant. But our objective will be to ease the transition to the point where the transferred houses are fully integrated under the local authority's housing stock.

This transfer and integration of houses will inevitably have to be matched by a transfer and integration of staff. I have visited a large number of new towns now, and in all these towns I have been impressed by the energy, imagination and, above all, devotion to the ideals of the new towns which motivate the staff of the corporations. None of this energy, none of this imagination, must be lost in the changes which lie ahead, and I am glad to put it firmly on record again that the Government are determined to secure the interests of the staff. Each transfer scheme will therefore include information abut the effect on existing staff and the proposals for staffing arrangements immediately after the scheme comes into force.

The Bill also contains some basic provisions in Clause 12 for the protection of employees and, in the making of regulations under it, we shall have the advantage of advice from the New Towns Staff Commission for which provision is made in Clause 13. Pending Parliament's approval of the Bill, the Government propose to establish an Advisory Committee.

The Chairman of this Advisory Committee and the Chairman-Designate of the Staff Commission will be Sir Richard Hay-ward, who was Chairman of the National Health Service Staff Commission from 1972 to 1975. I also propose to appoint two other members—Baroness Fisher of Rednal, a former Member of this House, who is a member of the Warrington Development Corporation and has long experience as an elected member in local government, and Mr. Philip Vine, a member of the Telford Development Corporation and a former Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council.

I know that the Advisory Committee will approach its task realistically and with understanding of the natural anxieties felt by people whose working habits, working environment and employers are likely to change.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

I am especially concerned with this point about the Staff Commission. When does my right hon. Friend expect to be able to publish the regulations under which the Staff Commission or, before it, the Advisory Committee will operate?

Mr. Silkin

As soon as possible after Royal Assent. I assure my hon. Friend that the gentleman in charge of the actual drafting is known affectionately as "Little Lightning Flash".

Equally, I know that we can rely on the good sense of the parties, particularly local authorities as the main new employer, to see that the interests of staff whose jobs are affected are handled sympathetically and that recruitment policies are followed which minimise individual cases of potential hardship.

I have not attempted to deal so far with the Opposition's amendment. This is mainly because I have as little idea what it means as the Opposition themselves. If it means that the Bill should provide that the Secretary of State may on occasion allow dwellings to be sold to sitting tenants, Clause 3(4)(a) provides exactly that. If it means anything else, I await, like the rest of us, with impatient anticipation the dialectical treasures in store for us when the hon. member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) explains exactly what it does mean. In either event, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will no doubt be able to deal with it at a later stage.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

The right hon. Gentleman referred to Clause 3(4)(a), which I intended to raise later in the debate. It is not clear. It talks about disposing "to some other person". Does that leave the door open to sales to sitting tenants?

Mr. Silkin

It leaves the door open to sales to anyone other than district councils, as the Secretary of State may direct, and, if the case of the hon. Member for Aylesbury is as good as all that, I cannot understand why he hides it under a bushel.

The Bill which we are debating today not only redeems the pledges given in Labour's manifesto; it recognises and fulfils the basic ideals which lay behind the New Towns Act of 1946. That Act created the new towns. This Bill starts the process of giving them to the people who live in them.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to provide any right for New Town tenants to purchase their homes. Like the Minister, I believe that this Bill marks an important stage in the development of the new towns. I believe, too, that on balance the new towns represent a considerable achievement in our life. By and large, they are becoming attractive places in which to live. However, I should qualify that by saying that I still belong to the school which says that they are attractive places in which to live as long as it is someone else who does the living. I cannot say that I have any desire to move to a new town. But I recognise that they have fulfilled very many of the purposes put forward for them when they were first started. In particular, they have served to house a fairly substantial number of people efficiently and with a reasonable degree of rapidity.

The development corporations have shown that they are able to get a move on. That is essentially the justification for the development corporations, and overall they can be congratulated on having brought that about. I have some reservations about the housing mix in the new towns, to which I shall refer later. As the Minister indicated, however, the corporations have shown quite a bit of imagination over the years, and in many cases they have tried to achieve some sort of social balance between the different forms of housing which their towns contain.

It is becoming increasingly necessary to look at the state of the new towns programme as a whole. Earlier in the year I asked the right hon. Gentleman for a statement about this. His answer on 23rd January said: Recent changes in demographic projections, if sustained, could affect the new and expanded town programme in the longer term. Over the next decade or two, however, this programme will reflect the housing needs of people already born. My right hon. Friend is keeping the position under review in the light of all relevant factors."—[Official Report, 23rd January 1976; Vol 903, c. 609.] I am not sure that answer is wholly sufficient. There are now real doubts about some aspects of the programme, and many people have raised the particular question of whether the plan is not robbing London, Liverpool, Manchester and other places of skilled population and economic vitality. I know that the recent review of the Strategic Plan for the South-East questioned this assumption and claimed that there was no basis for it, but there is more to it than this and it needs examination.

In particular we have to look, and the Government have to look, at the question of whether the Central Lancashire New Town is fully justified. The House will know that it covers the Preston-Leyland-Chorley area, entailing a doubling of the present population to a figure of about 430,000 by the end of the century. I find from my experience that more and more people are asking whether this development really makes sense. I have not come to a view about it myself but I believe that the Government have to face this, because there is a lot of anxiety on the question.

I would add that it is disappointing that we have not yet had a reply from the Government to the Report of the Expenditure Committee, to which reference has already been made. I know that the Committee did not report all that long ago and that the celerity with which Governments reply to Expenditure Committee Reports is not exactly outstanding. The collective indolence of Governments in this respect is appalling, but it would have been rather helpful as a background to this debate if we could have had the observations of the Government on that very valuable Report.

I know, however, that the Under-Secretary who normally covers local government matters—the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes)—told my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) in a letter last year that In any event it seems likely that the Report and the Government's response to it will in fact be debated in the House". I hope that I can take that as at least a promise that when the Government respond to the Report we can expect to have a debate in this House about new town strategy generally, because it is very important. We particularly need to know the Government's long-term view. To be fair, the Minister said a little about it in the course of his speech. We need to have on record some idea of whether the Government regard the Commission as a permanent, or at least indefinite, feature of the scene. From what the Minister said about it today, it sounded as if the Commission is seen as a fixture.

Mr. John Silkin

Perhaps I might short-circuit this a little. It is a very proper question not directly related to this particular matter. We see the rôle of the Commission perhaps as changing—that is really the basic point—to one of management of the various commercial and industrial assets.

Mr. Raison

That is helpful but it is something we would like to see developed and argued more fully in a subsequent debate.

We would also like a fuller discussion on what is intended about the transfer of other, non-housing assets to local authorities, to which there has been reference. I believe that there is a very good case for selling off some of these assets. I do not see why the freehold of some industrial premises should not be put on the market—[Interruption]—particularly when the Government have brought our national finances to such a parlous condition. I would have thought that they could do with the money. That is a further point that needs to be discussed. There is another point that I should like to put to the Minister, though not for immediate reply. It seems to me that it is now time to think about extending to new towns the rôle of the local government Ombudsman. I cannot see any case in logic why that should not be done.

I want to refer more specifically to the Bill. As the House knows, it has two aims: first to transfer housing assets, and secondly to increase the size of the development corporations. The question of the transfer of housing assets is not, in my view, an easy problem. I know that a number of my hon. Friends and people outside this House still have considerable reservations about the principle. I believe that many people are dubious about the risks of creating municipal housing monoliths or near-monoliths. Our amendment, to which I shall come later, reflects this feeling to some extent.

Although the balance between the private and public sectors has, on and off anyway, been the theoretical objective in the new towns for much of their life, at present it is quite clear that the balance is heavily tipped in the direction of the public sector. I do not believe that the overwhelming domination of any one area by one particular form of housing is right. It is a serious weakness where the local authority housing swamps the rest, and it is one of the risks in the Bill that this will come about. There is a risk of paternalism and lack of choice. There is a risk that the municipal hand will be fairly deadening.

Secondly, we have to look at the question whether some of the local authorities—the district councils—will always, or at any rate initially, have the ability to manage the very big housing stock which they will have as a result of the Bill. I am not saying that some do not already have substantial housing programmes of their own, but it must be true that in other cases they are fairly inexperienced and perhaps unlikely to be very strong in housing management. Therefore, there is already a risk that when they get this substantial increase the quality of management of housing could perhaps fall.

Thirdly, I doubt whether some local authorities are as imaginative and flexible in their approach to housing management and to handling housing generally as, by and large, the development corporations have been.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)

Some aspects of the hon. Gentleman's remarks are very worth while, but one is bound to ask why, apart from his dislike for living in a new town, he should think that the local councils are less imaginative than those elsewhere. So far, the comparison has been in relation to councils and development corporations. Why should councils in new towns be less well managed or less well organised than those in other parts of the country?

Mr. Raison

The direct comparison is with development corporations but it is true in some areas, because the great bulk of the housing will have been in the hands of the development corporations, that the local authority which will inherit a programme may not have the resources and the experience. Therefore, I believe that it is a real problem. Certainly, it is one which has been reported to me.

Mr. Michael Latham

I believe that this matter is related to a Question I asked about whether a new town corporation, if it does not have local authority overall representation, was able to have a broader view than the local authority itself of the national housing problem.

Mr. Raison

That is a valid point which my hon. Friend is likely to develop in the course of the debate. In many cases the development corporations have shown flexibility and imagination in their approach to the housing pattern in their areas. They have been willing to think in terms of co-operatives and so on and have had a good deal to contribute. They have had very lively people working for them in many cases, and those lively people have made an important contribution.

Fourthly, there is a feeling among some people that this move may be premature and that the overall programme needs to go further before this measure is really necessary. I would certainly stress that the transfer in particular cases should not be rushed. It is basically the intention of the Bill that the transfer should normally occur at the point of fulfilment, or whatever one may call it, and to rush it would be a great error. The Minister said that there were opportunities for earlier transfer. It would be a great error to overuse such opportunities. In other words, transfer should take place only when a development is really ripe for it.

Fifthly, some of my hon. Friends take the view that it is questionable whether taxpayers' assets should be handed over to particular, fortunate groups of ratepayers. Whether this will result in a plus or a minus on the rates is something we shall probe, but inherent in what the right hon. Gentleman said was the fact that this cannot hit ratepayers. I am not sure about this, but there is a feeling that there is no special reason why a national asset which has been advanced from national funds should be distributed to selected groups of ratepayers across the country when not all ratepayers have that particular benefit. This hinges on the question of the financial implications of the Bill, to which I shall return.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

At the same time as he takes such strong objection to the local ratepayers having these assets, is the hon. Gentleman prepared to sell them off on the sort of terms that have been applied in the past? If so, does that not show a strange disparity of judgment as between ratepayers and people who are concerned only with profit?

Mr. Raison

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman to some extent. I have said that I am reflecting the views of a number of my hon. Friends and people outside the House. It is reasonable for an Opposition spokesman to air those views in such a debate. I was about to say that I support the principle behind the Bill, but it would not be a very good debate if we did not talk about those matters, particularly as I suspect that there will be no great rush in the conduct of our proceedings.

In spite of the reservations I have expressed, therefore, I believe that the first principle of the Bill is right. I do not believe that we should have permanently a clutch of Government-controlled towns, which is essentially what new towns are. They should be normalised, with the normal provision for local government and for different patterns of ownership. There may be difficulties, but I am confident that local government is capable of doing the job of running the new towns, and particularly new town housing. Local democracy rather than Government-appointed corporations is the right vehicle for that, and the Bill is a definite step in that direction.

Naturally, the local authority associations take that view. The Association of District Councils, which is the one most concerned with the Bill, certainly takes it in principle. It is appalling that that Association and other bodies should not have been able to see the Bill until a day or so ago. We know that there are difficulties, but there has been a minimum of time in which to read the Bill, as opposed to the consultation papers which preceded it. It is very unsatisfactory that we should have so little time. When I asked the Association for its comments, it said that it had not seen the Bill.

The Association of County Councils, although not directly concerned, is sympathetic to the view that local authorities should hold local assets. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities takes a rather austere view. It is not prepared to tell anybody except its vice-presidents what it thinks about the matter, and certainly it is not prepared to tell Opposition spokesmen. That makes life a little difficult. I am not sure whether it is prepared to tell the Minister what it thinks. I only hope that one of its vice-presidents is here for the debate.

I think that on balance the local authority associations are right, although I also think that local government must recognise that if it acquires the assets it has an obligation to handle them effectively and sensitively, and particularly to dispel the fear of a paternalist quasi-monopolist landlord. It must recognise that in the new towns the need is for as much choice and variety as possible, and particularly the maximum stimulus to home ownership.

I come to our amendment. The Bill gives a splendid opportunity to encourage home ownership. We believe that new town tenants, just like council tenants, should have the right to buy their houses. The Minister said that he did not understand the amendment. He must understand the meaning of "right", which is that one is entitled to buy one's house. It is a simple proposition even if it is one with which the right hon. Gentleman disagrees.

The exact way in which that right should be exercised is a matter that we shall pursue in Committee, but the principle is clear. It is likely that the right should be exercised before transfer takes place. That would be the natural time, but that too is a matter to argue in more detail in Committee. What is important today is to establish the principle.

It is interesting that reinforcement for my objective—the right of council tenants or new town tenants to acquire their own homes—comes from two different quarters. The Building Societies Association has issued a statement, and I quote from the report on it in today's issue of The Guardian by Judy Hillman, who says: Council tenants should be allowed to buy their present homes and local authorities should encourage others to move out into owner-occupation to free their publicly-owned flats and houses for people in greater need, according to the Building Societies Association. 'It seems strange that with so many council tenants wishing to become owner-occupiers, one-half of the resources of the building industry are currently going into council building,' says the BSA evidence to the Government's housing finance review. … The BSA backs its council homes sales policy by pointing to the evidence that about 70 per cent. of households would like to own rather than rent, compared with 53 per cent. at present. The trend has in recent years been satisfied not merely by new building but by transfers from the privately-rented sector. In time this source must dry up, which, unless councils sell, must mean increased pressure on the pool of homes for sale and higher prices, together with a gradual excess of council housing over demand—unless rents are kept very low.

Mr. Corbett

I am sure that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will not subscribe to the plea, inherent in the Building Societies Association's statement, for the establishment of public housing ghettos. Does he not recognise that there is a fundamental difference between the Commission for the New Towns and local authorities? It is many years since the Commission built any housing, apart from housing for elderly people, so the stock would diminish.

Mr. Raison

I am not clear about the second point, but the Bill treats the Commission and the development corporations together. I believe that in the new towns, as in ordinary local authority housing, an overwhelming advantage is to be derived from allowing people to purchase their council houses.

I wish to quote next a very different source. Mr. Frank Field, director of the Child Poverty Action Group, has produced a pamphlet called "Do We Need Council Houses?", published today by the Catholic Housing Aid Society. I am sure that the Minister has already studied it or that he will do so very shortly. The pamphlet says: there is a growing sourness in the council estates themselves as tenants become more and more aware of the extent of the serfdom imposed upon them by their council tenancies. He adds that there should be detailed consideration of making over the whole of public sector housing to the tenants". Mr. Field produces some interesting arguments, which come from perhaps a rather surprising source. He stresses that they come from a Left-wing source, and he makes no bones about his politics.

The Government—including the Minister for Housing and Construction, whom I am pleased to see present—should seriously consider what is coming from the Left, even if they are sometimes not very keen overtly on listening to what comes from the Right. I do not want now to go into detailed consideration of what Mr. Field says. The passage I have quoted shows that the belief in owner-occupation of present-day public housing is by no means a Tory prerogative.

The House today has a clear chance to vindicate the principle that Mr. Field and I advocate. He makes a particularly important point when he talks about the need to spread wealth and power throughout the community. That is a sound pluralist sentiment with which I am in full-hearted agreement.

The case in principle for our amendment is very strong. By contrast, the Government have blocked the sale of new town houses. It is appalling that the Minister did not even refer to his own policy on the matter. In 1970 the last Conservative Government gave development corporations the power to sell at 20 per cent. below market value. In 1972 more than 15,500 such houses were sold, and in 1973 more than 7,250 were sold. Then a circular was issued by the present Government on 5th September 1974 banning the sale of new town houses. It was the height of doctrinaire folly, and I only hope that Ministers who have said that they will review the matter will ensure that the ban is lifted immediately.

I hope that Ministers will also be prepared to encourage the spread of Housing Corporation-backed properties in the new towns. As well as allowing for the sale of new town houses to sitting tenants, we should also give a stimulus to housing association activities as part of the process of transferring assets.

The balance in new towns is unsatisfactory. At the end of 1974 there were 141,762 homes managed by development corporations and the Commission, 108,235 homes managed by local authorities in those areas and only 33,918 homes built by the development corporations in owner-occupation. That shows the enormous discrepancy between public and private sector housing in the new towns and is quite contrary to the spirit of the whole movement.

In the early new towns, the proportion of owner-occupation is particularly low. It is rather better in the later towns, where new development has been joined on to substantial existing towns. In Harlow only 20 per cent. of all housing is privately owned and in Hemel Hempstead only one-seventh of the total housing stock built by the development corporation is owner-occupied. In Peter-lee only 908 houses are privately owned, compared with 6,800 rented homes. This cannot seem right to anybody unless he has a complete Clay Cross mentality.

There are a number of other significant points which must be considered, including the definition of assets. Clause 1(3)(g) is not satisfactory. There is no reason why we should not have a schedule to the Bill defining more clearly the assets to be transferred. As Clause 1 stands, the Secretary of State can specify the assets to be transferred. This is not good enough.

There has to be an Order to set out the provisions of Clause 1(3)(g), but Orders do not give us a proper chance to debate a matter, particularly if they are taken under the negative resolution procedure. We should have a schedule to define housing-related assets.

Should housing-related assets include shops and garages? It should be possible to argue these points in Committee. In many cases, the right answer will be to sell the freeholds. I hope that the Government will be reasonable and see the force of our argument.

We must also consider the financial considerations. The scheme in Clauses 8 and 9 is broadly reasonable unless one takes the view of some of my hon. Friends that we are transferring national assets to local groups, but we need information on what is at stake. For instance, what is the rough size of the assets in each town? What will be the consequences for the ratepayer and the Exchequer?

The Minister said a little to clarify these points, but this is a complicated matter and it was not easy to take in his statement. We need a clearer idea from the Government of the effect of their proposals on local and national balance sheets. In particular, we should have a full explanation of the Clause 9 provision for temporary grants while new town housing is assimilated with other council housing. We also need information on the levels of new town and local authority rents in the same district. Are new town rents higher or lower? What will happen when the new town housing is assimilated?

We all understand the need to look after the interests of staff properly, and I suppose that a New Town Staff Commission may be an effective way of doing it. That was the approach used in local government reorganisation, but we must learn lessons from that reorganisation. If this exercise results in duplications and widespread upgradings, it will not be generally acceptable. We all know what happened in the local government reorganisation.

Mr. John Silkin

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. This is an important point which we should make clear to the staff. Section 260 of the Local Government Act dealt with a situation where 1,200 local authorities were to be reduced to just over 400. There were bound to be enormous redundancies. In the present case, this is not so. We are dealing with the same number of housing units and the same number of new towns.

Mr. Raison

I see that it is a different situation, but there will be a merging of development corporation or Commission housing with local authority housing and it should be possible—and must be desirable—to achieve economies of scale in that operation with a single integrated management.

I am asking for an assurance that the protection of the staff will not be the only consideration. We want an assurance—I accept that this did not happen satisfactorily under local government reorganisation—that there will be efficient and economic management. There was nothing in the Minister's speech which gave us any guarantee on this important aspect.

The local authorities which will be the new employers have a big responsibility. They will be faced with the problem of having available new managers who, in many cases, may be of a higher quality than their own. These authorities have a duty not only to defend their own people but to look at the quality of the people coming to them and ensure that they get the best and that jobs are not given on the principle of Buggins' turn. It is vital not to create bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake.

It therefore seems slightly Parkinsonian that at the time we are proposing to hand over a chunk of operations to local authorities we should be increasing the size of development corporations. It is rather like Parkinson's famous statement that every time we lose a ship we gain an admiral.

I accept that there must be a reasonable mix in the management of development corporations, but this must be justified by the Government in Committee. Of course, there is not a great deal of public expenditure at stake. We are talking only about part-time members for a number of corporations, not about sabotaging the whole Exchequer, but it is right to look prudently at any increase in public expenditure.

Despite the reservations of many people I believe that the principle of the Bill is acceptable, but we need the maximum encouragement of home ownership on social and economic grounds alike.

I ask the House to support our amendment in the Lobby tonight.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Basildon)

The House should compliment my right hon. Friend the Minister on having shown tremendous determination in the Labour Party, in the House, and, no doubt, in other places in making sure that we have the Bill. It has also required a considerable exercise in patience on the part of many of my hon. Friends. It was a demonstration in the classic tradition of waiting for Godot. We have been pro- mised the Bill for many a year. I would add that there is a considerable amount of support for the Bill in the Labour Party and in many of the new towns. People are interested in the type of organisational structure and decision-making which my right hon. Friend mentioned in presenting the Bill.

New towns are unique, and that gives them strength in the way houses and jobs are related. The Bill attempts to transfer a major aspect of decision-making from a development corporation to the local council. This is a remarkable occasion. Hon. Members who are not particularly interested in new town life fail to recognise the important aspect of social change which new towns represent. Of course, the subject does not have the political overtones that can fill the House, but the Bill is an important development in recognising social change involving many levels of consultation and participation. The Bill ensures that people in new towns will have the same rights as people in the rest of the country.

New towns are not insignificant in population. They are big business. If I resent anything in the speech made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), it is that, although he took into account many aspects, including his amendment, he was unable to understand the spirit or the wavelength of new towns. That is an impediment which he should overcome if he wants to remain on the Opposition Front Bench.

New towns fulfil an important part of housing policy. We are talking about 2¼ million people in 33 new towns. We are talking about the eight new towns in the London ring—including my own new town of Basildon—with a total population of half a million. We are talking about the other new towns throughout the rest of England with a population of 1 million, the two new towns in Wales with a population of 52,000 and the new towns in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The total population is thus nearly 2¼ million. There are new towns in every part of the country, and they include developments and scale of every conceivable kind. Some have been established on existing towns and others have replaced shanty-town dwellings. Yet they all reflect an important part of housing policy.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury misjudges the mood of the new towns. I am surprised that he moved an amendment at all to the Bill. I recall the useful and constructive discussions in the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). Naturally there were arguments about the way in which the new towns should develop, but I regret that this occasion should be used to divert attention from the central core of the Bill to the old political knockabout, in which both sides have engaged in the past, by bringing in the question of the sale of council houses.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the central core is what shall happen to the tenant? We are, after all, primarily concerned with the tenant, and it is for that reason that my hon. Friend moved his amendment.

Mr. Moonman

There are many reasons why amendments are put down, as there are many motives why two- and three-line Whips are issued. No doubt we shall have a full House at 10 o'clock, but that is not reflected in the Chamber at the moment. I am not quite so naïve as to imagine that the amendment was put down only in relation to the rights of the new town tenant. Of course the tenant family is critical in the new town and therefore the Bill is concerned to see that the individual tenant shall have the right which is given to every other person in the country—namely to elect and reject those who take decisions for him. In other words, if people do not like what the local council is doing, they get rid of the local council. Of course development corporations have done a fine job for their communities in the main, but we are considering other issues today.

I am somewhat disturbed about the statement by the Opposition spokesman that he is in favour of selling off shops and industrial complexes to private developers. We had experience of that in Basildon New Town when a shopping precinct was sold. That was a disastrous step. It certainly did not reflect the needs of the community. A few people made a lot of money in the short term but did nothing to fulfil the requirements of a new town.

New towns are unique because their reputation is world-wide. They have been examined by industrialised nations such as the United States and Japan. The new town of Columbia, for instance, in the United States attempted to put into practice some of the ideas of our new towns. New towns are also attractive to underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa. We tend to take them for granted and forget how widely respected are the principles which underlie the new towns. They are exciting places to live in.

However successful the first 30 years have been, we have to look to the future. I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury that there should be an opportunity to examine the whole strategy of the new towns and where they are going. I should like to think that the Select Committee made a contribution in that direction. We must consider new town development in the context of the country's total housing, industrial and environmental strategy. I welcome the Bill, but it is not within its province to correlate those three aspects. Just as the responsibilities of the Department of the Environment involve planning, housing and transport, we should be able to ensure that in the new towns there is an identity of interest in these various aspects.

One of the main aims in the new towns must be to keep housing and employment within balance. This is recognised in the various periods which it is suggested elapse before the balance is completed, Over the past decade that balance has not been achieved wihin the existing new towns, largely because there have been no special incentives to get manufacturing industry into new towns unless they are in development areas. That is what I mean when I say that new town development must be seen in terms of a total strategy. Houses without jobs make nonsense of planning, and so also do jobs without houses.

The housing responsibility of the new towns is twofold. It is to accommodate newcomers from inner city areas and to accommodate the second generation. If the second generation is to become the responsibility of the local authority without careful handling there may be some resentment. I hope that reference will be made before the end of the debate to the rôle of the industrial selection scheme which operates in London and the way in which the exporting authorities will be able to continue to arrange agreements wtih new towns, should they choose to.

It is quite clear to me that, once the scheme has been completed, that must mean the end of the formal arrangement between the exporting authority, London, and, say, a new town such as Basildon. It would be extremely useful to hear from the Front Bench this evening exactly what is meant by the phasing out in regard to the old exporting authority agreements.

Next, how far have the new towns succeeded in creating real communities? In terms of shops, houses, schools, factories and offices, there are enormous operations involving a capital expenditure of over £14 million. In material terms the environment in the new towns is excellent, but all too often a sense of community is lacking.

There are many reasons for this. There is the reluctance of the older generation to move out of the cities, creating a gap in the social or home environment between those who have gone into the new town and the parents who have been left behind, perhaps in London. There is a very considerable responsibility on the part of the new councils to deal with this problem.

It is to the credit of the development corporations that some of them have tried to understand the complex problems emerging from this extraordinary switch in the life of a family. Quite willingly, young couples and their children have been uprooted and moved perhaps 30 to 40 miles from their traditional home area. Any way of bringing the older people closer to the new town is worth analysing and pursuing.

Then there is the lack of adequate transportation to the shopping centres and to the recreational facilities in the new towns. This has also contributed to the lack of a sense of environment. In developing new towns, we have to think about what is left behind. If there is to be a serious discussion at all, perhaps it will come up in Committee, but more likely it will be on the occasion of another debate to consider the strategy of new towns. Certainly we should examine the way in which the older communities in the cities have tackled the refurbishing of their environment.

Those of us who are deeply committed to new towns must have regard to the state of the cities left behind. One of the main purposes of Ebenezer Howard's garden cities was the reordering of the cities whose populations were driven out. This is a crucial part of any debate on new towns. We want to ensure that the environment is right and that the opportunities are right in the new towns, but we also have to reflect on the needs of the old cities.

In Paris the thinking on this type of thinning out has been translated into action, but in Britain it has still not yet been done. There has been no more than a late mention in the Layfield Report on the Greater London Development Plan.

The development of the vast areas opened up by the demolition of hundreds of acres of slums in Liverpool, as well as in London, is too big a burden and problem for the city authorities. We need an authority with the powers of a development corporation to plan the housing, shops, open spaces and recreational facilities, so that these areas may live again. But it is a preliminary measure and should be seen as such.

Within the context of the Bill there are two matters that I should like to raise with the Minister. The first concerns staff. He will not be surprised if other hon. Members also speak on this issue. I am sure that, as the Minister pointed out, we want to establish a proper formula so that there is adequate security for all concerned. There is a feeling among the staff that they should have every facility and opportunity to work within the new structure.

Clause 12(4) states: The Secretary of State shall make regulations under section 24 of the Superannuation Act 1972". As I understand the Bill, it does not provide compensation in line with the Crombie formula, nor is it in line with the compensation paid to local authority staff on the reorganisation. I am aware that certain assurances have been given on this, but it would be helpful if we could have some statement tonight.

Another aspect requiring qualification is Clause 9, concerning district councils and the types of grants which would be available. This again will become a contentious issue. It may be a Committee point, but I should have thought we should be prepared to talk a little now on the question of grants to district councils and how the operate in the short term.

In giving support to the Bill I recognise that it is the result of a lot of hard work, and of the effects of many Members of Parliament—and, elsewhere in the Labour Party—to maintain a pledge. But perhaps it is more than that. It is an attempt in the form of a Bill to ensure that people involved in new towns do not have to suffer the impediment or handicap of being second-rate citizens. They are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as people living in other communities. I should not want this to be minimised.

It would be a great pity if because of the Opposition amendment we lost sight of the significance of the philosophy behind the Bill. I wish that all of us on both sides of the House could forget the amendment for the rest of the debate. It is far more impotrant to concentrate our time and thought on the most complex matter of living in and organising new towns. Many of the problems have been overcome but there are still matters that require to be dealt with.

I do not think that the creation of the single authority will cause quite the anxiety that has been suggested. What it means is that a lot of people will start asking questions. Already my colleagues and I can give evidence of the fact that constituents in the new towns have a desire to know what the transfer will mean for them—whether for the development corporation tenant there will be an increase in the rent, and what is to be the position of the people in council houses as compared with those in corporation houses.

There is a powerful demand for information. My right hon. Friend correctly mentioned this. When major decisions are made in industry and business, or when there is anything comparable to a merger, the most careful consideration needs to be given to communication and consultation. The need applies equally in the context of new towns at this time. Anyone who imagines that this can be done cheaply, or that it is relatively unimportant, is making a great mistake.

If there is a single sentence of caution and advice to give to the councils and boards which will soon have this responsibility, it is that they ought to ensure that they devote an increasing amount of time to providing full and intelligent communication to all who are affected. What is required is basic information about what it will mean to the people concerned over a period of 10 to 15 years. The councils and boards ought to have the wit and insight to understand that it is not only information for this generation that is required but information for the next generation as well.

I welcome the Bill and am pleased that it has come up in this form and at this time so that we have a reasonable chance of seeing it on the statute book before the Summer Recess.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (High Peak)

I want to speak not to what is in the Bill but to what is not in the Bill. The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), in his very useful contribution, said that new towns were unique. I do not believe that new towns are unique. I believe that any large collection of houses out of which a community is formed has exactly the same problems.

I should like to address the House specifically on the problem of overspill. Whether we are talking of hundreds of thousands of people or about a community of 4,000 people, as in my constituency, they are people facing the same problems—housing and employment problems, as the hon. Member mentioned, and the need for a community feeling. The same problems arise in each kind of community. I am certain that the Minister, with his inherited talent, will be able at a later stage of the Bill to bring in the problem of overspill.

I should like to refer to the overspill problem at Gamesley on the Derbyshire moors. There, 1,000 ft above their native Manchester and 15 to 20 miles away from it, are 4,000 people living not where they wanted, but in an isolated community. What chance do they have of being assimilated into the local community?

Their estate is not owned and run by the local authority in whose area they live. It is run and managed from Manchester. They have no contact with the High Peak council. The only contact is the informal liaison at councillor and officer level. The tenants on these sites are virtually disfranchised. They have no representatives on the Manchester authority which runs their lives and which is responsible for the money for their estate.

However, the High Peak local authority is responsible if anyone on the estate is evicted. It has to rehouse children who grow up and move away from home but remain in the area. Manchester assumes no responsibility for that and there is no guarantee that the Manchester authority will do so.

An information service has been formed in Manchester. High Peak has constantly fought for greater involvement with the estate, but, sadly, it is unlikely that Manchester will agree to it. The city did not take advantage of the 1974 Act. Surely this means that the Minister must ensure that the High Peak authority should act as agent, or that there should be a joint area housing committee, or a joint consultative committee.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who put so clearly and concisely the case for people being able to buy council houses. We in High Peak operate such a system. Manchester does not. Therefore, it would be difficult to operate such an agency for the overspill estate.

That need not represent an impenetrable barrier, but this is a serious social problem. If these people are to be assimilated into the local community, the estate must be run on a local basis with the tenants enjoying local representation. As the generations pass, they must be integrated into the community in which they live. Many of those involved now are unhappy and feel that they still live in Manchester.

We realise that Manchester, with its vast housing problem and it's homeless, must go on nominating people to these estates, but that would not stop the local authority in whose area they are situated from running the estates. I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides whose constituencies contain overspill estates. We all know the problem of assimilating and integrating people into a local community when they are disfranchised.

This afternoon the Minister said "Give the towns to the people who live in them". I say that what is right for the new towns is right for the overspill towns and estates. It is only by full participation in the areas in which they live that these people can truly be made to feel at home. I therefore ask the Minister in the name of humanity to include clauses in the Bill which will do for the people in overspill estates what he is seeking to do for those in new towns.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) has raised the interesting issue of the rights of people in overspill towns. If he feels it necessary to appeal in the name of humanity for those people to be covered by the Bill, he should at least support the principle of the Bill and vote with us tonight to apply that principle to the people in the new towns.

Mr. Le Marchant

I shall certainly vote for the Bill provided we have an assurance that it will give tenants the right to buy their houses.

Mr. Newens

I shall not pursue that. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman), I warmly welcome the Bill because it embodies a major aspect of a principle with which I have been concerned for more than 20 years. I not only have the privilege of representing Harlow but I have seen it develop from its inception. I knew the area before the new town was designated. I have watched the town grow and I now live in it.

I say to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), whose supercilious approach shocked me, that he should take a closer look at new towns and he might then not feel it necessary to deal with them so disdainfully. He began by saying that new towns were a good idea but that he did not wish to live in one. He suggested that they should sell off all their industrial assets. He then cast aspersions on the ability of new town local authorities to manage their housing adequately. Then he suggested selling off the houses to the tenants.

Does the hon. Member realise, living as he does in a superior residential quarter, that the real problem facing people living in new towns is to obtain houses to rent? The sale of new town houses to sitting tenants would at least lengthen, and in some cases double, the waiting time of those who do not command the financial resources to buy their own homes. In those circumstances, there should be strong objection to selling off new town housing to sitting tenants.

There is, of course, no objection to people buying their own homes, but houses for sale were built in Harlow and other new towns. There is no objection to sitting tenants moving out and buying property elsewhere. If the absolute right of tenants to buy their homes is so important, why have the Conservatives not introduced a Bill to give tenants in privately rented accommodation the right to buy their homes from the private landlords? That would seem to me quite consistent with their argument.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Since the hon. Member has personal experience of new towns, which I have not, can he say what is the waiting list at Harlow for new properties? Has he any figures for other new towns, such as Milton Keynes?

Mr. Newens

If the hon. Member wants a serious reply to that question, I can obtain it for him, but I should not like to give it off the cuff. The number of people in the new towns who require houses to rent is very much greater than those who require houses to buy. The latter group experiences no difficulty in Harlow or the locality provided they have the necessary finance, and I imagine that the same situation applies in many other new towns.

I turn to the real purpose of the Bill. We must remember that the original intention of the 1945 Labour Government, who created new towns, was to transfer the assets to the local authorities. My right hon. Friend's father said: it is the intention when the development of a new town is substantially complete, to wind up the corporation, and, by agreement with the local authorities, to transfer the assets and liabilities of the corporation to the local authority … of the area in which the new town is situated."—[Official Report, 8th May 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1080.] That intention has gone through many vicissitudes.

The 1959 New Towns Act, introduced by the present Opposition, provided for transfer to the New Towns Commission. The Labour Party opposed that Act and pledged that it would return to the original concept. Failure to implement that pledge between 1964 and 1970 caused disappointment to many Labour supporters and to the new town public in general. By introducing the Bill my right hon. Friend is redeeming a pledge of long standing and will help to restore the faith of those in the Labour Party concerned with new towns that promises are kept.

The Bill deals with the transfer of the ownership of rented dwellings and related assets held by new town development corporations and the Commission for the New Towns. That is desirable on many grounds. It is right that such assets should be democratically controlled through the local authority. It is wasteful in the long run to have separate authorities—one elected and one appointed—in the same town. By saying that I do not intend to denigrate the tremendous achievements of the development corporations.

Harlow, like most of the other new towns, could never have been built by the original local authority. In Harlow, therefore, we recognise the great debt that we owe to the original members of the development corporation and to the general managers. But the time is approaching when the development corporations could be said to have fulfilled their rôle.

When that point is reached, it is right that assets should be transferred to the local authority. That applies not only to the housing stock, but to industrial and commercial assets. I have never believed that residents of new towns should have the privilege of reserving profits to themselves, although I am aware of the danger that new town authorities might be played off against each other by industrial or commercial undertakings seeking suitable sites for development in new towns.

Nevertheless, democracy should be applied to industrial and commercial assets as much as to housing assets. I advanced that notion at a statutory estates committee of the local authorities. If that is unacceptable and a re-vamped Commission is to be established as proposed in the consultative document, it must comprise democratically elected members. I hope that my right hon. Friend will eventually introduce legislation to achieve that. By then there may have been some progress in the transfer of ownership of rented dwellings and related assets.

One of the problems is bound to be the related assets issue. Perhaps it is sensible not to attempt to cover every contingency in the Bill in view of the variation in the form of these assets in different towns, especially in the shopping centres. In Committee we shall have to consider what constitutes a town centre and what a neighbourhood shopping centre. I believe that the neighbourhood shopping centre should be transferred to the housing authority along with the housing assets.

The facilities which are owned by the development corporations at present will also cause problems, because they are sometimes used both in connection with the maintenance of houses and for other purposes, such as landscaping. The problem of demarcation will arise and it will require careful consideration. But it will be possible to consider that at greater length in Committee.

The financial repercussions will be of great importance. I remember a Labour Party conference at which Lord Diamond, in a previous incarnation, suggested that the transfer of housing assets should be at current valuation. That caused an outburst of feeling because it was felt that it was outrageous for anyone to consider that.

I therefore welcome the fact that the proposed transfer will be on the basis of outstanding loan debt. However, the situation, which is partly dealt with in Clause 3, is still not clear. We shall have to decide various questions during the transitional period. We shall have to decide whether the corporation or the local authority is responsible for certain residual costs.

Even more basic is whether the transfer of housing assets will lead to a greater financial burden for the tenants of new town houses than would have been the case if the development corporations and Commission remained in existence. This will depend to a large extent on the future of existing Exchequer grants under Section 42 of the New Towns Act, 1965.

A substantial burden could be placed upon new town tenants if these grants ceased. My right hon. Friend has said that it could lead to an increase of 6p or 8p in the rates. The transfer should not result in tenants and others being made substantially worse off than they would have been if the transfer had not taken place. There is, therefore, a need for other grants if Section 42 grants are to be phased out. They must last at least for the transitional period and for long enough to prevent hardship for the tenants and residents of the new towns. Tenants and residents will undoubtedly feel bitter if the industrial and commercial interests in a new town are making a profit which is going to the Exchequer while they are obliged to pay increased rents.

There is also the question of nomination rights with which we shall have to concern ourselves. On the whole, local authorities and development corporations have adopted a sympathetic attitude to the housing needs of all sections of the community, but the local authorities must necessarily take full account of the needs of industry concerning nominations.

I should like to mention the staffing problems referred to by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon. I welcome the decision to set up New Towns Staff Commission. We in the new towns owe a great deal to the loyal service which has been given by the Commission's staff. It would be totally wrong to cast them off without consideration. At the same time, it would be wrong unduly to inhibit the local authorities which take over from making reasonable changes of structure in due course. We must work out the proposals in each case, and the New Towns Staff Commission will certainly make that possible. In these circumstances I welcome my right hon. Friend's undertaking to safeguard the interests of all employees.

The Bill goes a long way towards fulfilling the aspirations of many years of many residents of new towns. Anyone who meets such residents will know that there is a genuine desire at the grass roots for the local authorities to take over. Some years ago the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) visited Harlow. The hon. Gentleman will recall the tremendous interest in and considerable respect for his contribution to that conference by those who were present. I am sure that he will be aware of the strong feeling among people living in new towns that the transfer should take place.

I am sorry that the Opposition have decided to move an amendment declining to give a Second Reading to the Bill. It will not advance the cause of the Conservative Party among new town residents. Voting against the Bill flies in the face of what new town residents on many different sides want.

I am proud to represent Harlow—a new town which has produced a new and vibrant community which has tremendous variety and vitality. It has achieved high standards of housing, education, environment, cultural activities and community participation. Harlow is outstanding, but many other new towns have also achieved very high standards.

I believe that Harlow and the other new towns represent one of the great achievements of a great post-war Labour Government who put the idea on the agenda. Today, in the light of the success which has been achieved in establishing these communities, we have the opportunity of fulfilling the aim of the pioneers by giving the Bill a Second Reading.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity of expressing my support and that of a great many people in Harlow for what the Bill seeks to do. I hope that it will shortly be on the statute book.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

I share the admiration of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) for the success of the new towns. At the end of his remarks he said that the Bill gives the people of the new towns what they want. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the Government to put the matter to the test by offering to the tenants of the Commission for the New Towns the opportunity of buying their own homes before they are passed to the local authorities. That is what democracy is all about.

We should not underestimate the importance of the Bill. It is said that the financial effects of this legislation on public expenditure will not be significant. However, housing assets worth at least £300 million for the Commission for the New Towns alone are to be handed over to the respective local authorities—and handed over, it is understood, on a historic cost basis. When we consider that all four new towns representing the Commission—Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City—were built at a total cost of £112 million, including the infrastructure, the factories and the industrial estates, we realise what an extraordinary bargain that represents to the local authorities concerned.

I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Harlow in paying my tribute to the expertise and success of the Commission's staff. They have certainly done an extremely good job in Crawley. I share the concern of the hon. Member for Harlow and others who have spoken about the fate of those servants of the Commission who may or may not be taken on by the respective local authorities. We shall be interested to learn in Committee what the arrangements will be.

In Crawley almost 10,000 houses will be handed over to the borough council. This Bill represents the largest transfer of assets owned by the nation to certain communities which has ever taken place. The question is whether this transfer can be justified.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Harlow said in referring to Lord Diamond, who suggested at a Labour Party conference that the assets should be handed over at current market price. I can imagine what kind of reception the noble Lord got on that occasion. I am sure that he spoke as a Treasury Minister. I am amazed that this transfer has emerged intact, despite what must have been opposition from the Treasury. It is no wonder to me why the Bill has been delayed so long. I should think that the Treasury has looked long and hard at the arrangements and has not cared for them one bit. Therefore, the assiduity and pertinacity of the Minister in presenting the Bill must be admired.

The tenants of the Commission's houses should have been invited to say whether they wanted the council rather than the Commission as their landlord. We hear a lot from the Labour Party about participation, but it does not appear to extend to asking tenants whether they want to be tenants of the Commission for the New Towns or of the council. It is the tenants' views that should count.

Before the assets are handed to the councils, I think that tenants should be given the opportunity of buying their own homes at a discount on the market price. From inquiries which I have made in Crawley, I understand that 4,000 people have lived in the Commission's houses for 20 years or more. They have been paying rent for 20 years. Another 7,500 people have lived in the Commission's houses for 15 years. There is no doubt that the opportunity for people to buy their own homes would be popular with the Commission's tenants in Crawley, as was demonstrated by the fact that 2,300 houses were bought in that way in a very short time. But people who have been tenants of the Commission for many years now face the prospect of sharply increasing rents under the council. Having paid out for so many years, they should at least be offered the opportunity of buying their own homes and providing themselves with the ultimate security.

Mr. Newens

Does the hon. Gentleman find, as I find in my new town, a continual stream of constituents who began to buy their own houses in the period to which he referred and have now got into tremendous difficulties as a result of mort gage repayments going up? When families split up, there are even greater problems. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the selling of houses in this way produces tremendous problems of that kind?

Mr. Hordern

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I have not met a single case, either in my surgeries or in correspondence, involving a tenant who has bought a house and who has subsequently found himself in trouble. There is a direct answer to the hon. Gentleman, because he has only to read the last report of the Commission for the New Towns to see the number of people who have bought houses as tenants, and who have asked the Commission to buy them back again.

I was dealing with those who had lived in their houses for many years being given an opportunity to buy their own homes because otherwise they face the prospect of higher rents and of being tied to their homes for the rest of their lives. They will not be free to live somewhere else on retirement. An increasing proportion of the Crawley housing stock will be occupied by pensioners, not necessarily through choice but of necessity because they will not be able to move elsewhere.

The Commission's tenants should understand the position of the Crawley Council. Indeed this applies to all Commission tenants, wherever they may be. It is not an easy situation. New towns possess no old stock of housing to ease their problems, as is the case in older communities. The situation is rapidly growing worse. In this year, 1975–76, the Crawley Council's stock of 3,000 dwellings will cost £900 a year each to run, but the tenants provide less than one-third of that sum by way of rent. Next year, 1976–77, the cost of running 3,500 dwellings—the present figure will increase because of the large building programme in the area—will rise to £1,285 a year, or about £25 a week for every dwelling.

Most of that sum arises from debt charges. But the cost of administration and repairs alone amounts to almost half the revenue received in rent. In the Greater London Council I understand that the cost of administration and repairs actually exceeds the rent, so that it would be cheaper to give the houses to the tenants. Plainly, this situation cannot continue. Next year, 1976–77, the average proportion over the country of costs borne by rents will be 43 per cent. In Crawley it will be about 25 per cent.

How does this discrepancy come about? In part it arises because the stock of housing is new, but in part it must be said that it arises because of what was clearly the very high price paid by the Crawley Council for land at Bewbush. I do not dispute that the price paid by the Council to the Reed Pension Fund and others was the right price at the time. What I say is that it was clearly, in retrospect, the wrong time to buy it. It was a pity that the Council did not buy it at the time the Reed Pension Fund bought it. I do not think that this is a happy augury for the Community Land Bill.

So far as Lord Ryder is concerned, I must say plainly that land speculation is not the activity that one normally associates with a pension fund and that the trustees of the fund should have something to say about it. One wonders whether they were even informed. I do not think Lord Ryder could have satisfied himself that Mr. Brooks, the original owner of Bewbush, knew about the special payments. It was in every sense of the word a very sharp deal. I think it is extraordinary that, from beginning to end, Lord Ryder has not uttered a single word about this whole affair. I trust that he will not be so reticent in his new rôle.

Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the different levels of rent paid in new town houses compared with the situation in regard to normal local authority housing stocks. However, is he aware that a new town tenant, on the basis of the way in which new towns are financed from subsidies, receives a far larger housing subsidy per capita than does his local authority counterpart?

Mr. Hordern

I am grateful for that information and it is very helpful. I do not wish to minimise the difficulties of local authorities in the new towns in view of the price they have had to pay for land and their problems over housing stocks.

The Crawley Council finds itself with a substantial building programme and a large block of building land at Bewbush which it has been trying to sell without success. Indeed, it has been capitalising the interest on the loan taken out to pay for the land, which is not a desirable practice. Meanwhile, the Government have said that they will expect rents to cover 50 per cent. of costs by 1978–79. In Crawley the proportion is about 25 per cent. Therefore, unless something happens, both rents and rates will have to rise sharply. That "something" is the transfer of the Commission's housing to the Council. This will immediately transform the situation, to such an extent that something like 60 per cent. of costs will be covered by rents from both the Commission and the Council combined.

I am in favour of the Bill because I am quite sure that otherwise the Council in Crawley will find it difficult to manage.

Unfortunately, this is not a static situation. The Council planned to build 2,300 houses in the next three years and this is bound to have a significant effect on the housing account. Again, if nothing is done there will have to be substantial increases in both rents and rates. Indeed, it will be surprising if the Government find that they can afford even the present proposed level of subsidies when the time comes.

What the Council needs is a substantial improvement in cash flow. It can achieve this by raising rents and rates substantially. That would be one course. Alternatively, it can do so by offering all tenants the opportunity to buy their own homes at a discount. This would be immeasurably the best solution—indeed. I think the only solution—if this acute housing programme is to be solved. What it would do would be to provide the security which a tenant seeks, and an investment at the same time. For the Council it would mean that more funds would be available for building more council houses.

What are the arguments against doing that? The first is that selling houses would diminish the stock of housing belonging to the Council and, the second is that it is wrong to sell houses while there is a waiting list. But there is at present virtually no turnover of houses belonging to the Crawley Council. Out of a stock of 3,000 dwellings, an average of only 80 fall vacant each year. Meanwhile, even with the major building programme, the housing waiting list increased by 10 per cent. between April last year and February this year. The truth is that there will be a waiting list so long as the rent is as low as it is—far below the market level.

If tenants in Crawley are not allowed the opportunity to buy their own homes, it is clear that either their rents will rise steeply or the Council's building programme will come to a halt. That would be disastrous. Crawley has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and is the showplace of modern industrial Britain. I only wish that those who run down this country would spend less time in the North of England and come and see what British industry can do in Crawley. I suppose that it has the highest export ratio of any place in Britain.

It is becoming increasingly clear, however, as I have warned for some time it would, that the future development of Crawley is at risk because the demand for housing cannot be satisfied because of the expansion of Gatwick. I said at the time that the Government's decision to cancel Maplin was a mistake. Now it can be shown to be so. It is absolutely vital that the extra strain imposed by this decision should be shared by the development of both Luton and Stansted, as well by Heathrow and Gatwick. What is quite clear is that the Crawley Council is in no position on its own to meet the extra demands imposed by this Government decision. It has quite enough on its hands in trying to meet the natural expansion of Crawley. Indeed, the only way in which the demand for housing from the expansion of Gatwick can be met is in Surrey—and that authority should be given special assistance to meet the demand created by national policy.

I foresee a most difficult time ahead. The Government have said that in future they will not be prepared to provide such a high proportion of housing costs. The choice is inescapably between much higher rents and a radically reduced building programme. That is why I cannot understand why the Government do not insist that councils should offer tenants the opportunity to buy their own homes. Here is a way of giving tenants what they want while at the same time increasing cash flow to the councils. What can the Government possibly have against it? What better way can there be of bringing power to the people, of bringing about that irreversible shift of resources about which we hear so much?

In the Financial Times today there is a most interesting article by Joe Rogaly, who reviews a book by Mr. Frank Field called "Do we need Council Houses?" Mr. Field is a declared Socialist, but what he says about the Government's refusal to sell council houses is that There is a growing sourness on the housing estates themselves as tenants become more and more aware of the serfdom imposed upon them by their council tenancies. One cannot help but draw the conclusion from all this that the Labour Party is not interested in letting people have what they want or even in doing what is best for them. It is plainly the case that selling council houses to tenants would be what tenants would like. It is also plainly the case that it would be a much better course financially and from every point of view.

The truth is that the Labour Party is interested not in giving power to the people but in concentrating power to the State. That is what the Labour Party's housing policy is all about, and that is why I hope that the Bill will be amended.

5.52 p.m.

Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield)

I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in support and welcome of the Bill. As has been pointed out by many speakers in the debate, it is a measure that is long overdue and has long been on the agenda of the Labour Party.

I fought my General Election campaign in October 1974 on this issue, in an area which has the honour of having not one but two new towns, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, which are both now under the Commission for the New Towns. My right hon. Friend came there during that campaign to explain Labour Party policy. I must differ from the hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern). I remember very well that in my constituency the Conservative candidate offered the suggestion to tenants that a referendum be held on the issue of the transfer of assets. I offered them Labour Party policy. I leave the House to draw its own conclusions as to what tenants preferred in that case.

Perhaps one explanation of this matter is to be found in something else that was said by the hon. Gentleman. I fully admit that Welwyn Garden City is unusual in that it is an older generation new town. The hon. Gentleman said that we had no housing stock that was old. That is not so. Some of the property of the Commission in Welwyn Garden City has been there for over 40 years, and people have been tenants for over 40 years. This is the housing problem that comes to me in my constituency It is not a problem of tenants wishing to buy their own homes. The problem that confronts me at my surgeries is somewhat different.

Last Saturday an elderly couple came to see me. They wanted a transfer to be nearer to their daughter who lived in another part of the town, but the part of the town in which the daughter lived was controlled by the council rather than the Commission. There are, therefore, endless difficulties—not insoluble, but wholly unnecessary—when two housing authorities are working in the same town.

The case for development corporations in the start of the life of a new town is irrefutable. It is absolutely certain that they have done an excellent job in development and a job which many would feel could not be tackled by local district councils. However, in an area such as mine it is essential now that we finally grasp the problem and give a degree of democracy to the tenants of properties of the Commission.

While not being in any way happy about the extent to which democracy operates throughout local councils around the country and in housing estates, I still feel that it is essentially a step forward if a tenant knows the name of his local councillor, for whom he has the right to vote or not to vote at the next election—depending on whether he is happy about the way in which the council has dealt with his housing problems—as compared with simply writing to the manager of a new town, when, if the manager says "No", there is nothing that can be done about it and the tenant does not have the ultimate sanction of withdrawing his vote. That is a very important sanction that we are giving to these tenants.

The question of giving more democracy by giving tenants the chance to purchase their own homes is often posed. But that is not really the question. The question is how we can get more democracy and more local community control down on to estates that are owned by the local authorities. I agree that in many cases the restrictions are petty-minded and bureaucratic, and that some restrictions are not necessary. The restrictions ought to be determined much more locally than they now are.

However, I cannot see how the housing problems of the 1,500 people who are on the waiting list in Welwyn and Hatfield will be solved by selling off the stock of accommodation presently owned by the Commission. That does not add a single unit of accommodation to the housing stock in that area, and that is what we need.

In Welwyn and Hatfield we have the classic problem of the second generation new town, with all the housing difficulties such as those of young people trying to set up home on their own for the first time. There is not a legacy of slum housing, because we are in a new town area. But neither is there any sort of legacy of Victorian housing now let privately. Very often, therefore, if people want to find private rented accommodation while waiting to qualify for council housing they move out of the district—with all the problems that that brings. The only other alternative is to live with parents. We have two generations and sometimes three generations living in a single home. The desperate need for these people is for more housing to be built, and at reasonable prices that they can afford. That is the essential problem in the new towns and elsewhere.

I fully accept that we have a mix of income in council property, as we do in private owner-occupation, and, of course, there is an overlap. It would be foolish to pretend that there are not owner-occupiers who are low paid and are in low income groups and that there are not council tenants who overlap with them and earning more. I happen to welcome that situation. I do not want to see our council estates becoming ghettos of housing for the elderly, the needy and the disabled. It is essentially healthy for these estates to have a very mixed population.

On the question of subsidy and payment, we in this House and we as a nation must get to grips with the problem of housing subsidies across the board. We must look at the subsidy that we pay to owner-occupiers through tax relief on mortgage interest, as well as the subsidy that we pay to council tenants. We must consider a unified system of subsidy that has regard to the individual and family needs rather than the types of property that the individual occupies.

The enormous difficulty with that matter is the variance of prices and the cost of housing in different areas. I in no way underestimate that problem, but it is not an excuse for this country to continue with a system of housing finance that is so complicated and in many ways so inefficient that it militates against the best use of resources, which in this matter as in many others are extremely scarce.

In Welwyn and Hatfield there was considerable feeling that, since the local council had waited many years for the development corporation to be replaced by the Commission—which it was thought would have been the right time to transfer—the Bill should have dealt with both commercial and industrial as well as with housing aspects. However, I accept that a gradual approach is necessary. I hope that the Government will make it clear that this is a step by step approach, not the end of the road.

We accept that the ratepayers of Welwyn and Hatfield should not be the only beneficiaries of the transfer of housing assets under this Bill and of the transfer of commercial and industrial assets which will come later. We accept that the shares suggested are equitable, however much, in our local and parochial way, we should have liked more to come to our area.

Nevertheless, we are glad to see what the Bill will provide. We hope that ours will be one of the first authorities to take up its share of assets and that the Bill will be the first in a series to effect a wholesale transfer to a district council.

6.2 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I have listened with rapt attention to the previous speakers, most of whom represent new towns. As I do not represent a new town, I have some hesitation in adding my voice to theirs.

My party greatly welcomes the Bill. Anything which returns control to democratically elected bodies is to be commended when we are all having trouble with so many non-elected bureaucratic authorities. I think that the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) was about to elaborate on the subject of housing credits, something which I support. If she has more information, I should be particularly glad of it at this moment. She is on the right track. This is something which Parliament should consider in greater detail.

I am certain that the Minister would prefer the initiative in regard to local authorities taking over the management of these properties to come from the councils rather than for him to have to issue directives, as Clause 2 seems to provide. It is a little heavy-handed but I assume that it will not work out that way.

Clause 3(4)(b) interested me when I read it this morning while considering the Opposition's amendment. It appears to leave an opening for the Minister to direct that certain houses should not pass from the development corporations to local authorities but should be sold elsewhere. It is rather obscure. On a first reading it appears to mean that they could be sold to some other form of administration or management. One assumes that it does not mean that they will be sold off to private property companies, but it could mean that. It certainly does not make clear what the Minister gave as his intention when he referred to sales to existing tenants.

I have been told by one new town that it would welcome the restoration of the right to sell to tenants. The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) did not seem to agree and it was not evident in the speech of the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield, but it is a point made by a high official in one new town.

When the power to sell to tenants was withdrawn some years ago, waiting lists were long, but I was very surprised to learn today that in one new town the lists are now down to between six and eight weeks. That may not be the case in Crawley, but if some places have reached this point a rather different picture is presented. I was also told that many tenants would undoubtedly like to buy. When the previous scheme operated on a 20 per cent. discount of the market price, many took advantage of it. Some towns—I do not know about Crawley—build houses to sell on the open market. The town that I am talking about built over 100, which were readily snapped up. Tenants are still very interested in buying. Many industries going into new towns are anxious for their employees to own their own homes. That is another point in favour of the amendment.

One should not have a closed mind about the sale of council houses. Each case should be considered on its merits. The figures for my own authority, with which I have been presented this week, show that as many as 52 people a month are being added to the waiting list—and I am sure that the figure is even higher in other areas. We are certainly not catching up with the problem, so I doubt whether it would be right for my council to sell. I have an open mind, but that is my impression. No doubt other hon. Members will have more up-to-date figures for the new towns, but this matter should be more clearly provided for in the Bill.

Unless we hear something definite from the Minister who is to reply, the Opposition amendment should be supported. As has been said, they have been lucky in striking the right note on the right day with the reports by the Building Societies Association and Mr. Frank Field. With those few remarks, I welcome the Bill from this Bench.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. Geoff Edge (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I, too, welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but my interest is slightly different from that of some other hon. Members. I do not represent a new town in the House, but I am a new town councillor on Milton Keynes Borough Council. Naturally, I see things very much from the Borough Council's point of view and from the point of view of a member of an elected authority with a large and undemocratic corporation operating in the midst of the borough area—in our case wholly within our area, which is not the case everywhere else.

I should like to see the speediest possible hand-over of new town assets—not only houses but recreational and social facilities—to the appropriate local authorities. There are problems, of course. There are certainly differences in rent levels, but the differences do not necessarily favour the corporations. Certainly in Milton Keynes new town rents are considerably higher than local authority rents. As soon as houses are transferred to the local authority, one can imagine people asking why they are paying different rents for similar accommodation.

Clearly, any transfer scheme must involve a harmonisation of rent levels. I hope that this will happen at a point midway between the two levels. It would be foolish for the Secretary of State to agree to any transfer which did not provide for harmonisation. Without it, I can foresee considerable and, in many ways, natural resentment being felt by tenants in different sorts of property.

Another problem is that new town corporations and local authorities do not necessarily operate the same maintenance standards. That also would need to be carefully considered. In my own experience with the new town of Milton Keynes, the maintenance standard is very high and I should be very unhappy to see any decline in standards.

But merely transferring houses is not enough. There needs to be a far greater process of consultation between the local authority representatives and the new town corporation right from the outset, because many elected representatives face the major problem of ultimately being responsible for new town corporation decisions which they have had no part whatsoever in making. In the case of Milton Keynes, for example, we are saddled with a grid road system on which it appears to be almost impossible to operate an effective public transport system without an enormous level of subsidy. We had no significant say in making the decision and, similarly, we have no significant say in the planning of recreational facilities either to serve particular housing estates or to serve the new town as a whole, while in many cases the local authority is responsible not only for the provision of recreational facilities but also for the financial costs of running them. Certainly in the case of my Council, the Milton Keynes Borough Council, we have found the increased cost, at a time of very tight financial stringency, almost impossible to bear. We have transferred one golf course back to the development corporation.

This is the sort of problem which occurs and which occurs primarily because of the undemocratic nature of the new town development corporation. I believe that a corporation, with all the ability, talent and energy that it can command, is needed to get a new town under way, to get roads built, to get the infrastructure completed, to get the housing that is needed and so on. But it seems to me that as soon as is humanly possible the local authority should be given a say in the new town, and areas as they are completed should be transferred to it.

Imagine the problems which face some of my colleagues in the local authority, where they represent areas which consist perhaps almost entirely of corporation housing. If there are housing complaints the people can go to the local authority and complain, but the local authority is not responsible in any way either for the maintenance of the estate or for the maintenance of the individual properties. Inevitably in these circumstances a sense of frustration arises, not only among the local councillors but also among their electors, who feel that this is an important part of their lives over which there is no democratic control whatsoever. This is a very acute problem in Milton Keynes and, I am sure, in many other new towns, and it is one which ought to be dealt with.

Two things can be done. First, the possibility of incorporating more local authority representatives in the new town board should be considered. The changes which have been made so far are far too timid. In Milton Keynes we have incorporated two extra councillors, which has not improved the decision-making in any sense whatsoever. We therefore need to look at that. Secondly, we need to try to ensure that tenants have as much say as possible as quickly as possible in the management of their own estates.

Admittedly the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, which is the one I know, started a pilot scheme, but it is a question not only of what the corporation does but of what the local authorities do as well, and much to my disappointment my own local authority threw out a participation scheme on which I was very keen. I condemn the local authority for being far too conservative, because it seems to me that where there are large areas of housing owned by either the local authority or the development corporation the tenants should be given the maximum amount of control over the maintenance standards on the estate, the type of repairs which should be done and the general appearance of the estate, so that they feel that they have a rôle there.

The participation of council tenants in the management of their own environment, although difficult to achieve, is very important. While one has an undemocratic corporation operating in any local authority area, it makes the process of public participation that much harder. So I should like to see the corporations disappear as quickly as possible and gradually retreat from each area as their main job of construction work is completed.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to be misunderstood in the area about which he is talking, which I have the honour to represent. Would he not agree that there is very close co-operation between the Development Corporation and the local Borough Council on the whole question of tenancies and the exchange of tenancies?

Mr. Edge

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is my MP, that there is a very extensive process of consultation, but in my view it has not produced anything very significant. It has certainly not produced harmonisation of rent levels, which is one of its stated objectives. Indeed, the rent gap has widened only this week. It has certainly not produced any willingness on the part of the Corporation to discuss such fundamental things as the layout of the later stages of the new town. There has been no willingness to talk about Section 6(1) submissions, which are very important to the Department of the Environment. Therefore, while I would acknowledge that there has been extensive consultation and that the situation has improved, a check list would prove that the achievements have been very small indeed.

As the representative of the local community for a smaller area than the hon. Gentleman's constituency, of course, I have on many occasions, as former chairman of the planning committee, argued the case for the commercial members of the community as well as the case for the residents against the Corporation, and we have received absolutely no response because the Corporation is totally undemocratic. It has no need to respond to an elected member or group of members. That is the major problem. That is why we need far greater democracy and far greater commitment to transfer estates from the Corporation to the local authority as speedily as possible.

Let me take a longer-term view of the rôle of the new town. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) suggested in his opening remarks that the whole strategy of providing new towns had been called into question, particularly by some of the planners in Greater London, who say that our cities are being left to decay because the industries and the more dynamic elements of the population have been shipped away to new towns. I believe that to be completely false. The contribution of the new towns is very significant in helping to reduce housing needs, and by any objective assessment of the situation in London, the Birmingham—Black Country conurbation or Greater Manchester there is still need to attract more people and industry out of the inner city areas.

Where the problem arises is that the opportunity that is create by the reduction in population has not yet been used to rebuild decayed urban environments and provide effective new industries. We have concentrated totally on where to put new populations without rebuilding our inner urban areas. The failure to get an agreed scheme on the development of Dockland is a very fine illustration of exactly that sort of problem.

What we really need to do is get a much more effective regional planning strategy which looks not only at the development of new towns—I believe that more will be needed in the future—but also at the positive rebuilding of our inner city areas, with Government aid in some cases, to encourage industry to reallocate its working sites. This is a sector which has been ignored to a very considerable extent.

I also believe that in the new towns we need to look much more at the question of social planning. We do far better than the United States, where their new towns have almost no social balance whatsoever but consist almost entirely of upper income groups. We fall down, however, in the sense that many new towns have a very small proportion of elderly people, disabled people and people who are unskilled and on low incomes. If we are serious about using the new towns to contribute to solving the problems of London, the West Midlands and so on, we have to take a far higher percentage of the disadvantaged and try to give them better opportunities and conditions in the new towns than they have had hitherto.

Finally, I believe that we also need to look at the economic status of residents who move. I find in Milton Keynes—perhaps the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) will confirm this—that many people move and then find that their real incomes have dropped after the move because wage levels are lower or rents are higher and they have made no allowance for that eventuality. This creates problems, with people being unable to afford tenancies or wanting to return, in our case, to London. We have to look more seriously at the economic consequences of moving on the individual.

I believe that there is a great future still for the new town movement, but it must be matched by an agreement to save the inner city areas which so far we have ignored. However, once we have new town corporations under way, we should move to a system of democratic control as quickly as possible by means not only of the transfer of assets to the local authorities, towards which the Bill is a small step, but also of giving the tenants of both local authority estates and corporation estates a major say in their own affairs. In my view that is what democracy is about, it is what we must insist upon from the Department.

6.22 p.m.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Edge) for relating his experiences as a local authority member in a new town, even if we cannot all share his heroic assertion that the quality of decision-making would be improved by the addition of two or more Labour councillors to each development corporation.

The subjects which I wish to consider in relation to the Bill concern finance, planning, tenants, corporation staff and, finally, the planned size of the new town in my constituency.

The Minister for Planning and Local Government, who I am sorry is no longer with us, referred, when he moved the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill last year, to Nicias the Greek. I advise all those recipient authorities, especially the tenants of those authorities, to look carefully at this gift which they are being offered by the Minister, because, as we have heard from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, there is a wide disparity in rent levels. We have also seen from the Bill that the subsidy from the Treasury is to be for such period as the Minister may determine and to be subject to Treasury consent.

I remember drawing attention last year to the fact that one of the reasons why the Treasury might have come round to this view, contrary to the view formerly expressed by Lord Diamond, was that it had seen the opportunity to slough off the continuing subsidy commitment, and that the result would be serious increases in rent levels and probably in rate levels in these towns. That is a point which I made last year in the debate on the New Towns Bill, and it has not yet been answered by the Government.

Another point with regard to finance which was also touched on by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is that the standards of maintenance and of open space in many parts of new towns are considerably higher than those obtaining under the local authorities. As a result, they will be much more expensive to run and there will be great pressure on local authorities from ratepayers to reduce that additional expenditure, which in turn will very quickly lead to a considerable deterioration in the natural aspect which has been one of the great benefits of living in new towns.

There is also the further financial point about the costs of meeting rooms and other amenity provisions. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills mentioned a golf course which had to be returned to the corporation because of the cost of running it. There needs to be a careful examination of this gift horse before it is welcomed so warmly.

I remember the first Adjournment debate that I was privileged to have in this House about a month following my election. I chose the subject of the financial burden on local authorities of new towns. Recently, the Minister received a deputation from the county of Hereford and Worcester on this very point. When he replied to my Adjournment debate, he assured me that the problem would be looked at and examined with sympathy and care and in detail. Now, two years later, the county has had to send a deputation to see him, but still we have had no resolution of the difficulty.

A Question which I put in the House today to the Secretary of State for Social Services about the failure to provide medical facilities, particularly a hospital, in the Redditch New Town highlights how very serious the infrastructure problem is. The Question that I asked before and wish to ask again is why, under the section in the Department of the Environment dealing with the new towns, there has been no similar provision for medical facilities as there has for roads and other services.

While I am on the subject of infrastructure, let me say that I believe that the burden of local authorities will be increased very greatly by the new roads agreement which is to be concluded between the corporation and the Hereford and Worcester County Council. Because of the nature of that burden, about which its representatives came to see the Minister, this agreement has not yet been concluded, although the previous procedure has been abandoned. The net result is that a significant stretch of road in the middle of Redditch, connecting two multi-lane highways in both directions and the motorway, has not been constructed. This has led to indescribable inconvenience to those who are obliged to live along this heavily overcharged route. There are very serious financial burdens to come on the local authorities, and it is not clear from the Bill that these points have been properly hoisted on board.

I turn now to the question of planning permission. The Bill is deficient because it says nothing about procedures for safeguarding the master plan of a new town. In my area, it is within our experience that the local council has carried out acts of development which are not in accordance with the master plan. Up till now, the corporation has acted as some safeguard for members of the public with regard to the observance of the master plan. I shall be grateful if we can hear from the Under-Secretary some remarks on this very valid point.

As I understand it, local councils are not subject to planning permission for their own acts of development, and I shall be grateful to learn which authority is to grant planning permission in those areas and which will be responsible for safeguarding the master plan of the new town. Similar provisions would apply, for instance, to land under a new town plan which was to be designated for housing for sale. If the new authority did not believe in building for sale, there might well be changes in the master plan to the detriment of the balance of the new town about which so many hon. Members have spoken.

I come now to the subject of tenants. In new towns at the moment there is a quite highly developed social development organisation which does a great deal to smooth the path of tenants. It is not clear that this organisation will continue under the local authorities and whether, if it does, it will be rateborne, because that would be another instance of an increase in the rate burden on the existing inhabitants.

However, the main topic concerning tenants is that nowhere is there to be any consultation with them. I read in the Bill that they are merely to be informed. Is that what this democracy and greater local control, about which we are being prated to by the Government, boils down to—just informing someone that something is to happen? In view of the consequences on rate burdens, are the tenants and residents of the local authority to be informed, let alone consulted, about what these proposals are likely to mean for them, and is their consent to them to be sought?

If there is to be democracy and local control, why are not tenants to be given the choice of buying their houses in the new towns? This was permitted when they moved there in the first instance. Why should that right be subsequently extinguished?

Quite apart from the politics, let us turn to the economics. I am very sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) has left the Chamber, because she was telling us about the desirability of social mix in rented housing and welcomed the fact that many people on high incomes were living in council houses. But the hon. Lady forgot to add that they were living at low and subsidised rents. She asked for the overall picture of mortgage interest tax relief to be taken into account as well as subsidies on rents. I would like to have given her figures for my constituency, where the subsidy on a new town house is now running at £30 per week, whereas the mortgage interest relief on a comparable private house in the same area is £300 per year. One can therefore imagine the very real indignation that arises when people see others with higher earnings getting a higher subsidy—£30 a week—and living in a rented house.

Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that included in the subsidy element for council property are all kinds of features such as old people's dwellings and bungalows, and even property for the disabled, and that they are often paid for out of the housing revenue account?

Mr. Miller

I am talking not of the housing revenue account, but of the straightforward construction costs of building a new house in the Redditch New Town. That has nothing to do with the housing revenue account. It is the straightforward cost, and there is already a £30-per-week subsidy. Therefore, when we talk about the desirability of this mix in rented housing, let us please remember who is paying for it—those who are already struggling to keep up their mortgages in owner-occupied houses.

Mr. Corbert

Would not the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that in the new town that I represent, Hemel Hempstead, and three other completed new towns there is a totally different argument because the Commission generally has not built for rent or for sale for 10 or 12 years? The replacement costs to the local authority if the houses were "flogged off" would represent a totally different financial picture.

Mr. Miller

Yes, indeed, that is one of the things I am trying to come to in the Bill. It is dealing with a broad brush right across the spectrum, but circumstances vary greatly and, particularly in the newer generation of new towns, the building costs to which I have referred are so high that it is a very different matter from transferring assets in perhaps the hon. Gentleman's or other hon. Members' new towns where completely different mathematics would apply. Of course I accept that, but I am pointing out that when we are dealing in such broad phrases with such a broad brush we need to be much more careful in what we are talking about.

On the question of tenancies, there is also the very relevant point about nomination rights. The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) spoke of the need to maintain a balance between employment and housing in a new town, and we would all subscribe to that. But the difficulty in getting industry into a new town unless there is some assurance that there will be housing vacancies for key workers in particular who are coming to start up a firm in the new town would militate against successful industrial promotion if the local authority came under such political pressure from its own waiting list that it felt unable to maintain the nomination system for the required period. One reason why waiting lists grew so dramatically from the year 1972 onwards was that the cost of buying a house increased much more than council house rents, so that the disparity between renting and owning grew wider. It is no wonder that people, including the very well off, took a decision to go for a much cheaper rented house if they were lucky enough to obtain it.

I must move on to the subject of the size of the corporation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) has pointed out, it seems incredible that the corporations should be increased in size when they are about to be stripped of a major part of their functions. The Minister said that this would provide scope for bringing a great deal of experience on to the boards, which had not been increased in size since the Act was passed.

I have lately had occasion to put down a number of Questions to the Minister about the excessively political nature of the appointments he has been making to the Redditch New Town Corporation—five committed Socialists against one Conservative in his last batch of appointments, including Socialists who have no connection whatsoever with the area. We are given to understand that his latest proposals are to appoint further Socialists from the Birmingham Corporation, which has very little to do with Redditch.

I hope that advantage will be taken of any increase that may be found to be necessary to appoint from those who actually live and work in the area and have something to contribute from their experience, either from management or from the shop floor, of actually working and living in new towns, rather than to make political appointments from public bodies outside, in contravention of the recommendation in the Thirteenth Report of the Environment Sub-Committee, to which due tribute was paid by the Minister in his opening speech.

The size of the corporation should also be considered in relation to what is to happen to the remaining functions of the new towns after the remaining assets have been transferred, because it would seem to me to be logical that the remaining functions ought, at the time of transfer, to be transferred to the New Towns Commission and the corporation should be wound up. This would be a sensible approach to the situation, to do away with the Corporation once its housing assets are transferred. The transfer of housing assets to the local authorities will inevitably mean a reduction not only in the functions of the housing departments of the corporation, but also in its accounts, estates and maintenance departments.

Here I come to the question of staff. The Explanatory Memorandum talks of proper protection, but the Bill refers not to Section 260 of the Local Government Act 1972 but to Section 24. This means that there will be no compensation provision for retirement for senior officers. It is quite inconceivable to me that the mergers can take place without senior officers having to retire, not only from housing departments but from other departments. I would like the Minister when he replies to be a little more specific on this question, because there will be a very bad effect on the staff if there is continuing uncertainty on these points.

Finally, I should like to raise a constituency point. We have now been waiting two years for the Minister to take a decision on the future size of Redditch. If the housing assets are to be transferred 15 years after designation, which would approximately coincide with the completion of the target population and the original target date, it would seem that at that moment the town should be regarded as completed and no further decision should be taken to extend it. Obviously, this decision would have to be arrived at considerably in advance of that date because of the staff and the other considerations, such as the infrastructure and completion of the housing programme. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give very serious consideration now to the question of the future size of Redditch.

In this connection I ask the Minister to note that there is no longer a demand for West Midlands industry to move out of the conurbation. The West Midlands County Council is doing its best to obtain all possible industry in the conurbation, and representatives of the corporation have had to travel as far afield as Japan to try to attract industrial investment to the town. This shows that one of the purposes for which it was originally established—to provide for industry to move out of the conurbation—is no longer applicable. Therefore, there seems to be no justification for an expansion of the town beyond its originally designated size, and it should now be possible for the Minister to arrive at that decision.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds. West)

I do not represent a constituency with any connection with new towns, but I rise because I am surprised by some of the contributions to the debate by Opposition Members. I am still more surprised by the Opposition's amendment. On the whole question of the future of new towns and those who live in them, the Opposition produce an amendment dealing only with the sale of council houses, the facet of housing on which the Leader of the Opposition stomped the country at the last General Election. What a wonderful vote-catcher it is! I have never known it gain the Conservatives enough votes to win a national or local election.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) is rather politically naive when he talks about political appointments by Secretaries of State. In the past six months I have visited three or four new towns. I found that the chairman of one in the North-East was a resident of greater London. He was appointed by the last Conservative Secretary of State. I am not saying that the ratio of party support was five to one. I should not be surprised if that Secretary of State's ratio was 10 to one in view of the make-up of some of the regional health authorities and area health authorities set up under the reorganisation of local government and the health services by the previous Government. The hon. Gentleman should not behave like a political virgin. He should accept the facts of life and the fact that the Conservative side of the House is different from mine.

Mr. Hal Miller

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the composition of the West Midlands Regional Health Authority, the Hereford and Worcester Area Health Authority, the Bromsgrove and Redditch Community Health Council and the Redditch Development Board and bears in mind when they were established, he will find what the balance of political appointment has been.

Mr. Dean

I do not wholly dispute the point, but I am glad the hon. Gentleman intervened because I missed out one section of the public sector. The hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) talked about the transfer of public assets, One of the biggest transfers from the local authorities to another so-called part of the public sector, but unfortunately one with no public accountability, was to the regional water boards. I know of no supporter of my party having been made chairman of one of those boards at the handsome salary of £11,000 to £13,000 a year.

We can score points off one another on the question of appointments by successive Governments. The hon. Gentleman should not be surprised that a Labour Secretary of State is making Labour appointments. I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to do so. Politics is about power. It is not a game. If my side has power, I expect it to use that power and I shall support it when it does.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) made a very parochial speech. I touch on the subject of it because, although I do not represent the city of Manchester, I was heavily involved in the matters about which he spoke. The hon. Gentleman told only one side of the story. Some of the larger cities have had the benefit of new towns being built within a reasonable distance, with the Exchequer bearing a tremendous percentage of the cost, but some others with almost the same problems have not been so lucky. Under successive Governments they have had to fend for themselves.

Liverpool was one of the authorities to benefit from a new town. It had Skelmersdale, and I think that there are many Liverpool people in Runcorn. I belong to a city that had to decant 250,000 people outside its own borders. It was the most densely-populated area in Europe, and it was completely landlocked. Whenever it made a move with compulsory purchase orders for desirable areas within a stone's throw of the city, it was blocked by Conservative-controlled councils, most of whose decisions were upheld by Conservative Ministers of Local Government. Those councils applied their own form of apartheid against fellow countrymen.

The Manchester authority had to obtain land where it could. The estate about which the hon. Gentleman spoke was one of the last overspill estates that the city built. He appeared to blame the city for all the shortcomings now manifest in that community. I do not lay one iota of the blame on the city of Manchester, because of the way in which it was made to operate. Without new town status, it could act only as landlord when the estate was built. The rest of the facilities should have been provided by a local Conservative authority and a county Conservative authority which collected the rates and did nothing with them. They abdicated their responsibility.

There is talk of the stress areas in the big cities. I should like to describe the treatment that some cities have received in comparison with new town authorities. I am not suggesting that I do not agree with the spending of large sums on the new towns, but in some respects they have had privileged treatment. For example, an established local authority seeking planning approval and yardstick calculations for general periphery landscaping on an estate received £15 a house, but the new town authority received £75. Can anyone wonder that in the big cities which have had to rebuild to high densities the landscaping leaves much to be desired? They never had the money to spend on it, unless they were prepared to break the backs of their own ratepayers. They did it on their own.

Mr. Benyon

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the assets should not be transferred and that the exporting authority should keep the right to nominate, which I gather was the purport of what my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) said?

Mr. Dean

The hon. Member for High Peak spoke about the appointment of people who were not answerable to the area in which they would officiate. Why is there any opposition to transferring the assets to local control?

As the chairman of a major housing authority, I always had to be available. I am not suggesting that we did everything right, but I was certainly more available to the people in the area where I was chairman than is a man living in London who is chairman of a new town in the North-East. I am not questioning his ability. I have met him, and he is obviously able. But where there is a housing authority the assets so on should be transferred to somebody within reach. We should bring government closer to the people.

Nearly every Opposition Member who has spoken has referred to the sale of council houses being a good thing for tenants. During the lifetime of the last Labour Government many local authorities became Conservative-controlled, just as when the Tories won the 1970 election they were almost obliterated in the next local elections. Some of the major authorities which became Conservative controlled started selling council houses with reductions of up to 20 to 30 per cent. on the so-called market price.

Post-war council houses were sold for as low as £1,700 with the proviso that if the tenant moved within five years the council would have the option of buying back the house at the original price. The result was that as soon as the five years had passed council houses were offered back to local authorities for £9,000. What a good deal that was for the taxpayer and the ratepayer. The Conservative Party claims to be the protector of public money. It amazes me to see the haste with which it rushes to give away public assets.

No one can deny that there is a tremendous in-built shortage of housing. When a council house is sold, somebody on the waiting list is disappointed. I do not suggest that the purchaser will move immediately, but the property has to be replaced in the stock. Wherever houses have been sold, a shortage has manifested itself. If a large authority which is building 3,000 houses a year starts selling to its tenants, its in-built shortage will be made worse by what is sold to tenants.

Houses which were built for £2,000 or £4,000 have to be replaced at a cost of £12,000, according to the figures given today by building societies. However, anyone who has been connected with housing matters knows that it can take up to two years to replace a council house, and inflation in the building industry is running at 2 per cent. a month. That will make the £12,000 look a bit sick. This is one of the nonsenses of the argument.

The building societies have suddenly decided that they have a contribution to make, but I suggest that they should look more carefully at their own activities. Why do they not drop their interest rates more regularly when the Bank of England reduces its rates?

The building societies have put their weight behind the sale of council houses in the hope that they will be providing some of the finance and getting some of the profits, but there are areas at the lower end of the scale where building societies should be operating now. The only way to get a mortgage on a property over 30 years old in most parts of the country is to apply to the local authority. There are very few good terraced houses which building societies will touch. That is why all the funds that local authorities can get are spoken for.

It is nonsense that the £5,000 million which building societies say they have available should be immobilised. They should be made to use it to help people on low wages to get the type of house they need.

We have to look at safeguards in the Bill for the staff, but change sometimes comes whether one likes it or not. In some respects, some of the top brass in local government and the National Health Service have been over-protected. I hope that staff will be taken care of, but not on the basis of some of the golden handshakes we saw during the last local government reorganisation. Some people aged just over 50 picked up cheques of £90,000 and £100,000. We wonder why we have an economic crisis, yet we pay someone £52,000 to sit in a rocking-chair for the rest of his life. In fact, he probably did not even do that. He probably found himself a very handsome job to take him up to retirement age.

The Government have made clear that there has been a change in the direction of their economic and financial strategy. There may be a surplus of staff when the housing stock is assimilated by housing authorities. If so, people will have to move and earn their living elsewhere. It is just too bad. Before I came here, it had happened to me twice. At one factory in which I worked, Sir Arnold Weinstock said that there were 10,000 too many workers and some had to move on. Nobody in this place worried about that.

Let us ensure that staff get a fair crack of the whip, but we should not say that because they are in local government they have a job for life. There has been far too much of that in the Civil Service, the nationalised industries and the public sector generally. The sooner some people are liable to judgment on results and performance, the better.

I have watched with deep regret the erosion of powers from elected representatives. The wheel is turning now and we are talking about giving power back to local people. Under the last Conservative Government, considerable power was taken away from local authorities and locally-elected representatives whom the people could approach.

This is a fairly involved Bill. I hope that it will be given a Second Reading so that we can discuss it in detail in Committee.

If large numbers of houses, mainly financed by public money, are made available to local councils, locally-elected representatives will be able to control them and be subject to the ballot box. I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading and makes its way quickly through Committee.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

We have heard an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), who speaks with great authority on all housing issues. I share the sentiments which the hon. Gentleman expressed towards the end of his speech when he referred to golden handshakes and the need for more performance tests on those involved in the public sector. In his capacity as a member of the Manchester City Council, the hon. Gentleman said that he believed that in Runcorn New Town there might be a few Liverpudlians—

Mr. Joseph Dean

I corrected that. I confused Runcorn with another town.

Mr. Carlisle

The catchment area has been widened to include Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and London, as well as Merseyside, for which the new town was originally planned.

There are two new towns in my constituency. Warrington New Town was originally planned to take in people from the Greater Manchester area, but Manchester said that its housing needs were not as great as was originally believed, and the catchment area of Warrington New Town is also being widened.

I apologise for not being in the House to hear the Minister's opening speech, and if I raise matters which he dealt with I hope that the Minister of State will forgive me.

Representing as I do a constituency which contains two new towns, I think that the aim of the Bill is correct. That is particularly so for Runcorn, which is much more completely developed than Warrington. In Runcorn the development corporation was set up in 1964 with a clear and specific mandate to provide a town of the relevant size by 1979. The development corporation is on target and by 1979 there will be a stock of 10,500 rented houses provided by the development corporation.

There seems to be no advantage in a new town development corporation hanging around once its task is completed. During the growth period of a new town it is essential to have a development corporation with clear terms of reference. I question whether it is wise to have more local councillors on new town development corporations, because the task of development corporations is often in conflict with the task of the local authority and there may be divided loyalties. Once a town has been completed or its main objects have been achieved, it is right, as the Bill proposes, that the housing assets should be turned over to the local authority, which has direct democratic control, and that the development corporation should be wound up as soon as that can be appropriately done. That is particularly important in relation to housing. In a new town such as Runcorn, where a second generation new town is being imposed on the existing urban area, it will help to break down the barrier between the new and the old if all the rented housing within the development corporation is brought into a single pool.

What worries me most about the division between the old and the new is that those who live in the area, because they live in the area, are unable to obtain a tenancy in the new area but see new houses being provided for people from outside. Once the major developments are complete and all the houses are put into a central pool, that division will be broken down and greater flexibility will be provided. That is important both for the second generation of those who live in the new town and for the children of those who live in the older parts of the town.

I am sure the Minister realises that it may be necessary to make special provision for skilled workers who come into the town to work in industry. I shall be grateful if he will explain the Department's ideas about whether the housing stock should go into one general pool or whether conditions should be placed on houses which come from development corporations.

The financial effect of these proposals will be substantial in some areas. If adequate financial arrangements are not made by the Government, there could be considerable resentment within the local authority about the cost of taking on the housing assets of a new town. The position is different in, for example, Hemel Hempstead, which is a completed new town, and in the second- or third-generation new towns.

Instead of receiving a rate fund contribution, I understand that a new town development corporation receives a direct grant from the Government under Sec-lion 42(2) of the New Towns Act for the purpose of balancing its housing account. On the transfer of assets, I am told that the payment under Section 42 will cease. In the Halton area, which is the old Runcorn together with Widnes, the effect of the loss of that special contribution would mean either a 9p-in-the-pound rate increase throughout the whole area or an additional l.64p a week rent for tenants in the existing new town and for all tenants in houses owned by the development corporation. An increase of that nature is totally unacceptable and will do lasting harm by creating a reaction between the old and the new.

With the enormously increased cost of building, I am told that the average loan charges for houses in the new town of Runcorn will be £705 per dwelling per annum as against £175 per dwelling per annum for the local authority stock. I ask the Minister to confirm that the local authorities which take over new town development corporation assets will be adequately compensated financially.

As I understand it, the provisions in Clauses 8 and 9 of the Bill—I seek confirmation of this—are considerably wider than was proposed in the original consultation paper. I note in particular that Clause 9, dealing with grants for district councils, provides that if it appears to the Secretary of State as a result of a transfer that this imposes or will impose an undue financial burden on the council, he may for the purpose of relieving that burden … make grants to the council of amounts and for a period determined by him with the consent of the Treasury". I hope that the Minister will give an assurance to me and to those on the Halton Council concerned with the financial effects of the Bill that that means that a grant would be given to councils in that type of position, and that it would not only be purely transitional, as originally proposed, but could be for a period adequate to meet the financial increase facing the Council.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I ask the hon and learned Gentleman to read what my right hon Friend said. I quite understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not able to be here. I quote one sentence from my right hon. Friend. He said that if the transfer itself results in an undue burden on either tenants or local ratepayers, then the Bill proposes that the Secretary of State should have discretion to give relief by way of a grant for such period as he may determine.

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention. I hope that the words such period as he may determine may not mean purely a transitional period, which was the original proposal, but will cover a wider area.

I now turn to the Opposition's amendment. I have had this argument before with the Minister of State's predecessor when speaking in the earlier new town debates, but I cannot understand the ideological block that prevents new town development corporations being permitted by the present Government to sell housing to tenants who wish to buy it.

I shall not go into all the arguments one way or another which have been advanced on both sides. I content myself with reminding the House and the Minister that this is not only the view of the Conservative Party. It is not only the desire of many of the tenants. It is also the unanimous view of the chairmen of the new town development corporations themselves, who to my knowledge—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leeds, West has gone—are not today all drawn from one political party. Certainly the two eminent chairmen in my constituency are active supporters of the Labour Party.

I should like to remind the House of what the chairmen of the new town development corporations said in their comments on the consultative paper. I quote: We strongly hope, therefore, that development corporations and the Commission will be allowed in the near future once again to offer tenants the opportunity to buy the homes they occupy. Even with a sizeable discount and tax relief on mortgage interest, the annual cost to the central Exchequer would be substantially less than the very large rent subsidies now payable. Pre-emption clauses would secure that … houses could come back into the rented stock if and when purchasers moved on. We are in the position that tenants wish to buy. Of that I have no doubt—in my own area, at least. Development corporations, in the considered view of the chairmen, wish to sell because they believe that this is cheaper for the nation. I believe—and I suspect that many believe—it is also advantageous for those living in the area to have a mixed type of housing development.

It seeems that against this, for no reason which has ever convinced me, the present Government are saying not that "You may be allowed not to sell" but that "In no circumstances may you sell." This is a great pity, and I welcome the Opposition's amendment. Subject to that, I certainly hope that the Bill will be passed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I now call Ms—with a Scottish accent—Maureen Colquhoun.

7.14 p.m.

Ms. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I very much admire your Scottish accent, in the same way that I admire Mr. Speaker's Welsh accent.

I should like to welcome the Bill on its Second Reading and to thank the Minister for the work he did not only on the consultative paper, but on the Bill itself. I thank him also for the work the Department has undertaken in looking at the new towns' situation in the light of experience gained over the years.

Perhaps I ought to begin by revealing a very special direct interest that I have in new towns. When my right hon. Friend's father, Lewis Silkin, was Minister of Town and Country Planning, I was then beginning my career in his private office as a young civil servant, and my only claim to fame was that I once by mistake locked him in his office. I was so surprised by the shouts that came out that I ran away. I consider it a privilege to have been able to serve at some time in a private office, and I am glad to have had first-hand experience of it, although it was all those years ago.

I feel that there is no way, since I have been elected a Member of Parliament, in which I shall be patronised into taking my place in a private office, certainly not within my experience of the present Labour Government—although, of course, there may be a change when the new party leader arrives. Having travelled a bit far along this road, perhaps I ought to make it clear to the four comrades on the right who are standing for the leadership that there is no way that I would serve in their Governments.

The Bill is of overwhelming importance to new towns, and I speak with Northampton particularly in mind. It is important to Northampton because of what many hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned—the widening separation between the people of town and the people of the new town. I believe that the Bill will begin to bring that to an end. It will not end it at once, but it will be a beginning. I cannot add up the number of times that young people of Northampton have come into my surgery with a deep sense of grievance that they are unable to obtain a house in the town, while new town people from outside Northampton have—quite rightly, in my opinion—been getting houses from the development corporation.

The social difficulties that these policies have revealed—the "them and us" syndrome—have been a tragedy. It has taken a long time for us to get round to putting that matter right. I find it particularly surprising in an age of planning that we should have made this fundamental mistake. The planning in many areas of social responsibility has been inclined to be disastrous. How much better it would have been if over the years the council list and the new town list could have been integrated. I hope that in the future we shall see a joint list.

Past policies have allowed politicians rather scrupulously to set one part of the town against another. I feel that the direction given by the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris)—I am glad that he is in the House—and by local Tory councillors and Tory ratepayer leaders in Northampton has been very unhealthy. They have a big responsibility for having created unhappiness and division where none ought to exist.

I read the Opposition amendment with some surprise. It seemed a very sad contribution, using old Tory philosophy in seeking to lead ordinary people astray. The only point it makes about the Bill is that council houses and new town development corporation houses should be sold. It fails, however, to spell out how ordinary people can afford to buy those houses.

It is all very well for the Conservatives to press forward with their philosophies, but are they aware of the dangers and damage that they did in the past when thousands of tenants were persuaded by Tory propaganda to buy their homes and now find themselves quite unable to pay the high mortgage interest charges? They destest the day that Tory councils throughout the country actively participated in getting them into debt. That is the situation in Northampton.

Many people have come to my surgery terrified at the prospect of not being able to afford the mortgage that the Conservative Party so blithely trapped them into taking on. There is a case for the Department sending out a circular telling local authorities what action is expected of them to help these people in their genuinely difficult situation. Very well, they were sold a pup: they were not told the financial implications of their actions. They were told that they would get a discount and a bargain, that they would become home owners. The attitude that the Labour Party has adopted of seeking to devolve responsibility to tenants for estate management, giving them a say in their own lives, is far more valid than the Tory dream of home ownership, which for many tenants has turned into a debt-ridden nightmare.

There is a great gap between what one would like and what one can afford. I should like to drive a Rolls-Royce Corniche, but I have to make do with an MG. Politicians should not lead people astray on these things. On this score the Conservatives are guilty of causing a great deal of distress.

There is no doubt that Northampton Development Corporation has been outstanding. It has had extraordinarily good communication between itself and the local authority. Its director and staff have done the job that they were appointed to do. They have designed, contracted and built. They have made housing available for overspill families. One of my anxieties, now that their work has paused because of the economic situation and the special difficulties of attracting industry, is that the corporation might be inclined to resort in Northampton to acquiring "captive" new town residents. By that I mean that Government offices will be moved there and that industry, which is so badly needed, will not. I am particularly anxious, therefore, that, whatever happens in Northampton, we shall continue to attract industry.

Another of our problems which could well be tackled by the Bill is the number of problem families being moved into Northampton from the London boroughs. Although I am an avid supporter of the mixed community, reports coming to me as the local Member of Parliament show that the social services are already over extended. The development corporation now has a surplus of housing and these factors add up to the need for better communication between the local authorities and the new town corporation. Certainly we want to give problem families the chance to start new lives in Northampton, but if that happens, we want the London boroughs to provide the money for the social services. Northamptonshire County Council is on a nil growth policy, and the existing social workers in the town cannot add more families to their already excessive burden.

One of the development corporation's problems was that it did not always communicate with the county council at an early stage. That was the cause of the special difficulty with the over-burdened social services. When the change-over comes, as I am certain it will, it must take place in an atmosphere of communication and fairness. I should like to see Northampton Borough Council and its elected representatives having an early say in the take-over. There must be financial help from the Government to effect the change-over to avoid any additional burden on Northampton ratepayers.

A lot of the propaganda that has been levelled in Northampton against the development corporation and at the ideal of new towns by the Tory Party and the Ratepayers' Association, which is an extended arm of the Tory Party in Northampton, has been geared to show that in some way the ratepayers are subsidising these "foreigners from London". That is a very narrow attitude. It is totally unjustified. Northampton has benefited and will continue to benefit enormously from its new town. But the Government must recognise this time that if they are to transfer assets and improve the situation of the new town, they must be prepared to provide a certain amount of money to ensure that that happens.

The great Socialist thinking and ideal that went into the new towns has worked. In Northampton the ideal that families should be brought out of the cities to live in the fresh air, to have recreational facilities, space and decent living conditions has in the last analysis been an overwhelming Socialist achievement. I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing the Bill forward to deal with the anomalies. I know that he will continue the work that his father began to make the new towns more democratic, better for people to live in, with more tenant control of the bureaucracy and thus tenants having a greater say in running their lives. I commend the Bill to the House.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I enjoyed hearing about the experiences as a private secretary of the hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun). We shall all watch her career under the new régime with interest. But I cannot say that I enjoyed the rest of her speech as much. The natives of Milton Keynes are subsidising the foreigners as they are in Northampton.

I generally welcome the Bill, particularly those aspects concerning the transfer of assets. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Edge), who spoke about my new town, gave the wrong impression. Milton Keynes will not be affected by the Bill, because it has only just started. It will be a long time before that sort of transfer takes place there.

I listened with interest to the Minister when he spoke about the transfer of part of the assets of a new town. I shall read the Official Report carefully tomorrow to see exactly what he said. What did he mean when he said that part of a new town could be transferred if agreement were reached by the two parties?

I also welcome the increase in the size of the board. I have found the present number restrictive. I am glad that the Minister has made these changes, because I think that they will be better able to deal with the various interests involved. Unlike the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) I have nothing but praise for the appointments so far as Milton Keynes is concerned. They are a good example of people working together. Since 1970 there has been no party political friction in the whole of the operation. If the extra members can safeguard the different interests involved in the new city—for that is what we call Milton Keynes—that is to the good.

I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). My hon. and learned Friend for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) has already quoted from the remarkable evidence submitted by the Chairman of the New Towns Association on the consultative document which resulted in the Bill. The Association is unanimous although the members of it are of different political persuasions. That is an important factor which should be borne in mind.

In Milton Keynes we are labouring under a bogus prospectus. If it were a company, it would be taken to task by the Board of Trade, because everyone who has come into the town has come under the prospectus laid down by the previous Labour Administration. The overall plan for Milton Keynes published in 1970 says: The Minister of Housing and Local Government —that is, a Socialist Minister— in his instructions to the Corporation has asked that at least 50 per cent. of householders … should own their own homes and that this ratio should be achieved as soon as possible. The Corporation endorses this aim and has accepted it as a fundamental guide to policy". The plan also states that mobility must be possible between the different types of tenures as the needs, resources and preferences of householders change.

Every industrialist and citizen has come to the designated area under the impression that he will be able to purchase his home at some time. I suppose that I am verging wide of the Bill, but it seems essential that we return to this criterion, because it produces a good balance, a healthy growth and saves Government expenditure, as the Chairman of the Association made clear in the passage read to the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn.

Mr. Corbett

I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to be fair, but will he concede that the extract that he has read from the brochure does not imply that tenants should have the right to buy their houses but that the development corporation over the period it is building the town should build roughly equal numbers of houses for sale and rent?

Mr. Benyon

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) is wrong. I could have read more from the document, but its whole reasoning was that anyone who came within the designated area as a tenant would at some later date have the opportunity to buy his own home. That has always seemed to be one of the greatest characteristics of the enterprise which is the largest public housing operation ever undertaken in Western Europe. Next year it will account for 2 per cent. of the entire public housing stock in the country. We have a right to stand on this and say that the matter must be examined again. At present about 20 per cent. of the houses are owner-occupied and 80 per cent. rented. A change must be made.

I turn to the finance for new towns and for the transfer of assets. This is the stage where I shall deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Northampton, North. Due to the high interest rates, the high rate of inflation and the changes in calculating Government grants, there has been a substantial imposition on the ratepayers of the country by Milton Keynes. The calculation means that the burden will be much greater for much longer. At its height, the natives—if I may describe them as such—will be paying 9.5p in the pound to get this operation on its way. The hon. Lady is right to say that this is only part of the story, because there will be benefit in the future. That is correct. One should again take note of what the chairmen's conference said when giving evidence to the Minister on the consultative document. On costs it said: What must be recognised now, however, is the need for special measures to enable the local authorities to give practical expression to their avowal of support for a new town and to develop their services in pace with population growth. In our evidence to the Layfield Committee, which has been separately published, we make recommendations which we think the local authorities would support. Briefly and primarily, 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 advanced provision so as to prevent any undue burden on the ratepayers as such". That suggestion should be adopted, not as an allocation but as a loan.

Thus, when the top point is passed and the dividends are coming in, the foreigners will begin to pay their way and produce a profit for the natives. That is the moment when the Government should begin to take back all or part of the loan used for the town in its early stages. There is no doubt that at the moment the situation causes difficulty between existing local authorities, and the new town corporation, particularly on education. For instance in my new town there is one of the largest and most interesting education experiments in the country which will involve a campus of 5,000 pupils in different units. It is a remarkable idea which should be encouraged and is now going very well.

Elsewhere in the local authority area there is grave criticism, because it is felt that schools in the southern part of Buckinghamshire are being starved of resources to get this big experiment off the ground. That does not help to create the right atmosphere between the local authority and the new town corporation.

I hope that something can be done soon about the yardstick provisions in new towns. Nothing contributes more to the decline in housing standards and to the whole development of a new town than this. Time and again I find the corporation going to the Department to try to obtain cuts here and new tenders there. The corporation has on its staff people of the highest calibre who, if given a block grant or loan, could go ahead and plan their city as they wish. Obviously, the Treasury does not like that. We know that there is a Treasury commitment. I maintain that the Treasury should be overruled.

The Minister said that the great thing to be said for the Bill was that it gave democratic control to the people in the new towns. I appreciate that I am ranging wide from the title of the Bill, but I think that I am entitled to say that the same element of democratic control should apply to Parliament. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to support me in the representations which I have made to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. My electorate now numbers 90,000 voters. It is increasing by 10,000 voters a year. It is the fastest growing electoral division in the United Kingdom. In this, I emphasise that I am concerned not with my political health, but with my physical health.

After the February 1974 General Election I wrote, first, to the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England, from which I got an uncompromising reply that it had no intention of revising the boundaries of constituencies before 1979. Therefore, I wrote to the Home Secretary, and I should like to quote from his reply: As the Secretary to the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England pointed out in his letter to you, there are a number of constituencies with very large electorates. Any changes in these would have repercussions over a wide area. With the general review in prospect, it would not in practice seem feasible to attempt to make interim adjustments in these large constituencies only to have further changes proposed in 1979. By 1979, if the worst happens and we still have not gone to the polls I shall be representing between 120,000 and 130,000 people. That will be a ridiculous situation. I spend a lot of time on this Bench, as the Minister knows. Looking through the parliamentary records, I find that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite represent a mere fraction of that number.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Although the House may have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's problems, he is going very wide of the Bill.

Mr. Benyon

I rather expected you to intervene before very long, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have made my point and I hope that I shall have the Minister's support.

Broadly speaking, I welcome this transfer of assets. I feel that much of the argument we have heard today has been somewhat unbalanced, because we are talking about new towns, not local authorities. We are talking not about local authority houses, but about new town houses. There is no reason why tenants who are transferred from one authority to the other should not have the right—that is all we are asking for—to purchase the houses in which they have lived for many years.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

It is a shame that the Opposition's amendment should be so narrow on a subject of such wide interest.

Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have learned that we all have appallingly bad memories. No one seems to recall that only 17 months ago a General Election was fought which resulted in a substantial majority for the Labour Party over the Conservative Party and in which one of the prime arguments concerned the sale of public housing to tenants. If the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) and his hon. Friends need this invitation, I shall be happy to see them in Hemel Hempstead to argue this matter. There is a wealth of difference between the mathematics of the exercise in a completed new town and in a developing town, particularly in the super-city of Milton Keynes.

As far as my constituent ratepayers are concerned, to flog off public housing would be the worst possible thing for them. It would be an immensely bad bargain. It may be good for them individually, but the effect on the ratepayers would be to risk the new civic centre going up in flames.

The 11th commandment of the Opposition seems to be that the arithmetic of what is spent on tax relief for those of us who have mortgages—by courtesy of the various building societies—and the public money which goes in subsidies for public housing means that council tenants are living off the backs of the owner-occupiers. That is not and has not been true. For example, the amount spent last year on subsidies, excluding rent rebates and allowances, was £749.4 million. The cost of tax relief last year was £815 million. In the current financial year it is estimated that £789.9 million will be expended on subsidies for public housing as against £885 million as the cost of tax allowances on mortgage interest payments.

It is probably common ground between both sides of the House that, by and large, housing finance—I do not want to put this too strongly with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government sitting there—is in a bit of a mess and could do with being looked at. Recently we were told that there were at least six, if not more, committees looking at various aspects of the matter.

I suppose that I should declare an interest in the Bill. Like a number of my hon. Friends who have lived in new towns for some time and have had the pleasure and privilege of becoming elected Members of Parliament for those areas, I have campaigned for more than 10 years to try to have the neck of the Commission for the New Towns wrung. It was invented by the Conservative Government in 1959. I suspect that the real intention was not simply to frustrate the original aim of the New Towns Act 1946, which was to transfer assets from the development corporations to the elected local authorities, but, as I have said before in this House, to act as a buffer and prevent people in new towns from having the same control over the running of their affairs as every man and woman over 18 years of age has. For a party which now proclaims its desire for more open government, the invention of the Commission for the New Towns all those years ago is perhaps a silent testimony to its past mistakes. I am gratified that to that extent hon. Members opposite have learned from those mistakes.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the industrial and commercial assets in the new towns should be handed over under the same arrangements as are proposed in the Bill for housing assets?

Mr. Corbett

I am coming to that point, because it has a great effect on the cash situation. I wish to make the distinction that the arguments I shall use are relevant only to a completed new town. In other words, on the question of flexibility in regard to the Bill the development corporations are in a different ball game.

My principal opposition to the Commission for the New Towns flowed from the feeling that there was never even any attempt to put a cloak of democracy over the composition of the local committees in the way in which they went about their business. There was not, and still is not, any right of appointment. There is no right for the local authority that is playing host to a new town to be represented on those bodies. My council for a period refused to put forward more than one name and was told "You must make your choice from a list of two or three."

My sad experience of these matters has led me to conclude that these bodies often go about their business in a bizarre way. We all think that we have the right to kick local government, but most local councils do not go about their business without at least achieving a statutory quorum. On 18th February last year—and, strangely enough, this occurred again on 19th February this year—the local committee of the Commission for the New Towns called its regular monthly meeting. It did not get a quorum, went about its business and told a subsequent meeting "This is what we did. Will you endorse it?" I find that a strange way in which to run and administer a completed new town. If anybody in local government went in for such practices, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government and his colleagues would be down on them like a ton of bricks, and rightly so.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say something in his reply on the question of the representation on local committees. I am not necessarily asking for an increase in the size and composition of local committees in completed new towns, but am asking for the right of representation in principle in respect of the host local authority. Perhaps the phrase "host local authority" is stretching things a little far, because the new town which I represent has been some 25 years in the making.

I believe that the industrial and commercial assets of completed new towns should be handed over on the same basis as are housing and related assets. I know that the Minister takes a different view on this matter, and I am prepared to concede that there are some larger, and indeed different, considerations involved. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not arguing that, just because people in my completed new town happen to live there, they should raid the public purse and obtain a bonus.

In the completed new town in my constituency of Hemel Hempstead there was a surplus—as shown in the twelfth annual report of the Commission for the New Towns—in the period ended 31st March 1974 of income over outgoings, which can be crudely described as a profit, of £1,683,668. I appreciate that there are more complex arguments involving the transfer of commercial and industrial assets. Much as I should like to see this proposal adopted, my persuasive right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government has won again and has persuaded me to welcome what we have got.

The pledge to transfer housing management and allocation to elected authorities in the new towns nearing completion was given on page 18 of the Labour Party manifesto of October 1974. It was my great privilege to be on the platform at a public meeting when my right hon. and retiring Friend the Prime Minister spoke on 30th September 1974. He repeated that pledge in public and was given a standing ovation. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government that, although he has had one or two other matters to deal with in the meantime, he has come forward with this legislation.

Mr. John Silkin

In my case I am my hon. Friend's right hon. but not retiring Friend.

Mr. Corbett

I must say that a period of 17 months elapsing between the giving of a pledge and the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill is a good and fair wind. It is a long overdue measure. The Labour Party has fudged the issue for far too long. We have now taken the first step to transfer housing and associated assets to the elected representatives of local people.

I wish to make four brief points. The first relates to staff who work for the Commission for the New Towns and also the staff working in district councils. I am happy to tell the Minister that amicable discussions have begun and are continuing between my local committee and the Commission. I am pleased to be able to tell him that there has been an almost complete measure of agreement. I know that the Minister is well aware, because he visited the new town last August, of the real and genuine concern of Commission staff over the transfer. I hope he will lose no time in reassuring the staff and will lay down guidelines and publish the regulations under which they will work.

I do not believe that in this matter there is any risk of the kind of bonanza as happened over local government, as has been suggested by some Opposition Members. My right hon. Friend the Minister said in an intervention that we were now dealing with the transfer of bricks and mortar and that that situation will still have to be administered. However, we are looking for some improvements in the efficiency of management and it would be wrong to kid ourselves that this can be done without any loss of staff. We must ensure that the process is completed as painlessly as possible.

I hope that the Minister will recognise, as I am sure he does, that the differences in regard to structure between the Commission for the New Towns and the district councils are a very different kettle of fish from the situation which obtained when the district councils were created. To that extent perhaps the Commission will need more flexibility in resolving this problem.

Will the Minister in reply make clear that the acquiring local authority before, during and after transfer will have user rights to the offices, furniture and equipment of the Commission for the New Towns? It is not just people who are needed, but also offices and other equipment to enable staff to carry out their work smoothly. In Hemel Hempstead there is a works depot situated in Paradise. I am tempted to say that there is perturbation in Paradise, but I shall not yield to that temptation. I hope also that there will be special recognition of some of the problems which the Commission for the New Towns itself may face if it is left in the position of having significant numbers of its staff for whom the local authority cannot provide work.

My third point relates to a matter that I welcome strongly. It is a matter of great concern. From reading the Bill, it seems to me that the central principle of the financing side of the transfer is that it shall be on neither a profit nor a loss basis. That is absolutely right, because it would be very unfair if as taxpayers we in the new towns—part of whose taxes have in any event have helped to fund and found these new towns—have to pay again as ratepayers, either as tenants or as owner-occupiers.

The fundamental point is that the democratic right to local control over our completed new towns should not depend upon the depth of the civil purse. It is a right that belongs to all of us in the new towns as to those in the other towns. I am pleased to say that my district council, in anticipation of this transfer, is already working on proposals for new, bold and very imaginative schemes of estate management with a very real effort being made to involve tenants much more in what is going on. They may seem small things to many people but they affect the quality and calibre of life in some of the estates, which at times, even with the best planning decisions, can appear to be a little bleak.

Fourthly, I turn to the cash side of the transfer. It is a fact that in the new town that I represent the repair and maintenance cost for a Commission for the New Towns house averages out at £92 a year, as against £67 a year in the case of the local authority. Lest it be thought that the local authority is mean or that the Commission for the New Towns is unduly extravagant, let me add that this is simply explained by the fact that the housing stock owned by the Commission for the New Towns is much older in general than the bulk of the stock owned by the local authority. Similarly, the average supervision and management costs of Commission for the New Towns houses has been £63 a unit as against £32 by the district council.

I think we would have a right to expect that as part of this transfer there should be an increase in efficiency and therefore, I hope, some saving in the supervision and management costs, without in any way detracting from the service to which tenants rightly feel entitled.

It is again one of the strange things about this place, and perhaps outside it, that too few of us have yet realised that it has been estimated that by the year 2000 one-seventh of our population will be living in a new town, either developed from a green field site or extended around an existing town centre. That is why it is important that we get this matter of transfer right.

I believe that the new towns are a testament to caring, positive public planning. I am proud to be a member of the party which, by and large, has been responsible for them. I have said that I should have liked the Commission for the New Towns to be wound up totally as unwanted and unnecessary in the completed new towns. However, I accept that this a small first step—but an important step—towards that ultimate objective. It was Labour which saw that the new towns were built. It was a very necessary thing to do. It is a Labour Government who will now ensure that the control of them is put into the hands of those who live in them, through their elected representatives. I hope that the Bill receives a well-deserved Second Reading.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Perhaps I may be allowed to reply to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms. Colquhoun) and the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) before I come to the general aspect of the Bill. If I have indeed created, to use the words of the hon. Member for Northampton, North, unhappiness and division in Northampton, I can only think that is among members of the local Labour Party and at holding the seat twice, much to their shame. In so far as the hon. Lady suggests that politicians have led tenants astray into what she termed a debt-ridden nightmare, it is interesting to note that it is the Labour-controlled Northampton council that is now encouraging the sale of council houses. Secondly, if anyone has led anyone astray, I suggest that it is the hon. Lady in her commitment at All Saints Church in February 1974 that she would move to Northampton. We are all still waiting.

If the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead wants a debate on the sale of local corporation houses in Hemel Hempstead, I should be happy to go there one Friday evening and to have that debate with him. I think that it would be a very interesting debate. However, enough of the parochial side of things, and on to the meat of the Bill.

Ms. Colquhoun

Come to Northampton and have one with me.

Mr. Morris

If the hon. Lady wishes to intervene, she may come to Northampton as often as I am there. I should be happy to see her there.

The concept of the Bill is enormously welcome, building as it does on the legislation of the right hon. Gentleman's father, which, with the benefit of time, has turned out to be one of the more significant pieces of legislation on environmental planning. On that basis I welcome it strongly. At the same time, we all recognise that more than a generation has passed since then and that the time has now come to review the concept of the new towns. Therefore, to that extent, I give only a tepid welcome to the actual content of the Bill. That is not to say that there is not good meat in the Bill, because there is. My reservation is that the Bill probably does not go as far as I should like in terms of looking to the future. However, having made that general remark, I should like to turn to one or two aspects that are covered in the Bill.

I accept warmly the principle of the transfer of tenancies to the local authorities responsible. Although I say that I welcome it very much, I have at the back of my mind the experience of a London borough, being the chairman of its housing committee when certain responsibilities of the GLC were transferred to it. To some extent this is the second time around for me, as it may be for some other hon. Members.

There were two major stumbling blocks involved in that transfer. The first was the financial provision. I well remember the all-party deputation from the London Boroughs Association going to the GLC and to the Minister and saying that the financial arrangements were not adequate because they were putting a burden on local ratepayers.

The right hon. Gentleman has been at pains to say that there will be no undue burden and that it will be at the discretion of the Secretary of State to make the necessary amendments to ensure that there is no undue burden. Regretfully, I have to say to him that I do not think that this is sufficient. It is not a question of there being no undue burden. We have experienced "no undue burden" already in Northamptonshire, and that "no undue burden" amounted to several pence on the rates. That is primarily because of the infrastructure that the county council has to put in.

I should like to quote from the observations of Northamptonshire on new towns in England and Wales which were addressed to the Minister. Talking about finance, the document said in paragraph 6, The problem is that a County Council has to bear the cost of infrastructure development as a charge to existing ratepayers whilst a Development Corporation receives the benefits. It goes on to say, The County Council obtain no financial return for their investment in the infrastructure. The right hon. Gentleman knows, as does certainly the Under-Secretary who is responsible for local government, that I and other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who is not present, have explained ad nauseam about the rate support grant that while it may not be an undue burden, it is a burden and one that the new towns should not be asked to carry. In Committee we shall want to move some amendments in that respect.

However, I agree that while the normal transition will be over 15 years, there may be a case for earlier transfer. In Northampton the development is split into two parts—the eastern area and the southern area. Parts of the eastern area are probably ready now for transfer, and that should happen with some speed. I am glad that arrangements will be made to allow this transfer.

The second area of concern about the transfer of properties from the GLC was among tenants. A proportion, even in the GLC area, wanted to buy their own homes. Some wanted to run co-operative ventures and others wanted some form of co-ownership. Myriads of committees are meeting at the moment and the Minister for Housing and Construction, who was present earlier, is a devotee of co-ownership and tenant co-operatives. In the interests of tenants, we should write into the Bill a provision allowing them to run co-operatives or co-ownership schemes. We have such a scheme in embryonic form in Northampton at the moment on one of the older estates, and I hope that nothing in the Bill will prevent that scheme from reaching fruition.

I have asked the Minister about every three months when he will allow tenants to buy their own homes. He is getting a little warmer slowly and has said that he hopes to do something in certain places some time this year. But when we know that 70 per cent. of tenants want to own their own homes and that the unanimous opinion of the Commission for the New Towns—whose composition, if anything, is inclined to the Left—is that they should be allowed to do so, when we know that some of the older and more experienced Labour politicians in local government themselves want it to happen, it seems extraordinarily ostrichlike to persist in refusing to allow them to do so. I hope that the Minister will come off the fence and accept that, with this weight of opinion, there must be something in it.

Housing associations have also been mentioned. I hope that in Committee the Minister will be open-minded about this transfer being not just to local authorities, but to other socially responsible bodies and forms of tenant. There is a tremendous opportunity in the new towns, which have a cohesion of living that is not, perhaps, common in other parts of the community. It would be a crying shame if co-ownership and co-operatives were prevented.

However, I support the hon. Member for Northampton, North on one point—her reference to social mix and the problems of the socially disadvantaged. We all understand our responsibilities to ensure a mix, but the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead, representing a seat near London, must know that the infrastructure of the London boroughs is far greater than that in the counties. Therefore, boroughs like Islington, Camden and Hackney, which export people to Northampton, have far better facilities for the mentally and physically handicapped and others who are socially deprived.

Before the Minister follows the philosophy of a mix too far, he should consider what facilities there are at the receiving end. This is not a party political issue. With the best will in the world, the social services departments in a county like Northamptonshire are just not experienced enough to cope with the problems coming upon them. I have attended meetings of the Disablement Income Group at which people who have come from London have expressed great concern about the comparatively poor facilities in Northampton. Also, peripatetic hearing facilities and other services for the deaf are nowhere near as good outside London as they are inside.

However, the new towns could take on responsibility for the elderly, because less specialised facilities are involved. With the benefit of hindsight, one can say that it would have been better if the new towns had earlier taken on a fairer and larger proportion of elderly people—not least because this would have supported the concept of the "extended family". So often a wife wants to go out to work and if grandma is around the corner, she can look after the children. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider that aspect, although I would urge great caution.

The Minister made it clear that the commercial assets in the new towns were national assets because they had been provided by central funds. There was a ring of the National Enterprise Board about his description of the rôle of the new towns in running these assets. But none of these new towns would have happened if the local populations had not been willing to allow them to happen. Like it or not, the local populations and their facilities suffered in the building phase.

When a town like the one that the hon. Lady the Member for Northampton, North and I represent has its centre completely gutted, with large tracts redeveloped, facilities are enormously strained. So it is not just a question of the Exchequer getting a return on this investment. There should be a substantial return to the indigenous population, including those who have now moved out. A substantial part of the revenue should go to them.

I would go further. Recent evidence suggests that companies going to Northampton come from all over the world and that they require mainly freehold property. This pressure will increase. We have lost employment potential because too few freehold sites are available. While the hon. Lady may be right to say that not all the assets should be sold off, we should weigh up the employment potential before we say too airily "In no case are we prepared to allow the freehold to be sold."

I urge the Minister to discuss the commercial side with the Secretary of State for Industry. Indigenous companies are still having difficulty in getting IDCs in new towns, yet outside companies often come in with a floor space demand less than that of the local people and certainly with a far lower employment potential. It seems nonsense that, when there is local industry in a developing area and a new town wants to expand, the Department of Industry should still be saying that the firm concerned must move to the North-East, or somewhere else. It seems a bit of a non sequitur and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look at it.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned the people involved. In the majority of our new towns we probably have the finest teams of development experts in Western Europe. It would be a crying shame if those teams were broken up. Where there are really first-class teams, which work together, which, as we know from evidence, can produce developments in half the time it takes local government, the Minister ought to do his best to see that they are kept together.

It is not as though we had not got problems. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Edge) mentioned the dockland area in London. The right hon. Gentleman has some dockland in his constituency. Somebody has to take hold of the morass of dockland in London, and I can think of no finer body to do that than some form of new town corporation. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that the same problem occurs in the centres of many of our great cities. If development teams are running down their work, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think seriously about transferring them to some more active service rather than putting them out to grass within a local authority.

There must be safeguards for the transfer of those who are to be moved. I support the suggestion that the Ombudsman should have a role to play, because there are people who suffer in the transfer to local authorities. I have a case in point in Northampton on which I am not getting much satisfaction. I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will urge the Home Secretary to allow the Omsbudman to cover the work of the Commission.

Secondly, one of the areas in which we shall need to see some pruning—and this will require a degree of bravery on the Minister's part—is that of the architects' department. There is no rôle in an existing local authority for large numbers of architects and associated persons to be transferred. My right hon. Friend will have to be strong-minded and accept that, and there must be savings in that area.

One other feature that continues to worry us in the specific example of a county like Northamptonshire—and I make no apology for mentioning one or two specifics—is that there appears to be a lack of liaison at the centre. We have the extraordinary situation of a new town at Corby, with a good infrastructure and a local council wishing to do all it can to attract local industry, knowing there is a bit of a cloud over the steel industry, yet the Government saying that the development corporation there should close down. At the same time, there is the enormous second phase of the expansion in Northampton on the southern side in the knowledge that locally the southern area in particular is not wanted. The evidence is increasing every day to show the lack of need. It seems to many of us at district and county level and in Parliament that there is a lack of liaison in the Department of the Environment in that respect.

I welcome the principle of this Bill, but I again emphasise that "no undue burden" is not an adequate phrase. We want no burden at all on the local authority, because our experience of the previous arrangement was bitter and costly. Frankly, the Treasury did not pay up last time and I have grave doubts whether it would pay up in the future. The only safeguard we could have would be to have a provision written into the Bill to stipulate no extra burden at all.

The receiving new towns have accepted with enormous good will the onslaught—and I use the word advisedly—of development and new people. There has necessarily been upset and disturbance in what were previously tranquil towns and there have of necessity been extra costs. Therefore I hope very much that when we come to debate the Bill the commercial aspect will be considered and that we shall have a firm commitment on that.

I have persistently questioned right hon. and hon. Gentlemen about the sale of new town homes to sitting tenants. I urge them to think very seriously again about this subject. I urge them to think again about their ratio of 75 per cent. rented to 25 per cent. owner-occupied. We hear from non-political as well as political sources that the ratio of 50:50 was common ground between the parties until very recently; it certainly meets with the approval of local people.

If we are to see this very exciting concept of new towns develop as most hon. Members wish and to see it have an exciting future, the right hon. Gentleman has to remove the two stumbling blocks that he has put in the way since the October election—no sale and the revised ratio. I am sure that he knows in his heart that they are probably both wrong. We shall try to let him off the hook and not be too beastly when he changes his mind about them, but I urge him to reconsider.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), has made a very interesting contribution. I was especially taken with his obvious desire to see my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms. Colquhoun) become a resident in their area, his desire to meet her, in fact, in the area, and at one stage to support her—all very commendable.

The Minister is to be congratulated on what is undoubtedly a very valuable Bill. Its prime and very worthy purpose is to advance the cause of local democracy. Few of us will dispute that. Its clauses are sensible and sufficiently elastic to meet changing circumstances, and we must recognise that circumstances have indeed changed.

Before the advent of the current depression, it could be said with great accuracy that each and every new town had succeeded in its main purpose of creating decent housing, providing adjacent employment and generating prosperity. But, owing largely to the prevailing economic climate, we find that the new town of Skelmersdale in Lancashire is experiencing problems, and that many of the large firms which were tempted to that area by lavish incentives by various Governments have since folded their tents and stolen away.

But the fault lies deeper than the new town programme, and it must be resolved. It would be quite unforgiveable if we tolerated the situation whereby people were persuaded into new surroundings and subsequently abandoned. They cannot casually fold up their tents and move on. We must honour the bright promises of a new life, consistent employment and a pleasing environment. Of course the new towns are not affected by unemployment in isolation, but I think that we have a special responsibility here. We have issued a prospectus. Indeed, it has been issued not by one Government, but by Government after Government. The commitment to those who respond to it must not be neglected.

Earlier in the debate the problem of overspill was mentioned. The concept of a new town is a much bolder and more visionary approach. I recall that in my local authority days I experienced the peculiarities of serving on an urban district council which had its population increased 30-fold by overspill development from a nearby major city. It suffered all the disadvantages of a new town without any of the compensations. There was little financial support from the Government. There was inadequate industry, inadequate transport, and inadequate leisure facilities. There was also the problem of absentee landlords as the large exporting authority paid scant heed to the tenants of its property in the overspill district and there were no elected members to the authority which provided the overspill. I do not allocate blame: there was a set of circumstances. But it was extremely unfortunate, and I should much prefer to see a new town development to meet a situation of this nature.

My constituency of Chorley is located within the boundaries of the Central Lancashire New Town. It is a ghastly title. I wish that someone would think of a name for this project other than this conglomeration of "Central Lancashire New Town". However, it has been said that all new towns are unique. If that is so, the massive project in Lancashire is astonishingly unique. It covers some 90 square miles and embraces the three existing towns of Preston, Chorley and Leyland, and there is also a multitude of villages within its boundaries.

It may be that this sounds a grim and soulless venture, but I do not think that that is so. The theme of the development is to enhance what already exists. Already we see that, apart from industrial development and the creation of housing stock, there are village greens and leisure facilities being provided amongst the other projects in the area. At a time of great industrial stress, more than 1,000 new jobs have already been created within the new town, and many thousands of square feet of factory space have been let or are under construction. The area is well served by motorways and eventually would have attracted industrial development, anyway. But I should much prefer this attractive, well-planned programme, rather than the sprawl and squalor which have disfigured so many industrial areas of the North-West of England.

Naturally there are complaints and queries and, because I favour the broad concept, that is not to say that I have not frequently engaged in battle with the development corporation. Individual projects within a major project must be closely scrutinised at all stages and challenged whenever necessary.

There are other features which create problems. Many of the older residents find it difficult to adapt to the new situation. They resent change, and there are difficulties in superimposing a new population on the old. There will be special problems if the housing stock provided by the development corporation is only partially occupied while local people are homeless. These issues and many others must be and I think will be overcome if the formula of common sense is applied by all authorities at all levels.

The Bill contains the essential ingredient of democracy. In itself, it is not sufficient to meet all the problems which will arise, certainly in my area of Lancashire, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to be more generous with this ingredient of democracy. It is only by early and total community involvement that all the questions can be resolved.

So far, I have made no reference to the curious little amendment moved by the Opposition. I find it hard to believe that this triviality has been put forward seriously. In my view, to sell to tenants is morally indefensible, certainly while a shortage of houses for rent continues. Of course it would be advantageous to some but to those in need, without a house at all, it would be utterly disastrous.

Any hon. Member who holds a surgery frequently will surely be aware that the people who come with housing problems are not those who are already in possession of property and have a home but those without a home who are in desperate need of one. I welcome the Bill and wish it well in Committee.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) in referring to the Central Lancashire New Town. I very much welcome the Bill but I am disappointed that its provisions will not start to apply to the Central Lancashire New Town for at least 10 years. But I am still more concerned over the fact that the Bill does very little to change the structure of the South Lancashire New Town Corporation. I believe that when the structures were first considered years ago there might have been more need for independent bodies of this kind. But they wield enormous power and authority. The Central Lancashire New Town Development Corporation, for instance, will have an enormous impact on the lives of half a million people, and it holds large resources and patronage as well.

The Corporation is not accountable to the public, and everything we have seen so far shows that it is also unresponsive. It is frequently stated, for instance, that local authorities are not as responsive as they should be to the electors, but the machinery is there for them to influence the administration through their elected representatives from day to day. But there is no such accountability as regards the Corporation. If hon. Members have criticism to make of the corporations, they will be told by the Minister that he has no power to interfere in the day-today running of the corporations.

Those bodies have enormous power, not only directly in their own sphere, in the realm of their own jurisdiction, but as regards local authorities also. Everyone who is on a local authority will know that officers from various local authorities—they form a big part of the Central Lancashire New Town, covering Preston, Chorley, Leyland and many others—discuss planning regularly with their equivalents in the Central Lancashire New Town. They reach decisions after weekly or monthly discussions. Therefore, the influence of the Corporation is greater. It spreads to the local authorities. Everyone knows the power of the local officers in the administration of the town. It frequently happens, and I am sure hon. Members will have seen it elsewhere, that if the chairman in a local authority is not very strong he may be in the pocket of the local officers. If the officers have made decisions together with their relative members in the Corporation, the influence of the Corporation can spread out, and the elected representatives of the local authorities have little influence in deciding on this enormous planning undertaking.

The first 10 or 15 years, when the design is created, is the vital stage. When this is handed over to the local authorities, they can do little to change the pattern but they may suffer if the pattern is inappropriate. They are taking over big responsibilities. This shows itself in the Central Lancashire New Town. It is true that there is consultative machinery and there are co-opted members, but they are relatively ineffective. There are public meetings at which enormous opposition is expressed to the plans to the Central Lancashire New Town Corporation, and they are even listened to, but very little notice is taken of the objections.

To give a simple example of the attitude of the Central Lancashire New Town which sums up very well what we find in other ways, one of the hazards of being a Member of this House is that when one visits an undertaking on business one is offered hospitality. The usual kind of hospitality is "Will you have a drink?" If one says "Yes", one is offered several different kinds of drink. I visited the administration of the Central Lancashire New Town and hospitality was offered to me. Sir Frank asked quite bluntly "Will you have a gin and tonic?"

Mr. Arthur Jones

What did the hon. Gentleman reply?

Mr. Atkins

I am not a teetotaller—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Perhaps I may give the hon. Gentleman some advice. On such occasions it is as well to stick to tomato juice.

Mr. Atkins

The answer to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) is that gin is not my favourite drink, but I downed the obnoxious liquid in the interest of my cause. I do not say that I was not given freedom of choice. There was a simple choice—take it or leave it. That has been the attitude of the Corporation at many public meetings.

A good illustration of the Corporation's unresponsiveness to the local people and the needs of the area was shown in its decision on rented accommodation. The original decision, before the advent of the Labour Government, was a proportion of 75 per cent. house ownership and 25 per cent. rented, with an option for the tenant to take over after a number of years. That meant no addition to the rented stock in an area which badly needed it, for two reasons. One was that it was originally envisaged that many of the people coming in would be overspill from Merseyside and Greater Manchester, and the other was settlement of the area.

There are three old towns with limited boundaries and very little land on which to build rented accommodation. Around them were areas in which there was expensive suburban development for owner-occupation. Those towns—Preston, Chorley and Leyland—suffered from long waiting lists. Despite the urgent need for extra rented accommodation, it was ruled out by the Corporation, which wanted the land entirely for house ownership.

The reason was understood. In the early days one of the officers let slip the statement "We want the accommodation for a nice kind of executive." The planned houses were expensive and could be bought only by executives. That attitude seemed incredible. Early plans for the area had golf courses painted all over them—there seemed to be enough for the whole country—but there was no mention of football pitches.

The plans for roads and other communications cancelled out earlier plans proposed by someone who left in desperation. Instead, roads were proposed across the town of Preston and other towns, destroying cheap accommodation and destroying in particular terraced houses by their hundreds.

Fortunately, my right hon. Friend reversed that decision and the position is now much better than it would have been. However, I am still worried because the Corporation is as unresponsive as ever. It is an inward-looking organisation that still does not respond to the wishes, aspirations and needs of the local inhabitants. They are the experts because they know the area.

Unless the situation has changed recently, not one of the leading figures of Central Lancashire New Town lives in the area which they are supposed to plan. Their decision to live outside is one of the best decisions I have known them to make. What they have to plan for is in many cases not the sort of thing I would like.

This is a splendid Bill worthy of the son of a worthy father, but I would like something done later, by special legislation if possible, to change the structure of the corporations so that the people who live in an area will have a say in what is most important in their lives, particularly as public funds have been provided for the development of those areas.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister and to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) for missing the opening speeches. The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry), who is here now and I have been incarcerated upstairs in a Standing Committee since some time in December. It is rather rare that we can participate in debates on the Floor of the House.

I shall be brief because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) wishes to speak before 9 o'clock. I welcome the Bill. New towns have a historic significance. They have undoubtedly provided a better atmosphere and improved living standards in spacious surroundings with a fine infrastructure for many people who had previously been denied a new house. My overall view of new towns is one of support. They are an important and integral part of any planning in this country.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said about democracy in the corporations. I have always felt that democracy should be retained by locally elected people. It is strange that we have these monolithic development corporations which are often not democratic or responsible to anyone. On that ground alone the Bill is essential. At least it transfers to local elected representatives the powers they will need when they take over the assets of the corporations.

Perhaps I could use this debate as another opportunity to beat a drum that I have beaten in the past. I am sceptical about certain aspects of some new towns. I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) for a long time. We are constituency neighbours and I have no doubt that he welcomes with enthusiasm the Central Lancashire New Town.

My constituency is split between Bolton on the north and Wigan on the south. To many people, Wigan may be a music hall joke, but the area has serious problems. It is surrounded by new towns, with Runcorn to the south, Skelmersdale to the west and the Central Lancashire New Town to the north-west. Fantastic resources have been poured into the new towns surrounding the Wigan basin. Wigan has been left to decline and rot. We have a declining population and urban deprivation.

This has been caused by the provision of new towns on all sides of the metropolitan borough of Wigan. In Wigan and Bolton local authorities object to the monolithic growth of Skelmersdale and to the proposals for the Central Lancashire New Town. People are faced with a growing sense of despair when they compare the roads and the infrastructure of Skelmersdale, Runcorn and the Central Lancashire New Town with the decaying life style in Wigan. There is a conflict of poinion about what should be done.

I am not against the provision or the development of new towns, but I ask the Government whenever they are planning to develop new towns to consider areas like Wigan before taking green fields and building new houses and new factories to the detriment of the older areas.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

The Bill is about 12 years overdue. Many years ago it was Labour policy to transfer new towns to local authorities so that control should come within the province of elected representatives. Labour policy is that there should be more control by elected representatives and less control by appointees.

Tomorrow I shall be introducing a Ten-Minute Bill designed to bring more democracy to the nationalised boards. I regard the Commission for the New Towns and the various development corporations as publicly owned industries, but they will not be a feature of my Bill, because the New Towns (Amendment) Bill covers them neatly. Many people are concerned that a tiny oligarchic élite are able to maintain a position of power over people's lives by membership of the nationalised boards and by control of the new towns.

The Bill is to be welcomed. I hope that, with the help of the Government, district councils will go even further towards decentralising democracy. The Bill provides powers for the housing stock to be transferred from the new town development corporations to the district councils. That is a welcome first step on the road to democracy. It would be useful if the tenants were given delegated powers to organise their estates with tenants' committees, possibly including representatives of the district council. We shall not be able to achieve that until the Bill is passed and the powers transferred to the district councils.

The local authorities will be superior to appointees, with all their airs of mystery and patronage, in controlling housing stock. We do not know how those appointees are appointed. The jobs are not usually advertised. Members of the Labour movement would like to see the system overhauled. There is no reason why a Labour Government should appoint Sir Richard Dobson to British Leyland as part-time chairman at £22,500 a year. Just as the tenants of the new towns have been pressing for democratic control, so the British Leyland workers have been looking a little askance when they hear that the man who is to guide their destiny, who left his previous job with a good-bye present of £80,000—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I realise that the hon. Member will resume his seat at 9 o'clock, but in the meantime he should discuss the new towns, which are the subject under discussion. To discuss Leyland is wholly out of order.

Mr. Cryer

I obey your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The principle of the Bill, which is to transfer powers from the development corporations to the local authorities, is of great advantage because those powers are being transferred to a democratically elected body. The tenants of the new towns will greatly welcome this move. They want an elected representative to whom they can put their case, and if the elected representatives do not do their job properly, the tenants can get rid of them.

The parallel case was that of British Leyland. I believe that the people in British Leyland would welcome it in exactly the same way as the tenants of the new towns will welcome the New Towns (Amendment) Bill. If my hon. Friend decides to produce a new British Leyland (Amendment) Bill, with the same pattern as the New Towns (Amendment) Bill, certainly it will be very greatly welcomed, because we seek, in exactly the same way as the tenants in the new towns, to get rid of this aura of authority.

I do not want to criticise the Commission for the New Towns too much, because it set off with excellent intentions. It was a Labour Party development. It was a great step forward. Some of the architectural advantages which were claimed were certainly not as great as they were thought to be, but the people who were appointed no doubt set out with the best of intentions.

The fact is—we know it very well in the House—that it makes a difference to a person if he is controlled by the people. In general, those who are appointed to positions are "safe" people. Those who tend to kick over the traces and to raise perhaps controversial or embarrassing issues are generally not the sort of people appointed to these corporations. As a result, if something arises which is the concern of tenants, they tend not to get the sort of response they would get from an elected representative.

Although the appointees might act with the best of intentions, they still fall short of the wishes of the people. The people have no control over them, and therefore the appointees feel that there is no need to respond to the people. The appointees have a different master—the person who appointed them.

That is why we in the Labour Party believe essentially in democracy. That is why we want to see democracy extended in a variety of ways—even to the Parliamentary Labour Party, so that, for example, we might be consulted to a greater extent than we are already. In the past few weeks there have been tendencies in that direction.

The New Towns (Amendment) Bill is a good step on the way. Tomorrow there will be a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, which I hope the Government will support as enthusiastically as they support the New Towns (Amendment) Bill, so that we may spread the spirit of democracy to all the nationalised boards.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has taken us into a rather philosophical field, in which he suggests that there are significant differences between him and some of his hon. Friends on the one hand and the establishment in the Socialist Party on the other hand. That is obvious to many of us, and it has been for some time past. It has been more in evidence in recent weeks than hitherto, but we have always been conscious of it. To try to use that analogy in terms of development corporations, however, is somewhat inappropriate.

The value of the development corporations has been proven, and we have yet to see the hon. Member and his colleagues being given a chance to prove their worth. I think I may claim widespread support for the proposition that they may never have that opportunity.

I add my congratulations to those which have been expressed to the Minister for having the opportunity to present the Bill. It is a credit to him that he has been able to follow in the family tradition set by his distinguished father and that he is able to speak for the Government of the day on the important issues of planning, particularly of the new towns. His distinguished father introduced and successfully piloted through the House the New Towns Act 1946. The right hon. Gentleman has followed the progress of new towns over the last 30 years and played a great part with his father during that period. His family have given very distinguished service to Socialist Administrations, to local government generally and to new towns in particular.

I was glad that the Minister mentioned Ebenezer Howard, who was essentially a visionary who gave us the concept of new towns. I add to his name that of Sir Frederic Osborn, now over 90 years of age, who during the whole of that period has played a great part in the new towns movement. It was Ebenezer Howard and Sir Frederic Osborn who conceived and implemented the new towns of Letch-worth and Welwyn Garden City, an imaginative concept which has been fulfilled, in material and social terms, remarkably for Sir Frederic Osborn, who has seen a vision become a reality.

Those two new towns beckoned and welcomed to the green fields upon which they were built the residents of our towns and cities. They provided for those people a standard of living and amenities far beyond the expectations of many of those urban families. Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City were the two initial new towns and provided splendid living standards and good opportunitities for a full life. That was the concept which lay behind the New Towns Act, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman's distinguished father lived so many years to see the fruits of his endeavours.

I criticise the hon. Members for Northampton, North (Ms. Colquhoun) and Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), who both said that the new towns were essentially a Socialist achievement. I have told of the initiation of those towns. Their fulfilment came from the right hon. Gentleman's father. However, successive Conservative Administrations have supported the concept of new towns to the full and have played their part in providing the resources essential to their development.

By the time we have finished the debate, 20 hon. Members will have taken part. That is an indication of the wide interest which exists in the subject. Not all hon. Members who have spoken have new towns in their constituencies. That is a reflection of the interest they have in a subject which has commanded tremendous public and private resources. The sum involved must run into thousands of millions of pounds. It has had a great effect on the scene throughout the United Kingdom.

There is a great deal of common ground in the Bill. In general terms there is only one matter which divides us—owner-occupation and the sale of new town houses to occupiers. That is the subject of the amendment which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and which I am pleased to support.

Mr. Moonman

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have respect for his chairmanship of the Select Committee. Bearing in mind, however, that there is so much common ground, why have he and his colleagues allowed the Bill to be cluttered up with this extraordinary amendment? It is pure politics, and the matter would be better discussed during a half-day Supply debate.

Mr. Jones

"Cluttered up" is hardly a correct expression of our view. There is a fundamental difference on the matter, and we are supported by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). That indicates the widespread support that exists for the concept of owner-occupation. It is fundamental to new towns. I was never satisfied with the Minister's explanation of why he denied tenants of new town corporation houses the opportunity to purchase. There is a fundamental difference of opinion between the parties. We want to see a property-owning democracy. Only individual ownership and wealth can give people personal freedom. In insisting that people shall become tenants of houses, there is a denial of personal freedom for them to own the house in which they live.

The Bill follows the recommendations of the working party on the transfer of rented houses in new towns published in April 1975. That report was generally welcomed by all the political parties, local authority associations and the New Towns Association. Recommendation No. 3 in the Thirteenth Report from the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee published in August last year says: In view of Government statements of policy, at an early date proposals should be brought forward for the transfer of housing and associated assets from the Development Corporations to District Councils. That was the unanimous decision of the Committee which I had the honour to chair. That recommendation was made in the context of the need to reconcile the different aims of local authorities, which wish to deal with housing needs in their own areas, and of development corporations, which must discharge wider duties. I subscribe to the proposition that there comes a time when housing assets should, for a number of reasons, be taken over by local authorities.

In Committee there will clearly need to be clarification of some of the definitions in the Bill—concerning, for example, flats over shops, multi-storey in some cases. Land held for the benefit of occupiers is referred to in the Bill. That will need elaboration. I am not sure whether allotments and so on will be included in that definition. There is an important reference to land awaiting development as part of an estate and set aside for the erection of dwellings.

I wonder whether the Government are prepared to consider the transfer of neighbourhood areas as they become completed in new towns. There has been some advocacy for the idea that, when an estate of some hundreds of houses becomes a recognisable neighbourhood, that may be the time, if we are looking for the benefits which come from local authority management, for those houses to be transferred to the local authority.

Management is an important consideration. At least, that has been my experience in Daventry. I hope to see common rent policies, which I think present difficulties to communities. I should like to see common standards of maintenance, provided that they are high standards. Standards are not always up to the level that we wish to see.

Reference has been made to second-generation families. I am familiar with an overspill scheme in Daventry which was arranged direct with Birmingham. It has not got new town status. There is difficulty for the second-generation families of those who have moved from Birmingham. Families have grown up, got married and had youngsters of their own. There is a dichotomy, whether the responsibility lies with houses managed by the Birmingham Corporation or by the local authority. This proposal will overcome that difficulty. That is a favourable feature of these proposals.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) referred to another specific problem which ties up with my reference to neighbourhood units. There is no reference in the Bill to the large stocks of local authority housing which have been built in the areas of other local authorities through town expansion schemes or overspill agreements. In many cases the management of that housing has become the responsibility of the receiving local authority. However, in some areas—I think that my hon. Friend was referring to these circumstances—the management of vast council house estates is carried out by outside authorities. There is merit in the suggestion made by my hon. Friend that transfers similar to those referred to in the Bill would be appropriate in these circumstances.

Reference has been made in a number of speeches to "other assets". These are the industrial and commercial assets in the new towns. I think I am right in saying that the Minister referred to them as national assets. Indeed they are if their development rests on the provision of resources from the central Government, and that undoubtedly is the case.

The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) recalled a weekend seminar which was held in Harlow. I have been trying to remember how long ago it was. I think that it may have been as long as 10 years ago. I recall that the Patronage Secretary, then Minister for Housing and Local Government, made a lively contribution to the proceedings. A remark made by the treasurer of Harlow has remained in my mind since that meeting. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman recalls it. The great argument was whether, as has been said today, commercial and industrial assets should be transferred to the local authorities. The treasurer of Harlow said "If we had the benefit of those assets now, we should never need to levy a rate in Harlow again." That gives some idea of the immense capital value of industrial and commercial assets in Harlow.

I do not know whether that is still the case, since the rates have increased a great deal in the last 10 years. The hon. Member for Harlow looks sceptical. Perhaps that argument does not apply today, but it certainly applied in earlier days. It gives an idea of the tremendous capital and income value of industrial and commercial assets in the new towns.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead acknowledged the difficulties involved in this subject, but with a broad brush he argued that the whole lot should be transferred. I do not see that that would be equitable, and I do not think that it would be acceptable to the Treasury.

The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) said that the new towns were big business. Certainly in capital terms they involve a vast financial commitment running to thousands of millions of pounds—mainly of public money, but involving a considerable amount of private money as well. The latest tranche of resources available to new towns which was passed by the House in recent months was in the region of £2,250 million. When the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee took evidence from the new towns I was interested to learn that £800 million of that total sum had already been repaid from sales and loan repayments.

When we consider the tremendous expenditure involved in infrastructure costs, it shows the capital value of new town development. I do not think it is possible to think in terms of that sum being transferred to local authorities. What lay behind the whole concept of the Commission for the New Towns was the eventual repayment to the public purse of this large capital sum, vast increases have taken place in land values as a result of the development, and the older towns, with low values and historic costs, compare favourably with the development and building costs of today. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) gave some interesting figures relating to the new town in his area.

We must try to ensure greater opportunities for the use of private resources in the new towns. The great problem of public funding is that resources clearly are limited. The public borrowing indebtedness into which the present Government have plunged us must be a matter of concern to everybody. If it were possible to provide an opportunity to enable private money to be put into new town schemes—for example, freehold and leasehold acquisitions by pension funds and life insurance funds—that would enable the public funds to be taken out of new towns and perhaps to be used for further housing development.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the grealty appreciated capital values in the new towns and the great return on public investment. Is that not inconsistent with his view about an increase in public indebtedness through investment?

Mr. Jones

No, because the one is consequent upon the other. It must be sound practice when vast capital assets have been created to persuade others to take them over and to use available resources to fund other development. It enables the public purse to do more with the limited resources that are available. If Labour Members deny that opportunity, they are denying the capitalist and Socialist system—in other words, a joint society. What such a denial does is to say that the whole of society must go towards a Socialist economy rather than a mixed economy. The Minister's hon. Friends applaud that remark. That is the fundamental split between the parties. That is why we take the opportunity presented by the Bill of challenging the Government as to the sincerity of what is so often their lip service to owner-occupation, because in the new towns they have fundamentally denied it.

When it was possible for tenants in new towns to purchase the house in which they lived, no fewer than 26,000 houses were sold—some 10 per cent. of the housing stock. Those people would still be tenants of those houses today had they not bought them. Many of them are still in those houses, and they would be there as tenants or owner-occupiers. However, this produced £199 million for the public purse. That is the measure by which private resources are prepared to come into new towns, in terms of housing and in terms of industrial and commercial investment.

Mr. Newens

Was not the amount of money realised by the sale of those houses dwarfed by the amount of money that had to be paid out to replace those units of accommodation for renting purposes, particularly as many of those units were sold at a considerable discount?

Mr. Jones

It is not always necessary to replace houses. One can use the resources that are received from the sale of an asset for whatever purposes one thinks best. This gives the Government of the day freedom of action to use those resources as best they may.

I want to refer briefly to the point made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) when he was talking about Wigan being surrounded by new towns. That is a serious aspect of new town development. The hon. Member for Basildon will recall that we spent a lot of time on that matter during the new town inquiry. Our recommendation 16 to the Government said, The DoE should ensure that the financial implications of a New Town development for central government and the local authorities affected are set forth much more clearly at the pre-designation stage. In other words, we said that the Government should have regard to the effect of a new town on the surrounding countryside.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) knows the essential problem in Northamptonshire, where we have four new towns in a comparatively small county. I am critical of both the county council, which allowed it, and the Government of the day, who encouraged it at that time.

A right for tenants to buy is widely acknowledged as a sensible thing to have in economic, financial and social terms. There have been a number of references in support of that proposal from the Opposition side of the House, and no Opposition Member has contested it. The Conservative Government's New Towns Circular No. 179 of October 1970 gave the development corporations power to offer virtually all their rented homes for sale to tenants at 20 per cent. below current market value with vacant possession. Special arrangements were made with the Building Societies Association for the provision of mortgage loans for houses being sold by the corporations or the Commission. In addition there was consideration of the transfer of groups of houses, and particularly flats, to housing associations and tenants' associations. Reference has also been made to that matter.

In particular circumstances in which tenants might welcome the idea—one could easily test opinion in this respect—it is surely worth considering the transfer of assets not to the local authorities but to the third arm of housing to which the Minister and some of his hon. Friends have paid tribute repeatedly, and it is worth considering whether they should be found a part.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will reconsider his decision about new towns later this year. Perhaps he does not think that this is the appropriate moment to announce his decision, in view of our amendment—

Mr. John Silkin

That has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Jones

It has a great deal to do with it. It is fundamental to the transfer of assets that we should give careful consideration to the situation of the tenants. It is clear that families wish to own rather than to rent. Successive opinion polls have proved that. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury made it clear that in 1973 7,254 houses were sold. Sales in 1974, after the Minister's circular of 5th September, dropped to 653. It is, therefore, a change of Government policy which has dried up the sales of council houses. That is the only significant change in the circumstances of tenants.

Purchasers will accept the increased demands which house purchase makes on their household budgets. How often it is said that, with a mortgage to service over the years, over half of what one pays is money saved. Then there are all the advantages in terms of mobility, buying and selling in the same market, living rent-free on retirement, pride of ownership, which is reflected in the level of maintenance and improvements, and the possession of a capital asset which can be passed on to the family—the present Government and capital transfer tax permitting.

The Opposition are not voting against the main purpose of the Bill. We want to see a widening of the scope of transfer and a fulfilment of the understandable and expressed desires of tenants.

Mr. John Silkin indicated dissent.

Mr. Jones

The right hon. Gentleman denies the validity of those expressed desires. Why does he not test the wishes of the tenants and allow development corporations to sell again? He is always reasonable in these matters. I know that he is concerned with the right of the individual and considers personal rela- tions important. His decision to refuse to allow sales in new towns but to allow them by local authorities is completely contradictory; there has been no satisfactory explanation of it.

Mr. Cryer

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is a little hypocritical to say that the Opposition will support the Bill but that they will vote for an amendment which says that the House declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill? Surely he cannot argue both ways?

Mr. Jones

I have said that there is a fundamental disagreement between the two sides of the House. That disagreement is over owner-occupation, which we wish to encourage in every possible way.

Mr. John Silkin

I shall intervene only briefly, because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is perfectly capable of dealing with the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. Since he is denying something, however, perhaps he can explain this. His hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that the Opposition were absolutely split in two—in fact, he went even further—in their views on this matter. In those circumstances, is it not correct to say that the amendment was the only way in which the hon. Gentleman could get all that bunch into the Lobby?

Mr. Jones

I am surprised that the Minister should misquote my hon. Friend. When he checks Hansard tomorrow, he will find that that is what he has done. Therefore, I do not think that the question needs an answer from me.

We wish to place an obligation on the Government to offer the sale of houses by new town corporations to tenants. We propose that it should be made mandatory, as this party intends that it shall be, on local authorities. I invite the House to decline to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to provide any right for new town tenants to purchase their homes.

9.31 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) was kind enough to say that there was a good deal of common ground in the House on this Bill. I certainly welcome the tributes that have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and, of course, to his distinguished father. It is a remarkable record in this aspect of social legislation.

I think that when the hon. Gentleman has time to reflect on his speech tonight, and on the amendment, in view of all that has been said today—and it has been a very good debate—he will regret that such an unworthy amendment concerning this very great development in housing policy and social policy should have been tabled. I will come to that in some detail.

When I went to the Department of the Environment some nine months ago, my thinking about housing, its fundamental importance in creating the good society and the problem of ensuring that all our people were adequately housed was very much conditioned by my experience as a member of a housing authority in the North of England—the Sunderland Town Council. After the war, the housing situation was so desperate that for many years the overriding priority was the provision of new units of accommodation. That had to take precedence over everything else. Modernisation of old stock, housing management, the extension of choice, were all subordinated to the provision of new units of accommodation.

Much has been done in housing over the years, but we are still far from solving the housing problem. New homes are still essential and as the Government's recent White Paper says, this is still a number one priority. But we are also developing housing management, tenant involvement, the extension of choice, home ownership and community development, with special emphasis on housing for the disadvantaged and those who still suffer from very great housing stress.

It is in this context that the Government introduce the housing provisions in this Bill. It proceeds along the road of restoring to local authorities the power to make decisions which affect the daily life of the citizens they serve.

I have been very interest today in the number of hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the hon. Member for Daventry in his winding-up speech, who have called on the Government to make mandatory certain duties for local authorities. This is in direct contradistinction, of course, to the speeches they make at election times.

This Bill is another step in the direction of restoring local democracy. We have had a general welcome from both sides of the House for the philosophy expressed in the Bill. The interest shown by those hon. Members who have new towns in their constituencies makes it plain that there will be a good deal of hard thinking and hard discussion in Committee. I pay tribute to the hon. Members who have had great experience of new towns. They have educated me somewhat today and I found the debate very helpful. Many hon. Members who have spoken today will realise, I am sure, that the points they have raised are essentially matters to be examined and resolved in Committee. Nevertheless, I am grateful that we have been given early warning of them. I shall deal with as many of those points which seem to me to be concerned with the principles and basic philosophy of the Bill as I can.

Some Members, very properly have raised what are essentially constituency points on local problems, or broader questions relating to new town administration generally. I have no doubt that many of these issues are already the subject of discussion or correspondence between development corporations, local authorities and my Department.

Reference has been made in the course of the debate to the work of the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, whose 13th Report was published last year. I think it right at this point to take the opportunity of expressing the Government's recognition of the value of the very extensive and detailed consideration it gave to the subject of new towns. The hon. Member for Daventry was its distinguished chairman, and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) asked my right hon. Friend when a reply was likely to be forthcoming.

We treat the Sub-Committee's deliberations very seriously. We want to make a reply as soon as practicable. We are working on it. But it is a considerable document, and we want to do justice to the recommendations contained therein. It is interesting to note the context in which the Sub-Committee set its recommendation that the Government should bring forward firm proposals for the transfer of housing and associated assets from development corporations to district councils. Paragraph 33 of its Report began: One major area of tension between local authorities and development corporations is housing, now a local government function for which district councils are responsible. Some tension is inevitable where objectives differ, and this is bound to some extent to be the case during the new town's expansion period, when the local authority's main interest is the existing population and that of the development corporation is the newcomers.

The important thing is to get rid of the tension just as soon as there can no longer be a logical reason for it and it has ceased to be "creative tension". Thus, when it is no more in the national interest for the development corporations, or the Commission, to hold the housing, it should go to the permanent local housing authority.

We have always believed that the ownership and management of new towns' rented housing should pass to the democratically elected local authorities as soon as this is compatible with the state of development of the new towns, thus setting the seal of "normality" on those towns.

We have created a system for new towns in this country which has not only stood the test of time but has attracted the admiration of the world. Paradoxically, having successfully created these new towns, we must now pave the way for their smooth conversion into "old towns".

Now I come to the amendment moved by the Opposition. This would seem to advocate giving development corporation tenants a pre-emptive right to buy, at a time of their own choosing, irrespective of any other consideration. The first consideration of all public housing authorities—whether local authorities or new town authorities—must be to provide housing for those in greatest need or, in the particular case of the new towns also, for those people moving to the new town in accordance with its stated objectives. First priority in such circumstances would as a general rule have to go to rented housing, and the housing authority must be able to ensure the maintenance of a sufficiently large rented housing stock for this purpose.

Of course, this is not in any way to exclude the continued provision of houses for sale in the private sector, or, where the private sector fails to meet the need, by new town development corporations, so long as this does not impair their ability to make enough rented houses available. Similarly, it would be possible to contemplate sales to sitting tenants in new towns where this would be consistent with the maintenance of a sufficient stock of rented housing to meet the needs of the development corporations concerned.

We are anxious to develop a community in which the new towns will not perpetuate the deep divisions which have brought so much harm to our society over the years. The doctrinal approach of the Conservative Party to the sale of council houses would seriously distort this aim.

Mr. Michael Morris

Does not the Minister agree that the distortion comes about because of the right hon. Gentleman's directive that there is to be 25 per cent. owner-occupied and 75 per cent. rented property when the proportion in the country is about 55 per cent. owner-occupied?

Mr. Armstrong

If the hon. Gentleman will contain his impatience, I will deal in detail with the situation, with the circular which we issued, which he criticised, and the reason for it, and I will say something about our general attitude.

I want to take the House back to the situation that we inherited when we took office in 1974, but let us first go back to August 1967 when a Labour Government announced their intention that in new town established ince 1961 it should be the aim to achieve 50 per cent. owner-occupation by the end of the planned intake period. In the more recent towns the long-term objective could be achieved by control of the building programme, as between housing for rent and housing for sale, but in the older new towns, where the main building programme had been completed, it was recognised that the objective could be achieved only by selling some of the existing rented homes.

Corporations were urged, therefore, to offer their houses for sale to existing tenants once the demands of the incoming population had slackened. Sales were to be at full market value with vacant possession with a pre-emption clause if the corporation so wished enabling the house to be bought back if the purchaser wished to sell within a given period. This produced very few sales—about 800 in all by the middle of 1970.

In October 1970, the Conservative Government asked the corporations to make available for purchase by sitting tenants virtually all their rented dwellings. The basis of sale was current market value with vacant possession less 20 per cent. subject to the sale price not being below historic cost. There was provision for the new owner to pay back a diminishing share of discount if he re-sold within five years. The discount of 20 per cent. was in line with the terms of sales by local authorities. But since the declared objective was to effect a change in the balance of tenure in new towns by increasing the proportion of owner-occupiers, it was felt that a pre-emption clause such as that used by most local authorities would be inappropriate.

There followed a spectacular increase in sales and by early 1972 some 4,000 development corporation houses were being sold every quarter. By the end of 1972 the initial flood began to subside and in the first quarter of 1974 a total of 300 was sold. But over 24,000 had by then been sold out of a total rented stock of about 140,000 and in some towns up to 30 per cent. of the stock had gone. It was a situation which concerned us because we were concerned about people in desperate need of homes. It was the situation that ensued that compelled us to issue our circular.

Let me give the House the facts. Faced with this situation, the Labour Government, on taking office in the spring of 1974, asked corporations not to enter into further commitments pending a review of policy, and in 1974 effectively stopped all further sales. The principal reason for this decision was the long waiting time for rented housing. In early 1972 the waiting period in eight of nine of London towns within the new and expanding towns scheme was less than 20 weeks. By early 1974, as a result of the deliberate action of the Conservative Party, seven of nine of those towns had waiting periods of more than 40 weeks. That meant that the waiting period for those in most desperate need had more than doubled.

The hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern), whom I do not see in his place, asked my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) what was the waiting period today.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I asked that question.

Mr. Armstrong

I am glad that in his short speech the hon. Member was able to put that question. The waiting period today in Harlow and Crawley, towns about which we heard such glowing reports this afternoon, is almost 50 weeks. The sale of 24,000 houses and the consequential loss of re-lets has undoubtedly been a substantial factor in extending the waiting period.

Mr. Arthur Jones

But if the waiting period was 20 weeks in 1975 and is now 50 weeks, how can the Government claim that their policy has improved the situation?

Mr. Armstrong

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to correct the impression he has gained. I said that when the Tories imposed their policy, compelling authorities to sell, the waiting period was 20 weeks. It went up to more than 40 weeks while they were selling off 24,000 houses. We are now reviewing our policy. I have just given the example of two authorities.

The Government will continue to follow a policy on sales in new towns which has regard to the circumstances, which are different in different towns. That is why I objected to the mandatory situation the Opposition created. The situation changes from time to time even in the same town, as has been described over and over again today.

As we said in our consultation document, "New Towns in England and Wales", issued in December 1974, It would be a mistake if the New Towns did not make some provision for people who want to own their own homes. It would be an even greater mistake if the New Towns did not provide for those people whose only hope of a decent home is a house or flat for rent. The next question is whether, in the case of a new town where the transfer of rented housing to the local authority is imminent, the tenants in question should all be offered an opportunity to purchase as an alternative to transfer. The arguments here are not so much concerned with the policy on sales itself as with where the responsibility for that policy should lie—with the local or the national electorate, with the town hall or Whitehall.

The Bill is an expression of the Government's belief that, once the major expansion phase of a new town is complete, it is the local community, through its locally elected representatives, which should take over the responsibility for the administration of public housing in its town. If where transfer is imminent the Government were, in advance, to deprive the local authority of the opportunity of making its own decision on such an important issue as the sale of rented homes, it would be quite out of keeping with the idea of transfer, which essentially implies confidence in the ability of the local authority to manage the public housing affairs of the town in its own best interests.

Those who support the amendment are expressing their view that the local housing authority is not competent to make the decision.

Mr. Carlisle

On that basis, can the Minister explain why the chairmen of the new town authorities are unanimous in the view that they should have that power? I can quote one chairman who happens also to be the chairman of a local authority.

Mr. Armstrong

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will send the chairman a copy of Hansard so that he may read my speech, in which I am trying to answer the argument.

We have heard a great deal from Opposition Members today about giving tenants the right to purchase their homes. We used to hear a great deal about it from them when they were in Government from 1970 to 1974. They were very active then in their encouragement of selling by local authorities and new town development corporations. I wish that they had been equally active in other and more important aspects of housing policy.

It is as well to remember how waiting lists for council housing grew under the Conservative Administration and how public sector house building was allowed to fall to unprecedently low levels. The House knows that we had to give first priority to reversing that trend and to increasing the public sector house building programme to a much more appropriate level.

Mr. Raison

The Minister criticises our approach, but he told us earlier that he was once a member of the Sunderland housing authority. Has he read the book by Mr. Norman Dennis, a Left-wing sociologist, who criticises the Sunderland housing authority for its mishandling and insensitivity in housing in the most devastating critique I have ever read? I wonder that the Minister has the face to criticise us.

Mr. Armstrong

I was not referring to housing management, but to the deplorably low level of public sector housing under the last Government. I have not only read Norman Dennis's book; I hear him from time to time at my local Fabian Society.

Though active in encouraging sales, the Conservative Government did not put a mandatory duty on local authorities to sell, which is, in effect, what they are asking for as far as the new town tenants are concerned. The Opposition would take from local authorities the right to determine policies in the light of their assessment of the local housing situation. Where do they stand on the subject of freedom of local authorities to decide their own policies?

When the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) was Secretary of State for the Environment, we heard a great deal about giving local authorities greater powers. He talked about removing 1,000 Government statutory controls over local government. Vigorous local democracy was the watchword in those days. Are the Opposition saying that their official policy is now the opposite? Do they want mandatory dictation by the Government?

We do not accept their doctrinaire position on the sale of council houses. We do not say that selling is necessarily wrong in all situations or, unlike the Opposition, that it is right to sell whatever the local housing circumstances. This is a matter which should be decided against the background of a full and balanced assessment of council housing need.

There are other important aspects of housing tenure to whch we have to give attention. We are concerned to ensure the widest possible range of choice and to see that tenants play a greater part in the control and management of their homes. We see promising possibilities in new forms of equity sharing and cooperative ownership. We shall be reviewing other policies again in our review of housing finance.

One hon. Member opposite has just asked, from a sedentary position, whether all this is in the Bill. Once again, the Opposition are asking us to impose mandatory duties on local authorities. We give the choice to local authorities. That is what democracy is about.

Where houses have been transferred from the new towns to local authorities, it is surely right that the question of their sale to tenants should be considered by the authorities in the light of their assessment of the local housing situation. This is Government policy. It is the democratic way which we propose in the Bill.

Mr. Hal Miller

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member must resume his seat if the Minister does not give way.

Mr. Armstrong

I hope that the House will treat the amendment with the contempt it deserves.

Mr. Hal Miller rose

Mr. Armstrong

Whatever views hon. Members may have about the sale of new town or council houses, these are matters which should be considered quite separately. They are not relevant to the purposes of the Bill.

Mr. Hal Miller

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Clause 3(4) states quite clearly that the Secretary of State shall decide whether dwellings are to be transferred to a local authority. How can the Minister stand there and tell us—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not for the Chair to tell a Minister how to reply to a debate.

Mr. Armstrong

We seek to introduce flexibility for local authorities, in discussion with the Secretary of State, in a democratic way. We do not seek to lay down mandatory provisions as the Opposition would like to do.

Mr. Raison

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows that he must resume his seat if the Minister does not give way.

Mr. Armstrong

I wish to reply to as many points as possible and, naturally, I had to reply to the amendment, unworthy though it was.

As my right hon. Friend said, we are concerned with the transfer of important national housing assets from the custody of development corporations acting on behalf of central democracy to local authorities acting on behalf of local democracy. It is, therefore, important to establish beyond doubt the procedures to to be adopted for bringing about the transfers. The transfer of ownership of houses under the terms of the Bill will not normally take place until a new town is nearing completion. As well as covering houses already built, a transfer scheme will usually include arangements for the management of houses still under construction or yet to be built by the new town corporation.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) asked what was meant by partial transfer. I will give him an example. In the Central Lancashire New Town there may be a case in future for the transfer of part of the housing stock to one of the three local authorities involved if the housing development in one of those authorities' areas is substantially completed in advance of the rest of the town and if the financial consequences of such partial transfer can be accepted.

We cannot force people to live where they do not want to live, and there can be little doubt that for many families, particularly those with children, life in a new town is far more attractive than life in an old town. We must also grasp the opportunity which is created by the movement of people from our inner cities to make the inner cities attractive.

I come to the position of those who will be affected most seriously by the transfer. A typical family which moves to a new town is probably still a young or youngish married couple with one or two children. The new towns as they have grown older have housed an increasing proportion of old people—usually the parents of their tenants. For example, in the older London new towns between 1966 and 1973 nearly 13 per cent. of the tenancies provided for households moving into the towns went to the elderly. As the consultative document said: to allow the new towns to beggar the cities they serve by taking only the relatively fortunate members of society and leaving the least fortunate behind would be likely to increase

rather than diminish (he social problems of those cities."

The Bill is important for several reasons. It represents the Government's loyalty to yet another manifesto commitment. It is the redemption of promises made by a previous generation of occupants of the Front Bench who formed the Labour Government 30 years ago. The philosophy and the principle are plain for everyone to understand After the transition of a new town from growth to maturity, we want to get local democracy. I ask the House to reject the amendment and to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 233, Noes 262.

Division No. 96.] AYES 10.0 p.m.
Adley, Robert Fairbairn, Nicholas Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)
Alison, Michael Fairgrieve, Russell Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Fell, Anthony Jopling, Michael
Arnold, Tom Finsberg, Geoffrey Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Fisher, Sir Nigel Kaberry, Sir Donald
Awdry, Daniel Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Kershaw, Anthony
Baker, Kenneth Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kimball, Marcus
Banks, Robert Fookes, Miss Janet King, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Beith, A. J. Forman, Nigel King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Kitson, Sir Timothy
Biffen, John Fox, Marcus Knox, David
Biggs-Davison, John Freud, Clement Lamont, Norman
Blaker, Peter Fry, Peter Lane, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gardiner, George (Reigate) Latham, Michael (Melton)
Bottomley, Peter Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Lawrence, Ivan
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Le Marchant, Spencer
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Giyn, Dr Alan Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Braine, Sir Bernard Goodhart, Philip Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Brotherton, Michael Goodhew, Victor Lloyd, Ian
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Goodlad, Alastair Loveridge, John
Bryan, Sir Paul Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Luce, Richard
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Buck, Antony Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) McCrindle, Robert
Budgen, Nick Gray, Hamish Macfarlane, Neil
Bulmer, Esmond Griffiths, Eldon MacGregor, John
Burden, F. A. Grimond, Rt Hon J. Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Carlisle, Mark Grist, Ian McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Grylls, Michael McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Hall, Sir John Madel, David
Clegg, Walter Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Cockcroft, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Marten, Neil
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Hampson, Dr Keith Mates, Michael
Cope, John Hannam, John Maude, Angus
Cormack, Patrick Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald
Corrie, John Hastings, Stephen Mawby, Ray
Costain, A. P. Havers, Sir Michael Maxwell-Hysiop, Robin
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Hawkins, Paul Mayhew, Patrick
Critchley, Julian Heseltine, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony
Crouch, David Hicks, Robert Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Crowder, F. P. Holland, Philip Mills, Peter
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Hooson, Emlyn Miscampbell, Norman
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hordern, Peter Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Moate, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Howell, David (Guildford) Monro, Hector
Drayson, Burnaby Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Montgomery, Fergus
Durant, Tony Hunt, David (Wirral) Moore, John (Croydon C)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Hunt, John Morgan, Geraint
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hurd, Douglas Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Elliott, Sir William Hutchison, Michael Clark Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Emery, Peter James, David Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Eyre, Reginald Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'dt'd) Mudd, David
Neave, Airey Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Nelson, Anthony Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Neubert, Michael Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Stradling Thomas, J.
Newton, Tony Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Tapsell, Peter
Normanton, Tom Rest, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Nott, John Royle, Sir Anthony Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Onslow, Cranley Sainsbury, Tim Tebbit, Norman
Osborn, John St. John-Stevas, Norman Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Page, John (Harrow West) Scott, Nicholas Townsend, Cyril D.
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Trotter, Neville
Pardoe, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Tugendhat, Christopher
Parkinson, Cecil Shelton, William (Streatham) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Pattie, Geoffrey Shepherd, Colin Viggers, Peter
Penhaligon, David Shersby, Michael Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Percival, Ian Silvester, Fred Wakeham, John
Pink, R. Bonner Sims, Roger Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Price, David (Eastleigh) Sinclair, Sir George Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Skeet, T. H. H. Wall, Patrick
Raison, Timothy Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Weatherill, Bernard
Rathbone, Tim Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Wells, John
Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Speed, Keith Wiggin, Jerry
Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Spence, John Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Rees-Davies, W. R. Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Sproat, Iain Younger, Hon George
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Stainton, Keith
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Stanbrook, Ivor TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ridsdale, Julian Stanley, John Mr. W. Benyon and
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Steel, David (Roxburgh) Mr. Anthony Berry.
Abse, Leo Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Heffer, Eric S.
Allaun, Frank Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Howell, Rt Hon Denis
Anderson, Donald Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Archer, Peter Deakins, Eric Huckfield, Les
Armstrong, Ernest Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Ashley, Jack Delargy, Hugh Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Ashton, Joe Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Dempsey, James Hunter, Adam
Atkinson, Norman Doig, Peter Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dormand, J, D. Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Bates, Alf Duffy, A. E. P. Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Bean, R. E. Dunn, James A. Janner, Greville
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Dunnett, Jack Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Edge, Geoff Jeger, Mrs Lena
Bid well, Sydney Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Bishop, E. S. Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) John, Brynmor
Blenkinsop, Arthur English, Michael Johnson, James (Hull West)
Boardman, H. Ennals, David Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Evans, loan (Aberdare) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bradley, Tom Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Judd, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Faulds, Andrew Kaufman, Gerald
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Kerr, Russell
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Buchan, Norman Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Lambie, David
Buchanan, Richard Flannery, Martin Lamborn, Harry
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lamond, James
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Campbell, Ian Ford, Ben Leadbitter, Ted
Canavan, Dennis Forrester, John Lee, John
Cant, R. B. Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Carmichael, Neil Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Lever, Rt Hon Harold
Carter, Ray Freeson, Reginald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Garrett, John (Norwich S) Lipton, Marcus
Cartwright, John Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Loyden, Eddie
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara George, Bruce Luard, Evan
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Gilbert, Dr John Lyon, Alexander (York)
Cohen, Stanley Ginsburg, David Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Coleman, Donald Golding, John Mabon, Dr J. Dickson
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Gould, Bryan McCartney, Hugh
Conian, Bernard Gouriay, Harry McElhone, Frank
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Graham, Ted McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Corbett, Robin Grant, George (Morpeth) Mackenzie, Gregor
Cralgen, J. M. (Maryhill) Grant, John (Islington C) Mackintosh, John P.
Crawshaw, Richard Grocott, Bruce Maclennan, Robert
Cronin, John Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Madden, Max
Cryer, Bob Hardy, Peter Magee, Bryan
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Harper, Joseph Manon, Simon
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiten) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Dalyell, Tam Hart, Rt Hon Judith Marquand, David
Davidson, Arthur Hayman, Mrs Helene Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Price, William (Rugby) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Radice, Giles Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Maynard, Miss Joan Richardson, Miss Jo Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Meacher, Michael Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Tierney, Sydney
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Tinn, James
Mikardo, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey Torney, Tom
Millan, Bruce Roderick, Caerwyn Tuck, Raphael
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N) Rodgers, William (Stockton) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Rooker, J. W. Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Molloy, William Rose, Paul B. Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Moonman, Eric Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Ward, Michael
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Rowiands, Ted Watkins, David
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Sandeison, Neville Weetch, Ken
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Sedgemore, Brian Weitzman, David
Moyle, Roland Selby, Harry White, Frank R. (Bury)
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Shaw, Arnold (llford South) White, James (Pollok)
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne) Whitehead, Phillip
Newens, Stanley Silkln, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Whitlock, William
Noble, Mike Silkln, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Oakes, Gordon Skinner, Dennis Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Ogden, Eric Small, William Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Orbach, Maurice Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Williams, Sir Thomas
Ovenden, John Snape, Peter Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Padley, Walter Spearing, Nigel Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Palmer, Arthur Spriggs, Leslie Wise, Mrs Audrey
park, George Stallard, A. W. Woodall, Alec
Parker, John Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Woof, Robert
Parry, Robert Stott, Roger Wrigglesworth, Ian
Pavitt, Laurie Strang, Gavin
Peart, Rt Hon Fred Strauss, Rt Hon G. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Pendry, Tom Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Mr. David Stoddart and
Perry, Ernest Swain, Thomas Mr. John Ellis.
Phipps, Dr Colin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on Second or Third reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).