§ Queen's Recommendation having been signified—
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act of this Session to make further provision with respect to rates and to grants for local authorities and other bodies, to amend the law relating to new towns and to provide for the establishment of corporations to regenerate urban areas ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorize—
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I wish to draw attention to paragraph (3) of the resolution, which refers tothe payment out of money provided by Parliament of sums required to enable the Secretary of State to pay to urban development corporations established under the Act ('corporations') sums in respect of the exercise of their functions and their administrative expenses".This is a curious provision because as yet there is no guidance about how often or how much the so-called urban development corporations will have to call upon the public purse. I am particularly anxious because Newham, South has 2,700 acres which could be passed to the urban development corporation and taken away from the local council. It will be possible for the new corporation compulsorily to purchase any one of those 2,700 acres. The corporation will be able to 393 transfer any part of that area. The corporation will be allowed virtually to do anything, and under the money resolution it will be able to lend money to anybody to do anything.
Clause 110(3) of the Bill gives authority tocarry on any business or undertaking for the purposes of the object; andgenerally do anything necessary or expedient for the purposes of the object or for purposes incidental to those purposes.Since the object is the regeneration of the area, if the money resolution is passed the House will be signing a blank cheque, or a blank money resolution, for the new body to do anything. Some of my hon. Friends may say that that is all right because the vice-chairman of that body will be my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). But clause 112 makes quite clear that the vice-chairman of the corporation—or, indeed, any member of it—will be very much under the thumb of the Secretary of State, for it gives authority to the Secretary of State togive directions to such a corporation for restricting the exercise by it of any powers under this Act"—and I emphasise the next words—or for requiring it to exercise those powers in any manner specified in those directions.In other words, in seeking to look after the interests of his constituents, my right hon. Friend may find himself in one capacity immediately under the direction of the Secretary of State. In that circumstance, I am not quite sure for how long my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey would remain my right hon. Friend, because in having to protect the rights of my constituents and half of the area of dockland it might be that my view and that of the Secretary of State would not coincide.
I have a few questions to put to the Minister. What net benefit to the dockland area of London does he expect to accrue in money terms? In other words, how much is he to draw from the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the project? Does the Minister think that there will be a gross charge to the taxpayer? If so, how much will that be, because he will be taking public assets—railway land, gas land and perhaps Port of London Authority land—and turning it over to devel- 394 opers who will not be under the usual planning constraints.
At the moment, the whole of my constituency is within the planning purview of the London borough of Newham—and very glad it is of that. No less than half of my constituency, if the Bill goes through, will come directly under the urban development corporation, which has planning powers, transport powers and housing powers. The value of the land could well change because of the nature of the planning authority to which it was being transferred. As everybody knows, that is the way in which paper can be changed into gold almost overnight by the granting or withholding of planning permission.
I have two points to make. Conservative Members should listen, because so far their views of London dockland have been entirely misleading. They have been told, in press release after press release, that nothing is going on. They have been told that the area is one of almost complete dereliction.
I shall deal first with the suggestion that there is nothing going on. The official figures of my local borough council—conveyed to the Secretary of State by me and by the council—indicate that there is at least £20 million of investment in public undertakings, particularly drainage. That is a very moderate estimate. There is also £62 million which has either been spent by private industry or will be spent by private investors in the next two or three years. There is another £12 million being invested by housing associations in housing in the Beckton area. That adds up to about £100 million of capital which is already committed and would go ahead in a visible and tangible form. I see that the Secretary of State is nodding his head, because he has been taken round the area—albeit for 20 minutes—and he has been informed by the borough that that is what is happening.
By the terms of the Bill the Government are creating uncertainty in relation to no less than £33 million that is to be spent on private housing. The Secretary of State is very keen on private housing. This housing is to be built in my constituency, yet the Secretary of State claims that nothing is happening in dockland.
The urban development corporation is unnecessary. It is not wanted by some 395 of the most objective observers. The Newham chamber of commerce stated that it was concerned with the collective welfare and development of the business community. In a letter to the Secretary of State on 9 November, it pointed out that the Secretary of State had said that the urban development corporation would reverse a long-established trend, that it would take time, and that it would be a difficult process. The letter continued:we suggest to you that here in Newham the trends you want to change—reclaiming land, encouraging private development, improving the environment, creating a demand for housing, encouraging the voluntary sector—are the very things already in active progress through the local Council. So why change?As a Chamber of Commerce, without political affiliations and concerned only with the collective welfare and development of the business community, we would ask you to reconsider your decision or at least modify it so that the local Authority can continue to operate and direct to a successful conclusion the developments which it has started, has already put into the pipeline or are planned for the future".Those facts have been supplied by the borough and by the Newham chamber of commerce. They clearly show that the press releases about dereliction and the lack of action in dockland are untrue. Those releases have been mouthed and held up by Conservative Members and until recently, alas, by the Secretary of State. We have told the Minister time and time again. I have noticed a slight change in his attitude and demeanour during the past few weeks. Perhaps that is a good thing. I hope that he will consider the issue more seriously during the Committee stage.
The Beckton district plan is due for approval by the borough council. It plans to develop 8,000 new homes in dockland. I believe that the plan will go to the Secretary of State on 5 March. It will become the statutory development plan for that area unless he decides to call it in. There is no reason to suppose that the Secretary of State will do that. Therefore, this highly imaginative scheme, in which half of the housing will be municipal and half private, will go ahead. It is part of the strategic plan for docklands. It has been approved by the docklands. It has been mittee—the existing municipally based organisation.
Unless the Minister instructs the chairman-designate, vice-chairman-designate, 396 and members of the urban development corporation to adopt the plan, there will be delays in the regeneration of that important area. The Minister will contribute to that delay, although he claims that he wishes to avoid such delays. If the Minister wishes to see public money well spent, he should ensure that the existing strategic plan goes ahead and that the existing Beckton development plan goes ahead.
The corporation will be looked upon as a Tory agency in an area that has not been of that political colour for a long time. It will succeed only if it shows by its actions that it is willing to cooperate with local councils and is very sensitive to the duties and powers of local council members.
I do not want to ask the Secretary of State questions about the conduct of those members. The provision will put areas that have been the responsibility of local government for over 100 years into the hands of Whitehall. The Bill is therefore a constitutional Bill. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how much money will be authorised. I hope that he will take into account all the criticisms that have been raised. Perhaps he will think twice about the whole procedure of the urban development corporation. It is unnecessary in dockland. I have proved that tonight. No money should be spent on the corporation.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)
I should like to reply briefly to the points raised by the hon Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). Although we are debating the money resolution, the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to wander rather more widely over his support for the Beckton district plan. That is his privilege within the rules of the House.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman referred to the development corporation as Conservative. That is indeed an offensive remark, bearing in mind that his right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who has given far more service to the Labour movement and London's dockland than the hon. Gentleman has yet had the privilege to do, happens to believe that it in the best way to help his constituents. The hon. Gentleman might be surprised to know how much support we have 397 had from Members in the Labour Party who are prepared to rise above immediate local issues and look to the genuine interests of the area as a whole. They believe passionately that it is the right approach for the area.
The financial provisions that the hon. Gentleman asked about are set out in the financial and explanatory memorandum. He will recognise that they are understandably general and unspecific. When the UDC is approved by Parliament and can start operations, it will put forward specific proposals for what it hopes to do with public money and what it hopes to achieve with private money. Until that time, it is not possible to determine exactly what the balance and effect on public expenditure will be.
I shall not read out the whole of paragraph 21 of the explanatory and financial memorandum, but I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to it. It sets out quite clearly the financial considerations and the arrangements that will surround the formation of the UDC. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any further information except to tell him that the creation of the UDCs will genuinely mean that greater resources will be available for the docklands area and for Liverpool, Merseyside.
§ Question put and agreed to.