HC Deb 06 February 1980 vol 978 cc685-702
Mr. John Silkin

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 5, line 41 leave out: whether in England or elsewhere and insert "in England".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 18, in page 6, line 13, at end insert: Provided such directions have been confirmed by orders laid before both Houses of Parliament".

No. 19, in line 25, after "any", insert "industrial".

No. 20, in line 26, leave out "end of March 1981" and insert "passing of this Act".

Mr. Silkin

The purpose of amendments Nos. 17 and 19 is to discover what in English the Bill means. In clause 9 we are dealing with the English Industrial Estates Corporation. To our surprise, because most of us believed that its title meant that the corporation was designed to work in England, we find that the wording of subsection (2) is: Subject to directions given under subsection (3) below, the Corporation may do anything, whether in England or elsewhere, which is calculated to facilitate or is conducive or incidental to the discharge of their functions". There is no doubt a simple explanation for the phrase "in England or elsewhere", but at about 12.45 in the morning my mind is boggling at the possibilities. Do you think "elsewhere" includes Mars, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or Australia? Perhaps I should not mention Australia at the moment. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will explain.

Amendment No. 19 relates to subsection (5), which says: Planning permission shall be deemed to have been granted under section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 in respect of any development initiated by the Corporation before the end of March 1981. In view of the title of the corporation, it seems a little odd that the word "industrial" is not inserted in that subsection. I am sure that there are perfect reasons—there usually are—but at first sight it is a little confusing.

Those are two minor points. The other amendments are more important, but I shall probably not have to take them to a Division if I receive from the Under-Secretary the kind of assurances that I want.

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I should like some assurances because, as I understand it, the Government are increasing the scope of the English Industrial Estates Corporation. We have no objection to that—indeed, we may find ourselves very much in agreement with it—but some difficulties could arise as a result.

Mr. David Mitchell

To which amendment is the right hon. Gentleman referring?

Mr. Silkin

I am referring to amendments Nos. 18 and 20, but in doing so I am talking about the basis of the clause itself. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take it in that spirit, because if he does it may save us all a lot of time and enable some of us at any rate to get to our beds a little sooner than we might otherwise do.

The point arises from the involvement of private capital in the development programme of new factories. It seems to us that, particularly in the assisted areas—and that is what we are talking about in general—there is a possibility, if not a probability, that to make schemes attractive to the institutions the corporation will act differently from the way in which it has done in the past. In other words, it might tailor its programme to the sort of preference that institutions want rather than to the employment needs of the assisted areas. This would be different from what has happened in the past. It is something that we should regret, and we should have to show our regret in the normal way.

It seems that a number of changes could occur. First, if one is to deal with private funding on this sort of basis, it must be realised that the more difficult locations are not the ones that will be attractive to private funding. I am not saying that there will not be any, but they will be less attractive to private funding.

Secondly, there has been a trend—one that I hope everyone will welcome, and one that the Minister functioning as the sponsor of small businesses ought to welcome even more—towards small units of, for example, less than 5,000 sq. ft. From a financial point of view, that is not the most remunerative sort of unit. I believe that the institutions would not want to go as low as 5,000 sq. ft.

Thirdly, if someone is considering the matter from an employment point of view, from the point of view of the good of the assisted area, he will choose his tenants as carefully as possible in line with the employment benefits that will flow. That seems a natural way in which it would be done. However, that is not necessarily the way in which a commercial undertaking would view the matter. It would tend to look to the strength of the covenant rather than to the employment benefit.

In many of the assisted areas the corporation is building well in advance of demand, and obviously there is some purpose in this—it is trying to produce premises that are ready for immediate use. They are often in places where there has not been a market in such accommodation before, so there is no real basis for a commercial letting. That is fine from an employment point of view, but it may not be the most desirable situation for a commercial undertaking.

The kind of assurance that would satisfy me and, I hope, those on my side of the House—I do not want to bind the hon. Gentleman too strongly; just to the Government's view on this and the assurances that they can give—is that the Government are prepared to allow the employment criterion to continue to be the most important factor when they deal with the basis on which industrial premises are to be let.

Mr. Cryer

I should like to make a few remarks before the Minister intervenes and gives us some assurances, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said, there are matters for concern.

The four amendments go to the root of the clause and seek to clarify the position. The first question is why there appear in line 41 the words the Corporation may do anything, whether in England or elsewhere". It is very strange. Is it that the Government, by virtue of having incorporated the English Industrial Estates Corporation into the Bill and having become aware of the fact that there may be some prime sites within the purview of the corporation, want to give their private partners or, rather, the English Industrial Estates Corporation, access to the multinationals so that they can promote property development anywhere?

If that is so, it negates the whole point and purpose of the corporation. One wonders why this clause is necessary anyhow, and why, in particular, there appear the words whether in England or elsewhere which are the subject of one of our amendments. The Minister must have known that the English Industrial Estates Corporation is designed basically to put factories where no one else will put them. I cannot imagine—although I suppose that it is possible—that it has many prime sites. It is conceivable, since it was established in 1934, I think, in Team Valley, Gates head, that over those years what were then low cost sites have now become valuable properties, and that there are the sort of plums to which the Conservative Government want to give their private enterprise friends access.

But even then I should have thought that this was stretching things a bit far, because the whole point and purpose of the corporation is to provide advance factories in England. The SDA and the WDA do it in the other parts of the United Kingdom, so why have this strange phrase in line 41?

The corporation has a very creditable record, in my view and, I am sure, in the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is not the sort of organisation that the private sector is likely to find very beguiling, so why incorporate the provision that the Secretary of State should have the right to give directions for it to become involved in the private sector?

The corporation has had a reasonably adventurous policy of providing nursery accommodation, so-called—small factories for small firms—and it has done this on a highly successful basis. It has done it, for example, in inner city areas—which is a problem that is recognised on both sides of the House. That is where the corporation's efforts and funds are concentrated—in England, in the areas of greatest deprivation, the SDAs, the DAs and the intermediate areas. It does not build outside those areas. Therefore, why widen its powers in this way?

It is passing strange, unless the Government have some notion of some sort of private enterprise spearhead to develop this sort of factory. I must tell the Government that they are acting under a total illusion, because if private enterprise could have done the job it would have done it in the 1930s. It was the very fact that private enterprise was failing then, as it is failing now, to provide jobs in the areas of greatest unemployment that caused the corporation to be established to fulfil that important need.

The other point that I want to mention is that, once again, one of the amendments requires that the directions that the Secretary of State may give the corporation are to be confirmed by orders laid before both Houses. Conservative Members are shy about bringing forward a proper assessment of public utilities such as the English Industrial Estates Corporation, but I suspect that many of them believe that they have done a reasonable job in the past. By and large, the corporation has provided a higher standard of accommodation and design than the private enterprise sector and it is the only body that promotes a competition for improving the architectural design of factories within a strict cost limit. There is no reason why we should have hideous industrial buildings that people have to work in, live near and see.

I am concerned that the corporation should not be denigrated in any way or shaped in the wrong direction. Therefore, the amendment provides that before directions are given they should be confirmed in this place. That will enable us to keep an eye on the actions of the Secretary of State. I dare say that Conservative Members will say that they have total and utter confidence in the Secretary of State, that he can do what he likes and they will go into the Lobby and vote for him. However, I have sketched out some of the useful things that the corporation carries out and I suggest to the House that it is not a bad principle to have an element of accountability on the Floor of the House. In that way, all hon. Members—some may have constituency interests—can highlight the danger of a particular direction weakening the thrust and importance of the corporation. It is an area where private enterprise has failed and it will continue to fail unless there is a clearly defined and supported regional policly. The corporation is an important arm of that policy.

If the Minister says that it is only legislation that the Government do not intend using—an argument used on a previous clause—that is that it is only a nominal sort of matter, that the directions will be sparing, that they will occur only in exceptional circumstances, that they will be given only in order to ensure that the corporation fulfils a programme and that the Secretary of State must have these sort of powers, I would say that once legislation is passed in this House it is there and finished. It cannot come back here for modification except by a further Act or Bill. The Secretary of State is able to act on the letter of the legislation that we pass. Whether the matter is trivial or important, the power is in the hands of the Secretary of State.

If it is true that the Secretary of State will use the power only rarely, it will not matter that we have the power of accountability. We will not be troubled with his directions to the corporation and we shall not be kept up for an hour and a half discussing an order. But if there are to be important orders that will seriously alter the character of the corporation in a way that Opposition Members would regard as a possible deterioration of regional policy, we will want to know about that. The Minister should not shy away from that possibility and he should accept that hon. Members have an interest in such important matters. It will not diminish. The level of employment is rising and will get worse rather than better in the regions.

Even the Government have used regional policy as a sort of panacea. When a steelworks closes they say that they will make the area a special development area. When there is a contraction in the mining of coking coal as a result of the closure of a steelworks, the Government say that they will make that area a special development area. The English Industrial Estates Corporation will be able to work in special development areas and development areas.

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The Government have altered the structure of assisted areas in the regions. The corporation will therefore have an increasingly important role. Its role will not diminish. The Government will have to intervene again and again. They may not like intervening, but we must ensure that that power is available. We do not want the Secretary of State to produce directions that diminish the effectiveness of the corporation.

Our request is reasonable. The Opposition seek accountability. That is part of our philosophy. We should have public accountability. The corporation should be subject to debate in the House. It has carried out a useful and important policy. That policy is rarely debated. These directions provide an opportunity for hon. Members representing assisted areas to bring their knowledge to bear in debate. They should ensure that the Secretary of State's directions to the corporation do not blunt its edge. The corporation must be maintained as an effective unit. The standards of private enterprise must not be allowed to diminish the levels of service that have so far been provided. The Secretary of State's directions must not break the important link with factories and jobs. That link is a vital concomitant of the corporation.

We must not turn the nation into a nation of warehousemen. We must retain our manufacturing capacity. We must therefore retain the link between the corporation and the creation and retention of jobs. I therefore hope that the Government will accept this reasonable and constructive amendment that has been proposed by reasonable and constructive Opposition Members. We do not like the Bill. It is terrible betrayal of the interests of our people. However, we have tried to maintain a constructive and positive attitude. We have tried to preserve some of the standards and services that certain aspects of industrial policy have achieved.

Our guiding light is that the English Industrial Estates Corporation has assisted in providing thousands of jobs as an inducement to business men and enterprises to move into the regions. For example, in the North-East more people are working in advance factories that have been set up by the corporation than in the whole of the shipbuilding and ship repairing industry. Of course, there has been a shift. However, any worker would be willing to change his job as long as he was given another. He does not want to be rationalised out of existence and put on the dole. That is part of the function of the English Industrial Estates Corporation.

The corporation is a vital arm in the retention of jobs for those in the regions. We therefore need an order to provide for some scrutiny in the House.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

Clauses 9 to 12 concern the English Industrial Estates Corporation. In many ways those clauses are the most fascinating in the Bill. If hon. Members care to read the first-class speeches that were made in the Standing Committee they will find much of benefit. They will also find that while we opposed almost every part of the Bill, because of its ridiculous ideological bias, we welcome those clauses.

It is difficult to understand the philosophy of the Secretary of State and his rather strange team at the Department of Industry. On the one hand they are taking an extreme stance in attempting to cut back—in the Prime Minister's phrase—the frontiers of the State in respect of the NEB and the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. On the other, in this part of the Bill they are proposing to do what we on the Labour Benches, particularly those of us who are considered more extreme, asked our Government to do for a number of years—create an English development agency. I do not go so far as to suggest that an English development agency is proposed in the Bill, but an embryo development agency is. I imagine that Conservative Members, with their vicious political prejudices, will wonder what the Secretary of State is doing.

Our amendments are extremely reasonable. They would strengthen the clause, which is the main clause dealing with the English Industrial Estates Corporation. They would give hon. Gentlemen the opportunity to consider what the Secretary of State or his successor—I believe that it will be his successor—may do.

I refer hon. Gentlemen to subsection (2): Subject to directions given under subsection (3) below, the Corporation may do anything, whether in England or elsewhere, which is calculated to facilitate or is conducive or incidental to the discharge of their functions". The subsection then lists what the corporation may do, all of which we welcome. However, subsection (3) states: The Secretary of State may give the Corporation general or specific directions and the Corporation shall comply with any such directions. If a Labour Secretary of State introduced that provision, there would be an almighty howl from the Conservative Opposition. They would suggest that he was taking blanket powers to do almost anything with an organisation, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)said, owns a tremendous amount of land and property in England. Indeed I believe that it holds more industrial land in England than any other organisation.

That power will be in the hands of the Secretary of State. It is essential that Parliament has the right from time to time to examine the role, functions and actions of the Secretary of State. Hon. Gentlemen may assume that they will for ever have a Secretary of State for Industry of the calibre of the present incumbent, but I remind them that in the past successive Secretaries of State have not necessarily followed their predecessors' policies. We may even have the night of the long knives sooner rather than later. We must recognise the powers that we are placing in the Secretary of State's hands. Hon. Gentlemen have a right to join with us and perform their parliamentary function to ensure that Parliament looks closely at the proposals.

I should like to know the meaning of the words in subsection (2) whether in England or elsewhere". It may be a silly error, and the Under-Secretary may say that he accepts our amendment. I do not know of any function that the English Industrial Estates Corporation has outside England—in other parts of the United Kingdom or in other countries. Why have those words been inserted?

In Committee we ascertained that the role, functions and activities of the English Industrial Estates Corporation will be confined to the assisted areas. That leads to interesting speculation because there is a vast amount of activity performed by the corporation in areas that are about to lose their assisted area status. There has been no satisfactory answer to date about the holdings of the corporation in such areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley referred to areas that have lost steelworks and where the corporation has offered factories and work. The steelworks at Irlam, in my constituency, was one of the original closures. That site has been cleared by the BSC and advance factories have been built. We do not know whether anything else will be built on the site or whether any additional work will be provided for the ex-steel workers. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will tell us what the words whether in England or elsewhere mean in that context.

I turn to the other amendments that have been tabled. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford referred to inserting the word "industrial" in line 25 of the clause. There is a danger that the corporation could dispose of land at the direction of the Secretary of State for purposes other than that for which it was acquired. If that consideration is linked with amendment No. 20, it has been deemed that planning permission will be granted without reference to the local authority in relation to the English Industrial Estates Corporation, because until the passing of this Bill it has always been regarded as a Crown agency. I am sure that even Conservative Members must have heard much recent criticism of the Crown Agents not requiring planning permission from local authorities.

I hope that the Minister will deal with the matter in a little more depth than he did in Committee, and tell us why the date of passing of the Bill is not acceptable and why it has to be left in the context of March 1981. I have read again the comments of the Minister in reply to our deliberations in Committee, and I do not consider them acceptable or meaningful. The four amendments that we have tabled are extremely reasonable, and are not in any sense ideological.

I apologise for speaking at this hour of the morning. It would have been preferable if more time had been given to the Report stage so that the tremendously important issues could have been dealt with at a more reasonable hour.

It is the duty of Members of Parliament, in examining Bills, to consider the issues logically and sensibly, and to recognise that the Opposition are tabling amendments that are sensible and meaningful. They will strengthen the role of the English Industrial Estates Corporation, strengthen the role of Parliament, and strengthen the role of local authorities in areas that, although they may be blessed with industrial estates provided by the corporation, still feel much trepidation that land that was originally acquired for industrial purposes—often sold by a local authority at fairly generous rates to the corporation—may be disposed of for purposes other than industrial.

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Conservative Members must appreciate that the moneys that will be acquired or made available from the sale of assets will not come back to the Exchequer. According to the Under-Secretary's answers in Committee, the moneys acquired by the corporation would be used to further its activities. I welcome that aspect. But one thing that will cause some bitterness is that estates, factories plant and land in non-assisted areas will be disposed of by the corporation and the money will be ploughed back not into those areas but into other areas. I am sure that all hon. Members appreciate that that may cause some friction in future.

I do not oppose the idea that the corporation should dispose of land, plant or factories. It may strengthen the corporation in attracting and maintaining industry in some areas. In the past, assisted areas have suffered from what I call boomlet times. They have not had a boom time since the war. When national or multinational companies were looking for quick expansion it was easy for them to come to the assisted areas and to lease factories from the English Industrial Estates Corporation. For example, a company may lease a factory for five years, the first two or three years being for virtually no rent. It could then go to the Department of Industry and obtain a 22 per cent. grant for expensive plant to go into the factory. Of course, when the downturn comes after two or three years—sometimes not as long as that—it will surrender its lease.

Some of the more crooked elements within national and multinational corporations have even had the audacity to remove the expensive plant that they acquired with the assistance of the taxpayer and to take it to their headquarters, leaving the assisted area with an empty, sometimes purpose-built factory that is difficult to let to anyone else.

If a firm has capital invested in its factory and plant and for some reason it has to close, because of its vested interest it will be anxious to find a buyer in order to release the capital involved. In that context, it may be that the Secretary of State's proposal will be beneficial to the regions, and therefore I welcome it.

Having said that, I think that the Under-Secretary should tell us what it is about our amendments that he does not accept. He will recall that in Committee we had some interesting discussions on the clause and that we then raised some of these issues. If he will not accept these sensible amendments, he should give us the reasons for his rejection of them. Why will he not accept amendment No. 19, to insert the word "industrial"? Why will he not accept amendment No. 20, to leave out "end of March 1981" and to insert "passing of this Act"? Will he tell us why he cannot accept amendment No. 17? That is a mystery to all of us. If there are reasons why he cannot accept amendment No. 17, perhaps he will tell us in what other parts of the world the corporation is now operating, or where he envisages that it will operate in future.

I apologise for detaining the House. I am sure that Conservative Members are anxious to make speeches, as they were in Standing Committee. I had hoped that we would hear more from them on these amendments. They were extremely reticent in the Standing Committee.

The clause is of fundamental importance, and a complete variation of strategy. If the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells), by waving his arms from a sedentary position, wishes to intervene, I shall be glad to give way to him. The hon. Gentleman is apparently not prepared to explain what he means by waving his arms.

It is essential that Members of Parliament, even at this hour of the morning, face up to their duties as parliamentarians and recognise that such enormous powers should not be placed in the hands of the Secretary of State. If Conservative Members are prepared to pass this type of clause they will never again be able to complain about a Labour Government taking powers that some of my hon. Friends have always tried to persuade them to take. If those Conservative Members are not prepared to do their duty and insist that Parliament has a right to scrutinise the actions of the Secretary of State they will have no right to complain in the future.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments. I am anxious to know whether the Secretary of State considers that he is wise to insert this clause. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will explain. To my best knowledge and belief, the only connection between English Industrial Estates Corporation and Scotland occurred during the two years when I was, first, a Parliamentary Secretary, and then Minister of State at the Department of Industry, and sponsored, with my noble Friend in another place, the English industrial estates.

This is not a frivolous matter. Many people in Scotland and Wales might find it offensive. There have been long and heated arguments over the last two years on the question of devolution and the place of Scotland and of Wales within the United Kingdom. From my reading of the Bill it appears that the English Industrial Estates Corporation can come into my part of the world or into Wales and establish an industrial estate. The Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency already exist to carry out that job. It would, therefore, be insensitive of the Government if they failed to accept the amendment.

The question of accountability was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). The Secretary of State is taking wide powers to himself in this part of the Bill. I do not see why there should be any resistance to the proposal that from lime to time he should indicate to the House his thinking on the work of the estates corporation, how it should be managed and funded, and what sort of directions it will be given.

It is a large organisation. It is concerned with taxpayers'money—a point that may appeal to Conservative Members. If taxpayers' money is involved, it is only right and proper, irrespective of the side of the House on which hon. Members sit, that we should have some indication from the Secretary of State about what he proposes to do with it. I am bound to say that I do not understand all the clause. Perhaps one is a little dimmer at this hour of the night, but I am a little suspicious of things that I do not understand.

Tomorrow we shall have a debate on regional policy, and over the months that this Government have been in power I have not detected much enthusiasm for regional policy. The English Industrial Estates Corporation has an exceptionally important part to play in the whole question of regional policy. It has a part to play in attracting new industries from abroad and from other parts of the country.

There are hon. Members on both sides who have been very genuinely concerned about industrial estates factories lying vacant for some time. In many such instances plots of land are built on because of various restraints exerted over a period. These amendments give us the opportunity to ask the Minister how he sees the role of the corporation over the next few years. Does he want it to fulfil an expensive role, as it has in the past? Does he propose to allow it to have land banks which are exceptionally important at this time? This is an important arm of regional policy, and we would all be indebted to the Minister if he would explain the position.

Mr. David Mitchell

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) asked me whether I would state in English what is meant by the words whether England or elsewhere in relation to amendment No. 17. If the amendment were passed it would stop the corporation from being able to conduct any of its business, such as buying bricks, in Scotland or in Wales. It would stop it from being able to negotiate the purchase of land with a non-English landlord who had land in England but happened to reside outside England.

Mr. John Silkin

Suppose that the Under-Secretary were to devote his mind to omitting all the words whether England or elsewhere would that not have exactly the same effect?

Mr. Mitchell

My understanding is that it is necessary to have this in the Bill for the reason that I have just stated. I pray in aid the right hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Mackenzie) because he, too, was puzzled by this, but he will recall from his period as the Minister of State, Scottish Office, that under the Scottish Development Agency Act 1975, which his predecessor put on the statute book, exactly the same phraseology occurs. I quote from Section 2(3): The Agency may do anything, whether in Scotland or elsewhere, which is calculated to facilitate… I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that I have followed precedent correctly in this matter.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

We have always had a missionary role in Scotland.

Mr. Mitchell

Amendment No. 20 deals with removing "end of March 1981" and inserting instead "passing of this Act".

If this amendment were carried it would mean that all development that was about to start when the Act became law would be held up until it had received planning consent, instead of being able to work on deemed planning consent which it otherwise could have done. I am certain that that would not be the desire of any hon. Member, because it would have a serious effect on the corporation building programme.

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Amendment No. 18 provides for directions to be confirmed by orders laid before both Houses of Parliament. We are largely able to meet this request by undertaking to place copies of the guidelines which are not statutory in the Libraries of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

I turn to the major points raised by the right hon. Member for Deptford. He asked me for assurances that in bringing in private funding there would be no change in the activities carried out by the corporation. I can give the right hon. Gentleman and the House a categoric assurance that there is no intention of making changes of that sort.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is worried that the corporation may move into commercial activities. I remind the House that it already has banks and a post office at Team Valley, which are an essential part of the services provided in such large estates. There are no plans to encourage the corporation to venture into commercial property development, but we do not rule out the odd occasional need to provide accommodation for essential commercial services on large estates, similarly to the way in which that has been done in the past.

The right hon. Gentleman drew our attention to the problems associated with the provision of smaller premises. He said that premises of 5,000 sq. ft. are less commercially attractive than larger units. Rightly, he put his finger on the fact that premises of 2,000 sq. ft. and less, which are ideal for workshops and the like, are not normally considered to be commercially attractive. There is now so much demand for that type of accommodation that it has become commercially attractive, but in general the developers have not recognised it.

The right hon. Gentleman appears to be slightly uneasy and uncertain about that. The National Coal Board pension fund has built a number of blocks. It does not build one isolated 5,000 sq. ft. unit. It builds a block of 20, and then puts up the divisions inside. That brings the cost down. It finds that when it is halfway through building there is a queue of people wanting to take possession. We are so concerned that there is an unsatisfied demand for small premises of this sort that we have commissioned Coopers and Lybrand, in the City, to give an assessment of supply and demand. We believe that that will show that there is a substantial unsatisfied demand, and it will be a major opportunity of encouraging the private sector to build.

There is possibly some role for local authorities in the depressed area to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention to take a head lease and provide a covenant so that the premises become attractive to a private developer. He would not have to deal with the administration and the possibility of lack of tenants at some stage.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman says that the Department is commissioning Coopers and Lybrand to establish supply and demand. He admits that the private sector has not recognised the growth in the market, and that the industry is commissioning a company to measure that growth. Who is to pay for that growth? Will there be a charge to the private developer, or is this simply a subsidised service to private enterprise?

Mr. Mitchell

It is not a service to private enterprise. It is part of our role, as a Department, to study the needs of the smaller business sector and we are having a survey carried out to determine whether our assumption and all the anecdotal evidence that there is an acute shortage of small business and workshop premises are correct. I expect to have the results of the survey by the end of the month.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Deptford that there is now a widespread recognition that if we are to see many more businesses starting they will need small premises and we must make sure that there is no hold up there.

I can also give the right hon. Gentleman the other assurance for which he asked, namely, that employment will still be the most important criterion to which our building and letting programmes will be geared. I hope that as I have met the cases raised by Labour Members the right hon. Gentleman will ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. John Silkin

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary. As we are about halfway through, I feel that some gesture is required from this side. In view of the hon. Gentleman's assurances, I shall not press the amendments, but I suggest that, perhaps while one of the Under-Secretary's hon. Friends is dealing with other amendments, the Under-Secretary should say to himself: Subject to directions given under subsection (3) below, the Corporation may do anything…which is calculated to facilitate and then say: may do anything, whether in England or elsewhere, which is calculated to facilitate and try to work out the difference.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned.—[Mr. Mather.]

Mr. John Silkin

This is a debatable motion. I said a moment ago that we had gone halfway. There is a little more that we should do before we adjourn. Let us see whether we cannot dispose of, say, another three clauses and start tomorrow with clause 13.

Question, That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned, put and agreed to.

Bill, not amended (in the Standing Committee),to be further considered this day.

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