§ Mr. Fox
Amendment No. 187 is a technical amendment.
Amendment No. 188 relates to section 9 of the Local Government Act 1966. As it appears in clause 100, it is inaccurate in its application to the time before it comes into force. In this period section 9 operates in its original form, but the way that subsection (1)(b) has been drafted in the printed text means that the Secretary of State could pay grant on expenditure incurred between 1967 and the passing of the Bill on approved works for the reclamation or improvement of land, including land which is not derelict and is within the new subsection only by reason of underground mining operations and he could pay grant on expenditure incurred by persons other than a local authority. Neither of these circumstances was within section 9(1) of the 1966 Act before this Bill. This was not intended, and the new subsection puts this right.
Secondly, some redrafting has been undertaken.
Amendment No. l89 fulfils the indication given in Committee that the Government expected to attend to section 8 of the Local Employment Act in taking forward clause 100 at a later stage.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
I understand that we are now drawing to the end of the proceedings for today. My hon. Friends and I would wish merely to comment on the amendments. It is not our intention to divide the House. We wish to use this opportunity to draw to the Minister's attention some real and serious problems that we face, particularly in the county of Greater Manchester, Newton and Westhoughton concerning derelict land.
§ Mr. Stott
And, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) points out, in Yorkshire as well. I have no doubt that the Minister will bear in mind the points that I am about to make, because he understands the need for some action, particularly as he represents a Yorkshire constituency.
While these amendments do not necessarily satisfy or deal with the problems that we wish to discuss, it is necessary to put on record the real and deep concern that is felt by people in our county and in our local authorities area about derelict land. The Greater Manchester council has 8,500 acres of derelict land, of which 8,000 acres are considered to be in need of reclamation. It has more derelict land than any other county in England, excluding Cornwall, which has about 11,000 acres, most of which is rural derelict land caused primarily by the mining of tin and may not be justifiably included in the reclamation scheme.
§ The figures that I have quoted are taken from the 1974 survey of derelict and despoiled land carried out nationally by local authorities at the request of the Department of the Environment. No new survey has been carried out since that date. But local knowledge suggests that in the Greater Manchester area the situation is not improving in overall terms. More land is becoming derelict due to the decline in industry and the rationalisation of both public and private organisations, causing plant and buildings to be made redundant and in need of reclamation before they can be put to good and productive use.
§ The definition of what is acceptable for derelict land grant is widening as the knowledge of the nature of dereliction and what has to be done makes the problem of land reclamation more concentrated.
§ I draw the Minister's attention to the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) and I face. Derelict land in our local area and in the county of Greater Manchester comprises mainly pit waste, mine shafts, slurry lagoons, the remains of pithead buildings, old sewage works, sludge beds, sites of old gas works, sites of worked-out quarries, sites of redundant power stations, 471 former mineral workings, derelict canals and sundry other examples that we could quote if the hour was not so late.
§ We have a terrible, concentrated problem of wide expanses of derelict land brought about largely by the evolution of the Industrial Revolution. Lancashire and Yorkshire have been been the engine house of that Industrial Revolution and the environmental problems that ensue from it. The scale of the problem is enormous. As I pointed out earlier, we have 8,500 acres of derelict land, of which 8,000 acres are considered necessary for reclamation.
§ The main attack on dereliction in Greater Manchester is being made by the county council, through joint reclamation schemes and joint reclamation teams. The aim is to build up the competence and efficiency of those terms. However, other work is being carried out by the local district authorities, particularly in Wigan. In the metropolitan borough of Wigan there is a good team of reclamation engineers and a reclamation team dealing with the terrible and enormous problems of land reclamation. That leaves the Greater Manchester council free to concentrate on the more technical, difficult problems of land reclamation.
§ I have tried in a rather convoluted debate to give an example of the magnitude of the problem. I have tried to indicate that the reclamation programme in the Greater Manchester area is of very great importance to our local authorities. The problem has arisen as a consequence of the decision of the Secretary of State for Industry, who is busily redesignating areas of the United Kingdom—areas which were formerly intermediate areas enjoying intermediate area status. With that status went the 100 per cent. derelict land grant.
§ In Greater Manchester there are areas that are no longer to be considered as intermediate areas. Are we to take it, therefore, that, as a consequence of the decision of the Secretary of State for Industry, our local and county authorities will no longer be able to claim the 100 per cent. derelict land grant?
§ We need answers to these questions. My hon. Friends the Members for Newton and for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) were both members of the Standing Committee on the Industry Bill, which is now an Act, 472 and continually probed the Secretary of State for Industry about this problem. To date, we have had no satisfactory answer.
§ By 1982, when the local authorities are considering their schemes for reclamation, they will not know where the finance will come from. The problem is of enormous proportions in the North-West, as the Minister will clearly understand. What we want from him is answers to some very pertinent questions. What will happen in those areas that formerly enjoyed intermediate area status, together with the 100 per cent. derelict land grant? Will they continue to receive that grant? If they do not, we shall have one hell of an environmental problem. The Under-Secretary or the Secretary of State for the Environment can take time out from Henley-on-Thames and come to Wigan, or Newton, or Wakefield, or Tameside, or anywhere in that area where we have had these problems and look for himself at the enormity of our problem.
§ The Government have a responsibility not just to this House and to me tonight but to my local authority and my county authority, to tell them what they intend to do about this problem. We have had no answer on the issues that we have continually raised with Ministers.
§ There is another problem that we face. The Wigan travel-to-work area has been upgraded and now has special development area status. The other part of the Wigan metropolitan borough, Leigh, has been downgraded from intermediate area status to nothing. Yet the Greater Manchester council has reclamation schemes spanning the two areas. Will one part of the area get the 100 per cent. derelict land grant and the other not get it? If so, it makes the whole system an absolute farce. We need some clarification on this issue because of the problems in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
§ The whole argument about reclamation is part of a wider debate on the need for our constituencies in the North-West to receive national assistance in tackling their deep-seated economic problems. There is undoubtedly a case to be made for such assistance. Whatever the merits of the different forms of aid available, the 100 per cent derelict land grant comes high on any list of measures that the 473 Government can give to us in the North-West to try to eradicate some of our awful problems. I have put my point in a spirit of endeavour. I have genuinely tried to elicit information. I have tried not to make party points. We need early clarification of the issues.
§ Mr. John Evans
I do not intend to apologise to the House for detaining it at 2.24 am. I am extremely angry that we have had to raise such an important subject at this ridiculous hour. Clause 100 is important to many authorities, particularly those in the North and others that have lost their assisted area status. The Minister used only a handful of words to introduce the amendments. The Government have rewritten clause 100, and that is not good enough.
The question of derelict land was discussed at length, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, during the passage of the Industry Bill. We mentioned the serious problems facing local authorities that were being downgraded from assisted area status to no status. In response to our amendments, which sought to protect such local authorities, it was said that a working party from the Department of the Environment and the Department of Industry was considering this awkward and vexed problem. I assume that the clause has been rewritten as a result of that working party.
I am highly suspicious of the rewritten clause. The original clause led one to assume that local authorities that had lost assisted area status might have been covered. The clause provides thatthe Secretary of State may, with the consent of the Treasury, pay to any person out of money provided by Parliament grants of such amounts and payable at such times and subject to such conditions as he may from time to time determine in respect of relevant expenditure.It appears from the original wording that the problems of Wigan, St. Helens, Warrington, Tameside and of many other authorities in the North could have been solved.
There is a large amount of gobbledegook in the rewritten clause. When one examines the new wording, one suspects that it will not give succour to authorities which have lost their assisted area status. However, I hope that the Minister will tell me that I am wrong.
474 There is an anomaly about derelict land clearance areas. As a result of the Local Employment Act 1972, some areas with particular problems and vast amounts of derelict land were designated derelict land clearance areas, although they did not have assisted area status. They were not affected by the Industry Bill.
I am suspicious of the words contained in amendment No. 189. I shall not quote the whole amendment, as I do not wish to bore the House, but subsection (1) states:(1) Where it appears to the Secretary of State—I suspect that that means that lands which are derelict, or areas which are derelict land clearance areas, risk losing that status. My interpretation of clause 100 as rewritten is that only assisted areas—development areas or special development areas—will qualify for help from the Secretary of State to clear derelict land.
- (a) that any land in a development area or intermediate area (in this section referred to as 'the relevant land')—
- (i) is derelict, neglected or unsightly, or"
If that is the case, a number of hon. Members who are probably sleeping soundly in their beds at present will, in the not-too-distant future, suddenly find representations made to them by their local authorities that at this hour of the morning they have lost their assisted area status.
§ I wish to reinforce one or two of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott). He rightly pointed out that areas which suffer from this problem have suffered from industry which has long since departed—steelworks chemical plants, shipyards, old pit workings, and so on. Such problems plague many of our areas. I am sure that hon. Members will recognise that clearing those areas is an extremely expensive, long-term business.
§ Some local authorities are in the middle of fairly long-term contracts to clear vast areas of derelict land on which it would appear they will lose grant. No one has given a satisfactory answer to local authorities which have entered into a contract to clear the land. What will happen 475 from 1 August, when their assisted area status finishes?
§ One of the finest phrases that I have ever heard—and I certainly wish that I had coined it—was "Let the polluter pay". That was coined by the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he was speaking about environmental pollution flowing from the workings of industry. But I remind hon. Members that the worst form of pollution is destruction of the land itself.
§ There is no question but that areas such as the one that I represent desperately need assistance from the rest of the country to bring back land that was once used for productive industry. Whether that land would be used for industry, commerce, housing, open space, or farm land is immaterial. The problem is that there are horrendous eyesores which we could return to beneficial use if the Government recognised their duty. I hope that the Minister will deal with the point about the problems of areas which have lost their status because they are part of a travel-to-work area, although they are also part of a local authority area which has, in another part, retained its status.
§ The case of Wigan was mentioned. This was a "Paddy's rise" if ever there was one. The town was raised from assisted area status to development area status. The people all cheered madly until they found out that they would receive less as a development area than they would as an all-assisted area, because of the reduction in the level of grants. Consequent upon that, other parts of the Wigan area, including Golborne, in my constituency, lost their status altogether. We now have the farcical situation that Wigan, which has overlapping derelict land areas with Golborne, will qualify for grant to clear to the Golborne border, although no grant will be made available to clear the eyesores in the old Golborne district. That does not make sense.
§ In my constituency there is a wide spread of local authorities. Newton-le-Willows comes under the St. Helens metropolitan district council. St. Helens was downgraded from special development to development area status, with a consequent heavy loss of grant. Newton-le-Willows is also part of the Warrington 476 travel-to-work area. Warrington had its status entirely removed. In the days of the Industrial Revolution a firm's building plant did not stop at the border of an urban district. That applies particularly to old pit heaps. St. Helens metropolitan district council could clear old pit heaps until it reached the old Newton-le-Willows urban district boundary, but I assume that it would have to stop there because of the horrendous sum that it would cost that authority, which does not qualify for a grant. That is farcical. If the local authority clears away derelict pit heaps up to the now non-existent boundary of Newton-le-Willows urban district council, and leaves the remaining pit heaps, what will the local people think? It is nonsense.
§ Vast areas in the North are facing similar problems. During the passage of the Industry Bill the Government undertook to look at the problem. Their solution has been to drop other areas from the derelict land clearance scheme. Amendment No. 189 appears to indicate that only assisted areas will quality for grants.
§ It is of vital importance to clear derelict land. I am tired of hearing the Secretary of State for Industry talk of entrepreneurs who will rebuild our country. Industrial dereliction is a great problem in the North. It will take large sums of money to clear. When industrialists see the dereliction in the North, they ask what time the next train leaves for London. They find the new towns surrounding London much more attractive. There they are offered buildings and other facilities in pleasant areas, with easy communication with London. If the Government want to ensure that the North participates in the country's regeneration, they should pay attention to the problems that we have highlighted during discussions on this Bill and on the Industry Bill. We have put forward reasonable, sensible, non-partisan suggestions. The Government should put aside their prejudices. I am prepared to put aside my prejudices, although I do not believe that we shall see a regeneration under this Government.
§ The Government should not regard each and every cut in public expenditure as beneficial. A great deal of public expenditure is of immense value. Nowhere is expenditure more beneficial than 477 in clearing derelict land. There is a tremendous job to be done in the North. The Bill comes nowhere near tackling the problems.
§ I suspect that, far from honouring the promise given to us during debates on the Industry Bill that the working party was aware of the problems and would consider them carefully, the Government are taking an axe to the problem and will remove areas that think that they will continue to receive assistance under the 1972 Act. If I am wrong, I shall willingly withdraw that comment, but, even if I am wrong, the Government are doing nothing to assist areas such as Newton-le-Willows. Golborne, Warrington and Irlam and Cadishead, which have been gravely affected by the operation of the Industry Act and will be severely affected by the provisions of clause 100.
§ Mr. Cryer
This legislation is hybrid, because the definition of a derelict land clearance area is decided by the Department of Industry, either distinctly or in association with an intermediate, development or special development area. In the latter three cases, the derelict land clearance grants are 100 per cent. and are obtained by virtue of the status of an area. In the former case, the Department of Industry has the right to declare a DLCA and grants follow at 100 per cent., independent of the status of that area.
I want to be assured that amendment No. 188 retains that right of the Department so that the application of DLCA grants, once the status has been granted, is carried out by the Department of the Environment, which, oddly enough, has no role in the declaration of the status of an area.
It is important that the Department of the Environment should still be able to carry out derelict land clearance in areas that may not have employment problems. I recall, for example, that there are large gravel pits in Thurrock that are like pockmarks or a moonscape in some areas, but the level of unemployment was not sufficient—at least under the Labour Government—to give the district assisted area status.
Amendment No. 189 is relevant to the improvement of intermediate areas, because they are suffering higher than average levels of unemployment. I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment 478 will apply the clause with vigour and enthusiasm and will persuade the Secretary of State for Industry that there is need for an expansion, rather than a contraction, of intermediate areas.
It is ironic that we are discussing the clause now—with Conservative Members keen and eager to follow the proceedings with assiduity—when, at the end of the month, as the Under-Secretary knows, because his constituency is the neighbour of my own, regional development grant finishes in Keighley as the start of the process to end intermediate area status.
In the light of the power in amendment No. 189, which virtually redrafts the clause, I want to see the possibility of using derelict land clearance powers available for an area such as my constituency. Under the amendment, grants can be made to enable a council toacquire the relevant land or any other land which is reasonably required for the purpose of enabling the relevant land to be brought into use, or of improving its appearance".A place such as Keighley, which does not have the same dereliction as Manchester or Wakefield, like most industrial areas in Yorkshire and Lancashire, has areas which could be used to provide jobs. A large area of the old gasworks might be used as an industrial estate, for example.
One of the signal achievements of the present Conservative Government is that after five years of Labour control, when the level of unemployment in Keighley was always below the national average, unemployment is now 7.4 per cent. above the national average that prevailed during the whole of the Labour Government's period of office. The amendment would add a string to the bow of the Bradford metropolitan district council since it would widen the possibility of jobs being attracted to the Keighley area.
In the West Yorkshire area textile jobs are being lost at the rate of 500 a week. That is a drain which the area cannot afford. Shipley happens to be in the Bradford travel-to-work area which is retained as an intermediate area, so the problem does not arise. Shipley is like Keighley in many respects. It is an attractive town without many derelict eyesores, but it has advantages which are used to maintain jobs.
479 A few miles down the Aire valley a travel-to-work area is being denied intermediate area status. I have made strong representations to the Department of Industry to retain intermediate area status for Keighley to give it advantages such as European Investment Bank loans to create and retain jobs.
Keighley depends on the vulnerable textile industry for its jobs. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, who knows the area, will use his influence in Government to get some action on the textile industry. I do not want to stray too far down that path, because I should be out of order. However, this is an important issue and all the Labour Members with textile constituencies are making strong representations to try to staunch the loss of jobs. I regard such a power as important and relevant to areas such as Keighley. I hope that the power will be retained for my constituency.
§ There are a number of areas in the West Riding of Yorkshire which have now been robbed of intermediate area status by the Government. Some would argue that that is because they are represented, in some instances, by Labour Members, but that is a matter for debate.
§ The area around Wakefield, for example, has suffered grievously from dereliction and it is certainly an area where this sort of power is extremely important. But even if the qualification of intermediate area status is removed, I should like to conclude where I began by asking for the Minister's assurance that these amendments do not in any way remove or revoke the power of the Department of Industry to declare a DLCA without the necessity of intermediate area status, or whatever, being invoked as is laid down in amendment No. 189.
§ So many areas need DLCA status for their improvement. This is one of the areas where even the Government might have to admit that some intervention is required. The entrepreneurs of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries excavated and plundered the soil of its mineral riches and took materials for road making, house building, concrete making or whatever. Scars are left and the local authorities do not have the financial resources to restore the land to make it fit for use by human beings once more.480
§ It may be unfortunate that in the past local authorities did not have the support of legislation—and even if they did or thought they did—and often entered into agreements with companies which undertook excavations but where agreements turned out to be worthless because the local authorities did not have legislative backing. Or it could be that a local authority entered into agreements with companies which held a powerful position in an area at the time and the authority did not adequately protect the interests of the people concerned.
§ We are having to remedy the defects of previous generations, and it is important that we should have these powers. It is vitally important that we have legislation to ensure that past depredations are not repeated.
§ I look forward eagerly to haring from the Minister what I hope will be a reasonably comprehensive explanation. It does not matter that it is 2.52 am. In a few weeks we shall have several weeks' holiday. We are not badly treated so far as holidays are concerned and we often work through the night in this place. Therefore, the fact that it is 2.52 am is irrelevant. We are here to consider a Bill on Report.
§ I was not on the Committee, and several of my hon. Friends were not on the Committee and, therefore, we want as detailed and as reasonable an explanation as the Minister would give were it the close of Question Time and we were starting out fresh at 3.30 in the afternoon. The reply goes on the record in the same way as at any other time, and this is an important issue.
§ Mr. Fox
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), as my next door neighbour, for drawing my attention to some of the problems that face that part of the world. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. They could not have a better friend than me, as a Minister at the Department of the Environment, in the sense that the areas they represent are certainly well known to me.
All the sneakers seem to have misunderstood the purpose of this clause and to have read rather too much into it. What we are seeking to do here is to take extra powers, but they are not really all that powerful. There were certain limitations on us.
481 I accept that we have taken only small steps forward, but that does not mean that the Government are not deeply concerned about the problem of dereliction. It is a problem that has concerned previous Governments for a considerable period. Britain has a record of which it can be proud. Admittedly many scars remain, but there are many industrial areas where a transformation has taken place over a few years. The areas that are represented by those who have taken part in the debate have taken up all the grants available to them. They have gathered some successful and professional teams to carry out the work.
The amendments seek to extend the scope of grants. Clause 100, even in its original wording, could not have attracted 100 per cent. grant. Section 9 of the 1966 legislation constricts the grant rate paid under the Act to 50 per cent. It is the 1972 Act, which is linked with the assisted areas and derelict land clearance areas, which attracts 100 per cent. grant. Clause 100 does not deal with designation. That issue is dealt with in the 1972 Act.
It has been suggested that the Bill provides an opportunity to do more than has been done. We are making representations. It has been drawn to the attention of the House that there is a conflict between my Department and the Department of Industry. I understand fully the concern of hon. Members. The designation of derelict land clearance areas when they lose assisted area status in 1982 is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. The Departments have been studying closely which areas deserve continued eligibility for 100 per cent. grants. The Government hope to make a decision before long.
We understand that travel-to-work areas are different from constituency boundaries and that dereliction of the sort that we are discussing transcends county boundaries. It is of the utmost importance that we sort out the problem. I hope to make an announcement as soon as decisions have been made.
§ Mr. John Evans
I accept the helpful comments that the Minister has made and I am grateful to him. Amendment No. 189 states:(2) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (1) to (5) of section 8 482 of the Local Employment Act 1972 (derelict land):—'(1) Where it appears to the Secretary of State— (a) that any land in a development area or intermediate area (in this section referred to as 'the relevant land')—".I ask the Minister to check that that does not mean that areas that are scheduled not as assisted areas but as derelict land clearance areas will not be at risk of losing their status as a result of the amendment, which includes the wordsany land in a development area or intermediate area".I understand that the hon. Gentleman may not be able to answer that question at this hour. He is obviously informing the House that the Government are deliberately removing the status of such areas. I ask him to confirm that that will not happen inadvertently.
§ 3 am
§ Mr. Fox
I shall check to ensure that what the hon. Gentleman fears is not the position. My reading of the issue is that he is wrong.
It is important that discussions are continued with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry on the change of designation. We must examine what we can do for areas that are in considerable need and where it would be a failure on the Government's part if they were not to allow work to continue. I hope that hon. Members will realise that I am mindful of their anxieties. I shall watch these matters carefully.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 188, in page 76, line 37. leave out from 'land' to end of line 29 on page 77 and insert—
(b) in or in connection with the carrying out of any such works as appear to the Secretary of State to be expedient for the purpose of enabling the land to be brought into use.
(1C) If subsection (1) above applies to land by virtue of subsection (1A)(a) above, "relevant expenditure" also includes expenditure incurred in or in connection with carrying out a survey of the land. with the approval of the Secretary of State, for the purpose of determining whether any works for its reclamation or improvement or for the purpose of enabling it to be brought into use should be undertaken (whether or not such works are carried out).
(1D) In relation to a local authority—
(1E) In subsection (1D)(a) above "excluded operations" means underground mining operations for the purpose of the working and getting of coal, or of coal and other minerals worked with coal, or for the purpose of getting any product from coal in the course of working and getting coal.'.
No. 189, in page 77, line 29, at end add—
'(2) The following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (1) to (5) of section 8 of the Local Employment Act 1972 (derelict land):—
(1) Where it appears to the Secretary of State—
(1A) The grants that may be made under subsection (1) above are grants—
(1B) Grants under this section may be made in such manner as appears to the Secretary of State to be requisite.
(3) The following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (7) of that section:—
(8) In this section—"exclude operations" means underground mining operations for the purpose of the working and getting of coal, or of coal and other minerals worked with coal, or for the purpose of getting any product from coal in the course of working and getting coal; and "land" includes land covered with water.".'.—[Mr. Fox.]
§ Further consideration of the Bill adjourned.—[Mr. MacGregor.]
§ Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered this day.