HC Deb 26 March 1980 vol 981 cc1518-80

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

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

It was originally hoped and expected that the Bill would be introduced by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells). Stevenage borough council, which is promoting the Bill, approached the hon. Gentleman and discussed its contents and aims with him at great length. Eventually, for reasons which the hon. Gentleman will no doubt explain, he declined to undertake the task. It was only at that point, and with considerable regret at the hon. Gentleman's decision, that I accepted the council's invitation to take over the responsibility for Second Reading.

It is important to make clear at the outset that the Bill has received considerable support right across the political spectrum in Stevenage. When it came before the borough council on 19 December 1979, the resolution to promote it was passed. Thirty-four councillors and the mayor voted in favour, and only one councillor voted against it. The majority of the small Conservative group on Stevenage council supported the Bill. Since then, not only the Labour Party but also the Liberal association, the Chamber of Trade, the Council for Voluntary Services and 15 to 20 other organisations have passed resolutions backing the Bill. In addition a petition in favour of the Bill, which has been signed by more than 10,000 residents from all political parties and from all walks of life is still gathering support.

This all-party support for the Bill is not surprising. It is not a doctrinaire measure, but a practical attempt to secure the future development of the town in an orderly manner, by providing for the community to retain some of its key industrial and commercial assets in public ownership. At present those assets are in public ownership through the development corporation. The alternative is that those assets will be sold off as investments to outside organisations in accordance with the Government's policy.

As I endeavoured to point out when I raised the issue yesterday on a point of order, the Secretary of State made clear on 12 December that the Bill is in conflict with the Government's policy of sales. As I explained at that time, there is considerable dubiety—to say the least—about whether the Minister has legal power to require sales or that the development corporations have the legal power to implement them under section 18(1) of the New Towns Act, 1965. That Act defines the Minister's power and that of the development corporations. According to the legal opinion that we have received, new town assets can be sold only for securing the development of the new town in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister under Section 6(11) or for purposes connected with the development of the new town. The Secretary of State's policy of demanding the sale of assets is contrary to the original new New Towns Act, contrary to the New Towns Act 1959 introduced by the Conservative Party, and contrary to the obvious interests of the community in Stevenage. In addition, that policy is of dubious legality. Some may think that this is an extreme measure. However, it is largely modelled on the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill 1962, introduced by none other than the 29th Earl of Crawford, then representing Hertford as a Conservative in his earlier incarnation of Lord Balniel. Perhaps some hon. Members will claim that he was a red mole, working within the Conservative Party. I regarded him as the sole of moderation.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Letchworth garden city was built and financed by private money?

Mr. Newens

The Stevenage Bill follows the lines of the Letchworth Bill in most respects. There is no difference in that respect.

Lord Balniel, as he then was, explained on Second Reading of the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill on 20 March 1962 that the concept of garden cities—on which the new town ideal was, and still is, based—originated in a book written by Ebenezer Howard, "Garden Cities of Tomorrow". Among his backers in 1903 at the inception of Letchworth were the then Lord Salisbury and A. J. Balfour. They are hardly figures of revolutionary Socialist inclination.

Lord Balniel informed the House that This assumption that the freehold of a town should pass to a public body acting as a trustee for the community has been absolutely basic to the existence of this company since 1903."—[Official Report, 20 March 1962; Vol. 656, c. 292.] The Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill was prompted by the fact that a property company, the Hotel York Ltd., had obtained a controlling interest in Letchworth. As Lord Balniel pointed out, the aim of the Bill was to vest the assets in a public body. That is precisely the purpose of this Bill. Among those who voted in favour of the Letchworth Bill in 1962 were the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), now Secretary of State for Defence, the present Home Secretary, the former hon. Member for Chigwell, now the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), the late Iain Macleod and many other Conservatives, some of whom still sit in this House.

However, the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill sought to vest in public ownership assets already controlled through a company by a private organisation. Tonight the Bill merely seeks to retain in public ownership assets that are already publicly owned. I stress to the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. GarelJones) that the Bill is more moderate than the original Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill.

As indicated in the preamble, the Bill provides for the establishment of a Stevenage development authority, which—as set out in part II—would be a body corporate and would consist of seven members. Two of those members would be appointed by the Secretary of State, four by the borough council, and one by the county council. I accept that there are certain differences from the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill in that respect, but as the development authority would have powers to precept the Stevenage borough council the fact that it has a majority would act as a safeguard for those who are concerned about the possible financial burdens on townspeople. I shall come to this point a little later in my speech.

Part III of the Bill provides for the transfer of interests which are defined in part I—that is, basically the freeholds or other interests in freeholds of industrial, commercial or other properties within the designated area on 19 October 1979. It provides for the transfer of these to the new authority on terms that are defined in clause 15 of the Bill, that is, at a price—and I quote: which the undertaking and included interests might have been expected to realise if they were sold as a going concern on the day of transfer in the open market by a willing seller to a willing buyer to be determined by agreement between the authority and the development corporation or commission, with appeal to the Lands Tribunal in the case of a failure to agree.

In other words, the assets would be transferred at market value and there is no question of the new authority getting them on the cheap. The new authority would have to raise the money to purchase those assets. In that respect there is nothing in the Bill which is essentially different from what was done in the Letchworth Bill.

In part IV, clause 22 gives the Stevenage development authority powers to borrow money for the purchase of assets. Clause 23 provides for the authority to act as if it were a local authority on the question of loans. The Bill sets out that there is no need for loan sanction in the case of the acquisition of the assets. But it is also perfectly clear that the new authority would not be able to waive loan sanction in any other respect than for the acquisition of assets to which this Bill relates. There is no question of wide powers being granted to the authority for waiving loan sanction. It would he able to do that only in order to carry out the purposes explicitly laid down in the Bill.

Clause 24 enables the borough council to lend money to the authority and to raise money, by borrowing, for this pur- pose. All the moneys borrowed must normally be repaid within five years.

Clause 25 defines the put poses to which the authority may put the revenue it receives. It also provides for the eventual surplus, after all loan charges and other expenses have been met, to be devoted to traffic and transport facilities, lighting, drainage, markets, libraries, baths, education, welfare, recreation and amusements. In other words, it provides for all aspects which would benefit the community of Steveage. That is the purpose of the Bill.

Clause 26 sets out what occurs in the case of deficiency. The local authority may contribute towards meeting that deficiency, or the development authority has powers to precept it. But, as I pointed out earlier, the fact that the board itself would have a majority of nominees drawn from the council means that the authority could not, in effect, precept the council without very close liaison on any issue on which deficiency had taken place.

It is not necessary for me to discuss at great length the rest of the Bill in detail. But I wish to turn to some of the financial implications. On one side there has been criticism that Stevenage would be taking over assets which might be used to finance other new towns or for other national purposes. On the other hand, there are people who argue the exact opposite. They say that a heavy financial burden would be imposed on the people of Stevenage if the Bill went through.

The borough council's director of finanacial services has prepared several forecasts, based on different assumptions of future inflation and interest rates. There are many other variables which would need to be taken into account, but in the course of a Second Reading speech it is impossible for me to cover all the different aspects which could be created. I can only take one or two as examples. None the less, I assure the House that all the financial implications nave been carefully considered.

If inflation runs at 10 per cent. and interest rates average 13 per cent. over the next 20 years—I have my doubts about that, but I shall take those figures for argument's sake—the authority might levy a precept of 4p in the pound on the borough council, which would add 18p to 20p a week to the rates of the average Stevenage household. That would enable the borough council to build up aggregate profits over a period of 20 years of about £60 million. In year 20 the annual rate of profit would be about £11 million. If no precept were levied, the profits would be £55 million over a 20-year period. Even if there were no inflation at all and no increase in rentals—and I think everyone would agree that that is highly unlikely—the surplus would still be £16 million a year by year 20.

The revenue that the new authority would take in would increase according to the amount of inflation but would be decreased by the increase in the level of interest rates. A calculation based on an average interest rate of 15 per cent. still provides for an annual surplus of about £6 million by year 20.

Basically, the authority would face a heavy interest burden on loans in the early years of its existence which it would have to meet from a number of sources. It would meet this burden from revenue received, from rolling over the interest as provided for in clause 23 in accordance with the 1972 Act, and from the sale of some of the property that it had acquired.

It is important to emphasise that Stevenage council is not adopting a doctrinaire line about the sale of freeholds to existing employers in the town. The Secretary of State has made great play of the desirability of widening ownership, but the fact is that not many people in new towns who are involved with industrial and commencial assets are clamouring to buy. Many small business men have found themselves entirely crowded out. Small business men are frequently tenants in blocks of properties and are not offered the option of buying their own particular tenancy. They have to buy the whole block.

For example, in Harlow recently I had a case in which 22 tenants found themselves presented with an offer one Thursday to which they had to reply by the following Wednesday with bids of the order of £1.2 million.

It was suggested that these people should form themselves into a consortium. But not all the tenants are interested in forming a property company. It already seems likely that these properties, particularly small businesses, will be sold over their heads to outside organisations with no interest in the town. Businessmen frequently do not possess the capital that they wish to invest in the purchase of their freehold. They already have insufficient capital, particularly at present levels of interest, for various purposes. In these circumstances, many tenants in new towns, including Stevenage, recognise that they will not be able to buy their properties. They have expressed a preference for becoming tenants of the council, rather than tenants of an outside organisation, if the corporation is to be wound up.

The Stevenage council, I understand, would be prepared to advocate sales to employers in the town where the sale would give employers a greater stake. The council would not necessarily look with the same approval on sales to investment trusts and pension funds whose terms of reference would be to maximise the return on capital without considering the effects on employment or the variety of services required by the community. If an investment trust or a pension fund acquires a block of property, that organisation has to maximise its return. If it can install tenants who will pay more, regardless of the needs of the town, it may exercise preference and cause considerable damage to the interests of the town.

In some cases, employers in Stevenage would have greater opportunities to buy their freeholds if the Bill went through. The present scheme offers properties to outside trusts over the heads of employers. This is true not only in Stevenage out in many towns. Any fear that the enactment of the Bill would turn Stevenage into a town of high rents and high rates is totally unfounded. I shall not bore the House with a long list of figures. A careful statement has, however, been drawn up showing various possibilities. In no case would Stevenage be turned into a town of high rents and high rates. In fact, the town and the community would benefit as the community in Letchworth has benefited.

I should like to point out that the surplus currently going to Letchworth is about £3 million a year. After 70 years, that is appproximately the same figure as that paid for the original assets. In the case of Stevenage, where the assets are £55 million, one set of figures suggests that the aggregate return within 20 years might be of the same order of £55 million.

There is little doubt that, over the course of 20 years, this Bill would be greatly in the interests of the people of Stevenage. It would not damage the national community or taxpayers outside Stevenage. Why on earth should the present Government prevent Stevenage borough council from being enterprising enough to acquire assets which will enable it to generate greater revenue and contribute towards services that cannot be run at a profit? The Government claim to encourage enterprise. Here is a town prepared to be enterprising. But the Government, for purely doctrinaire reasons, are preventing that from taking place in a manner that the Conservative Party would not have agreed to at the time that the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill went through the House.

The argument that the town would not pay its way and would be taking over assets that could be sold for the benefit of the national community or other new towns is not valid. The proposed authority would be acquiring the assets at a fair price—that is, at market value. What is wrong with that? Surely, it is logical for a new town to be given the opportunity to acquire its own assets and to use them for the good of its community. That is all I am asking in moving the Bill. That is all that the promoters are asking. To deny them that opportunity is a total negation of democracy. It is deplorable that the House should be used for that purpose.

The Stevenage borough council is a highly progressive authority. It has pioneered many new ideas for its townspeople despite the problems created by the rapid growth that new town development has meant. Its assets have already provided handsome profits to the Exchequer and to the taxpayer over the years. Now that the town must embark on the inevitable process of normalisation, the sale of those assets to outside bodies can do nothing but damage to the community there. If Stevenage is left with the unprofitable and unsaleable residue of assets—for example, it will not necessarily be profitable to run car parks—while the profitable assets are sold off, those unprofitable assets will be a bur- den on the rates of the people of Stevenage in the long term.

I hope very much that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage, if he gets chance to speak, as the hon. Member representing that community, will endeavour to explain to the House how he can justify, if he decides to oppose the Bill, the idea that those unprofitable assets should become a burden on the rates.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

I am puzzled by the financing arrangements included in the Bill. I understand that the assets are to be transferred at market price and that loans will be arranged to meet the price of these assets. Since the assets themselves bear a low rate of return, if they are profitable, probably not more than 4 per cent. or 5 per cent., how is the interest on the loan to be paid?

Mr. Newens

I think I have already covered that point. I shall go over it again if it was not clear. If the town acquired assets worth £55 million, it would have to pay the interest on those assets of £55 million for the first year. There would undoubtedly be a deficit, taking into account the revenue received. It would sell part of the assets. The Bill also provides for rolling over the debt—in other words, further loans—that would enable the town to meet the deficit. I have figures that have been carefully worked out. By year 10, the revenue received would exceed the outgoings and the capital sum—the outstanding loan—would then begin to decline. That is precisely what happened in Letchworth. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at Letchworth, because there is no question but that such a measure is in the interests of the people of Stevenage as well as those of the national community.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am quite sure that no Conservative Member doubts the hon. Gentleman's sincerity in putting forward the Bill. However, when outlining how the board would operate, he touched on a point which reflected the fears which many of us hold. I am sure that similar fears are held by many people who live in the affected area. The hon. Gentleman said that when selling assets to outsiders the management board would try to take into account the social responsibilities and investment intentions of the potential buyer. With the greatest respect I suggest that most people who are not practising politicians might be tempted to think that in the event of the four council representatives being Conservatives, they might be politically biased against the pension fund of, say, a trade union, which for property reasons planned to make investment in that area. That is the sort of fear which many of us have.

Mr. Newens

With respect, I do not believe that that would work in practice. I do not believe for a moment that a Conservative authority would be biased in that way, or that a Labour authority would be biased in the other direction. However, I hope that Conservative Members will take into account the employment that will be generated. For example, if someone wanted to take over a large plot of land which had previously been used for manufacturing purposes, and to convert it to warehouse purposes, thus reducing considerably the number of employees, I imagine that the consideration to which the hon. Gentleman referred would be taken into acccount, just as development corporations have taken it into account in the past.

Originally, the Bill was brought forward following the Secretary of State's asset-stripping mania, because that is what it amounts to. The object is to retain in public ownership, under the control of the local community, assets which are already publicly owned.

The fact that the Government have whipped their supporters and browbeaten Conservative Members who originally wrote to the Stevenage council indicating support for the Bill and who have shown their willingness to trample underfoot the demands of the vast majority of people in Stevenage to run their own affairs will not be forgotten nor will it daunt those who are promoting the Bill, whatever the outcome this evening. We know very well that a number of Conservative Members took a quite different view about the Bill originally. I can see the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage shaking his head. But, of course, that was due to his assiduity in pursuading those hon. Members to change their minds.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and 1528 Stevenage)

Will the hon. Gentleman give the names of those hon. Members who have changed their minds? Many of them, who I hope will have the opportunity of catching the eye of the Chair, have been partially and selectively quoted from letters that were sent to the borough council, which has given a totally misleading impression to the electorate in Stevenage. I believe that that was done absolutely deliberately by the borough council.

Mr. Newens

I do not think that I should digress from my general theme in order to give a list of hon. Members. However, the hon. Gentleman knows very well that a number of hon. Members originally wrote to Stevenage council indicating a different point of view. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I shall arrange for Stevenage council to give him chapter and verse so that he can refresh his memory.

I ought to point out that the assets which could be sold off include land which would be used for housing and so on. It is not just a question of factories. Perhaps I did not make that quite clear.

Those of us who believe in democracy and the new town ideal will still carry on the struggle for Stevenage, and for all other communities, to control their own affairs. The original objective of the Act covering the new towns was to provide for that. The feeling which exists in Harlow, Crawley and every other new town, including East Kilbride, is considerable. Tonight, the eyes of everyone in the new towns will be on Stevenage and on the Bill.

I hope that Conservative Members in particular will recognise the tremendous strength of the case for the Bill. They will give it a Second Reading. Of course, some hon. Members accept parts of the Bill's objectives, even though they may not be able to accept the Bill as it now stands. In that case, Second Reading approval will enable it to go into Committee, where it can be discussed with the promoters with a view to amendment. The promoters have already intimated to me that they would be prepared to write out the powers to carry on a business and to reconsider the Bill's composition. That provision was in the original Letchworth Bill. If Conservative Members are in favour of the general principle behind the Bill, I hope that they will at least give it a Second Reading.

I hope that Conservative Members will not follow their whip, and that they will at least have the courage to stand up and vote for the merits of the Bill. Whatever pressure the Whips have brought to bear, and whatever prejudices have been created, I hope that all hon. Members will reconsider their attitude if they have attended the debate—I would be happy to know that they have not—in order to vote against the Bill. I hope that they will allow the Bill to be further discussed by giving it a Second Reading.

7.38 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stevenage)

The introduction of the Bill as it was presented in Stevenage by the borough council has caused me a great deal of difficulty and personal distress. One of the most difficult positions in which an hon. Member can find himself is to be opposed virulently to the borough council, which at a cost of £20,000 has used the entire resources of its public relations department to promote the Bill and to put forward views in favour of it.

I have been confined solely to the columns of the newspapers whenever I could get them to publish my views accurately. Therefore, we have been seriously misrepresented in Stevenage, and it is little wonder that a petition has been collected in Stevenage. Although 10,000 people have signed it, I have not seen it. The people of Stevenage have been encouraged to believe that the Bill will bring a bonanza, as a result of which they will probably not have to pay any rates at all, and will end up with the most magnificent facilities that will be available in any town in the country. Of course, they will petition on that basis.

I understand that I shall not have an opportunity to speak again and, therefore, I should like to refer to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). The public relations department of Stevenage borough council was used to collect the signatures for the petition. Many of the signatories were children. Anybody who could be found on the streets was asked to sign it.

The purposes of the Bill have not been adequately presented to the town nor has there been a proper debate of the issues in Stevenage. In view of the promises made by the council I am not surprised that 10,000 people signed this petition which I have not seen.

Mr. Newens

The petition is here in the House. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) can see it if he wishes. It is not true that children were recruited to sign the petition. It would be difficult to collect the signatures of 10,000 children in Stevenage. Does the hon. Member agree that three out of the four Conservative Members of the council voted in favour of the Bill? The Bill was discussed in the council on more than one occasion and resolutions have been passed by 20 organisations in the town which back the Bill. Does not that constitute a debate?

Mr. Wells

I am glad that the hon. Member for Harlow raised the points about the children and the Conservative councillors' support for the Bill. I can tell him that children of members' of the Conservative Association in Stevenage were asked to sign the petition at school. There are the names of children on the petition and there is no weight in the hon. Member's denial.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Do I understand the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) to have said that the number of Conservative councillors on Stevenage borough council is three or four and that that council is, therefore, controlled by an overwhelming socialist majority?

Mr. Wells

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) that the hon. Member for Harlow is right. There are only four Conservative members of the borough council in a membership of nearly 40.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)


Mr. Wells

I would like to get on and answer the points that have been made. I went this morning to the homes of two well known and well respected Conservative councillors in Stevenage to make certain that I understood exactly what their position was so that I could report to the House. Those councillors said that they wished Stevenage to become a normal town as quickly as possible and that by supporting the Bill they believed that they would make that possible in the shortest time. They did not believe that if they relied upon the Department of the Environment to provide Stevenage with the infrastructure to make it a normal town the process would be sufficiently speedy. That is a valid point of view but I believe that the Minister will tell us that the Department will be able to move more quickly than the councillors anticipated.

What should concern us is what is best for the people of Stevenage and its environment and for other people living in new towns. We should safeguard the welfare of those people, no matter what dogma we profess or what doctrinaire views we hold about new towns. We should ensure that Stevenage prospers. My fear is that if Stevenage continues to be controlled by a public body—as during its development—it will not grow organically with the right mix of social and political factors that would inevitably emerge if it were controlled by an elected body.

We may see the commercial prosperity of Stevenage sacrificed to short-term political objectives. We may find that unemployment will increase because employers find Stevenage too expensive. Rates and rents are already high there. One projection shows that in the first eight years of the proposed Stevenage development authority there would be a rise of 400 per cent. in rents. Many employers already find Stevenage an expensive town and are moving to less expensive areas. We have already lost well over 1,000 jobs in the last year in such well known firms as Kodak and ICI. They are moving out of Stevenage because they find it too expensive. Those are the problems that Stevenage may face if it continues to be administered by a public body.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) said that he had spoken to Conservative councillors in Stevenage who supported the Bill. I assume that the factors that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned would be present in the minds of those Conservative councillors. Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he put those points to the councillors and what was their reply?

Mr. Wells

I am delighted further to explain the position to the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin). The councillors I spoke to said that they have been assured that a large part of the assets to be acquired by the Stevenage development authority under the terms of the Bill would be sold off in the early years. That was said this evening by the hon. Member for Harlow. If that is the case, I question the purpose of the Bill.

I and many of my hon. Friends do not question the utility of the new towns concept. We believe in the new towns and we believe that they should continue and progress to maturity. The question to which we must address our minds is what is to be done with the new towns once they are substantially completed. I do not think that that issue has been properly considered. The Bill we are debating provides one solution but I believe that it is the wrong solution in principle and in detail.

The Government have announced that they support the new towns. They have modelled the new urban development corporations—established to develop inner city areas—on the new towns concept. We hope that the UDCs will bring the same benefits to our inner city areas as those enjoyed by people in new towns in employment and housing. There is no question—and I hope that the Opposition do not question it—but that the Conservatives support the new towns. Even after the disposal that will take place during the next two years the Government will make a net investment in new towns in spite of difficulties with the public sector borrowing requirement. That is an earnest of the Conservative commitment to the new town principle.

The objective of disposing of assets is to return Stevenage to a normal town where industrial and commercial assets are owned by a variety of people—pension funds, insurance companies and local people. It will also help to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement and enable continued investment in new towns.

We are on the same tack in our Housing Bill. We want to dispose of assets to the people who are most involved with them—those who live in the houses and who work, own and run the factories. Conservatives believe that real democratic ownership of assets is not achieved by large corporations but by each individual or company owning the assets.

New towns originate from the ideas of the renowned Ebenezer Howard. In 1903 he published "Garden Cities of Tomorrow". That was a far-sighted document. Another eminent town planner, Sir Frederick Osborn, said of that document: All its essential elements stand: moderate-sized industrial and trading towns in close contact with a surrounding agricultural countryside, each a healthy, well-equipped and coherent community; zoning of areas within each town for ready access between homes, work-places, shops and cultural centres; limitation of density to safeguard light, gardens and recreation space, but not exaggerated to the pitch of urban diffusion"— a mistake which has been made in some of our new towns— civic design aimed at harmony rather than standardization; planned internal and external communications; and unified site-ownership coupled with leaseholds, reconciling public interests with freedom of choice and enterprise. Sir Ebenezer Howard was a strong supporter of the Tory Party. I believe that we can prove to Opposition Members that we shall breach neither the principles which energise the concept of the new towns nor Sir Ebenezer Howard's principles in what we propose.

Let us examine what has happened since 1903. Letchworth garden city did not prosper too well in its initial years. It paid its first dividend in 1945, and that was 5 per cent. That was when Sir Frederick Osborn was writing. A committee was set up during the war under the chairmanship of Lord Reith which considered new towns. Lord Reith said that in the disposal of assets there were three options—transfer to local authority, transfer to a central body or transfer to a permanent local and special body.

Some Opposition Members might contend that the New Towns Act 1946 made it clear that the assets of such towns should be taken over by the local authority. That is what was said by the father of the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich when the Act was introduced mut the Act is not clear. I am sure that Opposition Members will agree. The Bill refers to statutory undertakers of appropriate parts and appropriate development corporations.

The options were rejected by the 1959 New Towns Commission which concluded that it would be inappropriate to transfer whole towns to the ownership and control of the local authorities. That is why the New Towns Commission was set up. In 1976, under the amendment Act, it was decided to transfer housing assets to local councils, but not industrial and commercial assets which were to be transferred to the New Towns Commission. A Labour Government introduced that measure. It shows that the Labour Party is not convinced that industrial and commercial assets should be under local authority control.

In Stevenage we have not been able to dispose of assets by giving the first opportunity to the leaseholders. I shall continue to press the Department of the Environment to make assets available first to people who live and work in the town rather than to the local council or any other body. The assets should go to the people who live in Stevenage or who work and use the assets.

How does a programme to dispose of assets to tenants and local people offend Sir Ebenezer Howard's principles? The hon. Member for Harlow referred to the Letchworth precedent. Sir Ebenezer foresaw the breakup of the town when development was substantially complete.

To illustrate my argument I shall use some of the evidence given to the Committee which considered the 1962 Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill. In evidence Mr. Lawrence, QC, told the Committee: This is a Bill which is designed solely to meet the particular circumstances of a particular case. It is unprecedented, except in so far as its actual clauses wherever possible follow well-established precedent, but in its objects it is unprecedented, and the reason for that is that circumstances which it is designed to meet have never occurred before. Therefore, in my respectful submission to this Committee, this Bill will set no precedent itself unless the circumstances are ever exactly repeated in the future which, as far as we can see, is so unlikely as to border on the impossible. Furthermore, it is not, if I may say so, promoted in furtherance of any political doctrine. That sets the scene. Special circumstances surrounded the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill. It was the first garden city to be created. It was founded not with public money—a sharp contrast to Stevenage—but with private money. Letchworth fell into the hands of a property dealer who undermined the principles on which the town was formed.

A leaseholding system was adopted and accepted by the private development company. The leasehold system was designed by Ebenezer Howard to make certain that leases controlled the ground rent of all development land in the whole town of Letchworth. He did not, and the company did not, take account, when renewing the leases, of any building, be it a house or a factory, on those sites. This was enshrined in the memorandum and articles of association.

The major differences between the Letchworth Garden City Bill and the Stevenage Development Authority Bill can be seen by reference to the preamble. I quote again from the evidence that was given to the Committee: The objects for which the company was established, as set out in the memorandum of association of the company dated the twenty-seventh day of August 1903, included the following: (3)(a). To promote and further the distribution of the industrial population upon the land upon the lines suggested in Mr. Ebenezer Howard's book entitled Garden Cities of Tomorrow … and to form a Garden City (that is to say) a Town or Settlement for agricultural, industrial, commercial and residential purposes or any of them in accordance with Mr. Howard's scheme or any modification thereof.' That was the objective, and it was an ideal that the 1962 Act sought to preserve.

Let us not think that Sir Ebenezer Howard was not a practical business man. He was offering shareholders in the company a 5 per cent. dividend. Although a 5 per cent. dividend would be pitiful in current circumstances, in those days, when consols were perhaps at 2½ to 3 per cent., it was a very sensible and a genuine investment.

The preamble mentioned the winding-up of the company, and the original memorandum stated: Upon any winding up … to apply for the benefit of the town or its inhabitants any balance remaining after (1) Repayment of the paid-up capital of the Company; (2) Any sums required to make up a cumulative dividend of 5 per centum per annum thereof; A bonus not exceeding 10 per centum upon the amount paid on the Ordinary Shares. Any balance left over, as will be noted, was to go to the town. This is what was being referred to by Ebenezer Howard, and the debate should not obscure the point. He was talking about the incremental value from turning country land into town. After paying off all these shareholders on a proper basis, that incremental value was to go towards the windup of the company. After that, the town making use of that money was to exist, we may assume, in the ordinary manner of any other town in this country, because the purpose had been served.

This is the case in Stevenage. The purpose has been served; the development has taken place. It was done quickly and expeditiously; it was properly planned, properly controlled and properly balanced. The object has been achieved. That having been done, we now have to consider how best to dispose of those assets to the people who most need them.

If I hurry on with my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do so because I know that there are many hon. Members who wish to speak in this very important debate. Bearing in mind the Letchworth precedent, I want to demonstrate how very different from it is the Stevenage Development Authority Bill. In the preamble, there is nothing mentioned about the type of thing that Letchworth was facing at the time in question. In the preamble we find the words: And whereas, although the purposes for which the development corporation was established have been substantially achieved, it is expedient that the property of the development corporation should not be fragmented by being disposed of by private treaty or by being transferred to the Commission for the New Towns in accordance with the provisions of the New Towns Act 1965 but should be transferred to a new body corporate with responsibility for securing the future health and development of the Stevenage New Town in the best interests of the community: And whereas it would be of public and local advantage to constitute a Stevenage Development Authority as in this Act provided and to transfer to that Authority the undertaking of the development corporation". Here we see the kernel of the difference between Conservative Members and Labour Members, because, underlying the purposes set out in that preamble are, of course, the assumptions that private enterprise, private tenants, do not have the community's interests at heart, that they are not able to develop the town and benefit the community by their activities, and that only a publicly-owned and controlled body can do that.

I want to turn briefly to the fact that the Bill is retrospective and even confiscatory. On page 3, in the interpretation clause, we find that: all interests in any property forming part of the development corporation's undertaking on 19 October 1979 (other than any interests in any lands or buildings not shown on the deposited plans or included in the deposited book of reference) created or disposed of by the development corporation or the commission, as the case may be, after that date otherwise than in the normal course of business". That refers to the fact that the authority purports in the Bill to nullify any sale that has taken place after 19 October 1979 and transfer it, at the price at which it was bought, to the Stevenage development authority. That is retrospective legislation of which this House usually throws out any consideration. Secondly, it means—[Interruption.] The point about retrospective legislation is that this House should rightly abhor it.

Mr. Newens


Mr. Wells

The clause could well be confiscatory, and that is also a matter that this House should abhor.

The major matter that we should be considering is contained in clause 5. Here we have the authority being controlled by the borough council. Four out of the seven members are to be appointed by the borough council. That is the major cause of our fears. I welcome what the hon. Member for Harlow said. He pointed out that the borough council would be prepared to modify that clause. If it is not modified, the Bill amounts to a major municipalisation, to a communisation—a sovietisation, one might say—of Stevenage, because it will be controlled by the political party in power in the Stevenage borough council, and not always will the power on the authority change with the complexion of the makeup of the borough council. The council has made a major mistake if it wishes to gain any kind of support from Conservative Members in this House, because this aspect of the Bill has led to a great deal of disquiet.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

The hon. Gentleman has used words such as "sovietisation" and "communisation", the meaning of which I do not quite understand. Would he apply words of that kind to the position which now exists in Swindon, where there is complete agreement between the two main political parties about the massive investment that the local authority possesses in industrial and commercial property?

Mr. Wells

I am not familiar with the Swindon case. Therefore I cannot answer that question.

I want next to consider clause 10, dealing with the object of the authority. It states that: The objects of the Authority are to manage, turn to account, carry on, develop and extend the undertaking of the Authority as a public service and for that purpose the Authority shall have power to acquire, hold, manage and dispose of land and other property, to carry out building and other operations, to carry on any business or undertaking necessary or expedient for the purposes thereof or any purposes incidental thereto. There we see the attempt to take powers to trade and to enter into any business, and to contract. This is the type of thing to which no one on the Government side could possibly contemplate agreeing. At a meeting earlier today I had the assurance of the leader of the majority party on the borough council that it was not its intention that that part of the Letchworth Act should have been repeated in the Stevenage Development Authority Bill, and that it would have liked to remove it. I hope that we can believe that assurance. I was very glad to hear it, because it would certainly make the Bill more acceptable to Conservative Members.

Mr. Newens

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether that alteration would make the Bill sufficiently acceptable for him to vote for the Bill or to abstain? Since he began to speak, I have already spoken to Members of the Stevenage borough council. If they were prepared to withdraw the parts of the Bill to which he objects, would he support its Second Reading? After all, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to vote it down if the Stevenage borough council does not make good its promises.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. I was discussing the principles in addition to the most objectionable part of the Bill.

Mr. Newens

The answer is "No".

Mr. Wells

I had to make the point that that clause was in the Bill. Labour Members will understand that we have to oppose the Bill vigorously and robustly in the light of the inclusion of that clause.

The identical clause was in the Letchworth Bill in 1962, but the subsequent part has been left out. After the provision relating to being able to trade in any way, it went on: Provided that in carrying out the said objects the Corporation shall have regard to the maintenance of the undertaking of the Corporation as an entity in accordance with the principles upon which the Letchworth Garden City was founded and has been managed until the end of the year 1960 and, in particular, in the extension or renewal of ground leases, shall have regard only to the increased value of the land clear of the buildings (if any) situated on the land and of any improvements to the surface made by the lessee. That was the clause to which I was referring when I said that the Letchworth Bill was entirely different and was based on entirely different concepts. We are interested in the maintenance of the principle of Ebenezer Howard which was the unity of freehold until such time as the town was fully developed. Stevenage is not proposing to retain that principle. It is proposing to sell off the freehold as and when it suits the financial circumstances in which it finds itself.

I turn now to the financial aspect. The hon. Member for Harlow referred to the borough treasurer's promotion of a number of financial projections. As hon. Members will know, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his term as Chancellor, demonstrated how unreliable financial projections are, particularly when they are put forward by Labour Governments.

Looking at the financial projections, if we say that the authority should not borrow over 60 years, because many of the assets are already ageing, what is the result? I wonder whether it could borrow money for the purchase of these assets on a 60-year repayment term. The repayment might have to be made earlier.

The crucial question is the assumed interest rate. The treasurer has assumed an average interest rate of 13 per cent. We all know that it is not possible to raise money at that rate now. It will be nearer 17 per cent. or 18 per cent. If we assume that the average interest rate will increase to 15 per cent., the projections show a very different picture in the tenth year from that suggested by the hon. Member for Harlow. On that basis the projections show a rising deficit which can be financed only through an increase in rates by the borough council. If the assumptions of inflation and interest rates are wrong, Stevenage borough council could find itself in a very serious position.

I have a letter from the chairman of the Letchworth garden city corporation in which he says that he does not know where the Stevenage development authority expects to borrow money on the terms outlined; that is, the amount, the length of term or the rate. Therefore, our fears about the financial projections are well founded.

I now rush on to the application of the revenue in clause 25(6). We see there that if there is any surplus the Stevenage development authority may devote it to the provision of traffic and transport facilities, lighting, drainage, markets, libraries, baths or otherwise for the embellishment of the undertaking of the Authority, the provision of means of education, welfare, recreation or amusement for the people or for any other purpose which the Authority may deem to be a requisite public service. I accept that the financial provisions do not escape central Government sanction other than when assets are being purchased. If a surplus profit is made, the authority will be able to devote that profit to any purpose whatsoever without reference to any authority. Thereby, the borough council, working through the development authority, would be able to evade control by central Government. The power in clause 22(1)(a)— such sums as may be necessary for any of the purposes —might enable it to borrow without effective sanction from the Government.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)

Some of the powers mentioned by my hon. Friend appear to belong to county councils and other authorities. Can he give us the views of the Hertfordshire county council or other authoities—for example, the water authority—about the proposed development authority having powers which might be thought to be more properly in their sphere?

Mr. Wells

I do not know the views of the Hertfordshire county council. As far as I know, it has not been invited to give its views. Such powers are normally within the province of the Hertfordshire county council. But I imagine that, under this provision, the Stevenage development authority would be able to establish separate schools from the Hertfordshire county council. It certainly would not be appropriate to enact a Bill with such a clause in it, because it would cause a great deal of confusion.

If the authority makes a loss, its only ability to make good that loss is to precept the borough council. The borough council cannot object to that precept. Therefore, without capital sanctions or borrowing powers granted by central Government, it would have to raise the deficit from the ratepayers. Hence, my problem, looking to the future, about what might be involved for the people of Stevenage in terms of a high cost town with major unemployment, particularly for young people. That is a matter that should concern all hon. Members.

Apart from the deficiencies in the Bill, we must look at the principle. The Bill proposes continued ownership and control by a public body of the entire town, except for 30 per cent. of the housing assets now in private ownership. Presumably it is thought that only a public body can properly manage land and make decisions. However, I believe that the ordinary people of Stevenage who wish to purchase their homes, but are being prevented from doing so by the policy of the borough council, should also own and control the industrial and commercial assets of the town in which they live and work.

Stevenage borough council and many other new towns will be in difficulty after the demise or winding up of their local development corporations. We are concerned about that, and wish to press the point on the Secretary of State for the Environment. The borough council should own the same type of assets as a mature town of similar size elsewhere in the country. I hope that my hon. Friends will join me in pressing the Minister to make certain that the borough council starts life on that basis.

The borough council has to provide in a short period social and recreational facilities that have been developed over the years by mature towns. It will thus incur a greater loan debt. The borough council will possibly have great financial difficulties in looking after non-revenue earning assets in the town. I am concerned that that should be prevented. I shall continue to press the Department of the Environment to take cognisance of that difficulty and make certain that the Stevenage borough council is put on a basis similar to other towns in the country.

Mature towns are able to control development through planning control. They are able to provide for their inhabitants, and they have a balanced community between owner-occupied and rented accommodation. Stevenage is substantially complete as a new town. We should move quickly towards its establishment on the basis of a normal, mature town. I propose that we oppose the Bill. It offends the principles and ideas of putting Stevenage into the position of a normal town.

8.22 pm
Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

We have listened to two detailed speeches of some length. I make no complaint as they were opening speeches. However, I hope to be brief.

I am not ashamed to say that my intervention is in part sentimental. As the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) said, my family has had an extremely close connection with Stevenage, the first of the new towns. I remember when the then Minister for Town and Country Planning visited the nucleus of the new town to address an extremely hostile public meeting. In my earlier incarnation my decisions were sometimes not treated by the press, or even by hon. Members, with the respect that they deserved. I recollect that the then Minister suffered the same fate, although in the end his ideas came to be greatly respected. The new town that his legislations initiated became the envy of the rest of the world. I am not ashamed to admit to a degree of sentiment.

If it were purely a matter of sentiment, I should not be speaking in the debate. It goes far beyond that. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage rightly said that the then Minister had always contemplated that when a certain stage in the development of the new towns had been reached the local authority would be in a position to take over from the development corporation and carry on from where it left off. History has altered that to some extent, but that was the basic principle on which the Minister proceeded when the original concept of the new town came before this House.

In the closing part of his speech the hon. Gentleman pointed to substantial reasons why a new town must be treated somewhat differently at least in its process of development, from a town that is mature and fully developed. He pointed out that it was necessary for local authorities to have a considerable degree of influence in the kind of development that took place.

In the legislation the Government have accepted that there are circumstances in which it is right that a development corporation should be created, although they did not have this case in mind. In the Government's view there are exceptional circumstances in which the best way of ensuring that land is developed in accordance with the general area and as an entity in the best interests of the neighbourhood is through an urban development corporation. That is why in my borough and in Merseyside they have it in mind to create such a corporation. It is common ground that there are acceptable circumstances where that is justifiable.

The one point of principle that I wish to put in relation to this Bill concerns whether those exceptional circumstances include the position of a new town such as Stevenage, where a considerable amount of development is still to take place before completion.

That is more important in a rapidly created new town than in metropolitan areas with a long history. The reason is simple. The whole object of new towns, and particularly Stevenage, was rapidly to draw away from metropolitan areas a population that had to be accommodated, serviced and provided with infrastructure and employment. What took perhaps 50 or 100 years in other urban areas had to be compressed into a few years in a new town.

Indeed, in the early days of new towns one of the great complaints was that because of the restriction on resources it was not possible to provide all the necessary infrastructure, including entertainment facilities, youth clubs, and so on, to attract people into the new towns.

All the facilities have to be provided at a rapid pace, and will inevitably create a considerable burden on those who move to the new towns unless the burden can be offset by the advantages from future profits accruing from commercial and other developments in the new town. I do not say that it is impossible for private enterprise or property companies to carry out a reasonable development. My argument is that if one is to compensate adequately those in the new towns and remove the burdens that they have had, and will have, to bear because of the rapid compression of expenditure, one has to create something to balance it on the other side.

Private enterprise might produce good plans, but inevitably it will be interested in acquiring land only if it believes that a development can be profitable. It will naturally carry out the development at the greatest speed and at the maximum possible profit to itself.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage said that it was essential that those living and working in new towns should be considered in the future development of the new towns. There is an inevitable dilemma. Private enterprise is interested in maximising profits as rapidly as possible—that is perfectly reasonable, because pension funds must do that. On the other side are the interests of those living in the town and the interests of orderly development. The need to reconcile those opposite factors must be borne in mind.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Another distinction of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's family is to have introduced immediately after the war the most comprehensive town and country planning Acts known in this country. Was not the purpose of those Acts to produce just the balance between private thrusting enterprise and the interests of the community? Do we not still have those Acts, much enlarged and with much greater powers?

Mr. Silkin

That was the object, and in many circumstances, within existing towns, it is possible, by the use of those powers and the additional modified powers that have been added over the years, to have a partnership that produces the right sort of development.

If those powers had been sufficient in themselves there would have been no need for the New Towns Act. It was because of the special difficulties of the creation of new towns that we had to have that Act and a special system of development corporations. What I am saying is that that situation exists so long as the new town is not fully developed and it exists no less when it is well developed, having regard to the circumstances to which I referred—the rapid compression of that development into a short period.

It is that factor that justifies what is proposed in the Bill, and I hope that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage, who I know has the interests of his own constituents at heart, will bear that in mind when he considers the way in which he will vote tonight.

8.35 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

The right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) very rightly participated in this debate and I would like to pay my tribute to a man who was known as "Papa Silkin" in the new towns. He came from a superb stable—the old London County Council—which has provided at least three very distinguished chairmen of new towns and I pay tribute to the hard work that they are doing for the new towns.

It might help the House if I were to intervene at this stage to give the Government's views on the Bill. I will begin by disposing of two or three points raised by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). There is no Government Whip, let me make that perfectly clear. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) has explained his position as regards the Bill very clearly. We need to recall that his was a famous victory in dislodging a former distinguished Cabinet Minister. He is right if he thinks it is in the interests of his constituents to oppose the Bill.

I have listened with interest to the arguments put forward by the supporters and the opponents of the Bill. Let me make it clear at the outset that nothing I have heard today has persuaded me to change my view that this Bill should be vigorously opposed.

I noted that there was some dissent about the petition. Some say that it was signed by schoolchildren and others say that it was not. I have no doubt that there are schoolchildren's signatures on the petition, as indeed there were signatures purporting to be those of Mickey Mouse on the income tax returns of the casual workers in Fleet Street. That is a fact of life and we should not try to brush it aside. Each of us knows well that, whatever the cause, if we seat ourselves at a table in a street in our constituency we can get people to sign a petition without reading it. That is not disparaging; it is a fact of life. Irrespective of the cause, I do not think that anyone would disagree with that.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdonshire)

A further point strikes me as quite extraordinary about the petition. In view of the nature of the Bill, would my hon. Friend care to speculate on the curious fact that the Member of Parliament for that constituency appears not to have seen the petition or to have been approached with it? I wonder whether my hon. Friend would care to express a view as to why that should have been so.

Mr. Finsberg

I think that I had better leave the Stevenage council to account for what seems to have been a lack of normal courtesies in these matters. There may be a good reason for it, so I must leave the council to account for it.

I carefully noted some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage about some of the usual assets being acquired by the council. I shall give serious consideration to that, subject to the overriding state of the national economy, as I told a deputation I saw some months ago.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock)

As regards the point about the people of Stevenage, my information is that at a public meeting held as recently as 29 February the voting figures were 261 in favour of the Bill and 5 against, which seems to show that at least the population of Stevenage is in favour of the Bill.

Mr. Finsberg

261 out of 50,000 or 60,000? I think that speaks for itself.

Let me deal with one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on the disposal of assets. Again, it is necessary to put the facts on record. At no stage has the Secretary of of State attempted to require corporations to sell assets. What he has done in a number of cases, including that of Stevenage, is to tell corporations that they will have to fund their own further investments by realising some of their completed assets and that the Government will not provide further finance from the National Loans Fund. Beyond this, he has been able only to request corporations to co-operate in a sales programme. Those are the facts. It is necessary that they be placed on record before too many distortions build up a mythology.

When the promoters of the Bill, Stevenage borough council, came to see me, I explained the reasons for the Government's outright opposition, for it is seldom that a Private Bill is so clearly running totally against Government policy. Firstly, the Bill seeks to negate the Government's policy on the disposal of new town corporation assets to the private sector, which is an important part of the Government's basic economic strategy to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. Instead of helping to reduce the PSBR, this Bill, if it were passed, would, on the contrary, increase it. It proposes the setting up of a new public body with powers to borrow up to £55 million. It would fall to the ratepayers to service this debt, which would inevitably, therefore, increase the PSBR. As my hon. Friend said, this is probably one of the greatest examples of attempted municipalisation.

Let me amplify a couple of the figures that my hon. Friend gave. These were the assumptions of the rate of interest and the length of time over which Stevenage might be able to borrow. Stevenage council has taken a rate, as we heard in the borough treasurer's comment, of some 10 per cent. As was said by Opposition Members from a sedentary position, that is just not living in the world of reality. But let us just take that figure, and then let us look at some real figures, taking an interest rate of 15 per cent.—which, again, as one gathers from sedentary interruptions, is not unreasonable—dropping perhaps to 13 per cent. after five years.

Stevenage's forecast, on an unrealistic 60-year loan at 10 per cent., will give it a debt dropping from year eight at £61.5 million by £1 million or so a year thereafter. On the realistic basis, by year 10 the debt will have risen from £55 million to £96 million, and will continue to rise whatever else can be done. That is what is being offered to the ratepayers of Stevenage if the Bill is accepted: an ever-rising debt which in 10 years will have reached £96 million, even assuming the actual rental income which the corporation's treasurer has put into its own estimates. I hope that that will be clear to the 63,400 residents of Stevenage who did not turn up at the meeting.

Secondly, the Government believe that the commercial and industrial assets concerned would be more effectively managed in private ownership than if put into the hands of local authorities, especially those of Stevenage borough council, which, as far as I am aware, does not have any special expertise in these fields.

Since I took office, I have been given the responsibility for new towns and I have visited every one of the new towns in England. I am glad that I have had the chance of doing that because I can speak from having been to them and from knowledge of what the problems are. It is right that, whenever possible, Ministers should be acquainted with the subject with which they are dealing.

In general, we are keen to reduce the unusually high involvement of the public sector in the new towns. Now that many of the towns are substantially completed, we want to obtain a better balance between the private and public sectors which would compare more closely with that which exists in other towns.

Thirdly, the parallel with Letchworth, on which hon. Members have drawn most heavily already today, is false and misconceived. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Steventage has already demonstrated that that is a misconception.

There are fundamental differences between the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Act 1962 and the circumstances in which the Bill is being promoted. The Bill will create an authority dominated by Stevenage borough council whereas the Letchworth board has a chairman and three members appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, one representative from the county council and one from the district council. There may well have been bipartisan support because that was not a naked political attempt to grab control of the new authority.

Reference has been made to Letchworth and to the authorship of certain papers. The North Herts Gazette of Thursday 20 March states: 'Stevenage councillors—the men who want to buy their town—are NOT in the same position as Letchworth councillors in the early 1960s', says Horace Plinston, the man who as Letchworth's town clerk did the spadework for the introduction of the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Bill to Parliament. And although the Letchworth experience has been widely quoted as a powerful argument for supporting the Stevenage Bill, Mr. Plinston thinks the dissimilarities in the towns' situations are greater than the parallels. The hon. Member for Harlow said that some Conservative Members had written to Stevenage giving their support. When challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage he was unable to give any names. Again, I quote from the North Herts Gazette of Thursday 20 March: Stevenage Town Twinning Association committee are the latest local group to back the Bill. And their thumbs up—which came at a meeting on Friday night—brings the number of local organisations who have notified the council of their support up to 20. Latest Member of Parliament to respond is Mr. Harry Greenway, Conservative Member for Ealing, North. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is attending a constituency engagement this evening, but he will make clear by his vote his total opposition to the Bill. If those are the sort of quotations that are being used by the supporters of the Bill, I suggest that little value should be placed on them.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

As I understand it, the 1962 Act maintained the principle of keeping the assets for the benefit of the people of Letchworth. The aim is the same in the Bill. If that is considered a major objection, surely the Minister should allow the Bill to receive a Second Reading and deal with the objection in Committee.

Mr. Finsberg

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage dealt clearly with the total difference between Letchworth and the new town of Stevenage. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley).

The hon. Member for Harlow said that pension funds wished to maximise their profits. They are perfectly right to take that attitude in the interests of their pen- sioners. He added that to achieve that they might wish to bring in outsiders to pay higher rents. He will know that under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 a sitting business tenant may apply to the court for a new lease and that, if there is a dispute on rent, the county court will fix it. There is no problem. The hon. Gentleman made much of the pension fund argument to suggest that industrialists should back the Bill instead of recognising the facts of life.

I shall expose another false parallel with Letchworth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage has said, Letchworth has been financed from the outset by a private company and by private funds. The Letchworth Act was designed to prevent the misuse of those funds and assets threatened by a takeover of that company. On the other hand, Stevenage has been financed all along by heavy public investment.

Now that the town is substantially complete and that the new town corporation has done its job, the time has come for the taxpayers at large to receive some return on their investment. The corporation is nearing the end of its life. I pay tribute to the noble lady the Baroness Denington for her work as chairman of that corporation.

This Bill seeks, under clause 5, to give Stevenage borough council effective control over the assets of a new town corporation—by giving the local authority power to appoint a majority of the authority's members. That is totally different from Letchworth. Letchworth was keeping one nominee. The chairman of the Letchworth corporation, who has been quoted as pouring yet more cold water on the financial proposals of the treasurer of Stevenage was appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment in the previous Labour Government. He was a Labour member of London county council and of the GLC. He is no Conservative stooge.

The Bill means that the assets which had been funded out of general taxation over the years, would be transferred from the Exchequer to the local authority. That is totally unacceptable. The Bill has implications that extend far beyond Stevenage. Let it not be thought that Stevenage is a special case. All the other new town corporations have embarked upon disposal programmes aimed at raising £330 million by 31 March 1981, and thereby significantly helping to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. Many industrialists and commercial interests, including sitting tenants and the financial institutions, are showing keen interest in purchasing these assets.

Clause 101 onwards of the Local Government Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill gives my right hon. Friend the power to direct corporations in this respect. If this Bill were to succeed, it would seriously damage the whole sales program me and undermine the confidence of businessmen everywhere—not just in Stevenage—who are contemplating purchasing new town commercial and industrial properties.

We know that other authorities with new towns in their areas are closely watching the progress of this Bill. They intend to introduce Bills of their own if this Bill succeeds. In the Government's judgment, it is therefore important to defeat the Bill, not just for the sake of the people in Stevenage, but for the benefit of those in other new towns and of the country at large.

8.52 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on his initiative and public spirit in moving the Second Reading. I also congratulate him on the clarity of his description, as this is a complicated subject. The background to the debate is, and must be, the Government's policy and determination to sell off new town assets. That policy and determination spring from two quarters. The first is ideological, and was described by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) as "principle". The second is the Government's wish to finance a reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement by means of such sales. I have two points to make in response to the two reasons that the Government have given for opposing the Bill. I wish that the Bill had been discussed not in terms of ideology but in terms of what is best for the people of Stevenage. That is not what the hon. Gentleman did. The record will show paragraph after paragraph in which he said that he regarded the merits of the case as lying against the Bill. He said that even if that were not so he would oppose the Bill, as a matter of principle.

We do not consider that the Bill involves only a question of principle, any more than Stevenage's Conservative councillors thought that they should line up on an ideological party basis. We believe that assets that might be used for the benefit of those living in that area should be retained. It is an issue that should not divide parties but unite them.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

The previous Labour Government, the consultation papers and the New Towns Bill determined that the commercial industrial assets should go to the New Towns Commission and not rest with the local authority or any other local body.

Mr. Hattersley

The same Government in the same document said specifically that they should not be used for private speculation or profit. That is the issue that we are discussing this evening, and that is the issue on which the hon. Member and I are on different sides.

The second point that prompts the Government's desire to sell off new town assets is their desire to dispose of these assets in such a way as to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. The House will hear a great deal about the PSBR over the next few days, and I, like most informed economic opinion, believe that the Government misunderstand the nature of the problem involving the PSBR. At the moment Conservatives are obsessed by that point.

The scheme that has been put forward by the Stevenage borough council and presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow can preserve that objective entirely. The object of the scheme is to allow the Government to obtain the financing that they want and that will secure their economic objective and yet retain the Stevenage assets in a condition that will enable the Stevenage people to benefit from their acquisition.

The third fact that must be considered as a background to the Bill is the simple and inevitable fact that the Stevenage development corporation is about to be wound up. I believe that that will happen next year, or perhaps a little later. There is a very clear indication that until the winding up of the corporation the Secretary of State will pursue his policy of requiring corporations to dispose of their assets as quickly as possible.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

The assets will be transferred on 1 July this year.

Mr. Hattersley

I have a reputation for understating my case. If the transfer is to be faster than I suggested, I accept the Minister's correction with pleasure, because it intensifies the problem as I described it. That problem is, in any case, intensified by the passion with which the present Secretary of State insists upon the sale of new town assets, as they now exist.

I noticed that in an aside that might have been described as irrelevant—I am sure that it was not, otherwise it would have been ruled out of order—the Minister explained the Secretary of State's attitude to the sale of new town assets and the £100 million worth that he required them to sell in the summer. I noted very carefully the words that the Minister used. I take it from what he said that until the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill passes into law, the Secretary of State will not have the power to require new towns to sell their assets.

I say that for two reasons. Many of the chairmen of the new towns believed that the Secretary of State was instructing—not requesting—them to sell their assets. They believed that with such conviction that they took legal advice. They obtained that legal advice from some pension funds that thought that they might buy the assets that the new towns had been instructed to sell. The lawyers to the pension funds and the lawyers to the new towns believe that had it been an instruction that the Secretary of State had given, he would have been operating ultra vires.

The Minister has made an appropriate apology for the wrong impression that the Secretary of State gave on that occasion. I hope that he will now say in exact terms that the Secretary of State does not at present have power to instruct new towns to sell their assets.

Mr. Finsberg

My remarks were not made in an aside. I was courteously responding to a point made by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). That remark was in relation to Stevenage. On the generality of new towns, my right hon. Friend is taking action to set his powers beyond doubt, but the legal advice given in the case of another new town was that there was no reason why the new towns should not sell and why the Secretary of State should not require them to do so. The most important point is that in the end it must be for each new town corporation, on the basis of its own legal advice, to take its own decision. There is no problem at all, generally. If the right hon. Gentleman tries to build a case on that he is wasting his time.

Mr. Hattersley

I am not trying to build a case; I am trying to obtain an answer. I believe that even the most charitable hon. Member would share my view that the Minister's answer was not the least ambiguous that we have ever had from a Government Minister. I ask him the question again. If he wants the House to move on from this point, he can answer "Yes" or "No", and we shall leave the matter. Does the Secretary of State at this moment have the power to require new towns to sell their assets? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] As Lewis Carroll said in another fantasy, "Answer came there none".

Mr. Finsberg

The answer will come if the right hon. Gentleman cares to table the question.

Mr. Hattersley

The Under-Secretary is living up to his reputation. I am a compassionate man, as well as possessing other virtues. I think that we should leave the matter for another occasion, to spare the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment and to pursue the real culprit, the Secretary of State, who pretended to local authorities that he possessed powers that it is now clear he did not possess.

I move on to the problem of the disposal of particular assets and the question, more fundamental than the behavior of the Secretary of State, why the assets that are likely to be disposed of should remain in the hands of the public of the area in which they have been developed. I do not understand the argument that since these assets were acquired by the public out of public funds they should now pass into private hands and be allowed to make a profit for private developers. That is a fundamental question that we, on the Opposition side, ask. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage has not begun to answer the basic question why—if the figures are right—the people of the area should not benefit from the retention of these assets. I fear that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage took refuge in three sorts of fantasy. The first was the ominous fantasy that if the Bill goes ahead, rates may increase by 400 per cent.

Mr. Bowen Wells

The right hon. Gentleman obviously does not listen with any great accuracy. I said that the rents projected by the borough treasurer for the industrial and commercial assets are projected to increase by 400 per cent. in eight years. I said "rents", not "rates".

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman also said some ominous things about the burden that was likely to fall on the rate front. If I am mistaken, I withdraw without any qualification. The hon. Gentleman did, however, say those ominous things about rates. He also said another thing that I believe to be equally fantastic. That was the hopeful fantasy that when these assets move out of the public sector into the private sector they will be acquired, somehow, in small lots, by the people of the area, not least the people who already work there.

If, in referring to the people who already work there, the hon. Gentleman means the large companies that presently rent, he may be right. If he means the men who clock on in the morning and leave at 5.30 pm. I would say that there is little hope that hey will obtain a stake. I hope that the hon. Gentleman knows what is happening over the sale of other new town assets, not least the speed at which the Secretary of State requires them to be sold. In many areas, those assets are being sold off in large lots much more quickly than the new town corporation wants to sell them. They are being sold in large lots to property developers. The only hope of people—including companies—in the area acquiring these assets is to go to the property speculators, buy from them secondhand and pay an enhanced price, which ought to go to the corporation.

Mr. Wells


Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Member detained the House for 50 minutes. That is his right. I do not wish to speak for that length of time. Other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall give way to the hon. Member on this occasion, but not again.

Mr. Wells

The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the disposal of assets in large lumps. The problem in Stevenage is that we have been trying to dispose of large lumps of terrace shops or terrace factories. These are difficult to sell individually. The leaseholders of those shops were not able, or found it difficult, to bid for the whole block. I made clear during my speech, as I have made clear to the Minister, that I believe that those lots should be broken up to give the leaseholders the first opportunity to purchase them. One block of factories has been purchased by the individual owners of those factories. I went to considerable trouble to assist them to do so.

Mr. Hattersley

I know that that is what the hon. Gentleman wants. Indeed, he said that that is what he would want. But that is not what he will get. More often than not, such assets will be sold in large lots, and they will be sold a second time, if at all, to the local residents with the profit going where I believe it should not go.

That describes the nature of the hon. Gentleman's third fantasy. He kept making a choice between what was happening now and what he would like to happen in some ideal world of his own creation. That is not the choice that faces him. As the Minister made very clear by giving no affirmative answers to the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman made, the choice that he must make is not between some scheme of his own and what happens now but, rather, between selling off the assets to a private company or maintaining them for the people of Stevenage —in other words, voting for the Bill or not. There is no third choice, and what I have described is exactly the choice that the hon. Gentleman and the electorate of Stevenage will discover as the years go on.

The hon. Gentleman tried to justify the case for sale by talking about financing, and the Minister did exactly the same. He disagreed with the financial forecasts as supplied by the council, and said that there was really no hope of obtaining the sort of terms for which the council would search were the Bill to be passed into law. I am advised—the Minister must know it—that the pooled loan rate is now a little more than 9 per cent. The Stevenage council has discovered that it could borrow the money at 15 per cent.—a crucial figure. If it could do that, there is no doubt that after a period of a minimum precept from the rates, which is always below 1p, and after seven or eight years we would move into a period when the assets would actually make money for the people of Stevenage.

Either the assets have some value or they have not. If they have no value, we have no problem, because the private companies will not buy them. If they are worthless, or are bound to run at some sort of loss and to produce nothing but a deficit for their owners, the problem does not arise, because the private companies will not touch them with a barge pole. On the other hand, if they are assets which are capable of making a profit and running at a surplus, it is our clear conviction that that surplus should be held for the benefit of the people of the area. That is why I hope that my hon. Friends will support the Bill tonight.

9.7 pm

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

Tonight's debate is one which may have a very great bearing on the future of the new towns in this country. It is essential, therefore, to put the Bill into the context of the new town movement.

The concept of the new town can fairly be traced back to the end of nineteenth century, when the principle of the garden city was expounded by Ebenezer Howard —a principle which included the use of private capital. His imagination, and that of the other historic figures such as Sir Frederick Osborne and Louis de Soisson, has resulted in a fine example of what can be achieved—Welwyn Garden City, in my own constituency.

After the Second World War, the notion of new towns was taken up by Parliament, and a unique programme was embarked upon. Again, I can point to a good example of this form of development in my own constituency—Hatfield. Twenty-eight new towns have resulted, which now have a combined population of about 2 million. In the last 30 years of dynamic growth, 400,000 new homes have been built and more than 200 schools, 5,000 shops, 4,500 factories and 1,400 office buildings have been created.

Central Government took the initiative in building and designing the new towns, leaving it to development corporations to put that planning into operation. The provision of eight such towns around London, of which Stevenage is but one, was part of a four-part policy—a green belt to prevent the continuing spread of suburbia; towns absorbing the outward growth pressures which made the green belt necessary; the control of employment location to guide new and expanding firms to those growth centres; and provision for the renewal of inner London so that better condtions of life and work for the vast number of people who would continue to live there could be created.

How well these four aims have been satisfied is a matter for speculation. However, it is significant that the Government are taking positive action to deal with decaying inner cities and their derelict land. The vehicle for that policy is the Urban Development Corporation which is reminiscent of the means by which the new towns grew.

Their potential is another factor to be closely considered in the light of the Bill. We must consider the extent to which the new town movement has been successful and whether it would be enhanced or harmed by this proposed measure. Has it achieved the aims set in each case which were to create a whole and successful town in which scores of thousands of families would, through two or three generations, live out the greater part of their lives.

The Reith committee report in 1946 summed it up like this. Our task, as we see it, is to conduct an essay in civilisation; to plan and design and carry into execution for the benefit of coming generations the means for a happy and gracious way of life. The motto of my own district council, Welwyn Hatfield, puts it succinctly and effectively; "By wisdom & design". That could be the slogan for the whole new town concept.

New towns gradually become older towns. They develop character and individuality. They become entities in their own right as part of the urban framework upon which our country has been built. Why, therefore, should anyone treat them differently, as the Bill implies should be done? Why do we not accept that, although the new towns start from a different base, they should be allowed to mature as have our other towns? Why do we not accept the fact that new town citizens have no need—nor do they desire—to be treated as special cases? Why do we not accept that the Government's aim of bringing about a transition from new town to the more usual status of a normal town is eminently sensible?

Of course we want the people of new towns to benefit, but how will municipalisation ensure that? Municipalisation is far more likely to create the reverse with all the disadvantages associated with nationalisation. The majority of citizens wish to become home owners. That is a form of private enterprise that should be encouraged. Why should not that principle be extended to industrial and commercial development? After all, if it were not for investment by private enterprise in the first place the new towns would have failed. Why penalise them now?

At the same time we should also wish people generally to benefit because to a large extent it is their money—through taxation—which has been spent in creating new towns. Selling the assets of new towns means recovering much of that national cost and thereby assisting the Government in their efforts to reduce the effects of the bloated overspending they inherited from the previous Administration. That in turn will help to reduce inflation.

The fact that the assets of a new town are taken over by private enterprise is no reason for supposing that the community no longer gains. Rates will still be levied and paid thus providing the necessary finance for the town. Jobs will still be provided—and it is hoped, will increase in number—thus ensuring the necessary employment which will provide finance for the citizens. The gains, therefore, will continue in the absence of those dangers inherent if further public bodies are set up to assist in controlling the destinies of the new towns.

Stevenage, like other new towns, should be allowed to come of age. The time for the ending of the development corporation's role has arrived. Similarly in the case of Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield—where the assets have been held by the New Towns Commission—the moment has come for this to be wound up.

People in new towns need to be given the twin advantages that private enterprise can provide. The first is the opportunity to buy their own homes and the second is the opportunity, where a person owns a shop, office or factory, to buy that as well. It is most important that local people have the first option, because they are the people who put their faith in the new towns. For that reason, they should be the first to benefit.

As a confirmed believer in the freedom of the individual, I deplore this Bill for its attempt totally to negate such fundamental rights in Stevenage. The Bill would establish a dangerous precedent for other new towns and perhaps for older towns. It must, therefore, be resisted. In essence the Bill is undemocratic and financially absurd. It is bureaucratic and indefensible. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage for his courageous stand in opposing the measure which, rightly, he regards as being against the best interests of his constituents. For the sake of all who live in new towns, this authoritarian Bill must be defeated tonight.

9.15 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

The common ownership of land in a new town has been one of the cornerstones of the new towns movement since Ebenezer Howard published "Tomorrow—the peaceful path to real reform" in 1898. One of his early illustrations offered the phrase go up and possess the land as a slogan. Common ownership of a new town's estate was often referred to by him as the "master key".

His argument was that land values were created by the migration of large numbers of people to a particular location, in this case, a new town. While the increment in value was unearned by the landlord it could be said to be earned by the incoming population. He argued that it was obvious that such increments of value may, with foresight and prearrangement, become the property of the migrating people.

In a new town, where the land is held for the whole community, the entire increment of value gradually becomes the property of the municipality with the effect that it is applied in the relief of rates. The case was constructed that land values would be used for the benefit of the town as a whole and might finance not only basic infrastructure but the social and cultural services that would normally be uneconomic. Howard's first new towns, Letchworth and Welwyn garden cities, were founded on that principle.

In 1946 the Labour Government decided that the State should build new towns. The public ownership of land was identified as a major principle. The community was to be represented by the Treasury until the town was complete. In 1946 the then Minister, the father of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), explained that it was the intention, when the development of the new town was substantially complete, to wind up the corporation and by agreement with the local authorities transfer the assets and liabilities of the corporation to the local authority of the area in which the new town was situated.

In the early 1950s the local authorities began to doubt that that would happen. By 1953–54 their doubts were openly expressed. In July 1956 the Labour Opposition spokesman said that they were gravely disturbed by rumours that the corporations' assets would be sold off to private owners and developers. In 1957 the Basildon local authority published a booklet entitled "New Town Assets: the case for municipal ownership", which argued that local authority support for the New Towns Act 1946 had been" bought by false promises".

In 1958 the Commission was set up, confirming local authority fears as it transferred the assets of a new town to another arm of Government. The matter has lain there uneasily since then. Development corporations have been required to retain freeholds for the community benefit with certain minor exceptions—notably private housing. In due course the assets were taken over by the Commission.

It has always been possible to make an exceptional disposal of a freehold with the Minister's consent. However, that freedom has been rarely sought, and even more rarely granted. The only break came under the Labour Government's transfer of housing assets legislation which made over corporation-built rented housing to local councils.

Under the present Government the general presumption against freehold disposals by development corporations in their mainstream task has not changed, except that the corporations and the Commission have had to sell freeholds to raise money at the Secretary of State's instruction—£140 million in 1979–80 and possibly £200 million in 1980–81. That forced sale of public assets is flooding the market. Powers to regularise the Secretary of State's instructions are in the current Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill.

In Stevenage the local authority is attempting to salvage the original new town principle by promoting a Bill that will allow the new town assets to be acquired by a local corporation which will manage the assets on behalf of the townspeople. No such initiative has come from any other new town local authority.

The Bill proposes to create a publicly accountable corporation that will buy the assets of Stevenage new town as they are forced on the market by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The corporation will then manage the assets with a duty in relation to the social and environmental goals that characterised the new town, and apply the profits for the benefit of the local community.

The Bill takes as its model the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Act 1963 —a private Bill enacted by a free vote under a Tory Government. We have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) that if the Bill gets a Second Reading tonight —as I hope it does—the Stevenage council is prepared to accept amendments, because it realises that there are difficulties within the Bill.

The Letchworth corporation has been a great success, paying off inherited debts and now yielding a substantial annual profit that is distributed to the town's various voluntary organisations. It has also made possible the purchase of farmland around the town to safeguard the green belt and public access. It has made possible town centre redevelopment to a high amenity standard, financed a leisure centre and the creation of a museum. These are the sorts of things that would be possible in Stevenage if the Bill were to be enacted.

Listening to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells), who is opposing the Bill, it is interesting to compare his attitude with that of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens), who supported his constituents in dealing with their recalcitrant employer in regard to Tory legislation. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage, not quite with lies but with obvious inaccuracies, clearly demonstrated that he does not intend to support his local council or his constituents. He referred to the fact that major companies were leaving Stevenage because of high rates, and he referred to Kodak and ICI. Kodak is moving back to Nottingham, where it has its headquarters, and ICI is moving to Stockton. Both companies will gain because of the employment premium grant. If the hon. Member seeks to mislead the House—

Mr. Bowen Wells


Mr. Ross

I am sorry. I shall not give way.

Mr. Wells


Mr. Ross

It might have been much better to discuss—

Mr. Wells


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Order The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is not giving way. I remind the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) that we are short of time.

Mr. Wells

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has made personal references to me, implying that I have been lying or misleading the House. I believe that I am entitled to explain the position.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I did not hear the word "lying".

Mr. Wells

I understood that it was used.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thought that the word used was "misleading". That is not an uncommon expression in the House.

Mr. Wells


Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Member will be very brief in replying—

Mr. Ross


Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Dundee, West is not giving way.

Mr. Ross

It might have been better if the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage had made this House aware that one of the Tory councillors on the Stevenage local council wanted to serve an injunction on the Secretary of State for the Environment to prevent him from selling the assets. Those are the facts of which the House should be made aware. It is those facts that deserve our support tonight.

The Stevenage local authority is a progressive authority. It is trying to preserve assets on behalf of the community that it seeks to serve, and it should be supported. I hope that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage, when he considers the matter, will decide to give it his support tonight.

9.23 pm
Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)

I am very grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker for the opportunity to intervene briefly in the debate, since I am proud to represent the neighbouring new town of Hemel Hempstead.

I listened with great interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) in opening the debate, who presented the Bill with his usual sincerity, but both he and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley), the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, seemed to be economically astray.

The hon. Members for Harlow and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross)—whom I have the pleasure of following—expatiated on the benefits, as they saw them, to the citizens and ratepayers of Stevenage, of a Bill of this nature. But they should invite the borough council of Stevenage to do its sums again. It is absolutely clear, from the careful studies which have been made, and for which we are most indebted to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, that there is no way in which a financial exercise such as that proposed by Stevenage new town, to purchase by borrowing moneys in the present money market at the current rates—between 14 and 15 per cent.—can do anything but lead the citizens of Stevenage into a debt from which they can never extract themselves.

The projected increases in rents for those who would become tenants are about 11½ per cent. per annum over the years or more than 400 per cent. over 10 years. That must be regarded as about as commercial as one can get. But even that would leave the citizens with an inexorable debt.

It is not surprising that clause 26 provides for precepts and makes it possible for the citizens to find their rates being mulcted to help the new Stevenage development authority out of its debt. But, far from receiving the museums and other benefits, to which the hon. Member for Dundee, West referred, the near certainty is that it would not be long before the Stevenage development authority and the borough council would be coming cap in hand to the Government to get themselves out of the financial mess into which they had plunged.

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the pool. While the pool may currently be 9 per cent., that represents the low rates at which the authority may have borrowed historically over 20 or 25 years. If one adds the 14½ per cent. or more, which it would have to borrow now, those rates would go up and the benefits of the historic advantage of borrowing a long time ago would be negated.

Mr. Newens

I quoted those at 15 per cent.

Mr. Lyell

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is turning his mind once again to the finances, because he will then be less likely to lead the citizens of the neighbouring new town astray.

The assets of the town were mentioned. This is important to the new town of Hemel Hempstead. For example, we have our water gardens and other cherished assets. We have car parks, which are currently free. We cherish those assets. I am glad to have the opportunity on behalf of my district council to press for a system to be established whereby the car parks, the water gardens and the other cherished assets of Hemel Hempstead can, if it is thought wise by our local Draconean district council be brought into the ownership of that district council. But it would not be wise, in order to achieve that modest and sensible objective, to pile up the burden of an ill-thought-out scheme such as this Bill represents.

Those who, like me, represent new town constituences have been making representations on behalf of local business men that easier ways be found for them to purchase the properties that the Secretary of State, wisely in my opinion, wishes to transfer to the private sector. I received a sympathetic hearing from the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary on this matter and considerable co-operation from the New Towns Commission. I do not know of any plans which have been brought to fruition. I know that negotiations are in progress and I hope that they will be brought to satisfactory fruition and that many local business men will have the opportunity to purchase their business premises at fair market prices. After all, that is all that anyone can reasonably expect.

It is important to say a word about the political views that underlie the presentation of this Bill. I recognise that they are sincerely held. However, it would be wrong if the people of Stevenage were to think that the benefits that are supposed to result from the management of such a large undertaking by the Stevenage development authority, which will include four members of the borough council, are likely to occur. All too often in the past five years we have seen the ill-effects of well-intentioned intervention by those with public sector responsibilities in matters that are properly the concern of the private sector. The steel industry has been mentioned in the debate more than once. The wrong decision was taken there many times by the previous Government.

We are doing the citizens of Stevenage a favour if we deny their district councillors and others the opportunity to be subjected to pressures which will inevitably lead to wrong decisions being taken in the name of humanity. I hope that my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen who reflect maturely on the Bill will join us in rejecting the Bill.

9.31 pm
Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on his able and full introduction of the Bill.

In the short time available I wish to sketch in the history behind the introduction of the Bill. The pressure under which the Stevenage borough council found itself as a direct consequence of Government policies may not be clear to the House.

The best way to explain that is by referring to a reply given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) on 6 April 1977, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment. He set out the policy that the Government wanted to pursue in relation to new towns such as Stevenage. The House will recall that at that stage 16,000 houses built by the development corporation were transferred to the Stevenage borough council. I was largely responsible for that transfer, which took place with remarkable smoothness and co-operation on all sides, on behalf of the chairman, members and staff of the development corporation and of members and staff of the borough council. Those houses are being well managed, which reflects well on the way that the borough council has taken on a fairly massive responsibility in a short time.

The issue of industrial and commercial assets of many new towns, including Stevenage was naturally and properly raised. For that reason, my right hon. Friend in replying to the then hon. Member for Chorley had this to say: the natural aspirations of local authorities to own and manage public sector property provided under the New Towns Act in their areas must be taken into account. Later in the same reply my right hon. Friend said: I will also consider whether a local authority should be able, in due course, to acquire commercial and industrial property from the Commission for the New Towns if it wished to do so and had the resources."—[Official Report, 6 April 1977; Vol. 929, c. 531.] That was the policy which we wanted to pursue, but we were conscious of the fact that, with the considerable transfer of housing assets and the whole business of winding up the development corporation, there was a considerable administrative task to undertake and it was no time to add to that task the difficult problem of transferring, if local authori- ties wished, industrial and commercial assets.

That is one reason why, while the policy was being worked out and the administrative job of winding up the corporations was being undertaken, we laid out the policy to make it possible for a borough council, such as Stevenage, which wanted to take on that responsibility—as many did—to do so.

Unfortunately, the present Government, in the need to satisfy their financial policies, have decided to sell the assets of the new towns to private interests as rapidly as possible. I oppose that proposal. Many Conservative Members have spoken about their understanding of the principle of the new towns, but one of the essential principles and one of the reasons for the success of the new towns is that since the new towns were founded, the corporations have had a general responsibility for housing, employment and planning of the new towns. They have been able to keep in harness the needs of the incoming population for housing and employment.

I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) to quote the example of Swindon, an authority which has done what Stevenage wants to do. On a visit to Swindon I was immensely impressed by the way in which the authority was managing commercial and industrial assets. It is not impossible for local authorities to do that, and Stevenage has chosen precisely the right mechanism for doing it.

In many ways, the local authority structure is not the right one for such management and the right solution is for the local council to set up the sort of authority described in the Bill.

Conservative Members may argue about the council's projections of the financial viability of its scheme. I do not believe that it is possible intelligently to debate such issues on the Floor of the House. They are better considered by a Select Committee studying the details of the legislation.

I commend to Conservative Members the suggestion that they should vote for the Bill and give a Select Committee responsibility for hearing evidence from both sides as to whether the proposition is viable.

If the Government are so sure that private interests are keen to buy property—and I have never come across any private interests that buy in the expectation of making a loss—I cannot understand why a local authority should not be equally capable of managing the assets successfully.

A number of development corporations have already used various ways of raising money, including the use of roll-over and the sale of leases for 125 years or 99 years, often receiving funds made available through pension funds and other bodies.

There is a variety of ways in which an authority of that kind could operate. Essentially the argument is not about whether this authority will be able to build museums, though I hope that it will be able to do so. What worries me intensely about the future of places such as Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead and others is that the job of development is not complete, as many Conservative Members have suggested. What they have not taken into account is that, rightly or wrongly, in the development that has taken place—as those who represent new towns will know—there is a serious second generation problem. It is a problem born of the fact that people of a certain age group were encouraged to move into these new towns and their children are now reaching the labour market. For that reason, it will be vitally important to involve a development corporation, a New Towns Commission or the local authority because it will not be possible for pension funds or property developers to give the attention that will be required to ensure sufficient industrial and commercial development of the town and to provide the jobs that will be necessary. Ideally it is a public authority that can do that most successfully.

Mr. Denshore Dover (Chorley)


Mr. Barnett

It is not rubbish, because the evidence of Swindon is there. There is also evidence from other local authorities, including my own, which own and manage industrial land highly successfully. Indeed, one of the consequences of doing that is that the local authority has a feeling for the employment needs of the town which other local authorities may perhaps lack.

I end on this note, because I know that there is another hon. Member who wishes to speak before my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) winds up for the Opposition. When I was in the Department of the Environment, discussing with experts in the property world and elsewhere the advice that we needed about assets of this kind, I was advised by a number of people, including estate agents, that the vital principle about the holding of property was to hold on to the freehold. Anyone in the property world—I am not in the property world—will give that advice. One needs to look only at the history of Letchworth to see the wisdom of that. One needs only to speak to anyone who runs a successful property company to know that that is the principle which is observed.

One of the disasters of the policy of the present Government, as I understand it, is that it will mean that commercial and industrial freeholds will go out of public ownership in total disregard of the kind of advice that I received when I was in the Department of the Environment.

Though the Bill will inevitably place great responsibilities on the borough council, I have faith that the borough council will be able to carry those responsibilities successfully. It is essential for the development of the town that the borough council should have these responsibilities. If there are doubts in the minds of some Conservative Members they should be argued out in a Select Committee and we should not attempt to deal with them in this type of debate.

9.44 pm
Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) because although we may disagree with his analysis he understands what new towns are all about, which is in contrast to the contribution that we had from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Clearly he does not understand what a new town is.

I do not think that any one of us challenges the genuineness of the approach of the Stevenage borough council. As I read the Bill and the propositions that the council put forward I think that I can say that they are full of ingenuity. They are conceptually—if I can put it that way —a means of perpetuating the Stevenage development corporation in a new form for the 1980s.

Perhaps it is a little ironic, too, that Stevenage development corporation is the corporation that in many respects has been the body that has been sounded out by the Department of the Environment over the years about new developments in new towns. Perhaps we should not be surprised if some of that initiative has not arisen today in relation to this Bill.

The key point that many hon. Members have made is that new towns are a developing concept, and it is something of the nature of new towns that, across the Floor of the House, there has been a unanimity of approach in accepting that, over time, they have developed from a total ownership through to a partnership concept with the third generation new towns.

What the promoters of the Bill have to do is convince hon. Members that what they are putting forward is a better way of developing the future of Stevenage than the other opportunities that are available to that town. Indeed, it has to be a better way, because the implications of the Bill go far beyond Stevenage, as several hon. Members have said. They impinge on a new town such as mine, which is a third generation town, and the same applies to many other hon. Members.

Let us look at the statement that the Stevenage development authority sent to us. It is right that in the closing minutes of this debate we should look at some of the key issues.

We are asked, first, to ignore clause 10. It is easy for Opposition Members to say that we should now ignore that clause, but it was virtually the key part of the Bill until this evening. It was a total part of the municipalisation and the future of Stevenage. It is all right for hon. Members to smile, but it showed that the basic philosophy is one of total municipalisation. Having found resistance to that concept and having taken fright, they have dropped the clause. They have said "If we have a bit more, we shall drop clause 10."

Let us look at one or two of the key statements. Article 4 provides that the assets should be transferred to the local authority so that profits accruing from those assets might be used for the benefit of the community that helped to create them. What Parliament must do—it has done this on several previous occasions—is to debate whether those assets belong to the local community there or to the wider community of the rest of the people who put in the money in the first place. That point has been debated in the House, and until this evening there has been a unanimous approach across the Floor of the House that the value built up in the assets belonged to the total community of this country and not to the individual local authority or the people who live in the area.

Secondly, article 6 of the statement contains this comment: If a new town's assets were sold to private property developers and financial institutions this would create problems and would not assist it to become a normal town. I have to say to those in Stevenage "Come to a third generation partnership town." That is not a problem in those towns, so why should it be a problem in Stevenage? If they would like to come from Stevenage to Northampton, I should be more than happy to persuade them that this works.

The development corporation has a point in article 7, when it says that it has not had an opportunity in the past because—particularly in relation to Stevenage and the earlier generation of new towns—it was unable to produce any partnership schemes with private developers. This may be a particular localised problem of Stevenage. I am sure that it is one to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will wish to address himself in relation to the specific situation in Stevenage and perhaps one or two other new towns where this is a problem.

There is another point. Article 8 states: Experience has shown that planning controls, unfortunately, are not sufficient to guarantee that future development takes place as and when it is needed. That is absolute rubbish. I say to the people of Stevenage "Go and look at what has happened in Bedford." That is not a new town. It is a highly prosperous town, of a size similar to that of Stevenage. It has used solely the current planning facilities, and it has highly successful development. Therefore, that point is a load of rubbish.

It is said in article 10 that if the private sector is brought in it will not improve the quality of life in the town. I say to the people of Stevenage that the quality of life in a town depends on having a viable, profitable and successful town. What any town needs in today's difficult circumstances is viable industry, which pays good rates to the local authority and provides good jobs and good future prospects. In my experience that is provided by the private sector and not the public sector.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has rightly drawn attention to the financial ineptitude of that which is proposed. Leaving that aside, my hon. Friends have made it clear, as we made it clear in opposition, that we believe that these commercial and industrial assets should be rolled over for the benefit of society generally. None of us should forget that the whole concept of the new town movement was to help the poor and deprived areas of London, Liverpool and Birmingham so that those living in those areas could move out to decent homes.

I say to the people of Stevenage, as I am prepared to say to the people of Northampton, "You now have decent assets, decent homes and decent factories. Those assets must be rolled over so that the money may be used for investment in other parts of the United Kingdom where there is still pressing need." We do not have the luxury of having no areas in need.

Having listened to all the contributions to the debate on Second Reading, the people of Stevenage should reflect and recognise that despite the genuineness of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), his concept is not in the interests of Stevenage. It would be far wiser to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells). He knows his constituency. He has consulted his constituents. He has no axe to grind. He is not building up any municipal empire. He has a totally objective viewpoint. The House would do well to listen to my hon. Friend's considered and measured speech. If he suggests that we should oppose the Bill, we should all oppose it.

9.57 pm
Mr. Newens

I ask leave, Mr. Deputy Speaker to speak again.

It has been an interesting and serious debate, but we have heard not one argument of substance from the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) or from any of his hon. Friends against the Bill. Conservative Members have not proved that the Bill is against the interests of the nation or against the interests of the residents of Stevenage. Indeed, it is clear that it is very much in the interests of everyone except the asset-strippers on the Tory Front Bench.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friends for their support. I felt especially sorry for the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells), who seemed to be living in a strange world.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

No, the real world.

Mr. Newens

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the sovietisation of Stevenage. Are we being asked to believe that three of the four members of the Conservative group and members of the chamber of trade are so gullible as to vote for the sovietisation of their town? Against that background would the leader of the Tory group of the Stevenage borough council sit on the committee that drafted the Bill? Is that what we are asked to believe?

The hon. Gentleman's case was based on a series of similar fantasies and contentions without any serious foundation. He spoke of 400 per cent. rent increases. That is not so. He suggested that Stevenage could not borrow money at an interest rate of less than 18 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out that Stevenage can borrow at a long term rate of 15 per cent. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage referred to an expensive public relations campaign. The department in Stevenage is equivalent to one and a half full time staff. It is unworthy to suggest that those people spent their time collecting children's signatures for a petition. As he well knows, in the vast majority of cases the petition was signed by responsible adults, members of his constituency.

It is clear that the Bill has immense support in the town. The hon. Gentleman remarked on the aims of Ebenezer Howard. There is no doubt that he believed that the assets of a new town should be owned by the community. That is precisely the aim of this Bill.

The Under-Secretary's case was not much better. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook reduced him to such a state that he was unable or unwilling to give an answer about the Minister's power to demand sales. He took refuge behind the statement that my right hon. Friend should table a parliamentary question. He was not prepared to give an answer. He dreamt up some figures that purported to show that the town would be faced by an escalating debt after nine or 10 years. If these assets are loss-makers, why does he expect investment trusts and pension funds to be interested in buying them?

The Under-Secretary wants to have it both ways. He argues that the people of Stevenage will be worse off, but that the nation will lose valuable assets. The community in Letchworth has benefited enormously. There is no reason for disbelieving that Stevenage would benefit. The only reason for opposing the Bill is, as the Under-Secretary said, that it is directly contrary to Government policy. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage recognised the difficulties of small business men who want to buy their

premises. He also recognised that the council does not own the assets that it should.

The hon. Gentleman should realise that there is little chance of achieving any change in the Government's policy. His remarks about the plight of small business men and others illustrates the need for change. If it is true, as the Under-Secretary said, that there is no Whip and if hon. Members are about to make up their minds on the merits of the case, I appeal to them to give the Bill a Second Reading. It can be amended at a later stage. If hon. Members do not like the provisions to which the hon. Member for Northampton, South referred, they can be withdrawn at Committee stage. Hon. Members could still vote against the Bill at a later stage.

This Bill has had a tremendous case advanced for it. I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to give it a chance, and let it have a Second Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 158, Noes 216.

Division No. 248] AYES [10 pm
Adams, Allen Dubs, Alfred John, Brynmor
Allaun, Frank Dunnett, Jack Johnson, James (Hull West)
Alton, David Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Eadie, Alex Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Eastham, Ken Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Kerr, Russell
Bidwell, Sydney Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Lamborn, Harry
Booth, Rt Hon Albert English, Michael Lamond, James
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Leadbitter, Ted
Bray, Dr Jeremy Evans, John (Newton) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Ewing, Harry Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Faulds, Andrew Litherland, Robert
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Field, Frank Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)
Campbell, Ian Fitt, Gerard McCartney, Hugh
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Canavan, Dennis Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McElhone, Frank
Cant, R. B. Foot, Rt Hon Michael McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Ford, Ben McKelvey, William
Cartwright, John Foster, Derek McNally, Thomas
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Foulkes, George McWilliam, John
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Coleman, Donald George, Bruce Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)
Cook, Robin F. Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cowans, Harry Golding, John Maxton, John
Crowther, J. S. Graham, Ted Maynard, Miss Joan
Cryer, Bob Grant, John (Islington C) Mikardo, Ian
Cunningham, George (Islington S) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dalyell, Tam Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Haynes, Frank Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
Deakins, Eric Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Morton, George
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Home Robertson, John Newens, Stanley
Dewar, Donald Homewood, William Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dixon, Donald Hooley, Frank O'Neill, Martin
Douglas, Dick Horam, John Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Palmer, Arthur Silkin, Rt Hon S.C. (Dulwich) Torney, Tom
Park, George Silverman, Julius Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Parker, John Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire) Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Pavitt, Laurie Snape, Peter Watkins, David
Pendry, Tom Soley, Clive Weetch, Ken
Penhaligon, David Spearing, Nigel Welsh, Michael
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Spriggs, Leslie White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Prescott, John Stallard, A. W. Whitlock, William
Race, Reg Steel, Rt Hon David Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Richardson, Jo Stoddart, David Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Strang, Gavin Winnick, David
Robertson, George Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West) Woolmer, Kenneth
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Rowlands, Ted Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Sheerman, Barry Thorne, Stan (Preston South) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop) Tilley, John Mr. Philip Whitehead and
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Tinn, James Mr. Martin Flannery.
Alexander, Richard Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Alison, Michael Fox, Marcus Mayhew, Patrick
Ancram, Michael Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mellor, David
Aspinwall, Jack Garel-Jones, Tristan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Goodhew, Victor Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Goodlad, Alastair Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Gorst, John Moate, Roger
Banks, Robert Gow, Ian Monro, Hector
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gower, Sir Raymond Morgan, Geraint
Bendall, Vivian Gray, Hamish Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Greenway, Harry Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Grieve, Percy Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Mudd, David
Berry, Hon Anthony Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Myles, David
Best, Keith Grist, Ian Neale, Gerrard
Bevan, David Gilroy Grylls, Michael Needham, Richard
Biggs-Davison, John Gummer, John Selwyn Newton, Tony
Blackburn, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Nott, Rt Hon John
Blaker, Peter Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hampson, Dr Keith Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Hannam, John Parkinson, Cecil
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hastings, Stephen Parris, Matthew
Braine, Sir Bernard Hawkins, Paul Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Bright, Graham Hawksley, Warren Pawsey, James
Brinton, Tim Henderson, Barry Percival, Sir Ian
Brittan, Leon Hicks, Robert Peyton, Rt Hon John
Brooke, Hon Peter Hill, James Pollock, Alexander
Brotherton, Michael Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Prior, Rt Hon James
Browne, John (Winchester) Hooson, Tom Proctor, K. Harvey
Bruce-Gardyne, John Hordern, Peter Raison, Timothy
Budgen, Nick Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bulmer, Esmond Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rhodes James, Robert
Butler, Hon Adam Hunt, David (Wirral) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hurd, Hon Douglas Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rossi, Hugh
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Channon, Paul King, Rt Hon Tom Scott, Nicholas
Chapman, Sydney Kitson, Sir Timothy Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Knight, Mrs Jill Shepherd Colin (Hereford)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knox, David Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br-hills)
Cope, John Lamont, Norman Shersby, Michael
Costain, A. P. Lang,Ian Skeet, T. H. H.
Crouch, David Latham, Michael Speed, Keith
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Lawrence, Ivan Speller Tony
Dorrell, Stephen Lee, John Spence, John
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Le Marchant, Spencer Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sproat, Iain
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stainton, Keith
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stanbrook, Ivor
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Loveridge, John Stanley, John
Emery, Peter Luce, Richard Steen, Anthony
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lyell, Nicholas Stevens, Martin
Fairgrieve, Russell MacGregor, John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Faith, Mrs Sheila McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Farr, John McQuarrie, Albert Stradling Thomas, J.
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Major, John Tebbit, Norman
Finsberg, Geoffrey Marlow, Tony Temple-Morris, Peter
Fisher, Sir Nigel Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Mates, Michael Thompson, Donald
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mather, Carol Thorne, Nell (Ilford South)
Fookes, Miss Janet Maude, Rt Hon Angus Thornton, Malcolm
Forman, Nigel Mawhinney, Dr Brian Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Trotter, Neville Ward, John Winterton, Nicholas
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Watson, John Wolfson, Mark
Viggers, Peter Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Waddington. David Wheeler, John Younger, Rt Hon George
Wakeham, John Whitney, Raymond
Waldegrave, Hon William Wickenden, Keith TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek Wiggin, Jerry Mr. Christopher Murphy and
Waller, Gary Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery) Mr. Den Dover.
Walters, Dennis

Question accordingly negatived.

    1. c1580
    2. AMENDMENT OF THE LAW 17 words