HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc380-6

Lords amendment: No. 105, in page 102, line 20, at beginning insert Subject to subsection (1A) below,

Mr. King

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take amendment No. 106.

Mr. King

There was criticism in the House and in another place about the great width of, or the lack of any control over, the scope of areas where urban development corporations might be established. Because of their very nature as urban development corporations, we are anxious to introduce an amendment to limit that. Amendments Nos. 105 and 106 make clear the classes of authority within which it would be possible to have an urban development corporation. At the same time, I must make it clear to the House, as I have done before, that we intend to have only two, and they are in Docklands, in London and the South docks, on Merseyside.

Mr. Rippon

I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks about the Government's recognition that when it left the House the clause was framed in far too wide a manner. When the Bill was last before us the Secretary of State could designate if he is of opinion that it is expedient in the national interest to do so … any area of land as an urban development area. As I and a number of other Members pointed out, that was wide enough to cover a rural village or the City of London.

If the amendment is accepted, the Secretary of State may designate only an area that is either a metropolitan district, or an inner London borough, or partly an inner London borough and partly an outer London borough that has a boundary common with the other London borough, and subject to another amendment that enables separate parcels of land to be designated as one urban development area.

Any restriction on the powers of the Secretary of State in the clause as originally drafted is to be welcomed. Whatever the Government's intentions, the clause is widely drawn. It still applies in any of the areas to which we now refer if the Secretary of State is of opinion that it is expedient in the national interest to do so. He can designate an urban development area in the limited number of local authorities now referred to in the amendment.

That restriction is on an arbitrary base. A legislative assembly should know what powers it is giving to a Secretary of State as well as what he intends to do with them because Secretaries of State and Governments change from time to time. The Secretary of State can now designate an urban development area in Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Salford, Manchester, Oldham, Trafford, Stockport, Tameside, Sefton, Liverpool, St. Helens, Moseley, The Wirral, Barnsley, Doncaster Sheffield, Rotherham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell, Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Bradford, Leeds, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield. I am sure that many people do not know that this power still extends in metropolitan districts outside the areas about which we have talked.

12.15 am

There are now excluded by the amendment, for example, Bristol, Cardiff, Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Stoke and Southampton. So what we are solemnly doing tonight by approving the amendment is to say that while there may be an urban development corporation in Calderdale there may not be one in Cardiff; in Dudley, but not in Leicester; in Barnsley, but not in Bristol; in North Tyneside, but not in Nottingham; in Kirklees, but not in Stoke: and in Sandwell, but not in Southampton; although we know that it can come in the inner London boroughs. There may be an urban development corporation in the City of Westminster, but not exclusively in Newham. There may be one in the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but not exclusively in Haringey; and there may be one in Greenwich, but not exclusively in Brent or Waltham Forest.

We are well aware that the fact that this arbitrary list exists has nothing to do with the regeneration of the areas concerned. As the Minister told the Committee considering the Bill in the House of Lords, Basically the intention here … is to avoid the hybridity point while at the same time trying to give more details."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 1980; Vol. 413, c. 1192.] We know what the hybridity point is, and I think that we must accept that technically the Government have succeeded in dealing with it. We may congratulate them upon that. But we are still very close to the definition of a Hybrid Bill, given by Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster as a public bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class."—[Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 45.] Accepting that the Government have achieved the objective of escaping hybridity, technically, I must say that the Bill nevertheless, on the face of it, clearly affects the private interests of certain local authorities and certain local authority electors in a manner different from other local authorities and other local authority electors.

Whether or not the amendment escapes the hybridity point, I believe that it is not a sound principle that the scope of any enactment should depend on the need to manipulate the peculiarities of parliamentary procedure rather than upon the circumstances of what is called for in the legislation. I am still of the opinion that in principle the restrictions on the power are not severe enough.

When the Bill was last before the House, I could say that it would be possible for a Labour Government to designate the City of London as an urban development corporation area—quite clearly, on the principle and criteria laid down in the Bill—and that they could do it after a one-and-a-half-hour debate in this House. There would be the special procedure in the House of Lords, but if that House were abolished that would not apply.

The City of London is saved, and I am grateful for that, but we must face that fact that under the Bill as it now stands the City of Westminster and the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea will still be—though I know that this is not the Government's intention—in a position in which they should not have found themselves.

Mr. Spearing

It is typical of the proceedings on the Bill that it was the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) who, in the early part of his speach, spelt out the intention of the amendment. I know that in the Official Report the amendment is printed at the top of the report of the debate on it, but simply from hearing or reading the Minister's words one would not know what the amendment did. That has to some extent illustrated the Government's attitude to the House—and previously to the Committee—on this matter.

Since the last stage of the Bill there has been a further memorandum from the Government indicating their expectations in terms of a designation order. They have not extended it to the City of London, but the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham might like to know that the Government have indicated their intention of including land on the opposite side of the river, known as Hay's Wharf, leading towards London Bridge and a little beyond. Therefore, although it does not reach the City of London, it is getting near to it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the vexed question of hybridity. I think that he is probably right that the change in the Bill, which designates only certain parts of the country, does not make it hybrid. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to refer to the procedure in the House of Lords, and it is to that that I wish to draw the attention of the House, and in particular the Minister.

In Committee, when dealing with the protection of councils and electors, the Minister made it clear that protection from abuse in this matter would come from the procedure which has to be followed. As the hon. Member rightly said, the Bill is of general application. Part XVI is not in any sense hybrid, but a designation order clearly would be. That being the case, quite different matters then apply."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 1 May 1980; c. 741]. The Minister made the point that when a designation, establishment or vesting order is made in another place, under its procedure, but not under ours, it will be possible, given certain circumstances certified by the Chairman of the committee on hybrid instruments, for the order arising from the Bill to be taken as a Private Bill would be taken in another place and the petitioners' rights would therefore be ensured. The House passed that part of the Bill on that understanding.

Will the Minister assure the House that if the amendment, which more closely defines the area to which an order may relate, is passed, the Government will not in any future proceedings instruct anybody who may appear for them to resist any petition on the ground that the House has decided that if the Secretary of States decides that it is in the national interest, inner London or anywhere in the inner London area can be designated as an urban development area? If the Minister has no intention of using this power, I am sure that he will say so. If he does not understand the point that I am making, perhaps he will also say so.

I am sure that the Minister, recalling what he said in Committee, will agree that it is important that the amendment, which I am not necessarily opposing, should have no deleterious effects on the rights of those who may wish to petition in another place and reduce what would otherwise be their opportunities in the Bill as it stands.

I hope that the Minister has grasped and will reply to this point, because he has already made known to local authorities and to Members such as myself that it is his intention to lay in both Houses of Parliament, not one order, but three orders: a designation order outlining the area to which an urban development designation will apply; the establishment of an urban development corporation; and an order vesting, I take it by compulsory purchase, the first areas to be given into the ownership of the urban development corporation.

I hope that in reply to the general debate the Minister will given the assurance for which I have asked.

Mr. King

I listened with interest to the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). I noted his caveats. Nevertheless, I assume that he welcomes this amendment and wishes to see these areas restricted, even if the amendment does not go as far as he wants. I was interested particularly in his comments on the hybridity point. He is correct, of course.

I should make it clear to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that my comments in Committee could not in any case anticipate the judgment of their Lordships' House, because it is not the function of Ministers to determine these matters. I do not want that to sound as though I am seeking to qualify what I said, but that is the protocol in such matters.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. My understanding is that this amendment, which is not hybrid, merely defines classes of authority that will be affected. When it comes to the laying of individual orders, it will select from those classes individual authorities or areas to be affected. Without seeking to anticipate the judgment of their Lordships on this matter, my understanding is that it in no way prejudices the position of petitioners.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

Subsection (1A)(b) refers to an area in an inner London borough or partly in an inner London borough. Is the Minister aware that, under the London Government Act 1963, the City of London is deemed to be a London borough, and I cannot understand how it has escaped. It is and has remained, in subsequent legislation, described as a London borough. Why is it now asserted that it has escaped? I do not see how it can escape.

Mr. King

Under the relevant piece of legislation, the City of London is not an inner London borough. It is a technical point, and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about it, but that is my understanding, and that is why the amendment excludes the City of London.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 106 agreed to.

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