§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.9 pm
§ The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)
I beg to move., That the Bill be now rea.d a Second time.
Before I turn to the Bill—and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will not misunderstand me—we on the Conservative Benches want to make it clear how much, on personal grounds, we regret the departure from the Opposition Front Bench of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Though we disagree strongly with him about major issues of policy, my right hon. and hon. Friends respect his deep knowledge of the construction industry and the fierce, often passionate, sincerity which he brought to our proceedings. We know that housing and the construction industry will continue to be of deep concern to him.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Perry Barr on his promotion as Shadow Housing Minister. I give him a particular welcome because he has recently announced his conversion, along with that of Dengxiao Ping, to one of the most fundamental elements of the Government's housing policy—the right for tenants of local authorities and of new towns to buy their own homes.
As the House knows, I am an avid reader of Labour Weekly. I read with particular interest an article by the hon. Gentleman in the edition of 21 September, but with just 16 pages the publication is rather overpriced at 40p. I commend to the hon. Member for Walton and to his hon. Friends below the Gangway the final paragraph of the section on housing, in which the hon. Member for Perry Barr wrote:It is inconceivable that we shall enter the next general election pledged to remove the existing right to buy. Such a pledge would not meet the needs of the situation we shall face either in the election or afterwards.It is perfectly true that at the time when the hon. Gentleman wrote that article he was not the official Opposition spokesman on housing. Nevertheless, I shall gladly give way to him so that he can confirm that what he then wrote is indeed the official policy of the Labour party
§ Mr. Gow
I say to the former Patronage Secretary—I almost described him as my right hon. Friend—that if anything I have so far said in an interesting preamble has been out of order Mr. Speaker would have rebuked me.
I have not quite finished with my preamble, because I also wish to extend a particular welcome to the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans). I look forward with mounting impatience to his winding-up speech.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
The Minister has emphasised the wish of people to buy their homes. He knows that the Labour party has always been keen on owner-occupation, hence our reason in the 1960s for introducing the option mortgage scheme and leasehold reform to make it easier for people who would otherwise 161 be unable to do so. If, as the hon. Gentleman constantly argues, it is right for those in the public sector to buy, why not be generous and say today, or when the Cabinet can agree, that private tenants should also be able to do so? In many instances do not private tenants need such protection far more than public sector tenants because of the neglect by private landlords?
§ Mr. Gow
I must conclude that the hon. Gentleman's question was in order, otherwise he would not have been allowed to put it. My response is the same as the one I have given him on many occasions. I do not want to be guilty of repetition, but I must again tell him that, where the state has funded the building of houses, in our opinion it is perfectly legitimate for the state to decide on what terms those houses should be sold. Indeed that view is apparently held by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. However, where the houses and flats have been built by the private sector, it is up to the private sector to decide the terms on which they should be sold.
New towns Bills are familiar to the House. The Second Reading of the first New Towns Bill was moved on 8 May 1946 by the then Minister for Town and Country Planning, whose son is a distinguished right hon. Member of this House. That Bill was not opposed by the Conservative party.
This Bill is the 17th whose title begins with the words "New Towns", but it is novel in two respects. It is the first to link in its short title new towns and urban development corporations, and it is the first to provide for the winding up of the Commission for the New Towns. For urban development corporations the Bill authorises additional finance and gives Parliament an opportunity to review their progress.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The Bill proposes to increase the borrowing powers of the urban development corporations from £400 million to £800 million. Is that not a distinctive part of the Bill and would not that discussion best be taken at a later stage when all hon. Members representing areas with urban development corporations can be present on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Gow
It is for the House to decide whether any part of this Bill should be taken on the Floor. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a motion can be tabled to have the Committee stage taken on the Floor. In both our experiences there have been attempts to do that, but in my view it is perfectly proper for the Committee stage of this Bill to be taken upstairs in the usual way.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because this might save time later on. I hoped that the Minister would agree with my thesis that a Report stage would be the most appropriate and effective time for his wishes to be fulfilled.
§ Mr. Gow
I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman and I apologise. I thought that he was suggesting that we should take part of the Committee stage on the Floor. I shall, of course, consider what he said.
For the new towns, the Bill is necessary to bring the programme to its completion. Our policy is to enable the new towns to become self-sufficient communities and to 162 disengage from special public sector involvement. The first purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the completion and subsequent winding up of the new towns programme in England and Wales.
As the House will remember, that programme was designed to bring about urban development of a high standard. Most of the first generation of new towns, designated between 1946 and 1950, were intended to reduce the population pressure in London and to promote economic growth elsewhere. The promotion of economic growth was predominant in the second generation towns designated between 1960 and 1964, and even more so in the third generation towns designated between 1967 and 1970.
On the whole, the new towns built under successive Governments have been a success story. They provide homes for 2 million people and, with few exceptions, those homes are of a high standard. Their surroundings are among the most attractive examples of modern British development. Firms that have set up business in the new towns have grown and prospered. The new towns have made and are making a most important contribution to the economic and social well-being of Britain.
The new towns around London are now self-sufficient communities and, with the exception of Basildon, their development corporations have been wound up. Successive expansions have made Basildon one of the largest new town developments in the country. It is not surprising that it will be the last of the London ring of new towns to reach the stage where its development corporation can be wound up. We hope that the Commission for the New Towns will be able to assume responsibility in Basildon on 30 June 1985.
At Northampton, Redditch, Skelmersdale and Central Lancashire the development corporations have almost completed their tasks. The Commission for the New Towns is discussing with those four corporations the transfer of their remaining assets and liabilities next year. That does not mean that the commission's approach will be a carbon copy of what it is doing in the home counties.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that, if it were possible for development corporations to sell their commercial and industrial assets before the date when the Commission for the New Towns comes into effect, it would do away with the necessity for the commission's involvement in such a new town?
§ Mr. Gow
I agree with my hon. Friend for Redditch, we estimate that the task will have been completed on 2 April 1985.
Each town has its own special circumstances, and I know that the commission under the chairmanship of Sir Neil Shields will respond accordingly. The three new towns in the north-east of England are held in special regard by those who live and work there. We promised to review their role before deciding whether to keep our proposed target date—31 December 1985. We have almost completed that review, and I shall make an announcement as soon as possible.
In the other English new towns—Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Runcorn, Telford and Warrington—much remains to be done. They are still expanding. We shall keep under review the extent to which the development 163 corporations continue to be required. At the appropriate moment we shall discuss the outstanding tasks with local authorities. Indeed, in some cases this process has begun.
Within four years the work of the Cwmbran development corporation should have been completed. On that basis my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has announced that the development corporation will be wound up on 31 March 1988.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
As my hon. Friend the Minister, said, Peterborough has not yet received a winding-up date from the Department. Does my hon. Friend accept that those of us in Peterborough—I think that I speak on behalf of the local authorities and the corporation as well as my constituents—feel that a period of about three years would be an adequate time frame within which to wind up the development corporation. We hope that the Minister will give us that length of notice before making a completion date for the development corporation's existence.
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), now the Secretary of State for Defence, announced in 1981 that the winding up of the new town corporation represented by my hon. Friend would be completed in the late 1980s. I cannot go further than that this afternoon. It goes without saying, however, that I shall be happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend.
In Scotland the five new town development corporations will be with us for some years. The Bill makes only one substantial provision about Scotland, to which I shall return later.
The Bill provides for the eventual disengagement of the public sector from its special role in new towns. Lord Reith and his committee, the masterminds behind the New Towns Act 1946, were divided as to what should happen to the assets of the development corporation once its task had been completed. A minority believed that the assets should pass to the local authority. A majority did not like the combination of the powers of landlord and the powers of local authority in the same hands. The 1946 Act allowed a wide range of options. The development corporation could be kept in being to manage the assets, or the assets could be transferred to the local authority, or a liquidator could be appointed to dispose of them.
By 1959 the issue had become less theoretical, and more urgent. The Act of that year set up the Commission for the New Towns as a continuing body to hold and manage the assets of new towns whose development corporations had completed their work. But that was not envisaged as a permanent solution. In 1976, the then Government, supported but not adorned by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, provided for the transfer of rented housing to district councils. That was not opposed by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
However, the Government have always made it clear that new towns should not be distinguished from others by the continuing presence of a dominant public sector landlord. We believe that when new towns reach substantial completion they should have thriving property and not only a thriving property market. That will introduce the magic of the market place. Frequently, that is not understood by Opposition Members, nor even the official spokesman for the Liberal party. We shall introduce the magic of the market place in a way which will benefit a new town.
§ Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)
By the magic of the market place, does the Minister mean that rents will be so high that people who own shops in the present town centres will not be able to afford them?
§ Mr. Gow
The hon. Gentleman knows that the rents which are fixed for commercial and industrial premises will be fixed in the normal way by the market subject to certain protections which are given to industrial and commercial tenants.
The changes introduced by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 allowed disposals on a substantial scale to encourage private sector participation. Nevertheless, there remained a dichotomy between the stated purpose of the commission to hold, manage and turn to account the property which it held, and the disposals programme which the Act authorised.
Clause 1 resolves that dilemma. It makes it clear that the commission's primary task is to disengage from its role as commercial and industrial landlord. The commission must have due regard to the welfare of the town and to financial prudence. There will be no forced sales and no disposals will take place contrary to the best professional advice. Those undertakings were given by my predecessor in 1980, and I repeat them now.
As the House knows, the commission has transferred almost all of its housing stock already. Tenants of development corporations have the same rights to buy their homes under the 1980 and 1984 Acts as local authority tenants. We believe that it is right to continue the policy of the 1976 Act by transferring the remainder of the rented housing owned by development corporations to the local housing authority. I hope that at least four such transfers will take place on 1 April. In some towns it may be appropriate to transfer the housing to housing associations. We hope to reach satisfactory arrangements with local authorities about open spaces, museums and community centres.
Clause 2 gives my right hon. Friend power to wind up the commission when its purposes have been achieved substantially. Such action will need the approval of both Houses of Parliament. The commission assumes at present, and will continue to assume in future, the responsibilities of development corporations when they are wound up. When the commission itself is wound up, the obligations will by then have been discharged, or some other public body will take them over, or the Secretary of State himself will do so.
The second main purpose of the Bill is finance.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
My hon. Friend skated rather quickly over community-related facilities, which in previous new towns were always transferred with income-producing assets so that the position was broadly neutral for the new authorities. Will that be the case after the sale of those income-producing assets?
§ Mr. Benyon
Not at all, if I understood my hon. Friend correctly. Is he saying that the new borough authority which takes over those assets will be in the same position as before—in a neutral position?
§ Mr. Gow
I hope so. However temporarily a Minister may be upon the scene, I hope that when he says that he hopes that something will happen, it will.
165 Since 1946, new towns have been financed mainly by borrowing. The only significant exception has been housing subsidy on the same basis as local authorities. If current expenditure could not be covered from revenue, the deficit was capitalised and met by further borrowing. It was always envisaged that this capitalisation of revenue deficits would be needed in the early years. In the case of the first generation of new towns the expected turnround was achieved, and since 1960 most have been meeting their debt charges and running costs and producing a surplus.
The development surplus arises from the new town corporation buying land at the price that it would fetch if there had been no new town, and selling it with the benefit of infrastructure and development. The surplus is at its greatest in respect of greenfield sites.
The system had worked well for the first generation and was adopted for the second and third generations. However, unlike the first generation, most second and third generation new towns are expansions of existing towns. Land was acquired at values which reflected the hope of development and consequently development surpluses were lower.
Many second and third generation new towns had sites which required substantial reclamation. That increased the amount of non-remunerative expenditure. The most extreme case was Telford where more than a quarter of the designated area was derelict, and more than 4,000 disused mine shafts had to be made safe. But Telford was not alone. Even first generation Basildon was given the secondary task of reclaiming and redeveloping the plotlands. Washington, Warrington and Central Lancashire have also had substantial reclamation expenditure. Second and third generation new towns have had to finance more infrastructures.
In the mid-1970s decisions were taken which, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see worsened the financial position of the new town corporations. Those problems were compounded by a less favourable economic climate. The second and third generation new towns were founded not during the boom of the 1950s and early 1960s, but against the gathering economic difficulties of the late 1960s and the 1970s. Interest rates were high and economic growth was low. The result was that the development corporations had large deficits to be capitalised by borrowing at high rates of interest. The loan charges worsened the revenue deficits, and the deficits spiralled.
In November 1982, my predecessor explained that legislation would be required to deal with this problem. As an interim measure, power to suspend temporarily some new towns' debt was taken in last year's Finance Act. Clauses 6 and 8 provide the solution envisaged by my right hon. Friend.
For the development corporations which still have a substantial development task, clause 8 gives to the Secretary of State power to write off sufficient debt to give a capital structure which is capable of being serviced by the assets which the corporations hold. Clause 6 allows grants towards the capital cost of some amenities and infrastructure. The development corporations will borrow only when there is a clear commercial basis for doing so. The essential infrastructure which cannot be financed by borrowing will be provided by grant.
166 For the development corporations which are to be wound up shortly, and for the commission, clause 8 gives to my right hon. Friend power to suspend sufficient of their debt to enable them to break even. The commission will continue with the process of realising assets. If investment is needed, it will be met from receipts. The surplus will be used to redeem debt. In this way, the assets of the new towns will be realised as quickly as practicable for the benefit of the taxpayer, who, after all, has financed the development. Clause 8 provides that write-off shall be by order subject to affirmative resolution of the House.
I turn next to clause 5. The House will remember that on 28 April 1982 my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to the chairman of the New Towns Whitley Council explaining that the Government had decided to withdraw the Crombie code compensation terms in relation to future statutory reorganisation in the public service. My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence wrote as follows:This decision was reached because Crombie terms have been increasingly difficult to justify. The Code was introduced at a time when redundancy benefits were far less widespread than at present and long before the introduction of the country-wide scheme of statutory redundancy payments. It is now anomalous and unfair to have a separate code of compensation solely for redundancies resulting from statutory re-organisations.He went on:I have now decided that Crombie terms should be withdrawn from staff affected by future housing transfers. I intend to seek the first suitable legislative opportunity to repeal section 54(4) of the Act of 1981 and thereby remove the regulation-making requirement. Staff made redundant as a result of housing tranfers would then be entitled to the normal day-to-day terms which apply to all other staff. Staff entitled to compensation as a result of earlier housing transfers will, of course, continue to have the benefit of the Crombie terms under the existing regulations.
Clause 5 gives effect, and in every respect, to the undertakings given two and a half years ago by my right hon. Friend—undertakings which, for the water industry, were implemented by schedule 3 of the Water Act 1983. To ensure that clause 5 applies to all the housing transfers in the present round, and in accordance with the former Secretary of State's undertaking, its provisions are made retrospective to the introduction of the Bill.
I promised to say a further word about Scotland. Clause 10 is similar to the power which the Government took for England and Wales in 1980. Its main purpose is to put beyond doubt the power of the five Scottish development corporations to dispose of land no longer intended for development.
The fourth and final purpose of the Bill is the increase in the financial limits for the urban development corporations. Most of their activities are financed by grants, a small amount by loans from the National Loans Fund. The current limit on grants and loans is £400 million. By the end of the next financial year Merseyside will have received £120 million and London Docklands £240 million. The limit must be increased before additional provision for grants can be sought from the House. Clause 12 increases that limit from £400 million to £600 million immediately and authorises the figure to be increased to £800 million by affirmative resolution of the House.
I welcome this opportunity to report on the achievements of our two urban development corporations. On Merseyside we have seen the success of the international garden festival, visited by more than three 167 and a quarter million people. Before the festival, the 125-acre site was derelict. Those hon. Members who have visited the festival will testify to the remarkable achievements of the corporation. I pay tribute to those achievements. About 45 acres will be retained for parkland and recreation. About 80 acres will be developed for housing and industry.
The garden festival is not the corporation's only success. The most important current projects are the restoration of the Albert dock warehouses—a splendid complex of 19th century buildings listed as Grade—land the restoration of the South docks.
In London docklands, an intensive civil engineering programme in the Isle of Dogs enterprise zone is nearly complete;£25 million has been spent on roads, drainage, and mains services. Commitments by the private sector have been secured for investment of more than £140 million in the enterprise zone. The projects include factories and offices, television studios, new headquarters for an international communications and media group, and—this will be of special satisfaction to Opposition Members—a building for the new printing works for The Daily Telegraph. Conversion of a former warehouse to establish the docklands arena will begin shortly. There will be a major indoor sports centre which will cost about £8 million to be funded jointly by the private and public sectors. A contract for the £77 million docklands light railway has just been placed. The railway is due to open in the middle of 1987. One thousand five hundred houses have been completed and sites are being developed which will provide for another 2,600 houses.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am happy to say, not all of it represented here.
As the Minister knows from a delegation which went to see him last week, one of the results of the development in the urban development corporations, particularly in the London docklands, is an increase in the price of land. It is of great concern to local communities that what is done by Government agency will not price local communities out of the market for land, housing and jobs in the areas to which they have first claim. Can we be assured that that will always be a consideration and requirement of the policies of the urban development corporations, both in London and on Merseyside?
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)
Will my hon. Friend say a word about the proposed STOLport? I am sure that he is aware that many hon. Members are keen to see that in operation as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Gow
No, I shall not give way. I have been extremely kind to the solitary representative of the Liberal party. The hon. Gentleman has had his intervention and I shall not give way again. I shall gladly give way to the hon. Member for Perry Barr but I shall not give way to the alliance party which makes extravagant claims in the House and which is represented, not very well, by the hon. Gentleman.
The taxpayer is getting good value from the money allocated to the two corporations. At 31 March 1984, £500 million of private sector investment had been committed in the urban development areas. For every £1 invested by the taxpayer, the private sector produced £2.50. Although excellent progress has been made, substantial work remains. On present forecasts, the £600 million limit in the Bill will be reached in 1989. The £800 million limit to which that total can be raised by affirmative resolution would be reached in 1991.
The Bill recognises the success of development corporations, both in new towns and in urban development areas. It represents a considerable step forward in the success story of both. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I thank the Minister most sincerely for his warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). We know that it was meant in a personal, not a party, sense. Nevertheless, we are grateful for his kind words.
With regard to the Minister's avid reading of Labour Weekly, I hope that he pays for his copy and does not have a free one. He used the term "recent conversion". I suggest that the civil servants have not done their homework, but I have no doubt that they will do so before our debates in the House on housing policy. They will see that the tern "recent" should not have been applied to what I wrote in Labour Weekly. I look forward to our debates on housing policy, but that is not what we are discussing now.
§ Mr. Gow
Did the hon. Gentleman support the Labour party's policy as set out in its 1983 election manifesto? Did he vote in favour of the Housing and Building Control Bill, which was before the House earlier in the year?
§ Mr. Rooker
We lost the last election. The Government constantly point out that they lost the election at which the promise was made to abolish the rates when we ask why they have not abolished them. Questions about the Labour party's last election manifesto are somewhat irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman asked me a straight question earlier. I stand by what I wrote and every speech that I have ever made in the House on housing. That is not a point of argument between us. It is there as a matter of record.
I respond today on behalf of the Opposition to the New Towns and Urban Development Corporations Bill. That Bill was not referred to in the Queen's speech. It was one of those measures referred to at the end in the sentence:Other measures will be laid before you.I accept at the outset that the contents of the Bill have been forecast and promised by Ministers for several years, certainly since as far back as 1979. I think that it was in 1982 that the then Secretary of State gave a commitment that the commission would not be wound up before the end of 1984. To that extent, the legislation has been on the books for some time.
169 The Minister gave us a historical rundown on the new towns policy. I do not intend to go over that. I agree with much of what he said. By any standards the operation and development of new towns—some 32—in the United Kingdom has been a success.
Anything that I or anyone might say by way of criticism of the tidying up or closing down or of parts of the Bill to which we might object is not in any way a criticism of those who have run the new towns or of those who have started up and run the corporations and guided them to the success that they enjoy today. No one can complain about 400,000 new dwellings, 700 new schools, 5,000 new shops and a massive transfer of population. About 1 million people moved to the new towns originally and they now have a population of over 2 million. By any standards that is a monument to the best traditions of central economic and environmental planning and the massive contribution that the public sector in Britain has to make to our infrastructure. That cannot be denied.
The private sector could never have tackled such a programme, guided as it is by the profit motive. Nobody ever said it could tackle it—[Interruption]. Does the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) want to intervene?
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
I should be interested to know who the hon. Gentleman thinks built many of the houses and shops if it was not private industry.
§ Mr. Rooker
That is not the point. The designation, the money, the guarantees, the loans and the organisation were due to the public sector. Of course the building industry built the new towns with bricks and mortar and all the other materials. I am talking about the financial enterprise. It could not have been contemplated, organised or seen through to the end by the private sector on its own.
The evidence of that today is the setting up of the urban development corporations. Clearly the private sector on its own could not tackle the problems of decay in the two areas of Merseyside and the docklands where we have the urban development corporations on which the Minister has given us an interim report. I am not that familiar with the docklands, but during the recess I spent a few days of my holiday with some friends in Liverpool. I spent some time looking round the Royal Albert dock, the other developments along the dockside and, of course, the garden centre. There is no doubt that considerable effort has gone into making those developments a success.
In the short time available to me since discovering that I had to speak in the debate I have read some speeches on the subject. They were commendably short; much shorter, indeed, than the Minister's speech today. My speech will be no exception, unlike the Minister's, to the short speeches that have been made over the years on new towns. In the past Conservative Members have clamoured to sell off public assets virtually irrespective of the return on the investment. It was always thought that new towns would be converted into ordinary towns, and we take no exception to that, but we object to some of the Bill's provisions and we shall, accordingly, seek to divide the House later.
In clause 1 the commission becomes, in effect, a realisation agency. That term is not in the Bill, but I believe that it is used by the Government in their notes on clauses. Indeed, the phrase "realisation agency" could 170 well apply to the Government as a whole. One Treasury Minister is reported to have said that if the Prime Minister ever got a third term of office the only thing left would be the Treasury. I thought that I heard a "Hear, hear" from the Government Benches. The point is that the commission's role has been completely changed into that of a clearance warehouse which will move from town to town, piling the assets up high and selling them cheap. The buyer is being told in advance that everything must go.
By statute a biased market is deliberately being created, although it is morally wrong to set up such a market when dealing with large public assets. Instead of holding, and turning to account, the assets of the new town development corporations so that they can be brought to maturity in the public interest, the commission is required to sell them when expedient. As the Bill states, and as the Minister made clear, the requirement to continue to have consideration for the welfare of those residing, working or carrying on business in the new towns and to try to maintain and enhance the value of the assets is a complete sham when there are orders to dispose of them as soon as is expedient. The term "expedient" can, after all, mean the use of a contrivance or device. The Minister said that the assets would be sold only on professional advice, but that is not contained in the Bill. When the assets come up for sale, we shall check—the Minister said, after all, that Ministers' words should mean something—that what the Minister said at the Dispatch Box comes to pass.
Part of the reason for our concern is clearly stated on page 6 of the latest annual report of the Commission for the New Towns, House of Commons paper 611. That passage makes it quite clear that the commission is already exceeding the Government's selling targets even though the property market is "weak". Once the Bill is enacted, the buyers will know the remit. When will the property market ever be other than weak if assets are to be sold? In those circumstances, it will never become strong. Consequently, public assets will go on being sold off more cheaply than would otherwise be the case.
Clause 1 also appears to give a substantial increase in Ministers' powers compared with the 1981 Act. Indeed, that Act is considerably amended by the clause. Ministers are obtaining new powers over the acquisition of land, the making of loans and advances, and the giving of guarantees. However, there is a power which I do not fully understand, and which perhaps can be explored in Committee.
I accept that Ministers already have powers over the making of gifts, but that power is apparently extended to include the disposal of assets for a consideration which is less than the best reasonably available. If that is so, Ministers would appear to be taking powers to ensure that assets are sold too cheaply. However, judging by the way that that part of the Bill is worded, it can be taken two ways. It has been implied that it would suit the social structures and the balance of the communities in the new towns if certain assets were packaged together in a way that might not necessarily conform with the immediate demands of private profit. On the other hand, the simple wholesale selling of assets to one buyer in a block, as proposed at Redditch, might result not only in the creation of a company town but in obtaining less cash than if the assets were sold in parcels rather than in one block.
I shall return shortly to the situation at Redditch, but why is it necessary to take more powers? Ministers already have power over the transfer and development of land, and 171 I assume that they have proved adequate. Do the new powers imply criticism of the commission or the corporations? Has the commission done a good job, or not? I do not understand why the new powers are necessary.
§ Mr. Forth
Is the hon. Gentleman implying that there is something inherently wicked about the private ownership of assets in towns such as Redditch, which is in my constituency? Or is he saying that, to be above criticism, assets in Redditch and anywhere else must be owned only in some sense publicly?
§ Mr. Rooker
I am not saying that. I shall come shortly to the position at Redditch.
Clause I will inevitably lead to what looks like the forced sale of the new town assets of land and factories, which were planned with structures of balance based primarily on the needs of the community. Selling assets in that way is like selling the seedcorn. They are being sold too soon, before the public have gained from the maturing process. That is what will happen once the Bill is enacted, but it is slightly different from the present position. Although the commission is under instructions to sell, the position will be different after the passage of the Bill.
I shall deal briefly with Redditch, which is the only new town on which I want to touch in any detail. It happens to be the nearest new town to my constituency. The development corporation is to be wound up, I understand, in April 1985. Since designation in 1964 the population of Redditch grew from 32,000 to well over 68,000 by 1983, and is probably even higher today. The present assets of the development corporation consist of about one third of Redditch's land, including undeveloped land and leasehold factories. I believe that in July 1984 they were all offered for sale in a job lot.
I understand that there were five or six serious bidders but that the number has been whittled down to two, with whom negotiations are currently taking place. One bidder is a group led by Tarmac, and the other is a group led by an American company. Neither group is prepared to talk to the elected borough council of Redditch. It is no good the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) shaking his head. Last night I was informed by the chairman of the planning committee that that was so. The bidders are not required by legislation to talk to the council. There is nothing in the Bill to require any consultation, or at least to require potential buyers of assets to talk to elected local authorities. We believe that there should be some communication between the elected council and potential large buyers of property in the borough.
I understand that recently the Secretary of State visited Redditch and had a 30-minute meeting with the council. I also understand that he promised that the sale would not go through on the nod. I do not know what can stop it going through on the nod. The buyers obviously want to be big people in Redditch town, because they want to buy up one third of the land, so I hope that before the Bill is enacted they will at least have the courtesy to talk to the council.
I understand that Redditch does not want to become a company town—
§ Mr. Rooker
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, although I suspect that he will want to make a speech if he seeks to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
We do not, in the 1980s, want to sell public assets and create company towns. I cannot imagine any Conservative Members wanting that to happen in their constituencies.
§ Mr. Forth
If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall make just that point. I have no connection with either of the companies mentioned by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I have always understood that anyone in a position to bid for assets in Redditch would be more than prepared to talk to elected local authority members. I know of no refusal to do that.
§ Mr. Rooker
If that is so, perhaps the matter can easily be sorted out.
One third of the land of the town of Redditch is up for sale to one buyer. Is that the best way to obtain the most money for the taxpayer? The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire might think that it is. Some buyers wanting to buy parcels would not enter into the bidding for a job lot. Selling something in a job lot is wholly different from selling it in parcels.
I use Redditch as an illustration of what might happen in other new towns. The selling of some new towns might be appropriate, although I would find that difficult to believe. However, in many circumstances that would not be the case. I should not want large owners of capital to think that they can walk into Britain and buy our towns.
§ Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)
Is my hon. Friend not surprised at the ease; with which Conservative Members accept the lack of competition in the case that he has described?
§ Mr. Rooker
There is no competition, because private discussions are taking place between two buyers. No one has opened any bids in sealed envelopes. We may never know whether Redditch has been sold so that the taxpayer, about whom the Minister spoke, gets the best return for the investment made over the years. The Minister said that he did not want dominant public sector landlords. We do not want dominant private sector landlords. That is the danger in Redditch.
Hon. Members will be pleased to know that I do not intend to go through each clause of the Bill. I shall refer to only four clauses in detail.
Having set up the commission in clause 1 as a clearance warehouse, clause 2 gives the Minister the power to close down the commission. No one expects the commission to last for ever. It was not established to last for ever, and none of us calls for that. Before it was born in 1961, some people thought that development corporation assets could be handed over, with resources, to local authorities. That view was not shared by everyone.
An argument put forward then was that local authorities were too small to cope with the scale of some of the assets, but following the Conservative Government's reform of local government in April 1974 that argument no longer stood, because the size of local authorities was considerably increased. Therefore, why have the Government not sought to give a greater role to elected local authorities? It shows the Government's abiding distrust of local democracy, which we shall see in other Bills introduced this Session.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the local authorities which he believes should take over the industrial sectors of any new town are singularly ill equipped to do so because of the role that they play and because of the need to administer a service to take over, for example, 500,000 sq ft of factory space in Skelmersdale?
§ Mr. Rooker
That may be true, but surely the hon. Gentleman is not arguing that there is no role for local authorities when the assets are distributed.
Clause 2 inserts a new paragraph into schedule 9 to the 1981 Act. Paragraph 7(l)(b) provides that when the Minister wishes to wind up the commission he can vest in himself or any other Minister of the Crown the assets which remain with the commission. He could also vest those assets in any other accountable public body. That is a nice phrase. I do not suppose that it is a new phrase— it might appear in other legislation.
I thought that an accountable public body might be a democratically elected local authority, but I turned the page and read:In this paragraph 'accountable public authority' means any statutory corporation a majority of the members of which are appointed by a Minister of the Crown.That is an accountable public body. If that phrase is used only so that the Welsh Development Agency and the English Industrial Estates Corporation can be included in the Bill, why were they not written into the Bill as such? Why seek to use a definition of an accountable public body which rules out, lock, stock and barrel, any involvement by an elected local authority? It only adds to my earlier argument about the Government's distrust of local authorities.
Clause 4 is acceptable to the Opposition, but I wish to ask the Minister a question, which I hope he will answer when he replies to the debate. In the making of grants for defective dwellings the Government take the power—I think that it is a new power, but I am not sure—to have grants returned if the local authority receives any payment in respect of defects that give rise to work. I understand that to mean that building contractors or designers of defective dwellings either are paying or will pay for designing and building defective homes. Can the Minister give the House an example of that? There appears to be no reason to include the power for the Government to take back any grants to local authorities if compensation is obtained as a result of suing the builder or designer.
I dub clause 8 the British Airways clause. It is complex, and I cannot deal with it in detail as it runs to three pages. It is included to make the sale of public assets more appetising to private profit motives. If we read that clause in conjunction with clause 7, it is clear that a write-off of public assets of up to £650 million is envisaged before the selling of the assets. That is shown by the difference between the borrowing limit in the Bill of £5.25 billion and its reduced figure from September 1986 of £4.6 billion due to write-offs.
I understand some of the Minister's arguments about the problems of the new towns during the early years of the Government led by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when the present Prime Minister sat in the Cabinet, and when there were record inflation and interest rates which caused problems in the early years of some of the third generation new towns, but clause 8 is clearly designed to whet the appetite of the private profit motive. That cannot be denied.
174 The Bill does not tell us how the 32 new towns can be prevented from becoming company towns. It does not allow the public purse to realise the full mature value of its investment over a period of nearly 30 years. Indeed, it allows what appear to be forced sales at what will be less than the market value. Why does it do that? The market concept in a statutory buyers' market is meaningless. There can be no magic of the market when the buyer knows that the seller must sell. It is appalling that that has to be spelt out from the Opposition Benches to a monetarist Minister for Housing and Construction.
For the reasons that I have outlined, the Opposition will oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
I do not know how the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) can find in clause 8 something which militates against the sale of an asset in the private sector, but no doubt we shall hear more about it later. For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, I should like him to know that I represent Milton Keynes, which is the largest and most successful new town development anywhere in western Europe.
In the short space of 11 years Milton Keynes, which was once the subject of music hall jokes—a place to which one sent one's mother-in-law—has moved to a place in the forefront of technological advance in Britain. We are very proud of it and of the system which has enabled it to achieve such a position. Therefore, I strongly support and welcome the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman said, it was not referred to in the Queen's Speech. Nobody was more surprised than I was to see the Bill. Nevertheless, it is most welcome.
I suppose that the winding up of the Commission for the New Towns is inevitable. My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear me say that I regret its happening. Ever since I have been in this House I have expressed my hope that the commission would be an embryo "Great Britain (Property) Ltd", which would sell the assets as they reached maturity, and then roll over those sums of money into further developments in the new towns or, much more important, into inner-city renovation. However, that is not to be, and one must accept that. I think the reason is that that principle—which could often be used in regard to other parts of public expenditure and play an enormous part in the continual renewal of the worst developed parts of Britain—is anathema to the Treasury. There is an insistence that the money be paid back to the Treasury, and then expenditure is authorised by Parliament each year. We know all the difficulties involved.
The real success of the new towns legislation has been in its role in pump-priming. The Government should not own things, and I am in favour of their getting rid of assets, but today there is an enormous role for the Government in pump-priming. We have seen the success of that role in my own new town.
I particularly welcome clause 8, to which the hon. Gentleman referred at the end of his speech. Its provisions have nothing to do with selling assets to the private sector. It provides for the financial reconstruction which is needed, not only in Milton Keynes, but in other new towns, and particularly in the future in the urban corporations. I notice my hon. Friends nodding in agreement. Clause 8 fulfils a promise, and it is always 175 pleasant to see Governments fulfilling promises. The promise was made in 1983. It is a necessary tidying up. It is a businesslike development and we welcome it.
For the first time in new town finance, under clause 6, grants, as opposed to loans, are being given. That is a very good and reasonable development, but I hope that the provision will be used sensibly. If the Minister in his reply says, "I hope so," I shall not quite know what to say. In reading the notes which were so kindly sent to us explaining this complicated piece of legislation, I noted the word "essential". In "Yes Minister" parlance, "essential" means "never", as everybody knows. I hope that the word "essential" will be read, not in the sense of "never", but in the sense of "beneficial". If it is, that part of the Bill will be welcomed in Milton Keynes, just as we welcome the other parts of the measure.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
I am pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am conscious of the fact that it is not very often that the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip makes a speech from the Back Benches. Therefore. I shall be brief.
I have two principal interests in the Bill. First, I have a constituency interest, as I represent the new town of Cumbernauld. Secondly, I have an interest as a former official of the National and Local Government Officers Association and parliamentary consultant to that union.
The Bill is one more piece of legislation which will encourage and allow further sales of public land and public assets at bargain basement prices, and I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). The Bill does nothing to tackle the very real problems of unemployment or the urgent need to regenerate industry.
New towns, despite their acknowledged deficiencies, have shown themselves in the post-war period to be one of the most efficient agencies for the creation of jobs and the attraction of inward investment. That is certainly true north of the border. It is an act of the utmost folly to disband specialist teams of staff at a time when the need for them has never been greater. NALGO and the TUC have recognised that in the past the role of the new towns and their lack of clear accountability to their local communities has been less than satisfactory. I shall not go into the issues that I have raised regularly in that respect on the Floor of the House.
There is no doubt that, given a change of brief towards industrial regeneration, and working in close co-operation with local authorities, the new towns could well be the catalyst for growth in many of the depressed regions.
There are two staffing implications in the Bill, and the Minister referred to one of them. Clause 3 makes optional certain requirements for housing transfer schemes under part III of the New Towns Act 1981, rather than the present mandatory requirements. Effectively, section 44(7)(d) of the New Towns Act 1981 requires that the Secretary of State should be provided with the basic facts about staff, both manual and non-manual, affected by a transfer scheme. That provision was built into the original Act at the request of the trade unions and after consultation with the local authorities and the New Towns Association.
The intention of the clause was to ensure that the Secretary of State was convinced that he could form a broad assessment of whether the staffing establishment of the new housing department had been drawn up in such a 176 way as to enable the district council to pursue sound management policies, and also to satisfy himself that the staffing protection arrangements agreed by the staff commission were correctly followed. The alteration in the Bill means that no longer will the Secretary of State have to be provided with those basic staffing facts, and therefore no longer will he have to satisfy himself on the adequacy of the staffing arrangement, for the management of the housing assets.
The buck will be passed to the local joint consultative committee and the staff commission and, effectively, the Secretary of State will have no accountability to Parliament for the staffing arrangements. Whereas in. the past we in the trade unions were able to make representations to the Secretary of State about any inadequacy in the proposed staffing structure of a revised housing establishment, in future the Secretary of State will be able to disclaim any responsibility for what is proposed.
Clause 5 removes the obligation on the Secretary of State to make regulations providing compensation for those staff who suffer a loss or diminution of emolument because of a housing transfer scheme. Clause 5 also revokes existing regulations. Essentially, the clause removes the protection of Crombie code terms of redundancy and compensation to staff affected by the transfer of housing schemes. Notice of this withdrawal was given some time ago and the public sector unions raised objections, but to no avail. I spoke in the House on the subject.
The unfairness created by this withdrawal in mid-programme means that some staff in the first and second round of housing transfers will have received this protection, while in the future others will not and will receive lesser terms of protection and compensation. In the past staff have received assurances that when statutory reorganisations take place and legislation is introduced for that purpose they will receive Crombie code terms of protection. Those assurances are now to be negated.
I draw the attention of the House, and particularly of the Minister for Housing and Construction, to those specific objections to what is proposed. I hope that the Minister will consider again the representations that have been made by the trade unions and will feel able to give a more positive response than we have had to date.
I appreciate the fact that Scotland does not figure largely in the Bill, but the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) — is present, and I suppose that he must justify his salary somehow. Clause 10 refers to the designated area of new towns. I hope that this, provision will not in any way alter the present arrangements for a new town in Scotland to add to its designated area if it chooses. I hope to make representations to the Scottish Office to extend in one small respect the new town which I represent. I have good reasons for doing so and I shall deal direct with the Minister on that matter.
If I may stretch your good nature, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall refer to something which is not in the Bill and ask for it to be included. The Bill is deficient in a number of ways, including its failure to include powers to enable the Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland to investigate complaints of maladministration from tenants of houses owned by the new town development corporations. Why is that so, when the Secretary of State for Scotland in a press statement issued by New St.
177 Andrew's house on 16 July 1983 gave a categorical promise that such a provision would be made as soon as possible?
The press release was brief and to the point. It said:Mr. George Younger MP Secretary of State for Scotland, has decided to extend the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland (the Local Government Ombudsman) to enable him to investigate complaints of maladministration from tenants of housing owned by New Town Development Corporations and the Scottish Special Housing Association.The Secretary of State's decision is conveyed to the Commissioner in a letter from the Scottish Development Department.The changes will require legislation and will be made when an appropriate legislative opportunity arises.
This is an appropriate occasion to bring forward that legislation. It would not tax the Scottish Office too much to come up with a new clause which would meet the promise in the statement of 16 July 1983. I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), will tell me on this occasion—usually when replying to a debate in which I participate the hon. Gentleman turns down every proposal that I make—that a new clause will emanate from the Scottish Office to deal with the points that have been made and to fulfil the promise given last July by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
For some time we have been promised a report from the Scottish Office dealing with the transfer of housing to other public authorities. I think I am right in describing it as the new towns report on the transfer of housing assets. I do not know when the report is expected to be published, but it is widely believed in Scotland that it is being held up.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)
It is at the printers.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman says that it is at the printers, but it has been there so long that one wonders what the hold-up is. I can only assume that the Government have sent the report to privatised printers. If we could have some indication of when that report will come out, the development corporations and the local authorities in Scotland would be grateful. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will be able to tell me something about these matters. I hope that on this occasion he will find it possible to give a positive response.
§ Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)
I welcome the Bill as it stands, although I hope to suggest a few improvements for the Committee to make. I believe that it is right to put pressure on the commission to dispose of its property and to push that action towards its final stage. It is interesting to note that it took a change of chairman — the replacement of Lord Northfield who was the previous chairman — to move the commission in the right direction. I wish that the same treatment had been given to the Telford development corporation when the chairmanship came up for renewal.
The Bill is correct not only for suggesting what will happen to the commission and moving it in the direction we wish, but for clarifying what we all now accept— that the third generation new towns are the last generation 178 and also that the problems created in the inner cities have been worsened by the policies introduced in previous generations. We should put on record the fact that the Government have thought it right to complete the work of those third generation new towns. At the last election, people put around the rumour that a Conservative Government would not complete the necessary duties and work of third generation new towns. It was pleasing to hear my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction mention Telford development corporation as one that still has much work to do.
It is interesting to recount the work that the Government have done—not necessarily always by virtue of the new town legislation—by providing motorways to Telford, a hospital and enterprise zones. It is important that the Government should carry on supporting new town areas with help through other agencies. Such help probably does more than the actual work of the new town corporation. With the likely announcement next week of the new development areas, I make a localised appeal: if the west midlands, as has been rumoured, is to receive a different status of aid, Shropshire on the edge of the west midlands area should be included.
It is because of the help that the Government have given to the new town of Telford that I welcome—I regret to see that he is not in his place—the challenge made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) about high unemployment in Conservative-held seats. In The Wrekin constituency, which is at the top of his so-called hit list, there are 7,287 males unemployed. This is tragic. He seems to think that that is good news for him, but we had high unemployment in Telford at the last general election and yet the electorate wisely decided that it wanted to retain not just a Conservative Member of Parliament, but a Conservative Government. It knew that even in areas of high unemployment the Conservatives were offering the best alternative and it was looking for the commitment that we had made for new towns such as Telford.
I suggest that there is still more scope for encouraging sales of assets, because my electors want to buy their own homes and my industrialists want to buy their own factories. I hope that we shall be able to push and persuade the Telford development corporation to sell even more of its assets, but I hope that those sales will be at a true valuation, less, in the case of tenants, the discounts to which they are rightly entitled. I say that because of a problem that we have had.
Three three-bedroomed houses have been sold by the Telford development corporation for less than £2,000 each. I admit that they were not in a good condition, and that my figure might be slightly inaccurate because the corporation has refused, even in confidence, to confirm the price at which it has sold them. The fact that the corporation admits that it is that sort of figure and the fact that the houses were sold not to prospective householders but to an Indian property developer from the west midlands cause me some anxiety. They were sold cheaply and they were not advertised, nor was the district valuer asked to comment on whether the valuation was fair. Many of my constituents would have liked to purchase those houses at that sort of price.
I hope that Lord Northfield, the chairman of the development corporation, will be instructed, possibly using the district valuer, to ensure that a true and fair 179 valuation is obtained for the assets that he is selling in future. That is important, and I regret having to raise the point today.
I welcome clause 4, which provides the powers for the Secretary of State to pay grant for the remedial work to be done on the defects in the housing transfers which took place before April 1981. This point may well apply in other new towns, but why does it relate to housing defects? A problem arises where the local authority has taken over from the development corporation responsibility for paths and pavements.
This may be only a small point, but on three estates involved—Woodside, Brookeside and Sutton Hill—poor workmanship when the Telford development corporation put in the footpaths not many years ago has resulted in a total bill of £500,000 for repair work. Those footpaths are described by the local authority as dangerous and in need of urgent work. I hope that consideration will be given to including for grant all works that have been handed to the local authority where abnormal costs are being heaped on to the local authority. Although we may be critical of the local authorities' expenditure plans in some cases, expenditure of this nature on footpaths should not come out of the rates or the rate support grant. That is important.
I should like to deal with the part of the Bill which relates to new towns' accounts, and particularly clause 9 which amends the New Towns Act 1981. I hope that consideration could be given to going a bit further in relation to the accounts of new towns. I want to give three examples which have caused me anxiety about the lack of accountability and lack of knowledge that my constituents and I have about the problems and expenditure of new town corporations.
I raise, first, the point about expenditure involved in commercial expertise used in pushing and driving for business abroad. We often see that our chairman and general manager are in Japan, Taiwan and America. That is all very well, but some people would like assurances that it is necessary for them and other members of the staff to go to such places and would like to know what money is being spent. I should be interested to know what is being spent on that aspect of the corporation's work.
The second aspect of expenditure which causes me anxiety and about which I have been unable to obtain a proper answer from the Telford development corporation is the expenditure that it has entered into for a report from the Henley Centre for Forecasting. I suggest that the report has little value because it is studying unemployment forecasts for 25 years hence. It is a highly political report.
I have asked three times how much the report will cost the corporation. I have made clear what information I want. The answer I have received is that the corporation hopes that enough copies will be sold to cover the costs. Each copy sold by the Henley institute costs £85.I wonder how many copies are being bought by private individuals and how many by public bodies! Perhaps other new towns are purchasing copies to justify this expenditure.
I believe that the corporation would not have entered into such expenditure without knowing its maximum liability. It is unfortunate that Telford corporation cannot or will not tell me what the maximum cost to it will be if it sells no copies of that expensive report.
The third example of the lack of financial control and lack of accountability is that of a company—I have referred the matter to the Secretary of State — that wished to come to Telford. We have heard from the hon.
180 Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) a suggestion about ombudsmen. I had hoped that the Bill would contain a provision to allow the public into all corporation meetings so that the press could report them. All local councils have to allow the press into meetings unless they have part II agenda items.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg
The hon. Gentleman will know that I have persistently endeavoured to persuade the Scottish Office, and to a lesser extent the Department of the Environment, to take that suggestion on board. I have singularly failed on the argument that commercial considerations had to be taken into account and that therefore the press and public could not be allowed into meetings. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is ludicrous that organisations which spend a great deal, of taxpayers' money are not openly accountable to the communities that they represent?
§ Mr. Hawksley
I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I go further and support the view that I believe that the Ombudsman should be able to investigate complaints as well. That was the point to which I was coming. It is important that people involved in new towns should have the same rights as council tenants and others.
It is important that the public should see what is happening because this third case that I wish to raise is about a company that wanted to come to Telford and create hundreds of jobs there. It first went to the corporation and tried to make a deal. The company tried to arrange terms on which it would go on to Telford development corporation land. The company was not happy with the offer that was made so it went to agents. The agents went to Telford development corporation again. The agents gave honest details and honest answers to questions but did not give the name of the company involved. It is interesting that the agents were offered a better deal than the company had been offered previously. At the last moment, when the corporation suddenly realised which company it was, it plainly decided that the company's face did not fit, because without any justification the corporation and its chairman decided to withdraw the offer that had been made. It is a tragedy that two sets of terms were offered to the same company, depending on whether the corporation knew the name of the company or not.
Those three examples suggest that the Bill should include more public accountability and public awareness of what a corporation is doing. A corporation should also be more helpful in the information that it gives to its Member of Parliament. I hops that the Bill will insist that there is more public participation because Members of Parliament, need to know answers to questions such as the three that I have raised.
I finish as I started, by welcoming the principles behind the Bill. It is right that the Conservative philosophy on which we were elected in June last year should be brought into matters concerning new towns. It is right that that philosophy should carry through to the sale of the assets and the final winding up of the Commission for the New Towns. That is what the public want. They want to buy their own homes and they want to see private enterprise working. That is why so many Conservative Members now represent new towns. The implementation of the legislation will make sure that at the next election, in spite of the efforts of the hon. Member for Perry Barr, not only will The Wrekin stay a Conservative seat, but every new town will be won by Conservative candidates.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)
Like the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley), I represent a new town —Runcorn. It is a second generation new town, created in 1964. In 1981 it was merged with Warrington, which is a partnership new town. Thus some difficulties were created because of the difference in category of the two new towns. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not welcome the Bill because it is a completely empty Bill. It will not do anything to alleviate the problems faced by local authorities when taking over new town property. None of the clauses will assist the local authorities.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I agree that there should be much greater public accountability. Like me, he must find that the following problem arises. People who live in or want to acquire new town houses go in the first instance to their local councillor. That is right and proper. They assume that their councillor, being a councillor, has some control over the situation; but he has not, and the public do not realise that. So either the councillor or the member of the public then comes to the Member of Parliament. I have no control over the situation either. Councillors and I write to new towns, which can be helpful, and I am not criticising new towns such as Warrington because they try to be helpful on many occasions. However, that is not the same as the democratic control that one has with an elected local authority.
§ Mr. Forth
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons for the great success of the development corporations, in the dynamism that they have been able to give to the new towns, is that they can make decisions quickly, sharply and effectively without being burdened with the accoutrements of accountability that local authorities have had to put up with?
§ Mr. Oakes
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the macro scale, but I am talking about the individual scale —the individual tenant—and the individual has to be shaped to the policy rather than the policy shaped to the individual. The hon. Gentleman is right about the overall scheme. The development corporations have had tremendous success.
The opening lines of the explanatory and financial memorandum state:This Bill contains provisions to facilitate the completion and subsequent winding-up of the new towns programme in England and Wales".That means that housing assets go to the local authorities concerned. They are extremely worried about the implications of that programme, and the Bill does nothing to alleviate their worries. Under the New Towns Act 1981, let alone the 1946 Act or the 1982 Act, there was no rate capping and there were no penalty clauses. Now local authorities are harassed and worried to death about rate capping and penalty clauses. The ultimate objective of the Bill is to transfer assets to the local authorities—to give local authorities something. Virgil talks about bearing gifts in the "Aeneid". I especially fear the Greeks when they are bearing gifts. These gifts have a new significance for local authorities. If gifts are given to local authorities, they may have to pay dearly; they may be penalised and rate capped.
I hope that the Minister will be forthcoming about the transfer of housing assets—although the Bill is not—to alleviate the worries of Halton authority. I am certain that that applies to all other local authorities in England and 182 Wales that will take over assets from the new town corporations. Warrington and Runcorn corporation receives about £9.6 million of annual subsidy in the housing account from the Government. When the local authority takes over the houses, will that subsidy be reduced? Will the local authority get that subsidy? If it does not, there will be a tremendous differential between the rents of local authority houses and those of new town houses, both of which will be administered by the same authority.
Where will the money come from for the repairs of additional housing stock? I know that clause 4 refers to expenditure on repairs by local authorities, but local authorities are worried about when they take over system-built houses in future. I invite the Minister to go to Southgate or Palace Fields in Runcorn, where system-built houses were erected in the late 1960s and mid-1970s. He would see the magic of the market place there. One cannot get tenants in, never mind owner-occupiers. Nobody wants to live there and those who do want to get out as fast as possible. The local authority will have to take over and spend money on those system-built houses.
In the jargon of the Department of the Environment, in which I was once a Minister, I should like to ask the Minister how the allocation of E7 grants will apply. The block grant has various formulas, and one is E7. As far as I know, it takes no account of the acquisition by a local authority of other properties. How will the block grant of local authorities be affected — those special local authorities that take over assets from development corporations?
That is an important point for Halton. Nearly 30 per cent, of the housing stock in the borough of Halton is comprised of new town houses. Therefore, one third of its housing stock will be taken over. Unless something is done about the E7 formula in the block grant, it will be disastrous for the local authority. It will be more than rate capped. There are enormous implications. Why does not the Bill deal with such major considerations? It seems to skirt around the periphery. I hoped that the Minister would at least mention some of the difficulties faced by local authorities when they take over development corporation assets. Warrington and Runcorn now contains an excellent social development office which is well staffed and which has been paid for by the taxpayer and central Government. Halton could not afford to staff and maintain such an office.
Then there is the problem of general maintenance of all new towns, and in particular of landscaping and all the things that make new towns something special. Local authorities cannot take over the maintenance side of what development corporations are doing unless the Government are prepared to pay for it. The staff of Warrington and Runcorn new town includes 143 people working in estates and promotion, and Halton council has one. Where will those 143 people go? Will they come to Halton council or will they be sacked? There is silence on points such as these. The local authorities, the development corporations and such employees need to know what will happen.
On manpower needs, the Bill shows that 5,000 people who work for development corporations are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the Bill. Some of them will go into the public sector in the local authorities, but local authorities, rate capped and penalised as they are, will be reluctant to increase staff and will be penalised by the 183 Department of the Environment if they take on such people. Some employees may go into the private sector, but many will become out of work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) drew special attention to clause 5, which will create an appalling mess. It says that the abolition of Crombie applies to certain categories of workers, but the continuation of Crombie applies to others. That is what the Government are doing with the employees of local authorities.
In my new town, landscaping was taken over by private enterprise, which is not doing a bad job. However, what will happen now? The Association of District Councils informed me at a meeting some time ago that the Department of the Environment is worried about the amount of money that new towns are spending on landscaping. Landscaping is an essential and important ingredient of new towns and in making them a pleasant and proper environment in which to live.
This is not a good Bill, it is an empty Bill and does nothing to allay the fears of local authorities. It wills the end that housing assets should eventually come under the democratic control of local authorities, and I agree with that. However, the Bill does nothing to assist those local authorities to finance what is being given to them. In Committee, the Government will have to be far more forthcoming on grants, aid, assistance and answers to many of the fears of local authorities, which will be the recipients of this dubious gift from central Government.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
Having long campaigned for the abolition of the Commission for the New Towns, I welcome this measure, which might be described as the Government's second paving Bill this Parliament — paving the way, as it does, for the commission's eventual dissolution.
Since my election in 1979 as Member of Parliament for the only constituency with two new towns—Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield—I have consistently supported the more realistic approach adopted by this Government to the new towns programme. At the same time, I have also consistently advocated the withdrawal of the Commission for the New Towns from those towns where its role is nearing completion.
For the new towns, today is, if not a red letter day, then certainly a blue letter day. Today marks the coming of age of the new towns, with the recognition of the maturity of the movement. Today sees the start of the end for a quango and the end of the start for the new towns. Soon they can be simply towns.
In 1980 I recalled in a debate in the House the Reith committee report, which said that the purpose of new towns is:To plan and design and carry into execution for the benefit of coining generations the means for a happy and gracious way of life.It is a tribute to new towns that, for many, such a way of life has been secured.
In 1981, in a book entitled "New Life for Old Cities", prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), 50 colleagues, myself included, put their names to a statement that looked forward to the regeneration of the inner cities, in part learning from the experiences of the new towns. That statement spelt out that: 184The Government needs to be seen to be taking a fresh initiative, adopting an approach which in the long term will result in less dependency on Government, less public intervention, with more opportunities for private enterprise, more scope for private investment and with far greater reliance placed on each individual.It is of particular significance that the Bill is addressed also to the future work of the urban development corporations, but I have to admit to certain reservations at continual increases in the overall financial limits, bearing in mind my attachment to the importance of private enterprise
In 1982, when debating the measure that became the New Towns Act of that year, I drew the attention of the House to the assessment of Taylor and Chave regarding new towns. I shall repeat the assessment, which is that:Its families have good homes. Its children have good schools. Work is varied and close at hand. Working conditions are good. There are wide facilities for active recreation. The strains of industrial life are reduced to a degree not achieved in unplanned communities.It is a matter of considerable satisfaction for those involved with new towns to be able to learn of such views.
In 1983, I promoted my own Commission for the New Towns (Abolition) Bill which, regretfully, did not enjoy sufficient parliamentary time but which did enjoy certain parliamentary support. I hope that, in some way, it contributed towards the Government-sponsored measure that we have before us today.
In March 1984, I took the opportunity of a motion on the new towns to bring to the attention of hon. Members the conclusion drawn by Schaffer in his book "The New Town Story" that:In the national context the achievement of the new towns must be judged by the collective contribution they have made to the problems of overcrowding, the progress they have made in the science of 'building for living', and the lessons they point for the future.That is further evidence of the value of the new town movement in providing lessons for the future, and the creation of the urban development corporations is proof of this.
Many new towns are now old towns. The time has come for the Commission for the New Towns to become a part of their history. The prologue to these towns was the development corporation, the main theme of the drama has been the commission, and the epilogue should be the attainment of normality. Such normalisation is long overdue.
The original role of the Commission for the New Towns was that it should take over from the development corporation the property responsibilities, and then transfer to normal town status, with local authorities assuming the usual responsibilities to facilitate this. However, it has to be recognised that it became increasingly evident that if the quango element of the new towns was to be ended a policy of positive disengagement was necessary. This meant the transfer of housing assets as well as community-related facilities to the respective district council, and the realisation of its commercial and industrial property assets so that private enterprise was permitted full involvement with the town, and the taxpayer permitted a return on his investment.
It would be appropriate to mention with appreciation the part played in this process by Sir Neil Shields and his colleagues. I must admit that I have not always been in perfect accord with the commission on the speed of asset disposal or the extent to which local people and local firms have been given preferential treatment, but my right hon.
185 and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have been subjected to similar pressure from me on behalf of my constituents.
Despite my welcome for the Bill, I must enter two caveats. An end date for commission involvement in each new town, which I have previously sought, is surely a necessary addition which would provide a spur to final completion of the process of disengagement. I have also previously sought an extension of the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate action by the Commission for the New Towns. That, too, might be advantageous in achieving a satisfactory conclusion to the sale of assets.
The original concept of the new town lay in the use of private capital prepared to invest in an exciting and timely venture. This was the basis of the garden city idea, of which Ebenezer Howard was the creator. Among the most eminent town planners associated with its development was Sir Frederic Osborn who said of the document, "Garden Cities of Tomorrow", that it was a case ofreconciling public interest with freedom of choice and enterprise".Howard and Osborn are inextricably linked with my constituency. So, too, is the Commission for the New Towns. For the goals of both founders to be attained, the Bill must become an Act. The opportunity will then be provided for the fulfilment of thatfreedom of choice and enterprise".
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I detect that the tide is all going in the same direction and that, albeit with reservations and some hesitation, people generally accept that the task embarked on some 40 years ago in establishing new communities in new towns is now on its way to completion and that the balance of urgency means that we should now take our investment elsewhere, to regenerate communities particularly in the inner cities rather than the greenfield sites on which the new towns were mostly built.
Perhaps I may allow myself a responsorial prelude, as the Minister himself indulged in one. I am sorry that he is so touchy about questions from the alliance Benches. He even used a somewhat uncharacteristic phrase in suggesting that my representation might be inadequate. That may be because he knows that in the urban development corporations' areas of Merseyside and docklands his own party has long since ceased to have any representation. In the last election it received 3 per cent, of the votes in Southwark and Bermondsey and that has been par for the course in the past couple of years. He may also be feeling a little tender in view of the rising tide of Liberalism around his south coast resort constituency of Eastbourne. Nevertheless, I hope that he will accept my comments on behalf of colleagues who represent urban and rural areas and, in part, new town constituencies and that our points will be taken on board as the Bill goes into Committee so that we can improve a measure that we support in principle.
The new towns are no longer new. The population of our country is stabilising. The planning goals that were aimed at have in large measure been achieved and we must turn our attention urgently to other areas. We hope that the Government's expected announcement next week of their 186 plans for regional aid will include plans to allow accountable representatives, a phrase picked out of the Bill by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), in the regions of England, and in Wales and in Scotland to make decisions about regional investment in housing stock and major new development. We hope, too, that, as in other legislation expected later this week in relation to the metropolitan counties and Greater London, the Government will see the wisdom of handing over more and more of the decisions previously taken in the new towns by non-elected representatives — by non-democratically accountable boards, as the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) said—to accountable bodies so that people concerned about their housing, their jobs, their communities and their environment have people to whom they can turn and whom they can reproach electorally if need be.
No one denies that the new towns have generally been a success. Like other hon. Members, I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting many new towns, including most recently Livingston in Scotland which I found to be an interesting, exciting and generally successful place although not without certain problems. New towns such as those in the north-east have had severe economic problems. Such problems are concentrated where there is no intrinsic employment, and so there has also been some sadness in new towns such as Washington.
§ Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)
What in the Bill leads the hon. Gentleman to believe that the powers in the new towns will go to democratically elected bodies? I certainly have not found any provision to that effect.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman well knows, as we have shared long nights of debate on another Bill, that the Government are reluctant to give any powers to democratically elected bodies. This will be one of a series of measures containing provisions which might have allowed powers to be passed more fulsomely to democratic bodies but do not actually do that. The hon. Member for Perry Barr referred to a phrase in clause 2 which gives hope to the democrat that once the commission is dissolved the Minister mightvest in himself, any other Minister of the Crown or any accountable public authoritythe powers being taken from the commission. Over the page, however, one finds the amazing new Tory definition that'accountable public authority' means any statutory corporation a majority of the members of which are appointed by a Minister of the Crown.That is a fundamental matter of principle to which we object wherever it occurs.
Nevertheless, under the Bill the development corporations will also hand over to district councils responsibilities and powers that the district councils ought in principle to have. That principle is right and we welcome that move. It means that for those communities life becomes normalised, as the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) put it. They cease to be new towns or special category towns and become proper towns. In that exercise, however, the Government must not allow the unacceptable face of capitalism to run away down the proper constitutional course. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield expressed concern at the willingness in the past of department corporations to give in to temptation and to prevent individual local households, occupiers or 187 business people from buying their own property while selling it en bloc to large property or investment companies. I believe that in Cwmbran there is grave concern that shopping facilities may be sold over the heads of the existing shopkeepers and pass out of their control, which is the opposite direction from that in which legislation of this kind should go.
§ Mr. Hughes
As the hon. Gentleman knows, many of us share the objection of his hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield that the initital sale is at relatively knockdown prices, but the individual does not have the benefit of that when the property is resold. I am sure that all hon. Members with an interest in the new towns will accept that the advantage too often goes to those best placed to profit from it rather than to those with relatively small assets, to whom the benefit should go if the theory and philosophy of the new towns is to be truly fulfilled. The assets of the new towns were intended to be handed over not to the banks and the insurance companies but to the communities which had moved out there to populate those green field sites. Not to recognise this is the great flaw in the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of the House clearly share the view that the new towns should be handed back to the people. I fear that that idea will be perverted as the unacceptable face of capitalism allows the exploitation of what had been public assets to the disadvantage of the people living there.
It is right that the Bill gives some discretion and flexibility in the timetable for winding up the commission. Questions of unemployment and of the proper realisation of assets may mean that it is appropriate for the anticipated timetable to be extended. I implore the Government not to rush helter-skelter into giving the commission encouragements and incentives to get rid of assets as quickly as possible. These sales must take place only when the time is ripe and when the communities are able to stand on their own feet economically.
There are financial concerns which are not addressed in the Bill but to which I hope that the Government will nevertheless address themselves. If they do not do so, the Bill will to that extent be hollow. First, it is right that when there has been a large measure of public investment, the Government should be able to recoup some of the profits into the national coffers. But, as the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) has pointed out, one must not hand over liabilities to local authorities without also giving them the resources to enable them to sustain programmes of public housing repair and renovation, public works, and incentives to industry and employment. Under the present Government, local authorities are very short of money. Tory authorities as much as Labour ones have been screaming because they are pinched too hard. The Government must realise that although those who live and work in the new towns—Milton Keynes is an obvious example—have been very grateful in the past to have benefited from Treasury cash directly, they do not want suddenly to find that in return for greater democracy they lose any guarantee of being properly funded when they need the money.
Many examples give me cause for concern. The Minister has told us that he hopes that there will be a net 188 balance between the loss-making assets such as community centres and sports centres and the profitable assets such as industrial plant, factories and warehouses. That phrase will linger with us as the Committee stage begins. I would be very happy to hear him also say that he will not tell his Department to ensure that the sale of the assets forces a hard deal on the local authorities. I am told, for instance, that Skelmersdale is being pushed into a very tight bargain which gives it little scope for manoeuvre and little reserve for the future.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
As the representative of Skelmersdale, I should like to suggest that the hon. Gentleman examines very closely all the provisions of the settlement between Skelmersdale development corporation and West Lancashire district council. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that he is looking closely and favourably at many of the submissions made by the district council. The hon. Gentleman may find that he is wrong to suggest that Skelmersdale has been subjected to tight financial limits.
§ Mr. Hughes
The case certainly deserves close scrutiny. I understand that the Department of the Environment, which influences the Minister in arriving at his conclusions, is looking closely over the shoulder of the new town development corporation in Skelmersdale to make sure that the deal that is arrived at with the local authority has stringent conditions. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman is able to help his constituents to get a better deal, they will be well pleased. I encourage him to try to do so. I hope that we have learnt the lesson that, whichever party is in Government, we must be wary of Government's desire to impose their will and interests on authorities far away from Whitehall.
To take another example, Milton Keynes has been developing as a new town should. Every year, therefore, the rateable value has increased and the services provided have been expanded. Under their local government finance policy, the Government set targets and supply money to help to meet the cost of the expenditure incurred by Milton Keynes. Milton Keynes cannot spend all the money that it acquires ever; year, when every year the rateable value and the income from rates increases, because the targets do not keep pace and if the town was to spend its whole income it would incur penalties. The new town fears that it will soon be obliged to abide by the Government's rules on grant-related expenditure. It would then discover-as other new towns have discovered- that it is spending more than the rules permit, and it would be penalised even more heavily. I ask the Minister to assure us that, when the new towns hand over, they will know that the local authorities which take over will not incur Government-imposed penalties for continuing to develop in the direction in which the Government and their predecessors have encouraged them to go.
In general, the Bill also gives little impression that the people of the new towns will, have any say in their efforts. In Central Lancashire new town, the three district councils carried out an opinion poll amongst residents to discover whether they would prefer their property to be transferred to the local authority or to the housing associations. Faced with that simple question, people opted in large measure for the housing association. That option has some advantages. However, in all cases where public assets are to be handed over, there should be proper consultation 189 about the whole range of tenure that is available—cooperative ownership, shared equity ownership, housing association ownership and council ownership. There should also be a guarantee that those who opt to remain in the public sector will not get the worst of the deal. There is a great danger that that might happen, and in Central Lancashire new town there is currently a keen sense of that danger.
There is equal concern about consultation with the business community. Will the Minister reassure us that shopkeepers or tenants of industrial sites will have a chance to acquire the assets that they have helped to build up? Those assets are the vibrant core of the new towns. They will prevent new towns from becoming ghost towns, and make them a success.
I have already alluded to the unsatisfactory definition of an accountable body. I hope that during the passage of the Bill the Minister will revise that definition. I am also somewhat concerned to know why the new town development corporations will continue to have nomination rights long after they have handed over domestic property. That is inappropriate. If the property is in the hands of the local authority, that should be the context within which decisions about its occupancy are made. The legislation is supposed to be marking the end of an era of greater paternalism.
One matter of grave concern is the fact that whereas clause 4 enables money to be given to pay for repairs to defects in the property being handed over—whether it is system-built or just ageing—there is no guarantee that money will be forthcoming. We have read in the press today that we now have the worst housing stock of any of the nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. We spend a minuscule amount compared with France and Germany—I believe only 2.1 per cent, of gross domestic product. When we have such a crisis we cannot hand assets over to local authorities without assuring them that they will get the money to ensure that the inhabitants will have a decent home.
In one particular respect the Bill is a muddle, although I suppose that there is a contrived logic for its form. The muddle arises because we are including in the proposals for new towns other proposals for increasing the powers of investment of the two urban development corporations. They came into existence only in 1981. The Government have now discovered that they may need more money. I and other hon. Members who represent dockland constituencies intend to request that the Leader of the House provides an opportunity to debate their progress before Christmas.
It is not enough to increase the possibilities of investing from the public purse without ensuring that the anxieties of local people are considered. It is inaccurate to suggest that more than 4,000 jobs have been created in the docklands. Many of the jobs are not new but relocated. Moreover, many jobs have been driven out. A good example of that is the haulage firm WBS, which operates from Surrey docks in Rotherhithe. It has to relocate because of a scheme to develop a marina and yacht basin and other wholly inappropriate things for that part of a working community. Jobs in Southampton for WBS employees are not much good when their families live in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. It is also inappropriate that the result of increased investment is the raising of property 190 prices to the point at which the Government's hopes of meeting people's aspirations are dashed. Down the river from where I live riverside flats are being sold at £225,000. Until a couple of years ago that area was meant to be run down. It is no consolation to prospective local purchasers that if they can afford £225,000 for a flat they will get the furniture thrown in.
It is no use using public investment to inflate the cost of land when we are not using public assets to support people who want to remain and work in their communities. I hope that, rather than talk as the Government often do about cash limits and the dogmatic principles of privatising, they will begin to address themselves to the economic circumstances of men and women and their children who live in new towns and urban development corporation areas. The Government should ensure that when the Bill reaches the statute book it is worthy of the aspirations of the people who, 40 years ago, planned those new town communities and gave many people hope. We are not far from realising those ambitions but, if they are not careful, the Government may squander these valuable assets by their dogmatic commitment to monetarist and capitalistic principles.
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
It gives me great pleasure to be able to support the Bill and to review progress in the Central Lancashire development corporation area. I was glad that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that residents in Preston, Chorley and Leyland were asked by the new town whether they would like to stay in the public sector, perhaps under a local authority system of management, or whether they would like to go to a housing association. I am delighted to say that in all three areas 80 per cent, favoured going to a housing association.
Clause 3 deals with what will happen when housing is transferred from new town corporations to local authorities. Have the Government worked out the details of what will happen when the transfer is to housing associations? If not, is there any need for an addition to the Bill?
The Central Lancashire development corporation has concentrated too much on housing. The original concept of having four houses for sale and one for rent was badly overturned by the Labour Government. When I was elected Member of Parliament in 1979 65 per cent, was rented housing and only one third of it was for sale. In other words, the equation had been reversed. We had to have a Conservative Government and a severe policy of no further housing for rent in Central Lancashire to redress the balance. I praise Ministers on their achievement in that regard. Housing sales are now going well. We also have the introduction of shared ownership.
There has been so much concentration on housing, especially rented housing, that necessary infrastructure such as roads and sewers has not been carried through. Moreover, the golden rule of new towns has not been obeyed. The golden rule is that houses must be taken with jobs. If there are too many houses, there are too many people and insufficient jobs for them. Conversely, if there are too many factories, there will be a shortage of workers. Central Lancashire's natural unemployment rates have been heightened by the concentration on rented housing and the failure to develop infrastructure.
§ Mr. Hind
Does my hon. Friend agree that the building of houses and the lack of provision of jobs has caused problems in Skelmersdale just as it has in central Lancashire? We face large-scale unemployment because of that. We must now build up the number of jobs and stop building houses and bring in the private sector to revitalise the industrial sector.
§ Mr. Dover
I agree with my hon. Friend, who brings me to my next point. There has been an outflow to Kirkby new town from the middle of Liverpool. Housing has been plastered all over green fields. There have been some factories, but there has been a further move to Skelmersdale and then yet another jump into central Lancashire. Public money has been used inefficiently. There have been massive public housing programmes involving 5,000 or 8,000 houses in each of those new towns. There are pleasant green fields around Preston, Leyland and Chorley which people will move into without being forced there. Kirkby has been built up and evacuated in many parts. Vandalism is running riot there. The same has happened to Skelmersdale. I am delighted that West Lancashire council is doing something about that. Moreover, rundown, clapped-out houses have been sold to the private sector at knock-down prices. There have been enormous improvements in that area.
Now there has been further expansion in central Lancashire. We do not want that. What we need now is not the massive new town programmes of the 1960s but a natural population increase. We need natural movements of people around the country in accordance with free market conditions. The Government's entire policy is based on that. When there is an announcement on regional aid in the next couple of weeks, I hope that it encourages people to move to areas where they can find work only if they want to go there. I hope that such movements will not be massively subsidised and that huge numbers of houses for rent are not built in areas where they are not needed.
I am delighted that the Bill includes urban development corporations as well as new towns. Now is the time to turn our attention to the inner cities. There must be a complete rejig of the programme, and I support what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said. I praise the efforts of the London Docklands development corporation and the Merseyside development corporation, because in those areas vast changes have taken place at a great rate of knots. That owes much to the vision of the people involved. We should contrast that with Labour-controlled local authorities in those areas, which for the last 10 to 20 years have tried to regenerate the inner cities but have totally failed to do so. That has often been the result of lack of agreement and petty politicking. Only through the efforts of Sir Nigel Broackes in London has there been this forward vision.
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said, I welcome the fact that people will pay nearly £250,000 for a flat in docklands.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Some development is to be welcomed. However, because the development corporations are unaccountable, if they hand over land for commercial use which should have been used for a local community use, there is absolutely no possibility in the future of recovering that land to the advantage of the local community. That is the dilemma we face. It is not sufficient for local £70 or £80 a week earners—if people 192 have a job at all—to see the best sites in their riverside communities go to those who can afford £250,000 for what may even be a second home.
§ Mr. Dover
I entirely agree. Indeed, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made that very point. We no longer need development corporations in the new town areas. We ought to be returning control to the elected representatives. However, it is a totally different kettle of fish in the context of third generation new towns such as Central Lancashire, where building is taking place around sizeable towns such as Preston, Chorley and Leyland. In London and Liverpool the areas are so run down that there must be a massive shake up. It is there that we need the unique and powerful responsibilities which such corporations have. However, I would be the first to say that we should return to local democracy and local control.
In Runcorn and Warrington I have seen the rivalry between the development corporations—some of which I have assisted as a management consultant with the National Building Agency — and the locally-elected representatives who feel completely left out. For many, years the local authority in Chorley has been unable to make fair and reasonable planning decisions because of the "big brother" new town upsetting the natural balance. The sooner that we can return control and decision making to the locally elected representatives the better.
Will the Minister confirm—this is vital to all those in the Central Lancashire area—that December 1985 will be the winding up date for Central Lancashire? For too long we have been railroaded by a big brother attitude, and green field after green field has been covered. We in that region must know for certain that the new town will end on that date.
I praise the efforts of the Commission for the New Towns under the chairmanship of Sir Neil Shields in winding up the assets of the new town corporations. Contrary to what Labour Members have said, it has sold not at knock-down prices but at the proper market prices for the properties concerned. Naturally it has told the Government, "We cannot attract more than £100 million or £130 million a year because the market will not absorb more." That might be why Ministers have set 1996 as the end date for the Commission for the New Towns. It could be argued that it should go earlier, and it will be able to go earlier if the natural market exists for selling off the assets.
In Telford and Redditch new towns private enterprise has submitted bids for large chunks of land. It is perfectly possible for private developers to bid a high price for large areas of land because they prefer to obtain a co-ordinated lump which suits the size of their operations. A company such as Tarmac needs to obtain large areas to make things worthwhile by operating on a large scale.
I cannot say enough about the need to revitalise our inner cities. We have seen successful exercises in London docklands and Merseyside. Several enterprise zones have been established. Given that dozens of new towns have been created in the last 20 or 30 years, and accepting that there are only two development corporations in London docklands and Merseyside, will other urban development corporations be established? If so, I recommend Manchester, where investment always pays off—as has been proved throughout the industrial revolutions—and 193 perhaps the west midlands, where in our second city there are vast acres of dereliction. Another docklands exercise could be undertaken there very profitably.
As in docklands, we must ensure that we get the right gearing rather than merely pumping in public expenditure. When there is three times the amount of private investment compared with public expenditure, there is commitment and a sensible expansion of facilities in line with the wishes of the people rather than the public sector railroading things through. I should like to see further urban development corporations in our major cities. As quickly as possible we should wind up the activities of the older new town corporations and concentrate instead on the efficient service provided by the Commission for the New Towns.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
I have lived in the new town of Peterlee for more than 22 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) will deal later with the problems and possibilities associated with that new town. For a number of years I have also represented the new town of Washington. During that time I have seen the provocative and non-provocative, the good and the bad and the successes and failures.
The Washington development corporation must be put into proper context. I remind Conservative Members, particularly Ministers, that Washington new town is located in the north-east. It is part of the borough of Sunderland and comes under the Tyne and Wear metropolitan county council. The whole area that I represent has been devastated by the Government's policies, and Washington and my constituency have not escaped from the effects. In a moment I shall give statistical data to support my argument.
§ Mr. Boyes
I have only just begun, and I wish to complete this part of my speech before giving way.
The figures that I shall use to illustrate my argument are minimum figures, because, as we all know well, as a result of statistical manipulation, the figures published by the Government and which appear in the press daily do not truly reflect the level and magnitude of unemployment in my area where the situation is now horrendous.
In the Sunderland borough, even on the Government's figures, 24 per cent, of males are unemployed—almost one in four. The chances are that in my constituency one in every three males is out of work.
To take Tyne and Wear as a whole—this will show that Sunderland is not a little black area that is different from the rest of the region—one in four or five people is out of work.
Youth unemployment in Sunderland is one in two or three. Nearly half of our youngsters are out of work. Some of them get into short-term schemes, but many of them, even after completing a short-term scheme, find themselves back on the dole. Long-term unemployment is hitting my area especially hard. Fifty per cent, of the unemployed have been unemployed for more than a year. That is the background to the problems facing the new town of Washington.
194 I do not wish to bore the House with figures, but they are vital. Conservative Members do not seem to understand the problems of the people whom I and my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) and for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Brown) represent. It is important that they understand our tremendous problems. The Government post code area levels of unemployment for Washington new town are 16, 16, 22, 35, 31, 26, and 23. Hon. Members must understand that I reflect the bitterness of my constituents. They do not deserve to suffer as they do now. What is worse, they know that their suffering is not a freak act but part and parcel of deliberate Government policy. Conservative Members will not only be remembered for that; they will not be forgiven for it.
§ Mr. Forth
In spite of what the hon. Gentleman has said, is it not true that his area has recently been in receipt of one of the biggest investment projects in recent years, partly because of our membership of the European Community and partly because of the confidence created by the overall economic policies of the Government? Will he concede that?
§ Mr. Boyes
No, I will not concede that to the hon. Gentleman, nor to any of his hon. Friends. I have described the magnitude of the problem and the hon. Gentleman cannot get away with silly points of that kind. We would need more money than there is in the whole of Great Britain to solve our unemployment problem. To pretend that a little sum from the EC will solve the problems of 250,000 to 300,000 unemployed people in the north-east is scurrilous and insulting to my constituents.
§ Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)
Will my hon. Friend point out that the prime mover of the project which the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) mentioned was Tyne and Wear county council, which the Government intend to abolish? Will he also point out that Washington was first planned as an overflow town for Jarrow, Hebburn, Boldon and South Shields? Male unemployment in Jarrow is 31.3 per cent. The Minister, instead of presenting silly little Bills such as this one, should tell the Secretary of State for Employment to get on his bike, cycle to the areas of massive unemployment and talk to the people who have no future because of the Government's policies. Then he will be concerned about unemployment and will not make silly little snide remarks about the miners' strike.
§ Mr. Boyes
I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. The passion with which he put his case and the way in which he talked about the town which he represents emphasise that, as I said, hon. Members who represent such areas reflect the passion and bitterness of their constituents.
An objective of pop music is to get into the top 20. The town of Sunderland has managed to get into the top 20, but only in the travel-to-work area unemployment list. We also talk about chart busters when we talk about pop music. Since the list was compiled—it is in the Library —the unemployment level in Sunderland has risen by some percentage points, and we would now undoubtedly be even higher up the list.
If the position were static, Conservative Members could say that the Government were doing something about it and that measures would be introduced to improve 195 it. But in my constituency jobs in the basic industries, such as shipbuilding, heavy engineering and coal mining, on which we have depended, are disappearing at a fast pace. That is not because of the inability of the workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who worked in the shipbuilding industry, knows better than I do about the skills, craftmanship and quality which went into building the magnificent "Ark Royal", which was launched recently. What will the reward of those workers be? More shipyard workers will hit the dole queue. There will be no reward or thanks for their achievement, but only the dole queue blues.
The north-east is famous for coal mining. What are the plans for the area in the secret document, which we have seen? There is not to be a coalfield in the north-east. We shall be lucky if by the mid-1990s we have four pits left. All those jobs and more will disappear. What about heavy engineering and the royal ordnance factories? I received a letter from the Ministry of Defence in which I was told that 600 more jobs would disappear. Some of my constituents work there.
Ministers do not lay their fingers on any industry in my constituency and in the north-east generally without its leading to further unemployment. My comments must be seen in the context of that gloomy background. We have lost too many jobs because the Government are operating failed, unproved, unscientific monetarist policies. No matter what devastation is caused, they continue to operate the same economic principles. It is vital to maintain job-creating agencies in the north-east. Those that are there are running against a brick wall.
I now turn to the point about employment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow. Nissan has just been brought to the north-east to create 250 jobs. We must put that in perspective for Conservative Members. We need 1,000 Nissans merely to deal with the current unemployment level and, because unemployment is rising at such a rapid rate, we shall soon need more than 1,000 Nissans. That is the magnitude of the problem. Obviously I am pleased, as are my hon. Friends, that Nissan has come to the north-east. I must point out that the agencies which did the real work to attract Nissan were, as the Government know, the Washington development corporation, Tyne and Wear county council and Sunderland borough council.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. This is a Second Reading debate. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the Bill.
§ Mr. Boyes
I am relating my remarks to the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if you will give me two more minutes you will see the pattern evolve. I wish to clarify this matter for Conservative Members.
If the Government have their way—I am sure that they will not—Tyne and Wear metropolitan council will be abolished. I believe that the Bills are being introduced this week. Had it not been for a united effort by the councillors, the development corporation and Members of Parliament, the job-creating agency of Washington development corporation would also have disappeard by now. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that 196 when he replies. It is essential to retain as many job-creating agencies as possible in the north-east to try to stem the tide of unemployment. We welcome Nissan, but I want the team that attracted Nissan to be kept together so that Japanese, American and British companies can be persuaded to move to the north-east.
§ Mr. Forth
I would be the first to concede that in this case the local authority did a splendid job, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to agree that it did it against the background of a stabilised economy, low inflation, improved labour relations in industry and the fact that Britain is a member of the EC. Must not the authority's success in attracting Nissan to its area be seen against that background?
§ Mr. Cowans
Perhaps my hon. Friend will ask the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), who seems to be making a speech parallel with his, whether we can expect him to vote against the abolition of the metropolitan councils. The hon. Gentleman seems to have been converted suddenly to the value of Tyne and Wear county council and the others.
§ Mr. Boyes
I have known the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) for several years, and I. am afraid to say that what he says with his mouth is not always reflected in his feet. I am sure that later tonight, as usual, he will be in the wrong Lobby.
The people of my area are anxious to know what the Government's plans are. The Minister said earlier that he would let us know as soon as possible the Government's plans for Washington development corporation. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has used that phrase to me every month for the past five or six months. Although I hope that the reason why the deliberations have taken some time is that the Government have come to the right conclusion about Washington development corporation, many people are wondering why it has taken so long to determine its future.
What is the Government's response to the discussions in June this year, and what are their suggestions for replacing the development corporation, if they do not agree with the ideas put forward by my colleagues from the council and the corporation? I hope that the Government will take this matter seriously. They must understand that, as the end of December 1985 comes nearer, the staff of the development corporation are becoming tense and nervous since their livelihoods are in the balance.
Clause 5 removes the Secretary of State's obligation under the staff compensation regulations that are known as the Crombie code. Although I accept what the Minister said earlier about the former Secretary of State for the Environment writing a letter of intention, that was two and a half years ago, and until the publication of the Bill the staff were uncertain about what would happen. They now realise that they will not enjoy the benefits of the Crombie code. From talking to officials concerned with this matter, I understand that negotiations began on the basis that the Crombie code would apply to the staff of the corporation. The Bill might be here now, but it had not been published when those negotiations began. That could lead to 197 difficulties for some workers, especially as the proposal will be retrospective. I hope that sympathetic consideration will be given to their anxiety, and that the Undersecretary of State will deal with this matter when he replies. Too often such difficulties have been minimised.
I am extremely worried for the people I represent, many of whom work for the development corporation. It does not help for the Government to say that there was a letter of intent, because those people live in an area of high unemployment, there is little job security and, in many trades, it is essential that adequate compensation is paid to staff who lose their jobs through no fault of theirs and must accept lower wages. I am especially worried about those on low wages, because a reduction of a few hundred pounds in an annual salary can have a massive effect on some people's living standards.
After consulting the trade unions, my understanding of the position is as follows. If the terms will be better than I have described, I hope that the Minister will intervene and give me an assurance that I can pass to my constituents. Previously, if a person working for the corporation, receiving a salary of £6,000), obtained a job with Sunderland borough council for only £5,000, the Crombie code would have assured protection for the worker until his salary reached a catch-up point. That protection has been withdrawn. If someone was, unfortunately, not offered a job by Sunderland borough council, but had five years' service with the development corporation, he would have been given a proportion of his present salary until he obtained a job. That protection has also been withdrawn.
I hope that the Government will take into consideration the fact that when those people accepted jobs with Washington development corporation, although it could be argued that they knew the corporation would be wound up at some time, before the letter of intent in 1982, their conditions of employment specified that, should they become redundant, they would be compensated under the Crombie code. I understand from my friends in the trade union that some people have accepted jobs in the belief that they will be protected. The Washington development corporation and the Sunderland borough council staff transfer has been handled badly. The Government should have given more consideration to such matters. However, knowing their political philosophy, it does not surprise me that they have not.
I agree with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes). Sunderland borough council agrees that it should receive the housing. I welcome that aspect in principle, although some safeguards are necessary. I agree that those who administer public sector housing should respond to those who live in it and not to quangos and non-accountable people. Unfortunately, the Government have not shown great interest in the power of the ballot box. I refer particularly to their abolition plans and the abandonment of elections for the Tyne and Wear county council. However, I accept that Washington has now reached a size and stage of development at which it is right and proper that the house transfer should take place.
Clause 3, among other things, allows for the transfer of houses on a day other than 1 April. The council welcomes that, because transfer negotiations are taking much longer than was expected. It welcomes the fact that 198 they will not have to wait a full year if the negotiations go beyond 1 April. However, I am not sure which will come first, Royal Assent or the agreed transfer date and what will happen if negotiations between Washington and Sunderland borough council are so delayed that clause 3 will apply to some future transfer? I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
I understand that Sunderland borough council has asked the Secretary of State for an extension of time for submission of a transfer scheme in order to clarify various outstanding issues. First, following a survey of sample properties, there could be a charge for remedying defects. As my hon. Friend the Member for Easington has mentioned many times, there were several problems after the Easington district council took over housing from the Peterlee development corporation. Secondly, there is the problem of the settlement of outstanding claims against Washington by developers under the building contracts. Thirdly, there must be agreement on financial matters such as subsidy arrangements and the refinancing of debts.
I hope that either this evening or in writing the Minister will reply to those three specific points. The timing of the transfer has become critical to Washington because several staff have already been transferred to the housing department of Sunderland borough council. I hope that the Minister will comment on the safeguards against those problems.
Clause 4 is inequitable to my friends on the Sunderland borough council. Following much debate, the Secretary of State now accepts that defects grants should be awarded for pre-1 April 1981 transfers where councils have found it necessary to carry out remedial work. They can see no reason why that provision should not apply to all councils which take property, irrespective of the date of transfer. Although Sunderland borough council will conduct careful surveys of a sample of the properties in Washington new town, it is possible—in fact it is almost probable—that defects will manifest themselves in properties after the transfer date, either because a defect is not yet apparent or simply because the random survey missed properties with defects.
Sunderland borough council would like to carry out 100 per cent, surveys of all properties, but that is a time-consuming and costly process. That must also be seen against the background of Government cutbacks in capital programmes and the use of capital receipts, coupled with the anticipated burden of housing defects legislation that has already been proposed and for which the Government are making no financial provision. Accordingly, the council will request that defects grants will be allowed to all councils that are about to enter into transfer schemes.
My colleagues from Sunderland borough council met the Minister this morning, but I have not met them myself since then. They came to see him to ensure that Sunderland borough council will not be financially worse off after it has accepted the properties from the Washington development corporation. I hope that the Minister will comment on that matter, but if not perhaps he will do so in writing later.
I shall vote against the Bill tonight. I do not want to repeat the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on clause 8, but I agree with his arguments and share his anxiety. The Bill reflects the Government's worshipping at the altar of privatisation. I do not trust—I use the words of the Minister— the magic of the market place. Assets, 199 resources and people's needs should be administered by democratically elected and accountable representatives. The Bill, as other hon. Members have pointed out, will lead in exactly the opposite direction.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
It is always both a pleasure and a challenge to follow the oratorical style of the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes). I shall do my best not to disappoint the House too much. Surely it is not without irony that it falls to a Conservative Government to fulfil the much needed role in our society and economy to review long-standing institutions and to judge whether they are still appropriate, given the basis on which they were originally established.
The Bill provides a good example of just such an exercise. I would put myself among all those who without exception today have praised the role played by the Commission for the New Towns and the development corporations. None of us has any doubt that they were the right institutions for the time and that they have fulfilled a correct, relevant, and valid role over the past 30 or 40 years.
It is the duty of every Government to look closely at the institutions in which they are involved and to judge whether they remain as appropriate for their role as they were when they started. In this case the Government have correctly drawn the conclusion that the commission has fulfilled its role and that it is time for that role to be wound up in an orderly and controlled way so that we may enjoy, as my hon. Friend the Minister put it, the magic and benefits of the market place, and of course that is right and proper.
I can speak on this subject because of a direct involvement. I shall reply to some of the remarks that have been made today, although I regret that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is not in the Chamber to hear me. I have the honour to represent the new town of Redditch, which is in my constituency. However, I should immediately add that I also have the honour of representing the town of Droitwich, which is again most ably represented by the Wychavon district council. Today I shall confine my remarks largely to Redditch, as that is covered by the Bill.
Redditch is a very good example of a new town which works and is a success. It was well planned and built and is ideally located in the midlands. With the completion of the M42, it will be even more ideally placed to take advantage of the economic recovery which we now enjoy. The development corporation in Redditch has done wonderful work in creating and developing that new town, but it is acknowledged that its role is coming to an end and that an end date has been set for its existence.
We heard some rather typical shock horror and panic-making comments from the hon. Member for Perry Barr which very much echoed the over-reaction of the Redditch local authority when it was first suggested that the development corporation, in a very bold move, should explore the possibilities of selling the town's commercial and industrial assets to a private developer. That was done quite correctly in a spirit of trying to do what was best for the town and its people, and of realising the best possible sale value for publicly owned assets.
I am glad to say that after an initial period of over-reaction the people of Redditch realise that there is nothing harmful or shameful about selling the assets of a town such 200 as Redditch to a private developer. Indeed, like me, the people fail to see any distinction between the ownership of assets by a reputable private corporation and their ownership or control by a body such as the Commission for the New Towns, which is the present alternative.
When the Commission for the New Towns was the only possibility on the horizon, people often expressed the fear that we would be controlled remotely from London by people who did not necessarily understand our problems. I do not think that that was tree of the commission, but nor would it be true of a responsible and reputable private developer. Earlier, the rather horrific label of a "company town" was bandied about, but it is absolutely meaningless. I believe that the majority of Redditch's trades people; and citizens think that if a reputable property or other company should make a reasonable offer for Redditch's assets there is no reason why it should not be accepted, in the full knowledge that it would then be in the commercial interests of that company to continue to promote the town and to use and realise its assets in the best possible interests of the company, the town and its people.
For all those reasons, the observations that have been made about Redditch have been completely wide of the mark and without foundation. I look forward to the development corporation making continued efforts in the most responsible way to pursue that solution as an alternative to the commission's involvement in Redditch.
One of the major reasons for the timely winding-up of the commission's involvement is that if it were allowed to continue indefinitely in its historical and present role it would be charged with the very difficult job of allocating resources to the new towns for which it was responsible. That would be a very difficult job, even for those experts now in the commission. However, if we could return the new towns as rapidly as possible to their rightful place in the market as successes—I speak mainly for Redditch, but I believe this to be true of the other new towns— they would then be free to make their own cases in challenging for jobs, employers and so on.
I cannot share the views expressed by Opposition Members, and particularly by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, or the assumption that the continuation of bureaucracy is necessarily the best way of guaranteeing employment for the people. There is considerable evidence to show that it is over bureau-cratisation—if I may use such a word—which inhibits revival in certain parts of the country and deters employers.
The development of employment must be seen to take place in an overall economic environment that is favourable to it. In the past five years the Government have striven again and again to create that environment. That is why the EEC is the correct context for economic growth, and that is how we can attract companies such as Nissan to the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] If it were outside—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Forth
It is only within the context of a stable and responsible economic environment that we can possibly hope for full economic recovery and the provision of jobs in areas such as the north-east and the west midlands. The 201 fact that Nissan went to Washington demonstrates that an important investor had confidence in the British economy. At the same time, it gained a manufacturing base within the EEC.
§ Mr. Cowans
If the hon. Gentleman considers that 4 million unemployed is a success, what does he consider to be a failure?
§ Mr. Forth
That may sound a good debating point, but I am not sure that it is relevant to the debate. I am not familiar with the 4 million figure, because earlier today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment said that the latest unemployment figure was, regrettably —I stress that—about 3.2 million. Of course that figure is far too high, but the answer to the hon. Gentleman's point is that unless we can continue to provide the correct economic environment for companies to be attracted to this country—whether Nissan or anyone else—there is no hope of real job creation. It is no answer for hon. Members to say that they want to employ 3 million people on Sunderland borough council or on the Tyne and Wear metropolitan council.
We must take wealth creation seriously, because the social services, the Health Service and the other services which we need to provide for our people flow from that. Nissan is an example of wealth creation. Computer services, banking and insurance all have a part to play, but they can only do so and flourish in a stable, predictable and confident economic environment. The Government have tried hard to provide that, and I believe that they have substantially succeeded.
Although all that I have said leads only to the conclusion that I welcome the Bill, I have some slight reservations about its tone and direction. For example, the proposed new subsection (l)(a) to the 1981 Act, as set out in clause 1(2), contains the phrasewith a view to its eventual disposal".The word "eventual" seems to suggest a leisurely and almost casual attitude. I should prefer the word "early" to be substituted for "eventual". That would help to set the tone for what we want to do. It is not that we are going to take our time or are prepared to see developments unfold as they may. There is a sense of urgency about this matter. Although we recognise the job that the commission has done, we feel that it is time that the job was completed and the market place took over in order to benefit the people of the new towns.
A similar comment can be made about new paragraph 7(1) to schedule 9 to the 1981 Act. It says:If at any time it appears to the Secretary of State that the purposes for which the Commission exists under this Act have been substantially achieved",certain things may be done. That should be:When it appears to the Secretary of State".The phrase "If at any time" suggests the countenance of leisurely procedure. I suspect that when my hon. Friend the Minister introduced the Bill he was going in quite the opposite direction. However, the words in the Bill are meaningful, and no doubt the matter will be raised in Committee.
I hesitate to suggest the possibility—but it does exist —that "we might consider introducing a finite time limit in the Bill. I recognise the difficulties of that approach, but it would concentrate minds wonderfully and provide a 202 framework of certainty within which people could operate the intentions and aims of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will seriously consider that suggestion.
I support the provisions in clause 3, especially that which introduces a flexibility into the date on which property can be transferred from corporations to councils. I know from Redditch that one of the great difficulties under existing provisions is that there can be only one transfer or one vesting date in a year. That makes the management of change of control or ownership difficult. It would be sensible and reasonable to introduce flexibility.
The measure is timely and appropriate and will benefit the people of the new towns. The Government have always said that they believe — and the Bill is a practical example of that—that bureaucracy may have its place and institutions may have a role to play, but that they are never for ever and their role must inevitably change. It is in recognition of that change of role that the Bill is before the House and is warmly welcomed by Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Dover
I noted my hon. Friend's remarks in praise of the private sector, yet he mentioned that the housing in his new town is to be transferred to the new authority. Did the new town tenants have an opportunity to say whether they wanted to transfer to a housing association or to the local authority?
§ Mr. Forth
I regret that that opportunity did not arise. In Redditch the transfer will be made direct from the corporation to the local authority. I and other hon. Members welcome that increase in accountability to the public and the tenants. In spite of the great achievements of development corporations over a long period, there has been a difficulty—as all hon. Members with new towns in their constituencies know—because of the lack of public accountability of development corporations. Inevitably, they must be in a position to press ahead and to make developments briskly, effectively and efficiently.
That reinforces the point that the time must come to make a transition from that development phase to restoring new towns to normality—a word used by one of my hon. Friends. The towns must become ordinary, real towns with a fully accountable local authority and with housing controlled by a democratically elected and accountable body.
Finally, I wish to transmit a message to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury)—I volunteer.
§ Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)
The Bill is a United Kingdom Bill, but it is largely of immediate interest to English new towns and their representatives. Not for the first time we are discussing a United Kingdom Bill without the benefit of the presence of a Government spokesman from the Scottish Office. That is simply not good enough. Although I recognise that there is only a minor reference to Scotland in the Bill, the Government must get out of the habit of treating United Kingdom Bills as English Bills.
I understand why there is no representative from the Scottish Office on the Treasury Bench—not for the first time, Scottish Ministers have been sleeping partners. Indeed, when they have been on the Treasury Bench, they 203 have been scarcely able to conceal their boredom as they polished their bottoms on the Bench. Having listened to the Minister today, I cannot blame them for that.
When the Minister introduced the Bill he referred to the Second Reading of the original Bill in May 1946. I presume that he has read the debate on that Bill. I have read it several times during the past 30 or 40 years. It is filled with extravagant and absurd language from Tory Members, including "Shakes" Morrison, who subsequently became Speaker of the House. They used absurd language about Hitlerism being introduced by a wicked, totalitarian Labour Government planning the lives of people — planning their houses, their roads, their schools. I am sure that the Minister enjoyed such extravagant speech. I suggest that my hon. Friends read the debate and recognise the thoughts of Tory Members in the immediate post-war era.
I represent Glenrothes, a new town in Fife, whose development I have watched from the laying of the first brick. It has a population of almost 40,000. It is a supreme and exciting example of what Socialist planning can do with public investment. It is interesting that that exciting Socialist planning for people, combined with the other prime example of Socialist planning, the National Health Service—both of which are marvellous examples of the principles for which the Labour party stands—makes the Tory Government want to pass them back to private profiteering hands.
§ Mr. Hamilton
If the hon. Gentleman persists in interrupting hon. Members' speeches, he will have less chance to make his own speech.
So successful has been the experiment throughout Britain that people have come from all over the world to see the Socialist-planned new towns. The latest annual report from the Glenrothes development corporation shows that visits were made during the past year by people from Bangladesh, Denmark, France, West Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Japan and Malawi. People came to see what a Socialist Government did for Britain in the postwar years.
I admit that, from the outset, there was great opposition to the development corporation from local land-owning interests. I have said before, and it is worth repeating, that Lady Balfour—a great landowner living in a great big house with massive estates — said to me, "Mr. Hamilton, why are you taking good agricultural land for houses when you could put people in high rise blocks of flats?" I said, "You live in a high rise block and I will attach some credence to your views. On this land we will produce not oats and barley but good crops of children." That is what we have produced in Glenrothes and in the other new towns.
Every school is new, every college is new, every house is new and every road is new. If I had to choose anywhere to live in the United Kingdom apart from where I now live, I would choose Glenrothes. There is provision for nursery education, primary education, secondary education and technical college education. There are also six or seven universities within spitting distance of Glenrothes new town. We in the Labour party are very proud of the exciting and imaginative project that we initiated.
It is interesting that the Tory party, with its ideological absurdities, is saying that new towns such as Glenrothes 204 are so exciting and so successful that there is great scope for handing them over to their friends for private profiteering. That was what the Minister meant when he talked about the magic of the market. I call it the squalor of the market, and I shall develop that point shortly.
There are great fears in Glenrothes and other new towns, especially in Scotland, about the serious consequences for their future development following the imminent announcement of the Government's new regional aid policies. It is true that the winding up of the development corporations in Scotland is not imminent. In an answer to an inspired — planted — question on 14 November, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that none of the new town corporations in Scotland would be wound up before 1990. But there are grave reservations about the Government's intentions with regard to development up to that time, and I shall give one or two examples.
The Glenrothes new town development corporation is now prevented—and has been for the last few years— from building houses for rent at all. I have here the 35th annual report of the Glenrothes development corporation, which has just been published. Dealing with "House Management", the report says in paragraph 33:The Corporation wishes to draw your attention specifically to the increasing problems which it faces in providing sufficient suitable dwellings for the single person and for the single parent family. 185 of the former and 108 of the latter were accommodated during the year, a figure representing over a third of the total lets. Young people wish to leave home at an earlier age and aspire earlier to have their own home. Because of home circumstances, many are able to present themselves as homeless: the waiting list for single people therefore continues to grow.In the introduction to the report, in paragraph 2, it says:The abandonment of the general mainstream housing programme has been a disappointment to the Corporation who felt that the maintenance of even a small programme was important to demonstrate the quality of the Government's commitment to the Scottish New Towns.In other words, the Government are saying, "If you cannot afford to buy, you are on your own. There is no house for renting in a Scottish new town."
Earlier in paragraph 2, the report said:Inadequate road communications are perhaps the most serious obstacle to the Town's success and the Corporation was disappointed that this failed to achieve recognition in the Fife Regional Council Structure Plan. There are signs that the two local authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to finance the essential infrastructure required for the Town to continue to progress.
Glenrothes development corporation is operating in the midst of predominantly Labour authorities — the Dunfermline district council, the Kirkcaldy district council and the Fife regional council. They are all Labour-controlled but have not the resources to develop the infrastructure that is vital to the continued success of the Glenrothes development corporation.
I quoted what the corporation said about the housing problem. There is an associated problem, and that is the proposed modification of the Building Standards Regulations (Scotland) 1981 and 1982. The modification of those regulations will be a green light for rabbit-hutch builders such as Barratts. Barratts has been let loose on Scotland and, as I have said before in this House and repeat with as much force as I can, it is building the slums of tomorrow.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, they are very expensive slums. One could not swing a cat in the living room of those 205 houses. The Government are saying that the building regulations in Scotland are to be modified so as to fit exactly the greed and profiteering ambitions of people such as Ban-arts. That is the magic of the market that the Minister talked about.
In principle, the extension of democratic control in the new towns is unanswerable. There has long been a feeling in Glenrothes—and I imagine elsewhere—that there is a bureaucracy which is unanswerable to the people. I was not in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) spoke, but I am sure that he has been campaigning for long for the meetings of new town corporations to be held in public. There is a long-standing grievance in that respect which should be remedied, whatever might be the prospects for the corporations.
It is the practice of the Government to fill the corporations with their own Tory nominees. In areas with massive Labour support, the Government put Tories in charge, and often they pursue policies that run counter to the wishes of the people. The same policy applies to health boards. It is a great concern of local people that, generally speaking, the corporation does not represent the wishes of the people in the town, and still less the wishes of the people round about. I take a less dogmatic view than the Government on these matters, because I see nothing wrong in having a proper mix of local democratic government and elements of private commercial and industrial enterprise, just as in any other town. But I suspect that that is not the motive of the Government.
Clause 10 makes sinister references to the availability of land for the Government to sell to their friends in private business. No Scottish Member can expect to receive replies to questions such as these. It is a waste of time asking them. There will be a Scottish Minister sitting on the Government Front Bench, but it will be the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) who will try to reply to questions about Glenrothes and about clause 10.
I hope that we shall have from the Scottish Office an explanation of clause 10 and what it means when it says that the Secretary of State will have power to take over land and sell it to private enterprise where the new town does not have a need for it. Why is that clause in the Bill, specifically relating to Scotland and not to the new towns in England? I hope that the Minister will reply to that question.
I shall vote against the Bill because I suspect the Government's motives. I suspect that they see this as another area in which they can reward their friends in the private sector by making available profit-making enterprises which have been built up with massive public investment over the past 40 years or so.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The Labour party has an adequate number of speakers on the Back Benches to speak on behalf of Scotland. I do not think—I may be wrong— that one Scottish Tory Back Bencher or a Scottish Tory Front Bencher has taken part in this debate. This United Kingdom debate is an insult to the Scottish people. I suspect that, once again, the Government have written off 206 Scotland, because they do not represent Scotland. They have no mandate to do this or any other thing on behalf of the Scottish people.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
It is extremely difficult to know how to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), but I shall attempt to do so. I enjoyed his speech.
I warmly welcome the Bill and the assistance that it will give to the Basildon development corporation and, most importantly, to my constituents. Privileged as I am to represent the largest of the new towns, the Bill affords me an opportunity to pay a warm tribute to the development corporation's chairman, Dame Elizabeth Coker. We are most fortunate to have such a person in control of that body. I pay tribute also to the general manager, Douglas Galloway, and all the staff who go about their duties in such a diligent fashion. That group of people, who have served through the terms of Governments of both persuasions, have created a town of which we can be truly proud. Basildon is one of the most exciting places in which to live. It has every conceivable amenity to offer people and is an extremely happy community, full of friendly East Enders and native Basildonians.
Not everyone thinks that the development corporation has done a marvellous job. Some people cannot wait to see it go. Some feel that Basildon has matured sufficiently for it no longer to be termed a new town and are anxious for the development corporation to be wound up. I have considerable sympathy for those whose properties and businesses are being compulsorily purchased as the pressure mounts on the development corporation to complete its land acquisition. Sometimes I wish that there could be considerably more flexibility in the implementation of the structure plan.
I understand the resentment felt by long-established residents about, as they see it, having a new town imposed on them. People in Basildon care passionately about their green belt. They are eagerly awaiting the time when the Minister defines it locally and are extremely worried about the erosion of any further open spaces. My hon. Friend is already familiar with my view on this matter. He might remember my asking him in an Adjournment debate whether, with the present rate of building, the Government intended rehousing the whole of the United Kingdom within my constituency.
In some respects, perhaps, the Bill concentrates the mind on just how much the development corporation has achieved in its task of building facilities in Basildon. I am not sure how widely that aspect is understood. The local authority is certainly extremely good at blurring the edges of responsibility. It is adept at taking the credit for the provision of services and facilities, which, more often than not, emanate from the Government, Essex county council and/or the development corporation. The blame, however, for anything that is wrong in the town is usually levelled at me, the Minister or one of the aforementioned bodies.
These matters have most recently come to light in "The House Magazine" which, last week, contained a full page advertisement, placed by the district authority at the ratepayers' expense, which contained a lie and this week contains another advertisement which is profoundly inaccurate. It would be nice if the district authority stopped its constant attack on Basildon. I am proud of my constituency and I am tired of people running it down.
207 I especially welcome clause 3, which changes the vesting date to quarterly dates, thus making the timing of housing transfer more flexible.
I am a little worried about clause 4 and its seeming non-appliance to Basildon. It is excellent news that grants will be paid to district councils for remedial works on defects in new town houses transferred to the district councils before 1 April 1981, but what about stock which is transferred at a later date? That is what worries me in dealing with my constituency. Basildon has a number of housing estates which face difficult problems, particularly in Langdon Hills and in the Laindon area. These properties are pleasantly designed inside, although one might easily criticise the layout of some of the estates. There is a need for a number of these properties to be underpinned because of the clay heave brought on by the drought in Essex a number of years ago. Underpinning is a costly exercise and causes tremendous problems to families when dwellings have to be decanted.
Many of my constituents are eager to buy their properties. They feel deprived of their rights when they are unable to get a mortgage because insurance companies will not risk such properties. The cost of underpinning properties can be prohibitive, and psychologically some tenants are reluctant to return to them, even after remedial work has been carried out. The circumstances which I have described—many constituents have contacted me about these matters—seriously undermined the whole thrust of Government policy in this area. We urgently need to rectify housing deficiencies in Basildon, and this need must be treated as a priority.
There are some interesting house designs in Basildon, but only this year I have been contacted by the Felmore heating action group, which is anxious about the district heating system, believing it to be expensive and inefficient. Thousands of my constituents are affected and many have expressed a preference for individual gas-fired central heating. It could be argued that a capital injection under clause 4, which deals with defects grants, will obviate the need for continuous grants in the future.
The development corporation still has a number of extremely important tasks to complete, not least the town centre. It intends putting a roof over the shopping area, which will mean that Basildon will have the largest covered shopping precinct not just in this country but in Europe. Tomorrow evening a public meeting will take place to discuss these proposals. Traders in the town centre have made it clear that the roof is essential to the well-being of our shopping centre. I hope, however, that the views of the residents in Brooke house — the only residential block in the centre — will be considered carefully before construction works are carried out.
Following the Minister's announcement that the development corporation will be wound up on 30 June 1985, all sorts of questions arise. I hope that development corporation employees will be treated fairly and well when the corporation is wound up. They have made a substantial contribution to the development of Basildon, and we must consider their job prospects. I am interested to know how and when the housing stock will be transferred. It is essential that my constituents who rent development corporation property are not inconvenienced through any transfer of this stock.
I am interested also in the manner and progress of the disposal of the development corporation's assets, particularly those of an industrial nature. In short, I hope 208 that I shall be provided with details of exactly what the change of status will mean for Basildon and my constituents. I trust that, when the detail becomes available, I shall be able to allay any anxieties that people may have.
I am delighted with the measures in the Bill which affect the development of docklands. Many hon. Members will be aware that I was born in the London borough of Newham and lived there for many years. It is ironic, and I find it amazing, that although the local authorities have been in control of the dockland area for a number of years, it is the London Docklands Development Corporation which is succeeding where other authorities have failed.
It has been an enormous task to develop the largest new town in the country. I am proud to live in Basildon. Its achievements are many. It can rightly be used as a model for others to follow. The Bill will enable the development corporation to complete the original task that it was given. I willingly support the Bill.
§ Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)
The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) said what a marvellous place Basildon was in which to live. I am sure that we all agree with that. I also live in a new town—the new town of Washington which is so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes). I represent another new town—Newton Aycliffe. Although the hon. Member for Basildon said that everything that the development corporation had done was not to everyone's liking, in his glowing praise he forgot to give credit where it belongs—to those visionary people who started the new towns movement so many years ago.
§ Mr. Foster
The hon. Member is generous. I only wish that his hon. Friends and Ministers would listen more carefully to what he has to say.
I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) remind us about those early debates when the first new towns were being brought into being. I reiterate his remarks that the new towns have been a glowing example of Socialist planning. That is what galls so many Conservative Members. They now say that those glowing examples of Socialist planning must be given back to whom they rightly belong. I could hardly believe my ears when the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) said that the assets should go back to whom they rightly belonged.
§ Mr. Foster
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire did not mean the people; he meant the private sector. This investment has been completely underpinned by the public sector—the taxpayers. However, the hon. Member said that, despite all the investment, dedication, vision, energy 209 and commitment of the staff of development corporations and the people who live in those areas, the assets should be given back to where they rightly belong. In his contention, they should be stuffing pound notes in the pockets of his private-sector friends. We reject that philosophy completely and say that it is an insult to all that dedicated work which has gone on over the past 40 years and which continues.
I found it difficult to understand the Minister, who is not in his seat at the moment, when he was singing the praises of the "magic of the market place", because new towns were brought into being through the imperfections and madness of the market place.
The only signs that in the north-east we have seen of the magic of the market place has been the great job disappearance act and the sleight of hand of the "quick buck" merchants, and that is the kind of magic of the market place that we can do without.
§ Mr. Boyes
I can, perhaps, emphasise that point, because the noble Lord Bellwin, speaking at a new town conference in Barcelona, said:As the Corporations provide the infrastructure so the private sector comes in behind.In other words, when we have done all the planning to have the new town ready for our people, in comes the private sector. The hard work has been done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said, and the private sector gets the pound notes by putting up the shoddy houses. The whole philosophy was epitomised in one sentence by one of the former Ministers of the Department of the Environment.
§ Mr. Foster
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. When he reads Hansard in the morning he will see that I have already referred to the fact that I live in the constituency which he so ably represents. He makes my point for me. The exciting new town development would not have taken place without public investment underpinning everything that the private sector was able to do. The private sector would not have come into these new towns without that infrastructure and investment.
I have poured scorn on what the Minister calls the magic of the market place. I regard that as an insult to the people of the north-east. I am worried about the new towns of the north-east; they were brought into being because of the inadequacies of the market place and were to become economic growth points. They would not have been necessary if the magic had been working, as the Minister tried to pretend. They were brought in to attract new jobs to the north-east which has suffered unemployment for so long.
Unemployment is as severe, nay, much more severe in the north-east than when the first new towns were brought there. We wish that we had the unemployment rates of the early 1960s, and which brought the noble Lord Hailsham up with his cap and bell to pretend that the Tory party felt compassion and care for the people of the north-east. We wish that we could return to those employment rates.
The development that has gone on in the north-east towns has been a source of great pride to us. The development corporations have been the outstanding job-hunting agencies of the north-east. What disturbs us so much at the moment is that the Government are still considering doing away with those successful job-hunting 210 agencies. The paper that the Government put up filled us with fear that they were expecting to put in the place of development corporations something that was completely inadequate.
We have nothing against the English Industrial Estates Corporation. We have a high regard for it but those of us who represent north-east new towns were clear that it could not provide the type of dynamism and successful job hunting which had been done by the development corporations for so long. We were not just proud of the development corporations' job-hunting success; we were proud of the comprehensive planning for the people of the new towns, the way jobs were brought in, and new houses, schools, community centres and a whole range of social and recreational facilities were built for the people who lived in the new towns.
We were proud of the way in which Washington blazed the trail of environmental improvement in the whole of the north-east. The landscaping of both industrial and housing estates in Washington was a great example to all the local authorities of the modern environment in which people wanted -to live. On top of that, we were proud of the community development that went into the successful planning of the new towns.
I was working on new towns about 12 years ago, not in the private or public sector, but in the voluntary sector, right at the heart of the attempt to achieve the community development that is absolutely essential if a new town is to take on a life of its own and to grow organically in the way that older towns have done and still do. There was a dedicated effort by scores of people who set up voluntary organisations. They got people to relate to one another when the first new houses were built. They identified the need for play groups, youth groups, over-60s clubs and a whole range of social facilities. The dedication of people in the public and the voluntary sectors made the new towns live.
All that effort has gone into the new towns, as well as the underpinning investment of the public sector, and energy and initiative have brought in the private sector, but the Bill is giving back the assets to where the Government think they belong—into the hands of the private sector. We completely reject that philosophy. We want those assets to remain where they really belong, in the possession not of a few of the people, but of all.
The Minister spoke of the taxpayer getting a return for all that investment. That seems a plausible argument. All that investment has been made in the past 30 or 40 years, so is it not about time that the taxpayer got some return? The Government are obsessed with the sale of assets. They know all about selling assets to make a return. We might accept the argument if the people of the area benefited, for example the people of Newton Aycliffe. Their housing proved defective because of building and design faults. If some of that return from the investment paid the £16 million bill facing the local authority because of housing defects, that would be a good thing. If the taxpayers and ratepayers of Newton Aycliffe were to enjoy some of the benefits from the sale of those assets, we might be persuaded that it was a good thing. However, the taxpayers will not benefit. Indeed, the ratepayers will foot the bill. They will be caned because of the measure. People will not gain as taxpayers and will be caned as ratepayers.
I should like to ask the Minister whether it is just and proper for the local authority to have to bear the bill of £16 million when it has a grant of £3.25 million or £3.75 211 million. Is there anything in the Bill to help that local authority or any of those people, some of whom have bought their own houses? One would think that the Government had some sympathy for them. Having bought their houses, only now are they discovering the defects, but do they receive any sympathy from the Government? They are told that there will be no grant for them. Does the Minister intend to include powers in the legislation to give back something to those people, to compensate them for the bills that they are now having to meet? It is not their own fault; the problems were caused by building and design defects when the houses were built many years ago. I hope that the Minister will give me an answer.
When the Minister for Housing and Construction referred to the magic of the market place, I wondered what he meant. Many people in Newton Aycliffe would have liked to buy their shops. They put together a cogent case and a feasible deal so that they could do so. However, they were unsuccessful and the Minister has left them to the magic of the market place. Will the Minister tell us whether those long-suffering tenants who have rented their shops for many years and made a great contribution not just to the commercial but to the social life of the town will be forced out of their shops, perhaps even forced out of business, because the caring merchant who takes over the new town will push up the rents so much that they can no longer afford to trade? The Minister should bear that in mind when he romanticises and dreams at night about his marvellous expression "the magic of the market place".
§ Mr. Foster
That is right.
What will the Minister do to preserve the total investment of the development corporations, the private sector, voluntary agencies and local authorities? How will he do so now that in new towns he is giving over a substantial part of it to private companies that may have a vested interest in the prosperity of the town, but have no interest in its social and recreational life? How will he preserve the comprehensive planning for people in the new towns that was right at the heart of the philosophy of the new town movement? Will the Under-Secretary tell us tonight when he will finish considering the review of the three north-east new towns? We have waited some four months and more to be told what will happen to those new towns.
If we thought that great consideration was going on in the Department, that people were racking their brains to discover a new, imaginative solution that would assist us to solve the problem of unemployment in our new towns, we might be a little more patient with the Minister. However, we suspect that the Government are trying to shrink from the only sensible solution to the problem, which is to retain the job-hunting function for the new town development corporations.
We are asking for a fairly limited number of staff. We are not asking for the continuation of a vast bureaucracy, but if we do not act soon those people will move elsewhere. Indeed, some have already gone. Who is to blame them for doing so with such uncertainty hanging over the corporations for such a long time? Even dedicated people must look after their own futures. The time when the Minister should have been making clear his intentions has long gone. If he cannot tell us tonight what they are, he must at least tell us when an announcement will be 212 made. He must not delay it for long because already skilled and knowledgeable people are leaving. They are going away from their areas, and they will be lost to the urgent task of winning new jobs to our area.
The future of those employees who are already in new town development corporations is a problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington has already referred. It looks as though they will have unfavourable terms of resettlement or redundancy. That is breaking faith with those long-serving public servants.
I know that Conservative Members look down on people who work in the public sector. They regard them as second-class citizens, as inferior persons who, if only they were better, would get a job in the private sector. We reject that philosophy. The Conservative party has proved time and again in the way that it denigrates the people in the education service, the Civil Service and local authorities that that is its philosophy. It may not be the philosophy of this Minister, but it is certainly that of the Prime Minister and leading members of the Government. However, that is no excuse for taking vengeance on people in the public sector, whose colleagues who left two or three years ago went under different circumstances. They should have the same conditions and terms of redundancy or resettlement. I plead with the Minister to rethink that aspect.
Perhaps the Minister will concede that the new town movement was a visionary one, and a triumph for Socialist planning. Even at this late stage, perhaps he will change his mind and understand that those assets should go back to where they belong. They belong not to his friends in the private sector and not to a few specialists or developers, but to the people. It is those people who have created the throbbing life of those new towns, and it is they who deserve to benefit from those assets, and to own them.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I am grateful for being called to take part in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I view with mixed blessings the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster). I may not agree with what he says, but he always makes positive contributions to our debates. Should he end up serving in Committee, his experience as a former chairman of the North of England Development Council, and his ideas about how he views that in the light of his subsequent experience of new towns, particularly of Newton Aycliffe and Washington, will be of interest to hon. Members. However, my view is coloured by the fact that when he was given the appointment of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition his local press reported that Derek Conway had been appointed as PPS to the Leader of the Opposition. That was not a good start to my career in the House.
It is of particular importance to me that I am able to take part in the debate because before my election I served on the board of the Washington development corporation, and I am named in the report, which I am sure that many hon. Members will have read before the debate. It makes interesting reading, with the exception of the part that refers to me. In addition to my connections with the Washington development corporation as a member of its board, the managing director whom we appointed to Washington came from Telford corporation, which adjoins my constituency. The general manager of the Telford corporation is a constituent of mine.
213 In the debate there has been much reference to the effectiveness of the value of the new towns programme, and on that all hon. Members are agreed. The new towns have made a positive contribution to employment, town planning and job attraction.
When I was appointed to the Washington development corporation board I was surprised at the level of commitment of those serving on the board. Much reference has been made today to the secrecy surrounding development corporations, and some relevant points were made. I believe in open government, but there are limits to everything, and I urge hon. Members who say that the deliberations of development corporations should be thrown open to think again. If the deliberations of the development corporation boards were to be made generally open to the public, it would have a marked effect on the business attraction. Many sensitive decisions and discussions have to take place that should not be made available to the serried ranks of the media. If we are concerned about the employment creation potential of the new town corporations, wherever they may be located, we must tread with great caution concerning the amount of public exposure that is given, particularly to industrial deliberations.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke about the method of appointment to development corporation boards. Hon. Members with intimate experience of development corporations will know that the hon. Gentleman made purely partisan points, because it is a matter of record that Labour Governments have appointed Conservative members and Conservative Governments have appointed Socialist members to boards, as have this Government, which have continued to appoint card-carrying members of the Labour party to development corporation boards. Therefore, such boards have not become one-party animals, and that is quite right.
I found of great interest the comparison between those members of the board who were lay members — what one might call the "housewife" members — and those who were there to represent business interests. The honing of the board's view on a policy was considerable, and lay members made a positive contribution to the development, in particular, of the social side of new town corporations. It was right of Governments of both political persuasions to ensure that such boards did not become a business man's preserve. I do not think that new towns could have prospered had that been the case.
Having moved from a local authority, I was equally impressed with the flexibility of the new towns' paid officers. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland spoke about the view of Conservative Members on public servants, but he will accept that that view is not held by all in the Conservative party, although it may be held by some. I am sure that the officials of the development corporation in which I served, whom I can claim to know well, were far from typical of local government officers—whatever a typical local government officer may be— but were certainly known for their commitment to the cause and for their flexibility and effectiveness.
It is difficult to make progress, but the Government are right to grasp the nettle in bringing forward this Bill. Progress has to be made because more and more new town corporations are concerned with the wind-up date and the effect that it will have on staff morale. Some staff may 214 decide that they will need to look elsewhere for employment, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said. The running-down effect on new town corporations is a problem that must be grasped, and a financial decision has to be made. In that, the Bill meets the demand.
Of particular concern, as was said by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), are clauses 4 and 14, which will affect the housing transfer. That was a thorny problem during my time on the board in Washington, and it has continued to be the case. I understand the reluctance of any local authority to assume responsibility for an asset that it may find dubious. It is right that the Government, in clauses 4 and 14, should be addressing this problem.
Later in the debate the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) will be making his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. I welcome that, as he and I are old debating partners, and I am sure that he will speak effectively for the Opposition. I urge my hon. Friends, especially those who subsequently serve on the Committee, to be wary of the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge especially on the housing clauses. He was chairman of the housing committee of a borough council on which I was opposition spokesman and I warn my hon. Friends as gently as possible to treat him with great care.
The Telford development corporation area is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) rather than my own but many of my constituents are employed there. After 21 years, the corporation can be said to have come of age and it is certainly very effective, having been set up initially to cope with the west midlands overspill. Since I have had the privilege to represent Shrewsbury and Atcham, however, I have become something of a gamekeeper turned poacher. Despite my great admiration for the work of development corporations, I have found that the interests of Telford do not always coincide with those of Shrewsbury. If the corporation concentrated on the environmental task of dealing with the overspill and on the job-hunting task, it would find no greater supporter, but it has tended to try to establish Telford as the county centre and in that I am its enemy. Its development of shopping attractions is certainly greeted with great concern in the more established and, in my view, far better shopping centre of Shrewsbury.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin that the Ombudsman should be able to intervene in the work of the new town development corporations and the commission. I believe that that is a very good idea. It has been suggested by Members on both sides and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment favourably on it today.
The hon. Members for Houghton and Washington and for Bishop Auckland well illustrated the employment situation. The annual report before the House shows that the development corporation on which I served has increased the number of jobs achieved directly by the corporation or under its aegis from 15,259 on 31 March 1983 to 15,549 on 31 March 1984—an increase of 290 jobs in the Washington development corporation area. The effects of the Nissan project have yet to come on stream. Telford has increased its total from 38,852 to 39,037— an increase of 185 jobs in an area sadly afflicted by 20 per cent, unemployment, which is more than twice the rate in my constituency. In addition, the effects of the enterprise zone agreed in January this year have yet to come on 215 stream. I am sure that that will provide many valuable jobs not only for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin but for my constituents. As page 302 of the report shows, the proposal is to establish a 275-acre site. The infrastructure for the enterprise zone is already well advanced and includes the Telford business park. I wish that project speedy success in its job-hunting potential.
The job-hunting role of the development corporations concerns Members in all parts of the House. The new towns have developed considerable expertise in job hunting. I have had experience both of a metropolitan county council and of a development corporation and it is clear to me that development corporations have a flexibility that local authorities cannot match. That is not a criticism of the individuals involved in local authorities. It is in the nature of the beast.
I am also concerned about the effect of the proposals to abolish the metropolitan counties. Regional officers of the Department of Trade and Industry have been able to use bodies such as the new towns and some of the economic development corporations set up to promote various special development areas as a kind of expense account with which the normal Civil Service routine cannot cope.
I was somewhat concerned and more than a little surprised to see the Department's regional director on television one Sunday contributing to a political debate on the future of economic development agencies in the north. I am surprised that a civil servant should publicly take part in such a debate and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to make inquiries about that. The debate itself was interesting, although rather specialised. The civil servant in question said that with the winding up of the new towns and the metropolitan counties some kind of job-hunting agency would need to continue in development areas. I do not know whether this is Government policy, but he espoused the view that a body not unlike the existing North of England Development Council, which is somewhat unwieldy at the best of times, should exist to handle the problems of that special development area. That may not be the Government's policy, but it was certainly expounded on their behalf by a very senior civil servant in the region, and I view that with great concern.
That does not mean that the Government should not tell the House how they envisage the job-finding role being handled once the new town corporations reach the end of their life. The figures that I have quoted show that worth of the new towns in job hunting is well established and of great merit, as I believe hon. Members on both sides recognise.
I believe that a date should be fixed for completion of the work of the commission as well as the development corporation. The development corporation boards should understand that they have served their time and done the country very well indeed. Their job has been appreciated not just by the people fortunate enough to live in their areas but by the country at large due to their positive contribution to economic development in very difficult times. Nevertheless, the time has come to move on. The Bill makes definite progress in that direction and should be welcomed by all involved.
§ Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)
I appreciate the reasons for the absence of the Minister of State, but I hope 216 that the Under-Secretary of State will apologise to him for my absence during his speech. No discourtesy was intended. It was impossible for me to be in the Chamber at that time. I also apologise for the fact that I may touch on points dealt with earlier by the Minister of State.
Like so many other measures these days—I had the privilege of speaking on another yesterday—the Bill epitomises the deep political and philosophical divide between the Tory party and the Labour party. The Government cannot wait to get rid of anything involving even a glimmer of public enterprise. Most people agree that the new towns have a great success story to tell. In a debate on 17 January on new town borrowing the Under-Secretary of State said that the staff and boards of the new towns had achievedresults that have made the British new towns world leaders in town planning and development.There is not much reservation or equivocation there, yet the Government cannot bear continuing success in public enterprise. They have to put a stop to it—hence the Bill now before us.
I can certainly speak for the achievements of the new towns of the north-east. I shudder to think what that part of the country would have been without Peterlee, Newton Aycliffe and Washington. Much has already been said by my hon. Friends about the achievements of those new towns. Later in my speech I shall say something about my own new town of Peterlee.
The Government pride themselves on being a pragmatic Administration, but all the evidence that has accumulated since 1979 shows that they are the most doctrinaire Government of modern times. If they really believe that they consider issues on their merits, they should reexamine the concept—not just the practice—of new towns. If they did so in a non-partisan fashion they would conclude that instead of winding up the new towns programme they should set up more new towns.
If the Government were to do that they would, apart from anything else, enable the new towns' excellent record in creating jobs to be maintained. I was delighted that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) devoted part of his speech to that record. Such praise from a Conservative Member was very welcome. The House need not take my word for it. I shall quote again the words of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the same debate earlier this year, when he said:I should like to pay tribute to the continuing achievement of the new towns in creating employment. Over the past few years they have sustained the remarkable performance of creating 20,000 or so new jobs a year—a vital contribution to the welfare of their own communities and to their regions".—[Official Report, 17 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 278–91.]That is high praise indeed. We are entitled to ask why, if that is so, the development corporations should ever be abolished.
The Minister will expect me to refer to the proposed winding-up of Peterlee corporation. As he knows, I have campaigned on the matter for three years—ever since the announcement was first made. I have tried to change the Government's decision to abolish the corporation on 31 December 1985. Like many areas of the north-east, my constituency has a high rate of unemployment. The rate is approaching 20 percent. My constituency depends to a large extent on coal mining, and we all know that the Government and the National Coal Board are determined to close pits which do not pay their way.
217 I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are a most tolerant man. I am tempted to devote some time to the dispute in the coal mining industry. The Under-Secretary of State shakes his head, but he must realise that if pits close in an area such as mine—where whole communities depend on them—they must be replaced by something else.
There are 12,000 miners in my constituency and I fully support their struggle against the Government and the NCB. Obviously, closures could occur in my area. In those circumstances, one might expect the Government to remember that there is a very successful job-finding agency in the Peterlee development corporation, which could continue to attract jobs to the area. That would soften the blow of closures. What lunacy has persuaded the Government to propose closing down that agency next year? The reason is simple. As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is a matter of pure dogma.
No fewer than 628 new jobs have been created in Peterlee since January this year. There are now 6,069 people employed in the town's industrial estates. This success has been made possible by a combination of the corporation's expertise and dedication, the skill and adaptability of the work force, and—I know because I visit factories there regularly—enlightened managements. The managements and work forces have received splendid co-operation from Peterlee development corporation. The corporation has attracted not onlyBritish firms but has some of the best known international firms, such as Fisher-Price and NSK. Those are the successes which the Government propose to sweep away by this doctrinaire measure.
I know that the Secretary of State is now reconsidering the proposal to wind up the Peterlee development corporation next year. It is unbelievable that it should have taken the concerted efforts of everyone in my constituency to persuade the Government even to reconsider that preposterous idea. I hope that the Minister will not simply go through the motions of consultation and reconsideration. Extending the life of the corporation is vital to the people of my area. Some 18 months ago the Under-Secretary took the trouble to visit my area. I welcomed his visit and I am sure that the experience was valuable to him.
My main criticism of the Government in bringing forward the Bill is that they have shown a complete lack of flexibility in dealing with new towns. That is an essential feature of their doctrinaire approach. In my view, the circumstances of each town—social life, industry, jobs, leisure facilities and all the other aspects which make for a full life—should be considered individually. It is wrong to take a blanket approach to the whole matter.
Some of my hon. Friends agree with me—although I know that I have not persuaded all of them—that the new towns should become a permanent feature of our normal life. We believe that they are a good example of Socialist practice and deliberate, enlightened planning. That is not something that we expect the present Government to provide, but I hope that a future Labour Government will incorporate in future legislation the best features, at least, of new town life.
Clause 4 authorises the Secretary of State to pay grants to district councils for remedial works on defects in new town housing transferred to him before 1 April 1988. I welcome that provision in principle, but—and it is a big but—we need to know in greater detail what the 218 payments are to be and how they are to be made. I was glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) also takes this view. I hope that no one will underestimate the importance of the matter to thousands of people in the new towns, at least those in Peterlee. At least one Minister has conceded that there is more defective housing in Peterlee than in any other new town.
I have several questions about new clause 4, which I hope the Minister will answer. First, does the financial assistance apply to privately owned houses which have been bought from the corporation or the district council? Secondly, what is the significance of 1 April 1981 as a qualifying date? Thirdly, are there any circumstances in which houses which were purchased or rented after that date could be considered? Fourthly, does the Secretary of State propose to have a ceiling on the amount of grant to be paid to district councils, or will the amount be determined by the number of houses which qualify for assistance? I should have thought that the latter would be the case. I hope it will be, as there will be much dissatisfaction and unfairness if some people qualify for grant and others do not.
Fifthly, will grants be assessed and administered entirely separately from the HIP allocation? If not, I do not see that we can make much progress on a matter that is of critical importance to some residents of new towns. That could lead to long delays in carrying out major repairs, which means considerable inconvenience and discomfort and, in the case of owner-occupiers, could involve large sums of money which they might find it impossible to raise.
The file that I have in my hand shows the number of cases with which I am dealing. I am sure that many other hon. Members deal with a similar number. The issue has become so important in my constituency that an organisation has been set up by people who are affected. I have regular meetings with them and have visited their homes. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the circumstances are quite tragic.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
Perhaps I could relate the experience of East Kilbride new town, which makes a handsome profit each year. One of the problems associated with system-built housing of the 1960s is dampness. They also suffer from rain penetration and involve high heating costs. The Secretary of State for Scotland would not allow the new town to devote some of its large profits to correcting those deficiencies. It took an enormous amount of pressure to get him to allow the new town to do that. I am not sure whether the same circumstances apply in English new towns, but, if they do, I advise my hon. Friend to put pressure on the Minister to ensure that some of the money made by new towns is spent on housing.
§ Mr. Dormand
That is an excellent intervention and is entirely relevant to what I was saying. The Minister will have heard my hon. Friend. I hope that clause 4 makes such provision.
It is amazing how many detailed problems crop up during meetings with constituents. Unless the Government give these issues careful and close attention, many people will be treated unfairly.
The Opposition are right to be chary about the Bill. With regard to new towns, the Government have given us 219 promises, half promises, broken promises and half-hearted measures, all of which have been well and truly mixed with a liberal helping of doctrinaire dogma. The mix has caused confusion among many people who deserve better from the original concept, which was eloquently stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster.)
I shall give the Minister the kiss of death. He is one of the more enlightened Members of the Government. He secretly believes that new towns have been and remain a success and that there is a place for them. On the many occasions on which I have raised new town matters, whether at Question Time, in speeches or at informal or formal meetings, he has been patient and genuinely interested in the problems that I have raised. For those and other reasons I am sure that, behind the scenes, he is doing everything possible to extend the life of Peterlee development corporation.
The Opposition are not suggesting that everything is perfect in the new towns. Far from it, but tonight we are debating the principle of new towns and their development. Hatred of public enterprise has been expressed in almost every speech from Conservative Members. When it is clear that public enterprise is successful—and it undoubtedly is in the case of new towns—Conservative Members can hardly disguise their venom.
When we first heard about the abolition of new town corporations, we thought that the Government would produce the whitest of white rabbits from the hat. Even we thought that the new proposals might be worth listening to and examining, but we have here a gallimaufry of a solution. There are bits and pieces from all over the place. Functions are to be divided between local authorities, the North of England Development Council, the English Industrial Estates Corporation and other bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland is the distinguished chairman of the North of England Development Council. We have no criticism of those bodies—they have an important role to play. The point is that the thrust and dynamism of the new town corporations will be diffused and destroyed. The dedicated work of new town staffs should be put on record once again. The Opposition oppose completely the Government's theories and dogmatism and I welcome the opportunity to vote against a Bill which epitomises the divisions between us.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
Perhaps I might begin where the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) ended. His conclusions completely misunderstand the point of the Bill. We have been told today that new towns were a triumph of Socialist planning. When, as I hope, he comes to the north-west, with other hon. Members who have used that expression, and visits my constituency—where in the new town of Skelmersdale 5,000 people are unemployed and the unemployment rate is 30 per cent—I urge him to bear in mind that triumph of Socialist planning.
Although some towns are succeeding—sadly, mainly in the south—many in the north have not been as successful as we would have wished. The root cause of that failure, particularly on Merseyside, was the desire in 1945 to rehouse the victims of the blitz in well built, modern houses away from the urban cores. As a 220 consequence, areas such as Skelmersdale were built which a number of years later were designated new towns. The houses were built, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) remarked, the jobs required for the occupants were never placed. Skelmersdale is a typical example. The burden of that decision and the designation must rest firmly with the Labour party.
I welcome the Bill as a realistic recognition of the situation. Areas such as Skelmersdale require jobs. Only today, I and council representatives from west Lancashire, including Skelmersdale, were due to visit my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to discuss the transfer of the assets. The Labour party has failed to understand that the dissolution of the development corporations will purely and simply return essential community assets—housing, and community and leisure facilities—to the democratic representatives who are elected to represent those communities.
One of the main problems in Skelmersdale is that the assets are controlled by people who are not elected by the local communities. Consequently, they are not representatives of the communities and are therefore not subject to the same democratic response as those who are elected. For that reason it is cant and rubbish to suggest any possible enlargement of development corporations once they have done the magnificant job—I pay tribute to them for doing so—of creating the new towns. Those assets must be returned to the democratic process, and that is the most important feature of certain parts of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hind
Normally I would, but several other hon. Members are still waiting to speak.
Those faced with the dissolution of the development corporations particularly welcome the intervention of the Commission for the New Towns. It will bring a fresh mind and new dynamism to the problem of attracting jobs to the new towns. In Skelmersdale 250,000 sq ft of empty factory space belongs to the development corporations. That amounts to a sixth of the factory space in the town. There is a need for a new drive and a new dynamic image for the town, and that can be created by the Commission for the New Towns, 30 of whose employees will work in Skelmersdale while 50 others will be working regionally.
The Minister must ensure that the resources are available for the Commission for the New Towns to promote the town of Skelmersdale. I am sure that all hon. Members will appreciate the worldwide contact and promotion undertaken by the commission to bring jobs to these new areas.
The district councils will inherit the problems associated with taking over the assets, and the Minister should bear in mind the number of problems that will be faced. Those councils will not have the carpet of money which is centrally provided to the development corporations, even though they will have to take over all the loose ends. The Minister will be aware of the representations made by the west Lancashire district council on that point.
We must first look at social amenities. The vast expansion of services in the town has grown faster than the development of community services. At the moment, the social development offices of the development corporation have four employees who will have to be replaced by the voluntary sector. Despite the burden that will fall on those
221 organisations, they willingly take on the responsibility. The Minister should ensure that they are given adequate resources from the community package.
The second major problem is housing. Over the last two years roughly C9 million has been spent by the Government through the development corporation to improve the 8,000 houses owned by the corporation in Skelmersdale. Regrettably, the standard of maintenance of those houses does not compare well with the standard achieved by the West Lancashire district council. There is a 12 per cent. turnover on new town houses compared with 1 per cent. on houses owned by the district council. There is also vandalism of empty houses. Empty houses are at present being renovated to be made ready for habitation, but, even when that programme is complete, 200 houses are likely to remain empty. For that reason, the Minister should consider more generous rules on the transfer of balances.
In particular, he should look carefully at the HIP allowance for West Lancashire district council and other such authorities to deal with their future housing needs. Those authorities will face increased planning and staffing costs, and an increase in the rate support grant targets for the district councils which take over the development corporations will be absolutely essential, especially regarding the maintenance of community-related assets and landscaping. I am sure that the Minister will consider the factor E calculation for district, shire and county authorities. If it is invoked in 1985–86 I hope that he will neutralise its effects so that it will not penalise those authorities.
There are other problems. The other services block allocation will cause great expense to district councils. I invite the Minister to consider those factors in detail when he works out the position of district councils.
The end of the development corporations and their transfer to district councils is a logical step. It is a return to normality. The sale of factory units to private enterprises is also a return to normality. Those of us who know how industry in new towns has taken advantage of grants—often manufacturing subsidiaries of companies based elsewhere—know that it is essential that they buy into new towns. Purchases mean commitment and an expansion of the industry in the town concerned. Therefore, that factor is extremely important.
The Bill is a logical step in the development of new towns. Hon. Members who have experience of new towns will realise that there are limitations to green field sites. I take issue with Opposition Members in that if in future there is to be special development we should look for it in the inner city areas. Major developments should take place in that urban core. A reason for Liverpool's problems is that it is ringed with many new towns that since their construction have sucked the life blood and jobs from the urban core. In future the life blood must return to the urban core. The Bill is an important step towards achieving that, and I welcome it.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Dr.Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friends have rightly spoken of the success of new towns as an example of Socialist planning in the immediate post-war period which has been extremely beneficial. The 222 Government's decision during the last Parliament to sell the assets of new towns is a kind of tribute, albeit perverted by Tory ideology, to the success of the far-sightedness of Socialist policy.
In his opening speech the Minister said that the purpose of the sale of assets was to allow the magic of the market to operate. My ears pricked up at that, because for a moment I thought that the Minister was about to announce a new Government policy. As their present policies are a manifest failure, I thought that he was telling the House that the Government were to resort to magic. We would have welcomed that, because anything would be better than what we have now. However, I realised that we were to have more of the same old stuff—their belief in competition.
That is all very well if the Government truly believe in competition. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) drew attention to what happened in Redditch, from which it appears that competition over the sale of assets can be limited. In large town centres, large property companies, developers and institutions, such as the Norwich Union in Basildon new town, can take up what the Government are offering them. The smaller shopkeepers and companies find it difficult to get into town centres. The possibility of acquiring off-centre shopping may be open to them. The competition about which the Minister spoke so grandly is all too often limited in a way which applies not only to the sale of assets of new towns, but generally in our country, where many industries are dominated by a few large companies.
My constituency does not have a new town, but there are several in Essex. The decision to build new towns in that county, and especially the decision to build the new town of Basildon, which neighbours my constituency, was extremely beneficial to Essex. New towns have provided social services, in that they have enabled people to move from overcrowded slums, especially in east London, to the Essex countryside. They have also brought jobs. Many of my constituents work—or used to work—in industries in Basildon, but opportunities for employment here have dwindled during the past five years, as they have dwindled in my constituency. Basildon no longer offers a range of exciting jobs, as it once did, in new industries such as telecommunications. The new towns have also brought good housing, although Basildon has not been without its housing problems, and welcome wealth to Essex. For those reasons, it is in order for me to refer to Basildon as an example of what the Government's policy means.
The transfer of houses from the new town corporation to Basildon city council is continuing, and Government representatives have met Basildon councillors to discuss the transfer and the extent to which the problems involved in taking over housing should be understood. Basildon councillors have argued that housing takeover and rate-capping should be considered together. They are unwilling to take over the housing assets if that is likely to give rise to additional penalties.
The problems with rates and rate-capping in Basildon became well known after the Secretary of State for the Environment referred to it as Moscow down the Thames. The councillors have little to do with Moscow, and I understand why they believed it necessary to discuss rate-capping with the Government. In the past, the Government have shown them little sympathy and they have had to hammer home the problems which they will encounter as a result of the transfer of more properties to 223 the council, on top of the problems which they already have because the Department of the Environment refuses to understand the difficulties in new towns such as Basildon, Harlow, Crawley, Stevenage and Thamesdown.
The problems occur because council housing is newer in those towns and because they cannot balance their housing accounts by matching the profit from renting older houses with the losses incurred on newer estates. That, with other problems such as an increasing elderly population, has put a strain on Basildon's rates, which have increased, and that is why Basildon is anxious that the Government should take due account of the additional problems of transferring housing from the corporation to the city council.
Instead of vilifying Basildon council, it is high time that the Secretary of State and other Ministers from the Department of the Environment paused for an instant and considered sympathetically the problems raised by their pursuit of ideology which affect the human beings who live in new towns which were once the proud assets of the state.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly. I am sorry that Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), should say that new towns are a Socialist idea. The hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Minister that he would give him the kiss of death and then went on to praise him. His claim that new towns are a Socialist invention is equally a kiss of death for new towns if taken seriously by my hon. Friends. I do not believe that they are, because they have had a positive role to play. New towns, like New Palace Yard, do not always remain new. Inevitably, we must realise that new circumstances apply and new arrangements must be made for looking after the future.
I had the pleasure of serving on the Joint Docklands Development Board some years ago. It made little progress. Therefore, I am delighted to see that provision is made in the Bill for further financial resources for the London Docklands Development Corporation which has replaced the joint board.
When I was chairman of the central area board of the GLC I had the pleasure of purchasing St. Katharine's dock from the Port of London Authority, conducting a competition and choosing some developers to proceed with the rehabilitation and the new development that now exists. I was able to purchase the land from the PLA and let it on a long lease to developers producing 10 per cent. return—which is a good return for a ground rent. I hope that eventually that property will be sold, because that was the original intention. The leasehold was kept initially to ensure that the development took place in accordance with the wishes of the local authority which had acquired the freehold in that case. That seems to be an ideal positive planning measure and its success was the reason that I was invited to join the joint board.
However, I found that body to be a waste of time because it produces interminable arguments between the nominees of the various authorities who thought that they could do better by having offices or shops in their parts of the dockland area rather than the open space which would not yield them much rateable value.
I am delighted that the London Docklands Development Corporation was set up and that it is already 224 a success. I am sure that it will continue to be a resounding success in the future. I am sure that there is nothing Socialist about the way in which it has been created. It would be wrong for Labour Members to claim that it was a Socialist invention. Clearly it was not.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman conclude from what he said a moment ago that the joint board, which has nominees from groups of authorities put together, ought not to be followed in any form of Government planning in future? We shall no doubt be embarking on some discussion of that issue. It is important that he gives his Front Bench the benefit of his experience and advises his right hon. and hon. Friends in the weeks ahead.
§ Mr. Thorne
It depends on who is invited to serve on the joint board. My experience of the local authorities which formed part of the joint docklands board was unsatisfactory. I hope that if any joint boards are to be set up they will be set up on a wider basis and introduce a lot more business acumen than was present on that joint board, because that was a disaster.
Some new towns have proved extremely worth while. However, in other cases they seem to have been set up for the benefit of the designing architects and planners rather than for anyone else. My constituency experience is that architects and planners are not always the best people for producing a satisfactory answer. Some of the biggest disasters won prizes when they were built. Those buildings and areas that my constituents cannot wait to leave were often developments that won prizes 10 or 15 years ago. I very much hope that in future we shall get away from that, and introduce a much sounder and more satisfactory commercial element.
I also hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will get on quickly with the Bill. I represent a constituency that has suffered because it has been deprived of finance with which to regenerate its town centre. The money spent on new towns has been taken away from constituencies such as mine, which should have had the opportunity many years ago to regenerate their centres. I sincerely hope that now that our town centre is at last being redeveloped this will not be allowed to happen again, and that the old areas will be given priority for regeneration over any new towns that might be under consideration in the future.
§ Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)
It gives me great pleasure to conclude the debate. Unfortunately, however, I do not take great pleasure in the Bill. But first I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who has already passed a note to the Minister. He is unavoidably delayed outside the House and cannot be here. I also thank the Minister for his earlier kind remarks. He and I are old Committee Room opponents from the days before he went to the exalted atmosphere of No. 10 and then went on to higher things—
§ Mr. Cowans
I said that deliberately. But I look forward to the hon. Gentleman and I crossing swords again in Committee.
The Minister rightly said that the new towns were a success story. Indeed, I think that all hon. Members would agree with that, although some Opposition Members might 225 have said that the success story would have been much greater if the Government had not filched public assets. I had to smile a little when the Minister used a phrase that I have heard many times in Committee and referred to the magic of the market place. He may have forgotten, but I have told him before that magicians have many tricks, of which one is sleight of hand. That usually means that they make other people's property disappear. If that is what he means by the magic of the market, we are both in full agreement, because that is exactly what the Bill does.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) has left, because perhaps he should have made his speech from the Opposition Benches. He asked for a return to democratic control, but he obviously has not read the Bill. He did not know what he was asking to be returned to democratic control. He cannot have read the Bill, because under it there is very little to be returned. Many Conservative Members say that they support the Bill but then make special pleas for their areas. It is remarkable how it clarifies the mind if one's own area is affected.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West was no exception to that rule. He obviously has not yet discovered that the Bill winds up the Commission for the New Towns, because he pleaded with the Minister for it to help his cause. I cannot quite see how something that has been wound up can help a cause, but that is what he asked for. After he has supported the Bill in Committee night and day, through thick and thin, and come hell or high water, he will probably ask the Minister whether the Commission for the New Towns can help him. Then he will find that it has been voted out and wound up. But perhaps, before the Division, it will cross his mind to stumble through at least the first few pages of the Bill. He will then find that he should be with us in the Lobby if he wants the Commission for the New Towns to help him.
It should come as no surprise to Conservative Members that the Opposition oppose the Bill. Quite apart from the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr, the Labour party always oppose and will always oppose what the Conservatives call privatisation, but what I call filching public assets from the people.
There is no difference between the Opposition and the Government on the fact that, at some time in the future, the new towns will have completed their work and something will have to replace them. However, that is not what the Bill states. The Opposition are concerned with the how, with the when and with what will replace them. Nothing in the Bill answers those questions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) has been a doughty fighter for our cause. He has on a number of occasions spoken about consultation procedures. I agree that there has been consultation with some local authorities. However, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) did not appear to know anything about a company town. My area has bitter experience of a company town—it is a town dominated by one employer, with the community having to dance to his tune. That is why a provision should be written into the Bill that all local authorities must be consulted not only about the small part that is unsaleable, but about the parts that are sold. Otherwise, the community will have a bad deal.
The common denominator in Conservative speeches was the need for speed, speed, speed—why cannot the 226 Minister go faster; why cannot there be a finite date for the winding up? Conservative Members cannot wait to get their greedy little fingers on the people's assets.
I wondered why Tory Members wanted such speed. Was it only their wish for the assets? Being a gentle hearted man, I looked for another reason. When the Minister leaned on the Dispatch Box, he said that one of the development corporations has a printing press for the Daily Telegraph. Being such a friendly chap, I obtained a copy of the Daily Telegraph—and having read a copy, I wonder whether its statement was the reason for speed. If it continues to print such statements, I shall continue to buy it. It said about the corporations:in the light of evidence that they cannot raise enough money from the sale of assets to service and repay their debts".The hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) may wish to speak to Mr. John Walker, the corporation's director of planning, who said:Government policies had forced the Corporation to sell 'immature assets' before they had reached their full market potential".Will the taxpayers get a good deal? I do not think so.
If the Minister wants to prove a case, he should tell the House and the country the original cost to the taxpayer of any assets sold and the amount realised from the sale. As one hon. Member pointed out, one three-bedroomed house was being sold for £2,000—and not to the sitting tenant. Is that a good deal for the taxpayer? I do not think very much of it. It would be interesting to see the difference between the figures before and after the Bill.
I am a very suspicious person. When the Government talk about writing off loans and giving grants, I sincerely believe that they are not writing off £650 million because they like somebody. I think that, having got rid of some of the goodies, they are left with the items on which the loans are accumulating, and to make them attractive to buyers they will have to underwrite them with the taxpayers' money.
There has been no reference in the debate to the substantial number of houses now requiring repair that were built by the magic of the market to which the Minister referred. It is the taxpayer who is being asked to underwrite the magic of the market. That must be a real embarrassment to the Government, and I would not want to cause them very much more embarrassment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was asked a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes). Will the Minister now reiterate a statement that he made to the House? He said:The corporation want to ensure that there is no costly legacy for local authorities when the corporation has completed its task and is wound up". —[Official Report, 16 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 132.]Will the Minister go further and write it into the Bill? Will he also ensure that no "costly legacy" falls upon the local authorities? No wonder we are suspicious. The Government are very keen to rate-cap and to impose financial limits on the public sector, yet the legacy to which I have referred is very likely to arise.
It is easy to look up the Parliamentary Under-Secretary's speeches. They are quite prolific. On another occasion he said:So, we are pressing on as fast as we can.That is not because it is good for the taxpayer; it is because he is being pressed by his hon. Friends, so that some of the assets can be realised.A major element in moving towards winding-up is the sales programme. This has three aims. First, it raises capital, which 227 can be ploughed back into the new towns for essential public sector investment." —[Official Report, 25 February 1983; Vol. 37, c. 1213.]Perhaps the Minister will tell us how much has been ploughed back. He said that the second reason was to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. If so, what about the C600 million and the C1,750 million that we are now having to pump in? In two out of the three, the Minister scored no more than one out of 10. In the third case, he did very well. That was when he referred to transferring public assets into the private sector. I will give him 10 out of 10 for that, but I should like him to state the cost of it to the taxpayer. As I said, I am a very suspicious person, and it is the taxpayer who is suffering. The infrastructure of the new town is supplied by the taxpayer, and the private sector is moving into that area. If we take the price of the infrastructure and add it to the realisable assets, we have a completely different set of figures.
At best, clause 1 makes the Commission for the New Towns a eunuch; at worst, it makes it a stockbroker of the Secretary of State. I had hoped that someone on the Government Benches would mention that, under the Government's policies, many of the new towns have turned into job-seeking and job-providing agencies. That view is supported not only on the Labour Benches but by Conservative Members and, indeed, by the Minister.
I can do no worse than quote the speeches of some Conservative Members. If the Under-Secretary of State will not listen to me, perhaps he will listen to them. Deep anxiety is felt in areas such as mine where job-seeking is a major industry and there is a high number of unemployed. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will listen to the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) who said:They are now essentially job-seeking organisations, having divested themselves of other functions. Secondly, if they disappear at the end of next year, they should not do so without Ministers giving further thought to the gap that will be created in attracting fresh investment to the north-east…but in an area of high unemployment we should be careful to ensure that what we end up with is at least as good, if not better, than that which existed hitherto".—[Official Report, 17 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 281–82.]Those are not my words; they are the words of a Conservative Member. Yet there has been not one jot of thought about what will take the place of those organisations. The Under-Secretary of State and my hon. Friends the Members for Easington and for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), to name but two, have made an important point. About new towns, the Under-Secretary of State said:Over the past few years they have sustained the remarkable performance of creating 20,000 or so new jobs a year".—[Official Report, 17 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 278.]
What might the development corporations have done if they had been widened, brought under democratic control and given more resources? If one takes one set of figures, 3 million people are unemployed; if one takes the real set of figures, 4 million people are unemployed. The figure of 20,000 is a drop in the ocean, yet even those jobs are to be done away with.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington talked about the great measure for the north-east—the advent of Nissan. That project was a joint venture between the Washington development corporation, the Tyne and Wear development corporation and—I am not frightened to say it—the Government. Does any hon. 228 Member realise that, if it had been some time since legislation such as this was passed, that type of operation would have been impossible? In all probability, under this dogmatic approach, the land would have been sold off to the private sector. Where would Nissan have gone? It would probably have gone to France or Germany. How many jobs would have been lost from the north-east? That is the type of nonsense perpetrated by the Bill.
While the Government shed crocodile tears about unemployment—we watch them here every day and on television and, if one is gullible, one could believe them—they are in a position to do something by retaining these new towns where the job-seeking agencies are so important. The Government decided, however, to do away with the new towns quickly. That will happen on a statutory date selected by the Secretary of State.
The Government have made a blatant decision to get the staff off the Government payroll and put them on to the payroll of local authorities. Once that happens, the Government will rate-cap the local authorities and accuse them of profligate spending. What will happen to all the expertise and experience gathered over the years in job seeking and job providing? Sometimes it is bitter experience, but hard lessons have been learnt. Is that experience to be wasted? Would it not be better, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington suggested, to widen the net and give the development corporations the opportunity to provide jobs rather than waste completely the experience gathered over the years? The difference between the Government and the Opposition is clear. The Government clearly believe that development corporations have reached the end of their life. The Opposition have grave doubts that that is the case. They have even graver doubts because nothing is to be put in their place. Instead of allowing the development corporations to continue their good work, they are to be wound up and abolished. The Government had two options. They could have transferred the services and resources to the local authorities or widened the functions of the new towns.
The Government are obsessed with abolition and the public sector. They do not set out to create anything; they pull things down. They do not plan for the long-term; they chase the fast and easy buck in the short term, and for those reasons the Opposition will oppose the Bill.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
I know that I speak on behalf of both sides of the House when I congratulate the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) on his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box. Many of us have enjoyed his interventions in Committee, particularly on the Rates Bill 1984, when he spoke frequently and without restraint. He was good enough to give advice on racing form to those who were rash enough to take it. It might have been difficult for the Opposition environment team to replace someone of the stature of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), but they have succeeded in so doing.
After listening to the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge, when he criticised us for attacking the public sector, one would not have thought that we were debating a Bill which increases the borrowing 229 powers of new towns and urban development corporations and enables the Government to invest more resources in those bodies.
I shall try to deal with the points raised during the debate, but if I do not get round to them all I am sure that they will be raised in Committee.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) for agreeing with the bulk of what my hon. Friend said when he moved the Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman marked out a great deal of common ground between the parties on the Bill, particularly with his recognition that the Commission for the New Towns could not last for ever.
In the interval between last Thursday, when the hon. Member for Perry Barr was clearly under the impression that new towns were not part of his new portfolio, and today, he has informed himself well, as one would expect of him, but he has misread the Government's intentions when he sees the Bill as a green light for disposing of public assets at knockdown prices. The commission will rightly have a remit to sell, but the hon. Gentleman will see from clause 1(2) that we have deliberately preserved the obligation on the commission to have regard, when pursuing that remit, to the convenience and welfare of people living, working or having businesses in its towns. There is no suggestion of sales at any price. We have promised that there will be no forced sales or sales contrary to best professional advice, and we stand by that. We are looking for a sensibly based disengagement and one which achieves a fair deal for the taxpayer and those who live in the new towns. The Bill sets out the right framework for that.
The hon. Gentleman was suspicious about the powers to dispose of assets at less than the best price. There is nothing sinister about that. It enables the commission to help the voluntary sector or amenity groups by passing over buildings or community halls at less than the full market price which it might obtain if it disposed of them in the open market.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood clause 8, which I believe he described as the "British Airways" clause. He thought that it was to enable us to write off debts to make the assets more attractive to buyers. The financial status of the new towns, which is what the clause is about, is irrelevant to the price that is paid for any piece of property. The commission will have to obtain the best price. Whether or not there are to be sales, and whatever the price at which they are to take place, the financial position of the corporations as a whole will have to be stabilised and improved. That is the purport of clause 8.
The hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends spoke much about company towns and expressed disquiet about some of the new towns being sold en bloc to one purchaser. As I think everyone knows, that has not happened in the wind-up so far, and if it were suggested, there are several safeguards for which Ministers would look before they gave their consent. For example, existing tenants of industrial and commercial property would want to continue to have good opportunities to buy their premises. We would insist on that. We would want to look at the resources of the prospective purchaser to make sure that there were no problems, such as the likelihood of his getting into financial straits. We would want to see a 230 demonstrably good record of managing property of that type and on that scale. We would seek the safeguards which Opposition Members would want.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) welcomed clause 8 and understood its purpose correctly. He described it as a sensible, business-like tidying up exercise. That is exactly what it is. I hope that it will put an end to some of the more sensational and misleading comments about Milton Keynes development corporation by some of the Liberals on the local council there.
My hon. Friend asked about the third generation local authorities and whether they would be in the same position on community-related assets as earlier generation towns. The answer is yes. I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. However, we would expect the local authorities, as in the earlier new towns, to play their part in building up the facilities which are usually provided by local authorities.
The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) was rightly concerned about the impact of the transfer on local authority finances and, particularly, on housing stock. As I think he knows, most local authorities are anxious to take over the housing stock of the development corporations, which, by and large, is housing of good quality and also offers the opportunity of worthwhile gains when it is sold under the right-to-buy provisions. The local authorities can benefit from the capital receipts. There is no question of any local authority being rate-capped as a result of taking over housing stock.
I am happy to repeat an assurance which I gave to Councillor Mrs. Lawrence, chairman of the Association of District Councils new towns committee, when I wrote to her on 1 August saying:Taking first the E7 factor, as you know our overriding objective is that housing transfer should be financially neutral in its effect on a district council and this includes its effect on the council's RSG position. I can confirm that a council's RSG position will not be worsened by housing transfer".We have a dialogue with the ADC on those points, and I hope that we can reassure it that the position of its ratepayers will not be disadvantaged by a transfer.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill did nothing about providing help for local authorities taking over the housing stock. It does not need to, because we have already made clear the terms for housing transfer. The local authorities will get the same assistance as the new town corporations would have received and, by and large, the local authorities are happy with those proposals. Discussions are now taking place about transfer next year.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) asked about the report of the housing working party. I am assured by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that it will be available in the next few days. Printing delays have held it up, but copies will be sent to Scottish Members representing new towns and local authorities.
The hon. Gentleman also raised a point about the ombudsman, which was raised by several hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am not sure whether it comes within the scope of the Bill, but if it does no doubt an amendment will be tabled and dealt with in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether designated areas could be extended. The answer is yes, as long as the case is made to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
231 My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) spoke in the debate. I call him the new town philosopher. He made a thoughtful and forthright contribution welcoming the powers to wind up the commission and rightly reminding us of the success of the new towns. He criticised us for going too slowly. Opposition Members criticised us for going too fast. So perhaps we have got it about right.
My hon. Friend expressed concern about increases in the limits in the Bill for the urban development corporations. The development corporations in docklands and Merseyside have to put in the infrastructure. They have to invest in the area before one can get the private sector interested and investing afterwards. That is why we have to put quite a lot of money up front—there is a pump-priming role for the development corporations—to reverse the decades of decline in those areas. It is customary to set short-term limits on such public bodies to provide the opportunity to debate progress when they have to be increased. The fact that the limits are being increased is not a criticism but is to give the House a regular opportunity to debate the matter.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) expressed a number of concerns, such as that the activities of the development corporation should not price out the local people. I understand that, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and I attended a meeting between Southwark councillors and the London Docklands Development Corporation in which we were able to get agreement that a site should pass from the LDDC to Southwark. I think that he will know that a high proportion—over 60 per cent.—of the first 313 homes built by LDDC in his constituency were sold to local people, so their interests are not being overlooked.
The hon. Member was somewhat dismissive of the 4,000 jobs that are being created in the docklands area, and his objection was that they were simply relocated jobs. However, the trouble was that Southwark, Tower Hamlets and the docklands were not even getting the relocated jobs—they were getting nothing. In the annual report, the chairman estimated that at least 3,860 people were employed in docklands jobs that had not been there in July 1981, and that is a cause for congratulation for the LDDC.
A number of hon. Members expressed the hope that the tenants of the industrial and commercial units should get the opportunity to buy, consistent with getting a proper return for the taxpayer. We have recently improved the guidelines to make sure that tenants have adequate notice of forthcoming sales so that they can raise finance or form consortiums to buy the assets.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) asked about the arrangements for housing transfers to housing associations, which is the popular option in Central Lancashire. A framework has been agreed with the Housing Corporation and we are now working out the details, but we do not need statutory powers in the Bill. I can confirm that we shall shortly be asking Lancashire county council and the districts for their views, as required by statute, as to whether the Central Lancashire development corporation should be wound up on 31 December 1985, which is our proposal at this stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) raised three constituency points which I shall investigate and about which I shall write to him. Ministers are grateful for the close watch that he keeps on the development corporation.
232 The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) and a number of other hon. Members spoke about the future of the north-east towns. I met some of the councillors from his constituency this morning and his point about the Crombie terms — that is about compensation terms for housing staff—was not one of the points raised with me, and it was not said that that might inhibit the transfer. However, there are no grounds for anybody to expect Crombie terms, because the Government's intentions were clear in 1982 when it was said that Crombie terms would not be available. We are taking the first legislative opportunity to make that perfectly clear. The hon. Gentleman raised three issues about housing that were raised by the councillors—the transfer of housing, the contractual claims and the defects. I shall be taking up those points in writing with the councillors who came to see me.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) claimed that his new town, Glenrothes, was not allowed to build houses for rent. That is Government policy, and it reflects the trend that was begun before the Government came into power. Nearly two thirds of housing in Glenrothes is public sector, and in our view that is too high a proportion. Therefore, the corporation has been told to concentrate on building for special needs, rehabilitation and private sector building. In that area, people want homes of their own and nearly 3,500 corporation houses have been sold.
Those who serve on corporations are not creatures of the Tory Government, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central implied. His local corporation is headed not by a Tory nominee but by Sir George Sharp, who has had a distinguished career as a Labour party local government politician. It also has representatives from labour local authorities in the area.
The hon. Member spoke also about the attendance of Scots Members in the debate. Although attendance is high now, it was somewhat lower earlier on in our debate. My attention has been drawn to an article in The Times on 27 June 1983 on attendance in the Chamber, which says:The new, smaller parliamentary Labour Party must be much better organised, three of the most active Labour MPs say in a paper to be discussed at a meeting in the Commons on Thursday.Dr. Jeremy Bray, Mr. Jeff Rooker and Mr. Jack Straw argue that with only 209 Labour MPs there must be big changes in the way the Opposition whips' office is run.It goes on to say:They want attendance in the Chamber properly organized, not left to chance. The whips should be told in advance when a member is available for a debate, and for debates likely to be undersubscribed there should be a rota so that the burden does not fall on a small number, as in the past.I see from literature put out in the hon. Gentleman's constituency that people in the area are encouraged toVote Jeff Rooker—He Gets Results",so I am sure that there will be results in this case.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland held up the new town development corporations as examples of Socialist planning, but he did not explain why the Labour party opposed the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Merseyside Development Corporation.
I hope that I have dealt with the points raised about Crombie. It would be anomalous for housing staff to continue to receive those terms when other staff of new town corporations which might be wound up the very next day would receive only the ordinary terms available to everyone. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury 233 and Atcham (Mr. Conway) spoke from his experience on a development corporation and explained why opening meetings to the public might not always be in the best interests of the corporation's objectives.
The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) pressed me about the wind-up date for the north-east new towns and I shall say more about that in a moment. He may have misunderstood the position on clause 4. That clause provides cover for money which, by and large, has already been paid to local authorities which have taken over housing stock. It does not provide powers to give money to private owner-occupiers. I shall, however, write to him about that.
I appreciate the concern of hon. Members about the north-east new towns. In June 1980 we announced the target wind-up date for the three north-east development corporations — Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee in Durham, and Washington in Tyne and Wear—as 31 December next year. This reflected the Government's general policy to wind up the remaining English new towns over the decade. I must point out to the hon. Member for Easington, however, that any date chosen by this Government was likely to be later than that which would have been adopted by the Labour Government.
In answer to a question on 22 March 1978, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) announced that consultations had taken place with the development corporations of most of the "earlier" new towns and their local authorities and that as a resultI have decided on the following programme of target dates for winding up development corporations … Washington—31st December 1982". — [Official Report, 22 March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 570.]That is far earlier than the date that we propose, yet the hon. Member for Easington accuses us of winding up the corporations next year for reasons of pure, doctrinal dogma because they are examples of successful public enterprise. His right hon. Friend announced earlier dates for winding up eight new towns. In the light of that, dismissive gestures from the hon. Gentleman do not convince anyone.
Nevertheless, as reasonable people, we responded to representations from Opposition Members with constituencies in the north-east to review the target dates for Peterlee, Newton Aycliffe and Washington. The review took the form of consultation under the new towns legislation as to whether the purposes of the new towns had been substantially achieved.
§ Mr. Cowans
The Labour Administration announced earlier wind-up dates, but the policies applied since then by the Conservative Government inevitably meant that they would have to be later, because unemployment is now 10 times what it was then.
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Gentleman's valiant attempt to rescue his hon. Friend does not quite succeed, because the hon. Member for Easington was arguing that as a matter of principle the corporations should not be wound up because they were shining examples of Socialism in action. I was simply pointing out that the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend proposed to wind them up even earlier.
We took the view that the three development corporations had successfully carried out the task required 234 of them. Nevertheless, I concede that because of the serious unemployment problem in the region there is a need for the continued promotion of the three towns' industrial potential for the development of the region as a whole. Our consultations did not close the door on the possibility of continuing the development corporations in the limited role of encouraging industrial development. However, we questioned whether the development corporation was the right vehicle for achieving that aim. We suggested some alternatives. For instance, English Industrial Estates Corporation, possibly working with the North of England Development Council, could be a successor for the development of the new towns' industrial assets. We floated the possibility of moving some new town staff to English Estates, to avoid the loss of their expertise.
My colleagues in the Department and I have been very impressed by the strength of the support for the retention of the three north-east development corporations, not least from hon. Members. I realise that a decision is now anxiously awaited, especially by the staff. The decision is not easy. We have to weigh up the implications for other new towns if the north-east appears to be singled out for special treatment, given the needs of other areas and the existence of other bodies which might be able to take over a limited role. I hope to announce a decision before the House rises for the Christmas recess.
A number of hon. Members who have spoken today have served in local government. Some of them have asked why we need development corporations when powerful and experienced elected bodies are already available. However, both Labour and Conservative Governments have found it necessary in special circumstances to set up direct public sector arms of Government simply to get things done.
If one considers the tasks achieved by the new towns and those now being undertaken by the development corporations in the inner cities, one sees that the scale of activity is simply too large for any local authority. The task of the new towns was to create entirely new communities, often in green field sites. The urban development corporations have the task of rescuing from a continuing spiral of decades of deterioration and neglect large tracts of London and Liverpool. I know that the GLC attempted to tackle the problem in London, but frankly it failed. My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) served on the joint docklands committee. He described to the House the lack of progress of that body.
It is said that the corporations are undemocratic. However, if democracy means nothing but endless wrangling — and that is what the docklands joint committee exemplified—accompanied by uninterrupted deterioration, central Government have a responsibility to step in and help local people. The development corporations do not displace local authorities. They work alongside them, and local councillors contribute to their work.
§ Sir George Young
It is no use the hon. Gentleman snorting. The leader of his council is a member of the London Docklands Development Corporation and plays a useful role on it.
The House will recall that the Labour party vigorously opposed the establishment of the urban development 235 corporations, which have been commended to us during the debate as examples of Socialism. In the light of the progress achieved by the corporations, the Opposition should review their position. Those who live and work in the areas concerned are grateful for the work that has been done.
The Government are proud of the new towns and of their record of support for them. That record speaks for itself: in England, £1,500 million invested in them since 1979, 100,000 more jobs created since 1979, and over 50,000 new homes built by the corporations, or on land provided by them.
We are also proud of the role which they have played in helping the Government to achieve their broader policy objectives. Since 1979, 19,000 homes have been sold to their tenants, which means that, so far, more than one tenant in five has been able to buy his own home, raising £300 million, which we have ploughed back in new investments. Nearly £500 million of industrial and commercial assets have been transferred from public ownership to private ownership, bringing about a better balance in the new towns.
Recognising the progress made towards the ideals and objectives of the new towns, we have already been able to wind up four of the corporations, and five more are expected to be wound up next year.
We have recognised the success of the new towns in the most tangible way, by adopting the new town model and applying it with vigour to some of the worst problems of our inner cities. The urban development corporations are the spiritual successors of the new towns and complete the cycle of development. After the war the new towns were needed to give our cities a breathing space, to provide homes, jobs and controlled development rather than a sprawl. Our task in the 1980s is to revitalise the heart of our inner cities. In that objective, urban district councils are succeeding where others have failed. The Bill marks a further milestone in the successful development of a unique British institution, and I urge the House to support it.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 256, Noes 121.238
|Division No. 12]||[10 pm|
|Alton, David||Cash, William|
|Amess, David||Chapman, Sydney|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Batiste, Spencer||Cockeram, Eric|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Colvin, Michael|
|Beith, A. J.||Conway, Derek|
|Bellingham, Henry||Coombs, Simon|
|Benyon, William||Cope, John|
|Best, Keith||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Crouch, David|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Dover, Den|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Durant, Tony|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Favell, Anthony|
|Browne, John||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Forman, Nigel|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Forth, Eric|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Fox, Marcus|
|Carttiss, Michael||Franks, Cecil|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Freeman, Roger||Major, John|
|Freud, Clement||Malins, Humfrey|
|Fry, Peter||Malone, Gerald|
|Gale, Roger||Maples, John|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Marlow, Antony|
|Gow, Ian||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Greenway, Harry||Mates, Michael|
|Gregory, Conal||Mather, Carol|
|Griffiths, E, (B'y St Edm'ds)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Ground, Patrick||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Grylls, Michael||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Mellor, David|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Merchant, Piers|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Mills, lain (Meriden)|
|Harris, David||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Harvey, Robert||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Moate, Roger|
|Hawksley, Warren||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Moore, John|
|Hayward, Robert||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Heddle, John||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Henderson, Barry||Murphy, Christopher|
|Hickmet, Richard||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hicks, Robert||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hind, Kenneth||Neubert, Michael|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Newton, Tony|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Holt, Richard||Nicholson, J.|
|Hooson, Tom||Norris, Steven|
|Howard, Michael||Onslow, Cranley|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Howells, Geraint||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Parris, Matthew|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Penhaligon, David|
|Hunter, Andrew||Pollock, Alexander|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Porter, Barry|
|Jackson, Robert||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Jessel, Toby||Powley, John|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Price, Sir David|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Raffan, Keith|
|Kennedy, Charles||Rathbone, Tim|
|Key, Robert||Rhodes James, Robert|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Knowles, Michael||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Knox, David||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Lang, Ian||Rost, Peter|
|Latham, Michael||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Ryder, Richard|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Lester, Jim||Scott, Nicholas|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lightbown, David||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lilley, Peter||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)||Sims, Roger|
|Lord, Michael||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|McCrea, Rev William||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Speed, Keith|
|McCusker, Harold||Speller, Tony|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Spence, John|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Spencer, Derek|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Maclean, David John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Stanley, John|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Walden, George|
|Steen, Anthony||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Stern, Michael||Wallace, James|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Waller, Gary|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Ward, John|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Watson, John|
|Sumberg, David||Watts, John|
|Taylor, Rt Hon John David||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Taylor, John (Solihull)||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Wheeler, John|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Whitfield, John|
|Terlezki, Stefan||Whitney, Raymond|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Wilkinson, John|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Thome, Neil (Ilford S)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Wood, Timothy|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Tracey, Richard||Yeo, Tim|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Viggers, Peter||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and|
|Waddington, David||Mr. Tim Sainsbury.|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Gould, Bryan|
|Anderson, Donald||Gourlay, Harry|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Barron, Kevin||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Haynes, Frank|
|Bell, Stuart||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Benn, Tony||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Home Robertson, John|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Boyes, Roland||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Lamond, James|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Buchan, Norman||Leighton, Ronald|
|Caborn, Richard||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Litherland, Robert|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Clarke, Thomas||McCartney, Hugh|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||McGuire, Michael|
|Cohen, Harry||McKelvey, William|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||McTaggart, Robert|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Madden, Max|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Marek, Dr John|
|Cowans, Harry||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Craigen, J. M.||Maxton, John|
|Crowther, Stan||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Dalyell, Tam||Mikardo, Ian|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Deakins, Eric||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Dewar, Donald||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Dixon, Donald||O'Brien, William|
|Dormand, Jack||O'Neill, Martin|
|Dubs, Alfred||Park, George|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Patchett, Terry|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Eadie, Alex||Pike, Peter|
|Eastham, Ken||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Prescott, John|
|Ewing, Harry||Radice, Giles|
|Fatchett, Derek||Randall, Stuart|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Redmond, M.|
|Fisher, Mark||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Foster, Derek||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Foulkes, George||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|George, Bruce||Rogers, Allan|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Rooker, J. W.|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)||Tinn, James|
|Skinner, Dennis||Welsh, Michael|
|Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Spearing, Nigel||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stott, Roger||Mr. Allen McKay and|
|Strang, Gavin||Mr. John McWilliam.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).